1880 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Richard Vennar

Thomas Corser, in Collectanea Anglo-Poetica 10 (1880) 330-32.



Little is known of Vennard beyond his being, as he himself says, of Lincoln's Inn, and, therefore, in the profession of the law. There is reason, however, to suppose, that he was the author of a play or theatrical entertainment called England's Joy, played at the Swan Theatre the 6 November 1602, a printed broadside of which, in the possession of the Society of Antiquaries, has preserved the plot. "It was," says Mr. Collier, to whose able researches we are indebted for this information, "an allegorical exhibition of some of the principal events of the reign of Elizabeth, who was personated under the character of 'Englands Joy'; and the broadside would seem to have been intended to make the matter more intelligible to the audience as the dumb-shew (accompanied perhaps by a dialogue, or viva voce explanations) proceeded." Vennard is mentioned as a the author of it in the following lines, in a scarce little tract called King James his entertainment at Theobalds, &c., by John Savile, 1603, 4to.

I cannot deeme it now a gulling toye
Which Vennard (inspir'd) intutled England's Joye.
I rather gesse hee did our good divine
Not daring to disclos't before full time,
Be bold, goe on, nowe's thy proesaging plaine,
King James is England's joy, long hop'd for gaine,
That it is hee, who cannot easely prove?
Sith it is onely hee, wee onely love,
Tis hee that Englands joy did first awake
After sad sorrowing for Elizaes sake,
Then reck no clownish frumps, regard them naught,
Banish such Fooleries from thy purer thought,
Wee know the fruit, sprung from foreknowing pen,
King James is Englands joy, say all Amen.

Taylor, the Water Poet, also alludes to this play by Vennard in his Cast over the Water to William Fennor in 1614:

Thou brag'st what fame thou got'st upon the stage:
Indeed thou set'st the people in a rage
In playing Englands Joy, that every man
Did judge it worse then that was done at Swan.

And again:

Upon S. Georges day last, Sir, you gave
To eight Knights of the Garter (like a Knave)
Eight Manuscripts (or Bookes) all fairely writ
Informing them they were your Mother wit.
And you compil'd them: then were you regarded
And for anothers wit was well rewarded.
All this is true, and this I dare maintaine
The matter came from out a learned braine:
And poor old Vennor, that plaine dealing man,
Who acted Englands Joy first at the Swan,
Paid eight crownes for the writing of these things,
Besides the covers and the silken strings:
Which money backe he never yet receiv'd,
So the deceiver is by thee deceiv'd.

From these lines it would appear that Vennard was living in 1614, probably in poverty, when Taylor wrote this pamphlet; and he had taken some part on the stage in his own play of England's Joy when acted at the Swan Theatre; and that Fennor had appropriated to himself some production of Vennard's, for the proper transcribing of which, to present to noblemen and others, he had paid eight crowns, which was never repaid by Fennor. Care should be taken not to confound this William Fennor, or Vennor as he is sometimes called, with Richard Vennard, which seems to have been done by Mr. Collier in his Hist. Dram. Poet. vol. iii, p. 321, in attributing this piece of Englands Joy to William Fennor, though he afterwards corrects himself at p. 406; and by Mr. Gifford in his Edit. of Ben Jonson's Works. Of this melo-dramatic pageant of England's Joy, which was so popular in 1603, and which represented in dumb shew the principal political events in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, concluding with her apotheosis in great state, in which, "being crowned with the Sun, Moon, and Stars, she is taken up into Heaven," the plot, originally printed, as we have mentioned, on a broadside, has been reprinted in the Harl. Miscell., vol. x. p. 198. It is alluded to by Ben Jonson in his Masque of Love Restored, 1610-11, in the following passage:

Robin Goodfellow. 'Slight a fine trick! a piece of Englands Joy this.

And again, by the same, in his Masque of Augurs, 1622, thus:

Enter the Lady with her two maids.

Slug. And were three of those Gentlewomen that should have acted in that famous matter of Englands Joy in six hundred and three.

Lady. What talk you of Englands Joy, Gentlemen? You have another matter in hand, I wiss, Englands Sport and Delight if you can manage it.

And in Sir John Suckling's Comedy of The Goblins, 1646, this passage occurs:

First Thief. Let me see the Author of the Bold Beauchamps and Englands Joy.

Poet. The last was a well writ piece I assure you; a Breton I take it, and Shakespeare's every way.

It may be remarked that Englands Joy was at one time supposed to have been written by Nicholas Breton. It has been reprinted in the last edition of the Harl. Miscell. See also Ritson's Bibliogr., p. 380; Collier's Hist. Dram. Poet., vol. iii, pp. 321, 405; Nicholls's Progr. Queen Elizabeth, vol. iii, pp. 532-43, in which a correct description is given of Vennard's Right Way to Heaven, 1601, and all the latter or poetical part of the first edition is reprinted at full length. Consult also Dodsley's Collect. Old Plays, vol. x, p. 72, and vol. xii, p. 425, edit. 1780; Nicholls's Progr. James I., vol. ii, p. 398, and vol. iii, p. 739.