Study Guide

Richard Brome

Richard Brome Essay - Brome, Richard

Brome, Richard

Introduction

Richard Brome c. 1590-c. 1652

English playwright

A popular Caroline dramatist, Brome was the author, singly or in collaboration, of at least twenty–three plays, sixteen of which survive. A former servant of Ben Jonson, Brome was greatly influenced by his master in his inclusion of “humors” characters, realistic elements, and satiric comment in his comedies. He was unique, however, in his belief in the therapeutic value of comedy; his two best plays, The Antipodes (1638) and A Jovial Crew (1641), demonstrate his conviction that mirth is a curative for the condition of melancholy.

Biographical Information

Not much is known about Brome's personal life. It is generally accepted that he was born around 1590, probably outside of London. The earliest extant reference to Brome places him as Ben Jonson's servant; the Induction to Jonson's Bartholomew Fair (1614) characterizes “Master Broome” as Jonson's “man.” Moreover, in Jonson's verses, dedicated “To my old Faithfull Seruant: and (by his continu'd Vertue) my louing Friend: the Author of this Work, M. Richard Brome,” included in the 1629 publication of Brome's The Northern Lass, the elder playwright stated: “I had you for a Servant, once, Dick Brome; / And you perform'd a Servants faithful parts.” Brome himself acknowledged the relationship in his verses included in the 1647 folio edition of the plays of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, when he referred to “the Master of his Art and Me, / Most knowing Jonson.” Advancing from servant to protégé of Jonson, Brome became known as one of the so-called “Sons of Ben,” a group of active professional writers whose works were composed in a style clearly influenced by Jonson. It is believed that Brome's first play (now lost), A Fault in Friendship, (1623) was a collaboration with Jonson. Later, an angry Jonson, bitter over the success of one of Brome's plays just weeks after one of his own had failed at the same theater, disparaged his pupil in his Ode to Himself (c. 1629): “Broomes sweeping doe as well / There as his Masters Meale.” The two evidently reconciled, for the reference to Brome was deleted from later versions of the poem. Brome testified to Jonson's influence in the Prologue appended to the 1637 revival of The City Wit (c. 1629) asserting that the play “bore just judgement, and the seal of Ben.” As a professional playwright, Brome wrote for a variety of acting companies, including the King's Men, formerly Shakespeare's acting troupe. After the closing of London's theaters in 1642, Brome wrote very little. He died around 1652-53. He wrote a dedication for the 1652 publication A Jovial Crew, but the address to the readers in the 1653 printing of Five New Playes stated that Brome was dead.

Major Works

Many of Brome's works are city comedies, a genre, pioneered by Jonson, of realistic, satirical plays presenting a view of middle- and lower-class life in London. Brome's plays lack the sustained satirical edge possessed by those of his mentor, however; rather they reflect the playwright's optimistic view of life and his attempts to use theater as a cure for misery. From his earliest surviving play, The City Wit, and The Sparagus Garden (1635), to his latest and most successful works, The Antipodes and A Jovial Crew, Brome again and again employed theatrical devices such as disguise, role playing, and a play-within-the-play to effect positive outcomes. In The City Wit Crasy, a bankrupt businessman who has failed because he is honest, and who as a result is dismissed as a fool, assumes a number of diguises in order to outwit the members of the society that cast him out. The Sparagus Garden presents a pair of young lovers whose parents oppose their marriage. The lovers and their friends use their knowledge of theater to overcome the parents' opposition. In The Antipodes Peregrine is cured of his melancholy—brought about his unfulfilled desire to travel—by means of a play-within-the-play, with which he is duped into believing that he is has actually travelled to the topsy-turvy land of the Antipodes. His recognition of the absurdities he encounters restores his mental balance. A Jovial Crew features a complex plot that includes several levels of deception and playacting, and also includes a play-within-the-play. Patrico orchestrates an elaborate ruse to cure Oldrents of his melancholy. Oldrents' daughters transform themselves into beggars, and they later stage, with the assistance of Patrico, a play called The Merry Beggars, the action of which mirrors that of the larger play. After these departures from everyday life, the return to reality at the end of A Jovial Crew cures everyone of their dissatisfactions. These and numerous other devices throughout Brome's body of work demonstrate his belief in the therapeutic value of theater and his conviction that mirth and comedy, combined with a healthy dose of realism, can overcome the miseries of an imperfect world.

Critical Reception

During his lifetime, Brome was a successful playwright, and A Jovial Crew was one of the most popular plays in the Caroline period. In addition to the support and tutelage of Ben Jonson, Brome received praise in the form of commendatory verses from such contemporaries as Thomas Dekker, John Ford, James Shirley, and others. The accolades of Brome's colleagues carried little weight with later critics, however. Herbert F. Allen, among others, regarded the work of Brome and his contemporaries as “decadent”: markedly inferior to that of their predecessors, including Shakespeare and Jonson. Allen dismissed Brome's plays as predictable and derivative. Clarence Edward Andrews similarly considered Brome decadent, but he conceded: “If we compare him with the very numerous tribe of Caroline imitators, he stands out as a figure of real importance.” Algernon Charles Swinburne also found Brome superior to his contemporaries and declared: “One of the most fanciful and delightful farces in the world is The Antipodes.” Joe Lee Davis further rehabilitated Brome's reputation when he discerned in The Antipodes a demonstration of a sophisticated theory of comic catharsis formulated by the playwright. Subsequent commentators have increasingly accorded Brome a greater measure of respect and have acknowledged the depth and complexity of his comedies. Several critics have noted the specificity of Brome's references to actual places and events. In his examination of topical allusions in four of Brome's plays, R. J. Kauffmann characterized the works as the “newspapers” of the day and stressed how “socially engaged” they were. Catherine M. Shaw also analyzed Brome's use of “realistic London references” and the social satire directed at his contemporaries. Ira Clark observed Brome's “persitent concern with Caroline sociopolitics,” arguing that the playwright “presented pressing issues in a pressing time.” Among the studies that have focused on other dimensions of Brome's plays are Shaw's discussion of the playwright's satirizing of conventional dramatic forms in several of his comedies and R. W. Ingram's analysis of his effective use of music.

Principal Works

The City Wit, or The Woman Wears the Breeches (play) c. 1629

The Northern Lass (play) 1629

The Novella (play) 1632

The Queen's Exchange (play) c. 1631–32

*The Weeding of the Covent Garden, or The Middlesex Justice of the Peace (play) 1632

The Late Lancashire Witches [with Thomas Heywood] (play) 1634

The New Academy, or The New Exchange (play) c. 1635

The Queen and Concubine (play) c. 1635

The Sparagus Garden (play) 1635

The English Moor, or The Mock Marriage (play) 1637

The Antipodes (play) 1638

The Damoiselle, or The New Ordinary (play) c. 1637–38

The Lovesick Court, or The Ambitious Politique (play) c. 1638

A Mad Couple Well Match'd (play) c. 1637–39

The Court Beggar (play) 1639–40

A Jovial Crew, or The Merry Beggars (play) 1641

Five New Playes (plays) 1653

Five New Playes (plays) 1659

*This work is also referred to as Covent Garden Weeded.

†This collection contains A Mad Couple Well Match'd, The Novella, The Court Beggar, The City Wit, and The Damoiselle.

‡This collection contains The English Moor, The Love-Sick Court, Covent Garden Weeded, The New Academy, and The Queen and Concubine.

Criticism

Herbert F. Allen (essay date 1912)

SOURCE: A Study of the Comedies of Richard Brome: Especially as Representative of Dramatic Decadence, Stanford University Press, 1912, pp. 9-61.

[In the following essay, Allen considers Brome's works “decadent”: while well constructed, they are merely exercises in technique “without content.”]

The word “decadent,” according to the Century Dictionary, signifies a “falling away,” “decaying,” “deteriorating.” It is not surprising, in view of the general character of these terms, that at least two standpoints are taken as to what should be considered decadent in literature. One group of men hold that the term should be applied to all writers in a...

(The entire section is 18723 words.)

Clarence Edward Andrews (essay date 1913)

SOURCE: “Brome as a Dramatist,” in Richard Brome: A Study of His Life and Works, Henry Holt and Company, 1913, pp. 46-77.

[In the following essay, Andrews surveys Brome's surviving plays, discussing their structure, characters, versification, and moral content. Regarding the playwright's plots, Andrews declares: “In Brome, English drama reached an extreme of intricacy which has never been equaled.”]

The period of Brome's activity as a dramatist extends from the end of his apprenticeship with Jonson, which we may call about 1628, to the closing of the theatres in 1642. The records of his work show that he wrote, or had a hand in, twenty-three plays at least,...

(The entire section is 9853 words.)

Algernon Charles Swinburne (essay date 1919)

SOURCE: “Richard Brome,” in Contemporaries of Shakespeare, William Heinemann, 1919, pp. 261-74.

[In the following essay, Swinburne favorably compares Brome's plays to those of his contemporaries and considers The Antipodes one of the “most fanciful and delightful farces in the world.”]

If the futile and venerable custom of academic disputations on a given theme of debate were ever to revive in the world of scholarship and of letters, an amusing if not a profitable theme for discussion might be the question whether a minor artist of real and original merit is likelier to gain or to lose by the association of his name with that of a master in his art. And...

(The entire section is 3955 words.)

Joe Lee Davis (essay date 1943)

“Richard Brome's Neglected Contribution to Comic Theory,” in Studies in Philology, Vol. 40, No. 4, 1943, pp. 520-28.

[In the essay below, Davis argues that an unstated but coherent theory of comic catharsis is adumbrated by Brome in The Antipodes.]

I

The Antipodes of Richard Brome, composed in 1637 and first acted at the Salisbury Court playhouse in 1638,1 has been competently related to its many sources and analyzed for its wide-glancing satire;2 the claim has been made that it has the unique distinction among Caroline plays of anticipating Gilbertian farce.3 None of its critics, however, has...

(The entire section is 2998 words.)

R. J. Kaufmann (essay date 1961)

SOURCE: “The Caroline Editorial Page,” in Richard Brome: Caroline Playwright, Columbia University Press, 1961, pp. 47-66.

[In the following essay, Kaufmann explores topical allusions and references to contemporary events in four of Brome's plays, characterizing these works as the “newspapers” of the day.]

Because the Caroline realistic comedy is artistically tentative, its playwrights are experimenting with possible ways of digesting urgently needed corrections for social abuses without losing the advantage of a matured formal structure for their plays. They wanted to be contemporary without becoming trivial. When reading the comedies of this time, one is...

(The entire section is 8629 words.)

R. W. Ingram (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: “The Musical Art of Richard Brome's Comedies,” in Renaissance Drama, Vol. 7, 1976, pp. 219-52.

[In the following essay, Ingram analyzes Brome's use of music in his plays, asserting that Brome had the ability to write musical scenes rather than just scenes with music added to them.]

Caroline audiences expected musical entertainment during their plays, but few of their playwrights were as adept as Brome at making the music serve any effective dramatic purpose. Playwrights too often relied upon a drably unimaginative use of convention: love scenes, whether romantic, gay, or melancholy, permitted, almost asked for, music to match their mood; pathetic singing of...

(The entire section is 9172 words.)

Catherine M. Shaw (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: “Gatherings of ‘Naughty-packs,’” and “Generic Inversion: ‘The Choice Dainties of His Theatre,’” in Richard Brome, Twayne Publishers, 1980, pp. 75-92; 118-35.

[In the first excerpt below, Shaw examines “topographichal references” to specific London locations in several of Brome's plays. In the second excerpt, she analyzes three plays in which Brome satirizes conventional forms.]

The Weeding of Covent-Garden (1632), The Sparagus Garden (1635), The New Academy (1625-35), and A Mad Couple Well Match't (1637-39) are all comedies of manners; social satires exposing particular humors or the strivings of various...

(The entire section is 16715 words.)

Ira Clark (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: “Brome's Comedy of Types and Inversions,” in Professional Playwrights: Massinger, Ford, Shirley, & Brome, The University Press of Kentucky, 1992, pp. 155-96.

[In the following essay, Clark detects a strain of sociopolitical criticism running throughout Brome's body of work but notes that the playwright offers no solutions to the problems he identifies.]

THE REVISIONARY POTENTIAL OF BROME'S BACKGROUNDS

There is even less information about Richard Brome and his acquaintances than there is about his colleagues and theirs. Apart from evidence about his theatrical associates, few traces of his background remain. Compared to that...

(The entire section is 19891 words.)