278. Gammer Gurton’s Needle (c. 1553)

The previous read, Ralph Roister Doister, the earliest surviving English stage comedy, took comic character types from classic Roman drama and prided itself on avoiding any “lewd or coarse material”. The next survivor, Gammer Gurton’s Needle, reverses that with the greatest amount of good old toilet humour leading to an on-stage defacation. And a worthy cat-fight thrown in for good measure.

Source : My read came from the same website as Ralph, namely  Elizabethan Drama  (http://elizabethandrama.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Gammer-Gurton-Annotated.pdf). And like Ralph, the script has plenty of annotations which are sometimes to an unnecessary degree.

Plot: Gammer (Grandma) Gurton has lost her needle. From such a seemingly trivial event, a trickster like Diccon the Bedlam can, and does, create mayhem. Hodge only has two pairs of breeches and both have torn bottoms and at least one must be mended before he meets his sweetheart, so he has an interest in the needle’s wherabouts, but enough to let Diccon summon a devil to locate it? And where really is the lost needle, and who will suffer most in the end? 😉

The author is only known as Mr. S. Early scholars originally laid the authorship at the door of John Still, Bishop of Bath and Wells (?!), but it could have been William Stevenson, a member of the faculty at Christ’s College, Cambridge where the play was first put on stage.

Thoughts : Every little boy loves potty humour, and there’s a lot of it here. In fact, I was starting to see poo jokes where perhaps they didn’t exist (or else the editor providing the otherwise copious annotations chose to ignore them)

Even so, its an enjoyable romp and the cat fight between Gammer and her neighbour, publican Chat, would be great fun on stage.

Personal rating: “a ryght pithy, pleasaunt, and merie comedie, intytuled Gammer Gurtons Nedle: played on stage, not longe ago in Christes Colledge in Cambridge”.   7/10.

In the years 1510-1529:

  • Michaelangelo completes Sistene Chapel ceiling, 1512
  • Henry VIII and Emperor Maximillian defeat French at Battle of the Spurs, while English forces defeat Scots at Flodden Field, 1513
  • Fernando of Aragon dies, leaving his grandson Carlos I to rule Spain, Burgundy, Netherlands, Sicily and Spanish America, 1516
  • Martin Luther protests against the sale of indulgences, 1517
  • Cortez leads his men against the Aztecs, invades Tenochtitlan and captures emperor Montezuma II, 1519. The Spanish are forced out in 1520 but Montezuma is killed. Cortez returns in 1521 and destroys Tenochtitlan.
  • Ferdinand Magellan sets out to sail around the world, 1519, but is killed in the Philippines 1521. His crew complete the circumnavigation, 1522.
  • New Testament is translated into German (1521) and English (1526)
  • Henry VIII asks Pope to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, 1527

from The Book of Key Facts, Paddington Press, 1978


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