A Jovial Crew Essay - Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

Richard Brome

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

“You are a jovial crew,” says Springlove to the beggars, “the only people whose happiness I admire.” Springlove was not alone. When this play was produced, England was on the threshold of one of the darkest periods in its history, and the gathering storm (that was to lead to civil war, regicide, and finally military dictatorship under Cromwell) was already shaking the nation to its foundations. Little wonder that the carefree and rancorless life of the beggars was a pleasant and soothing spectacle to contemporary audiences, or that the escapist romances that Brome laments in his prologue (and to which this play is a mirthful alternative) were the vogue in “these sad and tragic days.”

The motif of the jolly beggars is an enduring one in English literature. Taking dramatic hints from plays such as Fletcher’s THE BEGGAR’S BUSH and Middleton and Rowley’s THE SPANISH GYPSY, Brome worked a rich comic mine that was to be rediscovered by writers like Gay, in THE BEGGAR’S OPERA, and Burns, in his dramatic poem, “The Jolly Beggars.” A JOVIAL CREW was Brome’s most popular play, being frequently revived in the Restoration period (Pepys saw it three times in one year) and in the eighteenth century. The underlying thesis of this and other such works, of course, is that the freedom, mirth, fellowship, and nobility of the beggar makes for a far happier life than the commercial accounts, debts, responsibilities, of the respectable gentleman. A corollary of this romantic idea is that there is, after all, a striking similarity between the “statute beggar” and the “courtier beggar”; indeed, the fact that the former...

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