The Battle of Alcazar

The Battle of Alcazar

"The Battle of Alcazar" is a play by George Peele, probably written and first staged in the late 1580s, published in 1594.

Likely allusions to the Spanish Armada in the play appear to limit its earliest possible date. The primary historical source for the play, John Polemom's "The Second Part of the Book of Battles, Fought in Our Age," was published in 1587. The play may also have been an attempt to capitalize on popular interest in the Drake-Norris Expedition, the so-called English Armada, of 1589, in which Peele was interested (see below).

Lord Strange's Men acted a play called "Muly Molloco" 14 times between Feb. 21, 1592 and Jan. 20, 1593; this is generally thought to be "The Battle of Alcazar" under an alternative title (no other play about "Muly Molucco" is known from this era). A later revival of the play was staged by the Admiral's Men, either in 1598 or 1600-2. The 1594 quarto was printed by Edward Allde for the bookseller Richard Bankworth. [The quarto gives the full title of the play as "The Battell of Alcazar, fought in Barbarie, between Sebastian king of Portugal, and Abdelmelec king of Marocco."] The play was published anonymously, though the attribution to Peele rests on both internal stylistic evidence and an assignment of authorship of a quoted passage in the anthology "England's Parnassus" (1600). [Chambers, Vol. 3, pp. 459-60.]

"The Battle of Alcazar" is a five-act play telling the story of the battle of Alcácer Quibir in 1578. Like Shakespeare's "Henry V" (1599), it is narrated by a Chorus who describes the action in terms far more heroic than it warrants: King Sebastian of Portugal is referred to as "an honourable and courageous prince", but is in fact shown to be foolish in invading Morocco, having been duped by Mulai Mohammed, who is presented as a Machiavellian villain.

Interestingly, the enemy, led by "Muly Molucco" (Abd al-Malik), are depicted sympathetically. The play's portrayal of the Moroccan leader has been singled out as "the first full dramatic treatment of a black Moor on the English Stage...." [Logan and Smith, p. 146. See also: Eldred Jones, "Othello's Countrymen: The African in English Renaissance Drama," London, Oxford University Press, 1965.] (Peele's orientation can best be understood as anti-Spanish, and therefore pro-Moroccan by default and in a strictly limited context.)

The primary protagonist in the play is Thomas Stukeley, presented as a larger-than-life figure driven by ambition: he is given a soliloquy on his desire to be a king which very probably influenced Shakespeare in writing the Duke of Gloucester's similar speech in Henry VI, Part 3. Peele may have chosen to treat Stukeley as he does in an attempt to create a hero compable to Marlowe's "Tamburlaine," which was the great theatrical success of the late 1580s. (Peele wrote a poem,"A Farewell to Norris and Drake," in which he links Stukeley and Tamburlaine: "proud tragedians...mighty Tamburlaine,/ King Charlemagne, Tom Stukeley....")

The "plot" [In Elizabethan theatre, the "plot" was a chart that hung backstage in the theatre, to which the actors could refer.] or plan for the Admrial's Men's production still exists, as MS. Add. 10,449, fol. 3, in the collection of the British Museum. Though damaged, the plot reveals most of the cast of the production, which included Edward Alleyn and Samuel Rowley among other members of the company. [Chambers, Vol. 2, p. 175.] In comparing the plot to the play, W. W. Greg determined that the plot requires a larger cast than the printed version of the play does; he argued that the printed text was cut down from its original length to accommodate a smaller-scale production. [W. W. Greg, "Two Elizabethan Stage Abridgements: "The Battle of Alcazar" and "Orlando Furioso," Malone Society, 1922.] Other scholars agree that the 1594 text was shortened, though the reason for that shortening has been disputed. [Bernard Beckerman, "Theatrical Plots and Elizabethan Stage Practice," in Long and Elton, pp. 109-24.]

Peele was not the only English playwright to dramatize the story of Sebastian. A lost play, "Sebastian, King of Portugal", was performed by the Admiral's Men in 1601. Massinger's "Believe as You List" (1631) was originally about Sebastian; Massinger shifted the play's setting to ancient Greece after the first version was suppressed. In the Restoration era, John Dryden wrote "Don Sebastian" (1689) on the same subject.



* Chambers. E. K. "The Elizabethan Stage." 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.
* Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith, eds. "The Predecessors of Shakespeare: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama." Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1973.
* Long, William B., and William R. Elton. "Shakespeare and Dramatic Tradition." Newark, DE, University of Delaware Press, 1989.

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