Chess Games

Thomas Middleton’s A Game at Chesse (O.2.66) is a 17th-century satirical drama which reflects anti-Spanish and anti-Jesuit feeling arising from the breakdown of the proposed marriage between the heir apparent, Prince Charles and the Infanta of Spain. The plot is based on a chess match with characters including the White Knight and the Black King.

Six manuscripts of the play survive but only O.2.66 and one other (the Bridgewater-Huntington Manuscript) are in the hand of Middleton himself. The Trinity manuscript measures 187 x 146 cm and contains 52 leaves.  It is believed to be the author’s copy of his own foul papers (working or draft copies).

The manuscript appears to have been compiled hastily as towards the end some of the detail is carelessly recorded. In spite of this, the Trinity manuscript is the most important surviving textual source for the play. It also reveals that Middleton was actively involved in the dissemination of his own work.

O.2.66, title page
O.2.66, title page

The image above shows the title page, signed ‘by T.M.’.  Note that “iddleton” was added in a darker ink by a later hand.

The most recent transcript of the text was published by the Malone society, see Howard-Hill, T. H., et al., A Game at Chess (Oxford, 1990).

A Miscellania from Cerne Abbey (O.2.45) in Trinity’s collection also includes a page devoted to the game of chess.  It contains two diagrams of chess boards followed by a Latin verse about the game.

O.2.45, p. 3
O.2.45, p. 3