Further Critical Evaluation of the Work
In Table Talk for February 17, 1833, Coleridge wrote that he enjoyed THE BEGGARS’ BUSH so heartily that he could read the play “from morning to night.” He exclaimed: “How sylvan and sunshiny it is!” Certainly, for its idealized scenes of sylvan escapism and rustic good fellowship the play may be compared to AS YOU LIKE IT. Gerrard, like the banished Duke in Shakespeare’s comedy, makes the best of his lot as king of the beggars, surrounds himself with jovial outcasts, and eventually triumphs over the courtiers who have usurped his rightful place. Yet the audience comes to understand that Gerrard’s return to civilization—to the intrigues of court—is a cause for some sentimental regret: the simpler life of the beggars was, after all, free and joyous. For another Shakespearean parallel, Florez, Gerrard’s son and the true Earl of Flanders, resembles Antonio in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE. The character of the resolute, “spruce” merchant of Bruges must have pleased the middle-class shopkeepers in the audience as much as the low-comedy beggars delighted the groundlings in the pit.
THE BEGGARS’ BUSH is also interesting because it anticipates, in many ways, John Gay’s THE BEGGAR’S OPERA, which was produced about a hundred years later. Both plays deal with people outside the law; both are light and bawdy; both have simple, vigorous diction. Unlike the Fletcher-Massinger play, however, THE...
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