Context: With the inconsistent spelling of the seventeenth century, an English dramatist published his first play in 1632 under the name of Schackerley Marmyon, Master of Arts. By the time The Antiquary appeared, in 1641, its author was given as Shackerly Mermion, Gent. Actually, the name of the ancient Lancaster family was Shakerly. The dramatist was born in Northampton, in January, 1602 (Old Style). After the usual free-school education, he was sent to Wadham College, out of which he came as gentleman commoner, with a Master of Arts degree in 1624. Lacking a family fortune, for his father was a spendthrift, Shackerley tried the army in the Low Countries, but he found promotion slow, so he returned to England and enlisted in a cavalry troop raised by his friend Sir John Suckling, in 1638, for service against the Scotch Covenanters. However, he became ill during the campaign and returned to London, where he died. His writing, done at intervals, began with two plays, Holland's Leaguer (1632), and A Fine Companion (1633). A graceful legend of Cupid and Psyche or An Epic Poem of Cupid and His Mistress (1637), on which his poetic fame chiefly rests, was followed by a third play, The Antiquary (1641), in imitation of Ben Jonson. A fourth comedy, The Crafty Merchant or the Soldier'd Citizen, sometimes attributed to him, was never printed. The Antiquary "performed by His Majesty's Servants at the Cock-Pit," was highly admired by Sir Walter Scott and others as one of England's best early dramatic attempts. Scott reprinted it in his Ancient British Dramas, as did several other compilers of early plays. The setting of the play is given as Pisa, with the Duke of Pisa as one of the main characters, but the dramatist apparently confused Pisa with Venice, because he mentions "The Rialto" in the first act and "canals" in the third. In the List of Characters he also carelessly called Aemelia "wife to Gasparo" and Lucretia "daughter to Gasparo," where the play shows them as part of the family of elderly Lorenzo. But as Horace observed, even Homer nodded on occasion. The play starts with Lionell, nephew of the wealthy Antiquary Veterano, welcoming Petrutio, Gasparo's stupid son, who is sure his excellent qualities will bring him success at court. Lionell offers, in return for the loan of a hundred ducats, to help him, but now Petrutio is interested only in Lionell's page boy, actually his sister Angelia disguised. Petrutio meets his father in company with Lorenzo, who is seeking a husband for his daughter Lucretia. The fop is not interested in marriage. He declares: "I have chosen Honor as my Mistress upon whose wings I will mount up to heaven where I will fix myself a constellation for all this underworld of mortals to wonder at me." Meanwhile, the Duke of Pisa tells his courtier Leonardo that in order to know his subjects, he has decided to follow the example of Cato, who mingled with the crowds at the Spring Festival to Flora. In Cato's case, his appearance at a public theater amid a licentious festival involving nude women interrupted the spectacle. So the Duke will disguise himself in "mean coverture," or lowly clothing. "Vulgar" refers to the common people. Leonardo suggests that while disguised, they visit the Antiquary, sure to be an excellent companion if he is as expert at wines as at history. At the end of the play, the Duke finds Lionell impersonating him, but arranging justice and happiness for everyone so well that the Duke confirms his decrees. In the first act, planning his walk in disguise among his subjects, the Duke and Leonardo talk. The courtier warns, as many from Aesop and Shakespeare to Mark Twain have done, that "familiarity breeds contempt."
DUKE. . . I am determin'd to lay by all ensigns of my Royalty for awhile, and walk abroad under a mean coverture. Variety does well; and 't is a great delight, sometimes, to shroud one's head under a coarse roof, as under a rich canopy of gold.LEONARDOBut what's your intent in this?DUKEI have a longing desire to see the fashions of the vulgar; which, should I affect in mine own person, I might divert them from their humors. The face of greatness would affright them, as Cato did the Floralio from the theatre.LEONARDOIndeed familiarity begets boldness.DUKE'T is true, indulgence and flattery take away the benefit of experience from Princes, which ennobles the fortunes of private men.