For amongst all the worthy books of achievements, I do not call to mind that I yet read of a grocer-errant

From the opening act Francis Beaumont’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle, as the audience within the play – the citizen grocer and his wife – respond to their apprentice playing the role of the first grocer-errant. Despite the obvious similarity to Don Quixote, there doesn’t seem any influence past what one scholar put as ‘notional inspiration.’ Part I had been published in 1605 (with the first English translation appearing in 1612) and this appeared on stage a couple of years later in 1607.

Wife. Oh, husband, husband, now, now there’s Rafe; there’s Rafe

Enter Rafe, like a grocer in’s, with two prentices [Time and George] reading Palmerin of England.

Citizen. Peace, fool! let Rafe alone.—Hark you, Rafe; do not strain yourself too much at
the first.—Peace!—Begin, Rafe.

Rafe. [Reads.] Then Palmerin and Trineus, snatching their lances from their dwarfs, and clasping their helmets galloped amain after the giant; and Palmerin, having gotten a sight of him, came posting amain, saying, ‘Stay, traitorous thief! for thou may’st not so carry away her, that is worth the greatest lord in the world;’ and with these words gave him a blow on the shoulder, that he stroke him besides his elephant. And Trineus, coming to the knight that had Agricola behind him, set him soon besides his horse, with his neck broken in the fall; so that the princess, getting out of the throng, between joy and grief, said, “All happy knight, the mirror of all such as follow arms, now may I be well assured of the love thou bearest me.” I wonder why the kings do not raise an army of fourteen or fifteen hundred thousand men, as big as the army that the Prince of Portigo brought against Rosicleer, and destroy these giants; they do much hurt to wandering damsels, that go in quest of their knights.

Wife. Faith, husband, and Rafe says true; for they say the King of Portugal cannot sit at his meat, but the giants and the ettins will come and snatch it from him.

Cit. Hold thy tongue.—On, Rafe!

Rafe. And certainly those knights are much to be commended, who, neglecting their possessions, wander with a squire and a dwarf through the deserts to relieve poor ladies.

Wife. Ay, by my faith, are they, Rafe; let ’em say what they will, they are indeed. Our knights neglect their possessions well enough, but they do not the rest.

Rafe. There are no such courteous and fair well-spoken knights in this age: they will call one “the son of a whore,” that Palmerin of England would have called “fair sir;” and one that Rosicleer would have called “right beauteous damsel,” they will call “damned bitch.”

Wife. I’ll be sworn will they, Rafe; they have called me so an hundred times about a scurvy pipe of tobacco.

Rafe. But what brave spirit could be content to sit in his shop, with a flappet of wood, and a blue apron before him, selling mithridatum and dragon’s-water to visited houses, that might pursue feats of arms, and, through his noble achievements, procure such a famous history to be written of his heroic prowess?

Cit. Well said, Rafe; some more of those words, Rafe!

Wife. They go finely, by my troth.

Rafe. Why should not I, then, pursue this course, both for the credit of myself and our company? for amongst all the worthy books of achievements, I do not call to mind that I yet read of a grocer-errant: I will be the said knight. —Have you heard of any that hath wandered unfurnished of his squire and dwarf? My elder prentice Tim shall be my trusty squire, and little George my dwarf. Hence, my blue apron! Yet, in remembrance of my former trade, upon my shield shall be portrayed a Burning Pestle, and I will be called the Knight o’ th’ Burning Pestle.

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