Prostitutes and players

What are we to make of this association between the gentlemanly Mr Shakespeare and the vicious Wilkins? There are two answers to this question, one general and one specific.

To be summed up accurately enough as ‘the pimp and playwright George Wilkins’ makes him an unusual figure, perhaps unique, but in another sense his twin careers fit together quite easily, because prostitution and the theatre were closely associated. The theatre of Shakespeare’s day was part of London’s vast entertainment industry, and the playhouses stood amid other venues of leisure and pleasure - baiting-rings and cock-pits, bowling-alleys and dicing-houses, taverns and brothels. These places were typically found in the old ‘liberties’ of the city, beyond the writ of the civic authorities. The Liberty of the Clink in Southwark, where the Globe stood, was a brothel quarter from time immemorial; the prostitutes were called ‘Winchester geese’, as the liberty was administered by the Bishop of Winchester.18

A stone’s throw from the Globe stood the celebrated brothel called Holland’s Leaguer, run by Elizabeth Holland. A seventeenth-century woodcut (see Plate 28) shows a formidable, moated little fortress on the riverbank. A wooden jetty leads to a tall studded gate, beside which stands a bouncer armed with a tall pike; a small square hatch in the gate permits the vetting of visitors.19 This hatch was a common feature of brothels: it is probably the origin of Pickt-hatch (‘pickt’ = spiked), a zone of the red-light district in Clerkenwell of which Wilkins’s Cow Cross Street establishment was part. Another architectural feature of the brothel is the latticed window, which is both a security arrangement and a form of enticement - the girls half glimpsed within, in provocative states of undress: ‘those milk-paps / That through the window-bars bore at men’s eyes’ (Timon, 4.3.117-18).20

If the moralizers are to be believed, the theatre itself was little more than an annexe to the brothel, and sexual assignations were as much part of the entertainment as the play itself. In that ‘chappel of Satan, I meane the Theatre’, says Anthony Munday, you will see ‘harlots utterlie past all shame, who press to the forefront of the scaffolde . . . to be as an object to all mens eies’. According to Thomas Dekker, prostitutes were so frequently in the theatre that they knew the plays word for word - ‘every punck and her squire, like the interpreter and his puppet, can rand [rant] out by heart’ the speeches they have heard. A generation later, in the 1630s, William Prynne notes the proximity of theatres and brothels - ‘the Cock-pit and Drury Lane; Blackfriars playhouse and Duke Humfries; the Red Bull and Turnball street; the Globe and Bankside brothel houses’. Hence ‘common strumpets and adulteresses, after our stage-plays ended, are often-times prostituted near our playhouses, if not in them (as they may easily be, since many players, if reports be true, are common pandars)’.21

Trulls, trots, molls, punks, queans, drabs, stales, nuns, hackneys, vaulters, wagtails - in a word, whores - were everywhere, but professional prostitution was only part of it. According to the same writers the theatres were a general free-for-all of assignations, pick-ups and uninhibited flirtations, a place where ‘light & lewd disposed persons’ congregated for ‘actes and bargains of incontinencie’. We have already noted that ‘Cheapside dame’ spotted by Henry Fitzgeoffrey, and that seductive lady whose heavily perfumed head-tire gave Father Busino such palpitations. They are not tarts, but they are women on the look-out for fun and sex:

Citizens wives . . . have received at those spectacles such filthie infections [moral corruption] and have turned their minds from chaste cogitations, and made them of honest women light huswives . . . There is the practising with married wives to traine them from their husbands, and places appointed for meeting and conference.

A minor poet writing in 1600 particularly associates the Globe (‘the Bank-side’s round-house’) with this sort of promiscuity - it is a place where ‘light-tayld huswives’ come ‘in open sight themselves to show and vaunt’. The Elizabethan spelling ‘huswife’ reminds us that a housewife could also be, etymologically at least, a ‘hussy’.22

The theatre is also a place where a man brought his mistress rather than his wife - thus Dekker’s lovely image in Satiromastix (c. 1601) of a well-breeched citizen sitting ‘in your penny-bench theatre with his squirrel by his side cracking nuts’.

Stephen Gosson, a playwright who became a moral scourge of the theatre, describes the procedures of a pick-up -

In the playhouses at London it is the fashion of youthes to go first into the yarde, and to carry theire eye through every gallery, then like unto ravens, where they spy the carrion, thither they flye, and presse as near to the fairest as they can . . . They give them pippines, they dally with their garments to passe the time, they minister talke upon all occasions, & either bring them home to theire houses on small acquaintance, or slip into tavernes when the plaies are done.23

Thus Wilkins the theatre man, doubtless a playgoer as well as a playwright, relates directly and perhaps profitably to his other career in the sex-trade. His is just the sort of tavern one might ‘slip into . . . when the plaies are done’, though in his case it would be the northern playhouses - and especially the Red Bull in Clerkenwell, in business from c. 1604 - which would supply this clientele.

The association between the playhouse and prostitution is perennial, but in the years 1604-5 we find a particular concentration of interest in prostitution on the stage. In this brief period there were three plays onstage featuring prostitutes in the title-role - John Marston’s The Dutch Courtesan, ‘playd in the Blacke-Friars by the Children of her Maiesties Revels’ in c. 1604 and published in 1605; and Thomas Dekker’s two-part drama, The Honest Whore, the first with contributions by Thomas Middleton, performed by Prince Henry’s Men (the former Admiral’s Men) in 1604, and the sequel performed by the same company in 1605. Middleton, meanwhile, as well as contributing scenes to The Honest Whore, published two prose-pamphlets in 1604, of which one (The Black Book) is largely set in the brothel-quarter of Pickt-hatch, and the other (Father Hubberd’s Tales) frequently features prostitutes. Another ‘courtesan’, Frank Gullman, appears in his A Mad World, my Masters (c. 1605).

In Marston’s The Dutch Courtesan a young gallant, Freevill, is about to marry, and must break off his long liaison with the eponymous ‘courtesan’ Franceschina. The jilted prostitute is furious, and when Freevill’s high-minded friend Malheureux conceives an unexpected passion for her - ‘That I should love a strumpet! I, a man of snow!’ - Franceschina promises herself to him, but only if he will kill Freevill. The two friends hatch a plot: Freevill goes into hiding so Malheureux can pretend he has killed him. So successful is the pretence, however, that Malheureux is arrested for murder. Freevill reappears in time to save him; his stratagem, he claims, was to cure Malheureux of his unseemly passion for the prostitute. Franceschina is condemned to be whipped and imprisoned.

Though punitive at the end, the play derives much of its energy from the sexual frisson of Franceschina. She is variously called a ‘pretty, nimble-ey’d Dutch Tanakin’, a ‘soft, plump, round-cheek’d froe [Dutch frow, woman]’, a ‘plump-rumped wench with a breast softer than a courtier’s tongue’, an ‘honest pole-cat of a clean instep, sound leg, smooth thigh, and the nimble devil in her buttock’, and so on. She is the epitome of the high-class tart, the Christine Keeler or Heidi Fleiss de ses jours. When Malheureux refers to her as a whore, Freevill reproaches him: ‘Whore? Fie, whore! You may call her a courtesan . . .’Tis not in fashion to call things by their right names.’ She plays on the lute and the cithern, singing songs with suggestive lyrics about nightingales sleeping next to ‘prickles’. She has an enchanting if silly foreign accent - ‘Vill you not stay in my bosom tonight, love?’; ‘O mine aderliver [Dutch alderliefest = dearest] love vat sall me do?’ - but she seems more hybrid ‘continental’ than merely Dutch. Her name is Italian, and her language contains many French inflections (‘my shambra’ for chamber, and ‘Foutra ’pon you’). Her clientele is also cosmopolitan: she consorts ‘with the Spaniard Don Skirtoll, with the Italian Master Beieroane, with the Irish Lord Sir Patrick, with the Dutch merchant Haunce Flap-dragon, and specially with the greatest French’. Some of her clients are ‘wealthy knights and most rare bountiful lords’, and some are upright citizens - her ‘custom’ is ‘not of swaggering Ireland captains, nor of two shilling Inns o’ Court men, but with honest flat-caps, wealthy flat-caps [London tradesmen]’ (2.2.13- 17, 28-30).

A similar characterization of the upmarket prostitute is found in Middleton’s pamphlets of 1604, evoked with a certain lip-smacking relish:

He kept his most delicate drab of three hundred [pounds] a year, some unthrifty gentleman’s daughter . . . She could run upon the lute very well, which in others would have appeared virtuous but in her lascivious . . . She had likewise the gift of singing very deliciously, able to charm the hearer, which so bewitched our young master’s money that he might have kept seven noise of musicians for less charges . . . She had a humour to lisp often, like a flattering wanton, and talk childish like a parson’s daughter . . . He would swear she spake nothing but sweetmeats, and her breath then sent forth such a delicious odour that it perfumed his white satin doublet better than sixteen milliners.24

In Dekker’s Honest Whore - nominally set in Italy but with much that is particular to London, not least the powerful scenes in Bedlam and Bridewell (probably Middleton’s work) - the eponymous whore is Bellafront (‘pretty face’). In Part 1 she is converted to ‘honesty’ by Count Hippolito, but when she declares herself in love with him he rejects her. Hippolito marries the daughter of the Duke of Milan, and Bellafront is married, unhappily, to the worthless Matheo. The play was a big success, and Dekker obliged with a rapidly written sequel, in which the bleakly ironic development of her marriage is that Matheo wants her to return to prostitution to pay for his extravagant lifestyle. She meets Hippolito again, now a widower: this time it is he who falls in love with her, and tries to seduce her; and this time it is she who virtuously resists. The play ends with a coda described on the title-page as ‘Comicall passages from an Italian Bridewell’, in which various prostitutes are paraded before being taken away for hard labour or whipping. One of these, Katarina Bountinall, comments ironically on the idea of a whore turning honest: ‘Foh! Honest? Burnt [deflowered] at fourteen, seven times whipped, six times carted, nine times duck’d, search’d by some hundred and fifty constables, and yet you are honest? Honest Mistress Horse-leech, is this world a world to keep bawds and whores honest?’ (2778-81).

The play of Shakespeare’s which belongs to this time, and which mirrors these preoccupations, is Measure for Measure. Its first recorded performance was at court in December 1604; it had possibly played at the Globe shortly before this. It is a play which confronts many difficult social issues, but one of its central concerns is the control of prostitution - or rather the impossibility of this: ‘Does your honour mean to geld and splay all the youth of the city?’ - and it features a comic duo in the brothel business, the bawd Mistress Overdone and the pimp Pompey Bum. The setting is Vienna, but in all respects other than its name is London in 1604.

Its central story concerns the attempted seduction by the acting governor of the city, Angelo, of the virtuous and virginal Isabella, a novice nun, in return for the life of her brother, who has been condemned to death for ‘lechery’ under new harsh laws enacted by the same Angelo. These new laws have a counterpart in reality. On 16 September 1603, a royal proclamation ordered the demolition of houses and rooms in the suburbs frequented by ‘dissolute and idle persons’: ostensibly a precaution against the further spread of the plague, but in effect an edict against the brothels of the suburbs.25 This is precisely reflected in the opening of the play, where Mistress Overdone receives the dire news from her pimp:

POMPEY: You have not heard of the proclamation, have you?

Mrs OVERDONE: What proclamation, man?

POMPEY: All houses in the suburbs of Vienna must be plucked down.

Mrs OVERDONE: And what shall become of those in the city?

POMPEY: They shall stand for seed - they had gone down too but that a wise burgher put in for them.

Mrs OVERDONE: But shall all our houses of resort in the suburbs be pulled down?

POMPEY: To the ground, Mistress.

Mrs OVERDONE: Why here’s a change indeed in the commonwealth! What shall become of me? (1.2.85-97)

Pompey’s comments about the city brothels are typical of the play’s constant bawdy undertone. ‘Stand for seed’ ostensibly means they are left standing like seed-corn, but within the brothel context ‘stand’ and ‘seed’ refer to erections and ejaculations. Also characteristic is the world-weary observation of profiteering in high places: a ‘wise burgher’, one in the know, has bought up these condemned properties on the cheap.

For Overdone this is a disaster to cap a bad year, for ‘what with the war, what with the sweat, what with the gallows, and what with poverty, I am custom-shrunk’. Editors gloss this as a close reflection of events of 1603 - the continuing war with Spain, the plague, the bout of executions further to Jesuit-linked plots against King James (the ‘Main’ and ‘Bye’ plots), and the slackness of trade in the deserted city. In Middleton’s Black Book, entered on the Stationers’ Register in March 1604, the pimp Prigbeard similarly complains ‘of their bad takings all the last plaguy summer’ when they were ‘undone for want of doings’.26

The brothel world of Mistress Overdone and Pompey Bum is concisely drawn. Overdone (also called ‘Madam Mitigation’ - she ‘mitigates’ the pangs of sexual desire) is described as a ‘bawd of eleven years continuance’, and prior to that she was doubtless a prostitute herself. ‘You that have worn your eyes out in the service’ probably refers to her suffering from the optical atrophy which is a symptom of advanced syphilis. Her brothel in the suburbs ‘plucked down’, she moves into the city and opens up another. She calls it a ‘hot-house’ - originally a bagno or bath-house, but now just a synonym for a brothel: another word was ‘stew-house’, from which the familiar Jacobean term ‘the stews’ to mean a red-light district. ‘I have seen corruption boil and bubble till it o’errun the stews,’ says the Duke at the beginning of Measure.

We enter this ‘hot-house’ or brothel only in the words of others - mostly Pompey and one of his customers, Master Froth. It is in appearance a tavern. Pompey is its ‘tapster’ or ‘drawer’ - as we would say the barman - who is also a pimp: a ‘parcel [part-time] bawd’. The place serves food and drink, though the only victuals we actually hear of are ‘stewed prunes’, sitting in a ‘fruit dish’ which the garrulous Pompey specifies as ‘a dish of some three pence’. Prunes are often associated with brothels: possibly they were considered aphrodisiac. Pistol, an habitu’ of bawdy houses, ‘lives upon mouldy stewed prunes and dried cakes’ (2 Henry IV, 2.4.155).27 The house has an ‘open room’ called the Bunch of Grapes (the rooms of taverns were named, as at the Boar’s Head in East Cheap, where there were rooms called the ‘Half Moon’ and the ‘Pomgarnet’, or Pomegranate). This open room is something like a public bar. A fire burns in the grate - the room is ‘good for winter’. Elsewhere there are private rooms, booths and snugs. Here we might find Master Froth, ‘a man of fourscore pound a year, whose father died at Hallowmas’, sitting in a ‘lower chair’; and the prattling gallant Lucio who had earlier got Kate Keepdown with child; and a selection of the other customers listed by Pompey, all of them ‘great doers in our trade’. There is Master Caper in ‘a suit of peach-coloured satin’, purchased on credit from Master Three-pile the mercer; and ‘young Master Deep-vow, and Master Copperspur, and Master Starve-Lackey the rapier and dagger man, and young Drop-heir that killed lusty Pudding, and Master Forthright the tilter, and brave Master Shootie [Shoe-tie] the great traveller, and wild Half-can that stabbed pots . . .’ (4.3.9-18). These are the gallants and men-about-town who are Mistress Overdone’s clients at her tavern-cum-brothel in the city.28

In Measure for Measure we find Shakespeare in the city-comedy terrain of Marston, Middleton and Dekker - the topical tone, the interest in prostitution, the louche, scoffing gallant Lucio and his cronies. But the play is also very different. With its awkward conundrums and knotted verse-style - that ‘special density of broken wit’, as Barbara Everett calls it29 - Measure was hardly a crowd-pleaser in the way that Dekker’s Honest Whore was. No sequel was rushed out to satisfy public interest or titillation, and there was no published edition of the play before the First Folio.

So here is a question that might have been aired among the ‘sharers’ of the King’s Men around the beginning of 1605. How well is their chief poet Shakespeare keeping up with the new brash fashion of the city comedies? Can he deliver this blend of sex, satire and sharp urban reportage for which the public is clamouring? If Measure for Measure is an attempt to do so, it may have been judged a failure. It is a work of great sublety and intellectual power, but is it also bums on seats? Business is business, at the Globe and elsewhere, and the answer is probably not.

In this scenario we might find a more specific context for Shakespeare’s association with the redoubtable Wilkins, who swims into his view in the early summer of 1605. In Wilkins, he finds not only intimations of literary talent, not only the chafing ambition of the unpublished writer - he finds also a man who knows this seedy brothel world from the inside, a man who lives this world which the other writers only look in on. He is the real thing. What Shakespeare likes about George Wilkins - ‘likes’ in a purely professional, talent-spotting sense - is precisely that double curriculum vitae: the playwright and the pimp rolled into one. If the company wants ‘Sex and the City’ plays, this is the man to write them.

The detail can only be invented, but we have some ingredients for the scene. The location: a lodging-house of low repute outside Cripplegate. The characters: the shady landlord Wilkins; his new lodgers Stephen and Mary; and their friend Mr Shakespeare, a famous man of the theatre. Wilkins, improbably but factually, nurses ambitions to be a poet; Mr Shakespeare is on the look-out for new talent. On the table we see some cups of wine, a dish of fly-blown pippin pie, and a copy of a new pamphlet, Two Unnatural Murthers, with its true story of drunkenness, degradation and senseless violence just crying out to be adapted for the stage by someone - Mr Shakespeare glances around the dingy parlour; from an upstairs chamber come shouts and shrill laughter - by someone who understands these things.

However it really was, we know that Wilkins wrote his play, and the King’s Men performed it in 1606. It uses the Calverley story but also rewrites it with an abruptly manufactured happy ending - a tragicomedy of sorts, as the fashion required and as the success of the play doubtless justified.

This skeletal and partly speculative narrative - a story of mutual literary opportunism - is a kind of prelude to Pericles, for it was doubtless the success of the Miseries, still onstage in 1607, that led to Wilkins’s collaboration with Shakespeare on Pericles. The play is based on the story of Apollonius of Tyre, as told in John Gower’s medieval poem Confessio Amantis and more recently in Lawrence Twine’s Patterne of Painefull Adventures (1576). A new edition of Twine’s book appeared in 1607, and was perhaps the particular spur, though the authors’ debt to Gower is advertised by putting him onstage as the play’s Chorus. They had completed the play some time before 20 May 1608, when it was registered at Stationers’ Hall.

As noted, the consensus view of Pericles - backed up more recently by computer-aided ‘stylometric’ studies - is that Wilkins was responsible for the first two acts, and Shakespeare for most of the rest. It is not known whether Wilkins wrote a whole play which Shakespeare decided partly to rewrite, or whether Shakespeare took over the play at the point where the story interested him. He comes in at a pivotal moment of high drama - Pericles on the ‘storm-tost’ ship bound for Tyre; the death of his wife Thaisa in childbirth, and her burial at sea:

A terrible childbed hast thou had, my dear. 

No light, no fire: th’unfriendly elements 

Forgot thee utterly. Nor have I time 

To give thee hallow’d to thy grave, but straight 

Must cast thee scarcely coffin’d in the ooze, 

Where for a monument upon thy bones 

And e’er remaining lamps, the belching whale 

And humming water must o’erwhelm thy corpse, 

Lying with simple shells . . . (3.1.56-64)

After the dull but efficient scaffolding of the Wilkins acts, the play is injected with rich Shakespearean melody.30

This being the kind of story it is - a ‘romance’, as it is generally called; a ‘mouldy tale’, as Ben Jonson called it - Thaisa is not really dead, and will be reunited with Pericles; and their daughter Marina, ‘whom for she was born at sea I have nam’d so’, will suffer many vicissitudes before she too is found again by her father. Among her tribulations she is captured by pirates and sold into prostitution in Myteline, an episode much expanded by Shakespeare from the sources (or perhaps expanded by Wilkins and rewritten by Shakespeare). Part of Act 4 is set in the brothel - uniquely in Shakespeare: the brothel in Measure is only reported to us.31 The scenes feature an unnamed bawd and pandar, and the pandar’s servant, Boult. At odds with the generally stylized tone of the play, the brothel is evoked in a brisk, businesslike way, and one might think the expertise of Wilkins is a contributory factor in this. It is a low-grade place with three resident girls well past their best -

BAWD: We were never so much out of creatures. We have but poor three . . . and they with continual action are even as good as rotten.

PANDAR: Therefore let’s have fresh ones, whate’er we pay for them . . .

BOULT: Shall I search the market?

BAWD: What else, man? The stuff we have, a strong wind will blow it to pieces, they are so pitifully sodden.

PANDAR: Thou say’st true. There’s two unwholesome, a’conscience. The poor Transylvanian is dead that lay with the little baggage. (4.2.6-21)

The solution to their problems, they hope, is the beautiful and virginal Marina, sold to them by the pirates. But this is romance, and her virtue triumphs over the customers’ desires - ‘Fie upon her! She’s able to freeze the god Priapus and undo a whole generation . . . She would make a Puritan of the devil if he would cheapen a kiss of her.’

We are back in the fictive brothel-world of Measure and the city comedies, which is also the real world of Shakespeare’s co-author Wilkins. But the vulnerable and virtuous presence of the romance-princess Marina casts a different light over it. It occurs to me that Marina in the bawdy house at Myteline might have some traces of a real person in a real situation - Mary Belott in the house of Wilkins. Her arrival there marks the first known connection between Shakespeare and Wilkins, and her presence there may have had a similar aspect of sexual vulnerability, of innocence cast among the wolves - or anyway may have been construed that way by Shakespeare, who cared about her and who perhaps felt some pangs of avuncular anxiety about the rackety circumstances in which she now found herself.

Stephen and Mary Belott began this excursion into the Wilkins- Shakespeare partnership, and we can follow their lives a little at this point. They were probably not living with Wilkins in 1607- 8, when Pericles was being written, but they were his neighbours in St Giles. As we saw, they had returned to Silver Street in late 1606, after the death of Marie Mountjoy, and Stephen had worked with his father-in-law ‘as partners in their said trade of Tyeringe’. But this rapprochement did not last, and after about six months they packed up once more and left, probably for the last time. They set up business on their own, and took on an apprentice, William Eaton, who deposed at the Court of Requests that he had known Belott since 1607. All further records of the couple, up into the 1620s, show they were living in St Giles - quite possibly with Belott’s stepfather, Humphrey Fludd.

The first such record is a happy event.32 On 23 October 1608 their daughter Anne was baptized at St Giles. This is the first child of the marriage that we know of - she comes nearly four years after the wedding. Another daughter, Jane, was baptized just over a year later, 17 December 1609. A few weeks later George and Katherine Wilkins were at the church to baptize their son Thomas. Also living at St Giles, probably in partnership with Stephen, was his brother John, who appears in the register in 1612 and is described as a ‘tiremaker’.

The Belotts settle into anonymity: another artisan family in the narrow lanes of St Giles. But the faint aroma of sexual scandal which hangs over this everyday story of tiremakers, pimps and playwrights is not entirely absent from the Belotts’ lives either. Looking through the registers of St Giles I was interested - indeed startled - to see the name Mary Byllett: interested because ‘Byllett’ could easily be a variation of Belott, and startled because she appears there as the mother of an illegitimate child, ‘Anne Byllet daughter of Edward Skemish and Mary Byllett’, baptized 16 May 1610. Could she be Mary Belott ne’e Mountjoy? It soon becomes apparent she is not: her child was born only five months after Mary Belott’s daughter Jane; also, Mary Byllett must have been single, for a few months later, on 30 January 1611, she was at the altar at St Giles getting married. She was not, therefore, the wife of Stephen Belott, but she could have been his sister. This possibility is somewhat strengthened by the fact that her husband was one Richard Eaton, who is later described as a ‘bodymaker’ (bodicemaker), and who may well be related to Stephen Belott’s apprentice, William Eaton. A possible scenario from this: Stephen’s sister, a fallen woman with an illegitimate child, is married off to his apprentice’s brother, thus relieving her of a difficulty faced by many young women in Jacobean London, bluntly defined by the Bawd in Pericles as ‘the bringing up of poor bastards’.

As for Wilkins, we might call Pericles the apex of his literary career - his most prestigious piece of work, though not his best. The play was extremely popular, but his response to its popularity is characteristically erratic. In 1608 he issued a novelized treatment of the story, The Painfull Adventures of Pericles, which he advertises on the title-page as ‘the true history of the play of Pericles, as it was lately presented’. Part of the book is lifted bodily from one of the source-books, Twine’s Patterne of Painefull Adventures , and part of it is based on the play - though whatever source Wilkins used for these sections, it was often rather different in its phrasing from the copy used for the first printed edition of the play, which appeared the following year. This printing of the play was probably unauthorized, and is full of textual fudgings and corruptions: it is another ‘bad quarto’, but as the play was not included in the Folio it is the only text of Pericles we have.

We are on the edge of a bibliographical minefield which I do not wish to enter. The details are obscure, but there is an undeniable whiff of underhand dealing. Playscripts were owned by the company which performed them, so in legal terms these unauthorized texts of Pericles are thefts or misappropriations of property belonging to the King’s Men. Wilkins’s novelization is a grey area: it is not quite a piracy, perhaps, but it involves some plagiarism of his co-author’s work. (This has a positive side, for sometimes Wilkins records a Shakespearean phrase not found in the 1609 quarto: the resonant ‘poor inch of nature’, describing the baby Marina in the storm, is almost certainly Shakespeare’s and is reinstated in modern editions of the play.)33 It is probable Wilkins also had something to do with the unauthorized quarto of Pericles. Its publisher, Henry Gosson, had earlier published Wilkins’s Three Miseries of Barbary, and in 1611, two years after the appearance of Pericles, we find him providing sureties for Wilkins in one of his scrapes with the law. In short, both The Painfull Adventures of Pericles and the 1609 Pericles contain stolen literary goods with Wilkins’s fingerprints all over them.

We have seen before that Shakespeare grew testy when his work was purloined - those ‘stolne and surreptitious copies’ to which the Folio editors refer. The Painfull Adventures of Pericles is Wilkins’s last known work. After a brief swagger of literary success a chill settles over his career, and the next we hear of him is at the Middlesex Sessions in Clerkenwell, bound over for aggression towards the ‘quean’ or prostitute Anne Plesington - and so begins the dark and violent tragicomedy inscribed in his police-record.34

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