"I Care Not Two-pence"

Context: Of the thirty-four plays making up the First Folio of the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher, scholars believe Fletcher to be part or complete author of all but two. "Judicious Beaumont" helped with a maximum of ten–the best among them–and another Elizabethan master of stage-craft, Philip Massinger (1583–1640), collaborated in so many that his name should have appeared among the authors. Most critics agree that Beaumont was certainly a collaborator in The Coxcomb, performed by the King's Men (Shakespeare's group), at the Blackfriars Theatre, London, in October, 1612. The next year Beaumont married, moved to his country estate, and gave up playwriting, as had Shakespeare by this time. Fletcher continued by himself and with Massinger to supply the King's Men with dramas until the plague killed him in 1625. Massinger wrote plays until he died, when, according to tradition, he was buried in the same grave as Fletcher. The Stuart world of the mid-seventeenth century considered Fletcher the master of comedy, and the poet Beaumont excellent in Tragedy. The Coxcomb is all comedy, but with examples of excellent poetic speeches along with its prose. Its plot is complicated and improbable, but to its audiences "good theatre" and a chance to laugh were more important than a credible plot. Antonio, the foppish Coxcomb, has just returned to his wife, Maria, from several years of travel with his companion, Mercury, who has become bored with him. Mercury is smitten by Maria but decides to run away to escape temptation. However, Antonio assures him that friendship is more valuable than a wife's love, and if Maria and Mercury love each other, Antonio will not stand in their way He even disguises himself as an Irish servant to carry to her a false love letter from Mercury. The wife pierces the disguise, orders her servants to beat and lock up her husband, and goes searching for Mercury. Mercury brings her to his mother's house about the time that the continued absence of Antonio, helped by his babbling while disguised as a servant, has created the suspicion that Maria and Mercury murdered Antonio. In search of them come Antonio's kinsman, Curio, and a Justice whose description by the dramatist as "a shallow one," indicates his descent from Shakespeare's Justice Shallow of Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor. In Act V, the Justice comes to the house where Mercury and Maria are lodging. His bumbling language confirms Curio's comment that he had sought out the Justice as the nearest official, though certainly not the wisest one.


JUSTICE
It shall not be i' faith friend, here I have it,
That one Antonio a Gentleman, I take it so,
Yes, it is so, a Gentleman is lately thought to
Have been made away, and by my faith, upon a
Pearls ground too, if you consider; well, there's
Knavery in't, I see that without spectacles . . .
. . .
And now I have consider'd, I believe it.
CURIO
What Sir?
JUSTICE
That he was murdered.
CURIO
Did you know him?
JUSTICE
No.
CURIO
Nor how it is suppos'd.
JUSTICE
No, nor I care not two-pence, those are toys, and yet I verily believe he was murder'd, as sure as I believe thou art a man, I have never fail'd in these things yet, w'are a man that's beaten to these matters, experience is a certain conceal'd thing that fails not. . . .