Full Investigation of the Historic Performance of the First Play in English in the New World

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Ye Bare & Ye Cubbe, the first play in English in the New World, was performed in a tavern near what is now the tiny hamlet of Pungoteague in Virginia on August 27, 1665. It had a clear political intent. The three young men who participated in the performance were taken to court but ‘acquitted of any wrong doing’ in one of America’s first trials over freedom of expression. August 27th was a Sunday, and they might have been charged with Violation of the Sabbath, but the Court ordered the entire play performed, complete with props and costumes. The work makes a fully supported case that the authorities were seeking higher charges based on the content of the play. Everything points to a political foundation for the performance yet virtually nothing surrounding this event has turned out as it first appears. This obscure rural event may have a value in forming ideas relative to the First Amendment that have heretofore been unexplored. The many Virginians, all lawyers or scholars in law, who were pivotal in framing the praxis for the American Revolution, could not have been ignorant of this unique case in Virginia law. This monograph solidly repositions this event in terms of American pre-revolutionary history and the history of theatre in the New World, weaving together the threads of a previously incomplete story. It contains illustrations and rare documents and maps. It will interest not only theater historians, but scholars of American history and law as well.


“In his examination of Ye Bare & Ye Cubbe Professor Eis has produced an excellent, painstaking and meticulous work….Carefully setting the scene for the reader in the Eastern Shore, Eis notes the political and economic motives common to the settlers…For the actors and the plaintiff in this case, Eis has pored over the records of indentured servants, the plots on which they toiled, passenger lists from London, potential personal animosities, and other pieces of background information. The facts derived are often very intriguing….By a thorough use of documents, tax records, and other pieces of evidence over the hundreds of years, not the least of which were recent maps and surveyors’ maps, Eis shows conclusively that Fowkes’ Tavern was the site of both the play and the trial months later….Future historians of the American Theatre will not be limited to a few vague lines about Ye Bare and Ye Cubbe. Thanks to Eis’ treatment of the totality of this case and the audience and actors, this play for which we have no text, has achieved a context that casts light on the audience of that day and time.” – William R. Reardon, Emeritus Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara

“[This work] is rigorously undertaken and meticulously detailed speculation on the nature of the play in question, Ye Bare & Ye Cubbe, which was performed at Fowkes Tavern on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Scholars generally agree this was, indeed, the “first play performed in English in the New World”, but there the matter ended until Professor Eis took up the considerable challenge of unraveling the probable content and political implications of the play itself, an exercise that involves considerable research of theatrical practice on both sides of the Atlantic at a temporal distance of nearly 300 years along with exhaustive investigation of local American history – both legal and cultural – in an effort to determine just what happened at Fowkes Tavern and some months later when the principals of the dramatic effort were tried and acquitted. The journey to Eis’ final speculative conclusion makes fascinating reading as he moves from theatrical suppression to the make-up of the Virginia Beach, to the festering colonial sense of injustice in relation to Britain herself. It is a book well worth reading, and if the conclusion is less certain than one might wistfully desire, it is provocative and solid enough to leave the reader with that combination of satisfaction and curiosity that the author doubtlessly desires.” – Phebe Davidson, University of South Carolina, Aiken

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Introduction: A Call to Arms
1. The Discovery of Irregularities in the Case
2. Background on the Time and Place
3. Colonial Politics, Economics as Motives
4. The Title of the Play Considered as Evidence
5. The Nature of the Performance of the Play
6. Charges in the Court Case Reexamined for Political Implications
7. Deconstruction of the Trial Records
8. The Legal Question of Opportunity for the Accused
9. A Profile of the Defendants in the Case
10. William Darby, a Mysterious Arrival
11. Was Darby Connected to Theatre in London?
12. The Dossier of Edward Martin, Plaintiff
13. The Crime Scene Confirmed, Its Bearing on the Case
14. The Fowkes’ Tavern Site Considered
15. The Final Witness: The Testimony of the Maps
16. The Taint of Conflict of Interest
17. A Summation
Exhibits (documents, maps); Appendix
Bibliography; Index

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