John Crowne

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Gerard Langbaine and Charles Gildon (essay date 1699)

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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 took, by the Encouragement of the late famous Lord Rochester, to Dramatick Writing, and has perform'd very well both in Tragedy and Comedy; tho', with Mr. Langbain, I look on Comedy to be his Talent; he has given us a Proof of his Ability in these following Plays:

Ambitious Statesman, or The Loyal Favourite, a Tragedy, 4to. 1679. Acted at the Theatre Royal, and Dedicated to her Grace the Dutchess of Albermarle. This Play met not with the Applause the Author and his Friends expected. For the Plot, See De Serres, Mazeray, and other French Chronicles.

Andromache, a Tragedy 4to. 1657. Acted at the Duke's Theatre in Dorset-Garden. This Play was translated from the French of Monsieur Racine, by another Hand, into Prose, and turn'd into English Verse by Mr. Crown, as he owns, and tho' the Original is well esteem'd, yet this had not its expected Success on our English Stage. It seems founded on Virgil, Lib. 3. Ver. 292. and in some things the Author follows the Andromache of Euripides.

Calligula, Emperor of Rome, a Tragedy, London, Printed 4to. 1698. Acted at the Theatre Royal, by his Majesties Servants. For the Plot consult Suetonius in his Life: for the Poet has very nicely follow'd his Character given us by that Author.

Calisto, or, The Chast Nimph, a Masque, 4to. 1675. This was writ by the Command of her late Majesty, and often times represented at Court, by Persons of great Quality, with Songs between the Acts. The Foundation from Ovid Metam. Lib. 2. Tab. 5, 6.

Charles the Eighth of France, or The Invasion of Naples by the French; an Hist. Tragedy 4to. 1680. writ in Heroick Verse; Acted at the Duke's Theatre in Salisbury-Court. Plot taken from Guicciardine's Hist. Philip de Comines's Memoires: Andre de la Vigne, and other French Chronicles in the Reign of Charles VIII.

City Politicks, a Comedy, 4to. 1683. Acted at the Theatre Royal in Drury-Lane, with good Applause. This Play the Whiggish Party in those times took to be a severe Satyr on them.

Country Wit, a Comedy, 4to. 1675. This Play, tho' but one Degree above Farce, was Acted at the Duke's Theatre in Dorset Garden, and approv'd of by his then Majesty, King Charles II. Part of the Plot and Language is taken from that Comedy of Molliere's, called Le Sicilien, ou L'Amour Peintre.

Darius, King of Persia, a Tragedy, 4to. 1688. Acted by their Majesties Servants. For the Plot see Quint. Curt. Lib. 3, 4, and 5, Justin. Lib. 11. Cap. 5. and Diodorus, Lib. 17, &c.

Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus Vespasian, in Two Parts, T. 4to. 1677. Both these Tragedies are writ in Heroick Verse, and when first appeared on the Stage, were Acted at the Theatre Royal, with great Applause. For the Plot see Josephus Hist. Lib. 6, & 7. Tacitus Hist. Lib. 5. Suetonius, Eusebius, &c.

English Fryar,...

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or The Town Sparks, a Comedy, 4to. 1690. This Play was Acted by their Majesties Servants; but met not with that Success the Author expected. See his Preface thereto.

Henry the Sixth, the First Part, with the Death of the Duke of Gloucester,a Tragedy, 4to. 1681. This Play was Dedicated to Sir Charles Sidley, and Acted at the Duke's Theatre with good Applause at first, but at length, the Romish Faction opposing it, by their Interest at Court, got it supprest. See the Second Part of Shakespear's Henry VI. from whence part of this is borrowed.

Henry the Sixth, the Second Part, or The Miseries of Civil War, a Tragedy, 4to. 1681. Acted also at the Duke's Theatre, with good Applause. Part of it is likewise borrowed from Shakespear. For the Plot see the English Chronicles writ in those times, by Grafton, Hollingshed, Stow, Speed, &c.

Juliana, or The Princess of Poland, a Tragi-Comedy, 4to. 1671. This Play was Acted at the Duke's Theatre, and Dedicated to the Earl of Orrery, being the first of this Author's Production.

The Married Beau, or The Curious Impertinent, a Comedy, 4to. 1694. Acted at the Theatre Royal, by their Majesties Servants; and Dedicated to the Lord Marquis of Normanby, Earl of Mulgrave, &c. To this Play the Author has also prefixt a Preface in Vindication of himself from the Aspersions cast on him by some of his Enemies, as to his Morals and Loyalty, which I think he sufficiently clears, particularly in Mr. Lovely's, yielding to Polidos, and I think Mr. Crown in the Right, when he tells us, 'tis hard to find which offends the Ladies, the Sin, or the Confession; the latter Example perhaps they like worst. This is accounted a good Play, and has been often Acted with general Approbation. The Story is taken out of the Comical History of Don Quixot.

Regulus, a Tragedy, 4to. 1694. Acted at the Theatre Royal, by their Majesty's Servants; it has no Dedication, and met with no very good Success, though the Design be Noble; the Example of Regulus being the most celebrated for Honour and Constancy of any of Antiquity: nor is it confin'd to the Roman Historians; Horace has writ an Ode upon it. You may read the History in Livy, Lucius Florus, &c.

Sir Courtley Nice, or It cannot be, a Comedy, 4to. 1685. Acted by his Majesty's Servants, and Dedicated to his Grace the Duke of Ormond. The Plot and Part of the Play from a Spanish Play, No Pued-eser; another Play called, Tarugo's-Wiles, first Acted 1668. hath the same Plot, and much resembles this in many Parts thereof. The Song of stop Thief is taken out of Flecknoe's Demoisell a la Mode, who likewise had it from the French of Molliere. This Play was often Acted with good Success.

Thyestes, a Tragedy, 4to. 1681. Acted at the Theatre Royal by their Majesty's Servants. Plot from Poetieal History. There are Two other Plays on the same Subject, one in Spanish, the other in French, which are also founded on Seneca's Thiestes.

John Dennis (letter date 23 June, 1719)

SOURCE: Dennis, John. “To Mr. * * * In which are some Passages of the Life of Mr. John Crowne, Author of Sir Courtly Nice.” In The Critical Works of John Dennis, edited by Edward Niles Hooker, Vol. II, pp. 404-06. Baltimore: The John Hopkins Press, 1943.

[In the following letter, dated June 23, 1719, Dennis describes some details of Crowne's life and political difficulties, and offers substantial praise of Sir Courtly Nice, declaring that “the greatest Comick Poet that ever liv'd in any Age, might have been proud to have been the Author of it.”]


I Shall now, in compliance with the repeated Requests you have made to me, say something concerning the Education of Mr. John Crown, and the most remarkable Passages of his Life. Mr. Crown was bred under his Father, an Independant Minister, in that part of Northern America, which is called Nova Scotia. But the Vivacity of his Genius made him soon grow impatient of that sullen and gloomy Education, and soon oblig'd him to get loose from it, and seek his Fortune in England. But it was his Fate, at his first Arrival here, to happen on an Employment more formal, if possible, than his American Education. His Necessity, upon his first Arrival here, oblig'd him to become a Gentleman-Usher to an old Independant Lady. But he soon grew as weary of that precise Office, as he had been before of the Discipline of Nova Scotia. One would think that these were but indifferent Preparatives to the commencing polite Author. But neither these nor his Poverty, which was great, could oppress his aspiring Spirit, aspiring to Reputation and Distinction, rather than to Fortune and Power. His Writings soon made him known to the Court and Town: Yet it was neither to the Favour of the Court, nor of Wilmot Lord Rochester, one of the shining Ornaments of it, that he was indebted for the Nomination which the King made of him for the writing the Mask of Calypso, but to the Malice of that noble Lord, who design'd by that Preference to mortify Mr. Dryden. Upon the breaking out of the two Parties, after the Discovery of the Popish Plot, the Favour that he was in at Court, the Gayety of his Youth, and his being unacquainted with true political Principles, engaged him to embrace the Party of the Tories. About that time he writ The City Politicks, on purpose to Satyrize and expose the Whigs; a Comedy so agreeable, that it deserv'd to be writ in a much better Cause: But after he had writ it, he met with very great Difficulties in the getting it acted. Bennet Lord Arlington, who was then Lord Chamberlain of the King's Houshold, and who had secretly espous'd the Whigs, who were at that time powerful in Parliament, in order to support himself against the Favour and Power of the Lord Treasurer Danby, who was his declared Enemy, us'd all his Authority to suppress it. One while it was prohibited on the account of its being Dangerous, another while it was laid aside on the pretence of its being Flat and Insipid; till Mr. Crown at last was forc'd to have Recourse to the King himself, and to engage him to give his absolute Command to the Lord Chamberlain for the acting of it; which Command the King was pleas'd to give in his own Person. For that Monarch lov'd a Comedy above all Things, (excepting one Thing) and had no mean Opinion of Mr. Crown's Qualifications to succeed in it. While he was thus in Favour with the King and the Court, I have more than once heard him say, that tho' he had a sincere Affection for the King, he had yet a mortal Aversion to the Court. The Promise of a Sum of Money made him sometimes appear there to solicit the Payment of it: But as soon as he had got it, he vanish'd, and continued a long time absent from it, of which, he told me, the Dutchess of Portsmouth took once Occasion to complain to the King; whose way of answering that Complaint, puts me in mind of a passage in Boileau's Epistle to Lamoignon.

          Hier de vous on parla chez le Roy,
Et d'attentat Horrible on traita la Satire,
Et le Roy que dit il? Le Roy se prit a rire.

It was at the very latter End of King Charles's Reign, that Mr. Crown being tyr'd with the Fatigue of Writing, and shock'd by the Uncertainty of Theatrical Success, and desirous to shelter himself from the Resentments of those numerous Enemies which he had made by his City Politicks, made his Application immediately to the King himself; and desir'd his Majesty to establish him in some Office, that might be a Security to him for Life. The King had the Goodness to assure him, he should have an Office, but added that he would first see another Comedy. Mr. Crown endeavouring to excuse himself, by telling the King, that he plotted slowly and awkwardly; the King replyed, that he would help him to a Plot, and so put into his Hands the Spanish Comedy called Non pued Esser. Mr. Crown was oblig'd immediately to go to work upon it; but, after he had writ three Acts of it, found to his Surprise, that the Spanish Play had some time before been translated, and acted, and damn'd, under the Title of Tarugo's Wiles, or the Coffee-house. Yet, supported by the King's Command, he went boldly on and finish'd it; and here see the Influence of a Royal Encouragement.

Mr. Crown, who had once before oblig'd the Commonwealth of Learning with a very agreeable Comedy in his City Politicks, yet in Sir Courtly Nice went far beyond it, and infinitely surpassed himself. For tho' there is something in the part of Crack which borders upon Farce, the Spanish Author alone must answer for that. For Mr. Crown could not omit the Part of Crack, that is of Tarugo, and the Spanish Farce depending upon it, without a downright Affront to the King, who had given him that Play for his Ground-work. But all that is of English Growth in Sir Courtly Nice is admirable; for tho' we find in it neither the fine Designing of Ben. Johnson; nor the general and masculine Satyr of Wycherly; nor that Grace, that Delicacy, nor that Courtly Air which make the Charms of Etherege; yet is the Dialogue so lively and so spirited, and so attractively diversified and adapted to the several Characters; four of those Characters are so entirely new, yet so general and so important, are drawn so truly and so graphically, and oppos'd to each other, Surly to Sir Courtly and Hothead to Testimony, with such a strong and entire Opposition; those Extremes of Behaviour, the one of which is the Grievance, and the other the Plague of Society and Conversation; excessive Ceremony on one side, and on the other side Rudeness and Brutality, are so finely expos'd in Surly and Sir Courtly; and those Divisions and Animosities in the two great Parties of England, which have so long disturb'd the publick Quiet, and undermined the publick Interest, are so happily represented and ridicul'd in Testimony and Hothead, that tho' I have more than twenty times read over this charming Comedy, yet I have always read it, not only with Delight but Rapture. 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.

The Play was now just ready to appear to the World; and as every one that had seen it rehears'd was highly pleas'd with it; every one who had heard of it was big with the Expectation of it; and Mr. Crown was delighted with the flattering Hope of being made happy for the rest of his Life, by the Performance of the King's Promise; when, upon the very last Day of the Rehearsal, he met Cave Underhill coming from the Play-House as he himself was going towards it: Upon which the Poet reprimanding the Player for neglecting so considerable a Part as he had in the Comedy, and neglecting it on a Day of so much Consequence, as the very last Day of Rehearsal: Oh Lord, Sir, says Underhill, we are all undone. Wherefore, says Mr. Crown, is the Play-House on Fire? The whole Nation, replys the Player, will quickly be so, for the King is dead. At the hearing which dismal Words, the Author was little better; for he who but the Moment before was ravish'd with the Thought of the Pleasure, which he was about to give to his King, and of the Favours which he was afterwards to receive from him, this Moment found, to his unspeakable Sorrow, that his Royal Patron was gone for ever, and with him all his Hopes. The King indeed reviv'd from his Apoplectick Fit, but three Days after dyed, and Mr. Crown by his Death was replung'd in the deepest Melancholy.

Thus, Sir, have I given you a short Account of the Education of Mr. John Crown, and of the most remarkable Circumstances of his Life, to the Death of King Charles the Second. I shall, as soon as I have Opportunity, continue this Relation from the Death of King Charles to the Death of Mr. Crown.

I am, SIR,

Your. &c.


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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.”

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

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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 Comedy, though possibly his Tragedies are no ways contemptible, of all which, in my weak judgment, his Destruction of Jerusalem seems the best.” Then follows a list of his plays to the above date, with some notes as to the sources whence their plots have been derived.

Subsequent biographers have for the most part derived what little information they are pleased to offer from the account of this poet given by John Dennis in his Letters.1 Following in the wake of one another they simply indorse without enquiry, as seems usual with book-makers, the statements made by the original writer, copying even his very words. In this way, they unite in saying, as Dennis himself has it, that “John Crowne was the son of an independent minister in that part of America which is called Nova Scotia. The vivacity of his genius made him soon grow impatient of that sullen and gloomy education, and soon oblig'd him to get loose from it, and seek his fortune in England; but it was his fate at his first arrival here, to happen on an employment more formal, if possible, than his American education.” Oldys has these notes in MS. on his annotated copy of Langbaine, in the British Museum:—

John Crowne was the son of William Crowne, gent., who travelled under the Earl of Arundel to Vienna, and published a relation of the remarkable places and passages in the said Earl's said Embassy to the Emperor Ferdinand II., 1637, but full of imperfections and errors. This William, afterwards succeeded H. Lilly as Rouge Dragon in the Herald's office, and was continued in 1660; but, selling to Mr Sandford,2 went over with his family to one of the plantations and there died.

There is some order or paper of instructions I once saw in the Harleian Library, from Charles II., as I remember, either to the Lord Baltimore or some other possessors, or Governors in one of the American settlements, to enquire into, recover, or restore for or on behalf of Mr John Crowne or his father.

On Crowne's arrival in England, his urgent necessities obliged him to become gentleman-usher to an old Independent lady of quality, but, so soon as he was able to exist otherwise, he quitted this most uncongenial employment, and launched into the world of letters, for which he had evinced an aptitude. His taste lay in favour of dramatic literature, which was the readier path to favour and distinction, though not to power or fortune. His writings ere long made him known to the Court and the town, and the Earl of Rochester, in order, as it is said, to mortify Dryden, at whom he had taken umbrage, prevailed on the king or his brother to lay commands on Crowne, in preference to the Poet-Laureate, to write a masque for performance at Court, which he duly executed under the title of Calisto. The circumstance of Crowne being set up in opposition to Dryden is noticed by St. Evremond in a letter to the Duchess of Mazarine.

That the favour extended to our poet by Lord Rochester was not owing, it has been asserted, to any peculiar personal regard, for, in the short space of two years, he incurred the envy and subsequent enmity of that nobleman, in consequence of the great success of his two-part tragedy—the Destruction of Jerusalem—and the Earl went so far as to endeavour to injure him at Court; but in this he was unsuccessful, Crowne standing high in the favour of the King, as all those usually did who contributed to his amusement. However this may be, Crowne dedicated his tragedy of Charles VIII. of France (1680) to Rochester, who in return thus lampooned the author, in an imitation of Boileau's Third Satire, which will be found in the collected edition of his remains:—

Kickum for Crown declared; said, in Romance,
He had out-done the very wits of France.
Witness Pandion and his Charles the Eight;
Where a young monarch, careless of his fate,
Tho' foreign troops and rebels shock his state,
Complains another sight afflicts him more.
(Viz.) “The Queen's galleys rowing from the shore,
Fitting their oars and tackling to be gone,
Whilst sportive waves smil'd on the rising sun.”
Waves smiling on the sun! I'm sure that's new,
And 'twas well thought on, give the devil his due.

Rochester wrote some other verses upon Crowne in which he characterized him as “Starch Johnny Crowne.” “Many a cup of metheglin have I drank with little starch Johnny Crowne,” says the author of a letter on the celebrated poets and actors in King Charles II.'s time, in the Gentleman's Magazine, vol. xv., 1745. “We called him so from the stiff unalterable primness of his long cravat.”

After the discovery of what was called the Popish plot, and the consequent antagonism of the two parties, Crowne, from the favour he was held in by the King, and the natural gaiety of his temper, sided with the Tory party, and wrote a comedy called the City Politiques, in ridicule of the Whigs, the wit and merit of which even many of his opponents acknowledged. When written, he found much difficulty in getting it performed. Bennet, Lord Arlington, the then Lord Chamberlain, exerted all his authority to suppress it. It would seem that Lord Arlington, in order to support himself against the power of the Earl of Danby, the Lord Treasurer, his declared enemy, was secretly a supporter of the Whigs, who were at that time potent in Parliament. The reasons for prohibiting the performance of the play were various; at one time it was dangerous, at another it was flat and insipid, and exception would have been taken to it at every turn, had not Crowne exerted his influence with the King to cause the Lord Chamberlain not to delay it longer. This command the King was pleased to impose in person.

Crowne, though attached to his Majesty, disliked the insincerity of the Court, and seldom made his appearance there excepting when he went to receive such sums of money as were from time to time accorded him.

Towards the end of King Charles' reign, Crowne, desirous to escape from the tedium of writing combined with the uncertainty of theatrical success, and at the same time to shelter himself from the resentment of numerous enemies he had made by the production of his City Politiques, applied to his Majesty for an appointment to some permanent office. The King assured him he should be provided for, but he must first produce another comedy. Crowne begged to be excused in this, stating that he was slow and awkward in devising a plot. His objections were overruled by his Majesty saying he would help him to a plot, and immediately placed in his hands a Spanish comedy called No puede ser. He set at once to work upon this, and was far advanced in his adaptation, when he discovered that the piece had been previously translated by Thomas St Serfe, a Scotchman,3 under the title of Tarugo's Wiles, or, the Coffee House, and acted at the Duke's Theatre without success.

Pepys has the following entry in his diary, from which it is evident that, before recommending the play to Crowne, the King had previously seen the performance of the adaptation by Sidserff—or St Serfe, as his name was spelt—and had not been satisfied with it:—15th October 1667. “My wife and I, and Willet to the Duke of York's house, where, after long stay, the King and Duke of York came, and there saw the Coffee House, the most ridiculous, insipid play that ever I saw in my life, and glad we were that Betterton had no part in it.” It appears that Mrs Pepys suspected her husband of paying too much attention to Willet, and began to knag about it, a circumstance which would not tend to put the worthy Secretary in a proper humour for considering a performance, which was specially recommended by so competent a judge as the Earl of Dorset, in verses addressed to the author on its publication, in which he is styled Sir Thomas St Serfe, “whence we may gather that he had been honoured with a Knight Hood, though in the title page of his play he is called Thomas St Serfe, Gent.”4

Encouraged by the King, to whom he had read his piece scene by scene, in so far as it had gone, he completed it, taking for its title Sir Courtly Nice; or, It cannot be, but, alas! for his hopes of gratifying the King, and obtaining the provision for life which had been promised him. The very morning of the last rehearsal of the play, his Majesty was seized with a fit, caused, as has been hinted, by some mysterious agency, which eventuated in his death in three days thereafter.

The comedy of Sir Courtly Nice was, however, produced some short time after the King's death, and was well received. It continued to be a stock piece at many theatres for upwards of a century.

Dennis, although he promises in his letter to give further particulars of Crowne on another occasion, does not appear to have done so. His subsequent career is therefore uncertain, as well as the period of his decease. It has been conjectured that his writings were his only means of support, for, after Sir Courtly Nice, he wrote other six plays, which were pretty generally successful. From Mr Coxeter's notes we learn that Crowne was alive in 1703, and, being then advanced in years, it is probable he did not thereafter long survive. Jacob tells us that he was buried in St Giles's-in-the-Fields.

The following are his Dramatic works:—

1. Juliana. A Tragi-Comedy, 1671

2. Charles VIII. of France, 1672

3. The Country Wit. Comedy, 1675

4. Andromache. Tragedy, 1675

This was merely a translation from Racine, which he edited for a friend.

5. Calisto. A Masque, 1675

6. City Politiques. Comedy, 1675

7. The Destruction of Jerusalem. Tragedy—2 parts, 1677

8. The Ambitious Statesman. Tragedy, 1679

9. Henry the Sixth. Tragedy—2 parts, 1681

The first part is called Henry the Sixth; or, the Misery of Civil War, under which latter title it was acted and printed in 1680.

10. Thyestes. Tragedy, 1681

11. Sir Courtly Nice. Comedy, 1685

12. Darius. Tragedy, 1688

13. The English Friar. Comedy, 1690

14. Regulus. Tragedy, 1694

15. The Married Beau. Comedy, 1694

16. Caligula. Tragedy, 1698

17. Justice Busy. A Comedy (not printed).

In addition to these dramatic pieces, Crowne wrote:—

Pandion and Amphigenia; or, the History of the Coy Lady of Thessalia. Adorned with Sculpture. London 1665, 8vo.

Dœneids; or, the Noble Labours of the great Dean of Notre Dame in Paris, for erecting in his quire a throne for his glory, and the eclipsing the pride of an imperious usurping chanter. An heroic poem in four cantos, containing a true history, and shews the folly, foppery, luxury, laziness, pride, ambition, and contention of the Romish clergy, 1692, 4to. This is a burlesque poem partly translated from the Lutrin of N. Boileau Despréaux. It was subsequently reprinted by Dryden under the title of The Church Scuffle, in the third part of Miscellany Poems, p. 352, 1716, 12mo.

A Poem on the lamented death of our late gratious Sovereign, King Charles the II., of ever blessed memory. With a congratulation to the Happy succession of King James the II. London, printed for John Smith, bookseller in Russel Street, near Covent Garden, 1685, 4to.

In this Poem Charles is depicted, according to the adulation of the day, as possessing every virtue under the sun, and as being greater than divinity itself.

Crowne also contributed a song or two, set to music by Henry Purcell, to the Gentleman's Journal, or Monthly Miscellany, edited by Motteux, 1691-2.

Of Crowne and his merits as a dramatist, the Biographia Dramatica advances this opinion, of which our own is confirmatory:—

As a man, he seems to have possessed many amiable and social virtues, mingled with great vivacity and easiness of disposition. As a writer, his numerous works bear sufficient testimony of his merit. His chief excellence lay in comedy, yet his tragedies are far from contemptible. His plots are for the most part his own invention; his characters are in general strongly coloured and highly finished; and his dialogue lively and spirited, attentively diversified, and well adapted to the several speakers.

As a writer of Comedies, he is the superior of Dryden, who in no one instance has produced anything to be compared to Sir Courtly Nice.

Warton, in a note upon a passage in one of Pope's prologues to his Satires relative to the public starving Dryden when alive, and burying him munificently after his decease,5 gives an account of the Laureate's emoluments, so far as Tonson was concerned, and instances the receipt upon the publication of his Fables of two hundred and sixty-eight pounds, “for ten thousand verses, and to complete the full number of lines stipulated for, he gave the bookseller the Epistle to his cousin and the celebrated Music Ode.” It cannot be said that this was an overpayment. It leads to a somewhat interesting disclosure: “Old Jacob used to say, that Dryden was a little jealous of rivals. He would compliment Crowne when a play of his failed, but was very cold to him if he met with success. He used to say that Crowne had some genius, but then he added always that his father and Crowne's mother were very well acquainted.”

If this anecdote is true, which it probably is, the explanation is not difficult. Born a poet, and conscious of the divinus afflatus, what pain Dryden must have endured at the indignity of having such a miserable poetaster as Elkanah Settle set up as a rival, and patronised by parties in power who preferred, or seemed to do so, such wretched tragedies as the Empress of Morocco, and the Illustrious Bassa to his All for Love and Don Sebastian, in both of which are passages worthy of the older dramatists. Nor could the insult in transferring Calisto to Crowne be pardoned. No doubt the latter, in his address to the reader, yields the palm to Dryden with a delicacy and propriety exceedingly to be commended, but still the insult by Rochester would not be forgotten, and when it is recollected that neither an ancient pedigree, a titled wife, nor noble relatives could supply the wants of a family or exclude the presence of poverty, we are surely entitled to overlook such ebullitions of temper as Old Jacob has been the means of preserving for the edification of posterity.


  1. Letters, vol. i., p. 18.

  2. The following notice of Mr Sandford is from a MS. of Dr Farmer's:—“Francis Sandford, a younger brother of the Sandfords of Sandford, in Shropshire, a gentleman of good education, and a lover of antiquities and mathematics. He was first made Rouge Dragon, circa 1662, on the death [?] of Mr Crown, and second, 1675, on the death of Mr Chaloner, was made Lancaster Herald. He published many treatises in the way of Heraldry of his own translation and composition, the principal whereof was, his Genealogical History of the Kings of England, and the History of the Coronation of King James II.; in which last he was jointly assisted by Mr King, Rouge Dragon. He resigned his place of Lancaster in the beginning of William and Mary to King William aforesaid, and died in low circumstances, a prisoner to the Fleet, 16th Jan. 1693.”—Sepultus in Cemiterio S. Brigettæ, Fleet Street, London.

  3. He was son of the Bishop of Galloway, the only surviving prelate, at the Restoration, of those removed at the famous, or rather infamous, Assembly of 1638. See A Book of Scotish Pasquils, 1568-1715, Edin. 1868, p. 25, crown 8vo. The Bishop, though a very old man upon the restoration of Episcopacy, was translated to the richer benefice of Orkney, which he held until his death in 1663.

  4. Jones' Biographia Dramatica, vol. ii., p. 624. The following is a correct copy of the title page:—Tarugo's Wiles, or the Coffee House. A Comedy as it was acted at his Highness's the Duke of York's Theater. Written by Thos. St. Serffe, Gent. London. Printed for Henry Herringman, at the Sign of the Anchor, on the lower-walk of the New-Exchange. 1668. 4to

  5. Bowles Pope, vol. iv., p. 47.

Principal Works

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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.

A. W. Ward (essay date 1936)

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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 himself at all mistook the height of his own literary stature. His editors roundly assert that, as a writer of comedies, the author of Sir Courtly Nice was Dryden's superior; but even of his supposed masterpiece in the branch of the drama best suited to his gifts Crowne (in the Preface to Caligula) only goes so far as to declare that it was “as fortunate a comedy as has been written in this age.” One is tempted to say—and not only by way of contrasting him, as usual, with Dryden—that the kind of modesty for which Crowne was wont to take credit, bore no close resemblance to that which fitly accompanies real eminence. “It would be very strange,” he protests to the readers of the masque by which he first won himself a name, and to which Dryden good-humouredly, or in the way of business, offered to supply an epilogue, “if a bad writer should write well.” “The play I present you,” he says in the Dedication of The Country Wit, “cannot boast of extraordinary merit; it is not of the first kind of plays.” “Our poet,” confesses the Prologue to The English Frier, “even in poetry is poor”; and, with a sincerity altogether beyond cavil, he assures the patron to whom he dedicates his latest extant play, The Married Beau: “I have not much fire of fancy.” Manifestly, he knew himself to be second-rate, where the higher qualities of the dramatic poet came into question; and second-rate he remains even in respect of those coarser wares to which his productivity as a comic dramatist was in the main confined.

Already in his earliest play, the tragi-comedy of Juliana, or The Princess of Poland (printed 1671) the audience had been greatly entertained by the comic character of a landlord, whose brisk volubility of speech remains diverting to the reader. In the Court masque of Calisto, or the Chaste Nymph, which was produced at Court2 in 1675 and which seemed of a sudden to open to its author the road to fame, he had no opportunity for displaying comic genius. Indeed, the station and the sex of the performers, as well as the youthful age of the two Princesses who took the chief parts, as well as the very nature of the theme which it was the poet's task to adapt to the occasion, prescribed to him as refined a treatment as he was capable of imagining. It cannot be said that he soared high in his endeavour to reach a suitable level; what, he afterwards wrote, “tempted me into so great a labyrinth was the fair and beautiful image that stood at the portal, I mean the exact and perfect character of Chastity in the person of Calisto, which I thought a very proper character for the Princess to represent.” But the pure and lofty imagination of the author of Comus was needed, in order to rise to the heights of such an argument; and Crowne had hard work of it to meet the requirements of his problem. For the action of the masque was to be confined to seven performers, all ladies; only two of these were to wear the masculine habit; and the principal part was to be sustained by a princess of thirteen, with another princess of eleven as one of her associates, while the rest of the actresses were young ladies of high birth and position. (They included, by an irony of fortune for which the author of the masque is not to be held responsible that “beautiful soul,” the future Mrs. Godolphin.) So Crowne set to work to revise his myth by giving it a virtuous ending; nor could he help it that this ending reduced to a meaningless absurdity the metamorphosis of Calisto and her little sister into constellations (“accept,” says the repentant Jupiter, “the small dominion of a star”). As for the action of the masque and its dialogue, their propriety is quite creditable;—though this cannot be said to hold of the chief scene of the play, in which Jupiter makes love under the guise of Diana, and which approaches very much nearer to Offenbach than it does to Milton.

In the same year 1675 Crowne produced what is probably the earliest of his extant comedies—a species which Sir Courtly Nice ridiculously bids ladies nauseate, and gentlemen decline to endure. Crowne's public was less queasy; but he himself was willing to confess that he had not aimed high in The Country Wit, and that a great part of this play consisted of “comedy almost sunk into farce.” As is not unusual with this author, the plot is opened briskly and brightly; moreover, it seems on the whole to be better sustained than is the case in most of his comedies. (One of the most telling episodes—where Ramble paints Betty Frisque's portrait in the presence of her senile protector—is of course taken from Molière's Le Sicilien, ou L'Amour Peintre, nor was Crowne so little master of his craft as to be unable to preserve something of the vivacity, though he reproduced very little of the grace, of that inimitable trifle.) Nor can it be denied that there is just a touch of nature in the relations between Ramble, Christina, and her father;—at least, such is the impression left upon us, thanks to the striking resemblance which on the surface this group of personages bears to the better known trio of Tom Jones, Sophia, and Squire Western. And for the passionate outburst of Christina's maid Isabella on behalf of her injured mistress it might be possible to find an even more honoured parallel.3 But it was not in what seems to a modern reader the main action of the piece that its writer can have expected its patrons—who are stated to have included King Charles II—to find their chief delight. The epilogue spoken by Sir Mannerly Shallow (probably acted by Nokes) claims for this eccentric character, or for the actor performing it, the credit of saving the poet and his work; and in the old-fashioned young country gentleman and his man Booby, who in their rustic simplicity and self-confidence come to town to be made gulls and fools of there, we meet the first of those eccentrically humorous figures—as a rule hunting in couples—on which Crowne seems usually to have depended for the success of his comedies. The comic savour has almost gone out of Sir Mannerly's scraps of Latin and other archaisms (he reads “drolleries,” dances “corantoes,” and remembers playing a part in a romantic tragedy); and the fun of the winding-up, when he marries the daughter of a ticket-porter and an apple-woman, while a tramp steals his bag of money from Booby and leaves a child in its place, is not what the critics of the twentieth century would call “convincing.”

On The Country Wit there followed among Crowne's comedies some time between 1681 and 1683, when it is known to have been in print, City Politiques (i.e., politicians), a clever though in one of its two plots extremely repulsive play. It belongs to the bundle of literary productions (largely, though not wholly, tares) which dated from the agitated epoch beginning with the Popish Plot persecutions, rising to its height in the triumph of the Protestant cause by the Middlesex Grand Jury's ignoring of the indictment against Shaftesbury and ending with his flight from the country a year later (November 1682). “When I first wrote this play,” says Crowne, “half the nation was mad”; but though he allows that he may have been little better than mad himself to attack “a whole powerful party,” the Court must have been in tolerably calm waters before he came forward to denounce its adversaries. In the play a young good-for-nothing, who because of his indifference to public questions is charged by his Whig father with having turned Tory, exclaims in an injured tone: “A Tory! that's a good one; when I am now writing an answer to Absalom and Achitophel,”—to be called Azariah and Hushai. Yet the actual height of the political conflict had most assuredly been passed, when so pale a reflexion of Titus Oates as Dr. Panchy seemed sufficient for presentation on the stage, when Shaftesbury was left out altogether,4 and when the most effective part of the direct political satire consisted of a humorous travesty of the Protestant Joiner into the Catholic Bricklayer.5 The character, however, with which the dramatist evidently took the greatest pains and for which he characteristically invented a dialect of his own, was the wholly eccentric lawyer Bartoline, who has not yet been quite satisfactorily identified and who may have been not more than a semi-personal caricature. The part was written for “Tony” Leigh and seems to have been one of his great successes. The dialogue contains an element of good Anti-Jacobin fun, including some (as for instance the reference to “the Club of Young Politique Whigs”) which has to this day not lost all its pungency; but no fire either of political principle or of moral indignation burns beneath the mass of satire, and the loyal playwright cannot deny himself the satisfaction of depicting all the opponents of the Court as secretly desirous of being paid their price by it.

The “love” plot, in which the character of the hero Florio has been thought to have been borrowed from Horner in Wycherley's Country Wife,6 is intolerably offensive, all the more so because it is to some extent duplicated, according to a practice not unusual with Crowne. On the other hand, the situation in Act iii, however disgusting in one at least of its ingredients, must be allowed to be ingeniously devised and skillfully prepared. Altogether, though the moral tone of the play is of the lowest, and its atmosphere clouded by wanton wives, debauchees, and rascals pretending to be patriots, the author certainly handles his materials with considerable theatrical skill; and the action, for the simple reason that it rarely drags, contrives to sustain an attention which it often fails to deserve.

The story is well known, how Crowne, apparently quick neither in the choice of dramatic subjects nor in the treatment of them, was shown two Spanish plays by King Charles II, one of which was the comedy No puede ser;7 how when he had with the help of these written three acts of Sir Courtly Nice, or It cannot be, he read them to the King, who approved of them, except that he thought them “not merry enough”; and how the King died before witnessing the play as adapted to the royal taste. The gibes in the Prologue against at least the name of Protestants, are what might have been expected in a new play, the first to be produced in James II's reign. It did not take Crowne long to discover that No puede ser had already been translated for the English stage by Sir Thomas St. Serfe under the title of Tarugo's Wiles, or the Coffee-House, and acted in 1667. Tarugo is the Crack of Crowne's comedy (acted by “Tony” Leigh), an eccentric Oxonian who under the guise of an Indian nabob's heir, attended by a ballet of “Siamites and Bantammers,” diversifies the action of the piece by his lazzi and vagaries, and whose nonsense is elaborated with a spirit beyond what is usually to be found in Crowne. The praises which have been lavished upon this comedy as a whole, and more especially upon the character from which it derives its name, seem exaggerated, although it for an unusually long time retained its popularity on the stage. The main plot, which turns on the futility of the attempt to guard a Danaë of the period, is neither very novel nor at all attractive; and the opening and the close are alike revolting. The comic wealth of the play is supposed to lie in its double antithesis of humorous characters—Sir Courtly Nice being contrasted with the brutally coarse and rude Surly, a variation of Wycherley's Plain Dealer, and the peppery cavalier Hothead paired off with the Puritan Testimony, who cants about “the great sinfulness of sin” but before the end of the play is caught out as a common reprobate. Sir Courtly Nice himself is no doubt an amusing specimen of the genus fopling. Etherege's Man of Mode had been produced twelve years before, but it could be easily shown that Crowne had not forgotten the character. Except, however, that Sir Courtly is perhaps the most utterly washed-out decadent of the series, and that his effeminacy here and there expresses itself with notable felicity, most readers will agree that he falls something short of his reputation. Of course Mountfort who, in the parlance of the stage, “created” the part, and Colley Cibber after him, may have contrived to invest it with irresistible details. Of the other personages the “Aunt” represents a conventional (perhaps originally Spanish) type of which Crowne seems to have been fond; it was a happy thought to make her describe herself as one of fourteen sisters, none of whom married—“we were all so reserved.”

With The English Frier (probably acted in 1689,8 printed 1690) we find ourselves in different times from those in which Crowne had congratulated the nation on its marvellous good fortune in being privileged to see King James II follow on King Charles II.9 Comments have been wasted on the supposed political inconsistency of the author of this in its essence rather contemptible comedy. He had no reason for venerating the memory of King James and his ecclesiastical policy; and we may allow for his having, like Dryden, entertained a genuine antipathy to priests and parsons of any denomination. Yet it would be absurd to believe that in 1690 he was really troubled by fears of Popish designs for undermining the public or private virtue of Englishmen or Englishwomen such as he imputes to Father Finical, his Order, and his Church. And it is difficult to believe that the character of this coarse hypocrite and impostor. who is created a bishop in partibus, and appears before his enraptured female admirers with a cross of gold suspended over his cassock, should have been modelled on Father Petre (though he certainly was lampooned with every freedom of invention), or on any other influential cleric of King James' Court. Nor does Lord Stately, the solemn nonentity who seeks to obtain a blue riband by morigeration to the Father and his Church, appear to have been drawn from any living original. Father Finical is a roughly devised sample of the religious charlatan who under the cloak of religion pursues his private ends, cheats his patron of three thousand pounds, and while surrounded by admiring ladies is bent upon seducing the waiting-maid. The immortal figure of Tartuffe had of course suggested the outlines of this despicable character; but no copy has ever more utterly failed to reproduce either the subtlety or the truthfulness of its original. Although, unlike Tartuffe, Father Finical is represented as an ordained priest, the friends of the Church of Rome in England had no reason for losing their temper over so clumsy an onslaught. The bottom is moreover knocked out of the English dramatist's satire by the simple fact that he is denouncing a vanquished foe, and one who needed no unmasking like the Wolf in sheep's clothing of Cibber's later comedy. As for Lord Stately, he must be allowed to be an entertaining specimen of empty patrician pomposity,—whether he is found declaiming on his own grandeur and insisting on the privileges of the peerage (including arm-chairs), or whether he is shocked by the up-to-date freedoms of his daughters and the roysterers with whom the elder sister, an idle hussy drawn with some social insight as well as humour (“I do love Love,” she says) is foolhardy enough to venture into contact. Among the roysterers in question are a pair of zanies coupled in Crowne's favourite way—the more than Mohawk insolence of Young Ranter being matched by the idiotic admiration lavished by Old Ranter upon his hopeful son.

Although this comedy, again according to its author's wont, opens well, its double action hardly succeeds in keeping up the reader's interest. The folly of Stately's daughter Laura too obviously overshoots the mark, though it hardly prepares us for the unspeakable grossness of Young Ranter's final scene with her; on the other hand, the effect of the dénouement of the main plot,—the revelation of Father Finical's rascality,—has been largely discounted beforehand. The entire play not only shows its author at his worst, but exemplifies with unmistakable distinctness the progress of the decay into which our national comedy had fallen,—a decay all the more deplorable in the present instance, where an English play seems to challenge comparison with a masterpiece of French dramatic art.

Crowne's latest extant comic drama (for a play by him bearing the title of Justice Busy appears never to have been printed) was The Married Beau, or the Curious Impertinent, acted and printed in 1694. This comedy, which was frequently performed in the period ensuing upon its production, is again a version—or it might with equal propriety be called a perversion—of a celebrated original, but not of another drama. The story of The Ill-Advised Curiosity (Il Curioso Impertinente, which as Mr. Ormsby observes would be more precisely translated “The Inquisitive Man who had no business to be so”) is related in chapters XXIII-V of Part I of Don Quixote. Crowne's comedy is by no means unskillfully constructed; its dramatic interest is kept up to the close; and the success achieved by it is perfectly intelligible. Indeed, in the scene between the adulterers where the action rises to its height, the author is carried away into a glow and tremor of passion as unusual with him as it is remote from the self-restraint of Cervantes. But, taking the play as a whole, it falls as far short of the nobility as The English Frier does of the veracity of its original. Every incident in the story, every turn in its course, and every character contained in it, seems to have been deliberately transposed into a lower key, as if on purpose to suit the meaner tastes of a different public and the ignobler style of its theatrical purveyor. In novel and play alike the “ill-advised curiosity” is that of the husband who seeks to test the virtue of his wife by inducing his most intimate friend to pretend to tempt it, and whose infatuation meets with its deserved reward. But, in the novel, the husband is impelled to his ill-omened venture by the Nemesis awaiting those that know not how to bear the favours of Fortune, and his friend enters into the shameful plot not only reluctantly, but with the deliberate design of thwarting it. In the play, the husband consistently behaves as an egregious fool inflated with grotesque self-conceit; and the noble Lothario of the tale, in whose fall lies half its tragedy, is turned into Polidor, a heartless voluptuary who is particularly gratified by the chance of cuckolding the friend of his bosom. The character of the wife, too, though not perhaps in the same measure, loses in interest what it loses in gravity; from the very first this Mrs. Lovely dreads that Polidor's attractions may prove irresistible; and the dramatist feels obliged to add another character, the chaste Camilla, by way of personifying the virtue of which he is unable to indicate, like the novelist, the gradual but certain corruption. The one personage in the novel faithfully transferred to the play is the lady's maid Leonela (Lionell); though even in this instance Crowne contrives to coarsen the application of the homely but forcible truism that “the sins of mistresses entail this mischief among others: they make themselves the slaves of their own servants.” What wonder that the English dramatist should neither dare to call upon his audience to accept the logical conclusion, or in other words the tragical catastrophe, of the Spanish novel, nor in the conduct of his action feel able to dispense with adventitious aids! The comedy ends with the successful hoodwinking of the vainglorious husband. As for the supplementary fun, it is of the familiar pattern. The amorous old fool Thorneback pairs off with a junior rival Sir John Shittlecock, who falls in love with all the women he encounters, though like Young Marlow in She Stoops to Conquer he is, as he avers, “a pegoose with a lady, but the devil with a chambermaid.” The fooling of these worthies is not very novel though occasionally wildly extravagant, and ends in roaring farce.

Unless in the foregoing brief review of Crowne's comedies injustice has been done to his powers, of which there is every reason for concluding that he made the most, there ought to be no pretence for setting him up, in continuation or renewal of Rochester's transitory attempt, as a rival to Dryden. Crowne was more effective in comedy than in tragedy, but in both the one and the other he lacks the first and most indispensable condition of literary distinction,—viz.: a style of his own. Apparently conscious of this defect, and yet ambitious of rising to heights of success towards which fortune seemed to beckon him only in order to jilt him on the way, he strove long and laboured hard to establish a claim upon a prominent position among English comic dramatists. What pains he took may fairly be gathered from the fact that in a literary career, covering a full generation of thirty years, he produced not more than six examples that have endured of the dramatic species in which he must have known himself best qualified to excel. As to choice of subject his range was, in the circumstances, wide. The political bearing noticeable in several of his comedies seems attributable rather to a desire to stand well with authority, than to any strong bias of principle or sentiment in his own mind; like nearly all the writers of the later Stuart age he no doubt held that “wit is a Tory”;10 but after he had joined in hounding down the Whigs in City Politiques, and in Sir Courtly Nice had not spared his sneers against the “persecuted” Protestants, he showed, in The English Frier, unmistakable signs of a willingness to uphold the régime established by the Revolution. His plots, on the whole, are not wanting in original turns, but in both his last two comedies he resorted—as his contemporaries probably did to a larger extent than literary research has yet ascertained—to Spanish sources, dramatic in the earlier and novelistic in the later instance. He never dispensed with the use of a double plot—“main” and “bye”—but it must be granted that he often showed more skill than some of his competitors in interweaving both parts of his action. It cannot be asserted that in general he displays much ability in construction; but some of his comedies (especially The Country Wit and The English Frier) open remarkably well, and others (for instance City Politiques) work up skillfully enough to their principal situation. The last act or two of his comedies are, however, apt to be wanting in vigour; perhaps where the interest of the action is so largely theatrical or conventional, it cannot without difficulty be sustained through five acts. Now and then Crowne sought to help it on (as in Sir Courtly Nice) by resorting to the aid of those ballet-intermezzos which Molière had borrowed from the Italians. Elsewhere he contented himself with the simpler expedient of allowing a comic action to degenerate into “screaming” farce. Beyond a doubt it was on the characters of his plays that Crowne concentrated his chief endeavours, and in them that he intended their chief strength to lie. English Comedy, wrote an accomplished critic11 about this time, far from being a tissue of polite intrigue full of interesting incident and lovers' talk, like that of Spain and France, is “a representation of everyday life, according to the diversity of humours, and the varying characters of men.” It may be doubted whether this criticism took into account either the direction which French comedy, in the hands of its greatest master, was following; or the much-favoured Spanish species known under the name of figuron. So far as the English drama is concerned, the favourite types instanced by St.-Evremond—from alchemist to politique gull and fop—might seem to be gathered promiscuously from the crowded gallery of the great master of the comedy of humours, and from the more meagre collections of his later followers; but the truth is that these studies of nature had in their turn become largely conventional, and that it is not often that in such a writer as Crowne we meet with a really fresh comic type. Neither Sir Mannerly Shallow nor Sir Courtly Nice, the most successful probably of Crowne's eccentric characters, can be said to have conquered for himself a domain of his own among gulls and fops. In order to accentuate the efforts of his comic inventiveness, Crowne frequently adopted the device of relieving caricature by caricature; Young Ranter and Old Ranter, Thorneback and Shittlecock, are matched against one another, and in Sir Courtly Nice he even accomplishes the tour de force of presenting two pairs of eccentrics,—Sir Courtly and Surly, and Testimony and Hothead. But while the strain which he thus puts upon his powers is obvious, we cannot but remain cognisant of the fact that the end of the comedy of humours is at hand, and that there can be no question of a permanent revival of the species by this or any other belated follower of its originator, not endowed like Ben Jonson with real inventive power and an all but inexhaustible creative energy.

The prose dialogue of Crowne is as a rule marked by a taking vivacity or alertness such as even with a rather fastidious audience frequently serves the purpose of brilliancy of wit. Now and then he may be said to be actually witty, but more frequently he raises the unavoidable smile by not unexpected facetiousness. As a matter of course, he is as much at home in blank verse as in prose, but of his comedies only the latest (The Married Beau) is in metre, having been no doubt intended to rise to a higher pitch than was attainable by the author's comic style. The Country Wit exhibits that free mixture of blank verse and prose which is common in early Restoration comedy, together with not a little of that bastard prose, familiar even to much later periods of our literature, which is blank verse without seeming to know it.

If such self-knowledge as was possessed by Crowne enabled him to recognise the limits of his powers as a dramatist, he was, one may be sure, equally awake to the shortcomings of the age for which he wrote. Indeed, he might seem to have understood its faults better than his own, when he illustrates his assertion that “many of his plays have been very successful and yet clean,” by a reference to Sir Courtly Nice. The moral standard of Crowne's comedies may not be the lowest to which the English theatre had sunk, or was to sink. But, in another sense, it could not have been lower than what it actually was; for it was always and frankly that which the public chose to prescribe to the dramatist content to cater for its taste.


  1. Cf. Spence, Anecdotes, and Malone's Dryden.

  2. Many interesting details concerning this production have recently appeared in Eleanore Boswell's Restoration Court Stage (1932), ch. III.—Gen. Eds.

  3. A. F. White, John Crowne, His Life and Dramatic Works, Western Reserve University Press, 1922, p. 91, suggests further sources and parallels.—Gen. Eds.

  4. White, however (p. 130), suggests that Shaftesbury is represented “in a general way” by the Podesta.—Gen. Eds.

  5. Goethe might almost be supposed to have made a study of his arguments for those of Vansen in Egmont. It may be added that a happy touch or two is also to be found in the Podesta, with whose election the business of the Politiques begins, and who comes before us as a County Council incarnate in the breadth of his good intentions.

  6. White (p. 137), suggests also the influence of Volpone.—Gen. Eds.

  7. Agustin Moreto's No puede ser guardar una mujer (“No keeping a woman”) appears itself to be an imitation of Lope de Vega's Major Imposibile (“The greatest impossibility”); and perhaps this was the second play commended to Crowne's notice by the King. [Cf. White, p. 141.—Gen. Eds.]

  8. Cf. White, p. 152.—Gen. Eds.

  9. See Prologue to Sir Courtly Nice.

  10. Wit is a Tory, ne'er with us would join;
    Wit never help'd the Whigs to write one line.

    Epilogue to City Politiques (spoken by Bartoline).

  11. De la Comédie Anglaise; Œuvres de M. de Saint-Évremond (5th. ed.), III, 275.

Further Reading

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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 stage.”

MacMechan, Archibald. “John Crowne: A Biographical Note.” Modern Language Notes 6, no. 5 (May, 1891): 139-43.

Discusses Crowne's efforts to gain property in Nova Scotia and offers a brief evaluation of his dramatic powers.

McMullin, B. J., ed. The Comedies of John Crowne: A Critical Edition. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1984, 776 p.

Includes a “Prolegomena” and individual play introductions that provide detailed accounts of the textual history, genesis, sources, and critical reception of six of Crowne's comedies, including Sir Courtly Nice, The Country Wit, and City Politiques.

Walkling, Andrew R.. “Masque and Politics at the Restoration Court: John Crowne's Calisto.Early Music 24, no. 1 (February, 1996): 27-62.

Thoroughly describes the lavish Court performance of Calisto in early 1675 and discusses the masque's political function.

Additional coverage of Crowne's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 80; Literature Resource Center; and Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2.

Charlotte Bradford Hughes (essay date 1966)

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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 of the period. Although the level of its wit falls below the median for the plays of Etherege and Congreve, and the dialogue lacks the incisive vigor of Wycherley's best writing, within its structure may be found most of the details of plot and character that comprise the genre of Restoration comedy. In other respects it seems to anticipate the early eighteenth-century drama, in its portrayal of the hero as a “true lover”1 rather than as a rake, and the later novel in its faithfulness to middle-class social portraiture. For the conventional background of titled aristocracy does not carry the conviction of authenticity that it does in Etherege's plays. Crowne's lords and ladies are not genuine. Their arrogance is imitative and overdone and more than a trifle vulgar; it lacks the authority of Dorimant's easy and graceful outrageousness. Compared with the fancies of Sir Fopling Flutter, that “offspring of an orchid and an idiot”,2 the delicacy of Sir Courtly Nice seems labored, and his effeminacy distastefully emphasized. Leonora comes close to being a strumpet, without the comic license of Hoyden or Miss Prue; in comparison with the resources of a Millamant, her upstart deceitfulness is common and contemptible. The most original touches in the play, the righteous indignation of the Tory Hothead, the stolid British embarrassment of Belguard in the scenes with the supposedly imbecile Sir Thomas Callicoe, and the managerial preoccupations of the Aunt, are observations from middle-class life in the manner of Smollett and Fielding. The humour-characterization of Surly, Testimony, and Hothead is well within the tradition of seventeenth-century drama derived from the Jonsonian pattern. The ingenious servant is a stock character, and the Aunt a recurrent type. The comic infatuation of the latter with Sir Courtly is a familiar mockery of the main story line, which, as in all such plays, consists of love-intrigue. The two sets of lovers, Leonora and Farewell, Violante and Belguard, each serving as a foil for the other, are also typical of Restoration comedy plotting. The love-contract or stipulation of conditions before marriage on the part of the women is, as Kathleen Lynch points out in The Social Mode of Restoration Comedy, a stock device of precieuse literature, one of the most pervasive influences upon the drama of the seventeenth century. The incident is, of course, wrought to comic perfection in Congreve's The Way of the World.

Crowne's play is representative also of the comedies known to have been derived, at least in part, from comedias of the Spanish Golden Age, of which much has been surmised but little verified by scholars chiefly interested in English literature. The question of the influence of the “Spanish plot” upon the comedies of the Restoration is one which has been debated intermittently since the plays themselves were written. Gerard Langbaine's Account of the English Dramatick Poets (1691) is the primary source for later writers who, often without explanation, have added to and subtracted from the list of seventeen plays that he attributed to Spanish plays or prose romances. Langbaine subsequently acquired a reputation for having been an “overingenious compiler of sources”,3 but in actuality his assertions are more easily verified or disproved than those of some modern scholars.

The nineteenth-century critic A. W. Ward, in his History of English Dramatic Literature, omitted nine of the titles mentioned by Langbaine, but added others to bring the total of dramas supposedly derived from the Spanish to twenty-five. Although he consulted works by students of the Spanish drama, Ward was often content to attribute a particular play to “some Spanish source”. Nevertheless, he did demonstrate his awareness of the complexity of any discussion of literary influences. Although he did not read Spanish, he saw certain obvious differences between the drama of the Golden Age and that of the Restoration, and it was his opinion that “the connexion between the Spanish and the English drama in this period, which is sometimes assumed to have been extremely intimate, will, the more the subject is inquired into, be found to reduce itself to a narrow range of indebtedness on the part of our writers”.4

In the nineteen-twenties, a number of specialists in the Restoration drama, among them Allardyce Nicoll and Montague Summers, indicated the desirability of further research in the matter of Spanish influence, while the attitude of Ward was maintained by Kathleen Lynch, who stated that the “‘cloak and sword’ type of comedy … proved too decidedly nationalistic in spirit to become fused successfully with, or in any memorable way to change, the current of English comedy of manners”.5 Writing in 1959, John Loftis has revived the issue in a periodical article, contending that “the borrowing from Spanish drama has been underestimated”, and that “many Spanish plays appeared on the English stage during the Restoration and eighteenth century”. More specifically, he adds:

Among the English writers who took material for plays, either directly or indirectly, from the Spanish dramatists were John Dryden, George Digby Earl of Bristol, Sir Samuel Tuke, William Wycherley, John Crowne, Sir John Vanbrugh, Richard Steele, Susannah Centlivre, Christopher Bullock, Richard Savage, and Robert Dodsley.6

The task of searching out sources and analogues in Spanish drama for the plots of Restoration plays is one which can never be satisfactorily accomplished by a scholar working independently. Much work remains to be done by students of Spanish literature in editing plays and establishing accurate bibliographies of individual authors. Greater knowledge of Spanish language and literature is required of scholars in the field of English literary history. Except in isolated cases, such as Allison Gaw's detailed study of Sir Samuel Tuke's adaptation of Coello's Los empeños de seis horas, and the briefer articles of Loftis and J. U. Rundle on the relations between Cibber, John Leanerd, and Tirso de Molina, and between Wycherley and Calderón,7 Restoration versions of Spanish plays and novelas have not been compared closely with their originals, and little attempt has been made to analyze the significance of their departure from or adherence to their sources. Nor has a careful study yet been made of the Spanish plays brought to the English stage through adaptations from the French drama. It has been almost customary for scholars to make no distinction between first-hand and second-hand borrowings and to ignore the French version of a play ultimately derived from the Spanish. Finally, no attempt has been made to study the dramas of the Spanish siglo de oro and the English Restoration as common products of a most challenging cultural epoch—the Late Renaissance.

Agustín Moreto, from whose comedy No puede ser guardar una mujerSir Courtly Nice was adapted, was a courtier and a dramatist of polish and precision, if not of great originality. Indeed, No puede ser itself represents a re-working of the plot of Lope de Vega's El mayor imposible. Gerald Brenan describes Moreto in The Literature of the Spanish People as “the playwright of a refined and self-contained court, cut off from the general life of the country and given up, on the surface at least, to a life of love affairs and pleasure”.8 His relative position with regard to Lope de Vega and to Calderón is roughly comparable to Crowne's rank in the company of Etherege and Congreve, although no comparison may be drawn between the latter writers and the greatest of the Spanish dramatists. Moreto is best known for El desdén con el desdén, a play in which a princess who believes she is incapable of love is won by a man who pretends not to love her, and for El lindo Don Diego, the title character of which is a vain and preposterous fop. No puede ser, though perhaps not a masterpiece, is a lively and witty combination of “thesis play” and intrigue comedy. It pictures a way of life that is aristocratic almost in the Platonic sense. Its characters are, with the exception of the obstinate Don Pedro, highly intelligent, and the women are, like Shakespearean heroines, independent without vulgarity. Tarugo, an ancestor of Figaro, is a worthy representative of the gracioso, and Manuela typical in her down-to-earth echoes of her mistress's refined sentiments. That the Restoration should have found Moreto's comedy excessively proper is not surprising, but certainly the play is maligned by historians of English drama, among them Arthur F. White, who suggest that it wanted “improving” at the hands of a dramatist such as John Crowne. No puede ser is a deservedly well-known comedy, in its own way representative of its period. For a discussion of influences and parallel techniques in the drama of both countries, the relationship between the Spanish play and its English counterpart presents an interesting point of departure.

Since comedia is a more inclusive term in Spanish than comedy in English, it is convenient to compare with Restoration comedy only comedias de capa y espada, that is, cape-and-sword or intrigue comedies, comedies of the figurón or humour-character, and a group of plays categorized by writers on the Spanish drama in various ways, that fit the English definition of comedy of manners. The foregoing represent only a fraction of the plays written for the Spanish theatre of the seventeenth century. Religious plays, historical dramas, plays of peasant life and of the supernatural, which must be disregarded here because they have no parallels in the Restoration period in England, combine to make the Spanish drama extremely rich in theme and idea, and therefore perhaps more worthy of comparison with the Elizabethan period in English literature than with the more limited period of the Restoration.

The play of cape-and-sword is, as the name suggests, a romantic adventure plot, the personages of which belong to the upper social classes. It is derived principally from the Italian commedia dell'arte, and its production was directly influenced by the latter, since Italian companies presented plays in Spain during the sixteenth century. Hugo Rennert, in his study of the Spanish stage, observes that “the name of the male lover in these commedie, Fulvio, Valerio, Ottavio, Leandro … and of the female lover, la comica accesa, Isabella, Lucinda, Leonora … we find very frequently in the comedies of Lope”. There is also much similarity in the situations:

They recur from piece to piece with inconsiderable changes, each with the same mistakes, the same quarrels, the same night scenes, where one person is taken for another in the darkness; the same misunderstandings—scene equivoche, etc.9

The comedies of manners utilize some of the stock situations of the romantic intrigue, but attempt greater accuracy in portraying the customs of contemporary society. Here, as in the intrigue plays, “honor” is exhaustively debated, and the problems of love treated from many points of view. Some of these plays reveal the desire for release from the social restraint of the feudal hierarchy, and for greater personal freedom, particularly on the part of women. Perhaps there was some breakdown of the social pattern; Kathleen Gouldson, in an essay on the portrayal of social conditions in the comedies of Francisco de Rojas-Zorrilla, presents a composite picture that has its parallel in Restoration England:

Since work was to be avoided, there were necessarily many who had to live by their wits and keep up the appearance of wealth, whatever their actual poverty. In Abre el ojo we see several representatives of the impecunious gentry who were so common. Clara is a social parasite, and sponges on all her suitors since she has no income of her own; when she receives gifts she usually sends them to neighbours and other friends in the hope of drawing a bigger gift in return. Don Clemente … is reduced to selling his father's silver salt-cellar. Don Juan … asks his landlady not to demand rent while he is away from his rooms … he has bored a hole through to the next compartment, so that he may read by his neighbour's light … Laín, the old servant in La Hermosura y la desdicha, says that if he becomes rich he will not be the first to rise in the world … one who now lives as a grand lady under the name of Doña Laurencia was formerly the scullery-maid Lorenza.10

The comedy of the figurón is an intellectualized comedy of manners. In this type of play, for which the dramatist Juan Ruiz de Alarcón is principally remembered, a “humour”, such as untruthfulness, ingratitude, or malicious gossip, characterizes the protagonist and largely directs the action, although mistaken identity and other devices of the intrigue plot may be employed to support the main theme, which, as in Jonson and his successors, is the curing of the humour and the re-establishment of balance and common sense. The background of such a play is usually contemporary Madrid, and the manners depicted are, as with Jonson, exaggerations of follies to be observed there and then, but, in another sense, everywhere and always. Satire is most direct in these plays, but the note of cynicism, by no means absent from Spanish literature of the period, is remarkably less prevalent in the comedia than in the Restoration drama. Doubtless the firm control of the Church is responsible for the greater stability of Spanish society and the consequent moderation of caricature, satire, and plainness of speech—the comic correctives—in the theatre.

Critical study of Sir Courtly Nice did not appear in print until 1922. In that year an edition of the play by Montague Summers was published in his Restoration Comedies, a monograph upon the career of Crowne by Arthur F. White was issued by Western Reserve University, and a bibliography of Crowne's works by George Parker Winship was printed at Harvard. Summers's edition, apparently derived from the 1703 quarto of the play, is an inaccurate text, and the prefatory material is scanty. White's monograph presents plot summaries of both Sir Courtly Nice and its original, Moreto's No puede ser, together with a brief commentary concerning Crowne's technique of adaptation. White also includes an account of Thomas St. Serfe's version of No puede ser, Tarugo's Wiles; or, The Coffee-house, which was acted in 1667 without success, and of which Crowne was apparently ignorant when he began his own version of the Spanish play.

The frame of Moreto's drama is the meeting of an academia, a society devoted to literature, and to brilliant conversation, at the home of Doña Ana Pacheco, at which an argument develops between two young noblemen, Don Felix and Don Pedro, concerning the possibility of preserving a woman's honor. Don Pedro is convinced that it is possible to protect a woman by keeping her in seclusion, and undertakes to prove it by “guarding” his sister, Doña Ines, from all temptation. Don Felix is of the nobler conviction that a woman's honor must be in her own keeping, and determines to show Don Pedro his own folly by courting Doña Ines secretly. With the connivance of Doña Ana and the inspired strategy of his ingenious servant, Tarugo, Don Felix gains access to Don Pedro's house and helps Doña Ines to escape a marriage of convenience to a man of her brother's choice. Doña Ana, who loves Don Pedro, but wishes to change his views about the frailty of women, is rewarded when he admits the fallacy of his theory and marries her upon more liberal terms of behavior.11

Crowne, in his adaptation, abandoned Moreto's device of the formal debate upon love and honor, a technique reminiscent of the précieuse influence described at length by Miss Lynch in The Social Mode of Restoration Comedy. He ignored also the familiar motif of the wager as a plot situation, and provided a feud between the families of Farewell and Belguard to serve as motivation for Belguard's jealousy of his sister and his enmity toward her lover. The characters of the original play Crowne adapted recognizably, although White overstates when he contends that the role of Tarugo, the gracioso of No puede ser, is “transferred in its entirety in the role of Crack”.12 Don Pedro of the Spanish play becomes Lord Belguard, Doña Ines becomes his sister Leonora, and Doña Ana, her friend, the scheming Violante. Don Felix appears in the English play as Leonora's lover, Farewell. As White points out,

Don Diego, the shadowy potential rival of Don Felix in No Puede Ser, is metamorphosed into the distinctly individualized Sir Courtly Nice. In this case Crowne borrowed only the occasion for his character's existence. In a similar way the role of Alberto, the trusty relative of Don Pedro, whose duty it is to guard the portals of the fortress, is enlarged to include that interesting group of Lord Bellguard's kinsfolk, the amorous aunt, Hothead, and Testimony. For Surly there is no suggestion in the Spanish play. He is Crowne's creation to serve as a dramatic contrast to Sir Courtly.13

The total effect of the character and plot alterations in Crowne is to contribute farcical and satirical effects at the expense of the wit of the Spanish original. Although much is added, much is lost. Don Felix in the Spanish play is a thoughtful young aristocrat who engages in a love plot primarily because his views on the subject of love and women's honor have been challenged by a somewhat obtuse and impolite rival in debate. For a time, vindication of his idea is a more important object than the winning of the lady. In the first scene of the comedy he engages in an entertaining argument with his servant Tarugo concerning poets and learned men, occasioned by his mention of the forthcoming academia at the home of Doña Ana. When he informs Tarugo that Doña Ana is intellectual as well as beautiful and rich, the gracioso replies that this is impossible. His reasoning, supported by popular proverbs and similitudes, is that poetry and learning are incompatible with worldly wealth. Poetry, he says, is a flower in the garden, good to look at, but not to eat.

Y él que un jardín entra a ver
Más presto se irá a buscar
Espárragos que cenar
Que las flores para oler.

Shifting his ground somewhat, Tarugo adds that fortune parcels out the good things of life so that no one may have them all. No one would covet another's piece of meat if he knew the size of the bone inside; to the runt of the litter is given the biggest acorn; and finally, poetry is not written by the light of silver candlesticks:

Sola la poesía es buena
Hecha a moço de candil.

Don Felix responds with a formal “catalogue” of successful poets and sages, from Homer (who was “muy rico”) and Vergil to Petrarch and Ronsard, Guarini and Tasso, Garcilaso and Góngora. A display of wit and ingenious argument is also a feature of the academia scene. Each of the guests reads an original poem, and Doña Ana propounds a riddle about an underground fire:

Este fuego que arde en mí
Otro fuego le encendió,
Que arde también como yo,
Y a un tiempo ardemos así.
El humo que exhala el fuego
Conviene a mi perfección;
Y el cubrirme es por razón
De que no le exhale luego.
Mientras que no me consumo,
Cuando más tierra me das
Más me abrigas y ardo más,
Con que he de arrojar más humo.
No dejando yo de arder,
Salir en vapor presumo.
Decid quién soy yo y el humo,
Que guardar no puede ser.

Don Felix guesses the answer; the hidden fire is a woman in love, and the smoke, the “humo denso”, is her honor. The more the fire is banked, the hotter it burns; as smoke must have an outlet, so must there be freedom before there can be honor. Honor, like smoke, “no puede ser guardar”.

From the subsequent discussion of this bold idea arises the argument that ends in Don Pedro's vowing to keep his sister under guard. Doña Ines, indignant at this unmerited insult to her integrity, repeats in a speech to her maid, Manuela, the metaphor of the subterranean fire, originally introduced by Doña Ana. A stifled blaze, she says, will produce an explosion. With this view Manuela has much sympathy; last year, during Lent, she fasted of her own volition upon bread and water, but this year, having been ordered to fast,

Maldito el día que he dejado
De almorzar y merendar.

Crowne's omission of the philosophical discussions and the scenes from the academia weakens the characters of Leonora, Violante, Belguard, Farewell, and Crack—in short, all of the chief figures of the original play. The jealous Don Pedro is foolish and irrational, but Belguard has not even the excuse of rashness in argument to soften the coarseness of his behavior in marrying his sister to a rich fool. Doña Ana, wise and urbane, is amply motivated to intrigue by the mortifying smugness of her future husband, but Violante, in her plotting against Belguard, is bargaining for a questionable form of “liberty” after marriage. Leonora has, of course, every reason to foil her brother's plans for her future, and she provides the ideal comeuppance for the egregious Sir Courtly, but her brazen lies and impudent rejoinders, amusing enough in a low-comic way, are more befitting the kitchen than the drawing-room. There could be no greater contrast to the high-comedy dialogue and the dignified moral plane of Moreto's play.

White observes that Crowne's retention of the principal incidents of No puede ser follows from the decision to preserve the role of Tarugo. From another point of view, the retention of the intrigue without its original justification in the debate and the wager distinctly lowers the moral status of Tarugo and his master. It is true that there are explicit references to Tarugo's role of “Celestina”; with disarming frankness he admits to Doña Ines that he is Don Felix's go-between, but in the Spanish play there is none of the cynical bravado and none of the indecency in Crack's admission:

I had an ambition to be of some honourable profession; such as People of Quality undertake. As for instance, Pimping. A Pimp is as much above a Doctor, as a Cook is above a Scullion; when a Pimp has foul'd a Dish, a Doctor scours it.

For Tarugo's homespun wit Crowne substituted Crack's more vulgar but more direct form of verbal humor—suggestive double entendre, and gibberish and wild exaggeration in his impersonation of “mad” Sir Thomas Callicoe.

Having weakened the main plot which he had chosen to adopt, and with it the characters which it supported, Crowne was forced to create other characters to sustain interest and to provide the chief comic effects. His most important creation, Sir Courtly Nice, in the role of the rival lover, became one of the Restoration trio of famous fops, along with Sir Fopling Flutter and Lord Foppington. As a foil for Sir Courtly's extravagances of delicacy, Crowne provided the slovenly boor, Surly, and for low comedy in the “guarding” of Leonora, the political rivals Testimony and Hothead. The latter is a humour figure, as his name implies; he is easily persuaded to quarrel, but his religious orthodoxy is not satirized. Testimony, who receives the most satirical treatment, is a hypocritical non-conformist in the tradition of Zeal-of-the-land Busy, and in his “licorish tooth” also suggests Fondlewife and Alderman Gripe.

A tradition which extended at least as far back as Lady Loveall in The Parson's Wedding, and which was developed in Etherege's Lady Cockwood and Wycherley's Lady Flippant, was available to Crowne in the portrayal of the love-sick spinster Aunt in Sir Courtly Nice. Nevertheless, White argues convincingly that Crowne's debt here is to Molière:

The influence of Molière which was so evident in The Countrey Wit is not entirely wanting in Sir Courtly Nice. The character of the amorous aunt was suggested by Belise in Les Femmes Savantes. Sir Courtly, like Clitandre, appeals to the aunt for assistance, and Leonora's aunt, like Belise, mistakes the appeal for a declaration of love. In both incidents the effect is produced by ambiguity of phrase.14

The farcical episodes involving the Aunt's passion for Sir Courtly and the latter's discomfiture at having won her instead of Leonora are the high moments of Crowne's play, and detract somewhat from the importance of Crack's stratagems, which are more effective in the original because there are fewer characters and incidents. Crowne does, however, imitate this part of the action closely. In both plays, the gracioso gets into the house of the lady as a guest, by disguising himself. In Moreto, he is an indiano, or colonist returned with riches from the New World. In Crowne, he is Sir Thomas Callicoe, the son of a wealthy Far Eastern merchant, who brings to the play a pseudo-oriental savor at a date when popular interest in “Bantam” natives had been aroused by the visit of oriental potentates to London. In both plays the servant in disguise pretends eccentricity—Crowne's in an extreme degree—and from his supposed phobias arise the means of preventing discovery. Both are victims of love charms that make them fear to see women, and both develop fits at opportune moments to help their masters escape detection by the jealous brothers. Both have an imaginary marriageable sister, and so may communicate with eligible suitors (Don Felix and Farewell) inside the house. The final trick in each case is to mask or disguise the heroine as a streetwalker to enable her to escape from the house.

Of the many plays studied for parallels in Spanish plots, Crowne's play is unique in the manner of its composition. Having been supplied the Spanish play by the king, the dramatist was obliged to follow it with a degree of faithfulness not usual in such circumstances. And yet one could not say, as Loftis does, that the Spanish comedy “appeared on the English stage”. The plot borrowings, extensive as they are, have not re-created the original in spirit or in total effect. In the case of other English plays, adapted more casually, perhaps from several sources rather than from one, it is difficult to believe that the relationship to Spanish dramatic tradition would be closer.


Much that is misleading has been said about the qualities of realism and romanticism in the Restoration drama. The plays have been said to be “realistic” in portrayal of character and “romantic” in plot; the assertion has been made often that plots were imported wholesale from the Spanish and French drama, and the implication has been that Jonsonian comedy accounts for the realism and foreign literatures for all that is romantic and improbable in the situations. Although attention was called by Miss Lynch to the discrepancy between Jonson's theory and his practice, the foregoing assumption is still current and presents a problem of definition and clarification. If realism in fiction is to be conceived as the technique of beginning with characters drawn from life and of constructing the action thereafter in accordance with the psychological processes of these characters as envisioned by the writer, romance in imaginative literature may be defined as storytelling that first visualizes a situation or an action and fits to it the characters as they are needed. This is not to say that the latter method allows no opportunity for development of motivation, or for the expression of the author's attitudes and ideas, but it is characterized by lack of concern for logical consistency. Realism in the sense of verisimilitude—astute psychology, description from observation, and even topical satire or social commentary, may be found in a story that is obviously constructed from traditional fable. Romantic literature in the latter sense has greater freedom than the kind of literature developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—realism in the most restricted meaning of the term. Romance fiction may take liberties with motivation that are not allowed by the scientific attitude of the modern realistic school, it may allow a stylized language to take the place of normal human speech, and it may shift from single-dimension to multiple-dimension in depicting human beings. To this kind of literature Restoration comedy belongs, as does the Spanish comedia of the Golden Age.

Both the Spanish comedy and the comedy of the English Restoration tend to superimpose upon the heritage of comic themes and plot devices certain situations depicting affairs of contemporary life, and both embody patterns of behavior, standards, and values that reflect, to some degree at least, contemporary social philosophies. Common to both is appreciation of wit, in the broadest interpretation, embracing imagination, acumen, judgment, decorum, and refinement of intellectual taste, in addition to gaiety, sophistication, and verbal facility. Thomas Fujimura in his study The Restoration Comedy of Wit develops the thesis that the comedy of the Restoration is more properly comedy of wit than comedy of manners, and observes that the actions of these plays involve not real people or even humours, but “the figures of Truewit, Witwoud, and Witless in a variety of outwitting situations”.15 In examining the intellectual background of wit comedy, Fujimura states that “the key words are naturalism, libertinism, and skepticism”.

The Truewits are egoistic and libertine, and they conform to Hobbes' description of young men as “violent in their desires. Prompt to execute their desires. Incontinent. Inconstant, easily forsaking what they desired before. Longing mightily, and soon satisfied”. They are also “lovers of mirth, and by consequence such as love to jest at others”.16 This description is truer to the character of Dorimant, Bellmour, Horner, and Courtall than the “manners” description of them as butterflies posturing before the social mirror. These young men are drawn as egoists and libertines, concerned principally with the objects of their desire or aversion: they pursue the pleasures of wine, women, and wit, and they ridicule Witless, Witwoud, and unnatural creatures. It was precisely on these grounds that Dennis defended the character of Dorimant against Steele's moralistic censure: Dorimant is portrayed as malicious, egoistic, and libertine because that is the true nature of young men.17

Doubtless the atmosphere of skepticism in Protestant England described above accounts for much of the disparity of moral tone that exists between the drama of that country and the Spanish. It is, however, interesting because of this disparity to note that Miss Gouldson also applies the word “libertine” to behavior of the upper middle classes depicted in the plays of Rojas-Zorrilla, pointing out the contempt felt by young people for work and serious purposes, the indulgence in flirtation for the excitement of the game, the wavering of religious conviction, “the empty life of the rich, and the hypocrisy of the would-be rich”.18 Fujimura himself relates the ideal of the Truewit and the Restoration vogue of the “similitude” to non-dramatic works of Spanish literature. These include Baltasar Gracián's El discreto (1646), a treatise upon the ideal qualities of the courtier, emphasizing the attributes of perception, taste, and decorum, and the same writer's critical work Agudeza y arte de ingenio (1640), which was well known to English writers, among them William Wycherley.

If the chief interest of Restoration comedy lies in its witty repartée and in its ironic projection of contemporary moral and social values, intellectual interest in the comedia is centered in ingenuity of plot and in the poetic qualities or rhetorical effects of the dialogue. Something of the Renaissance enthusiasm for the treatise is to be found in Lope de Vega's compendious treatment of problems related to love: the conflict of buen amor, “true love”, with loco amor, or destructive passion; the rival claims of love and honor; the power of love to endow wisdom; the peril of attempting to force or prohibit love unnaturally. Some of the ideas, such as that of La dama boba, later employed by Calderón in De una causa dos efectos, are from Ovid; others were current in the Italian novella and in the commedia dell'arte. The method is reminiscent of the medieval love debate, the actions of the characters in a variety of situations representing theoretical applications of the “laws” of love, but although neither the content nor the technique is precisely original, the result, because of the great volume of the dramatist's work, is unique. The plays, taken together, form a kind of encyclopedia of love, to which Lope's contemporaries and successors made frequent reference for suggestions in plotting and characterization.

That the love debate on stage was popular with audiences may be inferred from the frequent occurrence of the academia situation, such as that taken by Moreto from Lope's El mayor imposible. Some of the variations of the academia in other plays by Lope are discussed in a preface by one of the editors of El mayor imposible:

In Si no vieran las mujeres there is an argument … [concerning] the greatest passion. The prince of Lo que ha de ser is in prison, but this does not prevent him from passing his time with his friends in academic pursuits. They indulge in music, verses, witty criticisms, a bit of erudition, and in the inevitable fling at culteranismo. In El guante de doña Blanca the palace is transformed into an academy, with a lady as presiding genius. The courtiers recite three sonnets upon a set subject, and the clown follows with another in burlesque vein. The prince of El saber puede dañar, in order to divert a tedious moment, holds an impromptu academy. … The prince propounds such questions as: “What is the most hateful thing?” and “What do men desire most?” … In El milagro por los celos the king and courtiers recite epigrams they have composed on the same subject.19

The academic discussions of poetry, such as the one mentioned above as taking place in Lo que ha de ser, are often concerned with a dispute over the development of the language that had parallels in other European countries during the late Renaissance. The literary war in Spain was waged between advocates of culteranismo, a movement toward refinement of language, stylization of diction, and a Latinized syntax led by the poet Luis de Góngora, and adherents of conceptismo, led by Francisco de Quevedo and by Lope himself. The conceptistas disapproved of the obscurity of culto poetry, and were primarily concerned for the retention of the purity and integrity of the language. They insisted upon the preservation of the Spanish idiom, but they did favor the use of vivid and sometimes over-ingenious conceits, although Lope expressed the principle of decorum and moderation in their use. It is possible to see, as Fujimura does, the relationship between “Gongorism” and the last phase of the Renaissance preoccupation with linguistic invention in the Restoration comedy of wit. The parallel between conceptismo and witty similitudes in English comedy, while not a matter of direct influence, nevertheless establishes a point of contact between the tastes of theatre audiences in the two countries.


When a struggling dramatist begs patronage of Farquhar's Sir Benjamin Wouldbe in The Twin Rivals, the usurping heir calls his steward and orders that the playwright be given, not the five guineas he hopes for, but “the Spanish play that lies in the closet window”. In the same fashion Crowne was “helped to a plot” by King Charles; a few years earlier Wycherley had gone to the plays of Calderón for help in plotting Love in a Wood and The Gentleman Dancing Master. It is no coincidence that Moreto and Calderón had themselves adapted plays from Lope de Vega, who had earlier utilized the themes of other writers, native and foreign. In analyzing the sources of Lope's plays, Rudolph Schevill has drawn attention to the number of situations based on disguises, lies, and concealments which were traditional in the medieval chivalric romances. The bribery of servants, the exchange of lovers' tokens, the tricks employed to open a conversation with a woman and the methods of gaining access to her home, the test of fidelity—all are commonplaces in the earliest fiction, and most can be re-discovered in the comedies of the Restoration.

The essential contrast to be established between the treatment of the basic theme of love in the comedia and that in the Restoration comedy rests not upon the difference of customs in the respective societies, great as it may have been, but upon the stricter dramatic censorship in Spain and the narrower limits of the comic genre in England. There is, however, a wider range of treatment in the plays of both countries than might be expected. The greater freedom of the English stage allows the hero to conduct several affairs simultaneously on different social and moral planes, as Dorimant does with Mrs. Loveit, Belinda, and Harriet, and as Belfond, Junior does in The Squire of Alsatia with Mrs. Termagant, Lucia, and Isabella. A concession to morality is nevertheless implied in the fact that the principal affair must conclude in marriage, however hasty and ill-contrived. That the last-act marriage scramble is characteristic of both the English and the Spanish plays is demonstrated by the dénouement of Rojas-Zorrilla's Entre bobos anda el juego and La hermosura y la desdicha, and by the ridicule directed at the arbitrary pairing of lovers at the play's end in Cervantes's La Entretenida.

The “heroic” treatment of love in the Beaufort-Graciana-Colonel Bruce triangle in Etherege's The Comical Revenge and in Wycherley's Valentine-Christina action in Love in a Wood was later abandoned, and interest concentrated in the “gay couple” until the 1690's saw the encroachment of sentimental and moralizing themes upon the earlier “love duel”. In the comedia the treatment of love ranged from the ironic in Rojas-Zorrilla's Abre el ojo to the improbably romantic in Tirso de Molina's Don Gil de las calzas verdes, and even to the tragic, as in Calderón's El médico de su honra.

The majority of situations, particularly in the more serious plays, were in some way concerned with the “honor” theme, a particularly Spanish preoccupation that often baffles the reader of English plays, in many of which exaggerated concern for personal honor is satirized as the sign of witless affectation or hypocrisy, exemplified in the characters of Sir James Formal, the Hispanophile in The Gentleman Dancing Master, and Lady Cockwood in She Wou'd if She Cou'd. The code of the gentleman, distinguishing him from the merchant and peasant classes, was a Renaissance survival of a medieval concept. In Spanish drama, however, it appears in an exaggerated form. Honor in the plays is seen as the symbol of a gentleman's pride and self-respect; its preservation depends less upon his actions than upon his reputation. The honorable man will tolerate no offense against himself or his family, but he does not hesitate to satisfy his own passions. Dishonor thus consists not in committing, but in receiving an injury.

The possibilities of dramatic complication in the love intrigue play were greatly enhanced by the addition of the honor theme, and its use was extended beyond the plays of court and city life. The revenge taken by the peasants in Lope's Fuenteovejuna for the brutal lust of the Comendador and by Pedro Crespo in Calderón's El alcalde de Zalamea for a similar offense is represented as being demanded by a sense of personal outrage, a “refined” notion scoffed at by the villains, who are gentlemen in name only. An ingenious variation of the honor motif occurs in Lope's La moza de cántaro, in which the avenger of injured honor is a woman whose father has been insulted by her suitor. Since there is no male relative to take up the cause, Doña Maria visits the lover, Don Diego, in prison and kills him. Before dying, Don Diego himself acknowledges the justice of her action, and in the final scene she is pardoned and rewarded with a more suitable husband.

The idea of lessening the offense to one's honor by taking secret revenge, which is totally foreign to the English code that countenanced only dueling, is essential to the action of many plays of the period. In Calderón's El médico de su honra Don Gutierre suspects his wife of an affair with the king's brother the Infante Don Enrique, whose rank precludes direct revenge. The wife is innocent in deed, if not entirely so in mind, but Don Gutierre procures a sangrador or blood-letter, directs him to bleed his helpless wife, and after the fatal “accident” is left free to take another wife at the play's end. Similarly, an “accidental” collapse of a wall kills Blanca in Rojas-Zorrilla's Casarse por vengarse, and Antonio, in the same author's Sin honra no hay amistad, is willing to kill his sister, whom he knows to be innocent, because the suspicions of others demand that he should.

The Spanish dramatist whose plot construction notably differs from that of other dramatists of the Golden Age is Alarcón. In his humour comedy he presents a radically different concept of honor as ethical behavior, and constructs his action by allowing the figurón to experience the logical results of his own moral shortcomings. Thus Don Mendo in Las paredes oyen loses Doña Ana because his habit of malicious gossip has finally led him into slandering her within her hearing. The main character of La verdad sospechosa, a young man who cannot tell the truth, is punished for lying about his love affairs by being forced to marry the woman he said he loved rather than the one he actually wanted for his wife. In both plays the slanders and lies themselves provide ample complications for the action.

Generalizations concerning characterization in the Spanish intrigue play and the Restoration comedy emerge in part from those that may be made concerning the actions of the plays. Thus Fujimura, in applying the formula of interaction between Truewit, Witwoud, and Witless, declares wit to be the basis of Restoration comic characterization. Dobrée, Palmer, Perry, and Miss Lynch, whom Fujimura calls “manners” critics because they evaded the moral strictures of nineteenth-century criticism by assuming that Restoration comedy was manners comedy, describe the comic characters as realistic social portraits. There is evidence to support both views, but a third generalization concerning character portrayal may be drawn from observations of structure in the comedies. Dependence upon the clichés of the romantic adventure plot has imposed in these plays severe limitations upon freedom of characterization and has contributed to the “typing” of characters, despite the efforts of some dramatists to draw character from life, or to create a one-dimensional world of elegance and verbal brilliance in the theatre. It has led also to psychological and moral incongruities that should warn critics from serious discussion of the plays as consistent representations of existing social conditions. Impersonation, supposed mistaken identity, feigned death and madness that could not be expected to deceive a child are presented as commonplaces in a world of sophistication. The ubiquitous situation of the seduction or illicit affair, unless treated seriously as the Spanish treat it, revives impressions of the sex jests of farce and fabliau which are scarcely consonant with intellectual refinement. Gallants who hide in trunks and cupboards and under tablecloths and who go about disguised as clergymen in order to obtain forbidden access to women are no more “manners portraits” than they are models of the Truewit. They are, in their uniformly desirable physical attributes, descendants of the romantic hero, and in their psychology they are allied to their more remote connections, the clever student of the medieval tales and the heroes of Latin comedy. Like the latter, they are often the objects, as well as the authors, of mirth and ridicule; the ironic spirit of their creators reveals itself sufficiently in the suggestion of caricature which their names—Ranger, Wildair, Horner—imply.

In the Spanish drama the galán, typified by Don Felix in No puede ser, is the equivalent of the Restoration gallant and even more obviously the heir of the chivalric hero. Generally his manner is unlike the cynical flippancy of the rakes, but there are resemblances too. The following speech of a suitor to his intended fiancée, quoted by Miss Gouldson from Rojas-Zorrilla's Sin honra no hay amistad, could have been written for one of Wycherley's heroes:

Mi madre es muy rica, y está tán vieja que se morirá dentro de un año, mes más o menos.20

The fact that the young lady was favorably impressed with the foregoing recommendation lessens the psychological distance between the heroine of the comedia and her pert and witty Restoration counterpart. The latter, though often given to extreme freedom in manners and speech, is nevertheless preserved in a state of technical moral purity, and the romantic heroine is never completely absent from the English scene. Graciana of The Comical Revenge, Christina of Love in a Wood, and Fidelia of The Plain Dealer are eclipsed by Gatty, Harriet, Angelica, and Millamant, but they are reinforced by the arrival of the sentimental heroines in the wake of Amanda in Love's Last Shift. In the Spanish plays, there are many enterprising and resourceful female characters. Those drawn by Lope, representing all classes of society, from the peasant girl Laurencia in Fuenteovejuna to Doña Maria in La moza de cántaro and the queen in El mayor imposible, are freely imitated by other dramatists.

Rudolph Schevill remarks in his study of Lope that “there are no mothers in the comedia”, and adds that all reasons given in defense of the omission of normal family life from the dramatic scene “but emphasize the fact that we are not dealing so much with a limitation imposed upon a great art by etiquette or current manners as with a silent acquiescence in a literary tradition which goes back through centuries of the life of Rome and the Latin nations”.21 This convention, as Schevill makes clear, is accepted in Renaissance drama all over Europe. Foolish old women, of course, there are in abundance, and the nature of their foolishness perhaps reflects upon the part of their creators a hatred of hypocrisy that marks them as “humours” of the age. Whatever its exact derivation, the type is represented not only by the aunt in Sir Courtly Nice who deceives herself with hope of love from a young exquisite, but by the designing mother of Lope's La discreta enamorada, who “has all the gross traits of a duenna, all the undignified weaknesses of a silly old woman who courts the advances of a young gallant, and participates in rendezvous …”.22

The cast-off mistress, such as Mrs. Loveit and Belinda of Sir Fopling Flutter, and Mrs. Termagant of The Squire of Alsatia, has, for reasons of propriety, no parallel in the comedia. This character, invariably the victim of seduction and often of false promises of marriage and eternal love, is a sacrifice to “morality” of the most cynical kind. In surrendering the gallant to his prospective wife she must repent her own lapses from virtue or be exposed to raillery or, as in the case of Shadwell's play, genuine cruelty. Although the natural appetites must not be denied, the typical attitude of the Restoration toward the victim of unwise love is expressed in Harriet's speech to Mrs. Loveit:

Mr. Dorimant has been your God Almighty long enough, 'tis time to think of another—A Nunnery is the more fashionable place for such a retreat, and has been the fatal consequence of many a belle passion.

Among secondary male characters, the lindo and the fop are satirical exaggerations of the galán and the rake. Both may be punished comically by being married off to servant girls or abandoned mistresses, as the title character is in Moreto's play El lindo Don Diego, and as Tattle and Dapperwit are in Love for Love and Love in a Wood. The returning nabob, or indiano, newly rich and often ludicrously smug, is a source of humor in Spanish plays, and the Frenchified Englishman, fresh from an improving year in Paris, amused the English. The complement of the dandy in the English comedies is the country booby, such as Sir Wilful in The Way of the World, who represents the negation of all fashionable and romantic virtues, but who undertakes a clumsy imitation of them. The farcical treatment of seduction adds to the company of the foregoing varied satirical portraits of elderly gallants, hood-winked fathers, cuckolds, and outwitted “keepers”, among them Sir Oliver Cockwood and Sir Joslin Jolley of She Wou'd if She Cou'd, Sir Sampson Legend and Foresight of Love for Love, Sir Paul Plyant of The Double Dealer, Pinchwife of The Country Wife, and Mr. Limberham of The Kind Keeper.

The dependence of the intrigue plot upon the gracioso or witty servant, who often acts as a catalytic agent, is common to both the English and Spanish plays, although the Spanish version of the character is the more complex and the more varied. Like the Shakespearean clown, he speaks in epigram and poetic conceit, but in his common-sense practicality he resembles his Restoration counterpart. Both owe their origin to the servus of the Latin plays, and to the picaresque tradition, and both serve as confidant to monologues of the principal characters, not without frequent comment in an ironic vein. Tarugo in No puede ser is a typical example, and in English comedy a close parallel is the intellectually superior Jeremy of Love for Love, whose Cambridge experiences and acquaintance with poets have inspired in him a contempt of scholarship:

Does your Epictetus, or your Seneca here … teach you how to pay your debts without money? … Will Plato be bail for you? or Diogenes, because he understands confinement, and lived in a tub, go to prison for you?

The Spanish servant often introduces an additional comic dimension by engaging in an intrigue or love affair that runs parallel to that of the gallant and parodies it as in El estrella de Sevilla or in Lope's El acero de Madrid and El ausente en el lugar. The gracioso may invent or facilitate deception, as Ramón does in El mayor imposible and as Waitwell does in The Way of the World.

The tendency to satire and caricature is much more pronounced in the English drama than in the Spanish. As Fujimura observes, the object of this satire often is the unnatural, the hypocritical, the affected, as depicted in the characters of such types as Lady Cockwood and Lady Wishfort, who violate decorum in the pretension to youth and in unseemly pursuit of young men and then hypocritically deny even so much sexual vanity and appetite as is normal and “natural”. The fop is satirized for pretension to wit which he does not possess, and for affectation of manners which violate moderation and common sense. Unnatural behavior is further held up to ridicule in old men who fancy young wives. The English direct their laughter at outsiders to the fashionable life of London, at foreigners, tradesmen, soldiers, and the clergy. The latter are satirized chiefly for insincerity and immorality, for human frailty that contrasts with their claim to guardianship of the souls of laymen. “Trust a churchman!” shouts Sir James Formal to his sister Mrs. Caution, “trust a coward with your honour, a fool with your secret, a gamester with your purse, as soon as a priest with your wife or daughter.” But even more often than the clergyman, the countryman is cast for the role of Witless. Country pastimes are viewed with the greatest disdain. “I nauseate walking; tis a country diversion”, exclaims Millamant. “What young woman of the town could ever say no to a coach and six”, asks hare-brained Hippolita, and immediately adds a condition, “unless it were going into the country?” Sir Oliver Cockwood delivers the opinion that “a man had better be a vagabond in this Town than a Justice of Peace in the Country”, and Harriet wails, “Methinks I hear the hateful noise of Rooks already—Kaw, Kaw, Kaw—There's musick in the worst Cry in London! My Dill and Cowcumbers to pickle!”

In direct contrast to the foregoing is the Spanish custom of romanticizing rural life and idealizing the peasantry. The creation of such characters as Juan Labrador, who in Schevill's phrase, “embody the uncorrupted ancient Spanish virtues”, emphasizes the contrast between the simple life and the artificial manners of the court. The recognition of personal worth in the countryman Pedro Crespo and his family, and the exposure of the supposed gentlemen who dishonor them is forceful, if implicit, censure of a corrupt social code. Social satire of a restrained order is also unmistakable in Rojas-Zorrilla and in Alarcón. In the works of the latter the “humour” is purged; in those of the former, the aimlessness of contemporary life, the debased manners and sense of honor are often treated ironically.

From the foregoing comparisons it may be seen that fundamental differences in intellectual background, manners, and customs in England and Spain precluded the representation of a Spanish play on the English stage of the Restoration period. The same comparisons nevertheless support the long-standing opinion that many similarities are to be observed between the comedies of the two countries. The transmission of the melodramatic type of action to the theatre in England resulted in a separation of genres in accordance with dramatic patterns already accepted in that country, and a consequent heightening of effect in both comic and serious plays. As in the case of No puede ser, high comedy was often reduced to farce by being enlivened with native humor tending to caricature and with additional complication of plot. This practice produced analogues such as Sir Courtly Nice, true to the outline but not to the spirit of their originals. Such analogues, if studied for evidences of parallel trends and common sources rather than for direct influence and similarity of isolated detail, acquire new significance as documents in the history of European Renaissance drama.


  1. The phrase is that of John Harrington Smith in The Gay Couple in Restoration Comedy, pp. 119-20.

  2. Louis Kronenberger, The Thread of Laughter, p. 51.

  3. W. S. Clark II, ed., Dramatic Works of Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery, I, 373.

  4. A. W. Ward, History of English Dramatic Literature, III, 266-67.

  5. Kathleen Lynch, The Social Mode of Restoration Comedy, pp. 121-22.

  6. John Loftis, “Spanish Drama in Neoclassical England”, Comparative Literature, XI (1959), 30.

  7. Allison Gaw, “Tuke's Adventures of Five Hours, in Relation to the ‘Spanish Plot’ and to John Dryden”, Studies in English Drama, ed. Gaw; J. U. Rundle, “Wycherley and Calderon”, PMLA, LXIV (1949), 701-07.

  8. Gerald Brenan, The Literature of the Spanish People, p. 314.

  9. Hugo Rennert, The Spanish Stage in the Time of Lope de Vega, pp. 44-45.

  10. Kathleen Gouldson, “Three Studies in Golden Age Drama”, Spanish Golden Age Poetry and Drama, ed. Allison Peers, p. 114.

  11. The central situation of Moreto's play is but slightly altered from that of Lope de Vega's El mayor imposible. In the latter, the queen, who suffers from a consuming melancholy, is diverted by an academia attended by her courtiers. As might be expected, Lope utilizes more fully than does Moreto the opportunity offered for a display of poetic virtuosity. Opening the first scene with a prologue in redondillas, he shifts to the romance for a song by the court musicians. A Petrarchan sonnet, exaggerated in its conceptismo, is the first work presented by a member of the academia. Then an enigma is submitted, a kind of emblem-verse, the central metaphor of which is a heart with an arrow in fetters, a padlock with a key. A quintilla follows on the subject of love's deceits, and next three décimas “to an ungrateful lady” are delivered by Roberto, the prototype of Don Pedro, the jealous brother, who first uses the phrase that gives the play its title, “el mayor imposible.” The greatest impossibility, he contends, is that woman's beauty should cease to be. This gallantry is immediately challenged by the others, who argue that the greatest impossibility is that a man should prosper under an evil star, that a self-made man should fail to hate those who knew him in early life, that a fool should become a wise man, that love should do what money cannot, and finally, that a woman should be guarded from affronts to her honor. Lisardo (Don Felix of Moreto's play) then reads a sonnet in which he says that to preserve a woman's honor when she herself is careless of it is “el mayor imposible”.

    Lope's play serves as Moreto's model for all the main characters and for many devices of plot. The melancholy queen schemes, as Doña Ana does, to embarrass the jealous Roberto (Don Pedro). Lisardo (Don Felix) sends his valet Ramón (Tarugo) to Diana (Doña Ines) disguised as a Flemish jewel merchant, and the lover's picture is secretly offered, as in the plays of Moreto and Crowne. The lover is hidden in the house of the jealously guarded girl, and assists her escape from her foolish guardian Fulgencio (Alberto).

    Moreto compensates for the loss of poetry with greater dramatic economy in his adaptation of Lope's plot and characters. Because the argument concerning honor, which implements the intrigue, emerges from the elaborate riddle propounded by Doña Ana, the academia scene may be shortened and recitation partially replaced with dialogue. By making Doña Ana, the instigator of the intrigue, also the beloved of its victim, Don Pedro, Moreto establishes greater tension within the plot and emphasizes the irony of its resolution.

  12. Arthur F. White, John Crowne: His Life and Dramatic Works, p. 142.

  13. White, p. 142.

  14. White, p. 144.

  15. Thomas Fujimura, The Restoration Comedy of Wit, p. 17.

  16. Thomas Hobbes, The Whole Art of Rhetoric II, 14, in The English Works, VI, 466-67. Quoted in Fujimura, pp. 49-50.

  17. Fujimura, p. 50.

  18. Gouldson, p. 118.

  19. Lope Felix de Vega Carpio, El mayor imposible, ed. John Brooks, University of Arizona Bulletin V (October, 1934), 11.

  20. Gouldson, p. 106.

  21. Rudolph Schevill, The Dramatic Art of Lope de Vega, p. 17.

  22. Schevill, p. 18.


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Moreto, Agustín, “No Puede Ser el Guardar una Mujer”, In Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, XXXIX, 187-208.

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John Harold Wilson (essay date 1967)

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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 modern edition, that by J. Maidment and W. H. Logan (Dramatic Works of John Crowne [Edinburgh, 1873], Vol. II) merely reprints the faulty second quarto. The copy-text for the present modernized edition is the first quarto (Q1), which has been collated with the second (Q2).

A farcical satire on the Whig politicians of London, City Politiques was licensed for production on June 15, 1682; permission was withdrawn on June 26, and granted again on December 18.1 A contemporary critic, John Dennis (a dubious authority), declared that the Lord Chamberlain, Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington, “who had secretly espoused the Whigs … used all his authority to suppress” the play, and that eventually Crowne had to appeal to King Charles II. Probably it was “prohibited on the account of its being dangerous”2 in the summer of 1682, when the Tory party was in the ascendant and needed time to consolidate its gains and to get control of the London grand juries. The play was finally produced at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane on January 19, 1683.3

It seems to have been a success. In his preface Crowne apologizes for “flourishing the colors after victory.” Dennis called the play “a comedy so agreeable that it deserved to be writ in a much better cause.” Another contemporary, Gerard Langbaine, saw it acted with applause,4 and an actor-manager, Colley Cibber, gave the credit for its success to “the extraordinary performance of Nokes and Leigh,” two famous comedians.5 It was presented at Court on November 16, 1685,6 and at least one episode in the play (the Podesta's cudgeling of his son Craffy, the poet, in IV.i) was so well known to playgoers that the epilogue to Behn's The Lucky Chance (c. April, 1686) could comment,

Well was the ignorant lampooning pack
Of shatterhead rhymers whipped on Craffy's back.

The farce was revived at Lincoln's Inn Fields on August 14, 1705, and advertised as “not acted these twenty years.” It was revived again at Drury Lane on July 11, 1712, and finally at Lincoln's Inn Fields on July 10, 1717.7

In September, 1678, one Titus Oates, an unfrocked clergyman with a broad red face, an abnormally long chin, a vast mouth, and a brazen voice, described to the Privy Council a fantastic plot by the Pope, the Society of Jesus, the King of France, and some English Catholic lords, to assassinate King Charles II, place his brother, the Catholic Duke of York, on the throne, and force Catholicism upon England by fire and sword. Three weeks later the still unexplained murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, a London magistrate who had taken Oates' original deposition, was accepted by a fearful nation as proof that “the Salamanca Doctor” had told the truth. The next two years constitute the darkest chapter in the history of English justice. On the sworn testimony of Oates and a swarm of perjured “witnesses,” thousands of Catholics were thrown into prison, where many of them died. Juries condemned, and hangmen brutally executed, some twenty-five innocent Catholics, laymen and priests, for complicity in the Plot or merely for performing their priestly functions.

Capitalizing on the Plot, the political opposition, the Country (or Whig) Party, a mixture of dissenters from the Established Church, honest republicans, religious fanatics, and political opportunists, campaigned to exclude James, Duke of York, an avowed Catholic, from the succession to the throne, and to replace him with a Protestant, James, Duke of Monmouth, the King's oldest illegitimate son. In the summer of 1680, London, a stronghold of Whiggism, fell into the hands of a Whig lord mayor and Whig sheriffs, and for the next two years the Court (or Tory) Party had to contend with a Whig-ruled City as well as with parliaments dominated by Whigs bent on Exclusion. After the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament (March 28, 1681), King Charles II ruled alone, and the City Whigs, without a parliament to protect them, were eventually defeated and discredited.

One of the by-products of the Popish Plot was a spate of plays reflecting the political and religious animosities of the times. Such Whig plays as Settle's Pope Joan (May, 1680) and Shadwell's The Lancashire Witches (c. September, 1681) were violently anti-Catholic and anti-Tory. Plays with anti-Whig themes include D'Urfey's Sir Barnaby Whigg (October, 1681) and The Royalist (January, 1682), Behn's The Roundheads (c. December, 1681) and The City Heiress (May, 1682), Ravenscroft's The London Cuckolds (c. November, 1681), Southerne's The Loyal Brother (February, 1682), Otway's Venice Preserved (February, 1682), Dryden and Lee's The Duke of Guise (November, 1682), and Crowne's outspoken City Politiques. Mindful of the laws against libel, and fearful of hired rogues with cudgels, most poets dealt in generalities and in characters so broadly drawn that no one could take them for portraits of contemporary partisans. Every playgoer interpreted a dramatic production in terms of his own faith or politics, and clapped or hissed according to his bias.

By the beginning of 1683 the Popish Plot hysteria had subsided, and the Whig Exclusion campaign had failed. The great Whig leader, Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, had fled to Holland, where he was to die on January 21, 1683. His ally, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, had retired to his country estate; several of the more violent Whigs were in exile on the continent, and one of them, Stephen College, “the Protestant Joiner,” had been executed for high treason on August 31, 1681. Three important “witnesses,” Bedloe, Fitzharris, and Turberville, were dead, and one, Dugdale, was completely discredited. Titus Oates, deprived of his ten pounds a week pension and his apartment in Whitehall Palace, was sulking in the City; and London was controlled by a Tory lord mayor and Tory sheriffs. Nevertheless, party feeling still ran high, and the rumor that a new play by “little starched Johnny Crowne” would deal boldly with the City Whigs brought a large audience to the first performance of City Politiques.

Crowne seems to have taken precautions against Whig reprisals. He set his play in Naples, a turbulent kingdom ruled by Spain through a viceroy. The action is supposed to take place during the Duke of Ossuna's vice-regency (1616-1620), although there is a reference to Masaniello's rebellion in 1647. Crowne's chief characters are Paulo Camillo, the newly elected Lord Podesta, or chief magistrate, of Naples, his poetic son, Craffy, and his four counselors: Florio, a schemer and political manipulator; Dr. Sanchy, Florio's chaplain; the Bricklayer, a militant rebel; and Bartoline, a venal old lawyer. Lesser characters are the Governor of the City; Artall, a lecherous courtier; and two young Neapolitan wives, Rosaura and Lucinda. If necessary, Crowne could disclaim any local or contemporary applications of his satire.

But the audience was not deceived by this thin disguise. A news-writer has left us a vivid account of the first performance. “Yesterday was acted at the Theatre Royal the first of a new play entitled the City Politiques, the novelty of which drew a confluence of spectators under both qualifications of Whig and Tory to hear and behold a lord mayor, sheriffs, and some aldermen with their wives in their usual formalities buffooned and reviled; a great lawyer with his young lady jeered and intrigued; Dr. Oates perfectly represented, berogued and beslaved; the papist plot egregiously ridiculed; the Irish testimonies contradictorily disproved and befooled; the Whigs totally vanquished and undone; law and property men over-ruled; and there wanted nothing of artifice in behavior or discourse to render all these obnoxious and despised. In fine, such a medley of occurrences intervened that 'twas a question whether more of loyalty, design, or rhetoric prevailed, but there were mighty clappings among the people of both parties in expressing either their satisfaction or displeasure.”8

As Crowne learned to his cost, a political satire with characters which could be taken as thinly disguised portraits of real people, living or dead, was dangerous. He incurred the wrath of those he described in his preface as “liars and barbarous cowardly assassinates.” On January 26, 1683, a “cowardly assassinate” met Crowne in St. Martin's Lane and cudgeled him because he conceived that in his play Crowne had “greatly abused” the late John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, “for his penitency”—probably in the character of Artall.9 Similarly, so many people accused Crowne of “abusing an eminent Sergeant at Law [Sir John Maynard] and his wife under the characters of Bartoline and Lucinda”10 that Crowne was forced to deny the charge at length in his preface. He admitted that he had portrayed Titus Oates as Doctor Sanchy, and sturdily defended his right to expose the eminent divine's faults.

The fact is that only two characters in the play can be positively identified with known partisans: Doctor Sanchy and “the Catholic Bricklayer,” who is clearly a portrait of Stephen College, “the Protestant Joiner.” Doctor Sanchy, whose role is relatively small, embodies those qualities for which Oates was most detested by the Tories: his quarrelsome arrogance, his hatred of the Anglican clergy and the Established Church, his vituperative and blasphemous speech, his readiness to swear to a lie, and his insistence on the title of doctor (from the University of Salamanca), to which he had no right. The Bricklayer is, like College, a fanatic Whig and militant revolutionary. A pragmatic, ignorant man, he is rude to his superiors, endlessly argumentative, professes to know Latin and logic, and writes treasonable songs and libels.

In trying to identify Crowne's major characters with known Whigs, critics have been most troubled by his old lawyer, Bartoline. Sir Walter Scott argued that the model for Bartoline was Sir William Jones (attorney-general, 1675-1679), and that Bartoline had “the same lisping, imperfect enunciation which distinguished the original.”11 But Roger North, a lawyer who knew Jones, described him as “a person of a very clear understanding and (if possible) clearer expression. … His personal gravity and virtue was great, and he could not bear such a flirting wit and libertine as Shaftesbury.”12 Jones was a Whig member of Parliament and one of the managers of the Exclusion Bill. In Absalom and Achitophel, Dryden called him “bull-faced Jonas, who could statutes draw / To mean rebellion and make treason law.” Jones was learned, rich, and timorous. On May 2, 1682, he died “at his house in Southampton Square of a fever, much lamented by most persons.”13

Maidment and Logan identified Bartoline with Aaron Smith, a lawyer “used by Mr. Oates in all occasions for his counsel.”14 Roger North described Smith as one famed for “standing practise in most cases of forgery, etc.” He became “Oates' learned counsel in the Plot” and had “great honor paid him on account of that preferment, as also for his skill and learning in the law, showed by the success his clients had in his causes.”15 Smith was also counsel (with Robert West) for Stephen College at his trial for high treason. He gave College “several treasonable and seditious papers” and declared in open court, “'Tis high time to have a care, when our lives and estates and all are beset here.” Tried on July 4, 1682, and found guilty of contempt, Smith fled the country.16 Probably he was no more than middle-aged at the time; in the reign of William and Mary he became solicitor to the treasury and chancellor of the exchequer.

A modern scholar, Professor A. F. White, aligned himself with Crowne's contemporaries and identified Bartoline as Sergeant Sir John Maynard, because Maynard, like Bartoline (“a man of foashco”), was eighty years old and still in active practice, and Maynard's fourth wife was only about thirty-two. (She was hardly “a young garl.”) Maynard was mercenary, wealthy, and active as a prosecutor of the Popish Plot victims. Four lines in an anonymous lampoon, “Satire on the Whiggish Lawyers,” c. 1680, tend to support his identification with Bartoline,

Old Maynard, that wretch, like a weather-cock right,
Who mumbles all day and fumbles all night;
His soul to the devil will certainly go,
And what's worse, his labor devolves upon Jo.(17)

On the other hand, in his preface Crowne sharply denied that he had Maynard and his wife in mind. “I had a more honorable opinion of those who are said to be personated than to suspect anyone would apprehend them by two such lewd characters as Bartoline and Lucinda, to which they are so directly opposite in all things but what is innocent and common, age and marriage.” There is no reason to doubt his word.

None of these interpretations is satisfactory, and, indeed, it is highly unlikely that Crowne, well aware that “libels may prove costly things,” would draw a recognizable portrait of a Whig lawyer. He was safe enough in satirizing College, who was dead, and Oates, who was disgraced and completely discredited, but lawyers could be dangerous. No doubt Bartoline is a composite character designed to show, as Crowne declared, “the general corruption of [Whig] lawyers.” In addition to Smith, Jones, and Maynard, the well-known Whig lawyers were William Williams, the leading counselor for the Whigs on constitutional law;18 Robert West, a venal lawyer who faced both ways and, like Bartoline, was ready to sell out to the Tories for a price;19 Richard Goodenough, one of Oates' cronies, undersheriff in the shrievalty of Slingsby Bethel and solicitor to the Whig Duke of Buckingham;20 and Edward Whitacre, variously known as “the treason solicitor” and “the true Protestant attorney,” who was “at the bottom of all the factious plot-work.”21 Bartoline's toothless speech (Crowne's invention) and the addition of a young wife eager to cuckold her old husband are obvious comic devices to make the composite lawyer ridiculous.

The self-seeking Podesta of Naples, who is willing to betray his friends in order to become lord treasurer, may be taken as a composite character also. References in the play suggest that Crowne blended in his character a number of Whig politicians: Sheriff Slingsby Bethel; Sir Thomas Player, chamberlain of London and a powerful merchant; wealthy Sir Robert Clayton, lord mayor of London, 1679-1680; Sir Patience Ward, lord mayor, 1680-1681; and Sir Robert Peyton, one of the founders of the Green Ribbon Club of militant Whigs, yet a man so unstable that in 1679 he turned his coat. Of these, Bethel seems to be the chief component.

Slingsby Bethel and his running mate, Henry Cornish, two diehard republicans, were elected sheriffs of London on June 24, 1680, in spite of Court opposition. However, because both were dissenters, the Corporation Act of 1661 barred them from taking office. Deciding that London was worth a sacrament, they took communion in the Church of England and were re-elected on July 29.22 The new sheriffs used their authority to pack London grand juries with partisan jurors, frustrating government attempts to prosecute Whigs accused of high treason. Bethel (a bachelor) was said to be “a sullen and wilful man,” who “kept no house and ate his meals in chophouses.” He believed passionately in the sanctity of trade, in liberty of conscience for Protestant dissenters, and in the rigid suppression of Catholicism.23 The Podesta of Naples was, like Bethel, an elderly man; the dramatist gave him a lascivious young wife in order to ridicule him as a cuckold.

Florio is a dual character with two separate dramatic functions. In his public character, as adviser to the Podesta, he is “Florio, Prince of Whigs, never without a chosen lifeguard of jurymen with brazen consciences, proof against oaths like bucklers against arrows.” One is tempted to identify the public Florio with the Earl of Shaftesbury, who directed the Whig campaign from the comparative safety of Thanet House, Aldersgate Street, in the City. The Character of a Disbanded Courtier (1682) describes Shaftesbury in terms which could well apply to Florio, the Whig: “… having lost his honor with his prince and the good opinion of the best subjects and best men, he cringes and creeps and sneaks to the meanest and basest of the people, to procure himself among them an empty and vain-glorious, because undeserved, name: the patriot of his country.”24 Moreover Shaftesbury was in reality what Florio pretended to be, frail and sickly.

However, Florio could as easily be intended as a portrait of the Whig Duke of Buckingham, who also had a house in the City and sought refuge there. In The Cabal (1680), Buckingham is described as,

… the late duke who from a glorious bully
Retired from Court to be the City's cully,
The City's minion, now their scorn and sport,
There more despised than once adored at Court;
Who did his fall so wittily contrive,
In quaint disguise to riot, rant, and swive;
And when he's lost himself in infamy,
Reviles the state and rails at monarchy.(25)

Of course the public Florio could be a composite of all the noble Whig leaders: Shaftesbury; Buckingham; Arthur Capel, Earl of Essex; William, Lord Howard of Escrick; Ford, Lord Grey of Werke; Thomas, Lord Wharton; and Lord William Russell, to name only the most notable. Crowne was careful to avoid anything which might be taken as a reflection on the Duke of Monmouth, who was still beloved by his father, King Charles II.

In his second dramatic function, or private character, as we learn at the opening of the play, Florio is a “debauch,” a courtier who masquerades as a Whig and a penitent at the point of death only to get access to Rosaura, the Podesta's young wife. He is a typical Restoration gallant, one whose libertine cleverness enables him to cuckold an old citizen. In his public character, then, Florio, “prince of Whigs,” functions as a subject for satire. In his private character, Florio, “king of libertines,” functions as a cuckold-maker and a stock figure appropriate to farce.

Finally, it is possible that Crowne intended Craffy, the Podesta's son and a Whig poet, to represent Samuel Pordage, who is usually credited with the two poems supposedly written by Craffy in the course of the play: Azariah and Hushai and The Medal Reversed, both published anonymously. However, very little is known about Pordage, an obscure poetaster and author of two bad tragedies, and it seems unlikely that the audience would have recognized him in Craffy. (In The Second Part of Absalom and Achitophel, Dryden dismissed Pordage as “lame Mephibosheth,” no doubt because his verses were as lame as the Biblical character's feet.) As an invented character, Craffy seems to be a satire on “the ignorant, lampooning pack” of Whig poets, including Ayloffe, College, Pordage, Settle, Shadwell, and a host of anonymous versifiers.

For the rest of the dramatis personae, we may take Artall to be a typical “debauch,” a young courtier on the prowl for a willing wench. Perhaps, while depicting Artall's feigned penitence, Crowne remembered the edifying death of Lord Rochester (July 26, 1680) as described by Bishop Burnet and the Rev. Robert Parsons.26 The description of the Governor of the City as “a man of worth and honor” may be a compliment to stout old William, Earl of Craven, colonel of the Coldstream Guards and lord lieutenant of Middlesex and Southwark. The long-suffering Viceroy, Don Pedro, Duke of Ossuna, represents at will King Charles II and his brother the Duke of York, target of the Exclusion Bill. Rosaura, the city wife, and Lucinda, the country wife, are stock comic characters.

The political satire in the play tends to obscure the fact that City Politiques is an excellent farce, based on disguises, mistaken identities, beatings, and confusion, with two successful cuckolding plots leading to discovery scenes, and an attempted seduction by the fool Craffy, who is more goat than poet. Few of Crowne's devices are new. For his cuckolding plots Crowne turned to the Restoration farce tradition, now well established. According to dramatic convention, every young woman married to an old husband needed only opportunity and a young gallant to make him a cuckold. If the husband was also a citizen and a Whig, the cuckolding was not only pleasurable but praiseworthy—see, for example, the triple cuckolding plots in Ravenscroft's popular The London Cuckolds (November, 1681). Crowne's other devices have their antecedents also. Thus Florio's pretended illness suggests Horner's pretended impotence in Wycherley's The Country Wife (January, 1675) and Volpone's deception in Jonson's Volpone (1606), a comedy frequently revived on the Restoration stage. Artall's masquerade as his ex-friend Florio is as old as Latin comedy, and Crowne himself had used mistaken identity lavishly in his earlier comedy, The Country Wit (January, 1676). The discovery of Florio and Rosaura in flagrante parallels the discovery of Beaugard and Lady Dunce in Otway's The Soldier's Fortune (c. June, 1680). Finally, Craffy's attempt on his young stepmother's virtue recalls Careless's semi-incestuous lust for his stepmother in Behn's The Debauchée (c. February, 1677), a comedy based on Brome's A Mad Couple Well Matched (c. 1636).

But whatever his models, Crowne alone is responsible for the gay, light-hearted tone of the play, the sudden whimsies, surprising turns of plot, and the colloquial dialogue, notably free from bawdry. In Crowne's deft hands even the cuckolding plots lose their intrinsic coarseness and approach comedy of wit. As satire City Politiques is mild; the humors of the foolish Whigs provoke laughter without hate; yet the final discomfiture of the City Whigs must have brought loud applause from the triumphant Tories in the audience. As farce the play is one of the best of the Restoration genre, with well-drawn, amusing characters in absurd situations.

No actors' names are listed in the dramatis personae. It is clear that Anthony Leigh played Bartoline, and that James Nokes, whose ridiculously solemn features “were enough to set a whole bench of bishops into a titter,”27 played a leading role, probably the humorless Podesta. William Smith, who spoke the prologue, usually played one of the fine gentlemen in a comedy and may have created Artall, while Thomas Betterton, the leading man of the new United Company, would be appropriate as Florio. In all likelihood Elizabeth Barry, the leading woman of the company, played Rosaura. Certainly the best players of the company must have had roles because “there wanted nothing of artifice in behavior or discourse to render all [the Whigs] obnoxious and despised.”


  1. Public Record Office, Lord Chamberlain 5/144/pp. 260, 325.

  2. The Critical Works of John Dennis, ed. E. N. Hooker (Baltimore, 1943), II, 405.

  3. J. H. Wilson, “Theatre Notes from the Newdigate Newsletters,” Theatre Notebook, XV, 3 (Spring, 1961), 81.

  4. Gerard Langbaine, An Account of the English Dramatic Poets (Oxford, 1691), p. 93.

  5. An Apology for the Life of Mr. Colley Cibber, ed. R. W. Lowe (London, 1889), I, 149.

  6. Allardyce Nicoll, Restoration Drama (Cambridge, 1952), p. 350.

  7. John Genest, Some Account of the English Stage (Bath, 1832), II, 333, 500, 612.

  8. Wilson, “Theatre Notes,” loc. cit.

  9. The London Stage 1660-1800, Part I, ed. Wm. Van Lennep, E. L. Avery, and A. H. Scouten (Carbondale, Illinois, 1965), p. 318.

  10. Langbaine, Account, pp. 93-94.

  11. Works of John Dryden, ed. Scott-Saintsbury (Edinburgh, 1882), I, 233, note.

  12. Roger North, Examen (London, 1740), p. 509; Gilbert Burnet, History of My Own Times, ed. Osmund Airy (Oxford, 1900), II, 343, note.

  13. Narcissus Luttrell, A Brief Relation of State Affairs (Oxford, 1857), I, 181.

  14. Dramatic Works of John Crowne (Edinburgh, 1873), II, 85-86; HMC Ormonde MS, N.S., IV, 573.

  15. North, Examen, p. 195; see also Roger North, Lives of the Norths (London, 1742-1744), I, 302-303.

  16. Trial of Stephen College (London, 1681), p. 13; Luttrell, Brief Relation, I, 201-204, 209.

  17. Arthur F. White, The Life and Dramatic Works of John Crowne (Cleveland, Ohio, 1922), p. 132; Miscellaneous Works of … Buckingham, II (London, 1705), Part 2, p. 18. “Jo” was Maynard's son.

  18. Dictionary of National Biography; North, Examen, pp. 524-525.

  19. Maurice Ashley, John Wildman (London, 1947), p. 233.

  20. North, Examen, p. 195; HMC Ormonde MS, N. S., VI, 96.

  21. North, Examen, pp. 294, 369; Luttrell, Brief Relation, I, 233.

  22. Luttrell, Brief Relation, I, 49.

  23. North, Examen, pp. 93-94; Burnet, History, II, 254; Slingsby Bethel, The Present Interest of England Stated (London, 1671).

  24. Harleian Miscellany (London, 1826), VIII, 510.

  25. Poems on Affairs of State (Yale, 1965), II, ed. E. F. Mengel, Jr., 332.

  26. Gilbert Burnet, Some Passages of the Life and Death of … John Earl of Rochester (London, 1680); Robert Parsons, A Sermon Preached at the Funeral of … John Earl of Rochester (Oxford, 1680).

  27. Cibber, Apology, I, 143.

List of Abbreviations

Burnet: Gilbert Burnet. Some Passages of the Life and Death of … John, Earl of Rochester. London, 1680.

HMC: Historical Manuscripts Commission

Lane: J. Lane. Titus Oates, London, 1949.

Luttrell: Narcissus Luttrell. A Brief Relation of State Affairs. Oxford, 1857.

North: Roger North. Examen. London, 1740.

OED: Oxford English Dictionary

om.: omitted

Q1: first quarto, 1683

Q2: second quarto, 1688

S.D.: stage direction

S.P.: speech prefix

Anthony Kaufman (essay date fall 1982)

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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 embodies within the conventions of sex comedy a trenchant political statement. Crowne was at the time of the play a court man (who nevertheless appears to have disliked the court milieu) writing in the service of the loyalists.2 But City Politiques, like Venice Preserved of the preceding year, and Lucius Junius Brutus of 1680, goes beyond historical topicality to portray with considerable imaginative vigor the motivations and nature of self-seeking men engaged in the quest for power.

In his introductory “To the Reader,” Crowne maintains that the play was intended to “suppress the enemies of our religion and government.”3 The play lampoons several actual figures and is somewhat topical,4 and the contemporary audience delighted in Crowne's portrayal of prominent Whiggish figures as crazed poltroons. As in Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel, the Whigs are seen as self-serving hypocrites, interested in wealth and titles, whose patriotic rhetoric inadequately disguises their lust for power. Although by January, 1683, the date of production, Shaftesbury and the Whigs were all but defeated and pro-Tory feeling was running high,5City Politiques gained resonance from the fact that it continued to speak to the anxieties of all responsible English people.

Crowne sets his play in the Naples of 1616-1620, ruled by Spain under a viceroy.6 As we see in Lee's Lucius Junius Brutus (1680), Dryden and Lee's The Duke of Guise (1682), and Otway's Venice Preserved (1682), the Restoration audience was fond of settings which distance the action while still referring pointedly to contemporary English politics. In City Politiques, the Whiggish Podesta and his gang are men of no principles other than self-interest, and their real desire, despite their cant about “liberty” and such, is for wealth, honors, and land. They seize any opportunity to advance themselves, even at the expense of their allies and indeed, if necessary, of their families. In the first act, the Bricklayer, seized by the authorities, offers to compound: “A word with you, sir [to the Governor], in private. Procure me a pension, I'll come over to your party” (I. ii. 112-13). In the last act, the Podesta, tricked into believing that he is to be made Lord Treasurer, is told that he will be expected to sacrifice his fellow conspirators. The Podesta replies, “Ay, and my father too, if he were alive; he should hang 'em all” (V. iii. 11-12). This loud expression of public zeal and the simultaneous revelation of greed and ambition is seen throughout the play; it is the essence of these “city politiques.” Crowne makes us see the distance between their grasping inner selves and their amusingly transparent public masks; moreover, these politicians will visit their unnatural lack of duty and fellow-feeling on the nation when they come to power. Like the conspirators of Venice Preserved, they continually bicker among themselves, haggling egotistically over trivial points, eager for precedence, “Pretending public good,” as Dryden put it, “to serve their own” (Absalom and Achitophel, 1. 504).

To advance their individual interests, the Whigs of City Politiques are willing to defy in a militant fashion all lawful authority. In the first act, the Podesta defies the Governor, and, snubbed in his presumptuous desire to be knighted, promises civil war. The militancy of the Whigs is a continual comic motif, recalling that of Hudibras; early in the play (I. i. 174-89), Craffy gloats over the rough and tumble election of his father in which the opposition was silenced by force. Later the Bricklayer asserts the Whigs' power to overturn the state: “We have a hundred thousand men, and they are always in the right” (IV. i. 396-97). The Podesta adds, “When a canon's the preacher, who dares shut up the conventicle?” (ll. 399-400). The English audience of 1683 could respond to this representation of what was widely felt to be implicit in the Whig opposition: the anarchy of civil war which had almost become a horrifying reality.

Crowne associates the Whig conspirators with the disordered power of the London mob, whose dangerous energy lies behind the conspirators' strength. The mob was commonly associated with anarchy in the literature of the time; during the Popish Plot-Exclusion Bill crisis, both parties attempted to disassociate themselves from the mob,7 and Samuel Butler condenses Restoration anxiety about its dangers in his character of “A Rabble,” where the mob is called “the greatest and most savage Beast in the whole World.”8 It is with the crowd behind him that the Podesta can threaten that “I'll be a storm. … A whirlwind that shall rumble and roar over his head [the Viceroy's], tear open doors by day and by night, toss his friends out of their coaches and beds into jails” (I. ii. 133-34, 136-38).

Another aspect of the danger represented by the Whigs is their monomaniacal insistence on the letter, but not the spirit, of the law. The insistence, repeated in the stubborn manner of Shylock, that “what we do is according to law” (I. ii. 78), warns of a mulish legalism which in fact disguises the attempt to subvert the law. The law, in the hands of the Whigs, becomes an instrument of aggression.9 Moreover, it becomes a way to justify their own meanness; when asked for alms by poor prisoners in accordance with custom, the Bricklayer can once again repeat, “Is there any law for it?” (IV. i. 32). The legalism of the Whigs recalled for the original audience the power of the City under its charter, the ignoramus juries, and suggests that, despite the Whigs' call for liberty and property, no person or property would be safe under Whiggish law. Bartoline, the double-dealing lawyer, plays both sides, taking money from Whig and Tory alike, but he is continuously associated in his avarice and lack of principle with the Podesta's gang. Indeed, he is willing to appear in court against his own brother for ten pounds. Lucinda is shocked: “Will you hang your brother for ten pound. … Methinks 'tis against the law of nature” (III. 64, 68). At the conclusion of the play, the power of the Whigs is broken and the Governor's answer to the despairing Podesta suggests the mockery directed at the defeated Shylock (without, of course, any suggestion of sympathy): “Ask your law, I must do all things according to law” (V. iii. 187).

Central to Crowne's dramatic definition of the Whigs is his association of them with madness. The Whigs are “a little cracked,” as the Podesta says of his cohort, Dr. Sanchy (read Titus Oates), and what they attempt, to overthrow “a settled throne,” is mad. Crowne begins this motif in his preface, “To the Reader,” where he smilingly acknowledges the madness of “assaulting a whole powerful party,” and indeed, “Perhaps I was so when I first wrote this play. Then half the nation was mad,” and “truly when I saw so many madmen I thought it a shame for a poet not to be as mad as anyone else. … When all men's brains were a-galloping, I could not hold in mine” (pp. 5-6). In the Prologue, Crowne continues to link treason and madness. He begins by opposing madness to wit; as the fear of the plot begins to abate, wit, says Crowne, is coming back into fashion: “Good heaven be thanked, the frenzy of the nation / Begins to cure, and wit to grow in fashion” (ll. 1-2). The would-be rebels are even madder than the famous lunatic, Oliver's porter, “for he in his worst fit, / Was ne'er so mad as to talk treason yet” (ll. 14-15). The posing of treason-madness against loyalty-sanity is continued throughout the play, indeed appears as its guiding metaphor, coming to a climax near the end of the play when the Podesta and his son Craffy both believe the other unhinged: “Now,” says Craffy, “would I give ten pound to know which of us two is mad” (V. iii. 53). The Whigs, if successful in their rebellion, will visit their madness on the nation; they will produce the madness of civil war and anarchy.

Crowne is able to define sharply the nature of the Whig rebellion through another element of the play's comedy. He utilizes the conventional dramatic action of the horning of the cit, but modifies this action to define more clearly its political implications. The old, impotent Podesta and Bartoline feel that they own and have the right to rule their zestful young wives, but because of their impotence (which is gleefully emphasized in the play), the young women turn to those who can, in Florio's words, “pay [their] nightly pension well” (V. iii. 173). Florio mocks Whig principles: “Our principles are: he is not to be regarded who has a right to govern, but he who can best serve the ends of government. I can better serve the ends of your lady than you can, so I lay claim to your lady” (V. iii. 179-82). The Whigs, then, are false claimants, imposters, and the association of the women with their rightful owners is made clear through a startling, almost metaphysical conceit elsewhere. After having got rid of the inconvenient husband, Florio turns to the willing Rosaura with an image that surely evokes the return of Charles in May, 1660:

… we may securely hoist sail for the haven of love. All the mud that barred it up we have conveyed away, and I will come ashore on these white cliffs, and plant my heart there forever.
Do so, and I'll promise thee the happiness and wealth I gain by the residence of my prince shall not make me ungratefully factious. Be true to me, and I'll be most loyal to thee.

(V. ii. 199-205)

Florio, the vigorous Tory youth, whose energy recalls that of the Merry Monarch himself, asserts his rightful ownership over a Rosaura who is associated with England herself; the true ownership and authority has been affirmed. And in a similar situation elsewhere, Crowne condenses sexual double entendre into an image suggestive of the order and harmony which the Tories will maintain in England as opposed to the turbulence of the mad opposition:

Then, Nero, take thy harp into thy hand,
The tuneful strings will follow thy command.
Now equal Orpheus in thy art divine,
Make all things round thee dance with one sweet touch of thine!

(IV. i. 430-33)

A more pointed handling of the sexual comedy is seen in Craffy's incestuous attempt upon his stepmother, and here again the comic situation takes on definite political implications. The dramatic image of the danger represented by the Whigs is concentrated in this unnatural, indeed mad, rebellion against the laws of society and rightful authority. Craffy revolts against the natural authority of a father (a perennial comic situation) and this parallels the Whiggish revolt against rightful and natural authority in the civil domain.10 Craffy justifies his unnatural rebellion as he scorns marriage vows and his father's right:

… the locking of a man to a woman in marriage, or in a pew at church, are only a couple of church tricks to get money, one for the priest and t'other for the sexton; that's all.

(I. i. 265-68)

Craffy is indeed quite mad for his stepmother: “so mad for her that I am quite out 'o my wits; nay, I ha'not only lost my wits, but my stomach” (I. i. 220-21). His spurious logic throughout this passage is suggestive of Whiggish rhetorical sophistication and lack of principle. His rhetoric suggests the cynical disbelief in proper authority which is implicit in Achitophel's temptation of Absalom. Craffy's unnatural lust has a violent edge to it: “Od, I could find it in my heart to cut him!” he says of the form he takes to be his sleeping father (III. 398-99). Craffy's rebellion climaxes in an absurd brawl with his father, indicative not only of the ludicrous nature of the Whig rebellion, but of what was seen as its unnatural quality. The element of perversity in Craffy's incestuous attempt finds an analogue in old Antonio of Venice Preserved, whose sexual actions have political implications.

In City Politiques, then, we see two levels of politics: the Whigs misappropriate their energies and, instead of maintaining their rightful functions in society, play at civil politics. The cunning Tories, Florio and Artall, play at sexual politics, with definite and familiar civil overtones. This coalescence of two politics, civil and sexual, is established at once when Florio asks his servant for news:

What news, Pietro? Has the worthy citizen whom I have elected to be my cuckold attained the other dignity of Podesta of Naples yet? … for when he is chief magistrate of Naples, I shall be———of his wife, dispatch his domestic affairs, and receive all the fees of that sweet office.

(I. i. 3-5; 9-11)

This witty combining of two kinds of politics is carried on until the end of the play. City Politiques ends with the Governor/King triumphant. Just law is upheld and asserted as the Whiggish attempts to pervert the laws fail, thus recalling David's concluding speech in Absalom and Achitophel: “Law they [the rebels] require, let Law then shew her face” (l. 1006).

City Politiques is surely a political play, but Crowne generates through the figure of Craffy a complementary theme: the Whigs as men of letters represent a debasement of literature, first in their subservience to false political goals, making of literature mere propaganda (that the Tories too do this, Crowne of course ignores), and finally in the intrinsic dullness of the Whig poets themselves. As Dryden's Mac Flecknoe suggests, the association of bad art and Whiggism was recognized—at least by Tory partisans, who preferred to disregard such artists as Shadwell and the political achievement of John Locke. A glance at Azariah and Hushai and The Medal Reversed reveals that Crowne was correct in making Craffy represent the artist as political hack (what we would today call a party's “media man.”) The Whigs not only represent, then, a clear and present political danger to the state, but, as suggested by Craffy's seditious and execrable poetry, they embody that cultural debasement which Dryden defines perfectly in several works, most clearly, I think, in Mac Flecknoe and “To … Mr. Congreve.” In City Politiques, Crowne opposes sanity-loyalty-true wit to its Whiggish opposite: madness-treason-false wit.

This theme of the corruption of poetry in the service of a debased political offensive is begun in the Prologue to City Politiques:

But some will say, a poet mend the age!
In these high matters how dare they engage?
Why, sirs, a poet's reformation scorn,
Since the reformers now all poets turn?
And by their awkward, jangling rhymes proclaim,
Like bells rung backward, that the town's on flame.
The City Whigs such cursed poets choose,
For that alone they should their charter lose.

(ll. 28-35)

Thus the Whigs represent a threat to the commonwealth of civil responsibility and social order and also to the commonwealth of letters. They threaten the inheritance of wit that Dryden defined indelibly in Mac Flecknoe, representing, as they do, the line of dullness stretching from Heywood and Shirley to the True-Blue Protestant Poet, Shadwell.

Crowne deftly draws a connection between Craffy's bad poetry and Whig madness; the wretched poetry is a symptom of the underlying malaise. “Great wits are sure to madness near allied,” observed Dryden in Absalom and Achitophel, and Crowne humorously echoes this in regard to Craffy: “great wits are humorsome,” notes Rosaura of her benighted stepson (II. i. 177). This Whig poet is seen as continually abstracted, not in Parnassian thought, but in lustful observation and fantasies concerning Rosaura. In IV. i., the Podesta actually despairs of his son's sanity:

Here he is, powdered, a feather in's cap, and catechizing his face in a glass; but it does not make him one wise answer. The boy is spoiled.
Ay, this will do, this will do. Nature writ no good hand when she penned me, because she wrote after a damned copy, the fool my father; but this will mend some letters. This will take my mother.
Drunkenness, like a hog in a garden, rooted up my flowers, but now the tulips in my face begin to lift up their heads.

(ll. 148-57)

Craffy often employs a bizarre, idiosyncratic idiom which reveals his private, self-absorbed, and anti-social nature. His odd speech is seen as a form of inappropriate self-assertion, and characteristic of the Whigs more generally. Bernard Schilling has noted the Restoration's fear of inappropriate wit, the obscure and yet dangerous appeal to the emotions.11 Artall, playing the part of a Whiggish convert, makes sure to lard his speech with the odd cant of puritanism, with its self-consciously bizarre use of metaphor:

I have embezzled all the furniture of my soul and body in vice; though heaven gave me an excellent housekeeper to look to it all, a careful, wakeful creature called a conscience, which never slept, never let me sleep in ill, but I abused her, sought to turn her out of doors, nay, murder her, but could not.

(II. i. 493-98)

Such zealots are suspect; they manifest the mindless enthusiasm which leads to public disorder.

Although a Whig and a fool, Craffy often becomes choric: he points out the true nature and motivation of his fellow Whigs, men for whom he has contempt.12 He is a necessary vehicle for Crowne's satire, since as we read we become aware that despite Crowne's firm royalism, City Politiques is by no means a single-minded or politically simple play. That Craffy is both object and agent of satire suggests an element of conscious ambiguity, although the ambiguity is not in City Politiques as rich or as fascinating as in Venice Preserved. What is striking, and I believe quite overlooked in the play, is the equivocal nature of the two wits, Florio and Artall. It has been universally assumed, I believe, that Crowne, a royalist patronized by the king, was single-mindedly Tory in his drama. In fact, the Englishmen who became known by the derisive name of “Tory” differed in their perceptions of political realities.13 Like many Tories, Crowne was loyal to the king but deeply suspicious, indeed vehement, in his hatred of Roman Catholics.14 His relations with the court were cool; Crowne, Dennis tells us, preferred to keep his distance from Whitehall.15 Unlike his near contemporaries, Etherege and Wycherley, Crowne did not, it seems, identify with the coterie of wits surrounding the Merry Monarch and indeed his relationship with Rochester, his onetime patron, appears to have been uneasy.16

Crowne's distrust of the court as embodied in the likes of Rochester is expressed in the figures of Florio and Artall. Although they embody audacious wit and perform the necessary political ritual of “horning the cit,” they are nonetheless ambiguous and finally inadequate characters who represent for Crowne a sense of debasement. There is no class alliance or bond of caste between Florio and Artall, no friendship, but instead mutual distrust, dislike, and double-dealing competition. They bicker upon their first meeting; they are members of a Hobbesean world, at war not only with the city-dotards, but with each other. (See, for example, their initial encounter, I. i. 78-162.) And what they say of themselves is often self-revealing and self-indicting:

I have not only debauched women but the whole age, poisoned all its morals, murdered thousands o' young consciences, sung others asleep, pumped others with drunkeness; sin I honored and privileged as a peer to the devil, Heaven I affronted, libeled His court, and in my drunken altitudes have endeavored to scour the whole creation of souls and spirits. Now is it fit I should be saved?

(IV. ii. 18-24)

Granted, Artall is masking; the choice of mask, however, and the repetition of similar sentiments by Florio17 are deliberately suggestive. It is significant that both Florio and Artall pose as sick men. We may be reminded of the metaphorical suggestions of this mask in two plays which offer distinct analogues: Volpone and The Country Wife.18 And indeed the comic puritan cant both rakes use, with its continual language of death, damnation, and salvation, sets up (without compromising the comic effectiveness of the play) meaningful reverberations.

Florio is especially ambiguous. Although it has been suggested that he represents Shaftesbury or Buckingham, or is a “composite of all the noble Whig leaders,” I would suggest that Crowne is offering, as does Etherege in The Man of Mode, a portrait of that embodiment of one aspect of the age: Rochester.19 Florio joins, as did Rochester, glamor, disturbingly audacious mischief, and hints of self-destructiveness. He speaks of having parted with his “witty lewd friends” (perhaps a reference to the “merry gang” at court) in order to pose as a Whig, an imposture that could cost him “the reputation of … loyalty” (I. i. 23, 26). Rochester, of course, associated with Whiggish leaders toward the end of his life. Florio is called by the Podesta “a very witty man, and a wicked man too once, but now the most penitent creature in the world” (II. i. 448-49), seemingly a reference to Rochester's belated repentance.20 Crowne seems to disassociate Florio quite deliberately from any hint that he might represent Shaftesbury by having Florio sneer that he would not court “popularity” “were she fairer than the most doting old statesman thinks her” (I. i. 57-58), a clear reference to Shaftesbury. Florio recalls that he was formerly “one of those they call the wits of the kingdom” (II. i. 223), that he “was king of libertines” (III. 353-54), and that he was fond of “a little success in a jest, or a song, or libel” (III. 270-71). This last trait may allude to the Rochester who had satirized Crowne after having served as his patron.21

Florio is ironic about his mask of piety: “I am in a world very different from that I used to live in. I talk godly, a strange language to me, Pietro; I pray, hear sermons, live soberly, abstain from wine, women, and wits, a strange life to me” (I. i. 32-36). And yet his amusement, I think, suggests his inadequacy; the passage evokes the corruption, the debasement, of what Florio is. Crowne is surely not contemptuous of the ideals evoked (and by Florio dismissed) in this passage. Anne Righter has noted the similar ambiguity of Rochester: in one aspect, the incarnation of charm, wit, and energy, and yet at last, self-loathing, misanthropic, a man in conflict.22

But finally, whether or not Florio is intended to represent Rochester, what he is is subtly questioned by Crowne. The playwright has presented the Whigs as a threat to the nation and yet has delicately hinted that the alternative too is absurd, corrupt, and dangerous. This ability to laugh at both Whig and Tory is seen in his next play, Sir Courtly Nice, where the Tory, Hothead, is contrasted to the Presbyterian, Testimony. It is true, as one commentator has suggested, that Crowne's sympathies seem to lie with Hothead,23 but both are ridiculed. Critics have noted the tendency of the comedy of the later seventeenth century to laugh at deviation from the norm and, at the same time, to suggest the inadequacy of the norm itself.24 In his portrayal of Whig and Tory in City Politiques, Crowne seems to be doing just this. The play's political statement, despite the suggestive ambiguity of Florio and Artall, is clear: the Whigs are dangerous; the King's authority is valid and necessary. Crowne's political loyalty, ultimately, is to public order guaranteed by observance of rightful authority. His comedy is a satire, indeed at times a lampoon. Yet finally it gains force not merely as an exposé, but as an assertion of correct and necessary public attitudes. What the Whigs are is seen clearly. But the play also evokes those qualities of public life that permit social, indeed national, unity. The success of City Politiques (Crowne speaks in “To the Reader” of “flourishing the colors after victory”) suggests that after the defeat of Shaftesbury and “the plot,” the “sober part of Israel” was able to acknowledge the validity of the play's call for stability through public order.


  1. D'Urfey's Sir Barnaby Whigg (1681) and The Royalist (1682), Behn's The Round-Heads (1682) and The City Heiress (1682), and Ravenscroft's The London Cuckolds (1681), are but a few.

  2. John Dennis, “To Mr. *** In which are some Passages of the Life of Mr. John Crown, Author of Sir Courtly Nice,” in The Critical Works of John Dennis, ed. Edward Niles Hooker (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1943), II, 405.

  3. City Politiques, ed. John Harold Wilson (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 7. All references to City Politiques are from this edition.

  4. Dr. Sanchy and “the Catholic Bricklayer” represent Titus Oates and Stephen College. The Podesta may represent Shaftesbury, a constant target of satire in the drama of the period, but, as Arthur F. White points out, “only in a general way” (John Crowne, His Life and Dramatic Works [Cleveland: Western Reserve Univ. Press, 1922], p. 130). Craffy may then suggest Shaftesbury's son, notoriously dense, or perhaps, in his role as propagandist, the Whig poets generally. Wilson (p. xvii) notes that “it is possible that Crowne intended Craffy … to represent Samuel Pordage, who is usually credited with the two poems supposedly written by Craffy in the course of the play: Azariah and Hushai and The Medal Reversed, both published anonymously.” Bartoline has been much discussed and various contemporary figures have been suggested as candidates: Sir John Maynard, Aaron Smith, Sir William Jones, among others. See White, pp. 131-33; Wilson, pp. xiii-xv; and Michael De L. Landon, Theatre Notebook, 31, No. 2 (1977), 38. No doubt Wilson is correct in taking Crowne at his word when Crowne insists that he has “drawn the general corruption of lawyers” (“To the Reader,” p. 4). Florio may, as Wilson argues, represent Shaftesbury or Buckingham or present “a composite of all the noble Whig leaders” (pp. xvi-xvii). I will offer below a different and, I think, a more thematically functional identification. Artall does not represent one contemporary figure, but is, as Wilson suggests, “a typical ‘debauch,’ a young courtier on the prowl for a willing wench” (p. xvii).

  5. David Ogg, England in the Reign of Charles II, 2nd ed. (1956; rpt. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1967), p. 652. Ogg describes the ideological differences between the parties at the time of the Popish Plot-Exclusion Bill crisis, pp. 559-656. The response of the London theaters to the crisis is described by George W. Whiting in two articles: “The Condition of the London Theaters, 1679-83: A Reflection of the Political Situation,” MP, 25 (1927), 195-206, and “Political Satire in London Stage Plays, 1680-83,” MP, 28 (1930), 29-43.

  6. Wilson, p. xii.

  7. Bernard N. Schilling, Dryden and the Conservative Myth (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1961), p. 170.

  8. Characters, ed. Charles W. Daves (Cleveland: Case Western Reserve Univ. Press, 1970), p. 197.

  9. In his portrait of “A Leader of a Faction” (p. 190), Butler sneers: “He is very superstitious of having the Formalities and Punctilios of Law held sacred, that, while they are performing, those, that would destroy the very Being of it, may have Time to do their Business, or escape.” Susan Staves notes “the use of law as a political weapon” in City Politiques; see Players' Scepters: Fictions of Authority in the Restoration (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1979), p. 235.

  10. Staves points out, p. 135, the analogy in several Restoration comedies, including City Politiques, between “rebellious domestic inferiors and Whigs.”

  11. Schilling, pp. 50-65.

  12. That Craffy sees the hypocrisy of his father and the Whigs and is used to satirize them is noted by Staves, p. 239, who adds: “we do not entirely despise him.”

  13. Ogg, p. 612.

  14. Crowne's anti-Catholicism is seen throughout his career, most notably, perhaps, in The English Friar, or, The Town Sparks.

  15. Dennis, II, 405.

  16. White, p. 36.

  17. II. i. 233-41; III. 270-75.

  18. White notes the analogy with both plays, pp. 136-37.

  19. David M. Vieth offers the suggestive observation that Rochester may be thought to embody qualities seen in the Whig leaders themselves: “In an age when the English aristocracy was still politically, socially, and culturally supreme, Rochester was socially and culturally potent. The erratic brilliance of a Shaftesbury or a Buckingham shone also in him.” The Complete Poems of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1968), p. xvii.

  20. Wilson quotes from Burnet's account of Rochester's repentance to suggest a link between Artall and Rochester. When in the text (IV. ii. 18) Artall whines “I have not only debauched women but the whole age,” Wilson cites Burnet: Lord Rochester “considered he had not only neglected and dishonoured, but had openly defied his Maker, and had drawn many others into the like Impieties.” See Gilbert Burnet, Some Passages of the Life and Death of … John Earl of Rochester (London, 1680), p. 129. The reference to Rochester is certainly present, but of course Artall is here pretending to be Florio. The linkage, I believe, is between Rochester and his fictional representative: Florio.

  21. See Rochester's “An Allusion to Horace, the Tenth Satyr of the First Book” and “Timon.” David M. Vieth, however, suggests that Crowne “may have remained clandestinely amicable with the Earl even though he receives unfavorable notice in ‘An Allusion.’” Complete Poems of … Rochester, p. xxx. Unfortunately for Crowne, at least some of his contemporaries saw the link between Florio and the late Rochester and that Florio's canting repentance (echoed by Artall) was the object of Crowne's satire: “Mr Crowne [was cudgled on Wednesday last in St Martin's Lane and] hee that beat him said hee did it at the suite of the Earle of Rochester some time since deceased who was greatly abused in the play for his penetency &c.” The London Stage, 1660-1800, Part I, 1660-1700, ed. William Van Lennep, Emmett L. Avery, and Arthur H. Scouten (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1965), p. 318.

  22. “William Wycherley,” in Restoration Theatre, ed. John Russell Brown and Bernard Harris (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1965), pp. 86-87.

  23. White, p. 58.

  24. See, for example, Norman Suckling, “Molière and English Restoration Comedy,” in Brown and Harris above, p. 96.

J. Douglas Canfield (essay date November 1988)

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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, especially loyalty, in the teeth of the so-called Glorious Revolution.1 It should not be surprising that the next political tragedies by these three playwrights—Crowne's Regulus and Dryden and Southerne's Cleomenes, both produced in 1692—would reflect a Royalist postrevolutionary attitude.

Yet Crowne's play begins with a prologue full of jingoistic, anti-French sentiment in apparent support for William III's war policy. And the epilogue concludes thus: “The French, ay and some English I'm afraid, / Have cause to wish Heroes had ne're been made” (italics reversed). Ostensibly the couplet again praises King Billy and his war. But why are there some English who need dread heroes? Are these nonjuring Jacobites? Or has Crowne cautiously and surreptitiously threatened vengeance on those who have broken faith with the king across the water?

Regulus is set in the First Punic War but is full of anachronisms. The character Regulus remains the historical heroic general who wreaked havoc on Carthage until he was finally captured by Carthage's mercenary Spartan commander, Xantippus. But Crowne portrays Carthage as a “Commonwealth” (passim), torn by a power struggle between Hamilcar and Asdrubal, important figures from the Second Punic War. Asdrubal is an effete, luxurious, self-interested prince of ancient royal blood (of specious value in a republic), who would impose himself as “absolute Head” upon the Senate,2 a fickle parliament, powerless to protect itself against Machiavellian politicians, merchants, and priests. Throughout, Asdrubal is the consummate hypocrite, whose real ethic, despite his oaths and protestations, is sheer power:

He is not fit to rule, whom Vertue reigns,
He's fit to rule, who has at his Command
Vertue or Vice, as needs of State require.

(p. 13)

By excusing treasonous talk as mere “matter of discourse” (p. 36), he reveals his essential nominalism.

Although the noble and valiant Hamilcar, “Prince of the Senate,” and Xantippus appear to triumph over the cowardly Asdrubal and his corrupt court minions, who in prison reveal not only their thoroughly double-crossing natures but their impiety as well—they cannot pray because they have no friends in heaven (p. 36)—the Senate, fearing the true aristocratic nobility of Hamilcar and Xantippus, rejects them and invites Asdrubal to be “Protector o' the Commonwealth” (p. 41). The consequence of such capriciousness is anarchy: Asdrubal betrays his co-conspirators, the Senate condemns them to death, but they rouse the rabble against Asdrubal, who departs, cursing the Senate and insisting that a commonwealth is fundamentally flawed, for it is incapable of keeping faith with a leader and cannot tolerate heroes, a judgment with which the Senate concurs in both word and deed: after Asdrubal is gone, they baldly admit, “A Commonwealth bears no imparity” (p. 58), and they proceed to break their faith with Regulus and torture him ignominiously. Although it is ironic for Asdrubal to level these charges, faithless as he is, Hamilcar himself has earlier lectured the meddling rabble in terms that constitute aristocratic political theory aimed at an emerging bourgeoisie and its democratic theory:

Now, Sirs, I hope you will learn modesty.
And no more censure things above your reach.
We do not know the mysteries of your Trades,
Because we never were instructed in 'em.
Pray who taught you the mysteries o' State?
What strange conceits Men have of governing?
Men must serve Years to know a Handicraft;
Yet all pretend to skill in Government,
By natural light and instinct, as Birds build.
Men will pretend to't who want common Sense,
Yet are not laugh'd at neither; every Man
Willingly lets the Frolick go about,
So he has leave to take it in his turn.

(p. 28)

But faithlessness is Crowne's central theme. The play ends with Regulus tortured to death and Hamilcar accompanying Xantippus into exile in Sparta, where one can live a life of “Vertue,” whose “joys no fortune can oppress,” and leaving the faithless Carthage to the “Vengeance” of “Heaven” (p. 63). The clear message is that because Carthage has broken faith not only with the aristocratic code by torturing Regulus but also with a noble prince by arbitrarily choosing another “Protector,” it deserves to be conquered by Rome, citadel of the proper values, honor and faith. The contemporary application by now should seem clear as well: satirizing Carthage as a faithless commonwealth, Asdrubal as a bullying, usurping Protector, his supporters as opportunistic, cowardly courtiers and power-seeking, gunrunning, double-dealing merchants, and his priests as hypocritical sycophants, Crowne is attacking the revolution not only of 1642, as he might have excused himself if criticized, but of 1688 as well.

Consider the apparently gratuitous detail that Asdrubal wants to marry Hamilcar's daughter, who at one point tries to save her father by agreeing to the match, an action that would transform him into a bullying, usurping son-in-law. Would not Crowne's audience remember from Polybius that Hasdrubal was in fact Hamilcar's son-in-law?3 Crowne appears to have wrenched chronology, displacing these prominent figures from the Second Punic War and making them contemporaries with Regulus and Xantippus in order to compound and underscore his contemporary political allegory.

Nevertheless, Crowne teaches another lesson through this daughter, who actually intends to murder Asdrubal on her wedding night (p. 26: shades of the heroine Judith and the tyrant Holofernes) and who is rescued by and marries the faithful general Xantippus. The faithful daughter accompanies her father and her husband into exile. Is she not a rebuke to Mary and Anne?

And is not Regulus' character a rebuke to the faithless English? Captured by the Carthaginians, he agrees to act as an ambassador to Rome to carry Carthage's terms for peace. He plights his word to return no matter what Rome's response and, knowing his probable fate, actually urges Rome to resist despite his loss. But he must return to face certain death, for

                    my word and oath are past,
And nothing do I fear, like breach o' faith. …
By keeping faith, o're Carthage I triumph,
A Roman Ghost will triumph over her.
Not by short pomp which blazes but some hours;
My triumph shall go on, from age to age,
While Rome shall stand, which shall the longer stand
For my example of unshaken Faith,
For what Foundation to a State like Faith?

(p. 44)

Only upon such a foundation can a state endure, the play argues. Without it, like Carthage, it is doomed to fall, its only real heroes in exile, cultivating the contempt of the bonus vir for the vicissitudes of Fortune. In the epilogue Crowne berates his audience for their lack of “Faith,” which “too many now despise.” Ostensibly, he means sexual fidelity, but since he goes on to mention the need for some English as well as French to fear, he seems to predict divine vengeance on the English for the same faithlessness he has just portrayed in his play, a vengeance analogous to that promised Carthage and carried out by subsequent history. Crowne portrays his politics as supported by metaphysics: Heaven eventually avenges faithlessness, broken oaths and vows, as It was interpreted to have done in the subsequent Punic Wars. Xantippus articulates the code of word as bond underwritten by a divine Word: “Great men, were there no Gods, would keep their words / In reverence to themselves; but Gods there are” (p. 35). Regulus insists to his fiancée Fulvia that if he would “poorly live by breach of faith” he would “for ever lose” her “in both worlds” (p. 52)—in this one because she could no longer respect and therefore love him and in the next because she would be in heaven, he in hell. Finally, Regulus confidently asserts what might be viewed as the consolation of the Jacobites: “There is a Heaven because there's misery” (p. 52); that is, according to the traditional theodicean argument, suffering innocence in this world proves the existence of eschatalogical justice.

Notwithstanding the protestations of Dryden and his friends the lords Falkland and Rochester, as Anne Barbeau Gardiner has recently argued, Dryden and Southerne's Cleomenes is obviously Jacobite, and Queen Mary was right to suspect and temporarily ban the play.4 Certain details in Plutarch's original were tailor-made for Dryden, who conceived the play (Southerne helped with the last act during an illness Dryden suffered). Cleomenes is “A banish'd Prince; The shadow of a King” (6:348), forced to bide time in a decadent, luxuriant foreign court (France was often portrayed as Egypt in political poetry and pamphlets of the period), waiting for promised aid to return to his kingdom. The soldier who had caused him to flee presented to Sparta “A King that was not Hers” (6:339), the Macedonian Antigonus. Plutarch portrays a son of Cleomenes so brave he throws himself off the battlements, a detail that allows Dryden the excuse for the portrait of the ideal royal son, Cleonidas, who stands as an explicit model for any such son and an implicit model for the Prince of Wales. Plutarch's narrative also allows Dryden to portray Cleomenes leading a battle (a counterrevolution?) to liberate the oppressed Egyptians and thus have the power to escape, re-enter Sparta, and regain his throne. The implications come clearest when the Alexandrians are too timid to join him but stay to see who has the advantage before joining the corrupt statesman, Sosybius. How disappointed Dryden and the Jacobites must have been when all England did not rise along with Ireland to throw off William. Other details of Cleomenes' losing his co-regent brother in the war and his being asked to join in a conspiracy against Ptolomy's loyal and popular brother allow Dryden to portray Cleomenes' praising his own brother as “Wise, Valiant, Temperate” and Ptolomy's brother as “Bounteous, Great, and Brave” (6:350-51)—praise calculated to remind Dryden's English audience of another king's brother against whom many of them had conspired.

Yet other details in Plutarch allow Dryden to pursue not so much his specifically personal as his thematic allegory. Dryden transforms Plutarch's Agathoclea, Ptolomy's scheming mistress, into Cassandra, who in the fashion typical of Dryden's villainesses, schemes sexually against Cleomenes. Dryden's misogyny in her portrayal might be a veiled attack against Queen Mary: turning her affection to Cleomenes, Cassandra berates Ptolomy as an “easy Wretch,” yet “Fools we [women] must have, or else we cannot sway; / For none but Fools will Womankind Obey” (6:369). But Cassandra's part is extended more for the purposes of Dryden's theme of word-as-bond. She repeatedly refers to Ptolomy's promise to help Cleomenes (see 6:358), a promise she herself conspires to defer in order to keep Cleomenes for her own lascivious purposes. When she tries to seduce him through her commentary on the painting of Paris's rape of Helen, Cleomenes finally condemns “both the Lovers,” for they “broke their plighted Vows” (6:355). When Cassandra tempts him to leave his wife and fly with her to Greece to reclaim his kingdom, he refuses to break his own plighted faith, though his action entails his wife's and mother's eventual murder at Cassandra's hands.

Plutarch warrants Dryden's use of the contrasting pair, Coenus and Cleanthes, the former a subject who betrays his king, the latter a foreigner yet a friend who appears to betray Cleomenes but proves more loyal than the subject and does his utmost to redeem his friend. At the end of the play, Cleomenes and Cleanthes' repeated embraces conclude in a death embrace as they close upon each other's sword in an emblem of loyalty in the face of a faithless Fortune.

Dryden invents other details for obvious purposes. He has given Cleomenes a “second Wife,” as he admits in the preface, claiming a slim warrant in Plutarch, the mention of a “Free-born Woman of Megalopolis,” who greeted Cleomenes in his house upon his return from defeat and well after the death of his first wife (6:302). But Cleora, portrayed as faithful wife, pathetically starved in exile, has great propaganda value, suggesting another queen horribly mistreated by a deceiving Fortune and a disloyal people. Dryden has added the further detail of a newborn infant (one closer in age to the infant James) who cannot get nourishment from his starving mother:

It wants the Breast, its kindly nourishment:
And I have none to give from these dry Cesterns,
Which unsupply'd themselves, can yield no more:
It pull'd and pull'd but now, but nothing came.
At last it drew so hard, that the blood follow'd:
And that Red Milk I found upon its Lips,
Which made me swoon with fear.


Such rhetoric is positively inflammatory, and Dryden—or perhaps William—is lucky that the play did not result in a riot.

In a description added to Plutarch, Dryden has Coenus deliver the cruelest news of all: that when Antigonus entered Sparta, the people offered no resistance but received their conqueror as if he were their “King,” nay, a “Deity” on his progress through the land (6:341-42). Like Crowne's, Dryden's bitterest satire is directed at the faithless English people, who passively accepted William and failed to rally to James.

Unlike Crowne's play, Dryden's does not so optimistically portray a metaphysic that underlies his politics. Cleomenes opens the play complaining to the “Gods” that they make him, a great hero, wait for deliverance upon an effeminate court (6:335-36). When Coenus hails him as Cleomenes still, he bitterly replies, “No thanks to Heaven for that: I shou'd have dy'd, / And then I had not been this Cleomenes”—that is, one virtually alone and in exile (6:340). When he learns he must leave his mother, wife, and children as his pledges in order to return to Greece, he bitterly complains:

The Propositions are unjust and hard;
And if I swallow 'em, 'Tis as we take
The Wrath of Heaven.
We must have patience, for they will be Gods,
And give us no account of what we suffer.


His faithful soldier Pantheus has warned Cleomenes against railing at the gods, but that was when he thought that the death of Antigonus provided them with an opportunity for “A new and nobler Fortune” (6:342-43). When by Cassandra's order they are all shut up to starve, Cleomenes concludes, “The Gods are deaf to Pray'rs!” (6:375). Though at the beginning of his imprisonment, he counsels against suicide out of piety (“we durst not tempt the Gods”) and seems to have hope that “Heaven has means to free us” (6:377), as his family starves around him, his patience ebbs:

                    Virtue in Distress, and Vice in Triumph
Make Atheists of Mankind. …
I am strangely tempted to blaspheme the Gods;
… Devotion
Will cool in after times, if none but good Men suffer.

(6:381 and 382)

His most crucial temptation to despair and blasphemy comes in this exchange with his son:

I am loath
To say hard things of Heaven!
But what if Heaven
Will do hard things, must not hard things be said?
Y' have often told me, That the Souls of Kings
Are made above the rest of Humane Race;
Have they not Fortunes fitted for those Souls?
Did ever King die Starv'd?
I know not that:
Yet still be firm in this: The Gods are good,
Tho' thou and I may perish.
Indeed I know not,
That ever I offended Heaven in thought:
I always said my Prayers.
Thou didst thy Duty.
And yet you lost the Battel when I Pray'd.
'Twas in the Fates I should: But hold thee there!
The rest is all unfathomable depth:
This we well know, That if there be a Bliss
Beyond this present Life, 'tis purchas'd here,
And Virtue is its price.


This last statement is no ringing assertion of faith but a rather desperate, hypothetical clinging by one's fingernails over the abyss of metaphysical “unfathomable depth.” A moment later, after Cleonidas has wished he might die so that his family could feed off him and survive, Cleomenes once again complains to the gods:

Mark, Heaven, his Filial Love,
And if a Family of such as these
Must perish thus, your Model is destroy'd
By which you made good Men.


Pantheus enters bringing relief from Cleanthes and “The Gods,” and Cleomenes concludes in the typical theodicean metaphor that they had “try'd” him to the “longest” possible extent (6:383). But the play does not end here, and the relief is not enduring. As Cleomenes and Pantheus venture upon their attempted rebellion against the Egyptians, Cleomenes challenges the gods once again: “And if I fall their shame, / Let 'em ne'er think of making Heroes more, / If Cowards must prevail” (6:388). It can be argued that Cleomenes and his party do not finally fall the “shame” of the gods, for Cleonidas and Pantheus die praying, and Cleanthes asserts, “The Gods at last are kind” in providing his sword for Cleomenes to die honorably upon (6:395).

Yet the other half of Cleomenes' challenge goes unanswered: cowards prevail. And Dryden must have received some criticism for the lack of poetical justice, which he answers in his preface by insisting that Cassandra and company got theirs in the subsequent history (6:302). But the fact that the play does not end with such a prophecy leaves us short of religious consolation, and Cleomenes' complaints keep haunting us: such a lack of poetical justice may indeed cool devotion and make atheists.

The most telling consolation in the play comes in the closing tag of act 3: when his mother Cratisiclea, thinking Cleomenes has a shot at regaining his kingdom, counsels him to be cheerful, fight well, and leave the rest “to the Gods and Fortune,” Cleomenes replies defiantly, “If they fail me, / Theirs be the Fault, For Fate is theirs alone: / My Virtue, Fame, and Honour are my own” (6:366). After 1688 Dryden portrays a new theme of stoic resignation based upon the centered self, a theme that receives its best treatment in “To My Honour'd Kinsman.”5 Cleomenes begins the play with a grand stoic boast:

Dejected! no, it never shall be said,
That Fate had power upon a Spartan Soul:
My mind on its own Centre stands unmov'd,
And Stable; as the Fabrick of the World:
Propt on it self; still I am Cleomenes.


Perhaps the Jacobites, with Crowne, Southerne, and Dryden as their spokesmen through drama, were beginning to resign themselves to a world ironically described by the disappointed Milton before them:

… so shall the world go on,
To good malignant, to bad men benign,
Under her own weight groaning, till the day
Appear of respiration to the just,
And vengeance to the wicked.(6)

Unlike Milton, however, Dryden concludes with no celebration of the Second Coming. Instead, he and his confreres can offer at best the consolation of history, at worst that of mere resignation and satire. In Don Sebastian the tragic ending is ultimately caused by an original breach of faith by Sebastian's father.7 But in Amphitryon and Cleomenes, Dryden portrays a world where the ultimate betrayal is “the Fault” of Heaven Itself.8 Frustrated at Heaven's tardy vengeance, one can only adopt the stance of the One Just Man and rail at a faithless world.

In apparent contempt for the success or failure of Cleomenes but also in obvious contempt for the political objections leveled against it, Dryden writes at the end of the preface, “I have learn'd to possess my Soul in Patience, and not to be much disquieted, with any Disappointment of this Nature” (6:302). By so saying, he places himself in the stoic pantheon along with Regulus, Hamilcar, Xantippus, and his own “last of the Spartan Heroes” (6:301). Do we not hear this phrase as last of the Stuart heroes? And is not Dryden himself one of the last? Dryden seems not only to have drawn Cleomenes as a portrait of King James in exile but to have drawn his faithful Pantheus as a self-portrait of sorts. For at the beginning of the play when Cleomenes asks Pantheus where he has been “this long long Year of Hours,” there follows this exchange:

Where I have past a merry Mornings Walk,
With the best Company.
With whom?
Why with my self, in laughing at the World,
Making a Farce of Life, where Knaves and Fools,
And Mad-men, that's all Human-kind were Actors.
And what part Acted you?
As little as I could: And daily would have less,
So please the Gods, for that's a Wise Man's part.


This seems as good an expression of Dryden's, Southerne's, and Crowne's stance after 1688 as we could want. Yet little could they imagine that by contributing thus to the creation of the figure of the One Just Man in society, a figure adopted by both Milton and the Augustan Tory satirists, they were unwittingly and ironically contributing to the transition from the hoary feudal master trope of word-as-bond to the emergent bourgeois master trope of self-reliance.


  1. Studies in Philology 82 (1985): 234-63.

  2. Regulus: A Tragedy (London, 1694), pp. 11-12.

  3. See Polybius, The Histories, Loeb Classical Library, 6 vols. (London: Heinemann, 1922-27), 1:242-43; 2:28-29.

  4. “Dryden's Cleomenes (1692) and Contemporary Jacobite Verse,” Restoration 12 (Fall 1988): 87-95. Professor Barbeau Gardiner reads different subtexts in the play than I. For Falkland and Rochester's intervention, see Montague Summers's headnote to the play in Dryden: The Dramatic Works, ed. Summers, 6 vols. (1932; N.Y.: Gordian, 1968), 6:291ff. Subsequent refs. to Cleomenes are to this edn. (Summers reproduces Creech's translation of Plutarch's “Life of Cleomenes” [6:305-29], which Dryden had appended to his edn. of the play.) See also James Anderson Winn, John Dryden and His World (New Haven: Yale Univ., 1987), p. 453.

  5. For the best treatment to date of the politics of the late Dryden, see Thomas J. Fujimura, “Dryden's Changing Political Views,” Restoration 10 (1986): 93-104. See also J. Douglas Canfield, “The Image of the Circle in Dryden's ‘To My Honour'd Kinsman,’” Papers on Language and Literature 11 (1975): 168-76. And For an elaboration of the argument here, see Canfield, Word as Bond in English Literature from the Middle Ages to the Restoration (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania, 1989), Afterword.

  6. Paradise Lost (12.537-41), in Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (N.Y.: Odyssey, 1957).

  7. See Canfield, “Royalism's Last Dramatic Stand,” pp. 261-62.

  8. For Amphitryon, see J. Douglas Canfield, “Poetical Injustice in Some Neglected Masterpieces of Restoration Drama,” in Rhetorics of Order/Ordering Rhetorics in English Neoclassical Literature, ed. J. Douglas Canfield and J. Paul Hunter (Newark: Univ. of Delaware, in press).

Joyce Green MacDonald (essay date fall 1990)

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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 severall reproachfull speeches against the Dutchess of P. and other Persons of Honour” caused King Charles II to close the playhouse until further notice. Referring to this or to another similar disruption of playing, the Dowager Countess of Sunderland wrote to her friend Henry Sidney that he “must needs hear of the abominable disorders amongst us, calling all the women whores and the men rogues in the playhouses—throwing candles and links—calling … the Duke of York [a] rascal; and all ended in ‘God bless his Highness the Duke of Monmouth. We will be for him against the world’.”1 Some identification is in order. That “Dutchess of P.” whose identity the True News reporter was so reluctant to reveal was probably the Duchess of Portsmouth, the king's well-born French Catholic mistress. The Duke of York was the king's brother, James, who had formally converted to Catholicism as early as 1672. The Duke of Monmouth was the king's eldest son, born out of wedlock to him and Lucy Walter in 1649, still unlegitimated but the Londoners' darling.

At least two contexts condition our reading of these extraordinary playhouse disorders, one political and one sexual. As we shall see, the political and sexual contexts for the theater riot lend each other substance. The immediate topical occasion for The Miseries of Civil War was the Exclusion Crisis, which ultra-royalists like Croune interpreted as their generation's opportunity to shape a conservative response to questions about the nature and extent of royal authority. At issue was King Charles II's right to name whomever he chose—even his defiantly Catholic brother, James—as his successor. Charles acknowledged Protestant grounds for fear of James' accession, yet he resented being effectively forced to transcend normal rules of primogenitural order in his search for an heir and saw Parliamentary pressure for a voice in his decision as a threat to his hard-won sovereignty.

The sexual context involved the marital and extramarital arrangements of the royal brothers. After nearly twenty years of marriage, Charles and his queen, Catharine of Braganza, remained childless, although he had fathered at least a dozen illegitimate children by various mistresses. His bastards, despite the Stuart blood flowing in their veins, were all barred from the succession, and the king was resisting pressure to set Catharine aside and marry some fertile Protestant princess in her place. James, in contrast, was already the father of two legitimate daughters and had just taken as his second wife a fifteen-year-old Italian princess by whom he hoped to father healthy sons. Officially recognizing the place James already held in the succession as the king's only living sibling opened a clear path to the restoration of Catholicism, at least in the minds of the most stringently Protestant observers and of James himself. To forestall this dread event, some Londoners were beginning to raise the possibility of the king's legitimating the Duke of Monmouth and naming him his heir.2

This implication of royal sexuality in royal prerogative demonstrates the deep and continuing presence of patriarchal models for sovereign power, even in the years after the English civil war. Croune clearly draws on absolutist theory in presenting his image of an earlier civil struggle, the Wars of the Roses—a conflict which, to his mind, displays the unalterable evil of rebellion against the crown. Yet he is far firmer in his belief in the sanctity of sovereign power than those drunken playhouse gentlemen, whose demonstration suggests that they were willing to see a bastard displace a legitimate heir to the throne as long as he would preserve their constitutional rights and religious liberties. For that matter, Croune is far more steadfast than even the king's own Office of the Revels, which did not hesitate to close Dorset Garden after the disturbance and would also interdict the playwright's rabidly anti-Catholic Henry the Sixth in 1681.3 The Revels considered containing an increasingly bitter and divisive political crisis more important than any pro-crown propaganda, and thus placed Croune in the peculiar rhetorical position of being more royalist than his king.

I would like to suggest that where the playwright went wrong in arguing his absolutist case was in misjudging the relationship between power and authority. Specifically, he assumes that the possession of power in the form of a military victory in the civil war bestows a kind of immunity from the obligation to consider the traditional location of royal authority in the self-conscious cultivation of moral superiority, an obligation stemming from the commonly-held belief in the likeness between kings and gods. Croune's absolutism was only one possible ideological response to a conviction of the patriarchal origin of civil power. Natural-law assumptions about the resemblance between the commonwealth and a large, diverse family could and did give rise to such radically anti-authoritarian positions as asserting the co-equality of crown and Parliament in the administration of government, together with assertions of absolute patriarchal prerogative.4 In the interest of denying the existence of any limits on the absoluteness of kingly power, Croune refuses even to acknowledge the terms under which English subjects customarily conducted the debate on royal sovereignty. As the theater rioters' surprising willingness to entertain the notion of a bastard's succession to the throne and of Office of the Revels' suppression of an implicit defense of the king's right to order the succession as he saw fit both indicate, popular and official views of the nature of sovereign authority were much more sensitive to the pressure of tactical necessity than Croune's. The inflexibility and imaginative flatness of his vision speak not only to the difficulties of lobbing an offensive in a dead political debate, but also to the peculiar divorce between his play and the polemical tradition of which it at first might seem to be a part.5

If political events thus forced most observers to a more pragmatic, circumstantial view of the nature and origins of sovereignty, the sexual affairs of the males of the House of Stuart also spoke directly to the ultimate fragility of ideologies of absolute power. Popular disgust with the king's promiscuity (those catcalls for the Duchess of Portsmouth) and with bearing the costs of the large settlements provided for his bastards, alongside fears of James' likely fertility with his new young bride, take their meaning from an assumption that the preservation of patriarchal rule depends on the presence of an actual legitimate royal family. At its heart, the Exclusion Crisis was a failure of reproductive biology. If Charles and Catharine had had children of their own to raise as heirs to a Protestant throne, the mounting public hysteria over formally designating the king's Catholic brother as his heir could not have occurred. Composing his play about civil war in response to a political crisis that bore significantly on a reproductive crisis, Croune ironically displays little understanding of the role of private sexual deeds in the life of the state that distinguished early English political theorists' work on the familial commonwealth.6 Croune's patriarchal king is, in effect, a father without a family, a head of state indifferent to the welfare of his subjects. Such indifference formed one of the traditional allowable exceptions to subjects' obligation to obey their father-king.

It is in terms of its handling of the social and sexual institutions and behaviors that an age of authoritarian government commonly used to render its reception of the essential and pervasive fact of patriarchal, authoritarian rule that I wish to discuss The Miseries of Civil War and its relationship to its Shakespearean original, the Henry VI trilogy. In spite of its obsessive reiteration of royal divine right, The Miseries of Civil War lacks a coherent patriarchal outlook. More specifically, Civil War betrays a radically diminished valuation of the family matters through which patriarchal ideology customarily chose to present itself. To compare the accomplishment of John Croune as a patriarchal apologist in The Miseries of Civil War with both the means and the style of writers working a generation before him is to view the senescence of an ideology.

Croune's depiction of Cade's Rebellion is a keystone for this reduction of the context of patriarchal control. His usual method is to expand on motifs already present in 2 Henry VI—adding some lines on the chicanery of lawyers which adduce evidence for the famous admonition to kill them all in the coming revolution, say—but he makes one significant departure from the original in devising a new climax. In Croune, Lancastrian soldiers use the rebellion as an excuse to punish the populace for their disaffection from King Henry. Coming upon a few innocent “country-men” trying to protect themselves from this armed vengeance, some of Queen Margaret's men demand that the farmers dig up the treasure they know they have buried in their gardens. As the yeomen comply, their frightened daughters accidentally reveal themselves, and the soldiers, sated with one kind of plunder, eagerly turn themselves to another: “How has he daughters! we shall have more sport.” Crying “Hay! for the daughters!” the soldiers steal the farmers' money, rape their daughters, murder them all, and burn down their homes, whereupon they gloat in deep satisfaction, “So now you Rogues, how do you like Rebellion?”7

It is probably unnecessary to remark that this scene has no counterpart in Shakespeare, but neither is it wholly accurate to assert that Croune invents it out of whole cloth. Croune's identification here of daughters and their chastity with other kinds of real property, homes and buried treasure, is entirely recognizable as the product of a heritage of thought on the status of women within private families and within Western cultures.8 Croune's departure from the opinion of other writings on the relationship between sexual control of women and political control of the household and/or the commonwealth lies in the sang-froid with which he regards rape. In two works nearly contemporary with Henry VI, Titus Andronicus and The Rape of Lucrece, Shakespeare recognizes rape as an act of violent aggression capable of destroying traditional female identities as bearer of the race and nurturer of the social bonds which turned to family life as their prototype. But to Croune, rape seems more important as the unforeseeable and unfortunate, but not entirely inappropriate, retribution for the victims' fathers' rebellion against the crown. Although both Croune and Shakespeare reflexively turn to patriarchy for their ideas of public duty and public responsibility, Croune inverts and reduces earlier Renaissance understandings of the relationship of father-kings to their subjects—and of the implications of this familial analogy for life in the macrocosm of the state and the microcosm of the family. He seems to regard matters of sexual conduct as somehow incidental to his governors' fitness to wield authority. In Henry VI, of course, willingness to subordinate the sexual impulse to the requirements of honest magistracy is a major index to possession of the discipline and disinterest necessary for sound rule. The ninety years between Shakespeare's original and Croune's copy saw the triumph of the notion of private life.

The propagandists who produced literary and visual elaborations of the notion of patriarchal right for the Stuart kings preceding Charles II freely drew on the moral significance of the formation and maintenance of godly families to support their arguments. As males, the kings of the Stuart dynasty were subject neither to the physical perils of pregnancy and childbirth nor to the cultural mandate of obedience to a superior partner which Elizabeth Tudor had found so distasteful. Freed by their gender to dilate upon their patriarchal presence as husbands and fathers as a means of propagandizing for their political prerogatives, they articulated a vision of literal relationship between masculinity, royal property, and personal rectitude. Only in the case of Charles II, who did not bother to hide his extramarital affairs and who, frustratingly, was fertile only with women to whom he was not married, did this dynasty's impulse to idealize the meanings of their roles as husbands and fathers cease.9 Earlier Stuart kings proved themselves eager disseminators of belief in their political empowerment by patriarchal right. James I devotes several pages of Basilikon Doron (Edinburgh, 1599) to emphasizing the deep significance of sexual probity for the proper maintenance of an image of kingly glory. Enthusiastically reiterating his belief that God created kings so that they might resemble a kind of “little God to sit on his Throne, & rule ouer other men” (p. 4), James also accepts this belief's corollary, that divinely-endowed earthly kings were obligated to maintain themselves in such wise as “to glister and shine before their people in all works of sanctification and righteousnes, that their persones as bright lampes of godlines and vertue, maye … giue light to all their steps” (pp. 5-6). Using himself as an example (in full rhetorical disregard of the facts of his own sexual behavior), James earnestly contrasts the outcome of his own marriage with that of his own grandfather, James V of Scotland.10 The richly deserved “rewarde” of his grandfather's “harlotrie” was the “suddaine death at one time of two pleasant yong Princes; and a daughter only borne to succeed to him.” But because he himself was blessed with greater sexual continence, he had been rewarded with a son of Prince Henry's promise as well as Henry's several “sibbe-folkes” (p. 90).

Sexual discipline won the blessing of legitimate offspring, a matter of overriding importance to a king, who must marry with an eye to his nation's posterity as well as his own; Henry must choose a wife of gentle upbringing, who shares his Protestant faith, and who is descended “of a whole and cleane race, not subject to the hereditarie sicknesses, either of the soule or the bodie: For if a man will bee carefull to breede Horses and Dogges of good kindes; Howe much more carefull should he be for the breed of his own loynes?” (p. 95). A prince's duty in marriage included more than the traditional values placed on the institution, those of begetting legitimate children, avoiding the sin of fornication, and creating the opportunity for cherishing “a perpetual friendly fellowship”11 between husband and wife. Prince Henry must also embrace marriage as the one institution capable of insuring “that your bairnes succeede unto you, which otherwaies they could not doe” (p. 96). Honoring his marriage bed by avoiding adultery served the double purpose of affirming the prince's possession of special virtue and of perpetuating his dynasty. In James' totalizing view, personal rectitude makes public authority possible; the good husband and the good father is morally prepared to be a good king.

In the voice of this royal propagandist, then, patriarchy is double, using personal virtues to aspire not only to distinction for the individual monarch but also to the highest weal of his subjects. James thus imbued political theory—the necessity of obedience to the crown—with a sense of organic necessity. Both blessed with exquisite taste, James and perhaps especially his son, the first Charles, enthusiastically sponsored the production of visual and performance art which assisted their inculcation of belief in the civilizing role sexual discipline played in their divine election.12 The Jacobean and Caroline masque celebrated the power of patriarchal election to transform the very nature of the social and political reality over which divinely-anointed kings reigned.13 Typically, the masque would end with its participants descending from their stage machines to take members of their audience by the hand and include them in the triumphal climax: “What the noble spectator watched he ultimately became.”14 In addition to Caroline courtiers, King Charles I and his queen Henrietta Maria took part in the performances, eliding distinctions between human experience and the idealized doctrines which could be extracted from it, between kings and gods.

The transforming will of the masque is clearly expressed in Thomas Carew's Coelum Britannicum (1634), which opens with Mercury approaching the seated king and queen to announce Jove's intention to cast off the gods' old habits of divinity and to reshape them according to the patterns of virtue broadcast by the Stuart court:

                                        Your exemplar life
Hath not alone transfus'd a zealous heat
Of imitation through your vertuous Court,
By whose bright blaze your Pallace is become
The envy'd patterne of this underworld,
But the aspiring flame hath kindled heaven;
Th'immortall bosomes burne with emulous fires,
Jove rivalls your great vertues, Royall Sir,
And Iuno, Madam, your attractive graces;
He his wild lusts, her raging jealousies
She layes aside, and through th'Olympique hall,
As yours doth here, their great Example spreads.(15)

Momus, the comic spirit, reveals a huge figure of Atlas bearing the sphere of the heavens, with the constellations memorializing past episodes of pagan licentiousness blinking out one by one. Coelum Britannicum literally presents the formation of new heaven and new earth:

there began to arise out of the earth the top of a hill, which by little and little grew to be a huge mountaine that covered all the Scæne; … about the middle part of this Mountaine were seated the three kingdomes of England, Scotland, and Ireland; all richly attired in regall habits, appropriated to the severall Nations, with Crownes on their heads. …16

Coelum Britannicum, like other Stuart masques, derives a great deal of its patriarchal iconography from the idealization of the king's own happy marriage.17 Charles and Henrietta Maria's example of fidelity and chastity moves Jove to reform the Olympians' sexual behavior as a vital first step in creating his new heaven: “Cupid must goe no more so scandalously naked, but is enjoyned to make him breeches. … Ganimede is forbidden the Bedchamber, and must onely minister in publique.”18 Venus and Vulcan return to their marriage bed, and Vulcan, “to eternize the memory of that great example of Matrimoniall union which he derives from hence, hath on his bedchamber dore, and seeling, fretted with starres in capitall letters, engraven the Inscription of CARLOMARIA.19Love's Triumph Through Callipolis (1631), by Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones, the first Caroline masque, proclaims a disciplined and loving marital sexuality the centerpiece of the resemblance between kings and gods, the image of the sense of measure and proportion that binds the universe into order:

Beauty and Love, whose story is mysterial,
In yonder palm tree and the crown imperial,
Do from the rose and lily so delicious
Promise a shade shall ever be propitious
To both the kingdoms.
.....And who this king and queen would well historify
Need only speak their names; those them will glorify:
Mary and Charles, Charles with his Mary named are,
And all the rest of loves or princes famed are.(20)

Love's Triumph dates from near the beginning of Charles' personal rule, an eleven year period (1629-1640) when, moved by his commitment to a notion of absolute royal prerogative, he governed without calling a single Parliament; during this time he arrogated to himself absolute authority to levy taxes, to govern the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and to control economic monopolies. The Caroline masques were produced during virtually the same period (1631-40) and suggest the connection between the mediating capacities of art and the requirements of absolutist government that an examination of the masques bears out.21 The masque represents the purification of politics by art, the taming of unruly nature—including human nature—by the intellect and the royal will.

Charles' theatrical propaganda did not signally increase the English people's readiness to accept his authoritarian rule, nor, perhaps, was it entirely intended to do so.22 The masques' significance for my argument lies rather in their exquisite development of themes—the analogy between kings and gods, the cosmic and civic import of royal continence—already contained within familiar patriarchal doctrines. Charles I's execution and the succeeding years of civil war and commonwealth stretch like a band of scorched earth between Tudor and early Stuart rhetorics of patriarchy and John Croune's depiction of the principle in The Miseries of Civil War.23 Yet despite the profound dislocation of public regicide, some points of continuity between pre-1642 and post-Restoration ways of describing the relationship of kings to their subjects remained. The Exclusion Crisis, in fact, has been described as one of a series of “intensifying events” in the 1670's and 1680's that infused post-Restoration dialogues on the nature of political obligation with some of their pre-war urgency.24 If the masques launch themselves as a political offensive against any Parliamentary role in the conduct of public affairs, Civil War surveys the field just before the final defeat of the absolutist notion. Fighting a rearguard action against the pace of political change, The Miseries of Civil War is prevented by circumstance from participating in a fully-developed artistic model of a view of politics. Croune advances neither the chivalric references beloved of Tudor pageant-makers nor the neoclassical Caroline impulse25 to hallow his heir's progress toward power. Croune does not even attempt to invoke a wider frame of reference: no gods descend from his heavens. What survives in his play of earlier Stuart propagandists' perception of the divine fruitfulness of royalty is the prominence it gives to royal sexuality. But unlike those earlier artists, he does not establish his heroes' sexual and marital behavior as a measure of their willingness and capacity to enter into genuinely generative relationships with their world. He settles for much less, and I believe that his devaluation of male sexuality in a play purporting to champion patriarchal rule is a telling indication of the bankruptcy of his stance. Traditional conceptions of the role of male reproductive biology in the constitution of the patriarchal family and the patriarchal state regarded it as a sacred necessity. To assume the identity of the father of his people, James advised his son, a king had first to husband his seed and spend it wisely, in an approved marriage of state.26 The dangers of promiscuity, remarked upon by churchmen and accepted as fact by general opinion,27 were all the more pronounced for a prince, who thereby ran the risk of wasting the noble essence of his blood in sexual enterprises that could only insult his dynasty's conviction of its divine election. If the careful patriarchal order of ruling families reproduced in human and royal terms the original dominion of Adam, the first patriarch, then any defiance of the rules of careful stewardship of that divine resemblance, perhaps especially those which bore on the earthly patriarch's fatherhood, tarnished his personal dignity, that of his family, and ultimately that of God himself.

While accepting the principle of continuity between fatherhood and lordship, between continence and sovereignty, the Henry VI plays devote themselves to dramatizing the collapse of the analogy under a set of political circumstances which will no longer support it. The calamity of Henry V's sudden death and the succession of a boy-king to the throne present the same kind of disruption of traditional patriarchal conceptions of civic order as Croune faced in trying to write an absolutist play after the Regicide: the political assertion that it was possible and sometimes even necessary to resist royal power erased the living embodiment of patriarchal supremacy from the political landscape. Only in the career of the Talbots does Henry VI affirm the value of the father-son bond as a nobleman's means of fulfilling his duties to his aristocratic caste and to posterity.

The elder Talbot's heroic masculine presence is equally compounded of martial, chivalric, and paternal commitments. He acknowledges his manhood as an historical and collective phenomenon. He enters the play in I.iv as a newly-ransomed prisoner of war who is determined to help the outnumbered and poorly provisioned Earl of Salisbury, the éminence grise of English arms, defend the fortress of Orléans from French siege. Talbot's commitment to aid Salisbury shows a properly filial devotion to a man who himself initiated the dead king Henry V into the mysteries of male chivalry:

In thirteen battles Salisbury o'ercame;
Henry the Fifth he first train'd to the wars;
Whilst any trump did sound, or drum struck up,
His sword did ne'er leave striking in the field.


After Salisbury's death in the confusion of battle, Talbot dedicates his surprise attack to him and to “the right / Of English Henry” as proof of “How much in duty I am bound to both” (II.i.35-37). It is unclear to which “English Henry” Talbot refers, the dead father or the infant son Henry VI, and the distinction is in a sense irrelevant: his duty binds him to the throne, not to an individual sovereign.

Shakespeare enlarges his play's view of Talbot's heroic grace to encompass not only martial mastery but also courtly perfection in the Countess of Auvergne interlude. Talbot's chivalric defeat of the ambitious Countess—she gloats to herself that entrapping Talbot would make her “as famous … / As Scythian Tomyris” (II.iii.5-6)—affirms his possession of a fully-integrated excellence. Just as he previously replaced Orléans' civic monuments with a memorial to the manner of Salisbury's life and death, he performs another act of displacement, this time of the Countess' story of false female dominion with his own legend of masculine solidarity and right. He modestly admits that he is indeed the man she is looking for but adds that

                              I am but shadow of myself:
You are deceiv'd, my substance is not here;
For what you see is but the smallest part
And least proportion of humanity:
I tell you, madam, were the whole frame here,
It is of such a spacious lofty pitch
Your roof were not sufficient to contain't.


Having once obscured the personal identity of the “English Henry” for whose right he fought in France, he here dissolves the borders of his own identity. To his mind, an individual leader is of less account than the might and will of the force he leads into battle. Physically protected by the soldiers who respond to his signal, Talbot also locates the truth about the moral nature of his heroism in the corporate, fraternal relationship between English men of arms. Independently, neither he nor they possess the power to accomplish what they can do together:

How say you, madam? Are you now persuaded
That Talbot is but shadow of himself?
These are his substance, sinews, arms, and strength,
With which he yoketh your rebellious necks,
Razeth your cities, and subverts your towns,
And in a moment makes them desolate.


Relationship to other beings in a chain of command, not the mere designation as a leader, is what forges the secret strength of a unit like Talbot's army. Patriarchal rule requires (1) that the patriarch have someone to lead and (2) that he does so in a manner inspiring unity of purpose and common consent to his right to govern. Talbot regards Salisbury as the “mirror of all martial men” (I.iv.74) and dedicates his own warfare to the duty the older man taught him; the nobles in the opening scene of the trilogy “invocate” (I.i.52) the shade of the dead Henry V as the mirror of all Christian kings. The king's death prior to the proper beginning of the action of the trilogy shadows the attempts of his survivors to model themselves into his kind of manhood. The death of Salisbury, who taught the late king, further disrupts the bond between men by depriving them of another icon worthy of emulation. What Talbot does by reminding the Countess that he defines himself in relationship to others instead of solely as an individual prodigy is to uphold the social contract between leaders and nations, generals and armies, fathers and sons. Talbot resolves to perform great deeds for England on the battlefield precisely because of his consciousness of his moral inheritance from the heroes of the past. He will recapture Rouen “or die” (III.ii.79) in the attempt because its history testifies to this very continuity: it was first won for England by Henry V and is the burial place of the heart of “[g]reat Cor-de-lion” (l. 83). The First Part of Henry the Sixth portrays the disappearance of this highly-gendered contract between generations from English society. At his coronation the boy King Henry VI appeals unsuccessfully to this sense of family honor when he asks his wrangling uncles to set aside their rivalries, to “remember where we are,” to “think upon the conquest of my father, / My tender years, and let us not forgo / That for a trifle that was bought with blood!” (IV.i.137, 148-50).

The plays prove that, in the absence of a strong father-king who will exemplify the meaning of masculine solidarity, any order which turns to patriarchy for its justification must founder. The sanctity of patriarchal devices of control and definition cannot resist the forces of political opportunism, if these forces are propelled by sufficient momentum. 1 Henry VI's fascination with “domineering females” is a symptom, not a cause of this collapse of the organizing fictions that have heretofore defined relations within the English commonwealth.29 In fact, the deaths of the Talbots, father and son, mark an end to traditional commitments to familial conceptions of political and military behavior. Outnumbered by the enemy, betrayed by faction within English ranks, the Talbots consciously fashion their deaths as testimony to the patriarchal mandates which have shaped their lives. The younger hero asks his father:

Is my name Talbot? and am I your son?
And shall I fly? O, if you love your mother,
Dishonor not her honorable name
To make a bastard and a slave of me!
The world will say, he is not Talbot's blood,
That basely fled when noble Talbot stood.


The younger Talbot's allusion to family honor suggests that both the private virtue of sexuality legitimately channelled through marriage and the public proof of military valor are the social manifestations of true nobility. Describing his son's performance in battle, Talbot remembers how

The ireful Bastard Orleance, that drew blood
From thee, my boy, and had the maidenhood
Of thy first fight, I soon encountered,
And, interchanging blows, I quickly shed
Some of his bastard blood, and in disgrace
Bespoke him thus: “Contaminated, base,
And misbegotten blood I spill of thine,
Mean and right poor, for that pure blood of mine
Which thou didst force from Talbot, my brave boy.”


The violence with which the Talbots fight for “Saint George and victory” ( transforms itself into an inherently sexual act that fledges new warriors in their marriage with English chivalry. Like sexual intercourse, shedding blood in a righteous cause initiates the boy into the responsibilities and privileges of manhood. Elsewhere, Talbot alludes to this subtle analogy between England's fight to retain its French territories and an act of sexual conquest, suggesting that what cannot be won by persuasion will be taken by force:

English John Talbot, captains, calls you forth,
Servant in arms to Harry King of England,
And thus he would: Open your city-gates,
Be humble to us, call my sovereign yours,
And do him homage as obedient subjects,
And I'll withdraw me and my bloody power.
But if you frown upon this proffer'd peace,
You tempt the fury of my three attendants,
Lean famine, quartering steel, and climbing fire,
Who in a moment even with the earth
Shall lay your stately and air-braving towers,
If you forsake the offer of their love.


Talbot here offers an ironically self-conscious interpretation of the act of righteous conquest which he determines to undertake against Bordeaux—inviting the city back into its lawful alliance with good King Harry or condemning it to the unwelcome attentions of less reasonable suitors. The city, which will be taken regardless of its will, becoming a reluctant woman whom Talbot invites to open itself to the implicitly phallic “bloody power” of English arms, yields to the English rhetorical construction of the attack (pillage becomes an “offer” of “love”) as well as to the physical invasion. The female principle represented by the enclosed resisting city poses only another test for a man to overcome in forging his masculine identity, semen binding men as deeply as shared blood in the brotherhood of war.

Talbot perceives sexuality as a process through which men affirm or deny their membership in a social order based on mutuality and submission. He speaks as the king's “servant,” promising a restoration of hierarchical relationship. Sexuality becomes for him a conceptual metaphor for political behavior and the justifications he offers for it: males claim their manhood through publicly witnessed acts of assertion. Young Talbot flings himself into battle, eager to shed his blood in his father's and his country's defense; his father hopes that their willingness to die together for England will win them permanent renown. Bordeaux's rightful allegiance, proven by conquest, is to England, and any defection from this loyalty ought, in Talbot's view, to be punished as severely as an act of sexual infidelity. The city's return to French control equals on a deep imaginative level a sexual infidelity (it was once the “obedient” and “humble” property of the English crown), an act of infidelity which invites Talbot's grimly humorous threat of a retaliatory rape: both rape and promiscuous loyalty are sexual transgressions, compromising the chances of children or of conquered lands ever to recognize where their true duties lie.

The Shakespearean original thus threatens rape of a city as an expression of Talbot's loyal determination to preserve the familial resemblance between England and her conquered territories, a principle of likeness and unity that, in its fraternal manifestation, has already been destroyed by the falling-out between Somerset and York. Croune's copy, The Miseries of Civil War, actually performs the rape of women as an act of retaliatory violence that effectively separates political power from patriarchal care and turns male sexuality, the instrumentality through which honor is transmitted through succeeding generations, into a weapon. Croune makes literal the connection between maleness and power and, so doing, reduces the meanings of both. Instead of the central metaphor for political obligation and the nature of civic and cosmic relationship that the creators of the Jacobean and Caroline masque perceived in the marital flowering of male sexuality, John Croune views the sexual passions of his governors as being somehow separate from and irrelevant to their political performance. His play demonstrates the ironic diminution of patriarchal thought in a document ostensibly devoted to divine right.

Croune's indifference to the imaginative compass of fatherhood and to the founding of the honorable families which provide the opportunity for the proof of fatherhood's moral utility clearly announce themselves in his rendition of the role of the Earl of Warwick. Shakespeare's Warwick, the Kingmaker, is one of the English lords present at the condemnation of Joan de Pucelle in V.iv of 1 Henry VI, where, desperately trying to postpone her impending execution, she claims pregnancy, customary grounds for a stay. In the face of the English lords' skepticism, she names “Reignier, King of Naples” as the putative father, and Warwick reacts with shocked distaste: “A married man! that's most intolerable” (ll. 78-79). He has already proven himself sensitive to the import of lineage as the chief transmitter of legitimacy in the Temple Garden scene (II.iv), where he carefully rehearses York's superior primogenitural claim to the throne. Croune's Warwick, existing primarily as a foil to his Edward IV, loses most of the original character's concern for the dynastic propriety of the Yorkist claim and retains a magnified sense of his own importance. Croune amplifies the crudeness of his re-characterization by investing his Warwick with a streak of lubricity entirely at odds with Shakespeare's original vision—a trait which leads him into the same kind of sexual indiscrimination Henry VI condemns for obscuring lines of authority and hierarchy. Croune's Warwick is an aging roaring boy who no sooner sees the beautiful Lady Grey, whose husband has just been killed onstage by the Yorkists, than he swears he must have her, though “the first joy I reap cost me my life” (p. 19).

In 3 Henry VI, Warwick is shocked and angered to learn during his mission at the French court to secure a royal bride for the new King Edward IV that Edward has married Lady Elizabeth Grey, a widow of comparatively low degree. He renounces his loyalty to the House of York as a result, angry to find his efforts on Edward's behalf thwarted, but angrier still that the young king has married “more for wanton lust than honor, / Or than for strength and safety of our country” (III.iii.210-11). Uninformed desire also inspires the fateful marriage between King Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou which is contracted in V.v of Part One, a marriage contradicting in every particular the patriarchal mandate for the union of a prince: Margaret brings the English crown neither great dower nor political advantage, and in order to have her Henry must renounce an existing contract with the daughter of the Earl of Armagnac, “near knit” to the French king, a “man of great authority in France” (V.i.17-18). The close similarity between the circumstances surrounding Henry's and Edward's marriages suggests the possibility that Edward's unequal match will come to emblematize his poor judgment just as Henry's acceptance of Margaret comes to represent his. Margaret is the daughter of that Reignier of Naples whose supposed involvement with Joan de Pucelle inspires Warwick's disgust at the Maid's promiscuity and her disrespect for matters of blood and lineage. By portraying Warwick as rallying to and eventually breaking with the House of York over such issues of patriarchal resemblance and patriarchal vigilance, Shakespeare invests the question of royal marriage in Henry VI with the deepest political significance.

In the service of a much narrower vision of patriarchal prerogative, Croune creates a new motive for the break between the Kingmaker and the House of York. Although Croune's Warwick is still angry about being embarrassed on his diplomatic mission, his resentment of the marriage stems from the fact that now he will be prevented from enjoying Lady Grey himself. Before setting off for France, Warwick tells her that she has a month in which to agree to marry him; indeed, he is ready to marry her before he leaves: “Ho! call a Parson!” (p. 48). Desperate, she turns to Edward for help, and that prince, bewitched by her beauty, decides to marry her himself once he understands that she will not yield lightly to his lust. He easily dismisses the more politic marriage that Warwick has arranged with the French princess: “Then let my Kingdom go and marry her” (p. 52). Croune imagines the fateful matter of blood, honor, and state which Shakespeare perceives in the royal marriages that bracket his trilogy as a relatively simple matter of sexual desire and jealousy. Not dispensing altogether with Warwick's anger at Edward's precipitate action, Croune nevertheless feels it necessary to add the carefully-foreshadowed sexual rivalry as a final motivation for the break between the two men, for he perhaps is convinced that in no other way could a disagreement over a woman affect political behavior. His alteration of Warwick's passionate, humorless rectitude into a lustful caricature demonstrates a bizarre insensitivity to the trilogy's vision of the origins and nature of legitimate rule.

Croune's handling of Edward's supposed marriage contract with Lady Eleanor Butler continues and perhaps most fully exemplifies his disengagement with the idealization of male sexuality and kingly marriages that distinguishes other imaginative writers' justifications of patriarchal, authoritarian rule. Historically, Richard III used the persistent rumors of his elder brother's unwitnessed vows with Lady Eleanor to invalidate his marriage to Elizabeth Grey and pronounce the children of that union, including two young princes, bastards barred from the succession. Not content with branding his brother's children incapable of honorable inheritance, Richard also claimed that his dead brother was himself the offspring of an adulterous liaison between their mother, the Duchess of York, and an unnamed lover and, as no true son of the Duke of York, had never actually had the right to be king of England. Whatever the facts of his own political or military readiness to seize the throne, Richard obviously believed that the surest rhetorical device for persuading the populace of the justice of his claims was argument from patriarchal sanctity. The possibility of Edward IV's precontract to Eleanor Butler was so politically explosive that Shakespeare does not directly mention it; he substitutes a cognate rumor of a promise of marriage to one Elizabeth Lucy which, until it was thoroughly investigated and disproved, brought into question only the legitimacy of Edward IV's eldest son by Elizabeth Grey. For one of those children whom Richard's sweeping allegations of 1483 bastardized and disinherited was Elizabeth Plantagenet, the grandmother of Elizabeth Tudor.

Historical distance permits Croune greater latitude. Far from displaying Shakespeare's discretion in dramatizing secrets of state, he handles the Eleanor Butler story with relish and turns it into one of his major plot complications. Instead of treating the possibility of a knowingly-undertaken bigamous marriage as seriously as a truly patriarchal culture would demand it be taken, however, Croune dramatizes a case of royal bigamy as a pathetic story of seduction and abandonment.30 Eleanor Butler is both attracted to the young prince and worried about the consequences of giving herself to him:

You will cry, Madam, I am Prince of Wales,
And I must marry for the Nation's good;
I'm very sorry I'm forced to lose you,
But pardon me, it is the Nation's fault.

(p. 21)

She yields to his importunities only after extracting a promise of commitment from him, a promise he breaks at his first sight of Elizabeth Grey. When the heartbroken Eleanor confronts him over his desertion, he flippantly acknowledges it: “Beauties, like palaces, have several ways / Of access to 'em; I believed those Oaths / A form of speaking, which did please you best” (p. 55).

To be sure, Croune does establish a relationship between private sexual affairs and affairs of state, but, seeming to pursue this connection only in terms of the conflict between love (or sex) and duty within the character of an individual hero, he remains blind to any resonances of sexual misconduct in the government of the commonwealth or in the moral standing of York's claim to the throne. The Duke of York's murder by the queen's forces at St. Albans and Edward's failure to bring up reinforcements in time to prevent the Lancastrians' slaughter of blameless countrymen both somehow become subsidiary issues in Croune's denunciation of Richard and Warwick's lèse majesté in daring to criticize Edward's negligence. Setting aside that fact that he failed to come to his father's aid in a timely fashion because he was off making love with Eleanor Butler, Edward rebukes them for seizing on his indisputed sensitivity to female charms as an indirect means of slandering his royal prerogative and thereby challenging his right to the throne: “Who stabbs my Name, wou'd stab my Person too … (p. 40).

In 2 and 3 Henry VI, male failure to master female wiles results directly in the power imbalance in the marriages of both King Henry and good Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, inexperience and uxoriousness rendering these characters the more vulnerable to their enemies' machinations. When governors fail to discipline their sexual impulses toward pursuit of the greatest good for the state, chaos—both within families and in the commonwealth—inevitably follows. Far from demonstrating his awareness as a governor to respect his sexuality as the primary means of the preservation of the living image of patriarchal right, Croune gives his Edward an extraordinary few lines indicating the shallowness of his authoritarian vision:

                                        I freely pardon you,
And yet methinks it is unequal usage
A King should pardon all the faults of Subjects,
And Subjects pardon nothing in their King;
When a King's crown'd he is not deifyed,
When he puts on the Royal Robes, he does
Therefore put of th'Infirmities of man.

(p. 41)

On the one hand, Croune argues that Edward's royalty ought in itself to render him proof against even legitimate questions about his judgment, since even the most apparently legitimate questions constitute an intolerable setting of limits on the range of royal prerogative. On the other hand, he argues that his patriarchal king is in fact a man like other men with the same right to expectations of tolerance and mercy. Croune's Edward, turning Warwick's and Richard's charges of sexual immorality back on them, tells Warwick that he knows of his passion for Elizabeth Grey and Richard that the woman who accompanied him to their delayed rendezvous is Richard's own lowborn mistress, “a Peasant's dirty Daughter, whom thou keep'st, / By whom thou hast a little tawny Bastard” (p. 40). Croune understands Henry VI's complicated connections between sexuality, authority, and power as a judgmental impulse, irrelevant to the character of a superior magistrate. By denying the existence of any interactive relationship between Edward's clamorous body natural and his body politic, Croune implicitly robs his argument for absolutist rule of any grounds other than arbitrary power; mere possession of the crown, to his mind, offers the best argument against rebellion.

The language in which Croune's age argued for patriarchy is simultaneously more literal and less interested in preserving at least the appearance of rationality and idealism that marked Shakespeare's. The political events of Croune's own lifetime inevitably eroded the assumption of an identity of interest between public, civic welfare and private sexual discipline that speaks when Shakespeare has Humphrey of Gloucester decry Henry's marriage to an inferior as a “Fatal” matter capable of “rasing” the monuments of his father's and his nation's fame (2 Henry VI I.i.99ff). Shorn of its rhetorical spark of the divine and the eternal, royal sexuality in Croune is also threatened with devaluation. That Croune could treat a king's sexual behavior as an ancillary issue in a consideration of his right to preserve his absolute freedom of will indicates both his estrangement from popular politics and his isolation from the influence of a heritage of art on the mysterious depths of royal fatherhood.


  1. Cited in William van Lennep, ed., The London Stage, 1660-1800 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1960), Pt. 1, p. 284.

  2. On the Exclusion Crisis, the proto-Whig sympathies of those who argued the case for excluding the Duke of York from the succession, and its relationship to contemporary fears of a Catholic rebellion, see John Miller, Popery and Politics in England, 1660-1688 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1973), pp. 154-88; J. R. Jones, The First Whigs: The Politics of the Exclusion Crisis, 1678-1683 (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1961); and John Kenyon, The Popish Plot (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1972).

  3. Hazelton Spencer, Shakespeare Improved: The Restoration Versions in Quarto and on the Stage (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1927), describes the deviations of Croune's Henry VI adaptations from the originals (pp. 298-313).

  4. W. H. Greenleaf, Order, Empiricism, and Politics: English Political Theory, 1500-1700 (London: Oxford Univ. Press for the Univ. of Hull, 1964); Corinne Comstock Weston and Janelle Greenberg, Subjects and Sovereigns: The Grand Controversy Over Legal Sovereignty in Stuart England (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1981); and J. P. Sommerville, Politics and Ideology in England, 1603-1640 (London: Longman, 1986), are three studies of Tudor and Stuart political theories which emphasize the pervasiveness of belief in divine sanction for legal sovereignty even among those who would eventually argue in favor of crown accountability to the will of Parliament.

  5. Susan Staves, Players' Scepters: Fictions of Authority in the Restoration (Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1979), argues that Restoration drama presents the erosion of belief in authoritarian social and political systems. My own argument here is closer to that of Martin Butler, Theatre and Crisis, 1632-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984), which holds that Caroline drama's overtly royalist and absolutist concerns can be read as a means of containing searching critiques of given political and social systems of order. However, here I am more concerned than I believe Butler is with the consequences of the gap between ideology and rhetoric.

  6. Relevant sources on early modern patriarchal theory include Sir Thomas Smith, De Republica Anglorum (1583); Peter Wentworth, A Pithie Exhortation to her Majestie for Establishing Her Successor to the Crowne (1598); and Sir Robert Filmer, Patriarcha (1680). David E. Underdown, Revel, Riot and Rebellion: Popular Politics and Culture in England, 1603-1660 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1985), emphasizes the continuity between Tudor and Stuart social and political institutions, including patriarchal conceptions of government and family life, despite changes in the form of government. Underdown's essay, “The Taming of the Scold: The Enforcement of Patriarchal Authority in Early Modern England,” in Order and Disorder in Early Modern England, ed. Anthony Fletcher and John Stevenson (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985), pp. 116-36, describes the usage of definitions of masculinity and family order in enforcing patriarchal authority in law and in daily life. Gordon Schochet, Patriarchalism in Political Thought: The Authoritarian Family and Political Speculation and Attitudes, especially in Seventeenth Century England (New York: Basic Books, 1975), is a helpful summary.

  7. The Miseries of Civil War (London, 1680; rpt. London: Cornmarket Press, 1969), p. 36.

  8. See Peter Stallybrass, “Patriarchal Territories: The Body Enclosed,” in Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, ed. Margaret Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press 1986), pp. 123-42.

  9. Gerard Reedy, “Mystical Politics: The Imagery of Charles II's Coronation,” in Studies in Change and Continuity: Aspects of British Intellectual History, 1640-1800, ed. Paul J. Korshin (Menston: Scolar Press, 1972), pp. 19-42, notes that while the 1660 coronation pageants did include representations of the new king as a figure of an Old Testament patriarch, the similarity was portrayed as residing in his righteousness and justice rather than specifically in his role as head of household. See also Paul Hammond, “Dryden's Albion and Albanius: The Apotheosis of Charles II,” in The Court Masque, ed. David Lindley (Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press, 1984), pp. 169-83, for a consideration of a later treatment of traditional Stuart iconography, a treatment which, like Civil War, fails to provide any other sanction for royal action than the mere assertion of sovereignty.

  10. David Bergeron, Shakespeare's Romances and the Royal Family (Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas, 1985), discusses the gap between artistic idealizations of James I's family and the actual history of their relationships with each other (pp. 33-72).

  11. “Homily of the State of Matrimonye,” in Certaine Sermons or Homilies Appointed to be Read in Churches, in the Time of Queen Elizabeth I, ed. Mary Ellen Rickey and Thomas B. Stroup (Gainesville: Scholars Facsimiles and Reprints, 1968), p. 1.

  12. R. Malcolm Smuts, Court Culture and the Origins of a Royalist Tradition in Early Stuart England (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1987); Graham Parry, The Golden Age Restor'd: The Culture of the Stuart Court (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981); Roy Strong, Britannia Triumphans: Inigo Jones, Rubens, and Whitehall Palace (London: Thames and Hudson, 1980); Roy Strong, Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals, 1450-1650 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1984), pp. 153-70.

  13. Stephen Orgel, The Illusion of Power: Political Theatre in the English Renaissance (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1975), pp. 37-58; Stephen Kogan, The Hieroglyphic King: Wisdom and Idolatry in the Seventeenth Century Masque (Rutherford, N. J.: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 1986), pp. 41-50.

  14. Orgel, Illusion of Power, p. 39.

  15. Coelum Britannicum, ll. 62-73, in The Poems of Thomas Carew, with His Masque Coelum Britannicum, ed. Rhodes Dunlap (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949).

  16. Coelum Britannicum, ll. 883-91. Jennifer Chibnall, “‘To that secure fix'd state’: The Function of the Caroline Masque Form,” in Court Masque, ed. Lindley, discusses Coelum Britannicum (pp. 85-91).

  17. See, for example, D. J. Gordon, “Hymenœl: Ben Jonson's Masque of Union,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 8 (1945), 107. Kevin Sharpe's Criticism and Compliment: The Politics of Literature in the England of Charles I (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987), a welcome consideration of the subject by an historian, asserts that “love was the metaphor, the medium, through which political comment and criticism were articulated in Caroline England” (p. 39). See pp. 266-90 of his discussion in particular.

  18. Carew, Coelum Britannicum, ll. 248-51.

  19. Ibid., ll. 272-76.

  20. Ben Jonson, The Complete Masques, ed. Stephen Orgel (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1969); here, ll. 184-88, 192-95.

  21. Critics discussing the highly topical content of the Stuart masque include Ernest William Talbert, “The Interpretation of Jonson's Courtly Spectacles,” PMLA, 61 (1946), 454, and Leah Sinanoglou Marcus in two essays, “The Occasion of Ben Jonson's Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue,SEL, 19 (1979), 271, and “‘Present Occasions’ and the Shaping of Ben Johnson's Masques,” ELH, 45 (1978), 201. Sara Pearl, “‘Sounding to Present Occasions’: Jonson's Masques of 1620-25,” in Court Masque, ed. Lindley, pp. 60-77, argues that Jonson's masques were not only politically topical but also thematically integrated with his dramatic works. While The Miseries of Civil War shares this earlier politically-conscious art form's topicality and its reliance on stage spectacle, it does not share the masque's consistent development of themes of political supremacy through the representation of cosmic and marital union.

  22. See Kevin Sharpe, “The Personal Rule of Charles I,” in Before the Civil War, ed. Malcolm Tomlinson (London: Macmillan, 1983), pp. 53-78, and Malcolm Smuts, “The Political Failure of Stuart Court Patronage,” in Patronage in the Renaissance, ed. Guy Fitch Lytle and Stephen Orgel (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1981), pp. 165-87.

  23. This is the thesis of Staves, Players' Scepters.

  24. Paul J. Korshin, “Figural Change and the Survival of Tradition in the Later Seventeenth Century,” in Studies in Change and Continuity, ed. Korshin, p. 115; see also pp. 99-128.

  25. Norman Council, “Ben Jonson, Inigo Jones, and the Transformation of Tudor Chivalry,” ELH, 47 (1980), 259; Erica Veevers, Images of Love and Religion: Queen Henrietta Maria and Court Entertainments (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989); Parry, Golden Age, pp. 184-229.

  26. See Jonathan Goldberg, “Fatherly Authority: The Politics of Stuart Family Images,” in Rewriting the Renaissance, ed. Ferguson, Quilligan, and Vickers, pp. 3-32.

  27. On seventeenth-century readiness to condemn illicit sexual activity, especially as it affected personal reputation and resulted in the birth of illegitimate children, see Martin Ingram, Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England, 1570-1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987), pp. 230-37; and J. A. Sharpe, Defamation and Sexual Slander in Early Modern England: The Church Courts at York, Borthwick Papers, 58 (York: Univ. of York. 1980).

  28. All Henry VI citations are from The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974).

  29. The phrase comes from the title of David Bevington's iconographical essay “The Domineering Female in Henry VI,Shakespeare Survey, 2 (1966), 51. Besides Bevington, Robert Pierce's Shakespeare's History Plays: The Family and the State (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1971), which discusses the classical documents underpinning Renaissance patriarchal theory, and Ann Jennalie Cook's ambitious The Bridal Path: Courtship in Shakespeare and His Society (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, forthcoming) also examine the interweaving of marriage and politics in Shakespeare. My discussion here is more specifically concerned with how changes in political circumstance may affect literary reproduction of patriarchal doctrines of royal marriage.

  30. Laura Brown, English Dramatic Form: An Essay in Generic History (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1981), pp. 69-101, is good on the development of affective tragedy with its pathetic protagonists. I would suggest here, however, that as he does in his scenic portrayal of the burning of the countrymen's farms in Act I, Croune locates his play within Restoration theatrical convention without summoning a corresponding sensitivity to conventions of political discourse. J. Douglas Canfield, “Royalism's Last Dramatic Stand: English Political Tragedy, 1679-1689,” Studies in Philology, 82 (1985), 234, recognizes that Croune's adaptations participate in absolutist political philosophy, thus disputing the contentions of such critics as Brown and Staves that Restoration drama generally depicts the erosion of traditional social and political forms, but he does not attempt to place Croune within a tradition of political discourse. Matthew H. Wikander, “The Spitted Infant: Scenic Emblem and Exclusionist Politics in Restoration Adaptations of Shakespeare,” Shakespeare Quarterly, 37 (1986), 340, convincingly situates a group of such plays within Restoration stage practice while also arguing for their political consciousness.

John B. Rollins (essay date summer 2001)

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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 ofThe 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 Neither play has received much critical attention, and those critics who have offered commentary have either condemned it out of hand simply for being a rhymed heroic drama or have been content with discussing Crowne's sources. Capwell, who first noted this tendency to criticize the genre rather than the work,2 chose to respond by limiting his discussion to Crowne's departures from his sources without ever engaging directly with the implications of the play itself. White demonstrates beyond doubt that Crowne combined elements drawn from Racine's Bérénice, Josephus's The Wars of the Jews, and Suetonius's account of the relationship between Titus and Berenice. Capwell criticizes White for simply listing these sources and then attempts to explain Crowne's alterations. However, he seems to regard the romantic plots to be the chief focus of the play: “The historical material, however, primarily supplies merely background for the love stories, and Crowne's skill in weaving the fortunes of Phraartes and Clarona and Titus and Berenice into the historical material is notable.”3 While these plots and characters are significant and can certainly provide insight into characters Crowne subsequently created, the center of the play4 is, as the title suggests, the destruction of the city of Jerusalem.

A cursory reading of Racine's play or of Otway's Titus and Berenice,5 which is much closer to the French original than Crowne's work, reveals them to be works nearly devoid of dramatic action. Indeed, Bérénice has been held up as an exemplar of the tendency of seventeenth-century French drama to employ simple plots. Racine himself noted that he wished to follow the “simplicité d'action qui a été si fort du goût des anciens.”6 Crowne's spectacular stage effects and supernatural events could not be more different. The prologue to the first part of The Destruction of Jerusalem announces that the purpose of the play (or, at least, the purpose of the “damned playwright”) is to “reveal hid treasure” (a literal αποκαλυπζιs), offering the first hint that we should recognize the strong element of apocalyptic literature within the drama. Although it seems unusual that Crowne's earlier critics chose not to comment on this element, perhaps it is simply the reemergence of apocalyptic themes in the last days of the twentieth century that make them stand out so clearly now. As we enter the new millennium and have become accustomed to apocalyptic themes in virtually every area of popular culture, it seems appropriate to look at an apocalypse from an earlier period that was also known for its political and religious schisms and excesses.

Given this cultural preoccupation with the ending of the second millennium, it is not surprising that scholars have recently turned their attention to the question as well. Most of these scholars have been theologians, but literary critics have also been among their number, often attempting to apply the findings of the theologians to their own discipline. Bernard McGinn is one such scholar. In his historiographical survey of the origins and current state of the scholarship of apocalypse and apocalypticism, he offers this method of approaching the question of genre: “I would suggest the following five questions as a useful introductory tool for this task: who reveals? to whom? how, or under what circumstances? what? and for what purpose?”7 Likewise, Brian Stiegler's examination of Cervantes' La Numancia8 uses the definition of apocalyptic vision set out by the theologian Klaus Koch. These elements are as follows:

1. Urgent expectation of the overthrow of all earthly things in the immediate future

2. The end a vast cosmic catastrophe

3. Close relation of the “end-time” to the rest of history

4. Angels and demons

5. Catastrophe followed by salvation

6. Enthronement of God and the coming of his kingdom

7. Appearance of a mediator/redeemer with royal functions

8. The glory of the age to come9

Beyond these schema, a host of other approaches and categorizations have been suggested. It is not the intent of this discussion to contribute to the ongoing debate about what constitutes a genuine apocalyptic vision. Neither will I attempt to argue that The Destruction of Jerusalem is an example of apocalyptic literature when it is so clearly a rhymed heroic drama. What I do hope to explore is the extent to which Crowne employs these apocalyptic elements in shaping the play and to discuss the ways that he may have used these to offer a commentary on contemporary events and, in particular, that coalition of interests that had, by the mid-1670s, allied itself against the Crown. The second section will examine these elements themselves, and the next section will address McGinn's fifth question regarding their purpose. The final section will consider the romantic subplots and the characters involved in those plots.

It seems best, when treating a subject such as this, to begin at the ending. The final scene of the second part of the play shows us Titus, having told Berenice that they must part, declaring:

My self I'le longer on the wrack retain
And at her Chariot see her once again;
Then gaze till wide and spacious Seas of Air
Drown the last view, and then for death prepare.

(sig. P2v)10

But, of course, he does not die, at least not within the time frame of the play itself. The message, like the answer to Kent's query “Is this the promis'd end?” is that there is no real ending (or, alternatively, there is nothing else but a series of unsatisfying small endings without any real significance). Of course, Titus goes on to explain exactly what he means: “I mean that tedious death, which men would fain, / Gild with the specious title of a Reign” (sig. P2v). By framing the story of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem within two nested love stories, Crowne is able to offer a far more complicated and compelling “conclusion” than either Racine or Otway. The love stories themselves are similarly complicated and these complications will be discussed in some detail below. This same feeling is present at the end of the first play—of course, we would not naturally expect much in the way of resolution from a play whose long title is The First Part of the Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus Vespasian. But Crowne is gently mocking his audience. Note the opening lines of the epilogue:

So, Heaven be thank'd, the Play is at an end,
The pretence it has to gain a Friend.
But this design's to draw another on.

(sig. H1r)

Thus, we are again teased with the promise of an ending where there is none. From these illusory endings flow the other apocalyptic elements of the play.

One of Koch's distinguishing marks of apocalyptic literature is the “appearance of a mediator/redeemer with royal functions.” In these plays, both Phraartes and Titus are described in this way. In the opening scene of part 1, Monobazus describes Jerusalem's reaction to Phraartes:

They Idolize your name, and boast with Pride,
To their great Race of Kings you are ally'd.
Exalted hopes they on your Valour build,
Look to have Prophecies in you fulfill'd.

(sig. B2v)

Matthias reiterates this position, declaring that “the mighty Parthian King … springs / Of Jewish blood by a long Race of Kings” (sig. C3r). In the second part of the play, the connections become even more obvious. As Titus prepares for the final assault on Jerusalem, Malchus, Antiochus, and Tiberias describe the attitude of the people within the city:

They talk of nought but Heav'n, religion, gods,
Of conq'ring you, nay of enslaving Rome,
Of Empire here, and paradise to come.
Nay, every moment they expect a King. …
Some fondly dream, the Parthian King is he;
Think him the eldest son of prophesie.
Find him inroll'd in their divine record,
And see strange wonders budding on his sword.

(sig. B3v)

His accomplishments in the rest of the play reinforce this messianic role. After one of his many battles, Clarona says to Phraartes that “blood out of your Wounds begins to flow” (sig. I1v), calling to mind Christ's wounds. In the next act, Phraartes returns from an expedition against the Roman forces. He again frees Matthias and brings baskets of provisions: “There I have brought rich plunder for the Crowd. … Go scatter life, throw Souls among 'em all!” (sig. N4r). The parallel with Christ's feeding of the multitude (Matthew 14:13-23; Mark 6:30-46; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:10-13—the only miracle recorded in all four gospels) could not be more apparent.11 The impact of Phraartes' atheism on this characterization is discussed in some detail below.

In spite of Phraartes' heroics, in the end it is Titus who is the triumphant king. As the general is making his way through the vanquished city, Tiberias tells him that an old inscription has been found:

Where it was writ,—One day in Jewish Land
A man shall rise, who shall the World command.
These foolish Slaves apply'd the Gods intent
To their base Nation, which to you was meant.

(sig. O4v)

Tiberias's application of the prophecy to Titus is important, inasmuch as the deliberate misinterpretation of signs and prophecies is such a marked characteristic of the Jews within the play. Further defining the messianic role of Titus, the next few lines evoke images of death, resurrection, and ascension. In his thanksgiving oration to his troops, Titus says that he has “receiv'd the fatal blow” and that he must go to “worlds of glory” where “all joys” will be forever “out of sight.” This last phrase is directly parallel to that in the book of Acts which says that Christ was taken up “out of their sight” (1:9). Thus, Crowne has applied messianic imagery to both Phraartes the atheist and Titus the pagan.12

Beyond these messianic references and allusions, which are scattered throughout the play, most of the apocalyptic imagery is limited to a few scenes, and most of these are found in part 1. There are practical reasons for this: these scenes made great use of various kinds of stage machinery that doubtless required a great amount of time and effort to set up and execute. Of these scenes, act 3 of part 1 contains most of the more spectacular visions. These actually begin in the final lines of act 2, as an unnamed gentleman rushes onto the stage and addresses Phraartes:

Haste, Sir, and see
The stormy Air all fill'd with Prodigy;
A numerous Army in the Skye appears,
And every Troop a bloody Banner bears.
They march along in the Moons timorous light,
Then dive in air and vanish from our sight.

(sig. D3r)

What follows in act 3, scene 1 is a litany of signs and portents, most a mixture of materials drawn from Josephus and from the Apocalypse of John. Those crafted from the latter also generally have antecedents in the Old Testament. It is as though Crowne, clearly possessing an intimate knowledge of Scripture, hoped to reflect the style as well as the content of the book of Revelation, which also makes extensive use of the prophetic language and traditions of the Old Testament.

As the scene opens, Phineas is describing his vision of the “army in the air.” This detail is found in Josephus's account of the siege.13 The closest parallel in the Apocalypse is the heavenly army of divine judgment that returns in glory with Christ at his Second Coming in chapter 19. However, the episode is also an ironic version—especially when one considers the deliberate misreading of the events by Matthias and his followers—of the deliverance of the prophet Elisha from the Syrian king (Ben-Hadad II) recorded in 2 Kings 6. In that instance, the servant of Elisha awoke to discover that the city of Dothan, where the prophet was then living, was surrounded by the Syrian army. Elisha calmed his servant by praying that his eyes might be opened to see that “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” The servant was then allowed to see the heavenly army surrounding the Syrians. In Crowne's play, however, the army of Yahweh is prepared to assault Jerusalem itself, although this is an interpretation that Phineas refuses to make, choosing instead to believe that this is evidence of anarchy and rebellion in “the provinces o'th air.” As noted above, this tendency to misinterpret the apocalyptic signs emerges as a characteristic of both religious factions, those led by Matthias and those led by the usurper John. Even though Matthias, reflecting on the portents, declares, “These divine riddles who can understand?” he himself falls victim to his own attempts at understanding.

Crowne seems to be reflecting the political mood of England's recent history. The 1670s had been marked by rumors of plots of every kind, and therefore even the most harmless of events was held to hint at some great scheme to undo the country and turn it over to its religious and political enemies. The great strength of Catholic France lent a sense of impending danger. The Earl of Shaftesbury, as early as 1674, had publicly stated that he believed a force of sixteen thousand Catholics in and around London were poised to execute a “desperate stroke.”14 Alleged plots led to the “discovery” of stores of Popish books, sinister documents, incriminating letters, and gunpowder being made ready for the rhetorical and physical destruction of country and Parliament. The following year, 1678, would see two lunar and three solar eclipses: astrologers delighted in assigning the most malign of interpretations to these events.15 Crowne would continue to exploit the political tensions of the period in every play that he wrote until the waters calmed in the mid-1680s. Lest we press the analogy too far, however, the dangers facing Jerusalem were real; England's fears were largely imaginary. The real threat, certainly as Crowne saw it, was the threat of political chaos arising within the country itself.

Act 3, scene 1 continues with descriptions of flaming swords, earthquakes, and ominous birds wailing in the night. All of these are common apocalyptic images and make regular appearances in the book of Revelation (“sword” [1:16]; “earthquakes” [16:17-18]; “birds” [12:14]) and, to a lesser extent, the book of Daniel. The focus of the scene, however, is on two divine announcements of judgment: the first delivered by an unnamed Prophet who has been tormenting the city and the second delivered by an angel. The Prophet declares:

A Voice, a Voice—a dreadful Voice is come.
A Voice against our Elders, Priests, and Scribes,
Our City, Temple, and our holy Tribes;
Against the Bridegroom, and the joyful Bride,
And all that in Jerusalem reside.
Woe, woe, woe.—

(sig. D4r)

As was the case with the aerial army earlier in the scene, this episode is drawn directly from the account in Josephus. It comes close to being a direct quotation: “A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the Sanctuary, a voice against bridegrooms and brides, a voice against the whole people. … Woe again to the City, the people, and the Sanctuary.”16 Like the character in Crowne's play, this prophet has been persecuted and tortured. However, the speech also has certain alterations that suggest a prophetic discourse from the New Testament. The first line echoes the preaching of John the Baptist who described himself as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Matt. 3:4), which is itself a quotation from Isaiah 40:3. That final line—“woe, woe, woe”—is a quotation from Revelation 8:13 and is there directed against the doomed inhabitants of the earth. Following several other signs and portents—including a replay of the rending of the temple veil separating the Holy of Holies from the main body of the Temple—an angel appears and reinforces the Prophet's message by pronouncing unambiguous judgment on the city. After this declaration, Matthias and Phineas immediately begin to reinterpret the angel's message and then progress to an outright denial of its clear intent. At the end of the scene, there is a deliberate misreading of the signs and prophecies. Matthias even summons the Sanhedrin to assist him in this reinterpretation: “We'll find what fit constructions there can be / Of this strange sight, and stranger Prophesie.” Note how steadfastly Matthias refuses to see the end of Jerusalem as anything less than the end of the cosmos:

Yes, on these Columns the whole Arch is bent,
This Golden Roof supports the Firmament. …
That to say Heav'n will ruine on us send,
Is to declare the World is at an end;
And Nature is disbanding all her Powers,
Then falls the Temple of the World, and ours.

(sig. E1r)

They are attempting to write their own apocalyptic vision of the end of the world. But it is finally only their own end writ large. Absolutely unable and unwilling to grasp the meaning of the announcement, Matthias concludes, “It must be some illusion then.” Crowne certainly must be credited with a very sophisticated sense of the nature of apocalyptic expectation and disappointment.

In something of a parallel to this scene, part 2, act 5 reveals that the Pharisee John has hired two prophets to declare, on the eve of total destruction, that victory is near. Their message is also filled with biblical references and allusions:

Lift up your heads, ye People! for this hour
Salvation comes, from Heav'n, the seat of Pow'r.
Salvation comes! a flaming Sword she bears!
Woe for partakers with Idolaters!

(sig. O3r)

These two characters are false representations of the two witnesses of Revelation 11 who declared the final doom of Jerusalem—not its coming triumph. One additional apocalyptic reference is worth a brief comment. Amongst the angel's pronouncements is the statement “Thy weeks are finish'd.” The phrase derives from Daniel 9. There, the angel Gabriel has come to explain to Daniel the meaning of his visions. However, the angel also adds to the prophetic utterances the following:

Seventy weeks are determined
For your people and for your holy city,
To finish the transgression,
To make an end of sins,
To make reconciliation for iniquity,
To bring in everlasting righteousness,
To seal up vision and prophecy,
And to anoint the Most Holy.

(Daniel 9:24, AV)

Thus, we can clearly link Crowne's play not simply with Josephus and Suetonious, but also with two of the chief examples of Judeo-Christian apocalyptic literature, Revelation and Daniel. This certainly distinguishes this play from Racine and Otway, whose plays lack anything remotely like this kind of imagery.

Apocalyptic elements are also evident in act 4, scene 1. Again, Crowne mixes material from his historical sources and from the Scriptures to fashion the action. The first spectacle that greets the audience is the drawing of the scene—a technique Crowne had used to good effect in The Countrey Wit (1676)—to reveal the sleeping Sanhedrin. This detail may have been crafted from a similar incident involving sleeping guards in Josephus; Capwell, at least, is convinced of it.17 However, there seems to be a reference, both in the sleeping figures and the dimly burning lamps, to the eschatological parable of the ten virgins in Matthew: “Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept” (25:1-5). The lesson of the parable—“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming”—has clear import for the events of the play, inasmuch as Jerusalem is being destroyed because her messiah, the bridegroom, had come and she was found sleeping.

The final spectacle of this scene is the rising of Herod's ghost. There is no parallel for this in Josephus, nor is there in either of the Jewish apocalypses. Of course, rising ghosts already had become a stock element English stagecraft by this time. There is a single reference in Herod's speech to having “plac'd Esau's chains of slavery” on Jerusalem, derived from the fact that he, as an Idumean, was a descendent of Esau, rather than of Jacob, as were the Jews. Aside from the hiring of the two prophets discussed above, the second part of the play contains little of these apocalyptic spectacles but confines itself rather to the twin tragedies of the doomed lovers: Titus and Berenice, and Phraartes and Clarona. Before turning to these, however, it seems best to consider the other religious and political aspects of the work.

In the epilogue to part 1, Crowne tells us that we should note the parallels between the Pharisees of his play and the “Fanaticks” of his day:

The frantique part of all our Nation too,
Fanaticks, who'll be angry with us all,
For ripping up their base Original;
Shewing their Sires, the Pharisees, from whom
They and their Cheats by long succession come:
Whom they're so like, the diff'rence duly priz'd,
Fanaticks are but Jews uncircumciz'd.

(sig. H1r)

The conflict between the Pharisees, led by John, and the party led by Matthias is set out at the end of act 1. There, John's designs to undermine Matthias within the city and concurrently to betray the city to the Edomites are revealed. It is easy enough to see in these machinations the activities of those who had allied themselves against Charles in the rekindled political firestorm in England. From this point, Crowne uses every appearance of the Pharisees to satirize the politics of that party and their pretense of religion.

The next scene featuring the Pharisees is act 4, scene 1. John begins by spreading the falsehood that Matthias has sold the city out to the Romans—a suggestion that seems to reflect the widespread rumors of the 1670s that Charles was planning an alliance with Catholic France. Of course, he had made something like such an alliance in the secret Treaty of Dover in 1670, but this had not yet become known publicly. John uses this lie to whip his followers into a frenzy. As the tone of the rhetoric rises, Crowne places overt religious references, used in deliberately blasphemous ways, into the mouths of the Pharisees. The first is the cry of Eleazar that he is “thirsty for [the] blood” of his enemies. This is followed immediately by an unnamed Pharisee who declares that “to eat their flesh were holy gluttony”: the blood and body of an unholy communion. Later in the scene, the tools that they will use to force their way into the temple are referred to as “the blessed instrument.” The most obvious blasphemies, however, are their shouted vows as they rush to battle. They swear by Jerusalem, the temple, the altar, and by “Corban.” All of these are a direct violation of Christ's commands. Compare these to Christ's words in Matthew: “But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King” (5.34-35). Similarly, in Matthew 23.16-19,18 we read these words: “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swear by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it’. Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that sanctifies the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gift that is on it, he is obliged to perform it’. Fools and blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that sanctifies the gift?”

The reference to “Corban” is also significant. Christ condemned the Pharisees for refusing to help their aged parents by declaring any money that might have been so used to be Corban—in Hebrew, literally “given to God.” They were in effect denying the spirit of the law by following it to the letter—an apt description of the fanatical party of Crowne's day.19

The final Scriptural reference in the scene is to the rebellion of Corah. John first applies it to Matthias, and then Matthias returns the designation. In Numbers 16 the Levite Corah leads a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. The rebels questioned the leadership of those two and argued for something like republican rule: “Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” They were destroyed when the earth opened up and swallowed them. This incident may also have suggested to Crowne the manner of Phraartes' demise. The burning temple fell on him and led to this description: “Thus down alive into the shades he fell / And, stead of dying, he invaded hell.”

The rebels capture Matthias in act 5, scene 1, and accuse him of crimes against the nation as a prelude to his execution. Among the charges leveled is that Matthias and his followers indulged in both religious and political idolatry: “Rome was the idol which you worship'd here, / Your Dagon, Ashtaroth, and Baal-Peor.” The story of Israel's involvement with Baal-Peor, a Moabite deity, is also recorded in the book of Numbers and includes yet another rebellion against Moses and Aaron. It may also be significant that the names Phineas and Eleazar occur in the same chapter. Inasmuch as Crowne refers to two events from this book, it would seem that he has drawn these names from it as well.20 However, the reference to Rome may have a deeper significance. The political fear of the Catholic Church of Rome was widespread in the 1670s, and it was a particular concern of those allied against Charles and his Catholic brother, James, who was the heir to the throne. Crowne, a dedicated Royalist, could not have chosen a more appropriate historical episode to highlight the anxieties of his political opponents.

The second part of the play is much closer to both Racine's original and Otway's adaptation inasmuch as the focus of the drama shifts to the relationship between Titus and Berenice—or, rather, to the implications of the ending of this relationship. This is, of course, perfectly in line with the apocalyptic theme of part 1. As Titus overlooks Jerusalem21 at the beginning of part 2, little doubt remains that the city will fall to him. Likewise, there is little doubt that he will follow through with his decision to end his relationship with Berenice. In each case, all that remains to be decided is the timing of these actions. In part 1, the outcome appeared to be in doubt. Phraartes seemed to offer a genuine hope that Jerusalem night be able to withstand the Roman army. In the second part, little hope of this success remains, and the inhabitants of the city begin to behave like animals in their despair. The dramatic tension is provided by Titus's struggle to carry out the inevitable. This lends a sense of prolonged foreboding to the play from the outset. The Pharisees and other players within the doomed city remain a conspicuous part of the action; however, this plot line is clearly subordinated to the Titus-Berenice line. It appears that by this stage of his career Crowne had developed a keener sense of the market: he was able to fashion two highly successful plays from a single original.

We note in act 1 the pattern that persists throughout the play: long sequences of dialogue, chiefly between Titus and Berenice or Phraartes and Clarona, interrupted by episodic violence. Early in this act the dialogue is between Titus and Tiberias, who is urging Titus to act, to bring to an end the long siege that has postponed the moment of crisis. He further urges Titus to tell Berenice about his decision to end the relationship. It is clear that these are envisioned as a single act, the destruction both of Jerusalem and of Berenice herself. Act 1 is a single scene: Titus in his tent the morning of the final assault on Jerusalem. Tiberias enters and gets confirmation that the battle will proceed and that Titus has determined to break with Berenice. Tiberias is clearly more bloody-minded and practical than Titus, and he suggests that the prisoners taken early in the battle be crucified into order to terrify those who remain barricaded within the city. By contrast, Titus is inward looking, preparing, in the words of Tiberias, to end his mortal life in order to ascend “new worlds of glory.” Berenice enters but Titus cannot bring himself to tell her. He rushes out into battle, and there is certainly the suggestion that he would rather die than have to make this decision or announce it to her.

The penultimate scene involving the Pharisees reinforces what we have observed regarding their connection with the political party of Crowne's day. Having captured Matthias, John, employing the unadorned language used to refer to Catholic priests, describes him as a “Romish priest.” We also discover another connection to apocalyptic literature in John's urging of Matthias to “Behold the desolations you have made.” The “abomination of desolation” is a phrase used in Daniel (11:31). Most Old Testament scholars agree that this refers to an event that occurred during the invasion of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 b.c.e., when he ordered a statue of Zeus set up in the temple and slaughtered a pig on the altar.22 Christ himself refers to the event in Matthew 24 and recasts the image as a foretaste of calamities to come. The final scene involving the Pharisees—save their silent appearance as Titus's captives near the end of the play—sees John about to kill Matthias. He calls him “the vile Achan”—a reference to the Israelite who took the spoils from Jericho after this had been forbidden by Joshua. This resulted in Israelite defeat during their next battle at the city of Ai. Before the nation could prosper again, Joshua was required to expose and then kill the man and his family. The episode again highlights both the cruelty of the Pharisees and the irony of their own role in the downfall of Jerusalem.

Berenice is featured in the play's fourth act. After Tiberias offers to take the fell news to Berenice that she must part from Titus, the scene changes to her tent. There, Monobazus declares his love for her. Then Antiochus and Malchus enter. Malchus recognizes Monobazus and tells Berenice that it was he who had slain her brother. She orders that he be seized and executed. Before this can be carried out, Tiberias enters with news from Titus. Tiberias's attitude is interesting. He disagrees with the laws (“The Roman laws were made ere I was born”) and wishes that they could be changed: “I wish Rome paid crown'd heads the honour due, / At least from all her laws exempted you.” She spares Monobazus, but he promises to go into the town and die in the final battle. The scene shifts again to Titus's tent where he prepares for the “combat”—Berenice's visit. As Berenice lashes out at Titus, she flings herself down into a chair. She goes out threatening to kill herself. Titus follows, but Tiberias is certain that he will decide in favor of Rome in the end. Crowne thus reiterates the connection and the contrast made by both Racine and Otway between love and duty—a theme to which Crowne returned in his final three tragedies, Darius,Regulus, and Caligula.

Given what we have just discussed, we can propose at least a provisional answer to McGinn's fifth question: what is the purpose of the apocalyptic revelation in The Destruction of Jerusalem? It would appear that Crowne has fashioned this apocalyptic vision with a clear political purpose. Certainly, other examples of apocalyptic literature have a political component. What distinguishes this play from these, however, is its strong prescriptive element. Other apocalypses attempt to comfort the audience by offering hope that beyond the immediate crisis a new age of glory will be ushered in. There is nothing like this sense in Crowne's play—there is no hope for Jerusalem, for the glory has genuinely departed. It would seem that this play is a warning about the consequences of political unrest—a theme to which Crowne would return in his next two plays, The Ambitious Statesman (1679) and The Misery of Civil War (1680).


  1. The London Stage: 1600-1700, ed. W. B. Van Lennep, E. L. Avery, A. H. Scouten, G. W. Stone Jr., and C. B. Hogan 11 vols. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 1960-69), 1:252. It would appear that the play's popularity led to the reprint of Thomas Dekker's Canaan's Calamitie, Jerusalems Misery; and England's Mirror (London: Edward Thomas, 1677).

  2. Richard Capwell, “A Biographical and Critical Study of John Crowne” (Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1964), 214.

  3. Ibid., 221.

  4. For the purpose of this discussion, I will treat parts 1 and 2 as a single work (or, as Crowne suggests in the epilogue to part 1, “damn 'em both now under one”).

  5. It was in fact the production of this play by the Duke's Company that sent Crowne to their rivals at the Theatre Royal. See Capwell “A Biographical and Critical Study,” 57-59, for a full discussion of the legal issues involved.

  6. Quoted in James J. Supple, Racine: Bérénice, Critical Guides to French Texts (London: Grant and Cutler, 1986),10.

  7. Bernard McGinn, “Early Apocalypticism: The Ongoing Debate,” in The Apocalypse in English Renaissance Thought and Literature, ed. C. A. Patrides and Joseph Wittreich (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984), 4.

  8. Brian N. Stiegler, “The Coming of the New Jerusalem: Apocalyptic Vision in Cervantes's La Numanci,Neophilologus 80 (1996): 570.

  9. Klaus Koch, The Rediscovery of Apocalyptic, trans. Margaret Kohl, Studies in Biblical Theology Series 22 (Napierville, Ill.: Alec R. Allenson, 1972), 28-33.

  10. All citations are from John Crowne, The Destruction of Jerusalem by Titus Vespasian: in Two Parts. (London: R. Bentley, 1693). Wing C7386.

  11. It also bears a remarkable similarity to an episode in Cervantes' La Numancia. Morandro makes a foolhardy raid on the Romans who are laying siege to the city. He is mortally wounded in the fight and returns with only a piece of blood-soaked bread (4.1). However, Cervantes' play circulated in manuscript only until a printed edition appeared in the mid-eighteenth century. It seems that Crowne knew something of this play, but this cannot be demonstrated conclusively.

  12. Although, it should be noted that Crowne may have been following the medieval tradition that Titus was, in a sense, the first crusader. See especially the alliterative poem The Destruction of Jerusalem (Cambridge University Library, MS. Mm.V.13-15) where Titus is cured of his cancer (“a canker unclene”) when he expresses his outrage at the treatment of Christ.

  13. Josephus, The Jewish War, trans. G. A. Williamson (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1959), 327; also cited in Capwell, “A Biographical and Critical Study,” 221.

  14. David Ogg, England in the Reign of Charles II (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955), 561.

  15. Ibid., 559.

  16. Josephus, The Jewish War, 327-28.

  17. Ibid., 221.

  18. Interestingly, this chapter immediately precedes Christ's extended eschatological discourse in chap. 24.

  19. Mark 7:9-13.

  20. Capwell suggests that Phineas is an alteration of Josephus's “Phannias.”

  21. This is a parallel to the opening of part 1. There, both Phraartes and Mozambus praise Jerusalem for its beauty and grandeur. In part 2, Titus remarks:

    Yet I would fain this splendid city save.
    Methink it does a noble town appear;
    Gods might forsake their heaven t' inhabit here.


  22. These events are also reflected in I Macc. 1:44-45.