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Aglaura is a late Caroline era stage play, written by Sir John Suckling. Several aspects of the play have led critics to treat it as a key development and a marker of the final decadent phase of English Renaissance drama.


Suckling's earliest play, Aglaura was staged in 1637 by the King's Men at the Blackfriars Theatre – not because they thought it was a good play or a potential popular hit, but because Suckling subsidized its production, reportedly spending between £300 and £400. The acting company was paid with the production's lavish costumes (lace cuffs and ruffs made of cloth of silver and cloth of gold), a form of hand-me-down compensation that the King's men accepted only in the 1630s, at a time when the company's fortunes were in relative decline. (When the same company staged a revival of John Fletcher's The Faithful Shepherdess in 1634, they used the sumptuous costumes that had been created for Queen Henrietta Maria's masque of that year, The Shepherd's Paradise; they were then allowed to keep the costumes.)

A 1638 production of Aglaura at the English royal court borrowed Inigo Jones's scenery from Luminalia, the Queen's masque of that year. Again, the hand-me-down nature of the proceedings is a noteworthy departure from the practices of the 1620s and earlier.


Unusually, Suckling wrote the play as a tragedy, but added an alternative happy ending, so creating an optional tragicomedy. Suckling changed the ending for the April 1638 performance before the King, Charles I, and Queen Henrietta Maria.


Aglaura was entered into the Stationers' Register on 18 April, 1638 and published later that year, in an edition printed by John Haviland for the bookseller Thomas Walkley – a vanity edition subsidized by Suckling. Instead of the quarto format then standard for individual plays, Aglaura was printed in the larger folio format, normally restricted for serious works. (Stage plays were then treated largely as ephemera with little claim as serious literature.) Critics – Richard Brome[1] was prominent among them – mocked the folio edition of Aglaura, especially the unusually broad page margins that compensated for the limited text. (For modern readers, the pleasing innovation of the 1638 edition is that it abstained from the full and verbose titles fashionable in the 17th century, and employed a title of one word.) The play was reprinted by Humphrey Moseley in his octavo collection of Suckling's works, Fragmenta Aurea, in 1646 and 1648, and was included in subsequent collections. An early manuscript of the work also exists, in the collection of the British Museum (Royal MS. 18 C. 25).

A modern facsimile edition of Aglaura was issued in 1970, reproduced from the copy in the collection of the British Museum.


Suckling may have based his heroine on a young woman named Mary Bulkeley, the daughter of Sir Richard Bulkeley. She was courted by the author, and is thought to have inspired him to write much of his best work.[2]

In the Restoration

Aglaura was revived during the Restoration era; it was reportedly played at the Red Bull Theatre on 27 February 1662, in the original version, "the tragical way." Later that same year, the actor Theophilus Bird was said to have broken his leg while fencing onstage in a performance of Aglaura.[3] Samuel Pepys saw a King's Company production on 10 January 1668 (but he didn't like it). A Suckling lyric from the play, "Why so pale and wan, fond lover," became a popular song of the era. John Dryden, an admirer of Suckling's verse, borrowed lines from Aglaura for his first comedy, The Wild Gallant. Sir Robert Howard was impressed with Suckling's dual ending, and imitated it in his own play The Vestal Virgin.


Suckling's plot is set in a wildly ahistorical and inauthentic Persia. The King of Persia and his son, Prince Thersames, are both in love with Aglaura; she loves the Prince, but the King takes precedence. The Queen, Orbella, is in love with the King's brother Ariaspes but is the mistress of Ziriff alias Zorannes, captain of the guard and Aglaura's brother. Iolas, a member of the royal council, is a pretended friend of the prince, but in fact a traitor; he is in love with Semanthe, who is in love with Ziriff. Complications ensue.

(Semanthe loves Ziriff – but platonically. This is Suckling's nod to the cult of Platonic love that was a cornerstone of Henrietta Maria's Court culture. Suckling also includes an anti-Platonic lord named Orsames, but doesn't do much with the Platonic theme.)

In the original tragic version, Aglaura secretly marries Thersames, but mistakenly stabs him to death, thinking he is the king. Most of the other characters, including Aglaura herself, die violent deaths. In the tragicomic revision, Aglaura merely wounds the prince, and the king repents and dispenses justice. (The actual difference between the versions amounts to only about 50 lines).


"Aglaura" adapted at Wikiversity


  1. ^ Brome wrote a satiric poem "Upon Aglaura in Folio". For Brome's hostility to Suckling, see: The Court Beggar.
  2. ^ Madoc-Jones, pp. 196–203.
  3. ^ Downes, p. 161.


  • Downes, John. Roscius Anglicanus. 1708. Edited by the Rev. Montague Summers; reprinted New York, Benjamin Blom, 1968.
  • Harbage, Alfred. Cavalier Drama. New York, Modern Language Association of America, 1936.
  • Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith, eds. The Later Jacobean and Caroline Dramatists: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama. Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1978.
  • Madoc-Jones, Enid. "Mary Bulkeley – The Aglaura of the Poet Suckling." Anglo-Welsh Review 18 (1970).

6 Annotations

First Reading

Terry F  •  Link


L&M note: "A play by Sir John Suckling which he originally wrote as a tragedy, but transformed into a tragicomedy; first acted in 1737, and published in 1638. The scene mentioned here is probably the one at the beginning of Act V, involving a fight between Ariaspes [Achaemenid, b. 0416 B.C., d. 0359 B.C. of poison, second son of Artaxerxes III Ochus, ruler of Persia], and Ziriff [a fictional person]."

" a tragedy of court intrigue, of which the scene is supposed to be Persia, was acted in the winter of 1637, when its literary qualities received less attention than the novelty and magnificence of the scenery used and the dresses presented by the author to the actors. King Charles is said to have requested an alternative final act with a happy ending, which Suckling afterwards wrote. Flecknoe saw the play when it was revived at the Restoration, and his criticism, that it was "full of flowers, but rather stuck than growing there," applies to all Suckling's dramatic work. He has imagination, fancy and wit, but these faculties are not usually employed upon his plot and his characters. The famous lyric, "Why so pale and wan, fond lover?" occurs in the fourth act of Aglaura."…

Why so Pale and Wan?

WHY so pale and wan, fond lover?
Prithee, why so pale?
Will, when looking well can't move her,
Looking ill prevail?
Prithee, why so pale?5
Why so dull and mute, young sinner?
Prithee, why so mute?
Will, when speaking well can't win her,
Saying nothing do 't?
Prithee, why so mute?10
Quit, quit for shame! This will not move;
This cannot take her.
If of herself she will not love,
Nothing can make her:
The devil take her!15…

Michael Robinson  •  Link

L&M note (v. p. 263., Sept 5 1664) "Originally a tragedy, this play had been awkwardly transformed into a tragicomedy; ... PL 905 (1658 ed.)."

Wing, S 6128, noting one edition only. However in 1658 Humphrey Moseley issued three distinct printings of Suckling's 'Fragmenta Aurelia,' with similar title pages, each designated as "third edition," but each differently paginated and with different contents: each is described separately in the ESTC database. Absent a physical examination of the Pepys copy, or information from someone who has done so, I am unable to distinguish which of the three SP owned.

Aglaura appears to have been popular at the time; separate issues in 1638 and 1646. Issued as part of Suckling's 'Fragmenta Aurelia' in 1646, 1646, (2); 1648 (1); 1658, 1648 sic [ie 1658], 1658 sic for [1659] (3). Later by Bentley & Tonson, as part of a Suckling's 'Works' in 1696.

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Sir John Suckling from Aglaura.


WHY so pale and wan, fond lover ?
Prithee, why so pale ?
Will, when looking well can't move her,
Looking ill prevail ?
Prithee, why so pale ?

Why so dull and mute, young sinner ?
Prithee, why so mute ?
Will, when speaking well can't win her,
Saying nothing do 't ?
Prithee, why so mute ?

Quit, quit, for shame, this will not move :
This cannot take her.
If of herself she will not love,
Nothing can make her :
The devil take her !…

nix  •  Link

"added an optional happy ending" --

Prefiguring the DVD industry.

Terry Foreman  •  Link


Presented at the Private House in Black-Fryars,
by his Majesties Servants.
Written by Sir JOHN SVCKLING.
LONDON, printed by T. W. for Humphrey Moseley. and are to be sold
at his shop at the Signe of the Princes Armes in St Pauls Churchyard. 1646.

Google book

Second Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Suckling, John, Sir, 1609-1642.
London: Printed by Iohn Haviland for Thomas Walkley, and are to be sold at his shop at the signe of the Flying Horse betweene York-house and Britaines Burse, 1638.
Early English Books Online [full text]…

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.



  • Sep