Richard Brome Biography

Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Little is known of Richard Brome’s personal life, including date and place of birth and death. The conventionally accepted estimate of his birth date is 1590, but evidence for the date is scanty: In 1591, a Richard Brome was listed as the son of Henry Brome in the St. James Clerkenwell parish register, and depositions in 1639 and 1640 Chancery Court suits identified a Richard Brome “aged 50 years or thereabouts.” Whether these records refer to Richard Brome the playwright is uncertain, since marriage and burial records of the period indicate several Richard Bromes in the London area alone. For the same reason, Brome’s marriage and family relationships cannot be clearly identified, though he did apparently marry and rear a family: In 1640, he complained that the Salisbury Court Theatre’s refusal to pay him caused him and his family to suffer hardship. His death can be pinned down only to the years 1652-1653.

Much more interesting information is available on Brome’s career as a playwright. The most interesting fact is that, before becoming a playwright, Brome was the servant of Ben Jonson, a leading playwright and the main theorist of Renaissance English drama. The introduction of Jonson’s comedy Bartholomew Fair (pr. 1614) refers to “his man, Master Broome, behind the arras,” and Jonson wrote a commendatory poem for Brome’s The Northern Lass that includes the following lines:

I had you for a servant, once, Dick Brome;And you performed a servant’s faithful parts.Now, you are got into a nearer room,Of fellowship, professing my old arts.And you do do them well, with good applause,Which you have justly gained from the stage,By observation of those comic laws Which I, your master,...

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Richard Brome Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The last of the Elizabethan writers of comedy, Richard Brome (brohm) had no contemporary chronicler, and he left few legal traces of his existence. Yet he was a friend of the great and near great. Originally, he was Ben Jonson’s servant—though it is not clear whether in a menial or secretarial capacity—and he rose from humble beginnings to a place of some prominence. He called himself a playmaker rather than a poet, and he was a writer of popular comedies, satires, masques, and nineteen or more romantic plays. Only five of his plays were published during his lifetime.

Brome wrote for such prominent companies as the King’s Men, the King’s Revels at Salisbury Court, and Beeston’s Boys at the Phoenix. His plays were repeatedly performed at the most popular theaters, and on several occasions he collaborated with other working dramatists (however, he disdained the courtly amateurs). Even after the Restoration, his plays continued to be revised and played. His comedies, like those of his mentor Jonson, contained much deft writing and satiric but accurate portrayals of the age. More important, his art anticipated the witty and bawdy comedy of manners and thus serves as a bridge between two great periods of comedy in the theater.

The facts of Brome’s biography remain scanty. He was probably an actor early in life, possibly in a company of strolling players. In 1628, he is listed among the members of the queen of Bohemia’s company, Lady Elizabeth’s Men. He was possibly married three times, and legal notices indicate that money was usually scarce with him. When Parliament closed the theaters in 1642, Brome was deprived of his livelihood, and he died impoverished ten years later.