The play Cambyses was written sometime in the middle of the 16th century by a man named Thomas Preston, about whom nothing else is really known. The play is terrible. Really awful. But in a good way. Kind of like a B movie for the Renaissance.

"Cambyses" kind of sprawls across all genres. There is some basis in historical fact (Cambyses was in fact King of Persia from 529 to 521 B.C.), which is not-so-elegantly mixed with morality play convention, including characters of such names as Dilligence, Cruelty, and Small Ability. Alternately called either "The Tragedy of King Cambyses" or "A Comedy of King Cambyses," the full title is in fact "A Lamentable Tragedy, Mixed Full of Pleasant Mirth, Containing the Life of Cambyses, King of Persia, from the beginning of his kingdom unto his death, his one good deed of execution, after that many wicked deeds and tyrannous murders committed by and through him, and last of all his odious death by God's justice appointed, done in such order as followeth."

If that sounds familiar, one might recall the "tedious brief scene of young Pyramus and his love Thisby; very tragical mirth," from A Midsummer Night's Dream.

The story goes something like this: Cambyses is the king, and he appoints Sisamnes to rule in his place while he goes off to war. Tempted by the vice Ambidexter (he plays both hands), Sisamnes abuses his position. When the king comes back he has him executed. Then one of his counselors complains that the King drinks too much, so Cambyses murders his son and cuts his heart out, while drunk. Then he murders his brother because hey, why not? And then he gets married, and murders his wife because she thought it inappropriate to murder one's brother. He jumps on his horse and his sword flies out of its sheathe and stabs him, and he dies.

All of this is, of course, interspersed with lots of gratuitous sexual humor. The only saving point is Ambidexter, generally makes mischief, talks to cutpurses in the audience and proposes to members of the audience.

Amb: (to audience) Indeed, as ye say, I have been absent a long space.
But is not my cousin Cutpurse with you in the meantime?
To it, to it, cousin, and do your office fine.
How like you Sisamnes for using of me?
He played with both hands, but he sped ill-favoredly.
The King himself was godly uptrained;
He professed virtue--but I think it was feigned.