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RALPH CRANE AND THE KING'S PLAYERS
BY THORNTON S. GRAVES
Primarily on account of his having made a transcript of Fletcher's Humorous Lieutenant for Sir Kenelm Digby, Ralph Crane is fairly well known to students of Elizabethan drama; but no one, I believe, has called attention to his interesting connection with the theater. On December 14, 1620, a “Poeme called The workes of Mercy, both Corporall and Spirituall, written by T. M.” was entered on the Stationers' Register, and in the next year the book was published (a copy of this edition is in the Bodleian) under the same title and with Crane's name on the title page. Another edition appeared under the title of The Pilgrimes NewYeares-Gift; Or, Fourteene Steps to the Throne of Glory. By the 7. Corporeall and 7. Spirituall Arts of Charitie, and those made Parallels. Preceding the very tedious poem in both editions is an interesting autobiographical preface which deserves to be quoted at some length. I quote from the undated copy in the British Museum.
The Citie had my birth: My Father free *
1 The dedication is dated November 27, 1625. Crane titled the manuscript Demetrius and Enanthe. In 1830 Dyce rather carelessly (see A. R. Waller's edition of Beaumont and Fletcher, II, 509-518) reprinted Crane's transcript, which in 1906 was in the library of Lord Harlech at Brogyntyn, Oswestry (ibid., p. vi). It is, says Mr. Waller, a beautiful specimen of Ralph Crane's caligraphy."
2 Transcript of Stationers' Register, IV, 6.
3 A former owner of the British Museum copy of this edition has written on one of the fly-leaves that he thinks this is the second or third edition and dates it ca. 1625; and Sir Francis Freeling, another former owner of the volume, has written his opinion that a first edition appeared in 1606. * Marginal note reads:
“ Marchant taylors.”
With Noah's first Doue (after much flight, much paine)
Much variation I have had since then,
First was I seuen yeares-seruant, painfull Clarke,
Goe on my Zeale, & praise while thou art able
Vnto his worth, whom I callid Master here:
The Signet and the Priuy Seale was next
To th’ Tribe of Leuy, (heau’ns chiefe Miracles)
But most of all doth my laborious hand
And some imployment hath my vsefull Pen,
Vnder the Kingly-seruice they doe hold. ...
* Reprinted in Thomas Corser's Collectanea Anglo-Poetica, Part IV, 503-505.
that if he had died during the visitation-an end which he desired had come upon him
There was not one that could (for loue) be hir'd
Behold a wonder (Friend) oh stay and read,
Though City, Countrie, Court, Church, laro & Stage
A man who so longed to be remembered after his journey through City, Countrie, Court, Church, law & Stage " should not be allowed to sink into oblivion until his connection with the stage has been investigated; for whereas he certainly does not deserve to be remembered on account of his moral poem, it is possible that he performed for dramatic history a more important task than transcribing Fletcher's play. Unfortunately I am too far removed from the material necessary for a serious attempt to determine whether Crane deserves to be remembered, but with the hope that some one more conveniently situated may be induced to investigate certain interesting possibilities, I shall make a few suggestions.
Crane's tribute to the actors who “grace the stage with honour and delight ... under the Kingly Seruice they doe hold” makes it clear that the author had been connected with the King's Men, who in 1619, or later, had brought out Fletcher's drama later copied by Crane for Sir Kenelm Digby. One would like to believe that the kindly members of this company, mindful of the sore straits to which their sometime associate had been reduced, responded to his appeal by allowing him to make use of Fletcher's popular play. Again, it is surely of considerable significance that
the King's Men should have employed such an expert caligrapher as Crane a man who also had considerable experience with the law and had been intimately associated with the Privy Council. It is also of some significance that this very efficient company should have discharged such a well-equipped person for a younger man. Finally, if Crane served for a while as playhouse copyistand surely he did-would not a careful study of his handwriting be of some service to such students as Mr. J. Dover Wilson in their endeavor to arrive at the original text of certain plays owned by the King's Men in 1623 or earlier? Is it not quite possible that some of the plays of Shakspere were set up from the beautiful handwriting of Crane rather than from the somewhat difficult autograph-granting that Sir Maunde Thompson and others are right in their contentions regarding this autograph of Shakspere himself? Such a question may deserve to be pronounced downright silly, but if anyone can prove it so by determining the exact relationship of Crane to the King's Men, then it has not been asked in vain.
The University of North Carolina.
8 Besides Demetrius and Enanthe, MS. Harleian 3357, dated December 1632 (see Dyce's ed. of Demetrius and Enanthe, pp. vii-viii), is in Crane's handwriting; as is perhaps also MS. Harleian 6930 (cf. Sir Sidney Lee in Dictionary Nat'l Biog. under "Crane ").
See his ingenious study in Shakespeare's Hand in the Play of Sir Thomas More (Cambridge, 1923), pp. 113 ff.