The Gesta Grayorum, printed in 1688 from a manuscript apparently passed down from the 1590s is an account of the Christmas revels by the law students at Gray's Inn in 1594. In the text reproduced below the references to the High and Mighty Prince, Henry Prince of Purpoole, our Prince of State, are to the mock prince crowned for the occasion from among the students, a sort of prince of misrule. The document is important for its clear reference to Shakespeare's company--the players--and unmistakable references to Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors, performed on this night of December 28, 1594 ("Innocents-Day"). It also contains an enigmatic references to (perhaps) certain elements in Love's Labour's Lost which are also reproduced below. This text is from the public domain copy of the Gesta Grayorum edited by W. W. Greg at the Internet Archive. I have corrected some of the OCR errors in the TXT version, but otherwise left the text as it appears in the work mounted at that site.
The Gesta is helpful in dating the The Comedy of Errors by establishing the date of its first known performance, but, of course, it could have been in existence from the late 1580s (as T. W. Baldwin argued in William Shakspere Adapts a Hanging), or even earlier (as argued by Peter Alexander in Shakespeare's Life and Art). R. A. Foakes in his Arden 2 edition of The Comedy of Errors thoroughly discusses the dating quandries provoked by The Comedy of Errors, and indeed Shakespeare's four early comedies, Errors, Two Gentlemen, Shrew and Love's Labour's Lost.
The text from Gesta Grayorum
The next grand Night was intended to be upon Innocents-Day at Night ; at which time there was a great Prefence of Lords, Ladies, and worfhipful Perfonages, that did expect fome notable Performance at that time ; which, indeed, had been effected, if the multitude of Beholders had not been fo exceeding great, that thereby there was no convenient room for thofe that were Actors ; by reafon whereof, very good Inventions and Conceipts could not have opportunity to be applauded, which otherwife would have been great Contentation to the Beholders. Againft which time, our Friend, the Inner Temple, determined to fend their Ambaffador to our Prince of State, as fent from Frederick Templarius, their Emperor, who was then bufied in his Wars againft the Turk. The Ambaffador came very gallantly appointed, and attended by a great number of brave Gentlemen, which arrived at our Court about Nine of the Clock at Night. Upon their coming thither, the King at Arms gave notice to the Prince, then fitting in his Chair of State in the Hall, that there was come to his Court an Ambaffador from his ancient Friend the State of Templaria which defired to have prefent Accefs unto His Highnefs ; and fliewed his Honour further, that he feemed to be of very good fort, becaufe he was fo well attended ; and therefore defired that it would pleafe His Honour that fome of his Nobles and Lords might conduct him to His Highnefs's Prefence ; which was done. So he was brought in very folemnly, with Sound of Trumpets, the King at Arms and Lords of Purpoole making to his Company, which marched before him in order. He was received very kindly of the Prince, and placed in a Chair befides His Highnefs, to the end that he might be Partaker of the Sports intended. But firft, he made a Speech to the Prince, wherein he declared how his excellent Renown and Fame was known throughout all the whole World ; and that the Report of his Greatnefs was not contained within the Bounds of the Ocean, but had come to the Ears of his noble Sovereign, Frederick Templarius where he is now warring againfl the Turks, the known Enemies to all Christendom; who having heard that His Excellency kept his Court at Graya, this Chriftmas, thought it to ftand with his ancient League of Amity and near Kindnefs, that fo long hath been continued and increafed by their noble Anceftors of famous Memory and Defert, to gratulate his Happinefs, and flourifhing Eftate ; and in that regard, had fent him his Ambaffador, to be refiding at His Excellency's Court, in honour of his Greatnefs, and token of his tender Love and Good Will he beareth to His Highnefs; the Confirmation whereof he efpecially required, and by all means poffible, would ftudy to increafe and eternize: Which Function he was the more willing to accomplish, becaufe our State of Graya did grace Templaria with the Prefence of an Ambaffador about thirty Years fince, upon like occafion. Our Prince made him this Anfwer, That he did acknowledge that the great Kindnefs of his Lord, whereby he doth invite to further degrees in firm and Loyal Friendfhip, did deferve all honourable Commendations, and effectual Accomplifhment, that by any means might be devifed ; and that he accounted himfelf happy, by having the fincere and ftedfaft Love of fo gracious and renowned a Prince, as his Lord and Mafter deferved to be efteemed ; and that nothing in the World fhould hinder the due Obfervation of fo inviolable a Band as he efteemed his Favour and Good Will. Withal, he entred into Commendations of his noble and courageous Enterprizes, in that he chufeth out an Adverfary fit for his Greatnefs to encounter with, his Honour to be illuftrated by, and fuch an Enemy to all Christiendom as that the Glory of his Actions tend to the Safety and Liberty of all Civility and Humanity ; yet, notwithstanding that he was thus employed, in this Action or honouring us, he mewed both his honourable Mindfulnefs of our Love and Friendfhip, and alfo his own Puiffance, that can afford fo great a number of brave Gentlemen, and fo gallantly furnifhed and accomplimed : And fo concluded, with a Welcome both to the Ambaffador himfelf, and his Favourites, for their Lord and Mailer's fake, and fo for their own good Deferts and Condition.
When the Ambaflador was placed, as aforefaid, and that there was fomething to be performed for the Delight of the Beholders, there arofe fuch a difordered Tumult and Crowd upon the Stage, that there was no Opportunity to effect that which was intended : There came fo great a number of worshipful Perfonages upon the Stage, that might not be difplaced ; and Gentlewomen, whofe Sex did privilege them from Violence, that when the Prince and his Officers had in vain, a good while, expected and endeavoured a Reformation, at length there was no hope of Redrefs for that prefent. The Lord Ambaffador and his Train thought that they were not fo kindly entertained, as was before expected, and thereupon would not ftay any longer at that time, but, in a fort, difcontented and difpleafed. After their Departure the Throngs and Tumults did fomewhat ceafe, although fo much of them continued, as was able to diforder and confound any good Inventions whatfoever. In regard whereof, as alfo for that the Sports intended were efpecially for the gracing of the Templarians it was thought good not to offer any thing of Account, faving Dancing and Revelling with Gentlewomen; and after fuch Sports, a Comedy of Errors (like to Plautus his Menechmus) was played by the Players. So that Night was begun, and continued to the end, in nothing but Confufion and Errors; whereupon, it was ever afterwards called, The Night of Errors.
This mifchanceful Accident forting fo ill, to the great prejudice of the reft of our Proceedings, was a great Difcouragement and Difparagement to our whole State ; yet it gave occafion to the Lawyers of the Prince's Council, the next Night, after Revels, to read a Commiffion of Oyer and Terminer, directed to certain Noblemen and Lords of His Highnefs's Council, and others, that they would enquire, or caufe Enquiry to be made of fome great Diforders and Abufes lately done and committed within His Highnefs's Dominions of Purpoole, efpecially by Sorceries and Inchantments ; and namely, of a great Witchcraft ufed the Night before, whereby there were great Diforders and Mifdemeanours, by Hurly-burlies, Crowds, Errors, Confufions, vain Reprefentations and Shews, to the utter Difcredit of our State and Policy.
The next Night upon this Occafion, we preferred Judgments thick and threefold, which were read publickly by the Clerk of the Crown, being all againft a Sorcerer or Conjurer that was fuppofed to be the Caufe of that confufed Inconvenience. Therein was contained, How he had caufed the Stage to be built, and Scaffolds to be reared to the top of the Houfe, to increafe Expectation. Alfo how he had caufed divers Ladies and Gentlewomen, and others of good Condition, to be invited to our Sports; alfo our deareft Friend, the State of Templaria, to be difgraced, and difappointed of their kind Entertainment, deferved and intended. Alfo that he caufed Throngs and Tumults, Crowds and Outrages, to difturb our whole Proceedings. And Laftly, that he had foifted a Company of bafe and common Fellows, to make up our Diforders with a Play of Errors and Confufions ; and that that Night had gained to us Difcredit, and itfelf a Nickname of Errors. All which were againft the Crown and Dignity of our Sovereign Lord, the Prince of Purpoole.
Under Colour of thefe Proceedings, were laid open to the View, all the Caufes of note that were committed by our chiefefl Statesmen in the Government of our Principality ; and every Officer in any great Place, that had not performed his Duty in that Service, was taxed hereby, from the higheft to the loweft, not fparing the Guard and Porters, that fuffered fo many difordered Perfons to enter in at the Court-Gates : Upon whofe aforefaid Indictments, the Prifoner was arraigned at the Bar, being brought thither by the Lieutenant of the Tower (for at that time the Stocks were graced with that Name;) and the Sheriff impannelled a Jury of Twenty four Gentlemen, that were to give their Verdict upon the Evidence given.
Shortly after this Shew, there came Letters to our State from Frederick Templarius ; wherein he defired, that his Ambaffador might be difpatched with Anfwer to thofe Things which he came to treat of So he was very honourably difmiffed, and accompanied homeward with the Nobles of Purpoole : Which Departure was before the next grand Day. The next grand Night was upon Twelfthday at Night; at which time the wonted honourable and worfhipful Company of Lords, Ladies and Knights were, as at other times, affembled ; and every one of them placed conveniently, according to their Condition. And when the Prince was afcended his Chair of State, and the Trumpets founded, there was prefently a Shew which concerned His Highnefs's State and Government : The Invention was taken out of the Prince's Arms, as they are blazon'd in the beginning of his Reign, by the King at Arms. Firft, There came fix Knights of the Helmet, with three that they led as Prifoners, and were attired like Monfters and Mifcreants. The Knights gae the Prince to underftand, that as they were returning from their Adventures out of Ruffia, wherein they aided the Emperor Ruffia, againft the Tartars t they furprized thefe three Perfbns, which were confpiring againfl His Highnefs and Dignity: and that being apprehended by them, they could not urge them to difclofe what they were : By which they refting very doubtful, there entred in the two Goddeffes, Arety and Amity; and they faid, that they would difclofe to the Prince who thefe fufpected Perfons were; and thereupon shewed, that they were Envy Malecontent and Folly : Which three had much mifliked His Highnefs's Proceedings, and had attempted many things againft his State; and but for them two, Fertile and United Friendfhip, all their Inventions had been difappointed. Then willed they the Knights to depart, and to carry away the Offenders ; and that they themfelves fhould come in more pleafing fort, and better befitting the prefent. So the Knights departed, and Fertile and Amity promifed, that they two would fupport His Excellency againft all his Foes whatfoever, and then departed with moft pleafant Mufick. After their Departure, entred the fix Knights in a very ftately Mask, and danced a new devifed Meafure ; and after that, they took to them Ladies and Gentlewomen, and danced with them their Galliards, and fo departed with Mufick. Which being done, the Trumpets were commanded to found, and then the King at Arms came in before the Prince, and told His Honour, that there was arrived an Ambaffador from the mighty Emperor of Ruffia and Mofcovy, that had fome Matters of Weight to make known to His Highnefs. So the Prince willed that he fhould be admitted into his Prefence ; who came in Attire of Russia, accompanied with two of his own Country, in like Habit.
This is sophomorish stuff, as one might expect. The previous two night's Shakespeare's company had performed at court (there is a dating problem with court payments to Shakespeare's company noted on December 26 and 28--there is also a payment noted to the Admiral's men on December 28--the night of Errors--so the second payment to Shakespeare's company was probably misdated and should be assigned to the 27th--see R. A. Foakes, The Comedy of Errors, p. 115-116). Fresh from court, they descend, the next night of the 28th to be engulfed in this confusion and uproar among the (most likely drunken) legal students. Ah, show biz. It is little wonder that Shakespeare expresses such reservations about his profession. It must have stung the rising gentle Shakespeare to be numbered among "base and common Fellows."