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The Merry Devil of Edmonton is an Elizabethan era stage play, a comedy about a magician, Peter Fabel, nicknamed the Merry Devil.

Scholars have conjectured dates of authorship for the play as early as 1592, though most favor a date in the 1600–4 period.[1] The Merry Devil enters the historical record in 1604, when it is mentioned in a contemporary work called the Black Booke. The play was entered into the Stationers' Register on October 22, 1607, and published the next year, in a quarto printed by Henry Ballard for the bookseller Arthur Johnson (Q1 – 1608). Five more quartos appeared through the remainder of the century: Q2 – 1612; Q3 – 1617; Q4 – 1626; Q5 – 1631; and Q6 – 1655. All of these quartos were anonymous.

The play was performed at Court on May 8, 1608; it was also one of the twenty plays that the King's Men acted at Court in the Christmas season of 1612–13 during the festivities celebrating the wedding of Princess Elizabeth, the daughter of King James I, with Frederick V, Elector Palatine.[2]

Publisher Humphrey Moseley obtained the rights to the play and re-registered it on September 9, 1653 as a work by Shakespeare. Moseley's attribution to Shakespeare was repeated by Edward Archer in his 1656 play list [see: The Old Law], and by Francis Kirkman in his list of 1661.[3] The play was bound with Fair Em and Mucedorus in a book titled "Shakespeare. Vol. I" in the library of Charles II.

As its publishing history indicates, the play was popular with audiences; it is mentioned by Ben Jonson in the Prologue to his play The Devil is an Ass. While Merry Devil was a King's Men play and Shakespeare may have had a minor role in its creation, it does not have the distinctive marks of Shakespeare's style. Individual 19th-century critics attempted to attribute the play to Michael Drayton or to Thomas Heywood; but their attributions have not been judged credible by other scholars. William Amos Abrams proposed Thomas Dekker as the play's author in his 1942 edition; but this hypothesis has also won little approval.[4]


  1. ^ Logan and Smith, pp. 209-10.
  2. ^ Chambers, Vol. 4, p. 127.
  3. ^ Chambers, Vol. 4, p. 30.
  4. ^ Logan and Smith, pp. 36-7, 208-9.


  • Chambers, E. K. The Elizabethan Stage. 4 Volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1923.
  • Kozlenko, William, ed. Disputed Plays of William Shakespeare. Hawthorn Books, 1974.
  • Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith, eds. The Popular School: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama. Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1975.
  • Tucker Brooke, C. F., ed. The Shakespeare Apocrypha. Oxford, the Clarendon Press, 1908.


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