IT is no exaggeration to say that more is known about A Game at Chesse than about any other pre-Restoration play. In spite of the uncertainty that must attend any attempt to interpret all the details of the allegory, the general trend of its political satire is clear. It is the last expression of that great outburst of national feeling to which the Elizabethan age owed so much of its inspiration, although it is true that the spirit of independence and high adventure has narrowed down into a political and religious hatred of Spain. The poetry and rhetoric of Shakepeare's historical plays have given place to satire, for, as Swinburne says, this play is "the only work of English poetry which may properly be called Aristophanic."
However, it is in connection with the stage history of the play that our knowledge is most detailed; even the dates of its allowance by the Master of the Revels, and of the first and last performances, are all known. Its suppression by the authorities, and the consequent surreptitious circulation of copies, both manuscript and printed, have had the result that an editor is confronted with a series of texts unique in their interest. It is a matter of some importance that those who have been engaged on the study of Shakespearian texts are beginning to find that the method of inferring the nature of the original manuscripts from the printed quarto or folio has its limitations, and that valuable aid can be obtained from the study of the extant manuscripts of plays of the other writers of the period. The four manuscripts of A Game at Chesse, which provide transcripts in the hands of the author and two scribes working under his direction, offer exceptional material for the study of certain types of dramatic texts.
The two previous modern editions of the play are those contained in the collected works of Middleton by Dyce