Introduction: Defining Early Modern Childhoods

  • Edel Lamb
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


In 1603 Ben Jonson memorialised the child player Salomon Pavy in his ‘Epitaph on S. P. a Child of Q. El Chappel’. Urging his readers to ‘Weep with me’ (1. 1) at the death of this player aged ‘scarse thirteen’ (1. 9), Jonson fixed Pavy in performance history as a skilled child who acted the parts of old men so ‘truely’ that the ‘Parcae’, or fates, ‘thought him one’ (11. 15–16). Indeed, the poem has served as a source of information for theatre historians about the ages and talents of the youthful players of early modern London.2 However, ‘Epitaph on S. P.’ is as much fiction as reality.3 Jonson manipulates the relationship between Pavy’s early death and the parts that he may have played as a member of the Children of the Chapel, and previously as a member of the Children of Paul’s, as the central conceit of the poem. Furthermore, the fact that Pavy was 14 when he died in 1602 demonstrates the problems in interpreting this elegy as historical reality.4 Yet what is remarkable about the poem is the way in which it conceives of Pavy as a child. It conveys a heightened sense of loss by insisting that he ‘was a child’ (1. 5) and emphasising that the account offered is his ‘little storie’ (1. 2). Pavy’s status as child is crucial to his identity to the extent that even ‘Death’s selfe’ (1. 4) is sorry at having mistakenly taken him.


Seventeenth Century Playing Company Grammar School Cultural Construct Early Modern Period 
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© Edel Lamb 2009

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  • Edel Lamb

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