John Crowne Crowne, John - Essay


(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

John Crowne 1641-1712

(Also Crown or Croune) English playwright, poet, and satirist.

Crowne's plays are interesting and important mainly because they offer a glimpse into the political vogue of the Restoration period. His comedies, particularly Sir Courtly Nice (1685), were often superlatively praised by contemporaries for their pleasing and skillful structure, and his 1675 masque Calisto was a courtly event of enormous grandeur. However, although many plays employ a subtle wit and capable dramatic organization notable in any period, critical attention in recent times focuses on Crowne's political themes and his significance as a representation of Restoration dramatic taste. Perhaps best understood as the efforts of a playwright seeking to please his court, Crowne's works also present some incisive satirical portraits of the major political figures of the English Restoration.

Biographical Information

John Crowne was born in London, the son of William Crowne, a nobleman whose political skills enabled him to thrive during the period of the Commonwealth. The elder Crowne's influence with Oliver Cromwell resulted in his being awarded the patent to Nova Scotia, where he took his sons John and Henry in 1657. That same year Crowne enrolled at Harvard, but he returned to England with his father in 1661, at the time of the restoration of Charles II. Crowne remained in England, even after his father returned to America, and attempted to earn his living with his writing. His first published work, a prose romance called Pandion and Amphigenia (1665) was successful enough to attract the notice of several court writers. He continued trying to please the court with his first play, Juliana (1671). He based the play's hero on an ancestor of the Duke of Curland and dedicated the work to the Earl of Orrery. He then dedicated his second play, The History of Charles the Eighth of France (1671), to John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, which resulted in enough favor to grant him Rochester's recommendation to write a grandiose court masque, Calisto (1675). The success of this performance led to Crowne's further ingratiation with Charles II, and Crowne sought to use his influence with the king to regain his father's property in Nova Scotia, which had been lost in a series of incidents after Cromwell's protectorate fell. Crowne's petition for this land ran from 1679 to 1681, during which he wrote four plays and eight books, but ultimately the colonists in Nova Scotia prevailed with Charles and Crowne lost the property. This began a difficult time for the playwright, with England under threat of civil war, the theaters unpopular, and his patronage waning. He continued to write promonarchical plays satirizing Whig politicians, however, and was on the verge of securing a court office with Charles when, just days before the opening of Crowne's most popular and critically acclaimed comedy, Sir Courtly Nice (1685), the king fell ill and died, shattering Crowne's hopes of an early retirement. Crowne managed to gain favor with James II, but the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 left him trying to cater to a different court, with the Whigs in power and William of Orange on the throne. By 1697, misjudging what would please his sponsors and finding it very difficult to secure the interest of King William, Crowne felt financially insecure and renewed the petition for his father's lands in Nova Scotia. This failed once again, and by 1702, with Queen Anne's ascension, Crowne found himself in reduced circumstances. He managed to secure a fairly regular pension from Queen Anne, however, and retired to St. Giles Parish until his death in 1712.

Major Works

Crowne's first work was the fashionable prose romance Pandion and Amphigenia, written to secure patronage and of little interest today. His career as a playwright began in 1671, when he wrote Juliana and The History of Charles the Eighth of France, both of which closely followed the conventions of typical Restoration drama, such as heroic couplets. In 1674 Crowne accepted the laureate John Dryden's invitation to co-write Notes and Observations on the Empress of Morocco, a satire of Thomas Shadwell's play, and also that year, translated Jean Racine's Andromache. Crowne was then commissioned to write a courtly masque entitled Calisto, a grandiose performance costing a fortune and placed at the forefront of London's fashionable community. He successfully presented this work to the popular taste of the court by altering Ovid's myth of a rape such that the main character is entirely chaste. Crowne next wrote the popular comedy The Country Wit (1676), which deals with a standard conflict of the time, that of an independent daughter desiring to choose her own husband. The Destruction of Jerusalem, parts 1 and 2 (1677) and The Ambitious Statesman (1679) succeeded because of their heroic and monarchical themes, and Crowne's 1680-81 plays based on Shakespeare's Henry VI, parts 2 and 3, as well as Thyestes (1680), allowed him to express the evils of civil war and other pro-Tory themes. Like City Politiques (1683), they subtly portray the stupidity and self-interest of politicians (whom the audience would have recognized as various Whigs of the time.) Crowne then wrote his most famous and popular comedy, Sir Courtly Nice, which became a staple of English drama for a hundred years because of its witty satire and sophisticated dramatic organization. The English Frier (1690), a satire against the preceding age, and Regulus (1692), a heroic tragedy, were the first plays Crowne wrote during the reign of William of Orange. The Married Beau (1694) earned more critical praise than these because it anticipated the styles of eighteenth-century comedy, but like the two preceding works, it failed to arouse the interest of the court. Generally considered past his peak by this time, Crowne wrote a final tragedy, Caligula (1698), which is somewhat bombastic and poorly structured.

Critical Reception

As is clear from the criticism of contemporaries such as Gerald Langbaine, and from the high profile Crowne attained in such commissions as Calisto, the playwright was very well regarded during his lifetime. Some of Crowne's writings, including his later tragedies and his verse, have been decidedly unpopular at any time, but his comedies were regularly performed long after his death. With the advent of new dramatic standards and the declining interest in formulaic Restoration drama, Crowne's reputation declined and he began to hold less interest for critics. Maidment and Logan's 1874 memoir praises his comedic talents, however, and his works have retained an amount of critical interest and praise until today. Twentieth-century critics have been largely interested in the political world Crowne's plays depict and the degree to which they represent the dramatic appetite of Restoration audiences. Crowne's success in his own time is expressed by John Dennis, writing of Sir Courtly Nice: “And ‘tis my opinion, that the greatest Comick Poet that ever liv'd in any Age, might have been proud to have been the Author of it.”

Principal Works

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

Pandion and Amphigenia: or, The History of the Coy Lady of Thessalia (prose) 1665

Juliana; or, The Princess of Poland (play) 1671

The History of Charles the Eighth of France; or The Invasion of Naples by the French (play) 1671

Notes and Observations on the Empress of Morocco. Or. Some few Errata's to be Printed instead of the Sculptures with the Second Edition of that Play [with John Dryden and Thomas Shadwell] (satire) 1674

Andromache [translator; from a play by Jean Racine] (play) 1674

Calisto; or, The Chaste Nymph [with Nicholas Staggins] (masque) 1675

The Countrey Wit (play) 1676

The Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus Vespasian, In Two Parts (plays) 1677

The Ambitious Statesman, Or the Loyal Favourite (play) 1679

*The Misery of Civil-War [adaptor; from William Shakespeare's plays Henry VI, Parts 2 and 3] (play) 1680

Thyestes (play) 1680

Henry the Sixth, The First Part. With The Murder of Humphrey Duke of Glocester [adaptor; from William Shakespeare's play Henry VI, Part 2] (play) 1681

City Politiques (play) 1683

Sir Courtly Nice: or, It cannot Be (play) 1685

A Poem, on The Lamented Death of our Late Gratious Soveraign, King Charles the II. Of ever Blessed Memory. With a Congratulation to the Happy Succession of King James the II (poetry) 1685

Darius King of Persia (play) 1688

The English Frier: Or, The Town Sparks (play) 1690

Daeneids, Or The Noble Labours of the Great Dean of Notre-Dame in Paris, For the Erecting in his Quire a Throne for his Glory, and the Eclipsing the Pride of an Imperious, Usurping Chanter. An Heroique Poem in Four Canto's (poetry) 1692

The History of the Famous and Passionate Love, Between A Fair Noble Partisan Lady, And a Beautiful Young Singing-Man; A Chanter in the Quire of Notre-Dame in Paris, and A Singer in Opera's. An Heroique Poem. In Two Canto's (poetry) 1692

Regulus (play) 1692

The Married Beau: Or, The Curious Impertinent (play) 1694

Caligula (play) 1698

Justice Busy; or The Gentleman Quack (play) c. 1700

The Dramatic Works of John Crowne. 4 vols. [edited by James Maidment and W. H. Logan] (plays) 1872-74

John Crowne's Sir Courtly Nice: A Critical Edition [edited by Charlotte Bradford Hughes] (play) 1966

City Politiques [edited by John Harold Wilson] (play) 1967

The Comedies of John Crown: A Critical Edition [edited by B. J. McMullin] (plays) 1984

*Upon its second publication in 1681, this work was retitled Henry the Sixth. The Second Part. Or The Misery of Civil War.

Gerard Langbaine and Charles Gildon (essay date 1699)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Langbaine, Gerard, and Charles Gildon. “John Crowne.” In The Lives and Characters of the English Dramatick Poets, pp. 28-30. London: Printed for Tho. Leigh and William Turner, 1699.

[In the following essay, taken from a work begun by Langbaine and “improv'd and continued” by Gildon, the critics briefly characterize Crowne as a better writer of comedies than tragedies, and then survey the sources and early reception of Crowne's plays.]

A Gentleman yet living, whose Father having ventured most of his Estate (which was considerable) in a Foreign Plantation, that was afterwards taken by the French, and all King Charles's Reign neglected, he...

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James Maidment and W. H. Logan (essay date 1874)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Maidment, James, and W. H. Logan. “Prefatory Memoir.” In The Dramatic Works of John Crowne, edited by James Maidment and W. H. Logan, Vol. 1, pp. ix-xviii. 1874. Reprint. New York: Benjamin Blom, 1967.

[In the essay below, originally published in 1874, Maidment and Logan survey Crowne's career and assess his merit as a dramatist.]

Langbaine, in his account of the English Dramatic Poets, Oxon. 1691, 12mo, although a contemporary, mentions Crowne as “a person, now living, who has attempted all sorts of Dramatick poetry with different success. … If I may be allowed to speak my sentiments,” he continues, “I think his genius seems fittest for...

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A. W. Ward (essay date 1936)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Ward, A. W. “Crowne's Place in Restoration Comedy.” In Representative English Comedies, edited by Charles Mills Gayley and Alwin Thaler, Vol. IV, pp. 243-55. New York: Macmillan, 1936.

[In the following essay, Ward provides a general overview of Crowne's comedies and characterizes the playwright as a second-rate writer who made the most of his limited talents.]

Whether or not it be true that Rochester intended Crowne to supplant Dryden in the favour of the Court, and that the great writer ever afterwards maintained a lofty silence as to the successes of the other, congratulating him only when he had failed1—there is nothing to show that Crowne...

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Charlotte Bradford Hughes (essay date 1966)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Hughes, Charlotte Bradford. “Introduction: Sources.” In John Crowne's Sir Courtly Nice: A Critical Edition, edited by Charlotte Bradford Hughes, pp. 28-54. The Hague: Mouton & Co., 1966.

[In this excerpt from her introduction to Sir Courtly Nice, Hughes places the play into context by examining its relation to its Spanish source and to broader Spanish comedic conventions.]


The long-continued popularity of Sir Courtly Nice with Restoration and eighteenth-century audiences constitutes only a portion of the play's interest for the student of literary history. In many ways this play is a representative comedy...

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John Harold Wilson (essay date 1967)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Wilson, John Harold. Introduction to City Politiques, edited by John Harold Wilson, pp.ix-xix. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967.

[In this essay, Wilson traces the reception of City Politiques and explicates its thinly masked political satire of various Whigs.]

City Politiques, eleventh in the long list of John Crowne's plays but only his second comedy, was published in 1683. Narcissus Luttrell's copy of the first quarto in the Ohio State University Library bears the written date “23. feb,” probably that of issue. A second edition with a different pagination, some careless omissions, and a few additions appeared in 1688. The only...

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Anthony Kaufman (essay date fall 1982)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Kaufman, Anthony. “Civil Politics—Sexual Politics in John Crowne's City Politiques.Restoration: Studies in English Literary Culture, 1660-1700 6, no. 2 (fall 1982): 72-80.

[In the following essay, Kaufman analyzes Crowne's satire of the Whigs in City Politiques.]

John Crowne's City Politiques (January, 1683) speaks to the Popish Plot-Exclusion Bill crisis of 1678-1682, and like many of the other propaganda comedies of that turbulent period, it utilizes certain of the formulae of the seventeenth-century comedy of amorous intrigue.1 But unlike most of the rather predictable political comedies of this period, City Politiques...

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J. Douglas Canfield (essay date November 1988)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Canfield, J. Douglas. “Regulus and Cleomenes and 1688: From Royalism to Self-Reliance.” Eighteenth-Century Life 12, no. 3 (November 1988): 67-75.

[In the essay below, Canfield detects a “postrevolutionary attitude” of disillusionment in Crowne's Regulus and John Dryden and Thomas Southene's Cleomenes, plays written after the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688.]

In “Royalism's Last Dramatic Stand: English Political Tragedy, 1679-89,” I concluded my analysis with John Crowne's Darius, Thomas Southerne's Spartan Dame, and John Dryden's Don Sebastian, plays that reaffirmed Royalist political values,...

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Joyce Green MacDonald (essay date fall 1990)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: MacDonald, Joyce Green. “‘Hay for the Daughters!’: Gender and Patriarchy in The Miseries of Civil War and Henry VI.Comparative Drama 24, no. 3 (fall 1990): 193-216.

[In the following essay, MacDonald compares the political and sexual themes of The Miseries of Civil War with those of the play on which it was modeled, Shakespeare's Henry VI.]

A riot broke out at the Dorset Garden Theater during the opening run of John Croune's The Miseries of Civil War in February 1679. In the words of The True News, or, Mercurius Anglicus, “some Gentlemen in their Cupps entring into the Pitt, flinging links at the Actors, and using...

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John B. Rollins (essay date summer 2001)

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))

SOURCE: Rollins, John B. “Judeo-Christian Apocalyptic Literature and John Crowne's The Destruction of Jerusalem.Comparative Drama 35, no. 2 (summer 2001): 209-24.

[In the following essay, Rollins analyzes the “strong element of apocalyptic literature” in The Destruction of Jerusalem, by which Crowne fashions the play into “a warning about the consequences of political unrest.”]

John Crowne followed his first comedy, The Countrey Wit (1676), with the two parts of The Destruction of Jerusalem, arguably two of his finest works. The first part premiered on 12 January 1677 and the second part one week later.1...

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Further Reading

(Literary Criticism (1400-1800))


Winship, George Parker. The First Harvard Playwright: A Bibliography of the Restoration Dramatist John Crowne. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1922, 21 p.

Includes excerpts from the Prefaces to Crowne's plays and an early version of the epilogue to Sir Courtly Nice.


Boswell, Eleanore. “Calisto.” In The Restoration Court Stage, pp. 177-227. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932.

Describes the libretto, actors, theatrical design, music, and financing of Calisto, asserting that Crowne's masque “practically marks the culmination of the Court...

(The entire section is 228 words.)