Richard Brome

Start Free Trial

Herbert F. Allen (essay date 1912)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: A Study of the Comedies of Richard Brome: Especially as Representative of Dramatic Decadence, Stanford University Press, 1912, pp. 9-61.

[In the following essay, Allen considers Brome's works “decadent”: while well constructed, they are merely exercises in technique “without content.”]

The word “decadent,” according to the Century Dictionary, signifies a “falling away,” “decaying,” “deteriorating.” It is not surprising, in view of the general character of these terms, that at least two standpoints are taken as to what should be considered decadent in literature. One group of men hold that the term should be applied to all writers in a period which shows a decline from a high standard attained immediately preceding this decline. Those who hold this view say that Ben Jonson, Webster, Middleton, and most of their contemporaries are decadent dramatists, because their work certainly shows a falling away from the standard of Shakespeare. When thus used the word decadent carries with it nothing, or at least very little, that is derogatory. It does, to be sure, imply that a period has not remained at the very highest point, and, usually, that any author of such an age is at least a little below the highest, but it suggests nothing more. A writer to whom the term is thus applied may be, and often is, of greater value than many to whom the term is not applied because their work was produced when the literary movement was rising rather than declining. For example, Jonson is unquestionably a greater figure than any contemporary or predecessor of Shakespeare in the drama, with the possible exception of Marlowe.

Decadent used in the other and more common sense does carry with it a significance decidedly opprobrious and condemnatory. It implies that the traits characteristic of decadence have become so predominant that they have destroyed the harmony essential to any work of real art, have produced results unwholesome rather than wholesome, that the literature to which the term is thus applied bears the same relation to normal literature which a diseased or decaying body bears to one which is healthy and normal.

As the question is one of relative values, there can be no clear or exact line drawn betwen the first and second class. The qualities which are the cause of our condemnation of works falling under the second classification are ordinarily present in works of the first kind, but in somewhat different proportion or connection. The second and narrower meaning of the term is the one which is usually understood when it is applied to schools or periods; it is the one Saintsbury has in mind when he says that Massinger and Ford are the earliest of decadent writers following Shakespeare, and names the year 1620 as the one which showed that a change was clearly under way. It is plain that a period decadent in the second sense must be in the first sense also; that is, the first is the larger and most inclusive use of the term, the second the narrower and more definite. I shall use the word in the more restricted sense, because it is more definite in its implications, and because it can be applied in this sense as well as in the looser one to the works of Richard Brome.

It is a commonplace of criticism that the literature of any period is, in large part, the reflex of the people of that period; is therefore formed or influenced by the political, social and religious conditions of the time. As no two periods are exactly alike in the way these elements are...

(This entire section contains 18723 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

united, it follows that the literature of no two periods to which we can apply the term decadent will be exactly alike. But as the elements of popular life are practically the same at all periods, and differ only in the relative importance and in the manner in which they are related, so the elements present in any decaying literature are apparently the same whenever that period occurs, but show at one time one element more conspiciously, at another time a different one. We will first consider what these elements are, then try to point out which of these was most important in the age we are to deal with, and to suggest the reasons therefor.

One of the most prominent characteristic of decaying literature is strained or forced “originality.” This last word needs explanation. The author of the Biographia Dramatica, speaking of Brome says: “His plots are all his own”; yet Ward tells us, “Originality was by no means the note of honest Dick Brome.” W. T. Price says, “Originality is usually but another name for artificiality, marking the point of departure from simple nature and every day life.1 No one would dream of saying that Shakespeare's plots “are all his own”; in fact Schelling tells us that “Love's Labor's Lost” is the only one of Shakespeare's works for whose plot the author was really responsible; yet we look upon him as being one of the most original of authors. The confusion is the result of the double use of the word. The creator of Falstaff and Cordelia and the inventor of the last ingeniously complex short-story are both said to be “very original.” In one case we see the result of what appears to be a free creative impulse, in the other the outcome of labored contrivance. The difference is nearly the same as that between creation and invention. The first is the distinguishing mark of a great epoch, the second one of the traits of a declining one.

The reasons for this are not far to seek. The glory and often wealth which are the rewards of the great authors inevitably attract many men of talent who, had not such brilliant examples of literary success been immediately before their eyes, would have turned their energies in some other direction. These men, feeling or finding that strong creative power is not theirs, turn involuntarily to some other means of attracting attention and winning popular applause. The surest method in such a period is the presentation of something unique. This is especially true of the drama, which must appeal constantly and directly to the people. The stock of plots and the range of incident is soon exhausted, and after a time even though the plot is adorned by poetic expression and made living by vital characters the ever-living desire for novelty and change becomes insistent. This demand for matters new and strange was bound to be made very soon by the Elizabethan, prone as he always was to excitement and action, full of that curiosity as to many things which was his heritage from the Renaissance.

The really great poet, keeping true to the higher reality, may for a time control such a demand by the magic of genius or the power of his name; he may be ignored by the people, and live to see new idols apparently take his place. The new author, often not a genius, and if he is working in an environment comparatively less helpful to the growth of poetic power, is likely to consult at once his own capacity and the popular desire, and spend his energy in efforts to startle by strangeness; or to interest minds somewhat weary of contemplating eternal law by propounding the darker and more doubtful riddles of life to which one can hardly return an answer, from which the really healthy mind usually turns away. This is one explanation of such works as “'Tis Pity She's a Whore,” “The Broken Heart,” and “The Revenger's Tragedy.”

A poet who is not gifted with an exquisite sense of the harmony of things, of the real truth and sanity of life, or who gives himself up to clever invention and exaggeration, is almost without restraint, and is almost certain to go farther and farther afield. If his invention fails or his conscience at last intervenes, there are always others to take up his work and carry it on. It is the same with a people who have become accustomed to such plays. They demand that the fantastic be more and more grotesque, the awful more horrible, the odd continually more peculiar. Thus author and audience encourage each other to destruction. The twenty-five years following the death of Shakespeare marks such an accelerating movement in certain lines.

The appearance of strain and artificiality in plot, theme and incident which often results from the feverish effort to furnish something new, is paralleled in the characters and setting. The dramatist devoted primarily to invention is likely, it is true, to be somewhat careless as to his characters, to use the time-worn types with little change, and to give them no individuality; but it is certain to occur to him at length that the desire for the odd or abnormal can be gratified as well in characters as in plot. Moreover, his plots will at times imperiously demand impossible or terrible characters, in order that the action may be carried on with any appearance of plausibility. The close connection existing between style and content, plot and character, makes it always probable that a fundamental strength or weakness which affects one element will have some influence on the others. The characters may be merely peculiar or freakish, as we find them in Dickens for instance, or they may be gross exaggerations of good or evil. The first class is more frequent and less objectionable, indeed often amusing in a way, in comedy; the second finds its place in tragedy. Such monsters as the father in “The Unnatural Combat,” who kills his son and has a guilty passion for his daughter, and Ford's terrible heroine, Annabella,2 are equalled by such grotesque prodigies of virtue as Calantha3 and Dorothea.4 Where plot and characters are alike forced and fantastic, the whole atmosphere of the play is usually mephitic. It is not to be denied that plays of this character may be, and often are, very powerful. There are plays of Ford and Webster which grip the feelings as terribly as anything in literature. The trouble is they merely move and excite. The exaltation which should result from the contemplation of a great work of art, which should follow the “pity and fear” aroused by great tragedy, does not come. The man is apt rather to be more confused, less harmonious, less conscious of the real values of life than before. The feelings are moved but the intellect is not convinced, the will is not stirred to action.

It is not, of course, asserted that this characterization applies to all the plays of the period. In many of them this tendency toward the diseased is shown only in an occasional scene or character, or in an inclination to brood upon the illicit or unclean. In many the tendency is not discernible. It is, nevertheless, one of the distinguishing marks of the period,—something which one learns to expect, if not to take for granted.

Imitation is often said to be a distinguishing mark of a period of literary decadence. This is true if taken in the right sense. If mere bold imitation,—which is borrowing, disguised thinly or not at all,—is what one has in mind, then it can be said at once, I think, that it is not especially characteristic of such a period. The greatest poets have ever been noted for the frank and open way in which they have taken their own wherever they have found it. Milton imitated with loving care the epic forms consecrated by Homer and Virgil. Shakespeare in his plots did not always even take the trouble to imitate the plots of others and often threw the magic of his poetry over the structure left him by history. Ben Jonson's plays sometimes seem merely a marvelous mosaic of scenes, characters, even speeches, frome Plautus, Terence, Horace, Virgil and many another. One of the most fascinating of literary studies is to trace such a story as that of Tristan and Isolde, or Troilus and Cressida, or Romeo and Juliet down through the ages, to see how it was treated by poet after poet, how little was added by each, and yet how, by subtle touches, each true poet made it his own and gave it a new and different power and value. But nothing is more fatal to a writer who is not a great or true poet than this kind of imitation. The strength of the material, the associations which it suggests, demand strength, energy, creative power; if this is not at hand the material remains unchanged, the larceny stands confessed and unexcused.

It may be, as has sometimes been suggested, that there is a sort of implicit antipathy between the power which loves to create plot, incident, typical characters,—the things which can be easily imitated,—and the power which delights to lose itself in the creation of characters which are individual, the expression of enduring ideas, the singing of songs whose witchery is as deathless as it is inimitable. It is more probable that men possessed of this creative power feel that the more inventive activity is less important, and do not care to task their genius with both when in the less important part they can avail themselves of the labors of other men who have long been dead or who can not or do not care to do the more difficult work.

To the average uncultivated or superficially cultivated mind the “plot's the thing,”—it is the touchstone, that by which the story or play stands or falls. If characters or style is taken into account, it is for the broader, coarser, more obvious features. For the delicate shading of character, the jewel-like perfection of scenes or acts, for haunting rhythm, the qualities which differentiate the great play or poem from the commonplace production, the man in the street, or the boy in the gallery cares little. The perception of these beauties demands both a trained mind and some study. Neither boy nor man has the former; the study he has not time to give, even if he wished to do so. But the ordinary man is quick to condemn the play or story whose plot or characterization, in the more obvious lines, seems to him similar or identical with the same features in some other story or play. Never is he more naïvely charmed with his own sagacity and discernment than he is when he detects some writer, great or small, in this act of apparent theft. There are many reasons for this. If a man cannot see the real though less obvious marks of differentiation, for him the two stories or plays may be wonderfully, suspiciously alike. We all have, too, a certain pleasure in detecting likenesses, in solving riddles. We have also, it must be confessed, a sneaking pleasure in discovering another in wrong doing, especially if we think that he is trying hard to remain undiscovered, to deceive the world, including our acute selves. For the writer, then, especially the playwright, who must depend for his success upon the general public, it is very necessary that he shall not be, at least openly, imitative in those broad and conspicuous features which it is the easiest to imitate as well as to detect. He must be at least superficially original, however little real originality he has. If he can bring a horse race upon the stage, as was done, it is said, in the production of Shirley's “Hyde Park,” have real mermaids dive into a tank, or exhibit a death scene in a submarine boat, great indeed is his reward.

The writer, then, anxious for applause, who knows his public and is wise in his generation, imitates far too subtly to be easily discovered.

A well known buyer of short stories advises those who desire to write fiction of this kind to prepare themselves for each story in a very definite way. The writer should first get clearly in mind the kind of story he wishes to write, and, ordinarily, the magazine, at least the type of magazine, to which he wishes to sell it. Then, if he wishes to write a Munsey story, let us say, let him read Munsey stories until he is thoroughly saturated with the plots, characters, style, of this kind of story. When this point is reached the story he writes is likely to be after the fashion of those he has just read. With practice a man fairly gifted with this peculiar power of absorption can turn out stories of almost any kind, if he has a reasonable amount of time for preparation. It is true that literature of any high grade is rarely produced in this way, but, on the other hand, work that is at least salable is very likely to result. The method is a fairly safe one. It is sometimes practically forced on the writer by the insistence of the magazine or of the public on work of a certain kind. Most authors must adapt themselves to public demands; only the genius, and often not even he, can force the public to accept what he thinks best to give;—only the man of wealth can wait. The habit of writing in this fashion, like all other habits, has its reward and exacts its penalty; the easier it becomes to write in this way, the less able is the writer to depend on any creative power which he may once have had. The number of men who can do this kind of work is astonishingly large. If the dialect story comes into vogue, we soon see an army of stories of this kind written by men who can do the work passably well. The same thing seems to have been true among the playwrights of the age of Shakespeare and of the decades following his death. Let the Fortune produce a very successful play of a certain kind and in a few weeks, perhaps even days, its rivals showed something surprisingly like it. Shirley was famed for this ability to take a successful play and, without imitating it directly, produce another startlingly similar.

Of course care must be taken that the watchful reader or auditor cannot see any direct imitation; but this matter in part takes care of itself automatically. The characters at once tend to become very generalized types and, denuded of any characterizing marks, become like not one other character, but like a vast number of others. The plot becomes similarly generalized; the incidents given have been used before by many writers. In essentials the story has been told before numberless times. How, then, shall the reader or onlooker be amused? The writer before referred to tells us at once: something original must be given. If the story has become wearisome, put it in a new environment, locate it in a submarine boat or an air-ship, in Patagonia or Timbuctoo; if the comic character has been an aunt, make it an uncle or a servant. By some such means one can gain, at least in the minds of the less thoughtful, the reputation for being decently original when really entirely imitative. It is hard to see how such a condition of affairs can be avoided, particularly in an age ever demanding what is new or seems so. When Shakespeare and Jonson wrote the long runs of modern theatres were unknown; every week or two a new play must be had. Of course old plays which had succeeded could occasionally be presented again; but with an audience which went to a play much as many of us read novels today, for the sake of the story, this could not be done frequently. Moreover, plays were in that day read as we read stories, as may be seen by the tricks used to get plays successful on the stage for pirated publication. When they were once published and curiosity could be easily satisfied, further presentation on the stage was not likely for some time to prove profitable. Under such circumstances it is in no way surprising that absorption and assimiliation should take the place of creative work.

When such incessant demands are made another result is often seen. A man who makes a success in a certain particular way, with a play or novel of a certain variety, is tempted, especially if his talent is limited or not easily bent to various forms, to try to repeat his success with more plays or stories which are little different from his first effort. Every year we see books of this kind, the thirtieth novel which is so little different from its twenty-nine predecessors. The fact of stage presentation to a mixed audience makes this kind of repetition, or self-absorption, less safe or common with the play than with the novel, because the latter may appeal to a small but certain audience. Some of the playwrights of the period under discussion, notably Brome and Shirley, did, nevertheless, show this trait of self-repetition to a marked degree.

The imitation which is the result or attendant of absorption may be, and often is, entirely unconscious. The man who is dowered with a mind fitted for doing it, and who constantly reads fiction or sees plays, can hardly help producing what he has taken in, though in a form which seems perhaps his own. He may see the likeness and try to eliminate it. In sophisticated ages, when work of this class is common, if the critic says, “This character owes something to Mosca; this scene reminds me of one in Webster,” the wise author is able to say: “But it is not the same; here is a trait which Mosca never had; this scene has a turn far different from that one which you have in mind”; and the critic, forced to acknowledge this, stands silent but unconvinced. Since this is true, since the author so carefully avoids anything which suggests copying, imitation of this indirect nature is much harder to identify decisively, to put one's finger upon, than that of a more direct kind. It is often disclosed more in the general atmosphere of the work than in any particular feature. It is seen, as has been said, in the author's tendency to follow a fashion, to constantly appeal to popular prejudice or opinion. It is noticeable at times in the constant use of character types, plot forms, situations, consecrated by service and to which the people are accustomed. It is suggested by a protean as well as by an unchanging style. It is in every literary age in greater or less degree, but is only to be pointed out as a sign of decadence when it is more powerful and important than what creative work there may be. Then it shows that the time for the change, or the destruction of the form of art of which it has taken possession, is not far distant.

The reason for that exaltation of and dependence on technique, which is commonly seen in periods of literary decadence is much the same as those which explain the tendency toward indirect imitation. The great themes and ideas especially expressive of the period have been often used. George Polti has shown that there are but thirty-six dramatic situations;5 apparently not nearly all of these are available. Any really new situation, then, is hardly to be thought of. It is frequently true that the great poets of a creative period, perhaps depending on the power of their message, or, like Shakespeare, seemingly unconscious of the work they are doing, are very careless as to the niceties of structure and technique. They are sometimes dealing with a form that is new, or unknown to that period, whose laws and practice are not formulated. This shows itself frequently in ragged ends, in minor mistakes, occasionally in great ones. But as soon as the literary form becomes fairly fixed and its boundaries are settled with reasonable definiteness, a careful study of it begins. This may be philosophical, but is likely at first to be mainly empirical. The careful observer notes that certain modes of treatment, particular ways of using scene or situation, are acceptable while others are not. He adopts those which succeed, and substitutes for the devices which do not satisfy one thing after another, until he finds something which is satisfactory. The new method of treatment at once becomes part of the technique of the play or the novel. He sees, too, that a very little thing, a few lines out of character, an awkward situation, may be enough to condemn a play, especially if it is not at bottom a really original one, a great work of art; and so he is driven in self-defense to take every possible precaution, to scan every line and scene with the utmost care, to watch anxiously the work of others who are succeeding. When the author sees that the boundaries are carefully fixed, he has more time to cultivate the plot of ground which is his, he has more time to give to details.

It is clear that a knowledge of and a skill in technique can be acquired by many mediocre and non-creative minds. It has even a deep fascination for many minds not only of this kind but of a much higher order. Many a man has the same joy in giving a perfect finish to his work that the lapidary has in seeing the diamond appear in beauty under his hand. It is, too, a thing which can be learned, which like the lapidary's trade can be gained by many men if they will but give to it sufficient time and effort. The fact that many whose greatest endowment is this technical skill gain a reasonable degree of popular approval encourages numbers to try to do the same. Thus the public is offered many works whose construction and form are of high grade. Trained by its servants, the public in turn comes to demand great perfection of form; and at length, among races especially inclined to develop and admire formal beauty, as the ancient Greeks and the French, we see societies which see and admire the most subtle points of technique, and condemn any carelessness in this particular.

In the qualities which are largely the result of an assured technique, smoothness and ease of development, the unity which results from an action without episodes and unnecessary scenes and from a skillful joining of scene to scene, clearness of apprehension in the mind of the observer, the result of careful and discreet preparation on the part of the author,—in all these qualities many of the immediate successors of Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Jonson easily equalled them. It is noteworthy that in a recent volumne which discusses dramatic technique in great detail, only one work previous to the nineteenth century was taken to illustrate perfection of technique, and that was Massinger's, “A New Way to Pay Old Debts.” The example was a happy one; but Brome and Shirley have some plays which, light and mechanical though they are, seem nearly irreproachable in this particular. The forgetfulness which has been their fate emphasizes the danger of paying attention too exclusively to this side of the playwright's business. Many of the modern French makers of plays show how easy it is to attain a tremendous temporary popularity with plays almost without value but which have the brilliancy which so often accompanies flawless form. This popular applause has at least two unfortunate results: it attracts many imitators, and tends to cast discredit on some plays of greater value.

There is no intention, of course, to depreciate the form side of literature. The greatest ideas and emotions ill-expressed, awkwardly or darkly presented, can hardly be called literature. It seems plain, on the other hand, that an excessive devotion to matters of technique shows a literature not of the highest quality, since from it harmony has departed. Its obvious necessity and the apparently easy victories it often obtains, not only lead to an overestimate of its importance but help to bring about many unsatisfactory conditions.

These conditions have been implied in which has been said; but it may be well to be more specific. One of these is the rule of recipes rather than of principles. The distinction is an important one, but not easy to express exactly. It is seen in the work of such men as Jonson or Corneille on the one side, and their followers, or some of them, on the other. Jonson, whatever his successes or failures, knew well the broad principles on which the great drama is based, though he did not see all of them, those in particular which govern the romantic drama; but many of his followers who knew well how to write a play had no conception, so far as can be seen, as to why they wrote it as they did. They knew that the formula they applied brought success, at least for a time and of a kind. What they did not know was how the formula was derived. This some of them did not seem to care to know.

It appears to happen often that the man of great creative power does not know in any definite or precise way the laws which govern the work which he produces. He may know or feel in some mysterious way that certain things cannot be done,—sees an error when it is made. If he is a genius, this instinct must be his. On the other hand, he may know well the principles which govern his work,—he may follow them quite consciously. Either type of man may be able to put into the form of formulae the principles which govern his work. When we have men who have the formulae only in mind, then there is danger. Plainly, new fields cannot be conquered by such men; if new conditions arise which in part invalidate the rules with which they have worked or to which those rules do not readily apply, then they are helpless. They cannot build up a new technique, because they do not know the principles of which their old rules were merely a specialized expression. Cases of this kind are common,—men who fall by the way and get out of tune with the times because their one real possession is an ability to use dexterously a certain set of rules which cannot be readily fitted to new conditions.

The natural tendency of such men is, of course, to oppose, so far as lies in their power, the growth of such, for them, untoward conditions. This helps to produce uniformity of production, to continue long the reign of fixed types. The more conservative part of the public, always worried by anything really original, helps to maintain this narrow circle of forms after it has once been established. The methods and formulae being clear and not very difficult to grasp, their success being sure, the young man will, unless by nature a pronounced radical, accept and use them. If he does not he runs the risk of being crushed by the combined strength of critic and public: “Every warbler has his tune by heart.” An age such as that which followed the death of Pope, with its narrow round of permissible subjects and the large fields left uncultivated because considered unfitted for literary treatment, exemplifies this state of affairs. It was seen in the drama produced from 1620 to 1650. The chronicle-history play had gradually become a thing of the past, with only an occasional exception, such as “Perkin Warbeck.” The romantic comedy, or rather what passed under that name, was still produced, but it had lost the gay insouciance which once marked it. Its happy maids and youths no longer “fleeted the time carelessly” under the greewood tree. That class of play, to which the name tragi-comedy has been given, was “lord of the ascendant,” with the more realistic type of the comedy of “humors” as its main rival.

The more time and attention is given to the more technical and mechanical side of the drama, the less, obviously, can be given to the content of the play. So great and so exacting are the demands of drama that only genius of the supremest quality seems able to unite the two harmoniously; for the smaller men it is merely a question as to which side shall be the less neglected. The English temper, never strongly bent toward the formal side of art, has never produced anything at once so dexterous and so empty as some modern French plays; plays whose legerdemain charms for a moment by its weird perfection. The English weakness has been the opposite one,—a wealth of content whose real worth was obscured because not skilfully and effectually embodied. This was never more apparent than in the days of Shakespeare. But a change gradually took place. The successors of the earlier leaders, with far fewer ideas and really dramatic themes, with much less material, wrote many more plays. But two results could be possible: either the plays must be much thinner, or the same material must be used over and over again. Both results are plainly discernible.

As has been suggested, a vast but subtle imitation and adaptation took place. Professor Schelling has pointed out in speaking of Wilson, the writer of comedies, that his scenes can be traced with the greatest ease to many other men; but adds that this was in all probability merely the use of material already worn threadbare by repeated use,—something which was considered public property. As a consequence the individual play, if taken alone and read by one not familiar with the work of the period, may seem far from empty; but if he reads a number, by one author or by several, he soon sees that the sum total is but small. The matter was not helped by the efforts of such men as Ford to invent new dramatic material, for many of the things they added were negative rather than positive,—tended to destroy or obscure truth rather than to increase or illuminate it. Conversation for its own sake, scenes of deep emotion which confuse rather than clarify the soul, activities which come to an end rather than to a conclusion, are painfully common.

The authors of the period seem to have unconsciously acted according to the doctrine that anything can be treated by the artist if only the treatment be good; that truth can be readily disregarded,—is of little importance. As they had probably not thought out the matter, they did not see, apparently, that, even accepting this doctrine as sound, it may be added as a proposition of equal validity that no amount of artistry can make certain themes worth the pains spent upon them. This was the prime mistake of several men of talent, industry, or poetic power. No amount of skill can make such matters as are treated in “Holland's Leaguer” or “The Unnatural Combat” really worth while.

This lack of content is of course not wholly due to the absorption of the authors of the time in technique; it is probably due in large part to the fact that the stirring questions of the hour were practically forbidden them. The time was one of intense political and religious warfare. Steadily day by day, year by year, Puritan and Churchman, kingsman and parliamentarian, were becoming more clearly marked, more widely separated. The nation was no longer harmonious. The dramatic and absorbing events of the hour, one would think, could have served as themes for a vital and compelling drama. They did not. The reasons why they did not were probably two: A drama could hardly be written on such themes without being in a sense partisan, and this would mean that a vast body of the citizens would be insulted and outraged. The ridicule of the Puritans, which adds so much to the humor of “Bartholomew Fair,” under Charles the First, prevented its frequent appearance.6 The wise dramatists would not be likely to use a subject which would arouse intense opposition, and practically all subjects of great interest at the time were of this nature.

There was a more specific reason why such subjects were taboo. When Middleton's “Game of Chess” had in 1624 brought the king of Spain upon the stage in an unfavorable light, the government, though at that time not on the best of terms with Spain, had at once forced the discontinuance of the play. Plays which referred to domestic politics were edited or suppressed; quite capriciously, it is true, but often enough to make the author who wished to avoid the jail and be paid for his labor very wary in political reference.7 Brome, with his usual anxiety to stand well with his public, says:

“His familiar mirth's as good
As if h'had writ strong lines, and had the fate,
Of other fools for meddling with the State.”(8)

In another place he promises

“To utter nothing may be understood
Offensive to the state, manners or time” …(9)

When references to foreign or to domestic politics were intended they were surprisingly allusive. Perhaps this is the reason we see so few; the spectators, more familiar with the personal and intimate side of the politics of the period than we, may have seen many more.

The man whose strength lies in technique will naturally be unwilling to handle great themes, for if he succeeds in giving them anything like adequate treatment the theme will at once attract attention, and thus divert it from the form which the author prides himself upon. If, as is most likely to be the case, the treatment is comparatively inadequate, it is sure to make the failure of the technique to measure up to the idea painfully conspicuous; for few things are more annoying than to see a mighty passion apparently produced and accompanied by the tricks and turns, the stage-wizardry, which seem at least inoffensive when used to advance a “show,” our interest in which ends with the fall of the curtain. What has been said implies that mediocrity is fostered by over-devotion to the form side. If a play does not have much substance, but that little is skilfully presented, it will certainly not belong to the lowest order of plays. Great interest in the mechanics of the play, a strong tendency to make every subject conform to a fairly rigid set of rules, is not only quite certain to cramp and distort a very powerful theme, but will usually discourage the author from choosing a subject whose molten strength may burst his mould. The formula once fairly complete and satisfactory, it can be applied with the certainty of reasonable success by any craftsman who knows his business. The difference between “Titus Andronicus” or “Pericles” and “King Lear,” between “The Alchemist” and “The New Inn,” between the worst and the best work of Marlowe, is a tremendous one. The work of many of their successors, whose plays, too, are not entirely contemptible, is notable for its singular uniformity.

Immorality, though often seen in a literary period not distinctly decadent, seems almost always an accompaniment of such a period. Schiller has indicated the reason for this.10 He says that as the great “sentimental” or romantic poets are likely at times to be guilty of ecstacies, wild imaginings, so naïve poets, those who picture life as they see it, are likely to be at times flat,coarse, immoral. In each case their admirers or imitators will often push these casual traits into very exaggerated forms. What in the master was a small part of the picture will be expanded into a complete one, or will be made vastly more pronounced. The excuse will be given that this is found in the great artists. The guilty one will be apparently unaware that what a poet can do a man who is not a poet may be debarred from doing. It is plain that the more realistic writer who aims to portray life in any large and true way can hardly avoid showing us at times scenes which are in themselves coarse or immoral. These things are a part of life, and any description of life which claimed to be at all complete would have to show them, otherwise it would be no true description, for it would lack an important element. The great artist, sane and far-seeing, will give such material its place, but will see, else he is no true artist, that it is not the great feature of life. The smaller man, or the man less normal, with clouded vision, is very likely to take for his theme an incident immoral in itself, or to make the whole atmosphere of his work such as is only found in the stews. He is misleading and untrue, because he makes that which is subordinate, predominant.

Had Schiller written with the age of Shakespeare in mind, he could not have changed his statements in any way. In the great poets of this time coarseness is common; a scene immoral or suggestive of licentiousness is occasionally to be met with; but in no case, I think, is flagrant immorality the poet's theme. With their successors there is a change,—adultery or incest form the basis of many plays. In such a play as “'Tis Pity …” the author clearly sympathizes with the guilty brother and sister, subtly suggests all possible palliation and excuse, claims our pity rather than our condemnation, and this in spite of the fact that he has shown no ground on which pity could legitimately be based.

There is a difference between coarseness and immorality. The former is more than the latter a matter of the customs of the time; it is, too, frequently a matter of speech; what is the language of all classes and of common usage at one age, is considered indelicate and is heard only among the vulgar a few years later. Scenes and matters which are referred to or shown without shame become taboo. Comedy, because of its more realistic character, is much more likely to be coarse than tragedy or tragi-comedy. This is seen in the comic parts of Shakespeare and Jonson. Coarseness and immorality have a close connection, but they do not invariably accompany each other. Shakespeare has much coarseness, while some of the plays of his successors whose themes are repulsively indecent have hardly a word to which objection could be taken. In realistic comedy the two are commonly united.

In the matter of immorality in the drama there are of course degrees. It may be, as has been suggested, a merely casual and incidental thing, something which is not vital to the story, though necessary in an indirect way. We may regret that it is necessary, but we regret it only because we lament the existence of such things; we do not condemn the poet for using them, so long as he uses them in this manner.

When, however, the play by reason of its plot, its characters, its atmosphere, perchance its very location, gives us over to the frankly or covertly immoral, we feel at once that the author who produced it is not entirely normal; if we find that such work is common with him, is characteristic of the age, we say that both show one sign at least of decay; though our condemnation may be much modified by brilliancy of dialogue, poetic power, or skilful technical treatment. If we are told that a drama of this nature reflects truthfully some section of society, as may be said of the Restoration drama, the answer is clear. If it represents but one class of society, it can hardly claim to be a truthful picture of the time, cannot lay claim to the high virtue of being national.

Where such a drama is found we can never be free from the suspicion that the author wrote as he did, in part at least, to attract the applause and favor of those who at all times are strongly drawn by anything licentious. This does not necessarily imply that the author is any better or has any higher ideals than those to whom he is catering,—the supposition should always be that he is not. If he is a man of low character, writes in such a way as merely to reflect his own evil traits, and is received with applause and allowed to stand as representative of his time, we are justified in concluding that the age is of such a nature that nothing of the highest character could come from it. No literature shows, I think, any period of darkness unrelieved; the years from 1606 or a little before that date, to 1642 do show a great change in this particular. There are few plays more loathsome or sewerlike than “The Revenger's Tragedy,” printed in 1607; but the tendency to apologize for and excuse lust and crime appears to increase,—certainly it became much more usual to depict scenes of the grosser kind.

We do not feel that the lowest note is ever struck among the authors of this time; that is to say, we do not feel that the writer has deliberately sought to win applause by the use of indecencies which he himself condemns, which are foreign to his nature. We do feel something quite as depressing that it was only in such scenes that some of the authors of this period felt really at home.

We know that many poets not long dead,—Greene, Peele, Marlowe,—led lives as irregular as those of their successors twenty years later could possibly have been, yet few signs of this are to be noted in the dramas they have left us. A higher and truer sense of their duty as artists, or the nature of their public, saved them. While the tendency toward immorality is discernible apparently in all decadent literature, there is an obvious reason why it should be apparent at this time. That reason is the general absence of the Puritans from the theater. However narrow they may have been, however blind they were to artistic beauty, they possessed the qualities which could have kept the drama from excesses such as it showed. Their absence meant that the theater was left in the hands of the lower classes, to whom coarseness is always palatable and licentiousness rarely displeasing; and of the aristocracy, to whom, in that day at least, the indecent was not objectionable. The attitude of the Puritans was, however, only one cause of the moral decay of the stage, and it was partly negative,—it merely allowed certain strong tendencies the opportunity to show themselves clearly. As has been said, the increasing devotion to technique led to a disregard of the subject treated. At the same time the desire for new themes to attract the jaded playgoers encouraged incursions into fields hitherto untrod. This was a main reason for the use of immoral plots, persons and scenes. That love of the beautiful which is so intense as to lead to a disregard of the ethical, that delicate sensitiveness which amounts to a disease and which is met with in civilizations of great age and in races tending to decay, are not met with in the drama of this period, do not serve to explain the moral laxness of this stage.

No rank of society is wholly free from the implied accusation of immorality. The tragedies with their scenes of secret intrigue, murder and destroying lust were usually located in Italy, whose dark and secret horrors, poisonings, sudden deaths, seem to have attracted the imaginations of the poets; but an audience eagerly discussing the shameless divorce and marriage of Lady Essex, the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury, and other scandals little less open, could hardly have failed to make a local application. The middle and lower classes were of course represented in the comedies, and the picture, though less horrifying, is no less disgusting.

The tendency toward eclecticism which marks some decadent periods was not particularly characteristic of this, though present in some degree in the two forms which it may assume. Strictly speaking only one of these forms can be said to be a mark of decadence. As has been pointed out above, forms of literature long established tend to become fixed and hardened,—it becomes very difficult to use them except in the way settled by criticism and custom. This Egyptian art is certain to become wearisome, and men desirous of giving variety to their work will try to combine features of different classes. The result is, in most cases, that they merely succeed in grafting certain twigs or branches on a trunk which is unchanged. There is no blending of forms, but a forcible and artificial transference of certain features of one to another. The result is increased confusion,—less inner harmony than before. This failure may be caused by intractable material; it is often brought about by a lack of the creative power in the author. He is not able to melt the different masses in the glow of his imagination so that they will mix and mingle, and result in something different in its characteristics from either of the original substances.

When this real union is brought about the product may still be eclectic, we may still be able to see or feel, though not in a very exact way, the kinds of material which went to form it, but it is an eclecticism wholly different from the artificial kind first described. The fusing of forms thus brought about often leads, in time, when clarified and given time to show its real nature, to some new type of literature, or some new development of an old type, which is the crowning feature of a new age. With the mechanical union nothing of this sort happens. It leads to nothing unless it be an imitation of itself. It is, when common, one mark of a period of decay. The second type distinguishes a transition period. In such a period, when it is past, one can see plainly the promise of “the days that are to be”; in a decadent period it is hard to see such promise; an entire decay of the old forms or their destruction or suspension by war, invasion, or some event, such as the closing of the theaters in 1642, must come to give the coup de grace to the out-worn models so that the imagination can start on another creative career comparatively unhampered.

In this particular case such a destructive stroke was given, so we can never say with absolute certainty that had it not come the age would have gone from its bad estate to a yet worse one; we cannot affirm that it would not have proven transitional. A new drama or some other strong literary genus might have appeared. We can say that the age showed the marks of decay which we have enumerated, that it grew plainly worse as the years went by, that the signs of transition to a new and better state were very few and sadly far between. Eclecticism, of either kind mentioned, was not particularly common during this time, though by no means absent.

Strain, subtle imitation, immorality, and over-devotion to technical detail were the conspicuous features. Strain was naturally most common in tragedy, devotion to technique and imitation in comedy, immorality was as frequent and well-nigh as gross in the former as in the latter.

Richard Brome represents more completely than any other man, I think, the qualities and tendencies of the drama during the period under discussion. He wrote about twenty plays, fifteen of which we have; enough to give us a broad view of the two types of play most popular at the time, romantic tragi-comedy and the realistic comedy based on the comedy of “humours.” His plays are the kind the people liked. The statements prefixed to the plays when they were afterward published, the commendatory verses which precede many of the plays and are from the hands of distinguished men, the rapidity with which play followed play, the testimonials of other men brought out casually in relation to other matters, all prove Brome to have been a popular playwright.

Many circumstances combined to make it antecedently probable that Brome would be one of the representative figures of his age if he wrote at all. When he was born we do not know, but he was a “servant” to Ben Jonson in 1614. He was alive in 165211 and dead in 1653.12 In the prologue to “The Court Beggar,” acted in 1632, he speaks of himself as being “full of age and care”; but Shakespeare when still in the thirties speaks of himself as being old; it seems to have been one of the literary conventions of the times, and not to be taken very seriously. It is very probable, though not certain, that he reached manhood about the time when the stage was at its highest point. He lived through the whole period of its decline.

As a playwright, he was a man of talent, not of genius. No man without talent in this line could have written plays so well constructed, so strong technically as his; no dramatist of genius would have presented plays so lacking in poetry13 both in conception and in style. The plays impress one as being of the kind that could easily win favor for a time, but by reason of lack of both content and brilliancy of humor could hardly deserve lasting fame.

Brome was, so far as we can see, a man of small education. His position as servant would lead us to expect this, and his works seem to confirm it. He seems to have known some Latin, for it is made use of occasionally in various ways. He does not appear to have been really conversant with classic literature, for the constant allusion to classic mythology and ancient history which is so common a feature in the work of almost all his contemporaries is not seen in his plays, although such allusions are not entirely absent. In his realistic plays, this is not surprising, but it is remarkable that it should be so little noticeable in the more romantic comedies. He may have known some German, probably some French, in a day when everyone knew French; apparently no Italian. He never impresses one as being at all scholarly. The one thing he probably knew well was the dramatic literature of the period. Lack of education was certainly no bar to greatness in the drama, but when combined with abilities far from the highest it would naturally lead, then as now, to a devotion too great and slavish to the fashions of the hour, to a narrowing devotion to a few classes of plays. I know of no author of the period who wrote as many plays as he and attemped as few varieties.

He was, too, a poor man. His position as Jonson's “man” proves this. He gives testimony to the same effect when he says frankly that he is writing for money,14 and when he becomes angry because some other playwright had given money, probably indirectly by furnishing gorgeous costumes and scenery, to have his play produced. An action likely to injure the income of poorer authors.

Brome marks himself as representative of the time when he follows Ben Jonson. Not that all the playwrights of the period were numbered among the “sons of Ben,” though probably a majority of the more distinguished were; but Jonson gave to the period a great part of its most important tendencies, he started it on the course. Shakespeare was, it is true, a far more powerful force in tragedy than was Jonson, but tragedy was written less and less, while comedy, either “humorous” or tragi-comic, was more and more popular.

It may be said, moreover, that the prevalence of discipleship is a common mark of a decadent period. Just as weak men like to lean on laws and customs, so weak men, or even men of power who live in an age shadowed by a mighty personality, are prone to follow a strong man, either from a sense of their own comparative impotence, because of personal admiration, to win a sense of security, or to gain popular favor. Jonson was a man peculiarly fitted to lead and to attract followers. He was an extremely vigorous and positive personality, he was brilliantly educated in the subjects then considered the only ones really worth while, the classics, and was able to explain and defend his artistic creed; he had, too, a very definite and clear-cut dramatic ideal, and, what must have been very attractive to his admirers, had suffered much for this ideal and rarely swerved from it. But his very virtues were an injury to the cause of the drama, for they were combined with a certain intolerance of spirit, a narrowness which sometimes led him to ridicule works as great or greater than his own but which did not fit into the framework he considered the only proper one. His ability as a satirist made it a dangerous matter to arouse his wrath, and the men who crossed swords with him must have been exceedingly sorry for it. By nature a fighter, he was often at war, and his intellectual powers and his determination gave him almost continually the victory. This served to make his style of drama popular, to lend the light of victory to his ideas.

Jonson's most characteristic feature was his use of “humorous” characters, those marked by some oddity, whim, or peculiarity so strong as to apparently rule and characterize its possessor. The idea of a characteristic quality predominant in every man was of course an old one, and had in it much truth. It lent itself easily to the service of comedy. But nothing in the drama needs more careful handling, more easily becomes mere distortion and grotesqueness. Even in much of Jonson's work one feels that he is meeting mere walking “humours,” rather than men and women with real and complex personalities. The custom went so far at last that a dramatist could boast that every one of his “humours” in a play was entirely new.

Brome followed his master in the use of humorous characters, and was less able to give them individuality, though he did at times succeed in making them thoroughly laughable. Such figures are Sarpego,15 the pedant, Crossewill,16 the contrary-minded gentleman, Hearty,17 whose “humour” is good nature, Testy,18 who is touchiness personified, and many others. In no case has he copied any particular figure. He followed Jonson in the type of comedy he produced, for the greater number of his works are realistic comedies of humour;19 and when he does essay the species of tragi-comedy, which was fundamentally romantic, he brought realism into it by the types of character used and the way in which they were presented. He was aware of the growing popularity of the tragi-comedy, and though he tried it he disapproved of it.20 His display of out-of-the-way learning, such as the argot of the beggars in “The Jovial Crew,” the military terms in “Convent Garden Weeded,” and the list of dances in “The New Academy,” was probably inspired by Jonson, whose “Bartholomew Fair” and “The Alchemist” are perfect mines of such material.

He does not “show himself” in the play as a criticising member of the cast; he specifically denies, except in one instance (“Convent Garden Weeded”), any desire to instruct; he does not express scorn of his audience, but rather an anxious desire to please it, though he does hope on one or two occasions that they will judge him according to “the antient Comick Lawes.”21 In these points he goes contrary to Jonson's custom, but shows his anxiety to please his public, for Jonson had been bitterly condemned for doing them.

He was aware that he was no poet: “A little wit, lesse learning, no poetry,”22 he claims; he “scarce ever durst rank himself above the worst of Poets”;23 he calls himself a “Play-maker” rather than a poet, nevertheless “desires to know” in the epilogue to “The Damoiselle,” “though he assume no Bayes, whether he pull'd faire for a leafe or no.”

He has “come not hither to be an instructor to any of you,”24 it “were a presumption” “that he should take pains … to show what you already by your studies know.”25

His purpose was very clear and was very frankly put: he “aims only to gaine your laughter,”26 he does not claim “Lawrell but Money,” for his intent “is his owne welfare, and your merriment”;27 “now your laughter is all he aims to move.”28

It is certainly true that a man trying to do a small thing may accomplish a great one; but this is so unusual that we do not expect a man to reach any greater success than that at which he consciously aims. Nor do we, if his aims are low, expect that his achievements will be of high character. The things of which a man thinks, the objects he desires, subtly create a mental atmosphere which has a decisive effect on all that he produces, all he does. We cannot say that Brome's aims were low, but we are certain they were not high. No one can blame the author for desiring to make money, the dramatist for trying to give the public what it wishes, the comedy-writer for appealing to the fun-loving propensities of men. But for one to attempt to do nothing more is to bar oneself deliberately from the greatest success, perhaps from any great success. It is to encourage absorption, to renounce that freedom of mind and will which seems an essential to all creative work. The tendency toward such renunciation on the part of the author, the willingness on the part of the reader or hearer to accept such uninspired work, is one of the landmarks of a period given over to routine, no longer joying in the vision and the dream.

This satisfaction with a limited ideal, or at least the conscious confinement of his efforts to a narrow field with no attempt to achieve glorious sublunary things, was no doubt for the best in Brome's case. We feel at all times that any effort to move in a more exalted field would have shown awkwardness and a lack of ready adaptability. When he does tentatively essay the tragic or semi-tragic in “The Queen and the Concubine” the result is melancholy enough.

What effect did this desire to amuse and to do nothing else have on the content of the plays? Naturally, one says, they will be full of humor, and they are, though the humor is sometimes arid and manufactured. Naturally, too, the author with this end in view is spared the “bitter craving to strike heavy blows” which possessed Jonson, and which gave his best plays a moral earnestness, a loftiness utterly foreign to the work of his disciple. His villains, one cannot help thinking, are punished or made ridiculous if they are punished at all, not because they are evil but because it was the custom to punish the villain of the drama or to turn the laugh against him. Not having the gift of poetry, not being endowed with a brilliant wit, he was unable to conceal the essential emptiness of his work, though his technical skill caused it to be ignored for a time. In this, also, he represents his age, with, of course, the exception of Massinger, for the drama became shallower and more frivolous as the national temper, stirred by the political and religious conflicts of the time, became deeper and more serious, until war began and the theaters were closed.

Given, then, a man with the views which Brome held, we would expect the kind of work which he produced. On the other hand, the possession of those beliefs must mark him as a man representative of his time, for, if we may judge by the work they have left us, these principles were the ones held by most of his contemporaries in the drama.

The tendency toward the strained, the wildly improbable, Brome almost entirely escaped. This is partly due to the fact that he never attempted tragedy, and that, with two exceptions, his more serious comedies were realistic in some essential features. It is true the plots of his most realistic plays can hardly be called probable or lifelike; but this is true not only of his work but of that of his contemporaries and his predecessors in the same class of plays.

In a very real sense the name “realistic comedy” implies a contradiction. It is never used in the same way, with the same literal meaning, that the term “realistic novel” is used. At least it is not so used when applied to the work of men who wrote before the nineteenth century. The word comedy implied that almost anything was possible, that the action took place in a world in which cause and effect, the inevitable logic of events, did not have complete control; where incongruities appeared which were the result of chance alone; where characters were brought into juxtaposition simply because the sight of them together would arouse our risibilities; where situations might at any time develop which were utterly improbable, perhaps impossible. In the realm of comedy any strict adherence to the facts of ordinary life was not to be demanded, was not expected; the word realistic referred primarily to the situation chosen for the play and the mode of character treatment. Realistic comedy was comedy whose scene was laid among the people who looked upon it, or those closely akin to them, in their own land, and whose characters were presented in such a way as to make them seem natural and life-like in such an environment.

But since each element of a work of art affects and modifies every other, imposes conditions upon it of various kinds, it is inevitable that the very fact that a play is located in the life we know well and that its characters are reproductions of those we daily meet, should impose limitations of some sort on the actions they may be made to do, the scenes in which they may be made to figure. On an unknown Bohemian shore, in a Calabrian land, among people unlike any we have known, all things are possible; we unconsciously accept this when we see the picture first presented. We may be able to convince ourselves that heroism as great, love as self-sacrificing, friendship as self-forgetful, is to be found on Main street, in the homes of our friends Jones and Smith as was ever shown in any fairyland of romance; but centuries of tradition, as well as the ordinary daily life of these friends of ours with its commonplace routine of unromantic duties, makes it impossible for us to really feel that such love, heroism or friendship is possible. Thus certain kinds of plot and incident possible to romantic comedy are not readily accepted in realistic comedy; but this is not because of their inherent improbability or impossibility, for incidents just as wild, though different in kind, are accepted in realistic comedy. “The Tale of a Tub” and “The English Moor” are little less probable than “The Case is Altered” or “The Lovesick Court.” It is true, on the other hand, that plot and incident may in the realistic comedy stick much closer to actual life than is possible in romantic comedy.

We are not, therefore, to think that Brome was departing from tradition when he placed in a setting so realistic as that of “The English Moor” or “The City Wit” a set of incidents so palpably improbable. He followed tradition, rather than disregarded it. The place where he shows the most decided tendency to follow the custom then too common among the writers of tragedy, is in “The Queen and the Concubine.” The Queen of this play, driven from her home and friends by a faithless husband and his paramour, a monster of depravity,—tortured in many ways, shows a willingness, nay an enthusiastic desire, to accept all mistreatment, to be a suffering martyr; which is so utterly improbable as to provoke a smile, rather than a tear.

We have already intimated that Brome was not prone to imitation or borrowing of any very obvious or common kind. Mr. Ward says: “‘A Winter's Tale’ and ‘Henry VIII,’ perhaps also ‘King Lear,’ contributed hints for ‘The Queen and Concubine,’ and ‘King Lear’ and ‘Macbeth’ for ‘The Queen's Exchange.’ ‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’ cannot have been out of Brome's mind when he wrote ‘The Lovesick Court’;—while ‘The Beggar's Bush’ of Fletcher is most likely to have suggested the notion of ‘The Jovial Crew,’ or ‘The Merry Beggars.’”29 It has been suggested that “The Antipodes” was suggested by Jonson's masque, “The World in the Moon.” The amusing but scandalous device which the lovers in “The Sparagus Garden” use to outwit their stern relations, is akin to one used in “The Heir” of Thos. May. The Projectors of “The Court Beggar” may owe something to Marmion's “Holland's Leaguer.” Mr. Fleay, speaking of “The City Wit,” says: “Dekker's influence is more clearly visible in it than in the other plays.”30 He refers of course to Dekker, the author of “The Shoemakers' Holiday,” not to that side of Dekker which found expression in “Olde Fortunatus' and “The Witch of Edmonton.” This side of Dekker does not seem to have affected Brome.

The thing to be noticed in all these suggestions is their tentative and dubitative character. The word ‘hint’ is the best one to use; one feels that the two ungrateful daughters and the one faithful daughter of Lear may have started Brome's mind on the trail which led at last to the faithful son and daughter and the treacherous son of Segebert31 but nothing like a close paralled between the two plots in the beginning, development, or conclusion can be affirmed. The more closely the situation and characters concerned are studied the vaguer the resemblance grows. The same thing is true in the case of “The Jovial Crew” and “The Beggar's Bush.” Both represent people of comparatively high station masquerading as beggars, and that is about as far as the likeness goes. There is no likeness between the dispossessed duke and his daughter and friends who live a beggar's life for months or years to escape death, and the five jolly young people who assume the beggar's rags for a day or two as a lark, and wander down the lanes white with may, never in danger, meeting strange people and confronted by new and amusing situations, but always conscious that they can, in an hour's time, reassume their own station.

The same thing may be said in each case given; nothing more can be affirmed than that certain scenes or characters may have set the writer's mind working and given him an idea which he could adapt to a very different situation. His plots are “all his own,” his characters also, so far as they are not the repetition of stock-types which everyone used, and which had grown up so gradually or been known so long that no one person could be called their author.

The fact that Brome uses these type characters with their mechanical traits is not so important as the fact that he used hardly any other characters. His repetition of scenes threadbare with use, added to the testimony afforded by his characters, convinces us that he had really no originality; that had he had no libraries of plays in which to steep himself, whose material he could assimiliate and cunningly reshape, he could have given us nothing.

His most provoking habit is perhaps his repetition of himself. Shylock and Barabbas are both Jews, both usurers, both cruel, clever, active, at last punished, yet no one could for a moment confuse the two. They are men as individual as you and I. Vermine32 and Quicksands33 are not only discouragingly like too many other usurers, as seen in the comedies of the time, but are so like each other in essentials that a person well acquainted with the plays in which they appear can be excused if he changes them from one play to the other. If this is true of the usurer, who offers the dramatist so fine an opportunity for individualization, we need not be surprised if it is also true of the lovers, the stern parents, the country gentlemen. Though the similarity may easily be overstated, it is a striking feature of the plays. One soon comes to feel that whatever difference there may be betwen the lovers of any two plays is more the result of some slight differences of environment than of any real difference between the characters in their essential features. In Frederick,34 Fabritio,35 and Samuel36 there is little perceptible difference. In three plays we meet the rather unusual character, a faithful wife who is trying to cure her husband of jealousy.

In “The Novella” we see a virtuous young woman who, to frustrate a match which is being arranged for her lover, passes for a courtesan; in “The Damoiselle” a knight secretly puts up the honor of his daughter (as she is supposed to be) for sale in a lottery; in “The New Academy,” an uncle sets up, with the aid of his niece and her friend, a dancing academy, which he privately announces to be a brothel. There is plainly a distinct similarity in the central idea of each and there is an opportunity for the same kind of scenes, suggestive, full of misunderstandings, carried on by the more or less coarse habitues of such establishments.

In fourteen of the fifteen plays, disguising plays a more or less prominent part. If any emergency arises some application of this device is likely to be used to solve the difficulty. Men appear as women, women as men, servants as doctors or people of prominence, one man as some other man, an Englishwoman as a foreign lady, etc. In short, this popular stage trick is used with wearisome frequency. The occasional blindness of his imitation is seen in the fact that the secret of this disguise is often kept from the audience, even when it forms a most important part of the plot and should be made known to the audience. The reason for this mistake is perhaps to be found in the fact that Jonson made the same error in “The Silent Woman,” where the secret of the sex of Epicoene is carefully kept from the audience; and that some other authors had been equally forgetful.

Secrets of birth, false marriages, a man marrying one person when he thinks he is marrying some one else, changed letters, confused identities, timely disappearances and reappearances, drunken scenes, last scene conversions,—all appear just as one expects them to. After having read a few of the plays one can, by reading over the Dramatis Personae of a new play with the accompanying remarks, make a shrewd guess as to the nature of many of the scenes, though the author's skill is sufficient to keep one interested in the development even of that which he has foretold.

The constant use of stock scenes and characters, the thinly veiled repetition of his own themes and his own people,—these all show how large a part absorptive imitation plays in his work.

The eclecticism which, as has been said, is often a characteristic feature of ages of literary decay, was not especially evident in the period here under discussion; nor was it very noticeable in the work of Brome. The timidity which led him to avoid all subjects likely to arouse opposition, kept him, as it did most of his contemporaries, in the beaten path. In one way, however, he did try to join two very different things, the masque and realistic comedy.

Shakespeare had used the masque in “The Tempest”; Fletcher presented one in his “Maid's Tragedy”; Webster had shown a “Masque of Madmen” in his “Dutchess of Malfi.” These were all romantic plays, in which a masque did not seem particularly out of place. Jonson, though he presented three in “Cynthia's Revels,” reprobated the desire of the public to see masques, and to have music and dancing in their plays. In the court of James the First masques became very popular, splendid dresses, the scenery, music, dancing, and poetry combined appealed to the aesthetic feelings of the learned and those fond of great spectacles. Their cost confined them to the aristocracy and the court. Brome tried to give something of the sort to the people and at the same time to present his own favorite realistic comedy. He does adapt the masque, tries to give it a character in harmony with its new surroundings. The singing, dancing, and strange dresses are there, but their spirit is sometimes one of broad comedy, almost a farce. Usually they are lugged by the ears into the situation, which is merely confused by their presence. In some cases they are used as a definite part of the plot and serve a purpose. In all cases we feel that some other means could have been used to accomplish the end, and that they are brought in merely for the purpose of display. Somewhat the same thing may be said of the songs and dances interspersed through the plays, though there was a greater excuse for them in the usage of the older dramatists.

This effort is interesting as showing Brome's great desire for popular favor. It shows, we may suppose, that he was conscious of the monotony and barrenness into which the popular classes of drama were rapidly falling, and wished to give variety and life to the old forms. Because he lacked a delicate artistic sense the result cannot, on the whole, be called happy. It was a fashion not followed by his successors.

As not infrequently happens, Brome's narrowness, his inability to do certain things, contributed indirectly to his success in other things. Jonson's desire to instruct, or to hit an enemy, loaded some of his plays with scenes and passages which obstructed the action and distracted the attention. Such passages were doubtless much reduced or entirely eliminated by the actors; but when, as in “The Poetaster,” the fundamental idea of the play is controversial, no pruning can save it. In some of the Restoration dramas we are likely to forget that action is the essential of the drama while we liten to the cleverness of the dialogue. Neither of these things turned Brome aside from his great business of developing the action carefully, logically, to the chosen end; and neither of them, legitimately used, helped to give charm and content to his work.

Few playwrights have known their business, so far as it can be learned, better than he. None, probably, have been more industrious, more faithful to their task. The finish of technical matters, the careful organization, the great uniformity of his plays, are in striking contrast to the work of a few of his contemporaries and almost all his immediate predecessors. His technique does not fail him in any part of the play; nevertheless his last scene is often a failure because he does not sufficiently respect the personality of his own characters.

As critical a point as any in a play is the first scene, the introduction. Much must be done; we must be interested in the people on the stage and what they are doing; we must know with little delay who they are, where they are, what they are doing, why they are doing it; we must be given an idea of the situation and what is likely to develop; we must be prepared for what is to come—and we must not be aware that we are being told these things. Here Brome is entirely satisfying; all things are made clear, but not too clear. Usually the most important person in the play is on the stage when the curtain rises and is in action or in animated conversation. We are introduced at once to bustling life,—the tone is struck which is to sound throughout. The merely introductory part is not made too long; this is avoided by reserving some of the “conditions precedent,” if these are very numerous, and bringing them forth when needed.

By “conditions precedent” is meant the whole body of facts in regard to events preceding the opening of the play, and all the circumstances which it is necessary for us to know before we can understand the play itself. These may be numerous or few; they may be, and usually are, mainly given to us shortly after the play opens; they may be sifted through the play, so that we can hardly notice that they have been told. The latter method is perhaps the most artistic, but it is also the most difficult and is sometimes quite impossible by reason of the plot. The first method has the disadvantage that the listener is called upon to remember a larger number of disconnected facts. The giving of them must be done skilfully else it will seem bald and prosy.

Brome avoids the second peril by using rapid and evenly balanced dialogue for this purpose. This gives him a chance to repeat and emphasize the essential facts. He does not open with a soliloquy, nor does he place the burden of explanation on one person.

He chooses his incidents and scenes with a view to plot advancement and, ordinarily, to that alone. In the “Queen's Exchange” some incidents are given merely because of their comic value; but this play is serious in theme, and he treats it as a romantic comedy. In “Sparagus Garden” he tries to show the character and habits of the place and its frequenters, a theme similar to that in “Bartholomew Fair,” and this brings in many scenes not essential to the plot. Nothing is shown merely to exhibit or explain characters. Everything must further the plot or give an opportunity for the comic. In this, as in some other points, his technique is that of the comedy, of intrigue rather than that of the strictly “humorous” comedy.

Brome's great care in the construction of his scenes, in the treatment of incident, is due in part, I think, to his idea of humor. Though he used “humorous” and even comic characters, they are at their best not very funny,—his real humor is that of situation.

Not only are his scenes well constructed but they are bound together in the most skilful manner. This liason de scene is especially noteworthy because it was not then so much demanded as at present. Today the expense and complexity of the scenery makes it imperative that changes shall be reduced to the minimum. Still even in modern days we have as many as four scenes following each other directly in which there is an entire change of character in each scene.37 Such a thing is not seen in Brome's plays, though in some he approaches much nearer the loose and disconnected manner of many of his predecessors, including Shakespeare, than in others. In “The Jovial Crew,” acts one, two and five show the stage continually occupied, characters enter and leave,—there is not a moment when the action is not being carried on. In Act I there are three entrances and four exits, in Act 2 there are eight entrances and four exits, in Act 5 there are seventeen entrances and ten exits; but these overlapping entrances and exits unite the whole into one panoramic picture. This not only makes for unity of plot and is an economy of the auditor's memory and attention, since he does not have to keep in mind so many apparently disconnected people and actions, but it gives an air of reality to the play which is quite impossible without it.

What has just been said implies that there are few character groups in these plays,—that each one deals with a group of people closely connected, whose activities act and react intimately and continually; that we do not have very different sets of people whose actions are brought to a focus only at or near the close of the play. Of course there are groups which work against each other, whose aims are opposite, but they are either quite closely connected from the first or are made to seem so by being silently absorbed into the action. The “Sparagus Garden,” by reason of the author's double aim, is an exception to this rule. Even where there seems to be quite a separation between the groups there are so many figures in common that we hardly notice any separation.

“M. Legouvé calls the playgoer both exacting and inconsistent, in that he insists that everything which passes before him on the stage shall be at once foretold and unforeseen.”38 Thus Mr. Matthews suggests the most inevitable feature of a play, and the one which demands the most constant attention on the part of the playwright,—for the hints must be given unobstrusively, the listener must think that his own unaided intelligence is solving the puzzle. They must be given at the right time; if they are given too soon they will be forgotten before they are needed, if too late the connection will be too obvious.

This preparation cannot be limited to things said and to a skilful use of dramatic irony,—it must include the development of character and the choice of incident. It is true that the rigorous demands of cause and effect can be more easily disregarded in comedy than in tragedy; the laugh which greets the humorous situation may serve to blind us to its essential improbability. We voluntarily put ourselves in a more tolerant mood, a less strict and analytic frame of mind, when we attend a comedy than when we go to see a tragedy. Nevertheless the more carefully the author motivates every act, makes it seem inevitable and true, the more satisfactory we find it, always granting that the fundamental idea may be improbable. If the events of the comedy are palpably unmotivated the play is likely to become a farce.

Such a play as “The English Moor” shows how carefully Brome attended to the “preparation,” for its complex structure and the improbability of the idea on which it is based make demands of the strongest kind. If we are not to be confused and skeptical from the first, much care and effort must be unobtrusively exercised by the author in order that we may accept each event, may feel that it is in place and keeping. Only once does he fail, and this failure illustrates his weakness, his willingness to sacrifice the consistency of a character to the exigencies of the plot.

His preparation for the last act or the close of it is sometimes inadequate. Here he is met by many difficulties, some of which are inherent, others of his own invention or the result of dramatic tradition and custom. According to long accepted tradition the conclusion of the comedy must be happy,—even the villain must be punished very lightly, if at all; the troublemakers and fools must not cloud the general joy. So Brome, like many of his betters, is prone to convert his villain by main strength in the last scene. For this no preparation is likely to be adequate.

There was also a tradition that everyone must be on the stage when the curtain fell. This demanded great ingenuity and the use of many expedients in order to bring the cast together in anything like a lifelike manner. This custom Brome follows and gives us a full stage when the curtain falls, whatever effort it may cost. Usually every character, great or small, is brought in; though sometimes a servant or minor character is left out. This is often done very cleverly; but at times the devices used are far too obvious.

As has been said before, Brome is fond of masques. He is able to use them effectively, to make them an integral part of the play, to serve as a part of the plot. The two masques shown in “The English Moor,” for instance, are vital parts of the play. The excision of either would leave a gap. This is not always the case; at least half of the masques given could be cut from the plays with no serious injury.

Brome is especially fond of using a masque at the close. Its advantages, from a scenic or popular viewpoint, are clear. The bright dresses, music, dances, and the crowd on the stage made a brilliant operatic close. To gain this Brome was willing to sacrifice much. Their extraneous character is usually painfully clear, and the preparation for them is unpleasantly palpable. This is true in the case of the masques which close “The Love-Sick Court” and “The Court Beggar.” In the more romantic plays the masque seems less out of place than in the more realtistic matter-of-fact ones. In the latter it gives to the comedy an air of cheap vaudeville. This was probably less the case in a day when disguisings, mummings, and morris-dances were common at every great feast day among both high and low.

Mr. Price tells us that “It is well to emphasize the fact that what is often called technical skill is simply imitativeness and barrenness of the most detestable kind.” This is certainly true in part of Brome's technical triumphs. His repetition of his own mistakes helps to show this; the unvarying character of his technique shows it still more. Still, imitative though his technique is, it does win victories of a kind, and is rarely so obvious as to repel the ordinary theatergoer or the casual reader. Its essential barrenness is seen when we consider his characters and characterization.

The vast majority of his characters fall readily into a few well-established categories. “Humorous” characters, usurers, gulls and fools, intriguers, courtesans, projectors, conventional lovers, fill his stage. Not only are these the conventional characters of the comedy of his generation, but they are presented in the most conventional manner. The comedy of “humours” emphasized one particular trait in a man; too often he seemed to be merely a personified trait, a quality behind which there was no life.

Coleridge is of the opinion that “Jonson's (characters) are either a man with a huge wen, having a circulation of its own, and which we might conceive amputated, and the patient thereby losing all his character; or they are mere wens themselves instead of men—wens personified, or with eyes, nose and mouth cut out, mandrake fashion.”39

This is true, not of all his characters, but of those distinctly “humorous.” But the habit of drawing such characters, the method employed, had on his successors one very bad effect. They drew characters not “humorous” in the same narrow way. They seemed to lose the ability to present a full and many-sided character. In the “humorous” character the point is, of course, in its being possessed by this “humor”; the sense of the incongruous is at once appealed to; the man's unconscious blindness to many evils of life, his sensitiveness to whatever touches that one side,—these give us food for laughter and for thought. We usually assume for the man enough qualities to make him human. We feel that the author did not clearly show other sides to the character, because he was so interested in the one and wished to make it very distinct. In the case of a character which is not humorous but is sketched in the same way—shown only on one side—this is not true. We cannot conceive any absorption on the part of the author sufficient to explain it; we feel that he has shown little because there was no more to be shown. This does not hold true of servants and very minor figures who appear so little or in so restricted a role that they could not be expected to show what they really are.

Hazlitt gives us a partial explanation of this. He says that in comedy, “The springs of nature, passion or imagination are but feebly touched. The impressions appealed to, and with masterly address, are habitual, external and conventional advantages: the ideas of birth, of fortune, of connexions, of dress, accomplishment, fashion, the opinion of the world, of crowds of admirers, continually come into play, flatter our vanity, bribe our interest, soothe our indolence, fall in with our prejudices; it is these that support the goddess of our idoltary, with which she is everything. The mere fine lady of comedy compared with the heroine of romance or poetry, when stripped of her adventitious ornaments and advantages, is too much like the doll stripped of its finery. In thinking of Millamant, we think almost as much of her dress as of her person.”40

His choice of Millamant as an illustration is significant, for his statements apply much more fully and exactly to Restoration drama than to any other. It is far less applicable to the comedy of intrigue, of “humorous,” of domestic or bourgeois life; while it plainly does not at all apply to the more serious romantic comedy. It does explain, to quite a degree, the appeal made, the effect produced by Brome's plays. They impress one as external,—as picturing the outside of life, its follies and fashions; the outside of character, its passing whims and fancies, its action and appearance in the tavern, the drawing-room, the public pleasure resort.

While a certain amount of superficiality and externality is always to be expected in comedy, especially as compared with tragedy, it does not follow that comedy cannot or should not have characters complex and powerful. Volpone,41 Subtle,42 Sir Epicure Mammon,42 Sir Giles Overreach,43 show that comedy can have figures of the utmost power and interest. If we judge by the history of the drama it seems certain that comedy of the highest class, of the kind that continues to appeal, must have some characters of this nature. The comedy of intrigue and externals, though here one is compelled to speak with caution, hardly seems lasting. It seems clear that even the rather shallow belles and beaux of the Restoration comedy produced, and still produce, at least the illusion of a fairly complex and varied personality. They were certainly far from being merely automata in a skilfully played game. Because this seems to me to be true I feel that Brome's treatment of character is a very great and almost fatal defect—is responsible in large measure for the emptiness of the plays.

Mr. J. S. Symonds states the case very fairly: “The characters are defined with a coarse outline and a hard rigidity that betray the artifice of their constructon. They are not persons so much as tricks and humours, noted for their effective salience by the author, and invested with a semblance of individuality.”44 He is right, too, in viewing this as a main reason for “that barren unreality which is so tedious in Brome.”

Not all of Brome's characters merit such a description. Justice Clack45 with his oft-repeated question, “Nay, if we both speak together, how shall we hear one another?” is a creation and a most amusing one. Constance, the “Northern Lass” who was considered at the time a most pathetic figure, has not wholly lost her charm, though far too obviously reminiscent of Ophelia. Two characters not wholly commonplace can hardly save two hundred.

Brome's tendency toward the commonplace and the vulgar is shown both in the characters he chooses and in his plots and incidents. To quote Mr. Symonds once more: “His view of the world is that of a groom, rather than of a gentleman; and the scenes and characters which he depicts are drawn from the experience of a flunkey.”

Courtesans, real or supposed, are conspicuous in many of the plays; but neither in manners or morals do they seem much below the other female characters,—not at all below the major portion of the male characters. The pronounced contempt for the virtuous city man, an anticipation of the attitude of the Restoration writers of comedy toward the same class, is made more conspicuous by the partiality shown to the man who wrongs him, and to almost all the gay and gross young profligates who form so prominent a part of many of his Dramatis Personae.

The coarseness of speech common at the time would be looked for; incidental scenes immoral in suggestion would not be surprising in realistic comedy. The former is ever present; the latter is not so frequent, because in some plays the immorality is not incidental but fundamental, while in others it is absent. It can hardly be said that scenes of this kind are introduced merely because they are coarse or immoral, in order to gratify an audience hungering for the unclean. They are there because the author felt at home in a society where they were common and, since his auditors enjoyed them, saw no reason why he should not use such material. A proof that the atmosphere of such plays as “A Mad Couple,” “The Court Beggar” and “The City Wit,” with its mixture of frank and insinuated immorality, is his natural air, is to be seen in the nature of the plays where it is absent. “The Love-Sick Court” and “The Queen and the Concubine” have on the whole the whitest pages. They are romantic dramas. The atmosphere of romance and idealism in which the better romantic comedies had moved had been felt to be incompatible with coarseness or any conspicuous immorality. To this feeling Brome pays a measure of deference; but because such restraint was irksome to him or because he knew imperfectly the life of virtuous men and women of the higher social class, probably for both these reasons, these plays show a stiffness unknown to his more realistic and coarser plays.

The characters seem not only narrow but remote and impossible; we feel a constantly obtruding skepticism as to their being flesh and blood. The air is rare and cold. The dialogue is stiff and conventional. In both plays the real and true part of the play is the comic episodes, which here are quite sharply separated from the main, serious action.

Brome pays a peculiar tribute to the sense of decency in his audience, or to tradition, in many plays, while at the same time he attempts to win the rewards given to the writer unblushingly immoral. He carefully arranges a situation supposed by part of the characters, perhaps,—as in “The Sparagus Garden” by the audience,—to be thoroughly indecent but which proves at last harmless. The central situation of “The Novella,” “The Damoisell” and “The New Academy” is of this kind. Time after time a character or situation is saved by the merest accident.

The coarseness of the stews appears in the trick which Victoria plays on Pantaloni46 and in the punishment which Lady Strangelove prepares to mete out to the treacherous doctor in a scene of sickening realism.47 These scenes are the contrivance of women whom the author plainly considers heroines and ladies of the highest character, with at least as much delicacy as was the usual possession of well-bred ladies of the upper middle class.

Women who, like Milicent48 and Constance,49 are deeply and sincerely regardful of their honor, are considered a little odd and queer. A woman's chastity is usually regarded as a merely material thing. Sexual morality in men is the exception rather than the rule, and is considered unnecessary and quixotic. Perhaps the strangest thing to modern ears is the constant jesting in regard to woman's honor, not only among the men but among the women and in mixed company. It is not the jesting of girls who do not fully comprehend the terms they use, it is in the talk of mature women of position and experience.

“A Mad Couple Well Matched” shows us in Careless, the hero, a young man most debauched and dissolute, who never really repents of his evil ways, but is at last married, almost against his will, to a rich widow who frankly concedes that his licentiousness has won her love. “The Mad Couple” are an old gentleman and his wife, much younger than he. He confesses that he has been unfaithful. His wife, who is pictured as a model of womanhood, seems neither surprised, angry, nor sorrowful. Her only emotion is anger when she discovers that he has been financially imposed upon. This model of virtue forces Careless, who is willing enough, to refuse reparation to the woman he has wronged. The parallel action between Lovely and Mrs. Alicia Saleware culminates in a scene quite indescribably vicious. Saleware is the only character who escapes with the slightest shred of honor or decency, and he is a miserable fool.

No intellectual brilliancy of epigram or dialogue, no poetic beauty, allows or invites us to somewhat disregard the vulgar details. The hard realism of the treatment forces them to our notice, the constant allusions and the subjects of conversation lead us to expect them.

The most significant and unpleasant feature of the play, viewed from a moral standpoint, is the fact that all of the characters, differing as they do in position, and in many points of character, look at morality from the same low point of view. No high ideal is suggested,—apparently the characters have never thought of such a thing. One feels that they would be scoffingly skeptical if it were suggested. True, some of the women are chaste, but this appears to be a matter rather of chance or of calculation than of principle. Such views are not unknown today, but their brutal expression as a prevalent feature of society appears to be confined to certain unfortunate classes of society. There is, too, even in such social groups a consciousness of higher things. As depicted in such a play as “A Mad Couple” this low view of things moral was universal,—the lower social class show it no more and no less definitely than the higher; occupation, sex, age or birth make little apparent difference.

“A Mad Couple” illustrates this view of life more clearly than any other play, but all show it directly or indirectly. In some the plot or some other matter makes it less conspicuous. In some, as has been said, it is practically absent; but the artificial nature of those plays leads one to believe that the moral atmosphere, too, was an imitation,—something which Brome thought, very rightly, to be a necessity to that sort of play, but which came with the form, not from the author.

This attitude, seen in occasional plays by Brome's predecessors and contemporaries, is not, I think, the characteristic one with any of his most productive predecessors, with the possible exception of Middleton. It is plain in such works as “The Hollander,”50 “The Jealous Lovers,”51 “Holland's Leaguer,”52 written by contemporaries who left no great amount of work. It is noticeable that plays of this nature were more and more produced as those of a higher kind appeared less and less commonly,—that the former flourished as the latter decayed.

The stern judicial attitude which Jonson assumed toward his characters we would expect to see in Brome; and, in truth, he does try to follow his master here, but his occasional lapses and, especially, the half-hearted and forced character of his judgments show that he was not vitally interested in the judicial functions he thought it necessary to assume. The usurers are, of course, always sternly dealt with, the gulls made openly ridiculous, the “humorous” are sometimes cured of their humor; but the graceful young scapegrace, male or female, is cleverly rescued from the consequences of folly or of crime, or is shown to be less black than anyone had supposed. Sometimes a villain, such as Carless53 or Sir Ferdinand,54 is rewarded for his evil ways.

He cannot, like Shakespeare, present the situation and the characters without criticism, with little or no comment; he will not, like Congreve, stand aloof in genial tolerance; but he fails to follow his apparent principle in any consistent way, and appears vacillating and irresolute. The basis of his decisions, too, is a shifting one. Sometimes he decides from the most practical considerations, again from intellectual ones, at other times from moral ones. The practical consideration seems the one he most naturally and easily follows; in the moral world he seems least at home.

The judicial way of looking at things, assumed largely as a matter of form, grounded on views far from high, and uncertain in their application, makes more rather than less apparent the essential emptiness of these plays.

This clear lack of any strong and real principles or ideals, the frequent immorality, the lack of any great, true, or deeply human characters,—these taken together explain why his plays seem without content. This lack of content forces into high relief his technical skill; we admire it because there is little else to admire. But the very fact that the servant has become the master, that that which should be subordinate is almost supreme, is condemnation; it shows that the dramatic time is out of joint. This fact, true of Brome alone, would be interesting; true of his contemporaries, it is significant. Whatever value these plays may have is, nevertheless, mainly due to the fact that they show this fact so fully.


  1. “The Technique of the Drama,” pp. 12-13.

  2. In “'Tis Pity She's a Whore.”

  3. In Ford's “The Broken Heart.”

  4. In Massenger's “The Virgin Martyr.”

  5. “Les Trente-six Situations Dramatiques,” George Polti.

  6. “Under Charles the First it (“Bartholomew Fair”) was … but rarely seen on the stage. …” Ward, Vol. 2, p. 370.

  7. The imprisonment of Jonson, Marston, and Chapman because of the comedy “Eastward Hoe” is a case in point. Ward, Vol. 2, p. 311.

  8. Prologue to “The Damoiselle.”

  9. Prologue to “The English Moor.”

  10. Schiller's “Samtlich Werke,” Vol. 15, “Ueber naive und sentimentalische Dichtung.”

  11. In 1652 he published his last play, “The Jovial Crew,” with a dedication from his own hand.

  12. In 1653 Alexander Brome published five plays of Richard Brome, with an introduction “To the Readers” in which he says the author is dead.

  13. Saintsbury, in his “History of English Prosody” (Vol. 2, p. 309) says: “When he (Brome) has occasion to give verse, which he does not infrequently, it is quite competent, and in fact rather interesting, because it takes all the liberties, redundance, trisyllabic feet, etc. It is never, perhaps, very poetical, but also it never falls into mere chaos. The general blank-verse scheme is perfectly well maintained.” (“History of English Prosody,” Macmillan & Co., London, 1908.) On the other hand Schelling, after speaking of the relations of Brome and Dekker, says: “… no scruple of Dekker's subtler gift, that of poetry, is discoverable in the verses of Brome.” (“Elizabethan Drama,” Vol. 2, p. 269.) Ward says: “Most certainly he was not a poet” (Ward: Article in the Dictionary of National Biography.) With the latter I agree. A careful reading of all the plays fails to show any lines that strike one as especially beautiful, though some are pretty. It shows that he often changed from prose to verse without any reason so far as the character of the subject matter was concerned, though he did of course see that realistic or comic demanded prose and great passion verse. So pedestrian is much of his verse that one has to pay rather careful attention to be sure that it is not really prose.

  14. “He (the author) does not ayme, So much at praise, as pardon; nor does claime, Lawrell, but Money.”

    (Prologue to “The Damoiselle,” Vol. 1.)

    “Then find us money and we'le find you play.”

    (Prologue to “The English Moor,” Vol. 2.)

    “Yet you to him your favour may expresse
    As well as unto those whose forwardnesse
    Makes them your Creatures thought, who in a way
    To purchase fame give money with their Play,
    Yet you sometimes pay deare for't, since they write
    Lesse for your pleasure than their own delight.”

    (Prologue to “The Court Beggar)

    “But to stand beg, beg for reputation for one that has no countenance to carry it, and must ha' money is such a Pastime! If it were for one of the great and curious Poets that give these plays as the Prologue said, and money too, to have 'em acted; …”

    (Epilogue to “The Court Beggar.”)

  15. “The City Wit.”

  16. “The Covent Garden Weeded.”

  17. “A Jovial Crew.”

  18. “The English Moor; or The Mock Marriage.”

  19. I am aware that Professor Schelling, to whose great work I am much indebted, prefers to call these comedies of manners. It seems to me that on the whole they have more in common with the comedy of humours, the Jonsonian school, than with the comedies of manners as exemplified by Etherege, Congreve and their contemporaries, whom we think of as especially representative of that type.

  20. In the Prologue to “The Antipodes,” he says:

    “Pardon our just Ambition, yet, that strive
    To keep the weakest Branch o'th' Stage alive.
              I meane the weakest in their great esteeme,
    That count all slight, that's under us, or nigh:
              And only those for worthy subjects deeme,
    Fetch'd, or reached at (at least) from farre, or high:”

    In the Prologue to “The Jovial Crew” he says:

    “The Title of our Play, ‘A Joviall Crew,’
    May seem to promise Mirth: Which wer a new,
    And forced thing, in these sad and tragick daies,
    For you to finde, or we expresse in Playes.
    … For, now it chances,
    Our Comick Writer finding that Romances
    Of Lovers, through much travell and distresse,
    Till it be thought, no Power can redresse
    Th' afflicted wanderers, thought stout Chevalry
    Lend all his aid for their delivery;
    Till, lastly some impossibility
    Concludes all strife, and makes a Comedie
    Finding (he saies) such Stories bear the sway,
    Near as he could, he has compos's a Play,
    Of Fortune-tellers, Damsels, and their Squires,
    Expos'd to strange, Adventures, through the Briers
              Of Love and Fate.”
  21. Epilogue to “The English Moor.”

  22. Prologue to “The Love-Sick Court.”

  23. Prologue to “The Queen's Exchange.”

  24. Prologue to “The City Wit.”

  25. Prologue to “The Northern Lass.”

  26. Prologue to “The Novella.”

  27. Prologue to “The Damoiselle.”

  28. Prologue to “The Sparagus Garden.”

  29. A. W. Ward's article on Brome in the Dictionary of National Biography.

  30. “Chronicle of the English Stage.” A. G. Fleay.

  31. In “The Queen's Exchange.”

  32. In “The Damoiselle.”

  33. In “The English Moor.”

  34. In “The Court Beggar.”

  35. In “The Novella.”

  36. In “The Sparagus Garden.”

  37. “The Beggar of Bethnal Green,” by James Sheridan Knowles, 1834.

  38. “Studies of the Stage,” p. 23. Brander Matthews.

  39. Coleridge: “Literary Remains,” Vol. 2, p. 279. Ed. by H. N. Coleridge, London, 1836.

  40. William Hazlitt: “English Comic Writers,” p. 141.

  41. Jonson's “Volpone.”

  42. In Jonson's “The Alchemist.”

  43. In Massinger's “A New Way to Pay Old Debts.”

  44. J. A. Symonds: The Academy, Mar. 21 1874. “A Review of Brome's Plays” in the three volume edition of 1873.

  45. In “The Jovial Crew.”

  46. In “The Novella.”

  47. In “The Court Beggar,” Act 4, Sc. 2.

  48. In “The English Moor.”

  49. In “The Northern Lass.”

  50. “The Hollander,” by Henry Glapthorne.

  51. “The Jealous Lovers,” by Thomas Randolph.

  52. “Holland's Leaguer,” by Shackerley Marmion.

  53. In “A Mad Couple.”

  54. In “The Court Beggar.”


Glapthorne, Henry: Dramatic Works. London, 1874.

Hazlitt, William: English Comic Writers. London, 1819.

Marmion, Shackerley: Dramatic Works. London, 1875.

Matthews, Brander: Studies of the Stage. New York, 1894.

Price, W. T.; The Technique of the drama. New York, 1890.

Randolph, Thomas: Poetical and Dramatic Works, ed. by W. Carew Hazlitt. London, 1875.

Schelling, Felix E.: The Elizabethan Drama. Boston and New York, 1908.

Schiller: Über naive and sentimentalische Dichtung. Samtliche Werke, Band 15. Stuttgart, J. G., Cotta'sche.

Symonds, J. S.: A Review of Brome's Plays. The Academy, March 21, 1874.

Ward, A. W.: English Dramatic Literature. 2 vols. London, 1875.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Richard Brome c. 1590-c. 1652

English playwright

A popular Caroline dramatist, Brome was the author, singly or in collaboration, of at least twenty–three plays, sixteen of which survive. A former servant of Ben Jonson, Brome was greatly influenced by his master in his inclusion of “humors” characters, realistic elements, and satiric comment in his comedies. He was unique, however, in his belief in the therapeutic value of comedy; his two best plays, The Antipodes (1638) and A Jovial Crew (1641), demonstrate his conviction that mirth is a curative for the condition of melancholy.

Biographical Information

Not much is known about Brome's personal life. It is generally accepted that he was born around 1590, probably outside of London. The earliest extant reference to Brome places him as Ben Jonson's servant; the Induction to Jonson's Bartholomew Fair (1614) characterizes “Master Broome” as Jonson's “man.” Moreover, in Jonson's verses, dedicated “To my old Faithfull Seruant: and (by his continu'd Vertue) my louing Friend: the Author of this Work, M. Richard Brome,” included in the 1629 publication of Brome's The Northern Lass, the elder playwright stated: “I had you for a Servant, once, Dick Brome; / And you perform'd a Servants faithful parts.” Brome himself acknowledged the relationship in his verses included in the 1647 folio edition of the plays of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, when he referred to “the Master of his Art and Me, / Most knowing Jonson.” Advancing from servant to protégé of Jonson, Brome became known as one of the so-called “Sons of Ben,” a group of active professional writers whose works were composed in a style clearly influenced by Jonson. It is believed that Brome's first play (now lost), A Fault in Friendship, (1623) was a collaboration with Jonson. Later, an angry Jonson, bitter over the success of one of Brome's plays just weeks after one of his own had failed at the same theater, disparaged his pupil in his Ode to Himself (c. 1629): “Broomes sweeping doe as well / There as his Masters Meale.” The two evidently reconciled, for the reference to Brome was deleted from later versions of the poem. Brome testified to Jonson's influence in the Prologue appended to the 1637 revival of The City Wit (c. 1629) asserting that the play “bore just judgement, and the seal of Ben.” As a professional playwright, Brome wrote for a variety of acting companies, including the King's Men, formerly Shakespeare's acting troupe. After the closing of London's theaters in 1642, Brome wrote very little. He died around 1652-53. He wrote a dedication for the 1652 publication A Jovial Crew, but the address to the readers in the 1653 printing of Five New Playes stated that Brome was dead.

Major Works

Many of Brome's works are city comedies, a genre, pioneered by Jonson, of realistic, satirical plays presenting a view of middle- and lower-class life in London. Brome's plays lack the sustained satirical edge possessed by those of his mentor, however; rather they reflect the playwright's optimistic view of life and his attempts to use theater as a cure for misery. From his earliest surviving play, The City Wit, and The Sparagus Garden (1635), to his latest and most successful works, The Antipodes and A Jovial Crew, Brome again and again employed theatrical devices such as disguise, role playing, and a play-within-the-play to effect positive outcomes. In The City Wit Crasy, a bankrupt businessman who has failed because he is honest, and who as a result is dismissed as a fool, assumes a number of diguises in order to outwit the members of the society that cast him out. The Sparagus Garden presents a pair of young lovers whose parents oppose their marriage. The lovers and their friends use their knowledge of theater to overcome the parents' opposition. In The Antipodes Peregrine is cured of his melancholy—brought about his unfulfilled desire to travel—by means of a play-within-the-play, with which he is duped into believing that he is has actually travelled to the topsy-turvy land of the Antipodes. His recognition of the absurdities he encounters restores his mental balance. A Jovial Crew features a complex plot that includes several levels of deception and playacting, and also includes a play-within-the-play. Patrico orchestrates an elaborate ruse to cure Oldrents of his melancholy. Oldrents' daughters transform themselves into beggars, and they later stage, with the assistance of Patrico, a play called The Merry Beggars, the action of which mirrors that of the larger play. After these departures from everyday life, the return to reality at the end of A Jovial Crew cures everyone of their dissatisfactions. These and numerous other devices throughout Brome's body of work demonstrate his belief in the therapeutic value of theater and his conviction that mirth and comedy, combined with a healthy dose of realism, can overcome the miseries of an imperfect world.

Critical Reception

During his lifetime, Brome was a successful playwright, and A Jovial Crew was one of the most popular plays in the Caroline period. In addition to the support and tutelage of Ben Jonson, Brome received praise in the form of commendatory verses from such contemporaries as Thomas Dekker, John Ford, James Shirley, and others. The accolades of Brome's colleagues carried little weight with later critics, however. Herbert F. Allen, among others, regarded the work of Brome and his contemporaries as “decadent”: markedly inferior to that of their predecessors, including Shakespeare and Jonson. Allen dismissed Brome's plays as predictable and derivative. Clarence Edward Andrews similarly considered Brome decadent, but he conceded: “If we compare him with the very numerous tribe of Caroline imitators, he stands out as a figure of real importance.” Algernon Charles Swinburne also found Brome superior to his contemporaries and declared: “One of the most fanciful and delightful farces in the world is The Antipodes.” Joe Lee Davis further rehabilitated Brome's reputation when he discerned in The Antipodes a demonstration of a sophisticated theory of comic catharsis formulated by the playwright. Subsequent commentators have increasingly accorded Brome a greater measure of respect and have acknowledged the depth and complexity of his comedies. Several critics have noted the specificity of Brome's references to actual places and events. In his examination of topical allusions in four of Brome's plays, R. J. Kauffmann characterized the works as the “newspapers” of the day and stressed how “socially engaged” they were. Catherine M. Shaw also analyzed Brome's use of “realistic London references” and the social satire directed at his contemporaries. Ira Clark observed Brome's “persitent concern with Caroline sociopolitics,” arguing that the playwright “presented pressing issues in a pressing time.” Among the studies that have focused on other dimensions of Brome's plays are Shaw's discussion of the playwright's satirizing of conventional dramatic forms in several of his comedies and R. W. Ingram's analysis of his effective use of music.

Clarence Edward Andrews (essay date 1913)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: “Brome as a Dramatist,” in Richard Brome: A Study of His Life and Works, Henry Holt and Company, 1913, pp. 46-77.

[In the following essay, Andrews surveys Brome's surviving plays, discussing their structure, characters, versification, and moral content. Regarding the playwright's plots, Andrews declares: “In Brome, English drama reached an extreme of intricacy which has never been equaled.”]

The period of Brome's activity as a dramatist extends from the end of his apprenticeship with Jonson, which we may call about 1628, to the closing of the theatres in 1642. The records of his work show that he wrote, or had a hand in, twenty-three plays at least, sixteen of which have come down to us.

In order to determine a little better Brome's position in the history of drama, it may be well to place him with respect to his contemporaries. At the time he began to be prominent as a dramatist, most of the important Elizabethan and Jacobean writers were either dead or had ceased producing. Jonson's popularity had waned, though he wrote three more plays before his death in 1637. The same year Dekker died, but he had stopped writing plays more than ten years before. Fletcher had died in 1625, and Middleton in 1627, before Brome's success may be said to have begun. Heywood, Chapman, and Day still lived on, but were turning out but little dramatic work, the inferior productions of their old age. The only man of importance of the preceding generation who was still active was Massinger, who wrote eight plays between 1628 and the year of his death, 1639. Ford produced his best work during this period. Shirley, who produced over forty masques and plays between 1625 and 1642, is, I think, the only other strictly contemporary dramatist who is Brome's superior either in the number or the value of his works.

This is not a very proud boast—to be ranked second or third in the third period, the decadent period of Elizabethan drama. Looked at from the contemporary point of view, however, Brome is of more consequence. In this ‘brazen age’ of drama we call Shirley the last of the Elizabethans with individuality; Brome we may regard as ranking first among those who succeeded purely by imitation. If we compare him with the very numerous tribe of Caroline imitators, he stands out as a figure of real importance. As a dramatist of humors and manners, he is distinctly the superior of Nabbes, Glapthorne, Marmion, and Davenant, his four principal contemporaries after Shirley. The lesser men who were working in the same field at this period were Jasper Mayne, Arthur Wilson, Sir Aston Cokayne, the Duke of Newcastle, Robert Chamberlayne, William Cartwright, and Alexander Brome. These last mentioned writers, all but one resting in comfortable obscurity, wrote one or two humor-comedies apiece between 1631 and 1640. In the field of romantic drama Brome produced one fine play, the Jovial Crew, which had a greater popularity than almost any other play written in the Caroline period. In romantic tragedy he ranks as a merely respectable imitator of Fletcher, not inferior to Cartwright, Carlell, and Suckling.

For a more detailed discussion of the plays technically, a classification will be necessary. Of the sixteen extant plays, one, the Lancashire Witches, we may put aside as a reworking of an older comedy of manners by Heywood. Nine more are comedies of manners, with a predominance of Jonsonian humor-characters. These are the New Academy or the New Exchange, the City Wit or a Woman wears the Breeches, the Northern Lass (or a Nest of Fools),1 the Covent Garden Weeded or a Middlesex Justice of Peace, the Sparagus Garden, A Mad Couple well Matched, the Antipodes, the Damoiselle or the New Ordinary, and the Court Begger. The English Moor or the Mock Marriage has such a prominent underplot of manners that it may be classed here, though the main plot is romantic comedy. The two other romantic comedies are the Novella and the Jovial Crew or the Merry Beggers. The Novella, with its Italian setting, is pure romance, but the English Moor and the Jovial Crew have English settings and a number of humor-characters. Finally, there are three tragi-comedies, the Lovesick Court or the Ambitious Politique, the Queen's Exchange, and the Queen and the Concubine. These are written in the heroic manner, have some tragic feeling, deal with royal personages, and end happily. The scenes are laid respectively in Thessaly, Saxon England, and Sicily. Even here, when Brome is farthest from the manner of Jonson, he introduces humor-characters.

Of all of these plays of Brome, but one seems to have any problem of authorship connected with it. This is the matter of the dual authorship of Heywood and Brome in the Lancashire Witches.2 Fleay is undoubtedly correct in his statement that this is an old play of Heywood's revised by Brome to make it timely in its contemporary allusions, for a revival in 1634.3 Fleay, however, has not given a very accurate determination of the parts attributable to the two authors.

The evidence which indicates that the play is a revision is in the obvious interpolation of an episode, an omission of one or two incidents that we are led to expect, and a mention in two places of names of witches or spirits inconsistent with the names in the rest of the play. A transaction between Generous and Arthur, involving a mortgage, is mentioned in Act 1 (p. 178),4 and Robin in Act 3 (p. 210), gives his master Generous a receipt for one hundred pounds, which he has dropped. These two incidents seem to be connected but not very clearly. They also ought to lead up to something, but they are hardly mentioned further. Again, in Act 2 (p. 197), Arthur and Shakstone bet on the speed of their dogs in chasing a hare, but the scene ends abruptly on p. 199 without the interference of witchcraft which we are led to expect. These scenes indicate that something has been omitted in the present version of the play. Moreover, the incident of the boy and the greyhounds (pp.196, 199-201) is obviously an interpolation with no connection with any of the threads of interest. The boy is brought in again in Act 5 (pp. 241 ff.) as a witness against the witches, but his evidence is quite unnecessary, for the dénouement is brought about by the soldier who sleeps in the mill. The final indication of revision is the speech of Mrs. Generous in Act 4 (p. 240):

Call Meg, and Doll, Tib, Nab, and Iug,

and the use of three of these names, Nab, Jug, and Peg, again in Act 5 (p.244). The names of the witches throughout the rest of the play are Maud (Hargrave), Meg (Johnson), Gil (Goody Dickison), Mall (Spenser), and Nan Generous; while the familiars are Suckling, Pug, and Mamilion.5

The play, then, as published in 1634, is a revision. We may dispose of the possibility of collaboration in the revision by the fact that Heywood was writing for the Queen's Company in 1633, and that the Lancashire Witches6 was brought out by the King's Men, the company for which Brome was writing in 1633 and 1634.

We are able to determine, to a certain extent, the parts that may be ascribed to each author by comparing the play with the three sources that have been discovered. The main plot, the story of a woman of wealth practising witchcraft, finally discovered and condemned, is taken from a celebrated witch-trial in Lancashire in 1612. As ten witches were condemned and executed as the result of the trial, considerable notoriety was given to it. Heywood, with a journalist's instinct, made a play on the subject probably within a year of the trial.7 Besides this indication of Heywood's authorship of the main plot, the treatment of the erring wife by her husband (Act 4. p. 228) strongly suggests the Woman Killed with Kindness.

Closely connected with the main plot are three characters, Arthur, Shakstone, and Bantam,8 who, in the first scene of the play, accuse Whetstone, a foolish fellow, of being a bastard. At the end of the fourth act, Whetstone has his revenge by showing, with the aid of witchcraft, visions of the fathers of the three gallants—a pedant, a tailor, and a serving-man. Since this incident, as Langbaine pointed out, occurs in Heywood's Hierarchy of Angels,9 which was not published until 1635, and was, therefore, probably not known to Brome, I assign the parts in which these characters occur to Heywood.

Another interest in the play is the comic situation brought about by the reversal of the relations of father and son, mother and daughter, and servant and master, as an effect of witchcraft.10 This part of the play, which includes the characters of Old Seely, his son Gregory, and a friend, Doughty, I can find no good reason for attributing to Brome. On the other hand, as this reversed situation has some bearing on the relation of Arthur and Generous (pp. 178 and 182) in the main plot, it seems to me it must be assigned to Heywood.

The greater part of the rest of the play is taken up with the strange events at the marriage of Lawrence and Parnell, the servants of the Seely family. The witches play all sorts of pranks with the wedding-feast and frighten the guests; and one of them, Mall Spenser, gives Lawrence a bewitched cod-piece point, which causes a great deal of vulgar comedy by preventing him from consummating his marriage. This plot is involved to such an extent with all the different interests I have mentioned before, that I cannot see any possibility of a separate authorship for it. Arthur, Bantam, Shakstone, Whetstone, Seely, Doughty, and Gregory—characters in the other plots—are present in some capacity at most of the wedding scenes; Mall Spenser, who gives Lawrence the fatal present, has an intrigue with Robin, the servant who plays such an important part in the Nan Generous plot. Furthermore, there is a piece of external evidence which, I think, indicates that the Lawrence-Parnell plot was in the early version of the play. In Field's Woman is a Weathercock (5. 1), one character, addressing another as a very lusty person, says, ‘O thou beyond Lawrence of Lancashire.’ As Field's play was entered in the Stationers' Register Nov. 23, 1611, and the trial in Lancashire, from which Heywood drew his play, was not over until Aug., 1612, Field cannot be referring to Heywood's Lawrence. However, the probability is that both dramatists are using the name of a real character well-known to the audience, or a proverbial name for a person of his type. Whichever be the case, I think it safer to infer that the allusions to Lawrence should be dated as close together as possible. An allusion of this sort twenty years old would probably be forgot. Therefore, this external evidence also points to 1613 as the date of composition of the Lawrence-Parnell plot. Fleay seems to imply that the part of Lawrence and Parnell was added by Brome, because he says that the dialect which they speak is that of the Northern Lass.11 This, however, is not true. The speech of Lawrence and Parnell, which is considered fairly good Lancashire dialect,12 is much more difficult for the average reader than that of Constance in the Northern Lass, who speaks a sort of general North English dialect.13 As Heywood also has used a northern dialect elsewhere—e. g. in Edward IV.—as well as Brome, Fleay's argument is useless.

This attribution leaves very little part in the play to Brome. I think that all that can be shown positively to be his work are the passages that are undoubtedly based on the evidence gathered at the second trial for witchcraft in Lancashire in 1633. These are the short scene of the boy and the greyhounds in Act 2 (pp. 196-197); the sequel to it, in which one of the grayhounds turns into Goody Dickison (pp. 199-201); the scene of the meeting of the witches (pp. 218-221)14; and the boy's report of his adventure, at the beginning of Act 5 (pp. 241-244). This assigns to Brome about nine pages in all, out of a play of eighty-nine. Besides this, Brome changed the names of the witches and spirits throughout the play, and probably altered slightly the riming scene in Act 4 (p. 235), to introduce the references to Meg, Mamilion, Dickison, Hargrave, and All Saints' night. He also must have added the prologue and epilogue, and probably the song for Act 2, appended to the play.

All these details of the play, just enumerated, were drawn from the Examination of Edmund Robinson and the Confession of Margaret Johnson.15 They must, therefore, because of their later date, have been the additions of Brome. These interpolations have nothing to do with the rest of the play. In fact, Brome's reworking here has resulted in making a worse play out of a very poor one, merely to be up to date.

The authorship of the rest of Brome's work we have no reason to question. Four of the plays appeared during the author's lifetime, apparently under his supervision, for they have prefaces by him, and numerous commendatory verses by his friends. Moreover, the Antipodes has an appended note which I think assures us absolutely of its authorship. Ten more plays appeared under the editorship of Alexander Brome, the author's close friend. For the authenticity of the Queen's Exchange we have only the word of Henry Brome, the bookseller, but internal evidence, I think, confirms this. In fact, in all fifteen plays said to be by Brome alone, I can find no reason either in the Stationers' Register, the Herbert Office-book, or in internal evidence,16 for doubting the statement of the title-pages.


There is a great deal of sameness about the comedies of Brome, but this is due, not to a lack of variety in types of plot, as Dr. Faust has suggested,17 but rather to a repetition of the stock characters and stock situations that seem to have pleased Caroline audiences.18 Brome's plots, I think, may be divided into four distinct types. The Antipodes must be put into a class by itself, for but one-third of it has a regular plot, which is the framework for the satiric masque with which the rest of the piece is taken up. Randolph's Muses Looking-Glass is the only other play I know which approaches this type.

The City Wit is a very good play, modeled on the type of the Alchemist, that is, it consists of a series of tricks19 rather than of a regularly developed intrigue. Crasy, a fallen tradesman who discovers that his relations and friends turn against him when he is in trouble, plots a revenge upon every one of them in turn by means of a series of disguises, with the help of his servant Jeremy. This gives a chance for six or seven excellent situations, almost any one of which could, like those of the Alchemist, be separated from the others. Some of them, however, again like those of the Alchemist, grow out of one another. This same sort of duping Brome has used again in the underplots of two more plays, Covent Carden Weeded and the Sparagus Garden. Here we have the fleecing of one or more country fellows by a band of London scoundrels or ‘roarers.’ As I have not come across this ‘cony-catching’ plot in drama before the Alchemist, I suppose we may consider that play the origin of all these scenes and underplots in Cartwright's Ordinary, Marmion's Fine Companion, Nabbes' Bride, and Glapthorne's Hollander, as well as those in the two plays of Brome just mentioned.20 If these scenes were as typical of the lost plays of the period as they are of those extant, cony-catching must have been a stock situation of the late drama.

None of the other plays of Brome can be considered as merely a series of tricks. The rest of the plots are extremely complicated intrigues. But these I divide again into two classes, those made up of three, four, or five interests separable from one another, but united in the end; and those in which the various threads of the intrigue are completely involved in one another from the first act. Of the first class the Sparagus Garden is typical. This has five distinct interests, two of them wholly episodic, the other three brought together into one in Act 5. The main plot is a very complicated intrigue of two lovers separated by the enmity of the father of one and the grandfather of the other. The first underplot deals with the gulling of a country clown. The second underplot concerns the tricking of Sir Arnold Cautious by his nephew and other gallants. The episodic elements are the quarrels of Brittleware, the jealous husband, with his loose wife, and the very realistic tavern-scenes at the doubtful resort known as the Sparagus Garden. The main plot is further complicated by the addition of the unnecessary Money-lacks, father of the heroine, who does much plotting on his own account. The first underplot has one Tom Hoyden, who plots against his brother Tim, the country gull. The second underplot is loosely made to help the main plot by adding motive. There are other minor interrelations all through the play. All those interests, however, are kept practically distinct from one another until the last act. Here they are brought together with some skill. The whole effect of witnessing the play must have been much like trying to watch a five-ring circus with side-shows added!

The other plays that I put in this class are the Damoiselle, with three separate interests; the New Academy, with four; the English Moor, with four; Court Begger, with four; and Covent Garden Weeded, with three. Many of these separate interests are extremely involved in themselves—for instance, the main plots of the last two—and have much that is purely episodic besides. The last-mentioned play might be put in a class by itself, because the main plot is wholly dependent upon the exaggerated humor of one of the characters. This makes it exactly of the type of the Silent Woman. Just as Morose's exaggerated hatred of noise is the motive at the basis of that play, so Crosswill's desire to act contrary to the wishes of everybody with whom he comes into contact causes all the plotting and counterplotting of his children and friends in Covent Garden Weeded. However, as this play has underplots of a long-lost girl turning up and marrying a reclaimed rake, a band of ‘roarers’ who gull two victims, and a justice who weeds Covent Garden after much experience with its noxious plants, I class it with the comedies of separate interests, like the Sparagus Garden.

The other type of intrigue which Brome has used, that in which the threads of which the plot is composed are inextricably involved in one another from the beginning to the end of the play, has two examples, the Northern Lass and the Mad Couple well Matched. For an instance of this type I will summarize the situation at the beginning of Act 4 of the Northern Lass. Sir Philip Luckless has married the Widow Fitchow, but the pair have quarreled before the consummation of the marriage. Tridewell is in love with Mistress Fitchow, and she with him. Sir Philip is in love with Constance, the Northern Lass, who has gone mad for the love of him. Mistress Fitchow wishes her marriage annulled, but will not allow Sir Philip to marry Constance if she can help it. Constance has two other suitors, Nonsense and Widgine, both strongly backed by different persons who are interested, the Widow Fitchow being the backer of her brother Widgine. Sir Paul Squelch, a justice, the guardian of Constance, wishes her to marry Nonsense. Squelch incidentally has an intrigue with Holdup, a harlot, whom, in order to conceal her, he has disguised as Constance. This is but a bare statement of the situation, without mentioning the episodic scenes and the nine additional characters to help confuse the progress of the plot. The difference between this sort of plot and that of the comedy of the type of the Sparagus Garden is at once evident. In the Mad Couple well Matched there is the same intricacy of plotting. Here we have six or seven intrigues, in which everybody attempts somebody else's virtue, though there is not very much virtue in the entire dramatis personæ. But every thread is so involved in the others that to take one would necessitate a considerable change in the rest.

This variety of plot is exactly that which became most popular in the comedy of the Restoration. Even when we see it at its highest development in Congreve, it is difficult to follow, and impossible to remember long. It is interesting to note that both of Brome's comedies of this class were produced during the Restoration period with great success.21

The striking characteristic of all Brome's comedies of manners, of whatever type, is the extreme complication of their plots. They are mazes which have to be traversed a second time in order that the reader may be sure of finding his way at any point. To see them on the stage would require such close attention on the part of the audience that witnessing a play would become a serious mental effort, rather than a relaxation. And this complexity is characteristic not only of Brome, but of most of his contemporaries in the field of comedy. Brome has merely outdone them slightly in this respect, and has handled his difficult problem a little better. In Brome, English drama reached an extreme of intricacy which has never been equaled, and never can be surpassed without a hopeless entanglement of the wits of the audience. Even one of the characters in the Sparagus Garden exclaims:

Well here's such a knot now to untie
As would turn Œdipus his braine awry.

Middleton summed up his own type of comedy in his introduction ‘To the Comic Play-Readers, Venery and Laughter,’ of the Roaring Girl (1611). Here he compares playmaking to the ‘alteration in apparel’: ‘Now in the time of spruceness, our plays follow the niceness of our garments, single plots, quaint conceits, lecherous jests, dressed up in hanging sleeves.’ The comedy of the next generation lost the singleness of plot, and developed the other elements. In comparison with this quotation, we may take one from Richard Flecknoe's Discourse of the English Stage (c. 1660)22: ‘The chief faults of ours are our huddling too much matter together, and making them too long and intricate; we imagine we never have intrigue enough, till we lose ourselves and Auditors, who shu'd be led in a Maze, but not a Mist; and through turning and winding wayes, but so still, as they may find their way at last.’ Any modern reader will feel that this fits Brome's plays much better than C. G.'s lines before the Sparagus Garden:

Nor is thy Labyrinth confus'd, but wee
In that disorder, may proportion see.

This last quotation and two more in the plays, may indicate that Brome was adversely criticized in this respect, even by some of his contemporaries. In Covent Garden Weeded23 a character says: ‘Nay, mark, I pray you, as I would entreat an Auditory, if now I were a Poet, to mark the Plot, and several points of my play, that they might not say when 'tis done, they understood not this or that, or how such a part came in or went out, because they did not observe the passages.’ And again in the Damoiselle24 occurs a similar remark:

                                                            Now Wat
Observe me:
As an ingenious Critick would observe
The first Scene of a Comedy, for feare
He lose the Plot.

A thing which adds to the confusion of Brome's plots is his great fondness for introducing episodic scenes and characters.25 There is a natural temptation to do this, if one's chief aim is to show manners or humors. This is the reason for the introduction of the realistic scene of the shoemaker and tailor dunning the gallant in Covent Garden Weeded, and the tavern-scenes in the same play and in the Sparagus Garden, as well as of the scenes between the humors, Widgine and Anvile, in the Northern Lass, and the numerous episodic passages between Courtwit, Swaynwit, and Citwit in the Court Begger. Exact parallels to these are the scenes introducing Dawes and Lafoole in the Silent Woman. Of a less pardonable sort are the episodes which merely add confusion to the plot, without showing humors or manners. Such are those in which Anvile in the Northern Lass is sent to Constance's house, under the impression that it is a brothel, and is beaten; and Squelch, in the same play, is tried in his own house by another justice, and forced to marry Trainwell to extricate himself from his position.

But in spite of this overloading with episode in some of the plays, I consider Brome a very clever master of plotting. Of course such involved intrigue cannot be approved of by modern standards; but if we accept the criteria of Caroline and Restoration taste, we must admit that none of the ‘Sons of Ben,’ and but few of the Restoration playwrights, equalled Brome in weaving four or five strands of interest into one play. Schelling26 and Ward27 agree in calling him a very skilful handler of plots; and even Symonds,28 who has little to say in his favor, admits that his plots are firmly traced, and sustained on one plan throughout, without any suggestion of improvisation. Dr. Faust,29 on the other hand, says his plays are looser in construction than even Every Man out of his Humor, but I do not see how even the most careless reading could lead to this conclusion.

Brome's good points in plotting are his careful exposition in the first act, his attention to motives in the greater number of his plays, and the preparation he never fails to give for any important turn in the plot, except, of course, where he aims at complete surprise. The City Wit illustrates these qualities very well. The motives for Crasy's series of plots throughout the play are all carefully elaborated in the first act, where every one of his family and friends goes back on him in trouble. The entrance of Pyannet Sneakup, the shrew, is very well prepared for, so that she comes on in a whirlwind of invective. And near the beginning of the fifth act (p. 358), Crasy clarifies the very complicated situation by recapitulating the part of the scheme he has already planned. This monologue is very useful, and not at all crudely done. This last trait Dr. Koeppel has observed in Brome. He says, in speaking of Massinger's constructive power30: ‘Same of the dramas of his contemporaries resemble mazes in whose paths both author and spectator may be lost. Richard Brome tried to avoid this by drawing attention to particularly difficult complications by an explicit remark of one of his dramatis personæ.

One reason Brome is difficult to follow, in spite of the craftsmanship displayed in this manner, is that these hints and preparations often come so far before the action that they are forgotten by the audience. Examples of this are to be found in the Sparagus Garden, where an important revelation of the fifth act is prepared for by mysterious hints in the sixth scene of the second, and again in the Mad Couple. A place where this preparation of the audience is successfully accomplished is Covent Garden Weeded. Here a revelation of the fourth act is led up to by two conversations and a dumb show in the first three. A very fine dialogue, giving antecedent action with skilful unobtrusiveness, is that in the Sparagus Garden 1. 3. The Antipodes is an excellent example of Brome's attention to details in carrying out his main idea. Much of the humor of the play depends upon the detailed consistency in carrying out the inversions of position. These are but a few of the most striking illustrations of the playwright's careful endeavor to keep his plots clear.

The plays of Brome's contemporaries, besides having his weaknesses, are deficient also in his best point—plotting. Nabbes' Covent Garden, for instance, is mostly aimless dialogue, with little plot, very loosely put together. Tottenham Court is not much better, and the Bride is a series of separate attempts of a villain upon his cousin, without any organic unity in the plot. Marmion's Holland's Leager has another very loose plot—merely a number of old situations thrown together with but little sequence. Brome's situations are usually hackneyed, but they at least grow organically out of what precedes. Marmion's Antiquary is better, but not equal to Brome in the handling of complicated intrigue. His Fine Companion, however, is as good a play as the average of Brome's. Cartwright's Ordinary is devoid of invention, and absurdly crude in stage-craft. Glapthorne's Hollander is clear because it is simple, but his Wit in a Constable is most confused and hard to follow, although it has not nearly so much material as Brome employs in one plot. Cokayne's Obstinate Lady is one of the poorest-made plays of even this poor period. Beside the four last mentioned plays, Brome's productions, tiresome as most of them are, shine like bright metal on a sullen ground. In Mayne's City Match we have a plot of some cleverness, but poorly knit and hard to follow. It is a play of complex type, that needs much more care in preparation and explicit reference. Shirley's comedies are not so complex in structure as Brome's, but, though Shirley is superior in most respects as a dramatist, he has often less ingenuity in plotting.

Several times, however, Brome has fallen into a very serious fault in structure. This is the very cheap solution of a situation by the introduction of a deus ex machina in the fifth act. In the Antipodes, Old Truelock comes in at the end of the play, and relieves us of all doubts as to Lord Letoy's good intentions by explaining that Diana is really Letoy's daughter, who has been brought up from infancy as his own. A quite parallel situation is that of the dénouement of the New Academy, where it turns out that the chastity of Hannah is proved to her jealous husband by the information that Valentine is her half-brother. Hardyman, her father, is introduced here for the first time to prove this. The Mad Couple has two dei ex machina in the fifth act. These plays are the only ones in which this inartistic device is used to bring about a real solution. Brome had precedents for this in at least two plays by Jacobean dramatists of the first rank, Massinger's crazily constructed play, Believe as You List, and Middleton and Rowley's Spanish Gipsy. In the former, two new characters are brought on in the fifth act to solve the situation, and in the latter, a long lost wife and daughter turn up unexpectedly at the end.31

To conclude this discussion of the structural features of Brome's comedy, his dramatic motives should be mentioned. Three plays, the Northern Lass, the Court Begger, and Covent Garden Weeded, depend wholly upon expectation; no important surprise occurs. In all the others there is no use of surprise in the first four acts, but in the fifth there is always one surprise, usually in the identity of some character. This method is used several times by Jonson, notably in the Silent Woman. The Damoiselle has two surprises in the last act, and the Sparagus Garden three. Two of these last are prepared for by slight hints early in the play. This cheaper dramatic motive, is one of Brome's weaknesses, resulting from copying Jonson, who used it with real success but once.


A perusal of any one of the plays will show that Brome has much more interest in plot itself, in devising and solving intricate situations, than his master, Jonson. He tries to carry out Jonson's principle in characterization, but he never allows his interest in humors to create a play of the type of Every Man in his Humor or Every Man out of his Humor. In fact, none of the ‘Sons of Ben’ attempted anything of the sort. However, Brome does introduce purely episodic humors into his plots.

Brome cared more for humor-study than any other of the Jonsonian imitators, and succeeded best in it. But his humors are nearly all imitations—stock characters of London life repeated over and over in this late period of the drama. Some of these characters portray touches of nature that make them stand out somewhat above their types, and show that Brome was an observer of men, though he lacked the creative impulse to break away from the conventional methods of depicting them.

One of his favorite types is the jealous husband, a perennial figure in drama. The four representatives in these plays have nothing distinguishing about them. There are four uninteresting foolish citizens' wives, who are either indiscreet with their husbands' customers or pretend to be. Old knights who are still amorous, and decayed old gentlemen who live by projects or dishonorable employments, abound in the plays. The half-dozen of these, who bear such names as Sir Arnold Cautious and Sir Humphrey Dryground, are rather more disgusting than amusing, with the exception of old Hearty in the Jovial Crew. The ‘blunt servingman’ is a slightly drawn figure, who occurs in four plays. I imagine Brome's fondness for him may be caused by the fact that he himself was perhaps such a character when he was reading Tacitus to Ben Jonson; but this is dangerous dallying with surmise. The Puritan,32 the pedant, and the usurer, figure two or three times each. In his women-characters Brome is quite successful. The shrews, widows, nurse, silly lover of fashion, and foolish mother, as well as the bawd and the plentiful supply of eight harlots, all have an amusing self-assurance and great glibness of tongue. The last mentioned class of women are often drawn as rather pathetic creatures, with much good in them. Besides all these, there are one or two each of the class of ‘wenchers,’ projectors,32 a braggart, and a pickpocket. But Brome's best types are the foolish young countryman who comes to town to marry or to be made a gentleman, and is fleeced and made a fool of, the blunt old country gentleman, and the old justice. There are about seven in the first class, and a dozen in the last two. These old men with some special crotchet are the most amusing characters of the comedies, but repeated so often that there is too little variety in them.

In all this array of characters there is little originality. Not that they are feebly drawn, for there is considerable vigor in Brome's pen at times, but we have seen people with these same exaggerated peculiarities from the miracle plays to Jonson. About the best individual figures are Mrs. Pyannet Sneakup, a very good caricature of a shrew, in the City Wit; Constance, in the Northern Lass; and Springlove, in the Jovial Crew.33 The last two are Brome's only original contributions in the way of character-drawing to English drama. Constance is a pathetic figure with a freshness, simplicity, and naturalness that are markedly contrasted with the rather unwholesome atmosphere of the most of Brome. She is the only example in all the comedies, of unsophistication made charming. Rev. Ronald Bayne suggests that the seventeenth century saw in her some of the charm of the heroines of Scott. The Yorkshire dialect she speaks adds much to this. Springlove is the best figure in Brome's best play; Charles Lamb speaks with some enthusiasm of him in a review of the play in 1819.34 Springlove is a gipsy, whom civilization has been unable to subdue. The love of the fields and woods and the call of the open road suggest the late nineteenth-century theme of vagabondia.35


The chief interest in Brome's work to-day as drama is, of course, historic rather than intrinsic, but it also has a real interest to the student of the manners of the seventeenth century. In reading with this interest, one must be careful to remember that the ‘realism’ of the comedy with a complicated intrigue becomes almost as artificial and as divorced from actual life as work that is frankly romantic. The exigencies of such plots as Brome is fond of bring about situations that probably occurred as seldom in the life of the seventeenth century as in that of to-day. For instance, the association on the stage of women of character with harlots, a common situation in Brome, probably does not reflect the manners of the age. Likewise, the presence of gentlewomen at taverns was a much rarer thing in life than in Brome's comedies. Artificialities of this sort become dramatic conventions, just as types of characters do.

The student who reads Brome for manners must carefully consider this point. But there are some scenes which are doubtless transcripts of the daily life of England under Charles I. Such scenes are that in which a rabble duck a pandar in the Damoiselle (4. 1); that in which an old woman is ducked for scolding (in this case, however, a ‘manscold’) in the Antipodes; the very realistic tavern-scenes in Covent Garden Weeded36 and the Sparagus Garden, and the scenes at an academy of deportment in the New Academy.37 At scenes of this sort Brome is very successful. In fact, the historian of society will find more for his purpose in Brome than in Jonson, who saw more humor in universal foibles than in ephemeral conditions.

Realism was Brome's most congenial field, but, like Shirley, a typical playwright, he tried his hand at whatever was popular. As romance was in great demand through the latter half of the period of his activity, he made several attempts at two or three varieties of romantic plays. In the prologue to the Northern Lass he says that he is capable of serious work, and in the prologue to the Sparagus Garden, actually promises something to ‘take graver judgment.’ This, I suppose, he attempted to fulfill in the three tragi-comedies. These Fletcherian imitations have been moderately praised by Ward, Schelling, and Rev. Ronald Bayne. The earliest, the Lovesick Court, is a mediocre piece of work, but the other two, the Queen's Exchange and the Queen and the Concubine, are really interesting, in spite of the fact that Brome's poetry has no distinction. All three plays show the skill in plotting that I have commented on in speaking of the comedies of manners.

Of the three romantic comedies of intrigue, the Novella is the least interesting. There is no Jonsonian influence discernible, but the plot has the intricacy almost always characteristic of Brome. In the English Moor, a well constructed main plot, of very good comedy of its type, is combined with a highly romantic underplot suitable for a tragi-comedy. The combination is not happy, but the plots separated might make two good plays. The piece is particularly interesting as an experiment. Brome, who always affected to despise romance,38 is here attempting to satisfy the popular demand for it, without giving up his favorite study of humors and manners.

However, in his last play, the Jovial Crew, Brome has succeded in combining realism and romance with charming effect. His method here is to choose an amusing romantic plot, and develop it with humor-characters. The success of the combination is probably due to the fact that the plot itself is a mild satire on the love of romance in young ladies. With this idea in mind, the situation of the Spanish Gipsy is transferred to contemporary English country life, and supplied with humor-characters, which Brome can draw with skill. The combination of these two forms of art is exactly what Jonson tried in his failure, the New Inn. But Jonson tried to write romance with very little action. As Dr. Tennant says in his analysis,39 three-fifths of the play is a bore. Brome, who is much less interested in satire, or in humor-study for its own sake, and who always has a keen eye for what is dramatic, has been able to avoid Jonson's mistake.


‘Each of the Elizabethan and Jacobean men has a metrical method of his own; Ford and Shirley have metrical methods not of their own, being for the most part only those of Jonson or Middleton weakened by toning down to a uniformity of manner; but Davenant, Suckling, and a whole host of minor Carolans (who, to our comfort, contributed only one or two plays each), have no metre properly so-called of any kind; they wrote in a system which even Wagner only ventured to hope for, not to act on, of music without bars; they had no rule but their individual whim; and the result was a hybrid of irregular iambic, certainly not verse, and which it would be an insult to the ghosts of Milton, Landor, and De Quincey to call prose.’40 This statement of Fleay's, harsh and sweeping as it is, certainly applies to the versification of Brome. In fact, the lover of poetry must read through an arid waste to find a few lines to enjoy in the work of even the most conspicuous names in the dramatic literature of the reign of Charles. Massinger, interesting as he is as a playwright, has nothing but facility to recommend his verse. Symonds allows him scarcely a dozen lines of intrinsic beauty.41

If this is true of the romantic drama of the period, we may expect to find extremely careless work in the realistic comedies of manners. Why these should be written in verse at all is hard to see. Yet Brome, following the custom, wrote six out of the nine plays of this type partly in verse. The Antipodes, with the exception of a dozen lines, is wholly in verse. This rather useless practice, I suppose, we may attribute to literary convention.

As verse adds very little to comedies of manners, and in fact, detracts from the realism, we should not be over-nice in criticizing Brome, Nabbes, and the rest, for their roughness. Cartwright, who had fair ability as a versifier, has shown in his Ordinary that long speeches and elaborate similes in the romantic manner hardly suggest the atmosphere of the dregs of London society. The more prosaic the verse, the better it is for this purpose. Brome, however, wrote as execrably for tragi-comedy as for his ‘low and home-bred subjects.’

In the Prologue to the Northern Lass he says:

Gallants, and Friends-spectators, will yee see
A strain of Wit that is not Poetry?
I have Authority for what I say:
For He himself says so that Writ the
Though in the Muses Garden he can walk;
And choicest flowers pluck from every stalk
To deck the Stage; and purposeth, hereafter,
To take your Judgements: now he implores your

This boast Brome never succeeded in making good, for an analysis of the verse of his three tragi-comedies, in which he evidently expected to take our judgments, shows no more metrical skill than is apparent in the comedies of manners. His verse always averages rather poor, and shows carelessness and lack of ear. Every scene presents difficulties of scansion that frequently make the reader prefer to read the so-called verse as prose rather than take the trouble to determine the author's intention, if indeed, he had any. Lines of no rhythm at all are occasionally introduced, like these two in the Queen and Concubine (1. 1.):

I was i' the' way: but the Queen put me out on't.
But what of him now in the battail?

A very irritating rhythm that is a marked mannerism with Brome, is produced by a huddling of unstressed syllables in the middle of an eleven-or twelve-syllable line. For instance, in the first scene of the Antipodes, he allows the following:

Might make a gentleman mad you'll say and him.
And not so much by bodily physieke (no!)

Another effect that may become very annoying is caused by the jolt at the end of a line with a hovering stress on the tenth and eleventh syllables. For example:

With an odd Lord in towne, that looks like no Lord.
Some of your project searchers wait without sir.
With his old misbeliefe. But still we doubt not.

Another annoying point in Brome's rhythm is the uncertainty as to whether some twelve-syllable lines are Alexandrines, or lines with extra mid-line syllables, or lines with double feminine endings. For instance:

In competition for the crown as any man.
For you to rectifie your scrupulous judgement.
I am an old Courtier I, still true to th' Crown.

Other examples of carelessness in versification are the two ‘fourteeners’ in the first scene of the Lovesick Court, and the occurrence, four times in Brome's work, of a word divided at the end of a line.42

This accusation of general carelessness in technique is not a random generalization based on the verse-writer's early work. I can find no indication of development in skill, no progress of any sort. The examples quoted below, of the best verse I can find in Brome, are both from plays written probably in 1635, the middle period of his production. The late plays, the Antipodes,Court Begger, and Jovial Crew show no attempts at remedying the faults of the early work. The number of feminine endings and of run-on lines shows some slight variation, but no regular chronological progress. In the use of a certain definite type of verse to introduce variety, the four-stress heroic line, or ‘ten-syllable tetrameter,’ as Professor Cobb43 calls it, there is again no evidence of increase or decrease in frequency. While Shakespeare's use of this, varying from sixteen to six per cent, makes an added chronological verse-test possible, no such check can be found for Brome, whose use does not vary much from an average of eight per cent.

The model of Brome in his versification I think was Fletcher. The evidence of personal friendship between the two men, and of some influences in details, as well as in the general style of tragi-comedy,44 makes the theory a priori not untenable. Among the distinguishing characteristics of the use of Fletcher given by Fleay45 are the large number of feminine endings, and the ‘abundance of trisyllabic feet, so that his lines have to be felt rather than scanned; it is almost impossible to tell when Alexandrines are intended.’ Both these points are markedly characteristic of Brome's prosody. Professor C. H. Herford46 has pointed out another distinguishing trait of Fletcher—that ‘the pause after two emphatic monosyllables, the first of which bears the verse stress, is common within the line, as well as at the end, and is very rare in Shakespeare.’ The use of this in the middle of the line I have not noticed in Brome, but the jolting effect of it at the end, which is a serviceable Beaumont-Fletcher test,47 is one of the traits which I have tabulated as distinctly a mark of Brome. …

After exhibiting Brome's faults as a versifier, it is only fair to quote a few passages of his best work. The following is from the Sparagus Garden (3. 5, p. 163):

You dare not sir blaspheme the virtuous use
Of sacred Poetry, nor the fame traduce
Of Poets, who not alone immortal be,
But can give others immortality.
Poets that can men into stars translate,
And hurle men down under the feet of Fate:
Twas not Achilles sword, but Homers pen,
That made brave Hector dye the best
of men:
And if that powerful Homer likewise
Hellen had beene a hagge, and Troy
had stood.
Poets they are the life and death of things,
Queens give them honour, for the greatest Kings
Have bin their subjects.

Brome's best verse is to be found in the Queen's Exchange. The Shakespearian influence shown in situations and characters may also be felt occasionally in the verse. I quote two of the most effective passages:

                                                                                At the same place again?
If there be place, or I know any thing,
How is my willingness in search deluded?
It is the Wood that rings with my complaint,
And mocking Echo makes her merry with it.
Curs'd be thy babling and mayst thou become
A sport for wanton boys in thy fond answers,
Or stay, perhaps it was some gentle Spirit
Hovering i' th' air, that saw his flight to Heaven,
And would direct me thither after him.
Good reason, leave me not, but give me leave
A little to consider nearer home;
Say his diviner part be taken up
To those celestial joys, where blessed ones
Find their inheritance of immorality.

(2. 3, p. 496.)

Ha! Do I hear or dream? is this a sound,
Or is it but my fancy? 'Tis the music,
The music of the Spheres that do applaud
My purpose of proceeding to the King.
I'l on; but stay; how? What a strange benummednesse
Assails and siezes my exterior parts?
And what a Chaos of confused thoughts
Does my imagination labour with?
Till all have wrought themselves into a lump
Of heaviness, that falls upon mine eyes
So ponderously that it bows down my head,
Begins to curb the motion of my tongue,
And lays such weight of dulness on my Senses,
That my weak knees are doubling under me.
There is some charm upon me. Come thou forth
Thou sacred Relique! suddenly dissolve it.
I sleep with deathlesse(48); for if thus I fall,
My vow falls on me, and smites me into Ruine.
But who can stand against the power of Fate?
Though we foreknow repentence comes too late.

(3. 1, p. 504.)


The ideas of decency in the seventeenth century were certainly very different from those of subsequent times. The numerous contributors to Jonsonus Virbius unite in asserting that Ben Jonson never wrote a word that might offend the chariest sense of modesty. Ben is always moral, but it would take a bold critic to call him modest. The same thing is true of most of the Jacobeans. With the Caroline dramatists there was somewhat of a weakening of the moral tone, and a slight increase in the vulgarity and indecency of the dialogue. But they surely did not have far to go in the last mentioned respect, after Bartholomew Fair. In both morality and indecency Brome reflects the tendency seen in the average plays of the reign of Charles I.49

Alexander Brome, in his preface to Five New Plays of 1653, is quite right in saying that the plays are ‘as innocent of wrong, as full of worth,’ but he is not right in the sense in which he intended the line to be understood. Extreme coarseness seems to have become a dramatic convention in the comedy of manners. Middleton and Nabbes are as great offenders against modern taste as Brome. Glapthorne and Davenant become equally foul in language, whenever their style is colloquial. Even the knight, Sir Aston Cokayne, and the clergyman, Jasper Mayne, are quite as degraded.50 The dramas of these men reached such a low point that Wycherley and Vanbrugh in the next reign could not descend much further. However, none of them put on the stage such unspeakable grossness as Jonson and Herrick employed in certain of their epigrams.

Though there is no difference in the indecency of language between the writers of the Caroline and those of the Restoration period, there is some difference in the moral tone of their plots. Plays in which vice is made attractive and virtue ridiculous do occur in Elizabethan drama, but they are rare. The triumph of the rake, Mirabel, in Fletcher's Wild Goose Chase (1621), marks the beginning of the moral decline carried on in Shirley's Brothers (1626) and Lady of Pleasure (1636), and Brome's Mad Couple well Matched (c. 1635). In the Brothers, Luys is the counterpart of Mirabel, and in the Lady of Pleasure, the three gallants, Scentlove, Kickshaw, and Littleworth, are typical Restoration sparks, who talk openly of intrigues, and affect immorality more than they practise it. In the Mad Couple well Matched there are four intrigues, and two more suspected; the bad characters all end happily; no one suffers for his flagrant immorality; the hero is faithless, a rake, a scoundrel, and a liar.

This play, however, is unique among Brome's. In all the rest, the good wins in the end. In several of them there is a definite moral, or at least a conscience, in spite of the fact that the aim is chiefly to amuse. An instance is Fabritio's excusing himself to the audience for his conduct toward his father in the matter of the old man's amours.51 Again we have the highly moral speech of Diana to Letoy, who pretends to tempt her virtue, in the Antipodes (5. 2). And in the Damoiselle there is a strong moral influence, without any trace of the Restoration manner. In his satire we have perhaps the best proof that Brome worked most of the time with a correct moral standard, for he always, like his master, ridicules folly and vice, but never virtue.52


  1. Sub-title first added to edition of 1663.

  2. The five pages following are reprinted from my article, the Authorship of the Lancashire Witches in Modern Language Notes for this year.

  3. Fleay, Biog. Chron. 1. 301.

  4. Heywood's Works, 1873, Vol. 4.

  5. See pp. 187-189, 199-202, 218-222, 235.

  6. See title page to a Maiden-head well Lost, 1634, and Schelling's list, Eliz. Drama 2. 586.

  7. T. Potts's Discoverie of Witches in the County of Lancaster, London, 1613, (reprinted by the Chetham Society, 1845) gives a full account of the trial, but I do not think was the actual source of the play. Heywood probably had merely heard of the trial.

  8. See pp. 176, 189 ff., 246 ff., 250 ff.

  9. Bk. 8. p. 512.

  10. Pp. 179-187.

  11. Fleay, op. cit. 1. 303.

  12. Crossley's Intro. op. cit. p. 65, n. 1.

  13. Compare the words listed from the two plays by Eckhardt, Die Dialekt- und Ausländertypen des Älteren Englischen Dramas. 1900, 1. 86 and 87.

  14. The original idea of this scene was probably in the first version, but the getting a feast by pulling at ropes and the presence of the boy, come from the 1633 source.

  15. Both found in Crossley's introduction to T. Potts, op. cit., pp. 59-76.

  16. E. H. Oliphant in ‘The Problem of Authorship in Eliz. Drama’ (Mod. Phil., 8. 3), says there are but three plays of Brome on which we may base a knowledge of his style with anything like absolute safety,-Antipodes, Jovial Crew, and Covent Garden Weeded, and adds that there are eleven more which may be accepted unless internal evidence cause us to doubt the external. He gives no reason for the particular selection of Covent Garden Weeded. His suggestion that the Mad Couple is probably founded on a play by Rowley, because it appears on the Cockpit list of 1639 between plays by Rowley and those of Shirley, I consider ill grounded.

  17. Op. cit., p. 31.

  18. Dr. Allen (op. cit., pp. 44-46) has mentioned Brome's repetition of himself as his most provoking habit. This is shown in the repeated types of character (see below p. 64); in the similarity of the disgrace-situation at the basis of the main plots of Novella, Damoiselle, and New Academy; and in the wearisome frequency of disguise as a motive in fourteen plays. ‘Secrets of birth, false marriages, a man marrying one person when he thinks he is marrying some one else, changed letters, confused identities, timely disappearances, drunken scenes, last scene conversions,—all appear just as one expects them to.’

  19. Woodbridge, Studies in Jonson's Comedy, p. 60.

  20. Cf. also Middleton's Fair Quarrel 4. 1 and 4, where Chough is taught to be a ‘roarer.’

  21. See above, p. 30.

  22. Attached to Love's Kingdom, a Pastoral Tragicomedy, 1664. In Hazlitt's Treatises on the English Drama and Stage.

  23. 3. 2, p. 50.

  24. 3. 1, p. 417.

  25. Dr. Allen is certainly mistaken in saying that Brome ‘chooses his incidents and scenes with a view to ‘plot advancement, and, ordinarily, to that alone,’ and that ‘nothing is shown merely to exhibit or explain characters’ (op. cit., p. 49.)

  26. Elizabethan Drama 2. 274.

  27. Op. cit., 3. 131.

  28. Academy 5. 304.

  29. Op. cit., p. 32.

  30. Cambridge Hist. Eng. Lit. 6. 173.

  31. One other fault, that has been pointed out by Dr. Allen (op. cit. p. 51), is that the ‘preparation for the last act or the close of it is sometimes inadequate … According to long accepted tradition the conclusion of the comedy must be happy,—even the villain must be punished very lighty, if at all … So Brome, like many of his betters, is prone to convert his villain by main strength in the last scene. For this no preparation is likely to be adequate.’

  32. See appendix II.

  33. Walter Baetke (Kindergestalten bei den Zeitgenossen und Nachfolgern Shakespeare's, Halle, 1908, pp. 73-76) considers Gonzago in the Queen and Concubine an original type of the child in drama, a creation of Brome's.

  34. The Examiner, July 4, 5, 1819 (Works, ed. Lucas, 1. 186).

  35. In connection with this notice of types of character I may mention Brome's use of dialect and foreign phrases. The Northern Lass contains a great deal of Yorkshire dialect; the Lancashire Witches considerable fairly accurate Lancashire; and the Sparagus Garden a little of the ordinary clown-dialect (Somersetshire?) so frequently used by the Elizabethan dramatists. Some French and French English occurs in the Damoiselle, and one or two German phrases in the Novella. (For a complete list of dialect words, etc. see E. Eckhardt, Die Dialekt- und Ausländertypen des Älteren Englischen Dramas, Louvain, 1910-11). The City Wit has a great deal of Latin, and the Jovial Crew several scenes written in beggars' cant.

  36. In 3. 1, an interesting tavern-bill is itemized.

  37. This, again, may be purely an artificial invention. Shirley, who has anticipated Brome here in his Love-Tricks, or the Academy of Compliments (1625), may have developed the idea from Cynthia's Revels.

  38. E. g., the Prologue to the Jovial Crew.

  39. New Inn., ed. Tennant, Introduction, p. XXXV.

  40. Fleay, Chron. Hist., p. 314.

  41. Massinger's Works, Mermaid Series, Introduction, p. XV.

  42. Antipodes 2. 3; New Academy 4. 1; Queen's Exchange 1. 1; Weeding Covent Garden, Prologue. Shirley is guilty of this in the Cardinal 1. 2, and Jonson used it in a few doggerel passages.

  43. C. W. Cobb, ‘A Type of Four-Stress Verse in Shakespeare,’ New Shakespeareana 10. 1-15. Examples of this type in the Queen's Exchange 1. 1 are:

    Betwixt smooth flattery and honest judgements.
    Whom my great wisdom would allot the Queen.
  44. See above, pp. 20; 68.

  45. Shakespeare Manual, p. 153.

  46. Eversley edition, Works of Shakspere (1904) 7. 154, note 1.

  47. In an examination of a thousand lines of the work that is assigned to Beaumont alone, on external evidence. I have found practically no cases of hovering stress on the tenth and eleventh syllables.

  48. A word seems to have dropped out here.

  49. Dekker and Webster's Northward Ho is not exactly a moral preachment, either. The whole atmosphere of it is foul. Every man tries to cuckold his friend. Poetic justice is meted out in the end by marrying the worst villain to a prostitute. In one scene a man is pandar to his wife.

  50. Marmion's comedies are the least open to objection, on this point, of all those of the time.

  51. Novella 4. 2, p. 160.

  52. See below, Influence of Jonson, p. 91.

Principal Works

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

The City Wit, or The Woman Wears the Breeches (play) c. 1629

The Northern Lass (play) 1629

The Novella (play) 1632

The Queen's Exchange (play) c. 1631–32

*The Weeding of the Covent Garden, or The Middlesex Justice of the Peace (play) 1632

The Late Lancashire Witches [with Thomas Heywood] (play) 1634

The New Academy, or The New Exchange (play) c. 1635

The Queen and Concubine (play) c. 1635

The Sparagus Garden (play) 1635

The English Moor, or The Mock Marriage (play) 1637

The Antipodes (play) 1638

The Damoiselle, or The New Ordinary (play) c. 1637–38

The Lovesick Court, or The Ambitious Politique (play) c. 1638

A Mad Couple Well Match'd (play) c. 1637–39

The Court Beggar (play) 1639–40

A Jovial Crew, or The Merry Beggars (play) 1641

Five New Playes (plays) 1653

Five New Playes (plays) 1659

*This work is also referred to as Covent Garden Weeded.

†This collection contains A Mad Couple Well Match'd,The Novella,The Court Beggar,The City Wit, and The Damoiselle.

‡This collection contains The English Moor,The Love-Sick Court,Covent Garden Weeded,The New Academy, and The Queen and Concubine.

Algernon Charles Swinburne (essay date 1919)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: “Richard Brome,” in Contemporaries of Shakespeare, William Heinemann, 1919, pp. 261-74.

[In the following essay, Swinburne favorably compares Brome's plays to those of his contemporaries and considers The Antipodes one of the “most fanciful and delightful farces in the world.”]

If the futile and venerable custom of academic disputations on a given theme of debate were ever to revive in the world of scholarship and of letters, an amusing if not a profitable theme for discussion might be the question whether a minor artist of real and original merit is likelier to gain or to lose by the association of his name with that of a master in his art. And no better example could be taken than that afforded by the relation of Dick Brome to Ben Jonson. The well-known first line of the commendatory verses with which his master and patron condescended to play the part of sponsor to his first comedy must probably be familiar to many who care to know no more than that Ben had “Dick” for a servant once, and testified that he “performed a servant's faithful parts”; and further, that when Dick took to play-writing Ben encouraged him with sublime condescension and approval of the success attained by his disciple through dutiful observation of those laws of comedy “which I, your master, first did teach the stage.” From this Olympian nod of supercilious approbation it might be inferred, and indeed has very probably been inferred by the run of readers, that Brome, as dramatist and humorist, was little or nothing more than a shadow or an echo, more or less definite or distinct, of his master's figure and his master's voice. And unquestionably he must have learnt much and gained much by such intercourse and such discipleship. His first play, The Northern Lass, appearing and succeeding as it did under the kindly if haughty patronage of his master, and deserving as it certainly was of that patronage and success, might perhaps have been better and might perhaps have been worse if the author's agile and active talent had been uninfluenced and unmodified by the rigid example and the imperious authority of Ben Jonson. The stage is so crowded and the action is so crossed by the coming and going of so many ludicrous and serious figures, that the attention if not the patience of the reader is overstrained by the demand made on it; and the movements of the figures through the mazes of a complex dramatic dance are not so happily regulated as to avoid or to avert an irritating sense of confusion and fatigue. But there are scenes and touches of character in it worthy of very high praise: the gentle heroine, tender and true (if somewhat soft and simple) as a “northern lass” should appear in compliance with tradition, is a figure very gracefully outlined, if not quite adequately finished or relieved: there is something more of sentimental interest or romantic suggestion in the ingenious if incomposite plot than might have been expected from a disciple of Jonson's: and the direct imitation of his Bobadil and Master Mathew is too lively and happy to be liable to the charge of servile or sterile discipleship. And there are few scenes in all the range of serio-comic drama more effective and impressive on even a second or third reading than that in which the friend of an intending bridegroom attempts to break off his match with a woman whom he believes unworthy by denunciation of his friend's imaginary vices, and is fascinated himself by the discovery of her unshaken and unselfish devotion.

The modern reader of this play, the earliest attempt of its author and an excellent example of his talent, will probably be struck by the evidence it affords that Brome in our own day would have won higher distinction as a novelist than he did in his own as a playwright. Were he now alive, he would be a brilliant and an able competitor in their own field of work and study with such admirable writers as Mrs. Oliphant and Mr. Norris. His powers of observation and invention were not, if I mistake not, inferior to theirs; and the bent of his mind was not more technically dramatic. In fact, his characters are cramped and his plots are distorted by compression into dramatic shape: they would gain both in execution and in effect by expansion, dilation, or dilution into the form of direct and gradual narrative.

The opening scene of The Sparagus Garden is as happily humorous and as vividly natural as that of any more famous comedy. Tim Hoyden is a figure not unworthy of comparison with Sir Mannerly Shallow in Crowne's excellent broad comedy of The Country Wit—as that rural knight may be held worthy to rank as a precursor, a herald from afar, a daystar announcing the sunrise, of Congreve's matchless and inimitable Sir Wilfrid Witwould. But in Congreve's time, and even in Crowne's, the construction of a play—its carpentry, to use a French term beloved of the great Dumas—was too well understood for it to have been possible that a writer of brilliant ability and conscientious energy should have offered to the public a play so roughly put together—so loose on its hinges and so shaky in its joints. “It is no common play,” says a friend of the author in a remarkably well-written copy of commendatory verses;

Nor is thy labyrinth [? so] confused but we
In that disorder may proportion see.

That is, I should be inclined to add, on a second reading. The actual audience of that ideal time for dramatists and poets must have been as quick to seize the clue and follow the evolution of the most complicated plot or combination of plot with underplot or counterplot as to catch and relish the finer graces of poetry, the rarer beauties of style, the subtler excellences of expression. The influence of Jonson is here still patent and palpable enough; but the incomposite composition of so vigorous and humorous a piece of work will recall to the mind of a critical reader, not the faultless evolution of such a flawless masterpiece as The Alchemist, but the disjointed and dislocated elaboration of so magnificent a failure—if failure we may diffidently venture to call it—as The Devil is an Ass. It is surely a very bad fault for either a dramatist or a novelist to cram into the scheme of a story or to crowd into the structure of a play, too much bewildering ingenuity of incident or too much confusing presentation of character: but such a fault is possible only to a writer of real if not high ability.

A Mad Couple well Matched is very clever, very coarse, and rather worse than dubious in the bias of its morality; but there is no fault to be found with the writing or the movement of the play; both style and action are vivid and effective throughout. That “a new language and quite a new turn of comic interest came in with the Restoration” will hardly be allowed by the readers of such plays as this. That well-known and plausible observation is typical of a stage in his studies when Lamb was apparently if not evidently unversed in such reading as may be said to cast over the gap between Etherege and Fletcher a bridge on which Shirley may shake hands with Shadwell, and Wycherley with Brome. A more brutal blackguard, a more shameless ruffian, than the leading young gentleman of this comedy will hardly be found on the stage of the next theatrical generation. Variety of satirical observation and fertility of comic invention, with such vigorous dialogue and such strong sound English as might be expected from a disciple of his master's, give to this as to others of Brome's comedies a quality which may fairly and without flattery be called Jonsonian; and one of the minor characters is less a reminiscence of Juliet's nurse than an anticipation of Miss Hoyden's. No higher praise could be given, as no higher could be deserved.

The prologue to The Novella is really worthy of Dryden: its Jonsonian self-confidence and defiance are tempered by a certain grace and dexterity of expression which recalls the style and the manner of the later rather than the earlier laureate. In this brilliant and audacious comedy the influence of Ben Jonson's genius and example is exceptionally perceptible and exceptionally happy; for here it is the author of Volpone, not the author of Bartholomew Fair, who has inspired and guided the emulous ability of his servant. The metre and style are models of comic language and versification; the action, if a little complicated and more than a little improbable, is as lively as in any of Fletcher's rather than of Jonson's comedies. The plot is as usual a little too exacting in its demands on the attention of reader or spectator; there is not quite sufficient distinctness of outline in the various figures of seniors and juniors, pantaloons and harlequins, Gérontes and Léandres, to make it at first sight as amusingly easy as it should be to follow their various fortunes through so many rather diverting than edifying evolutions and complications; but, daring even to the verge of impudence as is the central conception of the subject, the tone or atmosphere of this Venetian comedy is less greasy than that of the author's London studies in vicious or dubious lines of life; a fresh point in common, I need hardly observe, between the disciple and his master.

In The Court Beggar and The City Wit, twin comedies of coarse-grained humour and complicated intrigue, we breathe again the grimier air of Cockney trickery and Cockney debauchery; but the satire on “projectors” or speculators in monopoly is even now as amusing as it is creditable to the author to have seconded in his humbler fashion the noble satirical enterprise of Massinger and Ben Jonson against the most pernicious abuses of their time. The three wits of the court, the country, and the city are good strong sketches in caricature; and there are passages of such admirable eloquence in such excellent verse of the higher or graver comic style as would not have misbeseemed the hand of Jonson himself. The opening scene, for instance, in which the heroine remonstrates with her father for exchanging the happy and honoured life of a hospitable and charitable country gentleman for the mean and improvident existence of an intriguing parasite, is as fine an example of earnest or serious comedy as may be found in Shirley at his best: and the scene in the second act between the grave and eloquent dotard Sir Raphael and the unmercifully ingenious Lady Strangelove is even a better because a more humorous piece of high comic work; so good, indeed, that in its kind it could hardly be bettered. But The City Wit is the finer and shapelier comedy of the two; well conceived, well constructed, and well sustained. The conception, if somewhat farcically extravagant in outline, is most happily and ingeniously worked out; and the process or progress of the comic action is less broken, less intermittent, more workmanlike and easier to follow, than in most if not in all of the author's preceding plays. Even where the comic types are far enough from original, there is something original and happy in the treatment and combination of their active or passive humours.

The Damoiselle, a spirited and well-written comedy, is so inferior in tone and composition as to suggest a reversion on the author's part to the cruder and coarser effects or attempts of his dramatic nonage. Justice Bumpsey is one of Brome's very best and most original creations—so fresh, and so genuine a sample of comic or farcical invention that Jonson might have applauded it with less extravagance or perversion of generosity than his cordial kindliness of nature led him sometimes to indulge in. There are passages and scenes of genuine eloquence and of pathetic sincerity in this rough and wayward piece of dramatic composition or incomposition; but the presentation of the plot or plots is as clumsy and confusing as their evolution is awkward and confused; and the noisome villainy of a character at first presented as a possible object of sympathy, and finally as a repentant and redeemed transgressor, might have made Wycherley himself—or any one but Wycherley—recoil. But there is no sign of decadence in literary ability or inventive humour; indeed, if I mistake not, two or three better comedies than this might have been carved out of the material here compressed and contorted into the mould of one. In the first scene of the second act a dramatic and effective touch of satire will remind the reader of Mr. Pickwick's horror and Mr. Perker's protest against his horror at the existence—in his day as in Brome's—of witnesses whose oaths were as readily on hire as the principles of a disunionist politician—or, if the phrase be preferred, of a separatist statesman.

The Queen's Exchange is one of the last examples of its kind; a survival from the old school of plays founded on episodes of imaginary history and built up with incidents of adventurous romance; active in invention and agile in movement, unambitious in style, and not unamusing in result. The clowneries and the villainies, the confusions and the conversions of character and fortune, seem curiously archaic or old-fashioned for the date of this belated tragicomedy; but to lovers of the better sort of drama it will be none the less acceptable or tolerable on that account.

One of the most fanciful and delightful farces in the world is The Antipodes. In this charming and fantastic play a touch of poetic humour, a savour, of poetic style, transfigures and exalts wild farce to the level of high comedy. The prologue to this, one of his latest comedies, is as remarkable for its exceptional quality of style as is the admirable dedication of his earliest, The Northern Lass. After a satirical apology for his inability to compete with the fashionable writers of plays

                                                                                          that carry state
In scene magnificent and language high
And clothes worth all the rest, except the action,

he reminds his audience that

Low and home-bred subjects have their use
As well as those fetched from on high or far;
And 'tis as hard a labour for the Muse
To move the earth, as to dislodge a star.

Had these two last lines been Dryden's, they would have been famous. And had the play thus introduced been Jonson's, it must have taken high rank in the second if not in the first class of his works as a successful comedy of humours. Joylesse and his wife, with the “fantastic” Lord Letoy, are faithful but not servile studies after the manner of the master, who had been dead but a year when it came out, and as we learn from the author's postscript was generally applauded. The small part of the curate or chaplain Quailpipe might have been of service to Macaulay in a famous chapter of his history as an example of the humble if not contemptible position occupied in great households by men of his cloth or calling.

If Shirley may be described as a bridge between Fletcher and Etherege, Brome may be defined as a link between Jonson and Wycherley. But if some of his stage effects are crude enough in their audacity of presentation and suggestion to anticipate the tone and manner of the theatre under Charles II, the upshot of such a play as this pays at least a conventional deference to the proprieties and moralities. Virtue—of a kind—presides over the solution of a tangled and crowded intrigue, which might perhaps have gained rather than lost in clearness or vivacity if impression and effect by a little more reserve in the exercise or reticence in the display of ingenuity and invention. Perplexity and surprise ought hardly to be the mainsprings of comic art as displayed either in the evolution of intrigue or in the development of character. But no such fault, and indeed no fault of any kind, can be found with the play within this play. Even on a third or fourth reading it is impossible for even a solitary reader to reopen it at almost any part without an irresistible impulse to laugh—not to smile approval or appreciation, but to laugh out aloud and uncontrollably. The logic of the burlesque, its topsy-turvy coherence, its preposterous harmony, its incongruous congruity of contradictions, is as perfect as its exuberance of spontaneous and various fertility in fancy and in fun is inexhaustible and superb. The delicious inversion of all social or natural relations between husband and wife, mistress and servant, father and son, poet and puritan, lawyer and client, courtiers and clowns, might satisfy the most exacting socialist; and the projects for the relief, encouragement, and support of criminals and scoundrels in general at the expense of the State could hardly be held unworthy of consideration by the latest and loudest apostles of professional philanthropy. Something of Jonson's influence is still perceptible in the conception and construction of this play; but in joyous ease and spontaneity of comic imagination and expression the disciple has excelled his master.

The English Moor,orThe Mock Marriage, is an ingenious and audacious comedy of ill-contrived and ill-combined intrigue, at once amusing and confusing, which might have been better than it is if both characters and incidents had been fewer, but more neatly and lucidly developed and arranged; rich in good suggestions and good possibilities, but imperfect in evolution and insufficient in impression through overmuch crowding and cramping of the various figures and the complicated action. The Love-sick Court is such an example of unromantic romance and unimaginative invention as too often wearies and disappoints the student of English drama in its first period of decadence; yet even in the decadence of the greatest and most various school of tragic and of comic poetry that ever this country or this world has witnessed there are signs of life and survivals of style which give to all but its very meanest examples a touch of comparative interest and a tone of comparative distinction.

In The Covent Garden Weeded the studious though not servile imitation of Ben Jonson is obvious enough to explain though not to justify the sneer of Randolph at the taste of the audiences who were more contented with what Brome swept from his master than with the worst leavings and the flattest dregs of that master's exhausted genius and decrepit industry. This clever and ingenious comedy is evidently built more or less on the lines of Jonson's most realistic and gigantic farce: and the obligation is no less directly than honourably acknowledged by Brome at the very opening of the very first scene, where Justice Cockbrain, “the Weeder of the Garden,” cites with all due accuracy, as well as all due respect, the authority of his reverend ancestor Justice Adam Overdo. It cannot, of course, bear comparison with that huge and unlovely though wonderful and memorable masterpiece; but it is easier in movement and lighter in handling of humours and events.

The New Academy,orThe New Exchange, is a tangled and huddled comedy of unattractive and improbable intrigue, nor unrelieved by glimpses of interest and touches of humour; worth reading once as a study of manners and language,1 but hardly worth tracing out and unravelling through all the incoherent complications and tedious convolutions of its misshapen and misconstructed plot. The romantic tragicomedy of The Queen and Concubine is a rather pallid study in the school of Fletcher, with touches of Jonsonian farce and more than Jonsonian iteration of cheap humours and catchpenny catchwords: but it is not unamusing in its vehement exaggeration of wickedness and goodness, of improbable impulse and impossible reaction; and there is still a certain lingering fragrance—the French word relent would perhaps express it better—of faint and fading poetry in the tone of style and turn of phrase, which no later playwright could regain or reproduce.

The best of all Brome's plays is curiously enough the only one that has attained any posthumous popularity or any durable celebrity. It has nothing of such brilliant, spontaneous, and creative humour as flashes and vibrates through every scene of The Antipodes; nothing of such eccentric, romantic, and audacious originality as modesty must blush to recognize and weep to acknowledge in The Novella; but for sustained interest and coherent composition of quaint, extravagant, and consistent characters with fresh, humorous, and plausible results, for harmony of dramatic evolution and vivacity of theatrical event, I doubt whether it could be matched, and I am certain that it could not be excelled, outside the range of Shakespeare's comedies and farces. The infusion of romantic interest and serious poetry in Beggar's Bush may give to Fletcher's admirable tragicomedy a higher literary place on the roll of the English drama; but the superiority of the minor poet as a dramatic artist, and not merely as a theatrical craftsman, is patent and palpable beyond discussion or dispute.2

In the dramatic literature of any country but ours the name of Richard Brome would be eminent and famous: being but an Englishman, he is naturally regarded by critics and historians after the order of Hallam as too ineffably inferior for mention or comparison with such celebrities as Regnard or Goldoni. That such a character as Justice Clack is worthy of Molière in his broader and happier moods of humour could hardly seem questionable even to the dullest of such dullards if his creator had but “taken the trouble to be born” in France, in Italy, or in any country but their own. As it is, I cannot suppose it possible that English readers will ever give him a place beside the least of those inferior humorists who had the good fortune or the good sense to be born outside the borders of England.


  1. I have not met elsewhere with the quaint verb “to snook” (“over my wife at home,” says “an uxorious citizen”).

  2. The text of Brome's plays, which, though reprinted with all their imperfections on their heads, have never yet been edited, might supply the English dictionary with several rare and noticeable words. In The City Wit a short dramatic entertainment or interlude is announced as a “ballet.” In A Jovial Crew we find the word “gentile” (once used, and afterwards cancelled, by Ben Jonson): “Provided your deportment be gentile” (a verse but too suggestive of Mr. Turveydrop and the Prince Regent); “gentily” or “gentilely”: “They live very civilly and gentily among us”—Act i, Scene 1; “remore” as a verb: “Should that remore us”—same scene; “rakeshame,” a curious variant or synonym of “rakehell”: “It had been good to have apprehended the Rakeshame”—Act iii, Scene 1. “Skise,” apparently a variant of the Shakespearean word “skirr”: “Skise out this away, and skise out that away”—Act iv, Scene 1; “yawdes” for jades: “Your yawdes may take cold, and never be good after it”—same scene. In the first scene of the second act there is a curious mention of Bath, and of Captain Dover's games on the glorious Cotswold Hills: “We are not for London.” “What think you of the Bath then?” “Worse than t'other way. I love not to carry my Health where others drop their Diseases. There's no sport i' that.” “Will you up to the hill-top of sports, then, and Merriments, Dover's Olimpicks or the Cotswold Games?” “No, that will be too publique for our Recreation.”

Joe Lee Davis (essay date 1943)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

“Richard Brome's Neglected Contribution to Comic Theory,” in Studies in Philology, Vol. 40, No. 4, 1943, pp. 520-28.

[In the essay below, Davis argues that an unstated but coherent theory of comic catharsis is adumbrated by Brome in The Antipodes.]


The Antipodes of Richard Brome, composed in 1637 and first acted at the Salisbury Court playhouse in 1638,1 has been competently related to its many sources and analyzed for its wide-glancing satire;2 the claim has been made that it has the unique distinction among Caroline plays of anticipating Gilbertian farce.3 None of its critics, however, has attempted to show that it incorporates a theory of comic catharsis and what may be termed an extra-realistic conception of the relationship between comedy and actuality.

In utilizing one of his most sustained efforts in the craft of comedy for the purpose of theorizing about this craft's principles, Brome was probably inspired by Thomas Randolph's The Muses' Looking Glass, first performed at Cambridge, shown at London in 1630 as The Entertainment, and published under its present title in 1638.4 That Brome knew Randolph's play can be argued on the basis of the structure of The Antipodes, so strikingly different from that of Brome's other comedies. As Andrews5 has observed:

In structure, Randolph's The Muses' Looking-Glass … is so much like the Antipodes, that we may say that together they form a special type, of which, as far as I know, there are no other examples in the period.

The ruling spirit of Randolph's play, the actor Roscius, serves as a Jonsonian expositor of the author's theory of comedy. In a preliminary scene, where Comedy, Tragedy, Mime, and Satire appear as allegorical personages and define their respective functions, Comedy seeks to justify herself to scornful Tragedy by setting forth the following theory of comic catharsis:

You move with fear; I work as much with shame—
A thing more powerful in a generous breast.
Who sees an eating parasite abus'd;
A covetous bawd laugh'd at; an ignorant gull
Cheated; a glorious soldier knock'd and baffl'd:
A crafty servant whipp'd; a niggard churl
Hoarding up dicing-moneys for his son;
A spruce, fantastic courtier, a mad roarer,
A jealous tradesman, an o'erweening lady,
a corrupt lawyer—rightly personated;
But (if he have a blush) will blush, and shame
As well to act these follies as to own them.(6)

The conception of the relationship between comedy and actuality that Randolph puts into the mouth of Roscius is that comedy, in order to carry out its corrective aims, must reflect life with the fidelity of a looking-glass. The corrective aims of comedy, as well as its realistic method, are illustrated by the play-within-the-play which Roscius has performed for the aesthetic education of two fanatical Puritan tradespeople, Bird and Mistress Flowerdew.

Brome, in the character of the “phantastic Lord,” Letoy, a gentleman of leisure who keeps actor-servants and writes and produces plays and masques, provides The Antipodes with a kind of substitute for Randolph's Roscius. Through Letoy he expounds his own delight in good plays and his shrewd craftsman's views of acting.7 Brome's theory of comic catharsis and his notion of the relationship between comedy and actuality are conveyed by means of the play-within-the-play which Letoy produces for a group of citizens typical of Brome's other comedies. Brome, however, departs radically from Randolph, not only in the substance of his comic theory, but likewise in his avoidance of the method of direct exposition in setting it forth. He prefers to set it forth by the subtler method of dramatic adumbration, and he employs for quite other purposes those of his characters who may be said to have an expository function.

The mechanics of this adumbration were probably suggested to Brome by Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy.8 In explaining how “perturbations of the mind” may be rectified, Burton points out that occasionally “some feigned lie, strange news, witty device, artificial invention” may serve the purpose. He further recommends the utility of mirth, which “purgeth the blood, confirms health, causeth a fresh, pleasing, and fine colour, prorogues life, whets the wit, makes the body young, lively, and fit for any matter of employment,” and mentions plays as one of the “most powerful means” to “expel grief, and procure pleasance.”9 These passages from Burton imply a view of comedy at one with that of Castiglione as expressed by Bernardo Accolti, the unique Aretine:

Whatsoever therefore causeth laughter, the same maketh the mind jocunde and giveth pleasure, nor suffereth a man in that instant to mind the troublesome griefes that our life is full off.

Therefore (as you can see) laughing is very acceptable to all men, and hee is much to be commended that can cause it in due time after a comely sort.10

Randolph's theory of comedy, on the other hand, is mainly a restatement of Renaissance critical commonplaces of classical origin.11


In the second act of The Antipodes, Dr. Hughball brings his patient, Peregrine, to Letoy's house to witness the play-within-the-play. With Peregrine comes his wife, Martha; his father, Joylesse; and Joylesse's wife, Diana. Peregrine's mental perturbation is a species of melancholy induced by the reading of too many books of travel. This reading has thrown entirely out of focus his sense of reality; he lives in a cloud-cuckoo land of anthropophagi and men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders; in consequence, he has wholly neglected his wife, whose mind has been affected by another species of melancholy—that brought on by enforced virginity in the connubial state. The purpose of Letoy's play-within-the-play, which might be called a comedy of London manners in reverse or topsy-turvy, is to restore Peregrine's sanity by bringing back into focus his sense of reality. Peregrine's father, Old Joylesse, is a dour January married to a bawdy-tongued but virtuous May. He consents to witness Letoy's comedy, but not with entire willingness. Although anxious to have his son cured, he is at the same time disturbed by the possible effect of the performance upon his Diana, of whom he is insanely jealous.

In looking at Letoy's comedy, it is possible to conceive it in two ways. On the one hand, it may be conceived as an experiment in the genre of “comicall satyre” which Ben Jonson had tried to perfect.12 From this point of view, its interest lies in the details of those reversals of behavior, of domestic and public relationships, that are unfolded in Antipodean London. From this point of view, also, the running expository comments of Letoy and Diana that enrich these reversals with corrective relevance for the London of actuality deserve careful study. On the other hand, Letoy's play-within-the-play may be conceived as the means by which Brome is seeking to adumbrate his comic theory, as I have before suggested. From this point of view, the details of each scene and the comments of Letoy and Diana may be ignored. Of greater importance are the general ideas that underlie all the scenes regarded as parts of the larger whole and the effects wrought by these scenes upon the confused but fascinated intelligence of Peregrine, who is under the illusion that he has actually been transported to the Antipodes.

One concept underlying all the Antipodean scenes is that, no matter what world one moves in, the ratio of good and evil, of justice and injustice, of the desirable and the undesirable, remains the same. Life, at all times and everywhere, is—to use the phrase which Swinburne applied to these scenes—“an incongruous congruity of contradictions.”13 The awareness of this truth may be said to constitute, as Brome sees it, the comic view of the world.

The importance of this comic view of the world for the promotion of human sanity is well illustrated in the case of Peregrine. Disenchanted with the mundane and enamored of the strange by his reading of travel literature, he is, when we first encounter him, of little use to anybody, especially to his own wife. When Dr. Hughball tells him of the Antipodes, his is moved to a kind of mad and moonstruck laughter and cannot hear enough about this delightful land, where all things are so different from the world of ordinary experience.14 When he arrives at Letoy's and believes that he is actually in this other and golden London, he looks upon its reversals as on the whole ideal and is ready to agree with Byplay, Letoy's servant, that “Vertue in the Antipodes onely dwells.”15 Beholding young men making old men go to school, he is somewhat puzzled, but an adroit explanation satisfies his Mandevillian sense of fitness.16 Soon, however, he wanders into the tiring room, plays Don Quixote with the monsters and puppets therein stored away, imagines that he is King of the Antipodes by right of conquest, and sets out

          … to governe,
With purpose to reduce the manners
Of this country to his owne …(17)

When he sees a group of women ducking a man-scold, he is so flabbergasted by the unreasonableness of Antipodean customs that he cries out:

Can men and women be so contrary
In all that we hold proper to each sex?—

and indulges in the following rueful reflection:

'Twill aske long time and study to reduce
Their manners to our government.(18)

As the Antipodean pageant unfolds, he exclaims in astonishment at its bouleversements: “Will you make me mad?”19 Finally, when he discovers that, in the Antipodes, government relief is provided for thieves, and divers severe punishments are meted out to their victims for their carelessness in letting themselves be waylaid and robbed, he denounces the laws of his Cockaigne as “Abominable, horrid!” and threatens to hang all his subjects if they persist in such perversity.20 In other words, he has discovered that the ratio of good and evil is pretty much the same in the land of his dreams as in the world of ordinary experience. At the close of the Antipodean scenes, Peregrine is in no wise completely sane, because he still needs “the reall knowledge of a woman.”21 When his own wife is presented to him as the Antipodean princess, he will perform the long-postponed consummation of his nuptials only after he is assured that she is not one

          … of that serpentine generation
That stings oft times to death, as Mandeville writes.(22)

As Diana points out to Joylesse, the doctor's use of Letoy's play

… has shifted your sonnes knowne disease
Of madnesse into folly, and has wrought him
As farre short of a competent reason as
He was of late beyond it. …(23)

But she further explains that this has been a necessary step in his complete cure, and this complete cure is presently accomplished.

It does not seem to be oversubtilizing to conclude that the role played by the Antipodean scenes in helping Peregrine recover his wits was intended by Brome to suggest a theory of comic catharsis. Comedy, in other words—though it may carry a stark madman only this side or folly-wards of sanity—may directly administer to human sanity generally by engrossing the mind in an elaborate scheme of incongruities and enabling it to perceive through them the omnipotence and ubiquity of imperfection.

The second concept underlying Letoy's Antipodean scenes is that the method of comedy need not be strictly realistic in the sense of reflecting things as they are with the fidelity of a looking-glass. If the main purpose of comedy is psychological adjustment through engrossment in life's general incongruity rather than ethical correction through the exposure of specific deformities, it requires only a basic orientation in the actual and beyond this may distort life even to the extent of “being the world turn'd upside-downe,” to quote the description which the curate, Quailpipe, gives of Letoy's play.24 Although it is possible to discover in the Antipodean scenes of Brome's tour de force such an implicit plea for distortion in comedy, it must not be forgotten that Brome nowhere formulates the principle of distortion as applicable to all comedy, that he presents Letoy's play within a framework drama that has realistic elements not inferior to those in his previous comedies, and that in his prologue he calls attention to his choice of “low and home-bred subjects” in the realistic tradition of Jonson, Dekker, and Chapman.25 Hence, his departure from traditional comic theory is by way of indirect and tentative suggestion rather than through a rationale fully stated and aggressively advanced.


The comic theory of Randolph's The Muses' Looking Glass, incorporated in practice, leads to a comedy that is definitely satiric and realistic, that undertakes the chastisement and amendment of carefully observed follies and vices with reference to clearly defined ethical and social standards. Brome's theory, when made explicit and scrupulously followed in its nuances, would not rule out satire with reference to social and ethical standards, nor would it discountenance the use of careful observation, but it would subordinate these to what today would be regarded as a kind of farcical comedy with philosophical overtones. These two theories of comedy are both reflected in Caroline comic practice and help account for its often motley diversity. They are reflected likewise in the work of Jonson and those of his contemporaries who shaped the tradition to which Caroline comic writers were indebted.26

Most of the statements of comic doctrine made by Jonson and his immediate contemporaries and followers point definitely toward the theory expounded by Randolph.27 This was the theory behind Jonson's synthetic genre of “comicall satyre.” It was a theory that provided a counterblast to Puritan prejudice against Thalia and all her works without calling into question the Platonic canon of moral effect or didactic utility by which this prejudice was partly rationalized.28 Sanctioned by the commonplaces of both classical and Italian criticism, it was a theory that co-ordinated these commonplaces into a neat system. Although analysis of Jonson's later plays and of the more typical plays of most of his other “Sons” shows conclusively that both he and they often wrote in accord with such a theory as that implied in The Antipodes, this theory was for espousal in the closet or the tavern only, so to speak, and the other theory was preferred in instructing the public. So far as I am aware, Jonson and the other “Sons of Ben” did not anticipate Brome by any explicit formulation of his concepts of comic catharsis and of the relationship between comedy and reality.

The presence in The Muses' Looking Glass and The Antipodes of theories of comedy sufficiently diverse in character to explain, if even in part, the eclecticism that Caroline comic practice so bewilderingly exhibits is a fact of some importance to the literary historian of the period when he assumes the role of critic. It should restrain him from regarding this eclecticism as altogether a form of decadence resulting from mere inept imitation of major by minor writers, without benefit of reflection on aesthetic principles. The Caroline comic writer, in short, no matter how grossly he may have failed in some instances of at the difficult task of integrating satire and farce into an effective artistic unity, was not wholly unconscious of what he was doing. His work deserves to be interpreted and judged in the light of the discoverable intentions of Caroline comic theory.

Not only was The Antipodes in advance of its time as an anticipation of Gilbertian farce. It was also in advance of its time as a contribution to criticism and aesthetics, albeit in a somewhat disguised form. Brome transcended the opposing attitudes toward comedy of a Randolph and a Prynne. He may be said, indeed, to have looked considerably beyond Jeremy Collier's ablest answerers in suggesting that comedy may have distinct value as psychological therapy even though it shirks the correction of typical follies and vices, flouts verisimilitude, frolics amid the inversions and grotesqueries of a purely fantastic or topsy-turvy world, presents a version of life in which incongruity is carried to the unpredictable extremes of its quaint logic. Such a theory of comedy will be worth restating as long as there are theater-goers and readers who overvalue the didactic and documentary as opposed to the expressive potentialities of the comic art and think of Thalia in her more hoydenish or moonstruck moments as one of the lesser muses.


  1. Cf. C. E. Andrews, Richard Brome, Yale Studies in English, XLVI (New York, 1913), p. 15.

  2. Ibid., pp. 112–134.

  3. Cf. G. P. Baker in Representative English Comedies, ed. C. M. Gayley, III (New York, 1914, 426 f. All references made hereinafter to The Antipodes are to the text contained in this volume.

  4. Cf. G. C. M. Smith, Thomas Randolph (London, [1927]), p. 18; G. E. Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage (Oxford, 1941), I, 291.

  5. Op. cit., p. 122.

  6. I, iv; Poetical and Dramatic Works of Thomas Randolph, ed. W. C. Hazlitt (London, 1875), I, 188 f.

  7. The Antipodes, I, v, p. 452, and II, ii, pp. 464 f.

  8. Cf. Andrews, op. cit., pp. 124 f.

  9. The Anatomy of Melancholy, eds. F. Dell and P. Jordan-Smith (New York, 1928), pp. 477, 481, 482.

  10. The Book of the Courtier, trans. Sir Thomas Hoby (Everyman's Library ed., London, n. d.), p. 138.

  11. For a summary of Renaissance comic theory and its origin, see O. J. Campbell, Comicall Satyre and Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida (San Marino, Cal. 1938), pp. 1–14.

  12. For full discussion of the aesthetic problems and nuances of this unique genre, see Campbell, op. cit, passim.

  13. “Richard Brome,” in Works, Bonchurch, ed. XII (New York, 1926), 334 f. Quoted by Baker in Gayley, op. cit., III, 427.

  14. I, vi, pp. 458 f.

  15. II, ix, p. 478

  16. Ibid., p. 476.

  17. III, vi, p. 491.

  18. IV, vi, p. 506.

  19. IV, ix, p. 512.

  20. IV, x, p. 515.

  21. IV, xiii, p. 521.

  22. IV, xi, p. 519.

  23. IV, xiii, p. 521.

  24. II, ii, p. 464.

  25. Gayley, op. cit., III, 436 and 435, n. 3.

  26. For detailed substantiation of these contentions, see J. L. Davis, The ‘Sons of Ben’ in English Realistic Comedy 1625–1642 (University of Michigan unpublished dissertation, 1934), passim.

  27. Cf. Campbell, op. cit., pp. 12–16; Massinger, The Roman Actor, I, iii, in The Plays of Philip Massinger, ed. W. Gifford (London, 1813), II, 346–8.

  28. For statements of the Puritan prejudice against comedy, see William Prynne, Histrio-Mastix … (London, 1633 [1632]), pp. 70 f. and pp. 499–500.

Further Reading

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share


Bentley, Gerald Eades. “Richard Brome.” In The Jacobean and Caroline Stage: Plays and Playwrights, pp. 49-94. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956.

Listing of Brome's plays, with a summary of each and an analysis in the light of his life and times.


Freehafer, John. “Brome, Suckling, and Davenant's Theater Project of 1639.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language Vol. 10, No. 1 (1968): 367-83.

Discusses The Court Beggarand its role in Brome's feud with two of his fellow dramatists.

Thaler, Alwin. “Was Richard Brome an Actor?” Modern Language Notes 36, No. 2 (February 1921): 88-91.

Presents evidence of Brome's early career which points to the fact that he may have been an actor.


Davis, Joe Lee. The Sons of Ben: Jonsonian Comedy in Caroline England. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1967, 252 p.

Provides criticism of Brome's plays in relation to his contemporaries' works.

Donaldson, Ian. “‘Living Backward’: The Antipodes.” In The World Upside-Down: Comedy from Jonson to Fielding, pp. 78-98. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970.

A study of the historical relevance of The Antipodes and Brome's goal in writing it.

Farley-Hills, David. “Rejoicing in Epidemicall Times: Brome's A Jovial Crew.” In The Comic in Renaissance Comedy, pp. 147-59. London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1981.

Discusses Brome's comedy and his use of mirth as a medicine for melancholy.

Gaby, Rosemary. “Of Vagabonds and Commonwealths: Beggars' Bush,A Jovial Crew, and The Sisters.Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 34, No. 2 (Spring 1994): 401-24.

Considers the ways Brome and other playwrights chose to write about crime and society.

Haaker, Ann. “Richard Brome.” In The Later Jacobean and Caroline Dramatists, edited by Terence P. Logan and Denzell S. Smith, pp. 172-91. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978.

Includes a short biography of Brome, a survey of his plays, and criticism of specific works.

Additional coverage of Brome's life and career is contained in the following source published by the Gale Group: Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 58.

R. J. Kaufmann (essay date 1961)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: “The Caroline Editorial Page,” in Richard Brome: Caroline Playwright, Columbia University Press, 1961, pp. 47-66.

[In the following essay, Kaufmann explores topical allusions and references to contemporary events in four of Brome's plays, characterizing these works as the “newspapers” of the day.]

Because the Caroline realistic comedy is artistically tentative, its playwrights are experimenting with possible ways of digesting urgently needed corrections for social abuses without losing the advantage of a matured formal structure for their plays. They wanted to be contemporary without becoming trivial. When reading the comedies of this time, one is astonished at the function the drama is performing. The plays do the work of newspapers! They report, they advertize, they protest, they deplore, they frame social questions, they editorialize. This chapter will show how Brome created “newspapers” with four of his plays. There is probably no quicker way to distinguish the intimate—almost familial—interplay of audience, playwright, and social environment which is the special earmark of Caroline drama.

THE CITY WIT (1629-30)

The City Wit though simple, almost parabolic, in its main structure is the most promising of Brome's very early efforts. It is Brome's first direct attempt at social satire on a thematic level. Here for the first time he formulates an issue of social significance and traces it throughout his entire play, so that a single question—how the economic dishonesty generally acquiesced in is to be reconciled with personal responsibility—is the organizing principle of the action as well as of character relationships. What happens in the play happens because one of the characters, Crasy, having failed in business because he is honest, decides to investigate the advantages of deliberate deception. The play is unified in terms of the initial situation for which the remainder of the play serves as an area of logic expansion and experimentation.

Brome was fond of the tableau device on the stage,1 that is, he translated into the dramatic medium the sort of static representation of vice and mood that one finds in the emblem books.2 He evidently composed a number of crucial scenes in his plays with an eye to the total visual impact without regard to realistic action. Since a great deal of the more serious ethical thinking of Renaissance man was done in formalized, emblematic terms, this observation may be useful in trying to isolate the particular “flavor” of a play like The City Wit.3

The first thing one notices when re-examining The City Wit is how full and explicit the stage directions are for the opening scene. Crasy, recognizable only as a young man of the city, is placed at a table “with empty Money-bags, Bills, Bonds, & Bookes of accompts”; we are instructed that “He takes up the bils & papers”; then “He puts the Bills & Bonds into a Bag”; and finally that “He takes up a scroll” (I, i, 279-80). All this we are told in less than two pages and while the main spoken action is a soliloquy by Crasy on money.

How easie a thing it is to be undone,
When credulous Man will trust his state to others!

(I, i)

We discover partly through his talk and partly through the carefully composed stage business that he is bankrupt, and the importance of his having been financially so reduced is strongly impressed on our minds.

He distinguishes himself from the numerous bankrupts of the time by taking a moral position that is not to his financial advantage. He will not sue for composition of his debts,

All I have is lost,
And what I have not, sought to be forc'd from me,
I must take nimble hold upon Occasion.
Or lie for ever in the Bankrupt ditch,
Where no man lends a hand to draw one out.
I will leape over it, or fall bravely in't,
Scorning the Bridge of Baseness, Composition,
Which doth infect a City like the Plague,
And teach men Knavery, that were never born to't:
Whereby the Rope-deserving Rascall gains
Purple and Furre, Trappings and golden Chains.
Base Composition, baser far then Want,
Then Beggery, Imprisonment, Slavery:
I scorn thee, though thou lov'st a Trades-man dearly
And mak'st a Chandler Lord of thousands yearly.
I will have other ayd.

(I, i)

The effect of this initial situation is to create sympathy for Crasy's financial plight at the same time as it puzzles the mind. City types on the early seventeenth-century stage are nearly always foolish, greedy, fanatic, crass, and underbred—all of these or any combination thereof. Here we are presented with a city type who is alienated from the city's assumptions. Who is he? How did he get there? Is he really a city person? What can he do to revive himself? These questions do not press themselves on our mind urgently, rather they arouse a reflective interest. Most important of all, the method of presentation makes an association in our minds between the practical question of what action he will take—a dramatic question—and the reasons he can give for taking it—an ethical question. In short we are made aware that Crasy has both a problem and a conscience. Though The City Wit is simple, almost rudimentary, in technique it shows in embryo form the underlying patterns which distinguish critical, thoughtful, social comedy from theatrical and contentless entertainment. It also shows some of Brome's major preoccupations in relatively undeveloped form. If we follow his development of theme a little further we will see the characteristic techniques he employs. He uses his first act to set up the problem. The structure of the act is almost rhetorical: Crasy enters on the stage bankrupt; he scorns normal businessman expedients for redeeming himself; he is rejected by his wife's relatives who criticize his guilelessness; he confronts his debtors to collect money they owe him to apply against his debts; they, in a scene faintly reminiscent of Timon of Athens, offer him cynically prudential advice but no money; he resolves to test their advice. In examining the terms of this sequence we see how self-consciously Brome uses the medium to make it clear that the play is an examination of this abstractly formulated problem. He is saying in effect, “If one were not honest would he be better off” or perhaps, slightly differently, “Has the new economy made honesty obsolescent?”

Crasy, soon after the opening tableau, is joined by his mother-in-law, Pyannet, and other members of the family. Pyannet, who is very talkative and self-important, berates him, whereupon he replies,

Cra. All was but my kind heart in trusting …

Py. Kind heart! What should Citizens do with kind hearts; or trusting in any thing but God, and ready money? …

Cra. … May not an honest man———

Py. Honest man! Who the Devill wish'd thee to be an honest man? Here's my worshipfull Husband, Mr. Sneakup, that from a Grasier is come to be a Justice of Peace: And, what, as an honest man? Hee grew to be able to give nine hundred pound with my daughter; and, what, by honestie? Mr. Sneakup and I are come to live i' th City, and here we have lyen these three years; and what? for honesty? Honesty! What should the City do with honesty; when 'tis enough to undoe a whole Corporation? …

Cra. If my uncunning Disposition be my only vice, then …4

(I, i)

and he is interrupted and Mistress Pyannet is off again. Crasy replies, firm still, “Well: If to be honest, be to be a fool, my utmost Ambition is a Coxcomb” (I, i).

Crasy then confronts his debtors one by one. The first, a courtier, laughs at his credulity for lending money without bond. The second, a pedant, offers him philosophical counsel. His brother-in-law, who is being educated as a gentleman as the Sneakups climb stealthily up the social ladder, offers him some warmed-over Epicureanism, “Desire little; covet little … And you shall have enough,” and then adds, magnanimously, some man-of-the-world's advice, “Purchase Wit; Get wit (look you) wit … Prithee grow rich againe; and were good Cloaths, that we make keep our Acquaintance still.” In short, he tells him to exploit his wife's good looks at court as a means of rising again (I, ii). Another courtier reiterates this, “Prithee learne to have some witt. … Be rul'd by me, Get money, do, Get money and keep it; wouldst thrive? Be rather a knave then a Fool” (I, ii).

After more, much more, of the same “friendly” advice, Crasy is left alone.

Is this the end of unsuspicious Freenesse?
Are open hands of Cheerfull Pietie
A helpfull bounty, and most easie Goodnesse,
Rewarded thus?
Is, to be honest, term'd to be a fool?
Respect it Heaven. Beare up still merry heart.
Droop not: But scorne the worlds unjust despising
Who through Goodnesse sinks, his fall's
his Rising

(I, ii [italics mine])

Now, if Brome left us here we would have a concrete affirmation of the Christian principle that charity is its own reward, for that is what Crasy has been scorned for being—charitable—in both the basic sense of open-hearted sympathy and trust of one's fellow man, and in the more restricted sense of using money to alleviate others' distress. However, he does not leave it here. Crasy, understandably disenchanted, pretends a cynicism greater than he feels and advises his “'prentice” to choose wit when given the alternatives of wit and honesty:

If ever it be in thy possible ability, wrong all Men, use thy wit, to abuse all things, that have but sense of wrong: For without mersie, all men have injur'd thy mistrustles Master … Cheat, chosen [sic, cosen?], live by thy Wits: Tis most manly, therefore most noble … In briefe be a knave and prosper: for honesty has beggered me.

(I, ii)

The first act is drawing to a close when Crasy advises his “'prentice” Jeremy in this matter. They are going to put their heads together to outwit their abusers. The quality of self-conscious demonstration with which Brome is going to exploit the medium to make his points is now evident. Jeremy takes his leave, “Farewell Master, And if I put tricks upon some of them, let the end of the Comedie demonstrate.” Crasy, left alone, closes the act with a direct statement of the proposition,

The scene of our slight sports confess'd shall have,
That any may be rich, will be a knave.

(I, ii)

The rest of the play is a syllogistic demonstration of the truth of this proposition. Crasy, with the aid of Jeremy and innumerable disguises, proceeds through four acts to demonstrate that he is wittier than his abusers. He makes dupes and fools of them and he recovers his money and goods. He proves that his handicap was deliberate honesty not stupidity or ineffectuality. One is reminded of the story of the great Ionian philosopher, Thales of Miletus, who, tired of being told that he was a philosopher because he lacked ability to succeed in everyday affairs, cornered the market in oil presses and made a fortune which he gave away once his point was made. So Crasy after successfully mastering and embarrassing all the others, at the end takes off his disguise and enters to the assembled group “in his own habit, all hung with Chaines, Jewells, Bags of Money, &c” (V, i). He reads their advice back to them, and then after enjoying his triumph he closes the play by saying,

My honest care being but to keep mine owne,
What, by my slights, I got more than my due,
I timely will restore again to you.

(V, i)

Woven through the play is a series of unfavorable reflections on the self-gratifying habits of citizens and of the courtiers who live off them. The play displays no powerful insight or exceptional skill, but it is solid, coherent, unified, and, in a rather boisterous way, amusing. Its pattern of judgments illustrates Brome's characteristic beliefs. Crasy's alleged folly was not being “for himself” in the sharp, ceaseless battle of wits between men fighting for a larger personal share of goods. Brome rejects this allegation and uses comedy as his means to demonstrate his point that honesty and fair dealing are not the product of weakness but of an attitude superior to mere skill in achieving economic success which, he argues, is merely a kind of virtuosity in deception. This has been a theme of humanists in all ages—equally true and equally futile. The difference is that in the seventeenth century, before the triumph of the Hobbesian rationale for human relations, one might possibly still advocate it in the midst and not on the periphery of life. Brome's advocacy of the theme is one small strand in the pattern of his overall conservative adherence to a disappearing moral tradition.


The New Academy was probably the first play that Brome wrote for the King's Revel's company after he signed his Salisbury Court contract in July, 1635. There is no title-page evidence for company or date of performance, and there are no known external references to the play. The dating must rest on internal evidence and on more general arguments about the theatrical and social milieu which surround the play. The play has a double title, both parts of which are exploited. Taking the second part first, The New Exchange refers to the New Exchange in the Strand as a reference in the play makes clear. Rafe Camelion, an uxorious citizen, intercepts a letter to his wife and reads the address: “To my deare daughter Mrs. Hannah Camelion, at her shop or house in or near The New Exchange” (II, i, 23). It would be convenient if we could say that the New Exchange was in fact new when the play was written. Actually it was built much earlier. After the stables of Durham house, facing the Strand, were pulled down,

On their site was built an exchange, called the New Exchange, which obtained some popularity. This was erected partly on the pattern of the Royal Exchange, and was opened by King James I. This, Strype tells us, “was for milliners, sempstresses, and other trades that furnish dresses.” The place was opened in 1609 by James I and the queen; it was called Britain's Burse. It became fashionable after the Restoration. …5

It was simply a place where people could foregather in Brome's London. It is interesting that the brief allusion quoted is the only one in the play. But at the end of the play, Brome has his conventional double pair of lovers discover they cannot marry each other in the combinations the play has established, so they are told “they shall exchange And marry in due order.” Whereupon Lafoy Junior, one of the two prospective grooms, very agreeably replies in his stage French accent, “we shall make. De exshange presently. A new exshange, De new Exshange indeed” (V, ii, 107).

The double stress here seems to be a verbal pointing at the play title, as was the not infrequent custom. There is, perhaps, a minor anomaly here which can be very readily accounted for. It has been recognized that there was a short-lived fad of place-realism comedies on the Caroline stage.6 Brome twice contributed to this fad in his The Covent-Garden Weeded (1632-33?) and his The Sparagus Garden (1635). The fad included Marmion's Holland's Leaguer late in 1631, Nabbes' Covent Garden (1632-33?) and Tottenham Court (1633), as well as Shirley's Hyde Park (1632). It seems quite probable that Brome added the subtitle, The New Exchange, to gain gratuitous appeal for his play from a fad well under way but not exhausted.7 The false justification of the title in the last scene adds to our suspicion of a specious plan of this sort.

Further pursuing this rather tenuous line, we turn to the internal literary problem of what sort of play it is and where its emphases lie. The play is a very routine hybrid with a fairly elaborate intrigue plot built on a realistic base, although the realism is not so heavily topical as Brome's usual practice leads us to expect, so that there are no intelligible specific allusions to secure a date. Even so there are an unusual number of references to the French. Matchil, a testy merchant, in a fit of temper turns out his daughter and his charge, the daughter of a French friend, saying, “leave my house. There's French enough in town, that may befriend you” (I, i, 10). The play takes its title from an academy where French manners and dances are taught by “Two young French Gentlemen. New come ashore” (III, ii, 59) who speak either in French or in a stage accent (ibid., pp. 63-65; 76-78; 85-86). Cash, Matchil's apprentice who absconds with money and dresses like a gallant, is described as “a brave gallant, one o' the Alamodes, Nothing but French all over” (V, i, 91).

Though there were a good many French in London all during the reign of Charles I, there was one French invasion of just the right sort to catch the theatrically alert mind which Brome shared with his master, Ben Jonson. Bentley provides the cue:

In February 1634/5 a distinguished troupe of French players came to England, and, as one might expect, attained high favour at court where the French influence was so strong in these years.8

The company evidently made a hit with the public. They were granted permission to use the Phoenix theater during Lent and to play “on the sermon daies, and gott two hundred pounds at least.”9 They were not content with their Phoenix successes for,

After they left the Phoenix the French players acted for a time on a special stage erected in the riding-school of M. le Febure in Drury Lane. A warrant for the erection of a stage, scaffolds, and seats in this riding academy was issued 18 April 1635, and less than three weeks later, on 5 May, a warrant was issued to the company allowing them to act in this new playing place “during pleasure.” The company was evidently still in London in December 1635 … Presumably the Frenchmen returned to Paris shortly thereafter, no doubt to the great relief of their English competitors.10

It seems to me the correlation between a French troupe performing in a riding academy and the stage presentation in satiric terms of an Academy where actors speaking in French stage-dialect are tutors in dance, song, manners and compliments is not too difficult to make. One wonders what sort of plays these Frenchmen could have put on for an English audience. It seems likely that to make money over a protracted period they would have had to depend on dancing and miming.

Brome's Academy, besides the usual emphasis on the art of compliment, features dances. They can offer,

for Corants,—La Miniard,
La Vemide, Le Marquesse, Le Holland,
La Brittaine, Le Roy, Le Prince, Le Montague,
The Sarband, the Canvries, La Reverree.
For Galliards, the Sellibrand, the Dolphine,
The new Galliard, the Valette Galliard, and lepees.

(III, ii, 65)

This long list of offerings is commented upon and the English people present undertake to dance with the Frenchmen, saying, “I feare no French flashes … If we cannot dance 'hem of [off?] o' their legs, our wenches can, I warrant thee. Musick be ready” (ibid., p. 65). The stage direction then specifies “Daunces”; so there were evidently a series of dances presented rather than the usual one.11 This sort of cataloguing of specialized French dance names and the emphasis on dancing seems indicative of an unusual design. It is most easily explained by an ephemeral excitement such as was caused by the visiting French troupe.

Evidence of a different order can be produced for a date of 1635 rather than pre-1630. It is the most difficult sort of evidence to present in a compact and persuasive form, for it rests on generic similarities between plays. By drawing the parallels between this play and the others known to date from the late thirties, the fragmentary evidence we have adduced can be strengthened.

The subplot characters, Rafe Camelion and his wife, are Brome favorites in his later plays. In fact, Rafe is a finger exercise for the later more successful character, Saleware, in A Mad Couple Well Match'd. Both are uxorious citizens with small merchandizing shops. Both are nearly wittols—fondly trusting their wives and virtually coercing them into adultery by refusing to suspect or dominate them. Each is given a tag line. Camelion's is “honi soit qui maly pense,” and Saleware's “Sapientia mea mihi, Stultitia Tua Tibi.” The tags are exploited dramatically in similar fashion and, as can be seen, are when used by the wittol type of about equivalent force. There are other parallels between these two plays. Valentine Askal in The New Academy is a direct prefiguration of Carelesse in A Mad Couple Well Match'd; both are cynical, hard-mouthed rakes of a sharper-edged sort than Brome traditionally portrays. Nathaniel Banelass, the libertine in The English Moor, is a transitional characterization between them. Furthermore, Strigood in The New Academy is exceedingly like Moneylacks in The Sparagus Garden, the play which immediately follows it in this interpretation of the Brome chronology.

The idea of an Academy of compliments is utilized again in The Damoiselle (1638).12 These are not vague, general similarities but a specific chain of reproductions. In a period of three or four years, Brome wrote The New Academy,The Sparagus Garden,The English Moor,The Damoiselle, and A Mad Couple Well Match'd; for that period he evidently developed a set of personal versions of the conventions of current Caroline realistic-intrigue comedy, so that elements of one play overlap into and form the undercoating of the next. There is not much similarity in tone, structure, and emphasis between The New Academy and the other known early plays—The Northern Lasse,The City Wit,The Novella, and The Covent-Garden Weeded.13 There was a definite shift in technique with The New Academy. What heretofore have been assumed to be the indications of early, undeveloped craftsmanship are more accurately explained as an uncertain feeling after a new style. The New Academy is a mediocre play—it lacks sharpness and coherence of structure, but it prefigures substantially the much more successful achievement of A Mad Couple Well Match'd and through it of much Restoration comedy.


Probably the second play Brome wrote under his Salisbury Court contract was The Sparagus Garden, published in 1640 with the title page informing us that it was “Acted in the yeare 1635, by the then Company of Revels, at Salisbury Court.”14 The play was evidently seen through the press by Brome and contains a dedication to William, Earl of Newcastle, with whom Brome had obviously had some association, since the dedication is less impersonally flattering than a strictly conventional one. Newcastle was unique among the nobility who wrote plays, in that he admired and wrote in the vein of Jonsonian comedy and its derivatives rather than the “love and honor” mode. He evidently liked Brome's plays, for Brome says in this dedication, “My Lord! Your favourable Construction of my poore Labours commanded my Service to your Honour, and, in that, betray'd your worth to this Dedication.”15

There are two sets of commendatory verses, Jonsonian scene divisions, and a careful text. Obviously Brome thought well of this play, a contention further confirmed by his proud reference to it in the epilogue to The Court Beggar five years later: “And let me tell you he has made pretty merry Jigges that ha' pleas'd a many. As (le' me see) th' Antipodes, and (oh I shall never forget) Tom Hoyden o' Tanton Deane.” The second title alludes to a low comic rustic in The Sparagus Garden16 whose thick, Somerset dialect seems to have captivated Brome's audience, for we have noted earlier (in quoting from the contract proceedings) that the estimated proceeds from the play were £1,000. Whether or not this is a convenient exaggeration, the play's popularity is attested to by the citation, not merely by the monetary figure produced to bolster it.

This work, like the early The Covent-Garden Weeded to which it has only a general similarity, is quite full of topical reference. Since a precise dating of the play is of some importance in establishing the correct chronological sequence of Brome's canon, we shall examine one of his allusions closely.

Rebecca, the demanding wife of Brittleware (a harrassed and yielding husband, so favored as a type by Brome in this period), wants to have a baby and decides to indulge her cravings as pregnant women are permitted to do, thereby hoping to induce pregnancy as if by sympathetic magic. She expresses her craving: “I doe long to see the new ship, and to be on top of Pauls Steeple when it is new built, but that must not be yet” (II, ii, 134). Brome signed his Salisbury Court contract July 20, 1635. The allusion to the new ship would have been meaningless for several months thereafter, for Rebecca is referring to the ship Charles which is graced in the records of the period by the name of the “great ship.”17 The ship was being built at Woolwich and Rebecca evidently desired to be taken on a country excursion to see the marvel for herself. As late as September, 1635, the ship was not even begun, for there is a letter extant from the builder, Captain Pett to the King: “If the King's pleasure were signified for beginning the work, Pett made no doubt to have the ship finished in a year and a half.”18 A second letter from the same man in February, 1635-36 (o.s.), indicates that the ship is well under way. The necessary shipments of additional lumber should be expedited, he says, “that the works being already in great forwardness, may not be hindered.”19

It is improbable that the building of the great ship became a favourite haunt of London sightseers until the spring of 1635-36 when such outings would have been something to see. Whether this is acceptable or not, it would seem that the allusion suggests a date late in 1635 or in early 1635-36 (o.s.).

The other allusions further substantiate what we already know—that Brome wove fresh, current material into his plays and that with a few exceptions his allusions (when they can be traced down) are to specific recent events. He cleverly exploits the newly introduced sedan chairs in devising a denouement for his plot,20 by having the gull of the play, Tim Hoyden, conveyed onto the stage in one of these curtained litters and emerge clad as a woman. He utilizes it like a moveable inner stage for a surprising and amusing disclosure. He has Rebecca express her craving to see a play, not just any play but, a little uncertainly, she asks to see “The Knight of the burning—what dee' call't,” and is answered, “The Knight of the burning Pestle.” This play was evidently undergoing a successful London revival about this time, for the record of a court performance by Beeston's Queen Henrietta's company on February 28, 1635-36 (o.s.), is extant,21 which, for a play that had previously been a failure, suggests a successful revival in public before taking it to court. In short, all identifiable topical allusions indicate that the play was probably composed several months after Brome joined the Salisbury Court theater and that in terms of our calendar it is a play of 1636 rather than 1635.

At the present time it is hard to account for the special popularity of The Sparagus Garden. It is a vigorous play with an abundance of Brome's special gift for natural, vigorous dialogue, and a varied and strenuous plot. Perhaps its great success lies in the lucid and amusing way in which it “literalizes in action,” a metaphor underlying any number of plays in the period. The problem is that of social climbing and the ambition of the yeoman or tradesman to become a gentleman. The metaphor is the perennial one of blue blood versus the more usual variety. Brome has Tim Hoyden, the young prosperous country innocent, fall in with the theatrically flyblown crowd of cony-catchers, but if they are timeworn as stage types their device for making him into a gentleman is not. They quite literally improve his “social strain” by draining off his base blood. Brittleware and Moneylacks, the dupers, persuade him of the necessity.

Hoy. But must I bleed sir?

Mon. Yes, you must bleed: your father's blood must out. He was but a yeoman, was he?

Hoy. As ranck a Clowne, none disprais'd, as any on Sommersetshire.

Mon. His foule ranke blood of Bacon and Pease-porridge must out of you to the last dram.

Hoy. You will leave me none in my body then, I shall bleed to death, and you go that way to worke.

Spr. [inge, a third coney-catcher as his name implies] Fear nothing sir: your blood shal be taken out by degrees, and your veines replenish'd with pure blood still, as you loose the puddle.

(II, iii, 143)

The dialogue continues along these lines for a considerable time. Brome exploits the snobberies and the foolish pretensions while deriving from the device the necessary plot stimuli. The building of a store of gentlemen's blood will require an expensive diet from which the conspirators will get their share, and eating a fashionable diet will bring the group to the “sparagus garden” which is necessary to unify the various plot elements. This blood-letting device has a dramatically effective quality that Brome mastered to an exceptional degree. It is the function of the comic dramatist to find concrete equivalents for expression of current interests. Brome could find homely, easily intelligible ways of embodying concepts and aspirations on the stage. The blood-letting device may seem a little crude and overfarcical for modern tastes. A little historical imagination can reconstruct the terms in which the audience must have received these scenes and can recover at least an intellectual grasp of their immense comic possibilities.

The Sparagus Garden exploited the run of interest in place-realism so noticeable in The Covent-Garden Weeded. The direct exposure of the profiteering of taverners so central to the earlier play is echoed in a scene between the proprietor of the Sparagus Garden and his wife in which they discuss coldly the outrageously high prices they have exacted of their patrons (III, i, 154-55). The exposé of the Sparagus Garden itself is much less fully worked out, but that it is only one step above a brothel, a place of assignations and brawls, is made clear in a few tableau scenes. Finally, to account for the popularity of the play, we simply have to believe that Tom Hoyden, the socially aspiring Tim's brother, must have been a joy to the Caroline audience. Just as Brome had exploited the novelty of a north country accent in The Northern Lasse, adapting the pathetic character of Constance to the melodies of the accent, so in The Sparagus Garden he capitalized on his sharply attuned ear to introduce the best Somerset dialect in years, adapting the open, forthright, simplicity of Tom Hoyden's character to the rustic imperfection and solidity of his speech. Congreve did the same thing later with great success with Ben in Love for Love. A close look at The Sparagus Garden has indicated how intimately factual, how close to the immediate activities of the city Brome's work is.


Brome's gay, imaginative, and spirited attempt to combine his instinct for theatrical pathos with a more generalized form of social satire in The Antipodes (1638) is not quite successful, for there is an intellectual awkwardness, a loss of proper proportion that attacks Brome whenever he becomes too abstract or intellectual. He thought in terms of actable metaphors and his discursive or choral amplification of what he perceives is usually inferior to his direct presentation of it in stage action.

Even so The Antipodes is Brome's most unusual play. It was published during his lifetime22 as “Acted in the yeare 1638 by the Queenes Majesties Servants, at Salisbury Court in Fleet-street.” The play was evidently a success, for besides speaking proudly of it in the prologue to The Court Beggar in 1640, Brome says in his epistle dedicating the play to William Seymour, Earl of Hertford, “If the publicke view of the world entertayn it with no lesse welcome, then that private one of the Stage already has given it, I shall be glad.”

In a strange note appended to the text of the 1640 edition, Brome addresses the reader.

You shal find in this Booke more then was presented upon the Stage, and left out of the Presentation, for the superfluous length (as some of the Players pretended) I thought good al should be inserted according to the allowed Original; and as it was, at first, intended for the Cock-pit Stage, in the right of my most deserving Friend Mr. William Beeston, unto whom it properly appertained;

We have noted earlier that Brome, while under contract to the Salisbury Court theater wrote a play or two for the Cockpit theater contrary to contract. Evidently he tried to submit this one to them, too, but was legally compelled to return the play to Salisbury Court. The opening passage of the play suggests that Brome perhaps composed this work for the reopening of the theaters during the long months of the plague closing. In the initial line of the play, Blaze welcomes Joylesse back from the country.

To me, and to the City, Sir, you are welcome,
And so are all about you: we have long
Suffer'd in want of such faire Company
But now that Times calamity has given way
(Thankes to high Providence) to your kinder visits.(23)

(I, i)

The very unforeshadowed and unexplained nature of this allusion argues that Brome, like Jonson in his Alchemist, intended to make his play immediately contemporaneous by reference to the plague and the consequent evacuation of the city. This becomes even more likely when further along in the play we find a reference to the absence of stage activity in London. Discussing the preparation for the play within the play with its setting in the Antipodes,

          it will be possible
For him to thinke he is in the Antipodes
Indeed, when he is on the Stage among us.
When't has beene thought by some that have their wits,
That all the Players i' th' Towne were sunke past rising.(24)

(II, ii)

It seems possible that there was a period during the long plague closing when, after the dissolution of the King's Revels group and before the reformation of Queen Henrietta's men, the Salisbury Court theater had no company.25 During that time, Brome, as a playwright contractually tied to the house, would have had had no outlet. He might have agreed under such circumstances to prepare a play for Beeston's opening at the Cockpit with his new company, Beeston's Boys,26 only to be restrained from doing this by the legal opposition invoked by the Salisbury Court management. Consequently the play, though written for a reopening which happened to fall in October, 1637,27 could have been delayed by legal difficulties until 1638.28 That the play was performed in 1638 is supported by allusions in the prologue to the recent courtier plays “that carry state In Scene magnificent and language high; And Cloathes worth all the rest, except the Action [i.e., the acting].” This refers almost certainly to Suckling's Aglaura that was acted some time during the long Christmas season of 1637/38 (i.e., December, 1637 and January, 1637-38 [o.s.]). A contemporary letter dated February 7, 1637-38 (o.s.) from George Garrard (whose job it was to keep up with current news) to the Earl of Strafford, says,

Two of the King's Servants … have writ each of them a Play, Sir John Sutlin and Will. Barclay, which have been acted in Court, and at the Black Friars, with much Applause. Sutlin's Play cost three or four hundred Pounds setting out, eight or ten Suits of new Cloaths he gave the Players; an unheard of Prodigality.29

The time sequence implication in the phrasing of the prologue, where Brome speaks of “Opinion, which … has of late” embraced these new spectacles in preference to the older style of plays, does not lead one to suppose that his prologue was written immediately after Suckling's play was performed. It is more a considered reference to the recent past. In any case, Brome's prologue asserts that he is attempting in his own play, The Antipodes, to follow the path of the great dramatist of the past, “Who best could understand, and best devise Workes, that must ever live upon the Stage.” He will in his humble way labor to keep true comedy alive. In asserting this, Brome comes as close as he ever does to stating his credo and justifying his service to the stage.

Pardon our just Ambition, yet that strive
To keep the weakest Branch o' th' Stage alive.
I meane the weakest in their great esteeme,
That count all slight, that's under us, or nigh;
And only those for worthy Subjects deeme,
Fetch'd, or reach'd at (at least) from farre, or high:
When low and home-bred Subjects have their use,
As well, as those, fetch'd from on high, or farre;
And 'tis as hard a labour for the Muse
To mouve the Earth, as to dislodge a Starre.

When the persistence of a humble vitality in Brome's best comedies is contrasted to the utterly sterile and embalmed quality of the most ambitious Cavalier efforts, his resistance is mightily vindicated. Contrary to the many proclaimers of the decadence of the theater in the Caroline period, it seems apparent that the creative high road for the dramatists of the period coursed through the area of a spacious traditional achievement. Theatrical conservatism was healthy and potentially productive—the most radical and theatrically unrooted innovations are the major indicators of decadence.30

The Antipodes is conceptually a simple play, full of good fun and homely, broad farce with a social satiric bias.31 The device around which the play is organized is, I believe, quite original. Perigrine, a young, naïve country youth, has read so excessively in travel literature that he has lost his grip on reality. His young wife, Martha, has been totally neglected so that their marriage has never been consummated and she has fallen ill of love melancholy. She has a neurotic fixation on having a child. Out of this unusual postulate, Brome builds a play.

Letoy, “A Phantasticke Lord” with a lot of money, has the eccentric hobby of producing plays in his own house for his own entertainment.32

Stage-playes, and Masques, are nightly my pastimes,
And all within myselfe: My own men are
My Musique, and my Actors. I keepe not
A man or boy but is of quality:
The worst can sing or play his part o' th' Violls,
And act his part too in a Comedy. …
I love the quality of Playing I, I love a Play withall
My heart, a good one; and a Player that is
A good one too, with all my heart: As for the Poets,
No men love them, I thinke, and therefore
I write all my playes my selfe, and make no doubt
Some of the Court will follow
Me in that too.

(I, v)

Doctor Hughball, who after Corax in Ford's The Lover's Melancholy (1624) is, to my knowledge, the first practicing psychiatrist to appear on the English stage,33 undertakes to cure Perigrine and through him his wife by utilizing the strange hobby of his strange friend Letoy. Together they stage a play-within-the-play which pretends the conveyance of Perigrine to the Antipodes where his abnormal appetite for incredible novelties is satisfied by the acting out of a sequence of vignettes on this topsy-turvy world. His poor wife, Martha, plays the Queen whom he woos and wins, while the inverted values of the Antipodean state are introduced as a broad satiric commentary on Brome's London. Of course the method effects the cure and all is blissful at the finale.

The play has an unusually small number of standard roles and a large number of small parts. It was designed quite evidently to meet the special needs of Beeston's new company with its greater than normal number of children, some of them perhaps not yet fully trained.34 The play is fresh, original, and even today has considerable homely charm for a reader. Its satire is too dull-edged and generalized to reveal anything. It is directed against the more obvious abuses—greedy lawyers, underpayment of the artist, and monopoly begging by courtiers. Almost all the materials satirized were treated elsewhere with greater control and more intimate detail by Brome.35

By now what is meant by the stage as newspaper is apparent: tableau cartoons on money corruption, rehearsals of local scenes with mild corrective intent, exposure of particular vices in public servants, unwittingly parochial attempts to generalize the consequences of changes in observed behaviour. All this is familiar in theme and format, only the mode of execution is premodern. We can be sure that the demanded role of dramatist as attentive editor of popular behavior found an energetic recruit in Brome. It is everywhere in his work and undoubtedly the exact, well-researched, reportorial quality of his dramatic commentary on the increasingly complex movement of London life accounts for some of his popularity. Our preoccupation with the obviously “escapist” aspect of much Caroline drama has blinded us to just how socially engaged the better plays were. There is hardly a play in Brome's canon which makes the point more variously than The Covent-Garden Weeded. …


  1. He used this tableau or “living emblems” technique very fruitfully, for example, in The Damoiselle for placing his leading character, a usurer, at the outset and for condemning his lack of charity in the fourth act. See Chapter X in this book.

  2. This is in a sense, of course, similar to a device the morality plays must have exploited in the use of highly abstracted figures and symbolic costume and properties.

  3. This subject is too complex to pursue here. I do think that Douglas Bush's Mythology and the Renaissance Tradition in English Poetry (Minneapolis, 1932), and The Renaissance and English Humanism (Toronto, 1939); R. Tuve's Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery (Chicago, 1947), and A Reading of George Herbert (Chicago, 1953), as well as work by Hardin Craig, E. M. W. Tillyard, Samuel L. Bethell, L. C. Cormican, Muriel C. Bradbrook, and Lily B. Campbell, Madelaine Doran and many others have only begun to be applied really fruitfully to the ways in which drama and theater were conceived. I have never seen it suggested, for example, that the Elizabethans whom we have lauded for their acutely developed auditory sense (for listening to spoken poetry) probably also had a highly developed sense of visual form induced by habits of little reading of words and much contact with emblems, pageants, symbolic masques, conventional insignia and carving, type and class costumes, etc. Donald J. Gordon, in his studies of Jonson's masques, has demonstrated some of the subtler and more learned possibilities.

  4. In this sequence I have made some cuts, but (by count) Brome reiterates the words “honesty” or “honest” fourteen (14) times in less than two pages of text—the violent underscoring of theme is evident.

  5. Sir Walter Besant, London North of the Thames (London, 1911), pp. 316-17. He adds that Restoration plays are full of allusions to the place. The New Exchange may have begun to become fashionable before the Restoration. Regular allusions to it began to appear in the Domestic State Papers after 1635.

  6. Cf. Theodore Miles, “Place-Realism in a Group of Caroline Plays,” Review of English Studies, XVIII (1942), 428-40, and Richard H. Perkinson, “Topographical Comedy in the Seventeenth Century,” English Literary History, III (1936), 270-90.

  7. It is possible that the scenes between the citizen Rafe Camelion and his wife might have been staged with minor props to suggest a booth at the New Exchange.

  8. J. and C., I, 233. Bentley's source is Joseph Q. Adams, Dramatic Records (New Haven, 1917), p. 60.

  9. Cf. Bentley, J. and C., I, 234, quoting Sir Henry Herbert.

  10. Ibid., I, 235. See Malone Society Collections, II, 375, 378.

  11. Earlier, Rafe Camelion says in passing, “I saw last night Your new French daunce of three, what call you it?” and his companion answers, “O the Tresboun” (III, ii, 57), They dance it (p. 50).

  12. James Shirley used the Academy device as early as 1625 and there are numerous other examples. But I am here arguing from Brome's own carrer and the sort of phasal self-repetition that characterizes most minor artists.

  13. Alfred Harbage in his interesting article, “Elizabethan-Restoration Palimpsest,” (Modern Language Review, XXXV (1940), 287-319) argues that two of Dryden's plays are reworkings of lost plays by Brome, and defines a formula for Brome's comedies (pp. 304-5) that runs from the early City Wit and Northern Lasse through Covent-Garden Weeded and The Sparagus Garden right up to the late Mad Couple, Damoiselle, and Court Beggar. If his arguments were comprehensive they would be in contradiction to my contention of a change in technique around 1635. It seems to me however that Harbage refers to the persistence of minor themes and repetitions of characters standard throughout Caroline drama—rather than to matters of technique and tone which treat of what a dramatist does with such types and what kind of attitude he takes towards them.

  14. The play was very popular and is reported to have earned £1,000 for the company (Andrews, Richard Brome, p. 14). This figure is probably an exaggeration in the tradition of deposition claims, but even with great modification it gives testimony for the play's success.

  15. It seems possible to read this passage as an indication that Brome, a highly competent professional craftsman, rendered the “Service” to Newcastle of helping him in the construction of his plays.

  16. A. Harbage mistakenly thought that Tom Hoyden o' Tanton Deane was a separate play; see his play list in Cavalier Drama (New York, 1936), p. 269, under the date 1639. He corrected this error in his Annals of English Drama, 975-1700 (Philadelphia, 1940).

  17. Thomas Heywood with his alert journalist's instinct exploited popular interest in the ship with a pamphlet, A True description of his Majesties royal ship built at Wooll-witch (1637). There as throughout the Calendar State Papers, Domestic, for the period it is regularly called “the great ship.”

  18. Calendar State Papers, Domestic, Chas I (1635), VIII, p. 388.

  19. Calendar State Papers, Domestic, Chas. I (1635), VIII, p. 257.

  20. They were introduced into England only the previous year (1634), by Sir S. Duncombe (Encyclopedia Britannica, XXIV, 576 [11th ed., 1911]).

  21. See Bentley, J. and C., I, 236, and Herbert, Dramatic Records, p. 56.

  22. London, 1640.

  23. All references are to the 1640 quarto edition.

  24. Further evidence that Brome was thinking about these things during the 1636/37 (o.s.) plague closing is afforded by his verses for Thomas Nabbes's Microcosmus published in 1637. Addressing his fellow dramatist, Brome says, “Were the restraint ta'ne off, our eares and sight / Should fetch new shares of profit and delight / From this thy worke or World / … And friend I hope the stage agen will shine, / In part for mine owne sake as well as thine.”

  25. See Bentley, J. and C., I, 238-41 on the breaking up of the old and the reformation of the new Queen Henrietta's company; and ibid., I, 296 for his brief speculation on the fate of the dissolved King's Revel group.

  26. We know that Beeston had reformed his new company soon enough after his Queen Henrietta's group dissolved to act plays at court in February 1636/37 (o.s.) (Bentley, J. and C., I, 324-25).

  27. Ibid., II, 665.

  28. This does not conflict with the prior statement that The English Moor was probably the play which opened the Queen's Men's career at Salisbury Court after the plague abated in 1637. Brome had seventeen months to prepare for this reopening and doubtless did not expect the closure to persist for so long. He could easily have prepared two plays. In fact, the relative apparent effort expended on the two plays, The Antipodes and The English Moor, make it suggestively possible that the following happened: Brome carefully composed The Antipodes with a young company and Beeston in mind, the plague closing allowing time for careful composition. Then he tried to turn the play over to Beeston, but met legal interference by Heton, his employer at Salisbury Court; so, disappointed in this he “cobbled” together a play for the Salisbury Court reopening, hoping thereby to temporize and ultimately to avoid delivering The Antipodes to Heton, a plan later thwarted by legal action. This is speculative and undocumented but does offer a plausible correlation of the facts.

  29. Quoted by Bentley, J. and C., I, 58 from Strafforde's Letters, II, 150.

  30. For a contrary argument, see Alfred Harbage, Cavalier Drama, p. 124.

  31. The Antipodes has been written about slightly more often than most of Brome's plays. In addition to standard histories of the drama see Andrews, Richard Brome, pp. 112-34 for a study of sources of satire; George P. Baker's introductory essay on The Antipodes in the Charles M. Gayley edition of Representative English Comedies (New York, 1914), III, 417-29; and Joe L. Davis, “Richard Brome's Neglected Contribution to Comic Theory,” Studies in Philology, XL (1943), 520-28 which treats the play from the standpoint of comic catharsis and therapeutic laughter. He points out quite rightly that The Antipodes resembles Randolph's The Muses' Looking Glass (1630).

  32. Although Mildmay Fane, Earl of Westmorland, is not known to have put on his annual entertainments at Apthorpe before 1640 (after The Antipodes was written), the sort of home theater diversions Brome describes are similar to what we know of Fane's theatrical projects. For an account of Fane, see Harbage, Cavalier Drama, pp. 198-202; and Mildmay Fane's Raguaillo D'Oceano 1640 and Candy Restored 1641, ed. by Clifford Leech (Louvain, 1938), pp. 7-59.

  33. Dr. Hughball anticipates by more than 300 years Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly who performs a similar function in Eliot's The Cocktail Party. It is true that as early as King Lear state doctors prescribed some therapy for mental illness, but Ford's play and Brome's after it are the first to build a whole layer of a play on the bases of diagnosis (in systematic terms) and treatment of an illness. Ford following Burton was much more interested in what we would call psychosomatic medicine. See The Louers Melancholy, III, i, 11. 1249-1669, for Corax's diagnosis and treatment. See also S. Blaine Ewing, Burtonian Melancholy in the Plays of John Ford (Princeton, 1940), pp. 32-46. Brome had used mental illness and its treatment as a minor element in several earlier plays, notably in The Northern Lasse (1629) and The Queen's Exchange (1633/34?). Cf. Lawrence Babb, The Elizabethan Malady (East Lansing, 1951), pp. 123 and 167-68.

  34. Cf. Bentley, J. and C., I, 324-25, n. 1, for the most authoritative conjectures on the “puzzling” composition of this company. That Brome originally intended it for Beeston's company is explicitly stated in a note to the reader at the end of the 1640 edition of The Antipodes.

  35. The satire may be more particular than we can now understand, for Brome in the 1640 edition closes his dedication of the play to “William, Earle of Hertford,” by requesting that if the play “meet with too severe Construction I hope your Protection.”

Bibliography of Brome Criticism

Adams, J. Q. “Hill's List of Early Plays in Manuscript,” Library, XX (4th Series: 1939), 71-99.

Andrews, C. E. “The Authorship of The Late Lancashire Witches,Modern Language Notes, XXVIII (1913), 163-66.

———.Richard Brome: A Study of his Life and Works. (Yale Studies in English, Vol. XLVI.) New York, 1913.

Bentley, Gerald E. The Jacobean and Caroline Stage. Oxford, 1941–. Vols. I-V.

Davis, J. L. The Realistic Comedy of the “Sons of Ben,” 1625-1642. Unpublished University of Michigan thesis: Ann Arbor, 1934.

———.“Richard Brome's Neglected Contribution to Comic Theory,” Studies in Philology, XL (1943), 520-28.

Harbage, Alfred. “Elizabethan-Restoration Palimpsest,” Modern Language Review, XXXV (1940), 287-319.

Miles, T. “Place-Realism in a Group of Caroline Plays,” Review of English Studies, XVIII (1942), 428-40.

Perkinson, R. H. “Topographical Comedy in the Seventeenth Century,” English Literary History, III (1936), 270-90.

R. W. Ingram (essay date 1976)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: “The Musical Art of Richard Brome's Comedies,” in Renaissance Drama, Vol. 7, 1976, pp. 219-52.

[In the following essay, Ingram analyzes Brome's use of music in his plays, asserting that Brome had the ability to write musical scenes rather than just scenes with music added to them.]

Caroline audiences expected musical entertainment during their plays, but few of their playwrights were as adept as Brome at making the music serve any effective dramatic purpose. Playwrights too often relied upon a drably unimaginative use of convention: love scenes, whether romantic, gay, or melancholy, permitted, almost asked for, music to match their mood; pathetic singing of snatches of old songs was the regular embellishment of scenes of distress or madness; a tavern setting called for a lusty song, a brothel setting for a bawdy one; feasts and celebrations allowed for every kind of music. Brome subscribes to the same conventions, but handles them so expertly as to restore their vitality. He makes occasion demand music and not merely excuse it; he writes musical scenes rather than scenes with some music added to them. In his comedies music is a necessary delight.

Brome's musical art, like his dramaturgical art generally, is based on established forms and persisting conventions. His best critic, R. J. Kaufmann, has written of his consistent conservation in basic thought and dramatic method, but that daunting word does not mean that he was either timid or dull as a playwright.1 For him, conservation was a source of strength, not a literary cripple's crutch. He was a traditionalist who proved a principle enunciated by Bertrand Russell: “although direct imitation is always to be deprecated, there is much to be gained by a familiarity with good drama.”2 Brome's familiarity with good drama came in a very direct way—he had once been Ben Jonson's servant, a humble beginning his contemporaries did not allow him to forget. In some prefatory verses to the 1647 folio of Beaumont and Fletcher's collected plays, he wrote:

Y'have had your Jere: Sirs, no;
But, in an humble manner, let you know
Old serving-creatures oftentimes are fit
T'informe young masters.

This was no idle brag, for he had as much to teach most young Caroline masters as he himself had had to learn from Jonson. Not least, he could inform in the sprightly and inventive use of musical conventions, especially in comedy.

Brome's natural medium was middle-class comedy and for his characters music is primarily a social pleasure; there is an engaging air of practicality about it that nevertheless encompasses an element of satisfying emotional warmth. The musical range of the comedies is wide but generally aims at rousing delight and excitement rather than passion or intensity. Those qualities are more natural to the exotic world of Fletcherian tragedy and tragicomedy. Brome traveled three times to that world and demonstrates an able handling of its more overtly powerful musical effects rather than a wholehearted exploration of them. The strong and complex pressures exerted by such effects are as foreign to him as to the nature of his comedy (whose musical effects, however, are no less subtle and diverse). He is concerned with less exalted people in less perilous situations. Both forms of drama, however, drew on the customs of seventeenth-century society for their musical usages.3

Music pervaded society at all levels to a surprising degree. It was the natural accompaniment of work and play. In many ways it bore no less a part in life then than it does today, save that our music has become more of a background noise—it is switched on or piped in and is incidental music in the saddest sense. Perhaps for this reason it is sometimes thought odd that the characters of seventeenth-century drama so casually and unembarrassedly break into song: music-making that for us has something of the air of a too deliberately contrived performance was, in Brome's day, accepted as natural and unexceptionable behavior. Brome took advantage of the opportunities offered by this given background for slighter decorations in his plays as well as for major motifs in their design. Everyday impulses to music are skillfully turned to dramatic ends.

Thus the conventions of the day allowed the creation of characters who were especially musical in some way without making them seem awkward excuses for the introduction of music. Their sincerity or insincerity only adds to their dramatic appeal. One such group of characters includes those who by necessity of their calling or the bent of their minds sing when others would talk. Crack, in The City Wit, depends upon his musical abilities for his livelihood and so brings music with him whenever he appears. Constance, The Northern Lass, on the other hand, is noted for her beautiful voice and a propensity to express her emotions by singing. Hearty and Tallboy Oldrents, in The Jovial Crew, tend at times to find singing more congenial than talking, and the Jovial Crew of Gipsies themselves continually express their corporate views of life in festival music. Enthusiastic amateurs make up another distinctive group. They range from rich gentlemen like Letoy (The Antipodes) who can afford their own musicians to humbler, less-gifted, but more incorrigible devotees, such as crowd the stage in The Court Beggar, all of them anxious to realize secret musical dreams, amateurs relentless in the pursuit of music. Ambitious climbers sedulously aped such manners, and their purses were therefore readily available to confidence tricksters who ran bogus academies to impart the necessary social graces. Brome anatomizes such an establishment in The New Academy. Set up by Strigood under the alias of Mr. Lightfoot, it kept “both men and women, as I am inform'd, after the French manner, That professe Musick, Dancing, Fashion, Complement” (III.i:2.55).4 The timeless lure of anything French was irresistible to simple people like Hannah Camelion and tradesmen like Rafe. Strigood dazzles them with an easy flow of French and pseudo-French and even exhibits a likable boldness when, unabashed by the unexpected presence of some real Frenchmen, he cries out: “I feare no French flashes. Bear up Cash. If we cannot daunce them off o'their legs, our wenches can, I warrant thee. Musick be ready” (III.i:2.65).

The musical battles were not only between the dupes and the rogues; in Covent Garden Weeded the psalm tune strives with the pop tune. In that play Gabriel, sadly overflown with drink, begins to sing. Being of the narrow puritanical sort he chooses a psalm tune. Almost immediately he is interrupted by some tavern fiddlers outside, who are heard tuning their instruments. The psalm tune is momentarily put down as Gabriel pauses in his music-making to castigate the fiddlers: “Such cries as these went forth before the desolation of the great City.” He is a prophet ignored and, as they stand “Fidling rude tunes” (doubtless popular ones well known to the audience), he rants on: “O prophane tinkling, the cymbals of Satan, that tickle the eare with vanity, to lift up the mind to lewdnesse. Mine ears shall be that of the Adder against the Song of the Serpent … I will roar out aloud to drown your Incantations. Yea I will set out a throat even as the beast that belloweth” (II.ii:2.32-34). The fiddling accompanies this outburst, and Gabriel's efforts, first to shout it down, and then to raise his voice over it in some psalm or religious hymn, set up a gay musical situation that underscores his character and makes a neat commentary on the stricter puritan's aversion to popular music.

If genius were only the capacity for taking pains, Brome's status would be in no doubt. He is a careful craftsman, and not above remarking method to his audience: “Nay, mark, I pray you, as I would entreat and Auditorie, if I were now a Poet to mark the Plot, and several points of my play, that they might not say when 'tis done, they understood not this or that, or how such a part came in or went out, because they did not observe the passages” (Covent Garden Weeded, III.ii:2.50). This pleasure in taking pains is reflected in the tendency Brome shows to deal separately in his plays with particular aspects of theatrical music. A study of five plays will show this method in action as well as demonstrate the extent of Brome's achievement in musical comedy. The Northern Lass (1629)5 focuses attention on the comedy of song. There is also singing in The English Moor (1637), but Brome is chiefly concerned here with the masque as a structural element in the play. The Court Beggar (1640) ends with a masque, and the latter part of the play is organized around the preparation for and performance of it; but all of this is only a part, albeit a major part, of a larger exploration of the comic potentialities of extravagant and grotesque musical comedy. In The Antipodes (1636/37), Brome had made some experiments in the same general area but along slightly different lines. In this play Brome does not insert the masque into the design and exploit its fanciful elements; rather he begins with the masque and, maintaining its world of fantasy intact, extends it by fusing into it elements of regular satiric comedy. Finally, in The Jovial Crew (1641), he leaves the masque world and its fantasy for the world of romantic comedy, where matters are more farcical than fantastic and in which the musical events exist in something of the manner of a subplot while at the same time setting the mood of the play as a whole.

The Northern Lass, an amusing comedy of no great pretensions, probably owed some of its popularity to the recipe Brome followed: no comedy is more conventional in its ingredients: a pathetic heroine and her unpleasant guardian; a well-bred if somewhat obtuse hero; various vulgar, foolish, and idiotic suitors; a harsh-mouthed widow, witty servant, and other old reliables—all are shuttled briskly through the inevitable maze of misbegotten marriage and crossed love affairs to a happy ending. Recipes for popular success in the theater are not well-kept secrets, but there is more to writing a popular play than merely including ingredients that are known to be well liked. Beaumont, in The Knight of the Burning Pestle, and Fletcher, in The Faithful Shepherdess, wrote plays that contained a good deal of musical entertainment, but their audiences, ignoring the widely held assumption that music was sop thrown their way to assure success, disdained both plays. We may well say that the audience was at fault in rejecting those two plays, but the point is that mere inclusion of music is not enough to ensure popular success for a play.

Brome could not have chosen more well-worn musical material to demonstrate how far sympathetic skill in placing it can go toward rejuvenating it. Plaintive love songs, a prostitute's bawdy ditties, singing and dancing for a wedding and a party, instrumental music to ease pain are what he uses. The amount and variety obviously contribute to over-all liveliness and appeal, but mere amount will not do everything. These must be an order to the variety; each item must contribute its own effect. There is a planned order and each musical scene aims at a particular impression. This is nowhere better shown than in the songs. A distinctive trait of the heroine's character is that she “sings and speaks so prettily northerly.” This promise is not made the excuse for a concert recital (such things were not unknown: Valerius, in Heywood's The Rape of Lucrece, had ten songs in the 1608 edition of the play, four were added in 1630, and five more in 1638; the Bard in Shirley's St. Patrick for Ireland [1639] was another relentless vocalizer; Cavendish inserted seven songs into one scene of The Variety [1639-1641]). Indeed, Constance sings only three songs, but two others are sung by a bawd who is mistaken for her. Thus the heroine's special vocal quality allows five songs but two singers. Brome further shows what dramatic context can do by making each of Constance's songs a plaintive love ditty, yet avoiding any sense of repetitiveness of effect as well as preventing his heroine from seeming too tearfully pathetic.

Constance's first song, “You say my love is but a man,” pins its effect upon its very unassuming typicality. Constance's musing upon her unrequited love for Sir Philip is interrupted by the news of his arrival. Actually, it is the obnoxious Anvile masquerading as Sir Philip. Trainewell, the suspicious old nurse, goes to fetch help, and Constance is told to sing in order to keep Anvile placidly waiting.

Naturally enough Constance chooses a love song:

You say my Love is but a Man,
          But I can find more odds,
'Twixt him and others than I can,
          Find between him and Gods.
                    He has in's eye
                    Such majesty.
His shape is so divine
That were I owner of the world,
                    He only should be mine.


It is an unexceptional lyric; the important thing is that the words are sufficiently vague to suit Constance's frame of mind as aptly as they do the quite contrary one of Anvile. For Constance the song sums up what she has just been saying about Sir Philip: for Anvile, who thinks he is in a bawdy house (he is confusing the Northern Lass with the cunning whore, as Sir Philip had done in rejecting the true Constance and causing her melancholy), this is just the kind of enticing song he expects to hear in such a place. He interprets it according to his lewd hopes and calls it a “sweet prologue to the interlude.” In actual fact the song is the sweet interlude between the excitement caused by Anvile's arrival together with the discovery of his hoax and the violence of his ejection with Tridewell's boot behind him.

Constance's second song, “Nor Love, nor Fate dare I accuse” ( is very similar to the first, but its setting as part of the masque of willow presented before Sir Philip and his new wife, widow Fitchow, and its result give it a quite different impact. The masque is heralded by a regular flourish of cornets and an irregular one of Fitchow's tetchiness: “Some of your old Companions have brought you a fit of Mirth: But if they enter to make a Tavern of my House, I'le add a voice to their consort shall drown all their fidling.” Notwithstanding, the masquers enter: “All in willow garlands, four men, four women. The first two pairs are Tridewell and Constance, Anvile and Trainewell. Before the Daunce Constance sings this song.” It is a self-deprecatory song in which she blames herself for choosing a love so far above her in station. Its pathetic appeal, combined with the gentle melancholy of the willow dance, causes Sir Philip to question his early rejection of Constance and realize his hasty mistake in so doing. It brings home even more sharply the folly of his marrying Fitchow on the rebound as it were (eventually the marriage is found to be invalid, the officiating minister having been Sir Philip's servant, Pate, in disguise). The fact that the masque is allowed to go forward shows that Sir Philip has awakened to Fitchow's contrariness. Constance's singing effectively contrasts with Fitchow's sharp-temperedness and, in the progress of the plot, marks the first clear turn of events in Constance's favor.

It is too early, however, for matters to swing decisively Constance's way, and she suffers more, this time at the hands of her guardian, Sir Paul Squelch, who badgers her to marry the idiotic Widgine, brother of Fitchow. With her fortunes at their lowest ebb, Constance falls into a melancholia akin to that of the Jailor's daughter in The Two Noble Kinsmen, and when Nonsense, yet another foolish and obstreperous suitor, comes, thinking to humor her by pretending to be Sir Philip, she sings of the little bird she once had and of how it chirruped its name, Philip. The song is prettily adapted to her love's name. After it she chatters a little and leaves singing a sorry couplet from another old ballad. When she comes in again she is singing, in her northern dialect, another snatch asserting her refusal to go with any other man and her intent to be a maid to all but one. This is very reminiscent of other heroines melancholy for love and none the worse for that. The scene marks the nadir of Constance's fortunes and deliberately exploits her voice, her accent, and her situation. It confirms her character and within the larger musical pattern sounds the saddest notes, against which the music to follow will be heard with sharpened impact (III.ii:53-60).

The boldest contrast in the pattern follows on the heels of this mournful singing. It is the musical discomfiture of Fitchow, an apt business since her humiliation, as we have seen, began musically albeit quietly (III.iii:3.63-65). Her feeble brother Widgine, encouraged to take a stand against her, sings scornfully of the fate of the man married to a scold. His friends rally to him splendidly. The stage direction reads: “They all take hands and dance round. Widgine in the midst sings this song. They all bear the burden, while she scolds and strives to be amongst 'hem. Tridewell holds her off.” Eventually Fitchow breaks loose and flies at her persecutors, who exit in pandemonium, still singing. This boisterous finale to the act is virtually a parody of the willow masque and an instance of Brome's aptitude for balancing musical scenes against each other. The plaintive love song and gentle dance are replaced by a loud satirical song and a lusty masculine round dance, and instead of the lovelorn Constance there is the shrieking struggling Fitchow.

The two dance scenes are representative of what can be called musical action; in the last act the story of Constance and Sir Philip is happily concluded with music as background for action. A very simple example of this latter kind is found in The Novella (1632) when the titular heroine sings a trade song to attract customers: “Whilst she plays and sings above, Paulo waits below. Many gallants pass over the stage gazing at her” (I.ii:2.129). A much more subtle example is this earlier one. Pate, disguised this time as a doctor, persuades Constance to meet his master. Throughout their meeting “soft music” is heard. This is partly medicinal to help cure Constance's love-melancholy (her sad-mad singing when pestered by Squelch and Nonsense proves that her case is such as to need this traditional treatment), but its main function is to set the mood of tender reconciliation and love. When Squelch arrives to collect his ward, Pate tells him that she is in her room and that the music he can hear has been required to help her to sleep. The “Musick continues” and takes on a subtle satiric overtone as it now becomes the cover for the fleeing lovers, as well as for Pate who takes his chance to slip away while Squelch is kept in conversation by Constance's nurse, persuaded that so long as he hears the music his ward is safe (V.ii-iii:3.86-89). It provides, incidentally, a quiet interlude before the bustle of the denouement. The whole effect is typically Bromean in its simple means, its intricacy, and its deftness.

Two other songs are heard before this, in the fourth act, both sung by Constance Holdup, the whore (IV.iv:3.77-79). Widgine, duped into thinking she is the Northern Lass he covets, visits her pretending to be Sir Philip for whom, he has been assured, “Constance” has run mad. She enters singing a lullaby to a child which, it is intimated, is Sir Philip's. This mockery of a lullaby over, Widgine humors her, exchanges snatches of song with her and eventually wins her (it costs him £100 to break the contract at the end of the play). Before he leaves she sings once more, this time a true song of her profession, a smutty pastoral. The infatuated Widgine is too blind to see reason and goes happily away. Both songs are utterly unlike any the true Constance would sing, and they would take in only a beguiled fool like Widgine. The singing in this scene depends upon the establishment of the Northern Lass as a singer, the convention that people made mad by love sing, as well as the fact that whores sing as part of their profession. The lullaby drives home to Widgine the fact that the girl has been made mad by love as well as confirming to his feeble brain that she is the Constance he seeks. The insistence upon impersonation in the scene—everyone seeming to take off Sir Philip at one time or another while there is steady confusion in some minds as to which Constance is which—sets up situations which the music underlines and, indeed, helps to create. Songs of genuine love-melancholy are contrasted with forgeries: the simple song which Anvile took for a brothel item is contrasted with a pair that are very unsubtle in their double meanings. The blunt nature of Holdup's appeal causes the spectator to wonder how Constance could have been mistaken for her. The second song, “As I was gathering April's flowers,” is something of an “extra,” yet it is a legitimate part of what is an amusing scene of the gulling of Widgine. The way in which other actions have been stressed musically creates a pattern into which this scene, with its coarser songs, fits well.6

Brome's handling of music in The Northern Lass, early in his career, is confident and skillful, but it is not the best that he can do. In the four late plays, to which we now turn, Brome's mastery of musical conventions and his boldness in extending their inherent capacities as dramatic effects show to best advantage.

The plot of The English Moor or The Mock Marriage could stand as a display piece of Brome's ingenuity and control. Two large-scale musical scenes, each including a masque, are vital to the plot. Perhaps “masqued dance” is a better term than masque, for only in The Antipodes does Brome utilize the trappings of the court masque and present anything resembling a miniature court masque of the kind that Fletcher, for example, inserts in The Maid's Tragedy. Brome liked to use a theme for his dancers and have them dressed in some unusual and attractive costume, but otherwise he avoids the formality of the masque. When he does cleave more closely to the accepted structure of the masque in The Antipodes, he still contrives something quite different. However, the question of nicely distinguished nomenclature for such entertainments is not one to be straightforwardly settled. We are more anxious than the seventeenth-century playwrights to classify drama: Brome called his musical entertainments of this sort “masques,” and in following him we must bear in mind the wide interpretation given names and titles in his day. It is a moot point whether their wide-ranging usage is any more convenient than the current tendency to sort everything out into countless subdivisions. The dance and masque had dramatic potentialities that many playwrights explored. Brome, as well as any, knew what a satisfying conclusion a dance made to a play. Geron and his country helpers have one ready at the close of The Lovesick Court: “some country sport” as Geron disarmingly calls it, adding:

A dance I have projected for the Princess,
Who ever marries her it shall serve.


Any remaining ill-feeling at the end of The New Academy, dealing as it does with dancing lessons for the socially ambitious, among other matters, is swept away with “One frisk, one fling now, one cariering dance” aptly called “in English, Omnium Gatherum” (V.ii:2.110). Seven of Brome's fifteen extant plays end with some form of dance or musical entertainment: The English Moor, though it makes ingenious and rich use of masque and music, does not. Usurer Quicksands' authority and plotting having twice been undermined by musical means in the first and fourth acts, the fifth act concludes his undoing without any music.

Millicent, having been forced to wed Quicksands, dampens his ardor on the wedding night by an outrageous display of wantonness largely created by singing snatches of crude songs (I.iii:2.13-16). This relies on the association of loose women with songs such as those that Brome had used for different ends in The Northern Lass. In the same predicament as Millicent, Florimel, Fletcher's The Maid of the Mill (1623), uses exactly the same technique. If Brome took the idea from Fletcher, he asserts his individuality by using it as the prologue to an even livelier musical scene. Quicksands is quite dashed by Millicent's performance:

My edge is taken off: this impudence
Of hers, has outfac'd my concupisence.
Dasht all quite out o'Countenance!

But his trials have only just begun, “A sowgelder's horn blown” arouses fears that his manservant confirms:

Vizarded people, Sir, and odly shap'd
You'l see anon. Their tuning o'their pipes,
And swear they'll gi'ye a willy nilly dance
Before you go to bed, tho' you stole your Marriage.

Millicent delightedly simpers, “Some … to congratulate our honoured Marriage.” There is another flourish and Mercury leaps in followed by “four Masquers with horns on their heads: a Stag, a Ram, a Goat, and an Ox followed by four persons, a Courtier, a Captain, a Schollar and a Butcher.” Mercury makes sure the point of the masque is understood and, calling on the musicians to “strike aloud / The cuckold's joy, with merry pipe and crowd,” the masquers “dance to musick of Cornets and Violins.” The notion of a Horn Masque is very apt and brings Quicksands' marriage celebrations to a rousing conclusion. The whole sequence from the teasing songs and tormenting behavior of Millicent through to the stage full of leaping horn-decorated young roarers goading Quicksands to fury is splendidly carried out, and, although entirely dramatic as it stands, it strongly suggests, as other parts of the play will as well, its suitability for operatic treatment (I.iii:2.13-16).

The masque is quietly kept in the spectator's mind by a train of references to it during the play, culminating in its use by Quicksands as something that his Masque of Moors can answer. Brome methodically lets Quicksands explain the personnel:

Yes I have borrowed other Moors
of Merchants
That trade in Barbary, whence I had
mine own here,
And you shall see their way and skill in dancing.


Quicksands is hardly able to contain himself at this riposte to the young rakes:

          you shall see how I'le requite
The masque they lent me on my wedding night.
Twas but lent Gentlemen, your masque of horns,
And all the private jears and publik scorns
Y'have cast upon me since.


The complexities and double-crossings that spring from this second masque testify to Brome's mastery of plot construction. Quicksands has given out the news that Millicent has run away but intends to amaze his gloating enemies by producing her at the masque and feast. His enemies, of course, discover this and lay their own plans accordingly. Both sides are delighted with what they conceive to be astute plots. Further duplicities have been planned by ladies previously deceived by the young men who also plan to use the masque for their own ends. Thus all the conflicts are brought together, and the disguises of the masque (especially the blacked faces) enable a whole set of turns of fortune to be mounted one after the other with great panache. The variety of plots and counterplots is an addition to the different musical entertainments offered during the scene. The Moors in the masque “dance an Antique in which they use action of Mockery and derision to the three Gentlemen.” Baneless, the leader of the young rakes, applauds the device and asks leave to dance: he is quite unusual in being specific about the music he wants:

Musick, play a Galliard,
You know what you promised me, Bullis.


If nothing else, Baneless had musical taste in using music by John Bull.7 Despite this carefully chosen music, Baneless “dances vilely,” according to the stage direction, and Quicksands is moved to raucous laughter at his ineptitude. Deliberate or not, it makes a good contrast with the previous dance. After Baneless has danced away with his partner—his ludicrous performance was possibly meant to take attention away from this purpose which he had—Buzard, a dismissed servant of Quicksands, enters pretending to be the idiot son whom Quicksands keeps hidden in the country. Buzard sings crazily to maintain his disguise: “He sings and dances and spins with a rock and spindle.” The contrast between these two turns is also explicitly marked in the stage directions: “Enter Arnold like a Countrey man and Buz[ard] like a changeling, and as they enter, exit NAT [Baneless] … the musick still playing.” The music is Bull's. The two fantastic dances taken together might almost be an antimasque to the Masque of Moors.

Such is the fecundity of Brome's imagination that, as it were in passing, he mentions another idea for a superb comic scene which, we must assume, he felt the design of his play did not permit him to use. On the morning after the horn masque, Baneless, leader of the rakes, comes in and tells of another musical torment inflicted upon Quicksands.

This morning, early, up we got again,
And with our Fidlers made a fresh assault
And battery 'gainst the bed-rid bride-grooms window.
With an old song, a very wondrous old one,
Of all the cares, vexations, fears and torments,
That a decrepit, nasty, rotten Husband
Meets in a youthful, beauteous, sprightly wife:
So as the weak wretch will shortly be afraid,
That his own feebler shadow makes him Cuckold.
Our Masque 'er night begat a separation
Betwixt'em before bed time: for we found
Him at one window, coughing and spitting at us;
She at another, laughing, and throwing money
Down to the Fidlers, while her uncle Testy,
From a third Port-hole raves, denouncing Law,
And thundring statutes 'gainst their Minstralsie.


It is a sparkling scene that might have come from a Rossini comic opera.

Completely different from the rest of the loud gay music of the play is a little song that Lucy has a boy sing to cheer her up. She calls it a mournful song but her brother is angry at the singer, calling it a “wanton air.” Lucy demurs:

I know not brother how you like the air,
But in my mind the words are sad, Pray read 'em.


He does so and agrees that “they are sad indeed.” The song is more an interlude than most musical events in Brome; even so there is the suggestion that Brome makes something of it, for if both speakers are right it may be that sad words have been put to a well-known air used for a popular bawdy song or loose ballad, and an incongruous comic effect gained in this way.

Musical humor of this extravagant kind is the particular mark of The Court Beggar. Musical fantasticalness is made a basis of Sir Ferdinando's character. He has run mad for love, and whereas Constance in a similar state displayed quiet melancholy he displays the frantic side of the affliction. Such musical madness traces back to Ophelia and the Jailer's daughter in The Two Noble Kinsmen. Brome's twist is to try the effect in a man and, at the same time, extend the theatrical virtuosity of the dance. Twice Ferdinando exhibits his madness in what amount to vaudeville turns. First “he Dances a conceited Countrey Dance, first doing his honours, then as leading forth his Lasse. He danceth both man and womans actions, as if the Dance consisted of two or three couples, at last offering to Kisse his Lasse, hee fancies that they are all vanish'd” (IV.ii:1.241). Later he attempts to get out of an awkward situation by further musical madness: he “sings part of the old Song, and acts it madly” (IV.iii:1.247). The old song probably was “The Battle of Musleborough Field,” which had just been alluded to and would provide ample scope for a mad histrionic singer.8

This kind of humor is found even in the slighter musical parts of the play. Not all of it is very subtle: Sir Ferdinando's doctor undergoes a mock gelding that is accompanied by a sow-gelder's song intended as a crude anesthetic (IV.ii:1.243). Two catches are also heard: one offstage in the second act at Lady Stranglelove's that merely suggests the nature of the house but dramatically is hardly more than a tuneful connection between the two halves of the scene (II.ii:1.209); the other, a part of Ferdinando's antics before his first turn (IV.ii:1.241). To offset the casual nature of these entertainments Brome offers one of his best demonstrations of how to make a masque part of a play. In the second act Lady Stranglelove mentions a masque she intends, asserting that Court-Wit “shall performe the poetical part, your servant Cit-Wit the Musicall … Dancers and speakers I have in store” (II.i:1.212). However, her optimism turns out to be founded upon intention rather than performance and, very late in the day, she admits to having done nothing more than invite the guests to watch the masque. With ostentatious modesty, Court-Wit, when she casually asks for a masque to be run up, murmurs: “I have cast the designe for't already Madam. My inventions are all flame and spirit. But you can expect no great matter to be done extempore or in six minutes” (V.ii:1.259). Swayne-Wit takes a more bucolic and placid view of the matter: “What matter ist so wee skip up and downe? our friend Jack Dainty here, Mr. Cut-purse dances daintily tho'.” Happily, Dainty has the sparks of the born organizer in him. He swiftly takes charge and soon the others are stirred to action. He himself will be choreographer and “give you all the footing.” The stage direction reads, “Practise footing”: here, as so often in Brome when some special effect is intended, the directions are so full and carefully arranged that it is easy to realize his intentions. The doctor is hauled in to make up the numbers in the dance and seizes this chance to satisfy secret ambitions of composing music: “What think you of this tune sir for your dance?” he asks Dainty, and he begins to hum, “Tay, dee, dee, &c.” Dainty is pleased: “I'll borrow a Violl and take it of you instantly.”

The amateurs lose no time in abandoning themselves to their art, so that when Sir Raphael happens upon them in his search for Sir Andrew, the master of the house, he is sure he has wandered into some madhouse. No one has a moment to spare for his questions. Court-Wit is “creating,” scribbling poetic fancies down, “sometimes scratching his head, as pumping his Muse.” “Cit-wit Dances looking on his Feete,” “The Doctor stretches his Throat in the Tune,” while Swayne-Wit, in acceptable bucolic vein “whistels & Dances Sellingers round, or the like.”9 Dainty reappears with the viol, and Sir Raphael turns hopefully to him only to be dashed, for Dainty “fidls to him & the 4 Dancing and singing practise about him.” Turning to Philomel, the chambermaid, he gets his first answer, but to no purpose as she only “speaks in a vile tone like a Player” and spouts fustian at him:

O by no means, we must speake Charon
Or Hee'l not waft us o're the Stigian Floud
Then must we have a sop for Cerberus
To stop his yawning Chaps; Let me alone
To be your Convoy to Elizium.

She and the Boy rant wildly on, “Dainty playes softly & Doctor with him aside,” and the absurd comical counterpoint goes on. The rehearsal is believable and so it is funny, because earnest amateurs such as these are the funnier the more seriously they pursue their elusive art. The entry of the disengaged Raphael provides a hub of normality round which the merry-go-round of fanciful comedy revolves with added zest. In some ways it is like a musical version of the last act of Gammer Gurton's Needle, where everyone argues violently about what they think has lately happened in the village while in their midst the sober figure of Baily stands trying to sort matters out. The scene is one of Brome's funniest pieces of “musical” comedy.

The masque is performed almost immediately, and the hasty preparation and sparse rehearsal result in something that is akin to the Show of the Nine Worthies. Nonetheless it successfully concludes the play. The Boy, Cupid to Philomel's Venus, botches his lines. An ill-sorted group of representatives from the Pantheon enter and dance: “After they have Danc'd a while, Enter Projectors, breakes 'em off.” They introduce a sort of antimasque crowned by the appearance of Sir Andrew himself “attir'd all in Patents; a Windmill on his head, and the other Projector.” Sir Andrew, quite taken in by the Projectors, has notions as wild as Sir Politick Would-Be's. Dainty saves the day by having the music carry on: “They all Dance. In the Dance they pull off his Patents; And the Projectors Clokes, who appeare all ragged. At the end of the Dance the Projectors thrust forth.” Thus Sir Andrew is cured and all swiftly comes to a destined happy end. The dance is restarted by the indefatigable Dainty, and during it the last threads are unraveled and it turns into a traditional grand-dance finale to celebrate a wedding (V.ii:1.265-269).

In this last act Brome brings together a number of traditional devices and entertainments—the dance finale of comedy, the masque and antimasque, the amusing clumsiness of amateurs in rehearsal and performance, the sudden and complete unveiling and expulsion of villains, the saving of good folk—and makes of them one hectic yet carefully controlled comic scene. The Court Beggar is a perfect union of dramatic and musical entertainment; none of the individual elements is new, but the manner of bringing them together and the emphasis given to the fantastic and extravagant in their handling is fresh and lively.

Fantasy is the mark of The Antipodes, an attractive play possessing that rare Caroline quality of distinctive individuality. There is much music in the play, but it is used more to illustrate the theme than as plot material in the manner we have seen in other plays. If elements of the grotesque usually associated with the antimasque might be said to have been a leading motif in the handling of music in The Court Beggar, then the general atmosphere of the masque as a whole, its exotic and unreal nature, permeates The Antipodes, and this applies not merely to the musical parts of the play. Whereas in plays such as Cartwright's and Strode's the static tableau effects of the masque tend to dominate, Brome manages a much more subtle infusion of masque and drama.

The action takes place in the home of the eccentric Letoy, whose many servants can all act and play some musical instrument; he is entertained by them nightly with plays and masques. Peregrine, the hero, suffers from what might be called Mandeville-mania and dreams his life away in quixotic fantasies of travel (incidentally neglecting his wife to such an extent that she declines into melancholy). He is drugged and awakes at Letoy's where the players are already performing a piece which has to do with the Antipodes, the totally topsy-turvy world. Each act is introduced by flourishes, and toward the end of the play Peregrine is so carried away by it that, like Don Quixote before Master Peter's Puppet show, he takes part in the action and, after a rising in the tiring room, proclaims himself King of the Antipodes. He is greeted with the shouts of the people, “drums and trumpets,” and the “loud harmony” of the city waits on “hoboys.” Upon the heels of this raucous noise comes the “soft musick” and gentler song of welcome that the court brings to Peregrine. The scene ends with the return of the loud music of the “hoboys” (IV.x:3.313-315).10

In the masque that follows on the conclusion of Letoy's play (which has effected a cure on Peregrine, and hence on his wife), contrasts are worked out in terms of discord and concord. The plot is not advanced by the masque, but the way in which it matches the mood of the play and focuses sharply on the essential theme of the whole action makes it securely a part of Brome's design. There is an amusing and perhaps tongue-in-cheek explanation of its presence. The play-within-the-play had been broken off by Peregrine's entry into it. For completion it apparently needed a musical finale:

My lord gave order for't last night.
It should ha'bin ith'play: But because that
Was Broke off, he will ha't today.


Discussion accompanies the various parts of the concluding masque for which Brome gives characteristically precise directions (V.viii-xi:3.335-338). “A solemne lesson upon the Recorders” brings on the actors. Peregrine “seemes somthing amazed,” and only when all is ready does this preliminary music cease. Its sweet harmony is abruptly contrasted with “a most untunable florish” that announces the masque proper. There enter “Discord attended by Folly, Jealousie, Melancholy and madnesse.” Discord, again “in untunable notes,” sings a song, after which a dance (obviously a fantastic one according to their music and character) follows. “After a while they are broke off by a flourish, and the approach of Harmony followed by Mercury, Cupid, Bacchus and Appollo. Discord and her faction fall downe.” Harmony's cutting across of the dance before it is finished stresses the opposition between the kinds of music. Harmony then performs her group's song. “After a straine or two, Discord cheares up her faction. They all rise, and mingle in the dance with Harmony and the rest. Daunce.” Here, having made music the subject of some of his best comic scenes, it might be said that Brome makes it the subject of his masque. It stands in relation to his play much as a moral does to a fable.

The feeling remains that The Antipodes is an interim play, an experiment in a mode that might have been fruitfully developed had not the closing of the theaters ended Brome's career. A Jovial Crew also looks toward a later mode of drama but it is a more self-contained play. It is a mixture of romance and reality. Notwithstanding the jovial music of the crew (their music-making largely is their joviality), there is a certain ambivalence to the atmosphere of the play. It provokes smiles rather than laughter; a thread of nostalgia runs through it.

It is not a play with songs and music so much as a musical play. Behind it lies the tradition that any group generally considered to be rogues and vagabonds need only be singers in order to become thoroughly jolly fellows: thus Brome's crew join with Gay's beggars and Gilbert and Sullivan's pirates. The crew celebrate all their social events with music, and it is typical of Brome's method that he explains their notable gifts in this line by the presence of several runaway musicians among their number. They are usually heard singing offstage before being discovered to the audience. Their first song sets out their philosophy:

From hunger and cold who lives more free,
Or who more richly clad than wee?


Even in the countryside they call to each other in imitated birdsong. They contribute a variety of musical entertainment. When Oldrents is saddened by his daughter's running away from home, his reactions are interestingly played against a background of the crew's offstage singing (II.i:3.386-392). They sing to cover the cries of one of their women in labor and then to welcome the birth of the child, while Oldrents talks sadly of his loss. Once discovered, they attempt to cheer up a well-loved patron with a cant song. Then drunken Autum-Mort sings “This is Bien Bowse,” at the end of which she tumbles over and is carried out. The song is a straightforward entertainment, comic relief of a farcical kind contrasting with the prevailing romantic feeling, the songs of near nostalgia for the country and the cant song. The whole show, for such it is, concludes with a dance by the Clapper Dugeons and the walking Morts. The crew are heard no more until the fourth act when they make a great festive music at the wedding of two of their number. Three poems of praise are read aloud, and the invitation of the second of them to begin a dance is accepted. The festivity is abruptly ended by the entry of the watch to arrest the revelers, and this prevents the possibility that “If there were no worse, we might have a Masque, or a Comedie” (IV.ii:3.423-433). The crew does perform a play in the fifth act and the ending of their play-within-a-play is merged with that of the play proper in curious and lively fashion. Their performance is introduced by “A Flourish of Shalms” which one of the audience recognizes; “Heark!—the Beggars' Hoboys. Now they begin.” There is, however, no musical finale to this last play of Brome. Possibly he thought that the closing display of bewildering revelations of long-lost relatives and friends and the mingling of his two plays was sufficient. As with the mock aubade in The English Moor, which is only described, he proved he was quite capable of resisting what might seem obvious occasions for music if he was in search of other dramatic effects.11

The crew belong to that band of specially musical people in drama that has already been mentioned. Accepting them in the play means accepting their music. Indeed, they form a subplot that is completely musical. The main plot is not without some music for Hearty, a kinsman of Beaumont's Merrythought, regularly sings but keeps to one topic, the virtues of sack and old songs. Eventually he persuades to his creed, Tallboy Oldrents, who loses himself in feeble melancholy for a while and even attempts on one occasion to sing a conventional love-melancholy song but breaks down. This is a cameo musical entertainment, the elderly man acting the part of the sad lover which is traditionally that of the young man: the scene is admirably rounded off by his abjuring such efforts and turning to drink and singing a riotous round, “The Singers are all Graybeards” (IV.i:3.419). Old men need not necessarily avoid either love or boisterous drinking songs, but Brome makes play with the cheerful incongruity possible in the idea.

Such a small instance, however, well illustrates Brome's skill in making comedy that is musical. His craft allowed him easily to extend his effects over long scenes, and even, as we have seen, allowed him to forgo the opportunity for them when he felt it right to do so. He is a playwright very hard-served by relegation to the study: his liveliness and clever handling of character and movement, and of musical sound, need the appreciation best offered by live performance. his faults are obvious: if it is a fault to set out to entertain rather than to teach, then this marks him: indeed the lack of intellectual stuff in his work is possibly reflected in the way one falls naturally to discussing his work in terms of craftsmanship, accepting playwriting as a “trade” for Brome. There is a certain sameness of situation and character in his work. He had nothing memorably poetic to say, though he had some delightful songs. However, he knew his limits and was wise enough to keep within them. In choosing to stay in this naturalistic world rather than move into that rarefied one in which much Caroline drama in his own time was suffocating, Brome kept in the main line of English tradition. Caroline masque drama, as exemplified in such pieces as Cartwright's The Royal Slave or Strode's The Floating Island, might be said to incline toward opera seria and thence to grand opera, an art form that has always been alien to the English spirit. Brome's drama inclined more toward the opera buffa and light opera that stretches in rich line from the ballad opera to Gilbert and Sullivan and is the only operatic domain where the English spirit has comfortably settled. Operatic and musical analogies come quickly to mind when considering Brome. Baker remarked in the preface to his edition of The Jovial Crew that it was a “farce Gilbertian in its whimsicality,” well planned and well sustained; he also noted its approach to ballad opera.12

It must not be thought, however, that such analogies and such suggestions about the direction of development mean that Brome had any notions of opera in his mind when he was writing, that he was consciously striving toward some such form. What needs to be emphasized is his conscious effort to make music an integral part of his plays' structure: he wanted his music to be essential, not merely incidental. He wanted something of the union that Letoy had in the musician-actors he kept in his home:

Stage-playes and Masques, are nightly my pastimes.
And all within myselfe. My owne men are
My Musique, and my Actors, I keepe not
A man or boy but is of quality:
The worst can sing or play his part o'th'Violls,
And act his part too in a comedy.


Brome attempted to make music act its part in his comedies: with vigor and liveliness he tried to make the action and music flow on together just as the musical notes followed one another. He sought the results that Letoy wanted when the latter was talking of words and action, meaning, by “action,” dancing and music:

… words and action married so together,
That shall strike harmony in the eares and eyes
Of the severest, if judicious Criticks.


The copious and careful direction for the large-scale musical scenes underlines Brome's intentions; he aimed always at the ears and the eyes; his effects are conceived absolutely in terms of stage performance. This consistent and careful aim gave him his success. In a time when most writers were content with a dazzling but uneasy and clumsy yoking together of action and words, Brome frequently succeeded in making a harmonious marriage of the two.


  1. R. J. Kaufmann, Richard Brome Caroline Playwright (New York and London, 1961).

  2. Bertrand Russell, “Portraits from Memory,” quoted from The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell 1903-1959, ed. R. E. Egner and L. E. Dennon (London, 1961), p. 65.

  3. Space prevents setting this sketch of Brome's musical usages in a detailed frame of reference to seventeenth-century musical beliefs and practices. Fortunately such details are readily available. “Ideas of Music in English Poetry 1500-1700” is the subtitle of John Hollander's The Untuning of the Sky (Princeton, N.J., 1961); also valuable on this topic is Nan C. Carpenter, Music in the Medieval and Renaissance Universities (Norman, Okla., 1958). J. S. Manifold, The Music in English Drama From Shakespeare to Purcell (London, 1956) is a convenient introduction to the musical resources of the theaters and the significance of the individual musical instruments. Two incisive and different books on general social background and music are E. D. Mackerness, A Social History of English Music (London, 1964), and Wilfrid Mellers, Music and Society (New York, 1950).

  4. All references are to the only edition of the plays, The Dramatic Works of Richard Brome, 3 vols. (London, 1873). I cite act and scene followed by volume and page.

  5. Dates are those given in A. Harbage, Annals of English Drama 975-1700, rev. S. Schoenbaum (London, 1964).

  6. Brome's lively handling of the “Constance songs” contrasts interestingly with Fletcher's equally lively handling of the song of the courtesan who is mistaken for the heroine, Constantia, in The Chances (1625). Fletcher's courtesan sings a seductive song quite unsuited to Constantia's character but put down, by those anxiously searching for her, to “some strange melancholy she is laden with.” The quietness of the song and the nervous attention of the listening searchers is amusingly shattered by an outbreak of fighting in the singer's room and the discovery of a termagant instead of Constantia. This scene, and Fletcher's own experiments in dealing extensively with a particular musical usage in a single play, are discussed in my essay, “Patterns of Music and Action in Fletcherian Drama,” in Music in English Renaissance Drama, ed. John H. Long (Lexington, Ky., 1968), pp. 75-95. Brome was obviously familiar with Fletcher's plays and is the only Caroline playwright whose inventiveness and skill with musical conventions can compare with Fletcher's.

  7. John Bull (ca. 1562-1628), organist, member of the Chapel Royal, and one of the most famous musicians of his day, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth. Which galliard Baneless wanted is unsure: there are some by Bull, for example, in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.

  8. Sir Ferdinando is a satirical caricature of Sir John Suckling whose notorious cowardice at Berwick during the First Bishops' War of 1639 is very likely glanced at in the choice of material for this second musical display. Court-Wit takes off Davenant who had, at the time of the play (early 1640), won plaudits as a royal masque-writer which he was not very modest about. Kaufmann has an excellent discussion of this play in chap. 9 of his book.

  9. Sellinger's Round was an immensely popular cheerful dance tune of the period (originally probably a country maypole dance). It marks Swayne-Wit's musical taste as clearly as Baneless's calling for a galliard of Bull's marks his.

  10. “Loud” music generally meant the reed instruments, brass and drums; “soft” music was played by the strings, recorders, and flutes (the latter could be heard in “loud” music also). “Loud” music might roughly be equated with outdoor, public, festive music, “soft” music with indoor, domestic, more private occasions. Manifold has some useful remarks on this matter.

  11. Jonson may have given him an example for this. The New Inn (1629) has reference to a drinking school of singers most dramatists would have been pleased to bring on the stage for a scene or two. In the epilogue, however, Jonson says:

    He could have hal'd in
    The drunkards, and the noyses of the Inne,
    In his last act; if he had thought it fit
    To vent you vapours in the place of wit.

    Jonson, of course, was a notorious harper against what he considered improper dramatic entertainment, the more so at his career's close when he was less popular. In a transient mood of bitterness at the contemporaneous failure of The New Inn and the success of Brome's The Lovesick Maid, he had meanly written:

    Broomes sweeping doe as well
    Thear as his Masters Meale.
  12. G. P. Baker in the prefatory essay to his edition of The Jovial Crew in Representative English Comedies, ed. C. M. Gayley (New York, 1937), III, 426.

Catherine M. Shaw (essay date 1980)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: “Gatherings of ‘Naughty-packs,’” and “Generic Inversion: ‘The Choice Dainties of His Theatre,’” in Richard Brome, Twayne Publishers, 1980, pp. 75-92; 118-35.

[In the first excerpt below, Shaw examines “topographichal references” to specific London locations in several of Brome's plays. In the second excerpt, she analyzes three plays in which Brome satirizes conventional forms.]

The Weeding of Covent-Garden (1632), The Sparagus Garden (1635), The New Academy (1625-35), and A Mad Couple Well Match't (1637-39) are all comedies of manners; social satires exposing particular humors or the strivings of various characters for falsely affected pseudograces. In these plays the London citizen does not come off nearly so well. In almost every instance he is either the gull or the guller who becomes the main target of the ridicule for his foolishness and his aspirations. He is rendered laughable, however, and not socially castigated as he might be in a Jonsonian satire.

In addition, these plays utilize topographical references; particular locations, immediately identifiable to the audience, provide a meeting ground to which the characters, for whatever reason, are drawn. Brome was not alone in using realistic London references to catch the eye and laughter of the audience; both James Shirley (Hyde Park) and Thomas Nabbes (Covent Garden) produced plays the same year as The Covent-Garden Weeded (1632) appeared.1 Nor was the idea original; Bartholomew Fair, although not a comedy of manners, had been an unqualified success as early as 1614 and was published in 1631 just a year before the vogue for place-realism caught on in the London theater.2


Brome acknowledged his debt to Jonson's play in the opening sequence of The Covent-Garden Weeded, in which the central structure of the play becomes clear. Cockbrain, a Justice of the Peace, and Rooksbill, a “great Builder in Covent Garden,” are admiring the architecture surrounding the new piazza. If only, they agree, the tenants to the new houses were as worthy as the structure. Unfortunately, like weeds, undesirable people spring up first in a new area. Cockbrain determines that he shall go about “unspied” and weed out these “enormities.” “And so,” he concludes, “as my Reverend Ancestor Justice Adam Overdo, was wont to say, In Heaven's name and the King's, and so for the good of the Commonwealth I will go about it” (B 1v; I,i). Thus a frame is established, similar to that of Bartholomew Fair, within which the episodes bringing about the “weeding” will take place and identification is made between Cockbrain and Jonson's well-meaning justice.

As in Bartholomew Fair, the framework is merely a device of location. The title of Brome's play and its subtitle, The Middlesex Justice of the Peace, are misleading and suggest that his original dramatic plan may have got out of hand. After citing the descriptive detail of the new garden, Theodore Miles concludes that “apart from the names of the rooms, such as ‘Phoenix,’ ‘Dolphin,’ ‘Maidenhead,’ and possibly the personality of the proprietor, the photograph is not very sharp. Throughout, Brome is concerned mainly with forwarding his very typical and conventional comedy of dupes and dupers.”3 Professor Floyd has pointed out that, although “in the looseness of its structure it is reminiscent of Bartholomew Fair, [Covent-Garden Weeded] is more closely related to The Silent Woman, since practically all of the action of the main plot has its origin in the exaggerated humor of one of the characters.”4 The character Will Crossewill is as fine an example of humor or proclivity as ever came from Jonson's pen. As his name indicates, he consistently acts contrary to any suggestion, and his children have learned to request or provoke the opposite of what they really desire. The playwright is attempting two rather loosely knit dramatic impulses working at the same time: the purging of the garden itself and the bringing together of various conflicting elements which move at the whim of Crossewill or countermove at the direction of those who would thwart him.

Crossewill is the visual representation of the polarities in attitudes and affectations of both plots. His eldest son, Gabriel, an excellent satire against the Puritans, affects a ridiculous religiosity5 to “cross” his father for sending him away from Damaris, the women he loved. The younger son, Mihil, pretends to be so interested in the pious study of law that his father insists he leave his books lest he become as dull as Gabriel. Katherine, Crossewill's daughter, says she wants a husband so her father will not get her one, and Damaris appears to be a “Curtezan of Venice” when actually she is a virtuous maid who is ultimately honestly married.

While these and other false poses are pursued, Cockbrain attempts to cleanse the garden of the riff-raff it has collected. His appearances are at best intermittent, and only with somewhat clumsy ineffectiveness does the playwright recall to the audience's mind the “weeding” theme designated in the title. At the beginning of Act V, Crossewill appears on stage alone, commenting upon a letter he has received from Cockbrain:

What has this Coxcomb Cockbrain writ me here? … A project he says here for the good of the Republic, Repudding. This fellow has instead of brains, a Cobweb in his Noddle. … He is ambitious to be called into authority by notice taken of some special service he is able to do the State aforehand. But what great service is he able to do it, or which way to undertake it, falls not in the reach of my imagination.

(F 7r; V,i)

Although, as his name indicates, he does have “a Cobweb in his Noddle,” Cockbrain's undertakings are far too vague to fall within the reach of the audience's imagination either.

To understand and appreciate Brome's artful characterization of Rooksbill, the “Builder” in Covent Garden, we must remember that parts of the famous London landmark were laid out by Inigo Jones, who is the target for Bromean satire elsewhere.6 Brome is very subtle but the initial dialogue suggests that Rooksbill was intended to draw laughter at the expense of Inigo Jones,7 the architect for the Russell estate. In his great admiration for the garden, the first thing Cockbrain singles out is “yond magnificent Piece, the Piazzo,” one of the parts of the garden built first by Jones and opened in 1631. It “will excell that at Venice, by hearsay,” Cockbrain goes on, although “(I ne'er travell'd)” (B1r; I, i). Such association of Jones with Italy brings to mind Jonson's Introduction to Hymenaei, in which he attacks the brainless who would ignore the “full tables” of his poetic feast and take instead “Italian herbs, picked [by Inigo Jones], and made into a salad” of stage designs.8

Still referring to the architectural wonders of Venice, Cockbrain continues, “A hearty blessing on their brains, honors, and wealths, that are Projectors, Furtherers, and Performers of such great works.” That Rooksbill9 is presented as one of the “Projectors, Furtherers, and Performers,” one who copies or acts upon the creations of others, confirms the characterization of Inigo Jones in The Court Begger. To Brome and the other professional dramatists of Stuart England, Jones was a parasite who lived off or, in this case, built upon the artistic talents of others, interested only in wealth, social position, and royal favor, and not in creative originality. After crediting Italian genius, Cockbrain ignores Rooksbill's talents and comments only on the money he has gained from “such Structures,” then praises the Surveyor (“what e'er he was”) responsible for wedding “strength to beauty; state to uniformity, commodiousness to perspicuity.” All Rooksbill concerns himself with is the worth of the tenants who pay his rents. He is quickly assured not to worry; the “lime” and “hair” that are the builders' foundations are as “soil to dung” (B 1v; I, i) to the land. With that final satiric thrust toward Jones, Brome turns his attention to the Justice's project for weeding.10 A further identification of Jones as Rooksbill occurs near the end of Act I, when Nicolas is asked whether the “great Builder” is his father. He replies affirmatively and adds that he hopes Rooksbill “will be the first shall lay his bones i' the new Church, though the Church-yard be too good for him before 'tis consecrated” (B 8r-v; I,i), an allusion to Jones's construction of St. Paul's Church, which began in 1631. In addition, considering that Jones was a known Roman Catholic, the audience would be amused by Rooksbill's exaggerated admiration for Gabriel's extreme puritanism. Such use of topographical locations and interests associated with the architect gives a sharper satiric thrust to the place-realism in The Covent-Garden Weeded than has previously been realized.

In general, The Weeding of Covent-Garden has a rough, boisterous good humor about it. In addition to the creation of Crossewill and Rooksbill, Brome again shows his skill in the characterization of bawdy characters within a loose low-level plot. Mun Clotpoll is a gull who wishes nothing more than to be a part of the “fraternity” of “both Philoblathicus and Philobatticus” and is quickly taken by Captain Driblow. His name, which means blockhead, identifies him for the audience and he bumbles his way thick-headedly from the stage at the end of the play as unenlightened as when he came on it. The bawd, the “Countess of Codpiece-Row,” and her punks have the ribald good humor that Brome achieves in most of his low comic figures.

Quite rightly, R. J. Kaufmann has chosen to concentrate his critical attention upon the social and moral issues inherent within extreme paternalism which has led to polarization of filial reaction.11 In The Covent-Garden Weeded, the whole concept of irrational and unnatural parental authority is reduced to absurdity. There is no more compromise between Gabriel's Puritan “brethren” and Mihil's “Brothers of the Blade and Baton” than there is room for the “Sisters of the Scabbard” (open prostitution) in Covent Garden. They are, rather, analyzed and ridiculed as the kind of excess which emerges from extreme authority. Clumsy reconciliation is achieved in the final lines of the play when separated lovers and divided families are rejoined, but at base the play relies rather weakly on satiric exposure and warning rather than on moral reconciliation.


                              I had more to say—
The Title, too, may prejudice the Play.
It says the Sparagus Garden; if you
To feast on that, the Title spoils the Book.
We have yet a taste of it, which he doth lay
I'th midst of the journey, like a Bait by the way:
Now see with Candor: As our Poet's
Pray let be so your Ingenuity.

(A 4 r)

In these comments from the Prologue to The Sparagus Garden, Brome seems to be aware that he is following a fad in his use of topical references and that too close identification of the audience with the setting of a play can distract attention from its thematic matter. Perhaps the “detached” use of local color discussed by Theodore Miles is the playwright's attempt to cope with the problem. All the material having to do with the garden, Miles points out, appears in the eleven scenes which make up Act III; only five “contribute to the action,” while the remaining are simple “‘shots’ of various aspects of the Sparagus Garden” grafted upon the play and therefore tending to halt the dramatic movement.12

In spite of the minor structural flaws and occasional distractions, the comic method by which Brome centers upon the thematic interests and exposes false values is ingenious. In each of the intrigues which complicate the play, irrational and unnatural behavior is ridiculed through the same comic device: at each level of the play—pseudoromantic, satiric, and farcical—a familiar situation or a common metaphor usually taken seriously or figuratively is rendered comically concrete.

The pseudoromantic plot is a comic adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, in which the Italian Montagues and Capulets become English Touchwoods and Strikers. Brome's young lovers, Samuel and Annabel, are laughable in their extravagant declarations of undying devotion. Rather than taking desperate tragic measures to overcome parental opposition, they engage in ingenious trickery which gives rise to much of the bawdy dialogue. The frustrating plot complications which have made their families enemies are unraveled only when Annabel's swollen belly proves to be nothing more than a cushion. As for those who would thwart the natural celebrations of love, each of the parental pharmakos figures is more concerned with outwitting the other than with the happiness of his offspring. Their animosity is an “ancient grudge” for which the young lovers must suffer until they outwit their parents. Friswood, the parallel to Juliet's nurse, is as garrulous as her counterpart but is more actively engaged in the plot developments; eventually she marries the heroine's grandfather, whose bed she has shared for years.

Auxiliary to the romantic mockery is a satire on the making of a gentleman. Tim Hoyden, a ninny from Somersetshire, is convinced he can be purged of the yeoman side of his lineage and become “a finicall City wit, and a superfinicall Court wit too” (D 2v; II,iii). The purging, however, is not figurative but actual. R. J. Kaufmann calls this “literalizing in action” the concept of base and highborn blood.13 The poor gull actually allows his “foul rank blood of Bacon and Pease-porrige” to be drained off and replaced with what his parasites assure him is gentleman's blood. His diet is also designed to purge the “malignant baseness” of his present state so that ultimately his blood will be “as high as any Gentleman's lineally descended from the loins of King Cadwalder” (D 3v; II,iii). Such a gull was familiar to the London audience, as was Tim Hoyden's brother Tom. Much more practical in nature (though not above indulging in the odd scheme for his own betterment), Tom Hoyden supplies the visual representation of country unaffectedness, complete with Somerset dialect. These two, the social aspirant and the solid rustic, are among the progenitors of Congreve's Witwoud and Sir Wilful Witwoud some sixty years later.

One of the gullers who preys on Tim Hoyden has troubles of his own. Poor Brittleware has a problem wife, Rebecca, who wants so desperately to become pregnant that her husband fears she will turn to some other bedfellow. Here Brome converts another stock comic situation to farce. Rebecca's determination to indulge in all the strange yearnings thought to be brought on by pregnancy (even if the actual state is so far denied her) allows the playwright to engage in nonsense based upon “literalizing” a common phenomenon. He can also indulge in further bawdy innuendo in which “man-litter,” “Paul's Steeple,” and the “knight of the burning Pestle” all take on sexual overtones. Even asparagus becomes a phallic symbol. Rebecca is encouraged to go to the “Garden of delight” where, Money-lacks assures her,

… you may have it [asparagus] dressed and eaten in the due kind; and there it is so provocative, and so quick in the hot operation, that none dare eat it, but those that carry their coolers with 'em, presently to delay, or take off the delightful fury it fills 'em with.

(D 1r; II,ii)

The Sparagus Garden itself merely provides a locality to which all of the characters come at one time or another. A kind of high-class brothel where immorality is encouraged, the garden provides a microcosm for the kind of self-indulgences engaged in by the London middle-class citizenry, whether it be cheating in money or sex, or gulling for economic or physical satisfaction. The Sparagus Garden is, in other words, a Bromean Bartholomew Fair, without the “place” providing the dramatic unity which Jonson's fair did. As Clarence E. Andrews says, “The whole effect of witnessing the play must have been much like trying to watch a five-ring circus with side-shows added.”14 The author too was obviously not happy with the play and apologizes for its weaknesses in the epilogue:

At first we made not boast, and still we fear,
We have not answer'd expectation here,
Yet give us leave to hope, as hope to live,
That you will grace, as well as Justice give.

(L 4v)


The dating of The New Academy, or The New Exchange is difficult. There are some indications it may have been written as early as 1626 when Brome was still under Jonson's tutelage and produced, as Bentley suggests, as a “rival attraction to James Shirley's The School of Compliment (1625).15 Both plays include a kind of mock academy where social aspirants attempt to learn affected graces, both involve a lost child (a daughter, Felice, in The School of Compliment and a son, Papillion, in The New Academy), and both effect their resolutions with the rediscovery of lost children and the sorting out of brothers and sisters. In each play there is an episode in which a supposedly doting wife turns out to be a shrew. However, both The School of Compliment and Jonson's Bartholomew Fair (the progenitor of place-realism drama) were printed for the first time in 1631, and a plethora of such plays, including The New Academy, more than likely followed these publications.

Besides noting the actual existence of a New Exchange, a gathering place in the Strand which became popular in the early 1630s, R. J. Kaufmann draws an association between The New Academy and the popular French acting group whose performances took place in a riding academy in Drury Lane in 1635. On this basis he dates The New Academy in 1635 and suggests that it was the first play written by Brome under his first Salisbury Court contract.16 Subsequent evidence shows that Kaufmann is probably right. Brome's reply to the suit brought against him by the Salisbury Court company states that Sparagus Garden was produced at Salisbury Court, but before he signed the first contract; he says then he wrote two more after the contract but before plague closed the theaters. The Queen and Concubine accounts for one of these and, unless there is an unknown play of which there is no record, The New Academy is the other.

The title indicates the theme of the play and the action, although turning upon French affectations, includes as much satire against those English who would adopt French manners as against the kind of posturing they admire. The well-spring of the satire, however, is much deeper than mere mockery of French intruders, for the play's mating intrigues deal with various aspects of the reconstructed and degenerated neo-Platonic love conventions which had been reintroduced into the London court by Queen Henrietta Maria. Professor Upham explains that “Platonism as an active working principle was not accepted by the English courtiers of the time in its really serious and austere aspect. … It was Platonism given a gallant or courtly twist; welcomed … as an excuse for zealous love-making”17 and it had filtered down to become the vogue for those who would affect to be what they are not. Among the Platonics were Davenant and Suckling,18 so it is not surprising that Richard Brome falls into the category of the anti-Platonics, whose “prevailing tone” was one of “satirico-comic deprecation” of the new fashion.19 The pretensions, the pseudograces of his characters form a thin veneer of politeness which fails to conceal irrationality, licentiousness, or self-indulgence.

Although not as skillfully interrelated as in more successful Brome plays, the familiar multiple plotting of The New Academy allows its author to strike out at current fashions and at particular human follies. If there is a central character to this play it is Old Matchil, if only by virtue of the fact that his crisis in the opening scenes and the decisions which arise from it set the romantic and satiric actions in motion. Matchil and his closest friend, a French gentleman named Lafoy, had exchanged children a number of years ago. Young Matchil had been reared in France and Gabriella Lafoy in England. Now, however, Matchil receives news that his son is dead, and he responds in a series of excessive reactions. First, he tells us, he sank into sorrow, but then he set aside “puling grief” and determined to revenge himself on Lafoy, whom he blamed for his loss. In a rage he not only dismisses Gabriella from his house but also his own daughter when she pleads loyalty to Gabriella. Because of the exchange of children, the son and daughter of Matchil do not know each other, and neither do those of Lafoy. When all four of the young people arrive together at the New Academy, the lack of sibling awareness leads to each brother becoming sworn to his own sister. In the closing scenes of the play, however, the new exchange of partners and vows takes place. The love interest of itself carries little of the mockery of affected manners which characterizes the other levels of the play. When they meet at the New Academy, however, the unscrupulous Stripgood passes the young ladies off as women of easy virtue and the young men as tutors lately arrived from France. They become Brome's means to expose the various gulls who frequent the academy either for sexual self-indulgence, licentious patter, or for what they fancy is social refinement.

Meanwhile Matchil, with all the drama of “a plague on both your houses,” determines to remarry. When his associates remind him that he has been “King of mirth” since becoming a widower, he brags,

… I will marry [a woman]
That I foreknow can never disobey me
And I'll defy the devil to dishonest her.

(I 1v; I,i)

This he does; he weds his “drudge” and the new situation gives rise to still another Platonic mockery at the satiric level of the play. Rachael turns into a wife who is more than Matchil can handle. Much to his delight she is at first quick to defend herself and her marriage against the snobbish jibes of Lady Nestlecock, but Matchil's delight changes to chagrin when she attacks him for being an officious busybody. The marriage is seriously threatened when Rachael's determination to be a lady leads her to grant the wily Valentine the mock-courtly position of midon or “servant [as] Gentlewomen use it” (K 8r; II,i). By offsetting the battle of the sexes seen in courtly wooing and disjoining natural man-wife relations, Brome attacks another convention—the false notions of obedience and the lack of mutual respect in marriage. Together these constitute a condemnation of marriage for convenience or practicality rather than for more natural reasons. Matchil finally recognizes that the “moving cause” of all his troubles has been his “own impetuous rashness.” Realizing that Rachael's behavior is “but to try mastery,” a “disease,” he says, which is “general among all women,” he makes a deal with her. As the knight to the “loathly lady” in Chaucer's “The Wife of Bath's Tale,” Matchil yields himself to her “thraldom.” If she will preserve his honor publicly, he will admit her command privately. The arrangement, quaintly Elizabethan rather than Caroline, promises to be as mutually respectful as that Avergus made to Dorigen in “The Franklin's Tale” and leads to the same promise of compatibility.

Coupled with the marital complications of Matchil and his wife are those of Rafe Camelion and his aspiring wife, Hannah. Professor Sedge has already called attention to the main comic method of the Rafe-Hannah plot, which is the transposition of the neo-Platonic creed.

Camelion's “humour” [he says] is an excessive desire to prove he is not jealous of his wife's behaviour. … The point of Brome's presentation of Camelion's excessive anxiety not to seem jealous is to satirize the state of society in which the natural relationship of trust between man and wife has been undermined by the introduction of a new ethic that attempts to put trust between man and wife on the level of external etiquette.20

Rafe, however, is a knight whose errant jaunts abroad are highjinks at the ducking pond down the street; Hannah's midon is the same Valentine who was quick to offer his services to Rachael Matchil. Valentine swears Hannah is his “Faery” and he is bound to her by the courtly vow of secrecy, but he is a cynical rogue whose every action belies his exaggerated declarations of service. Such undercutting reduces the degenerated pretensions of Platonic love to absolute absurdity.

At the farcical level, another kind of knight is mocked in the person of Sir Swithin Whilmby, “the crying knight,” who woos Lady Nestlecock in outrageous poetry. His daughter, Mrs. Blitheshort, has the most significant Bromean comment on the whole nonsense of the low comic level of the play. After listening to the mad cross-wooings for a while, she pleads,

Love, as I shall adore thee for a deity,
Rid me of this ridiculous society.

(K 7r; II,i)

It is only after all the various intrigues and relationships are set in motion in the first two acts that the “new academy” or “Acomedy,” as Nestlecock's witless son calls it, is introduced. From then on, the academy and what it represents provide both the unity of place and opportunity for satire as all the characters visit this so-called school of manners and compliment. Joyce and Gabriella, taken there by their uncle, act as bait to draw in lecherous youths. When they question the effects of their behavior on their public reputation, Stripgood claims their actions are vindicated because they bring “Justice” upon folly. This draws a sharp retort designed to attack false notions of courtship rituals, for the “courtly Gypsy tricks” taught to women, the ladies quickly point out, “trench upon” their modesties. The meeting of the girls with their own brothers and the sincerity in their ultimate cross-matching serve to emphasize the ludicrous poses affected by the others.

One by one, the masks of pseudomanners are discarded willingly or by force of situation. For all her airs of propriety, Lady Nestlecock slips into common language when angered. “I'll put her by her school tricks,” she shouts when her son is called a “walking dunghill,” and “not only unmask, but unskin her face too, and she come over my heir apparent with such Billingsgate Compliments” (N 1r; IV,i). One by one, the mock knights are ridiculed into reality. Sir Swithin Whilmby recognizes his niece's right to choose her own husband and gives over his tears.

I will no longer whine.
Heaven give you joy [he says to Blithe], As you
          are you're own, y'are mine.

(O 5v; V,i)

When Rafe thinks he is losing money, he gives way to jealousy and then is brought sharply to his senses with the realization of his previous folly. Valentine is exposed as a “boasting libertine,” and Matchil admits to his own “wilfulness” and “officiousness” when true love finds a way.

The ending with its reconciliations is the most contrived of any of Brome's plays. The revelation of previously unknown relationships and the introduction of a deus ex machina are piecemeal devices used to unravel cross-intrigues. In addition, extraneous stage entertainment intrudes too often upon the action. It is true that the extravagant French dances, part of the instruction provided by the academy, are affectations of foreign and unnatural pseudograces, but both these and the intrusive songs violate the unity of action and divert the audience's attention from the thematic anti-Platonism. Swinburne, however, was too harsh when he called it a “tangled and huddled comedy … worth reading once as a study of manners and language.”21 Like The Sparagus Garden,The New Academy does have merit as an example of a rather sophisticated comic method; but unfortunately both plays tend to disintegrate into diversion.


Unlike The Weeding of Covent-Garden,The Sparagus Garden, and The New Academy, the title A Mad Couple Well Match't does not immediately indicate a specific location. Its place-realism is quickly established, however, so that there is no doubt the players inhabit an area of London known intimately to the theater audience. Moments into the opening scene, the servant, Wat, tries to encourage Careless, the wild hero of the main plot, to think of some new project to improve their desperate financial straits. Careless moans,

I cannot, nor will I trouble my brains to think of any, I will rather die here in Ram Alley, or walk down to the Temple, and lay myself down alive, in the old Synagogue, cross-legged among the Monumental Knights there, till I turn marble with 'em.

(B1v-2r; I, i)

Later, when Careless has been taken in by the Thrivewells, he says,

I need no more ensconcing now in Ram Alley, nor the Sanctuary of Whitefriars, the Forts of Fullers-rents, and Milford-lane, whose walls are daily battered with the curses of bawling creditors.

(C 8r; II,i)

The whole area indicated in these speeches was one of evil reputation, inhabited by bawds, debtors, and the like. Ram Alley,22 with all the sexual connotations of goatish lechery, is where Careless has enjoyed his whore (and where Wat, incidentally, has also enjoyed her), and it is where he returns from his uncle's house for his excesses of “Wine, Roaring, Whoring” (D8v; III,i).

The area of Ram Alley is also where Alicia Saleware, the mercer's wife, has cuckolded her husband with Sir Valentine Thrivewell and any other man she can bed. The fact that she is called “Ally” only makes the sexual punning on Ram Alley more descriptive of her favorite pastime. Contrasted to Ram Alley is the home of Thrivewell and Lady Thrivewell; there the sexual act is actually only consummated once when Phoebe, the whore, enters Careless's bed in place of Lady Thrivewell in a well-arranged bed-trick.

Brome has left the reference in the play's title ambiguous. Both the Thrivewells and the Salewares are coupled in mad arrangements, and in each case the arrangement is designed to expose the flaws of the aristocratic fetish for Platonic non-jealousy, a favorite target for Bromean satire. This courtly game is handled quite differently from the one in The New Academy, even though there are certain similarities in structure and character.23 In A Mad Couple the multiplicity of mating dances suggests that the title may also refer to the variety of mad couplings in which all are well matched in their intrigues and connivings.

The first of these arrangements, that of the Thrivewells, is quite remarkable in its urbanity and in its clear revelation of the changing status of women in marriage. In answer to his wife's queries on his obvious discomfiture and indisposition, Thrivewell confesses to an adulterous liaison with Alicia Saleware. In addition to priming her all year by shopping in her husband's store, he has paid Ally a hundred pounds for one sexual encounter, thinking after “to deal Rent-free.” Now the merchant's wife demands each “new purchase [be] at the same former rate, and so for all times after” (C 1r; I,i). Lady Thrivewell appears to register shock only at such unreasonable prices and to accept that confession absolves him of the crime, but in reality she determines to teach him a lesson. Only after making him believe that she too has committed adultery does he come to realize that confession does not mitigate injury, that what is sauce for the gander can be sauce for the goose, and that friendship and trust are as much a part of marriage as are practicability and heir-getting.

With Alicia Saleware and her husband, friendship and trust are carried to an absurd extreme. Saleware is a good fellow but stupid enough to abide by a “Covenant” that says he and his wife will model their conduct after those of the court. Thus, he must not hang over her all the time, or even share a room with her—“that were most uncourtly.”24 Neither must he question where she goes or what she does—that were untrusting. She reminds him when he asks what “Honor” Lord Lovely, “a wencher,” has lately done for them,

Did you not Convenant with me that I should wear what I pleased, and what my Lord liked, that I should be as Lady-like as I would, or as my Lord desired; that I should come, and go at mine own pleasure, or as my Lord required; and that we should be always friends and call so, not after the silly manner of Citizen and Wife, but in the high courtly way?

(E 5v; III,i)

Brome's main satiric thrust is clearly against the aristocratic code and those who would pretend to it. Saleware's stupidity at accepting such an artificial relationship is linked first to the mercer's own pretentions to courtly behavior and then to his uxoriousness and, finally, to his avarice. Informed that his wife will not share a bedroom with him in her new house, Saleware fantasizes, “But I shall have a chamber in your house and next to yours. Then in my Gown and Slippers Friend at Midnight—or at the first Cock—.” But no, he must make a choice.

Soft for stumbling Friend [his wife answers], I'll do you any honourable offices with my Lord, as by obtaining suits for you, for which you must look out, and find what you may fitly beg out of his power, and by courtly favour. But keep your Shop still Friend, and my Lord will bring and send you such customs, that your Neighbours shall envy your wealth, and not your Wife; you shall have such comings in abroad and at home, that you shall be the first head nominated in the next Sheriff season, but I with my Lord will keep you from pricking. Be you a Citizen still Friend, 'tis enough I am Courtly.

(E 6v; III,i)

Thus Saleware's agreement to do “as the sweet Lord will have it,” couched in a blasphemous paraphrase of “God's will be done,” becomes part of the viciousness of the whole circle of citizen affectation and greed.

In the main plot Alicia Saleware is matched by Careless, nephew to the Thrivewells. He, too, couples lechery with lucre; his machinations are also totally self-indulgent and immoral. Thomas Saleware is linked with Sir Valentine Thrivewell. Both are guilty of their own folly and are easy dupes to the plots of wife and nephew. The only admirable character is Lady Thrivewell, and even she is forced to deal with immorality on its own terms and at its own level in order to outwit both Alicia and Careless. Whether Alicia and Careless ever actually learn a lesson and show any signs of reform is another matter. Professor Sedge suggests,

Brome's play clearly exposes the dangerous excess in feminism that can result from the Platonic non-jealousy ethic. Alicia is humbled when her intention to cuckold her husband [still another time] is foiled by his arrival at the crucial moment. By her wits Alicia tries to save face but she has been frightened into a realization of the error of her behaviour and her submissive reply to her husband's demand for a return to a more natural relationship between man and wife suggest that she has learned from her error.25

The folly of the doctrine that “friendship itself allows all liberty” is exposed when Alicia is caught in her own trap, but whether she is truly repentant is another question, for she has shown remarkable ability to tack to whatever wind is blowing. At the end of the play Lord Lovely has cast her off with some pious words of advice, but Saleware thinks she has just been trying to make him jealous all the time. What other choice has she but to be “loving man and wife henceforward” (H 1r; V,ii)? As for Careless, there is no sign of regret for past action or declaration of future virtuous intent whatsoever. Nevertheless he does end up with a “humorous” wife who is attracted to him and determines to marry him for the very licentiousness which makes him a scoundrel. Perhaps some virtue can be found in his willingness to marry his whore and make her honest, but his reasons for action never change. He trained Phoebe in sex and therefore she can hold him “Tick tack”; she “knows her play” and thus will please his bed (G 6v; V,ii), but as soon as a better opportunity arises with Crostwill, the wealthy widow, he switches to her. No word of affection or respect passes; rather, he promises lustily,

                    —at night, at night, at night—
We'll get the Boy that shall become a Knight.

(H 1v; V,ii)

The critics have assailed A Mad Couple on moral grounds more than any other Brome play. Schelling, one of the most vociferous in this century, says, “A Mad Couple well Matched … reaches depths of coarseness and vulgarity. … The complaisance and unaffectedness of the immorality … lie far lower than the worst of Middleton, and with some other passages of Brome relieve Dryden and Wycherley of the odium of having debased English drama below depths previously reached in the reign of the virtuous King Charles.”26 Forty years later, Floyd persists in this vein: “One of the coarsest and most revolting plays presented before the Restoration, [A Mad Couple] deals with the shameless conduct of ‘a young wilde heir’ whose very lecherousness wins him the wealthy ‘humorous’ young widow for a wife.”27 Even Kaufmann, though he admits it to be a “successful achievement” and a “skillful city comedy,” links A Mad Couple with the Restoration and dismisses it as “the most obscene” of Brome's works, “worth reading,” but requiring “little critical comment.”28

Offsetting these pejorative assessments is a group of less one-sided critics. Swinburne takes a much more objective view. “A Mad Couple Well Matched,” he says, “is very clever, very coarse, and rather worse than dubious in the bias of its morality; but there is no fault to be found with the writing or the movement of the play; both style and action are vivid and effective throughout.” “Variety of satirical observation,” he goes on, “and fertility of comic invention, with such strong sound English as might be expected from a disciple of his master's, give to this as to others of Brome's comedies a quality which may fairly and without flattery be called Jonsonian.”29 Charles E. Guardia adds to this praise for integrated and unified structure. “Every thread,” he says, “is so completely involved in the others that to take one would necessitate a considerable change in the rest.”30 There is no doubt that A Mad Couple is one of the best structured of Brome's city comedies. The three main threads of narrative are introduced in the first three scenes and are kept integrated to the final resolution, and the characterizations are consistent. Although one sex disguise is necessary for the intrigues, the play has none of the artificial devices that weaken others of the comedies, and it is remarkably free of extra-dramatic entertainment.

It is against the “matter” of the play that most adverse comment has been directed. In dealing with the argument as to whether poetic justice is violated, Elizabeth Cook explains, “There is really a confusion of two standards in his [Brome's] time,” that of an earlier age which rewarded virtue and punished vice, a standard badly abused by Caroline writers who could and did include the grossest of scenes only to justify them in the last act as trials of virtue; and the Jonsonian satire “which claimed to purge vice by making it ridiculous: a theory that could be used to justify the grossest exhibition as the most moral.”31 To Brome's credit, he does not resort to a miraculous conversion of Careless and Alicia at the end of the play. If they seem unpunished, we might remember that Subtle, Face, and Dol Common, worthy of “the longest cut at night,” also escaped unscathed in Jonson's Alchemist. All three will live to gull another day.

Everyone is neatly paired off at the end of A Mad Couple Well Match't; marriages which have become shaky through mutual folly are, at least for the time being, still solvent, and new unions are made. But Lady Thrivewell warns the widow Crostwill that she is “undone,” and this may suggest that marriage based on Careless's sexual terms will be as weak as one on any other single base. Furthermore, Wat's willingness to take the whore and the hundred pounds Crostwill offers, suggests another Saleware marriage in the making. Wat's words to Careless,

This woman has been mine as much as yours, she has done as much with me for Offices, and Service I have done for her, as she has done with you for Love and Money …

(G 7r; V,ii)

certainly suggest that Phoebe will be another Alicia. The conclusion is very much within the Jonsonian tradition: vice is exposed, and the implication of a moral norm only implied by inversion. If mortals persist (as they almost invariably do) in establishing false codes and standards for natural human relationships, they will continue to be fools.


Toward the end of his career, Richard Brome wrote three plays each quite different from the others in tone and structure and in which the action takes place in distinctly different settings from any of his other comedies—The Love-sick Court, a play which is difficult to date but probably belongs to the late 1630s, The Antipodes (1638), and A Jovial Crew (1641). In each case, the setting is an integral part of the total effect and gives rise to a specific dramatic situation. Each exposes misconceptions of life directly related to the London theater audience and those playwrights who catered to it. What is more important in these plays and what links the three together is that each achieves its dramatic totality by Brome's turning of the generic form upon itself. The Love-sick Court is a parody on romantic tragicomedy; The Antipodes, a satire within a satire; and A Jovial Crew, an antiromance.


It seems impossible now that The Love-sick Court could ever have been taken as a serious tragicomedy. Yet Swinburne condemned it as “such an example of unromantic romance and unimaginative invention as too often wearies and disappoints the student of English drama in its first period of decadence.”32 Later, Alfred Harbage commented, “Brome … became the chief spokesman of professional antagonism toward the courtly invasion and the Cavalier mode. Once, however, he weakened and paid the new fashion the tribute of imitation.”33 In recent years, R. J. Kaufmann's view of the play has superseded these pejorative opinions. He proves that The Love-sick Court is not an inept imitation of popular court drama but a burlesque, a romantic parody.34 As Douglas Sedge points out, the fact “that Brome's play has only recently been recognized as a parody of the courtly mode is perhaps an indication of the degree of hyperbolical magnanimity to be found in the ‘straight’ courtier plays. Brome is scarcely exaggerating.”35

Once The Love-sick Court is accepted as burlesque, the title itself becomes dual in its implications. Not only is the court of Thessaly “love-sick,” but so is the court of Caroline London, which indulges in neo-Platonic games of love and self-love. By the same token, Brome's prologue becomes a satiric thrust at the cavalier playwrights who catered to this self-indulgence.

Sometimes at poor men's boards the
curious find
'Mongst homely fare, some unexpected dish,
Which at great tables they may want and wish.

(Sig. F 7r)

In the plays discussed in Chapter 4, Brome exposed the folly of the Platonic social fashion and those who would imitate it; in The Love-sick Court he strikes at the court plays which dramatically reenact social extravagances and at the dramatists who provide stage mirrors for their devotees—those court playwrights whom a contemporary, James Howell, mocks: “This love sets the Wits of the Town on work. …”36

The basic narrative structure of The Love-sick Court is the simplest of any Brome comedy; it has a main plot concerned with the members of the Thessalonian court and a subplot about their servants. By the laws of Thessaly, should a king be without male issue, the nobleman to whom he would match his daughter becomes “immediate heir to the Crown” (G 1v; I,i). The nobleman may be a soldier who has done great service to the state, like Stratocles, The Ambitious Politique of the subtitle, or “the son of some Great General slain in battle for his country,” in this case either of the twins Philocles or Philargus. Princess Eudina must decide in five days or the choice will be turned over to the Commons. Such as it is, the plot potential is in the romantic tradition of The Knight's Tale and The Two Noble Kinsmen. The complications expected of rival suitors—Philocles-Philargus versus Stratocles—and of rival brothers—Philocles versus Philargus—might be expected in any early Tudor romance. However, with hilarious abandon, Brome throws in almost every other romantic gimmick imaginable. There is an oracular riddle from Delphi designed to befuddle and confuse the court and the “Twins in birth”:

Contend not for the Jewel, which
Ere long shall both of you enrich.
Pursue your Fortune: For 'tis she
Shall make you what you seem to be.

(G 6r; I,ii)

The conundrum gives rise to exaggerated declarations of love and loyalty from each brother to the other. Add to this a dream vision in which Eudina sees Philocles and Philargus embrace and then face each other with swords. Any disappointment that a duel does not ensue is made up for by a mock duel in Act IV when “they espy one another, draw, and pass at each other, instantly both spread their arms to receive the wound” (K 1r; IV,ii). When this fails to eliminate one of the brothers, each tries to kill himself. Into this confusion Brome puts a potpourri of suspected incest (Placilla, the twins' sister, agonizes over the illicit love she feels for Philocles); attempted rape, as Stratocles decides seducing Eudina will secure his royal ambitions; and a smattering of humors figures: Stratocles, the braggart soldier; Garrula, a drunken nurse; her son, a pedant whose every utterance is illustrated by the classical “once upon a time”; and a few pastoral rustics who effect some remarkable reversals in character. The playwright also introduces lot-drawing and sleeping potions, miraculous conversions for the villains, a mock funeral procession for Philargus, who rises out of his coffin at the crucial moment, and, finally, the revelation of mistaken identities. Philocles turns out to be the King's son and brother to Eudina, which puts him out of contention for her hand and free for Placilla; Philargus is then the logical mate for the Princess. Professor Kaufmann refers specifically to the mock duel scene, but his remark, “It does not take much visual imagination to see how ludicrous this could be made in the acting,”37 could take in this whole burlesque.

To add to the absurdity and emphasize the parody, Brome provides a subplot which directly parallels the main one and is deliberately designed to undercut it in manner and motive. Brome's device here is to allow the servants' common sense continually to cut across the affectations of the courtly circle. Eudina's maid, Doris, has several suitors: Tersulus and Varillus, servants to Philargus and Philocles; Geron, the “whilom” pedant; and Matho, Stratocles's man. The latter two boasters are caricatured for their pretensions to the courtly extravagances of the main plot. The first, quite harmless, addresses Doris by letter. She reads:

My Lesbia, my Cinthia, my Licoris
Or (which is best of names) my lovely Doris
          —that's I.
I still am thine and cannot commutate,
I am as certain to thee as thy fate.
'Tis not my study, or my travails can
Make me to thee appear another man:
Thou may'st affirm of me as Whilom
Xantippe of her husband whom she
Grave Socrates regardless of his
He still returned the same as he went forth.
Before I visit thee, thus may'st thou hear on
Thine in the tribulation of love—Geron.

Her response is, “Fate deliver me” (G 7v; II,i). Matho's advances are colored with the same ambitions as his master's, and his attempt at wooing by circumlocution becomes nonsense:

I will acquaint my Lord; who for your care
Shall upon his advancement to the Crown
Give me command, who will give present order
Unto my man for your promotion.

(G 8v; II,i)

Matho's position in the play is that of mock villain and that of Geron is fool (perhaps together representing the dual nature of Stratocles). The two serious contenders, Tersulus and Varillus, “as deeply vow'd in friendship” as are Philargus and Philocles, each try to woo for the other. Doris finally proposes that she shall choose the servant of whichever lord Eudina weds, but not before each servant's apparently selfless dedication to his brother's suit renders the friendship code of the main plot even more ludicrous. Only when the glib-tongued Doris drops a hint for a practical solution does any hope for breaking the stalemate appear. She affirms her proposition and adds:

                              Yes and hold you
This for Creed, That heaven must make its choice
Of one of them before she take the other.
You understand me; and now cease your strife;
When the one's Lord's dead, I'll be the other's

(I 8r-v; IV,i)

One of the lords must die before either plot can be resolved. To solve the dilemma of a mock romance, however, a mock death and a mock funeral and the revelation of a mock secret leads the play to its conclusion. We are left to visualize what kind of masque dances the actors would devise for Geron, the ruffian-rustics, and for the “Nymphs” (wherever they came from), to end the play on a final hilarious note.

The Love-sick Court is a credit to Brome's ingenuity. It is the only time that he actually invades and stays in the court world38 and, by deliberately breaking in upon the domain of the dramatists whom he had condemned for misconstruing the aims of comedy,39 he successfully ridicules their world and their art.


Although The Love-sick Court is highly stylized and triumphant in its mockery, The Antipodes is the most sophisticated and ingenious of Brome's satires. In this play he uses a dramatic framework specifically adapted to a particular satiric intent, based upon the idea of an antipodal London. Unlike the plays using place-realism, The Antipodes has a hypothetical rather than an actual setting through which the characters in the play (and the audience to it) recognize their follies and the follies of London life by observing their opposites in a kind of distorted mirror. The effect is as if the audience were standing with its back to a large mirror and seeing what is reflected in it over its shoulder by using a second mirror held in the hand.

In the opening scene, Joyless, an old country gentleman, has brought his son to Doctor Hughball in London to be cured of a melancholic madness brought on by excessive reading of extravagant travel books.40 Peregrine Joyless has totally withdrawn from the world of reality into an illusory world filled with phantasmagoria and unnatural natural science. The psychiatrist Hughball lives with “a phantastic Lord,” Letoy, and together they form a director-producer relationship for a play-within-a-play through which a comic catharsis takes place and the young man is cured. The Antipodes is a “dramatization of psychiatric therapy”41 which, with the possible exception of Ford's The Lover's Melancholy (1628), is unparalleled in Renaissance drama.42

Hughball's psychiatric method, the basic comic device of the play, is ingenious in its simplicity. The doctor presumes the young man to be quite sane and offers to transport him to the most distant of all Sir John Mandeville's exotic places—the “world of Antipodes,” where the people

In outward feature, language, and religion,
Resemble those to whom they are supposite:
They under Spain appear like Spaniards,
Under France Frenchmen, under England English
To the exterior show: but in their manners,
Their carriage, and condition of life
Extremely contrary.

(C 4r; I,vi)

Hughball whets the characters' anticipation with a description of the antipodal world where “contrary to us … people rule the Magistrates,” “men do all the tittle-tattle duties while women Hunt, Hawk, and take their pleasure.” Antipodean women hunt falcons with pheasant, deer pursue hounds, and cats are kept in cages to protect them from mice; lords sell their belongings to feast their servants, and “Merchants wives do deal abroad Beyond the seas, while their husbands cuckold them At home.” Lawyers are honest men who work at trades during vacations so they may “give the law for nothing in the term times”; the clergy, on the other hand, are covetous court wranglers. “Hirelings, clowns, and tradesmen” enjoy “all wit and mirth and good society” while poets and players are Puritans (C 4r-D 1v; I,vi). After these and other examples, the verbal becomes visual. At the beginning of Act II, Peregrine awakens from a drugged sleep actually believing he has slept for eight months and has traveled to antipodal London. Acts II, III, and IV are given over to the play-within-the-play performed by Letoy's servants for the benefit of Peregrine and in which he is the central character. Hughball's examples also prepare the theater audience for life in topsy-turvydom, and once what Swinburne called the “incongruous congruity of contradictions”43 is accepted, every antipodal sequence follows with superbly logical and hilarious consistency.

The scheme offers infinite possibilities covering a comic spectrum ranging from burlesque farce (such as two “catch-poles” running away from a gentleman who wants to be arrested) to the subtlest satire. Consider, for example, the satiric perambulations of a gentleman brought to court for refusing to sleep with the wife of a merchant from whom he has received various wares. The gentleman not only refuses to pay double for the wares but declares virtuously he wishes to “content” only his wife. The merchant's argument is in the form of an elaborate progression of logic: tradesmen live off gentlemen; gentlemen content women; contented women make good wives; tradesmen need good wives; even if a tradesman shall consume the gentleman's estate, his son (through the contented wife) shall ultimately inherit it anyhow. Therefore, the gentleman should sleep with the merchant's wife. Letoy's servant, who plays the part of the judge, gives a qualified verdict. As a Justice, he should make an example of the gentleman and deny him the sight of any woman until he give satisfaction to the merchant's wife so that such a dangerous breach of custom does not occur again. But as he is “a Citizen by nature” he will use “urbanity.” Finally, he concludes,

And as I am a gentleman by calling,
(For so my place must have it) I'll perform
For you the office of a gentleman
Toward his wife, I therefore order thus:
That you bring me the wares here into Court
(I have a chest shall hold them, as mine own)
And you send me your wife, I'll satisfy her
My self. I'll do it, and set all straight and right:
Justice is blind, but Judges have their sight.

(G 4r-v; III,viii)

Peregrine is so impressed with such a display that he knights By-Play on the spot. In a single scene, Brome attacks all the social, economic, and legal abuses which he has exposed in other plays, although never so compactly, so pointedly, or so humorously.

An equal credit to Brome's dramatic skill is the manner in which he prevents sequence after sequence of cloud-cuckoo reversals from losing their comic impact. In the first place, Peregrine is not the only one suffering from a fixation malady. His wife, Martha, still a virgin after three years of marriage because her husband prefers the pleasures of fantasy to those of the nuptial couch, is in a frenzy of child-longing. Secondly, Old Joyless, partnered in a January-May second marriage, suffers from irrational jealousy toward his young wife, Diana. These three, with Letoy, are the important onstage spectators to the play-within-the-play,44 and their comments upon the action cut across the absurd contraries of the antipodal world, keeping the theater audience constantly aware of the various levels of representation.

At the end of Act IV, Peregrine, having been convinced Martha has been transformed into a Princess of the Antipodes, kisses her and they retire to a bedchamber. The “real knowledge of a woman,” prophesies Letoy, will be the last step of his remedy. By degrees “his much troubled and confused brain” will become “settled and rectified” (K 1r; IV,xii). The consummation also cures Martha's concern for her untouched maidenhead and implies that she will not be childless for long.

All but the last sequence is then given over to curing Joyless of his jealousy. For this Brome introduces another play-within-a-play, this one to be produced for Joyless. In this sequence Letoy is a conscious actor, Diana an unconscious participant, and Joyless the concealed observer. When Diana's chastity remains indignantly firm before Letoy's mock persuasions, Joyless is convinced of the strength of her purity and the folly of his jealousy.

Still another kind of performance is inserted within the greater play in the last scene, a moral masque that celebrates the triumph of Harmony over Discord. The antimasque, in which Discord's factions, Folly, Jealousy, Melancholy, and Madness hold the stage, represents the previous joylessness of those who were her victims. Then Letoy signals the approach of the main masquers:

See Harmony approaches, leading on,
'Gainst Discord's factions, four great dieties;
Mercury, Cupid, Bacchus, and Apollo.
Wit against Folly, Love against Jealousy,
Wine against Melancholy, and 'gainst Madness,

(L 4r; V,xi)

Discord is, of course, confounded by the forces of Harmony in Letoy's masque as surely as it was in his playlet for Joyless and in his master production for Peregrine, and the play ends with Peregrine's epilogue to the audience asking for their “gentler hands” to dispel that last of their fears. Thus as Letoy, the doctor within the play-world, cures his patients, so Brome the doctor-playwright hopes to cure his theater audience through comic catharsis.

Various suggestions have been made for sources of The Antipodes, particularly for the device of a play-within-a-play as a cure for some character's malady.45 Rather than being related to any other specific production, The Antipodes more likely falls within the tradition of plays which include interpolated interludes, plays, or masques for some dramatic revelation.46 More important speculations have been made as to the invention of reversal. Joe Lee Davis would link The Antipodes with The Muse's Looking Glass (1630) written by another “son of Ben,” Thomas Randolph.47 Randolph's highly artificial play represents Thalia, the muse of Comedy, as having a mirror in which “Vices of Excess and Defect” are made to see their opposites; its characters are allegorical and its aim is a defense of comedy against Puritan attacks on the stage rather than a satire on London life. Another possibility might be William Strode's The Floating Island, which was performed first at Cambridge in August 1636. Here the “floating island,” England, falls into confusion and disorder when the subject courtiers, represented as various human passions, rebel against their kingly master, Prudentius. Although characters in Strode's play, particularly Sir Amorous and Sir Timerous-Fearall, have a certain quality of Jonsonian humor, the whole production smacks of a kind of university erudition that Brome was more likely to attack than to copy.48

Professor Ian Donaldson has shown quite clearly that the notion upon which The Antipodes is based belongs within an ancient folk tradition quite familiar to Brome's audience. “So usual was the association of the antipodes with absurdity,” he states, “that by Brome's day the phrase to act the antipodes had become a proverbial expression for a reversal of the expected order of things.”49 Donaldson draws evidence for the antiquity of the antipodal notion from Cosmas Indicopleustes, the eighth- or ninth-century Greek navigator whose conviction that there was no “antipodes” was based on the improbability of a people who “contrary to nature” existed “head downward.”50 The possibilities for ludicrousness such as this, however, are inherent within the antipodal concept itself, regardless of what Brome's immediate impulse may have been. In fact, Professor Donaldson also shows that the notion of an antipodes is but a part of the whole concept of comic inversion, one metaphoric aspect of a world upside-down.51

Other early seventeenth-century works such as Bacon's nondramatic Nova Atlantis or Jonson's masque Newes from the New World Discover'd in the Moon might also be included as influencing The Antipodes. Certain physical similarities between Bacon's fantasy world and Brome's might indicate that the playwright had some knowledge of the Nova Atlantis (pub. 1627). The island of Bensalem, according to the opening paragraph of Bacon's unfinished work, was somewhat north of the South Sea route between Peru and the Orient; geographically, the people of the island were closer to being antipodal to those of Great Britain than the people of other fantasy worlds which preceded Brome's. Technical though this may sound, this physical distance achieves the same kind of separation for Bacon as Brome later relied upon in The Antipodes—a separation which allows the audience the very objectivity the playwright is seeking. The people of Bacon's fictitious island, however, are allegorical as well as satirical and are certainly much more learned than Brome's Antipodeans. In addition, the people Peregrine thinks he is ruling are not perversions or purified versions of the stage and theater audience but opposites, different by virtue of geography and therefore acceptably different in custom and manner. This very dichotomy of behavior patterns is the basis of Brome's satire.

Although it was not published until the 1641 Folio, there seems to be little doubt that Richard Brome would have known Jonson's News from the New World Discovered in the Moon, as he was already associated with the London theatrical world during the time of its writing and production (1620). The geographical setting for Jonson's work, however, bears no resemblance whatsoever to his protégé's antipodal realm. The news of the “Lunatic” world has arrived by “Moonshine” and is reported from the stage at Whitehall by the poet's heralds who also serve as presenters of the masquers and antimasquers.

Nonetheless, some Jonsonian influence in The Antipodes lies in specific ideas which Brome may have picked up from the masque dialogue. At one point, after one of the heralds has explained that “Lunatic language” is “only by signs and gestures,” he is asked, “How do their Lawyers then?” The conversation continues:

2 Her. They are Pythagorians, all dumb as fishes, for they have no controversies to exercise themselves in.

Fac. How do they live then?

1 Her. On the dew of the Moon like Grasshoppers, and confer with the Doppers [anabaptists].

Fac. Ha' you Doppers?

2 Her. A world of Doppers! but they are as lunatic persons, walkers only, that leave only to hum, and ha, not daring to prophesy, or start up upon stools to raise doctrine.52

There is no doubt that Brome's The Antipodes is also infused with Jonson's comic vision through which, as Donaldson says, “Folly and wickedness are expressed in terms of moral contrariness.” Although this kind of “strong moral polarity”53 is particularly clear in Brome's “triumph of Harmony over Discord” performance, it is also basic to the whole dramatic representation of the play.

Finally, it must be recognized that although Brome relies upon a familiarity with the concept of antipodeanism, his dramatic invention is surely his own. He had experimented with the device before. Less elaborate reversals occur in The Damoiselle and in The City Wit. The relationship of the Salewares in A Mad Couple Well Match't is exactly the case brought before Justice By-Play enacted in its vicious circle of immorality and greed. The most important of his early plays which illustrate this comic technique is surely The Late Lancashire Witches, in which the Seely plot provides a visual expression of the necromantic perpetrations which turn the dramatic world quite literally upside-down. In The Antipodes, however, the poet uses no magic; no witches play at bowls with normal custom except insofar as Hughball and the playwright himself are witchdoctors. With the same kind of logical consistency that Swift later achieves in Gulliver's Travels, but with none of the Swiftian viciousness, Brome provides what Swinburne called a “delicious inversion of all social or natural relations between husband and wife, mistress and servant, father and son, poet and puritan, lawyer and client, courtiers and clowns, [which] might satisfy the most exacting socialist; and the projects for the relief, encouragement, and support of criminals and scoundrels in general at the expense of the State could hardly be held unworthy of consideration by the latest and loudest apostles of professional philanthropy.”54

Brome proves the value of comic catharsis. His satiric effect is gained by a duality of representation—one assumed to be firm and constant as the viewers' conception of what life is and the other the exaggerations, the opposites, or what they actually see in performance on stage. The catharsis comes through the ultimate realization that what they think and what they see are two distorted reflections of the same vision, and thus comic catharsis within the interpolated performances onstage becomes catharsis for the audience to the greater play. The Antipodes is more sophisticated in its manner and method than any other of Brome's comedies and is rivaled only by A Jovial Crew in the continued critical praise given it. In fact, the two plays outrank all but the best of Jonson.


A Jovial Crew, or The Merry Beggars, was first produced in April 164155 and, we assume from the dedicatory letter to Thomas Stanley in the 1652 edition, it also “had the luck to tumble last of all in the Epidemical ruin of the Scene” for the King and Queen's Young Company before the Phoenix in Drury Lane went dark in September 1642, and the greatest age of English drama came to an end. Its pre-Commonwealth stage history lasted a mere sixteen months; from that period there is nothing to indicate with what enthusiasm, if any, it was received. Twenty years later, when it was revived in 1661 by the King's Company at the Vere Street Theatre, four performances in six months56 attest to a popularity which continued through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.57

Samuel Pepys's reaction to the play when he saw its first Restoration performance is particularly interesting, as it indicates what has been a continuing audience and critical assessment well into this century. “To the Theatre,” says Pepys for July 25, 1661, “and saw ‘The Jovial Crew’ (the first time I saw it); and indeed, it is as merry, and the most innocent play that ever I saw, and well performed.”58 Intrigued and delighted by its surface romanticism, critics have continued to take at face value the woodland setting in which most of the vagabond action takes place. Even J. A. Symonds exempts A Jovial Crew from his critical attack on Brome's works. He admits the plot is “novel” and then goes on to relate it to the “ecole buissoniere of existence—which is so strong a characteristic of the English.”59 “Brome turns away from the town” for A Jovial Crew, say Professors Thomas Marc Parrott and Robert Hamilton Ball more recently, and “a fresh breath of country air blows through the playhouse while the story of good Squire Oldrents and his merry daughters is unrolled.”60

This last comment must certainly give the modern reader pause. How fresh is the air which blows through Oldrents's house? Having heard a fortuneteller prophesy that both his daughters, in spite of all his wealth, shall be beggars, he is full of melancholy and grief. His jovial friend Hearty would induce him to count his blessings and be mirthful, but forced merriment is sadder than melancholy. And what of his daughters? Just when are Rachel and Meriel “merry”? Certainly not at the beginning of the play, when they are “pent up and tied by the nose to the continual steam of hot Hospitality” (D 2r; II,i) in their father's house; when they feel that by contrast to the freedom of the beggars housed in the barn, they are imprisoned by their father's sadness. And what of Springlove, Oldrents's steward, whom he loves as he loves his daughters? Each year there stirs in Springlove's heart and blood the longing to take to the open road, to join the merry crew of vagabonds who frequent the area, but, at the same time, he is aware of a duality of existence which draws him in different directions. It is exactly upon these polarities of existence, symbolized in Springlove, that the fundamental irony of A Jovial Crew is based, an irony which is visualized in the dichotomies of the setting and felt in the shifting tone and uneasy mood of the play. Thus, while it is easy to accept that A Jovial Crew is certainly different in setting and predisposition from others of Brome's plays, it is more difficult to accept that, at this late stage in his career, a playwright whose forte is obviously satire would turn to escapist drama, to an exultation of a mirthful green world totally divorced from the realities of human experience. By the same token, where we might accept R. J. Kaufmann's view that quite contrary to what previous critics have said, A Jovial Crew “is virtually a social parable for the times,” it is difficult to see a drama in which song and dance play such a large part as “full of weary disenchantment and something almost like despair for reasonable solutions of real social problems.”61

Each of the main characters in A Jovial Crew turns for various reasons to the company of the merry beggars. Springlove, in answer to his “nature” and in the hope of solving his master's fortune in a literal sense, agrees to effect the escape of Oldrents's daughters into the “Beggars Commonwealth” and act as their servant. With them go the ladies' suitors, who, though doubtful that the adventure is to be anything more serious than “a mad trick of youth,” decide they must go or lose their loves. On hearing they are gone, Oldrents determines to turn grief to “jovial Mirth” with such vehemence that even Hearty worries, “This is over-done. I do not like it” (F 2r; II,i). In an effort verging on desperation, then, all leave the external world which they assume is full of care, enforced order, and human responsibility to find a free life among the “only happy People in a Nation” (E 1r; II,i) in the woodland glade nearby. When Oldrents joins the company of beggars, he expresses their attitudes toward what he sees as the old life and the new,

                    What is an estate
Of Wealth and Power, balanced with their Freedom,
But a mere load of outward complement?
When they enjoy the Fruits of rich Content?
Our Dross but weighs us down into Despair,
While their sublimed spirits dance in the Air.

(F 3r-v; II,i)

Ironically, it is the reality of the beggar life itself which cuts harshly across the romantic optimism of the escapists. While Oldrents rhapsodizes on the delight of rebirth into a natural world, a beggar doxy's cries in childbirth cut through the “confused noise … of laughing and singing.” If the folly of the main characters in their attempt to divorce reality from life in order to follow birdsong is not clearly evident to the reader by this point in the play (near the end of Act II), the violent dichotomy between kind, benevolent nature and harsh, painful nature brings it home with stunning impact. The beggars may be “Free above Scot-free; that observe no Law, Obey no Governor, use no Religion, But what they draw from their own ancient custom” (E 1r; II,i), but they are not free from those laws of nature which separate men from “sublimed spirits.” For Oldrents, the confrontation with the Patrico's drunken wife and the beggar-priest's offer to provide him with a “Doxie62 or a Dell63 that never yet with man did Mell,”64 takes him aback. “A sudden qualm over-chills my stomach,” he responds to Hearty but then, bolstering his determination, “But 'twill away” (G 1r; II,i).

For the young lovers the confrontation with reality is kept in a lighter vein but, nonetheless, their disillusionment is also physical. Their first night of freedom had been anything but tranquil. “Lightening and Tempest,” “the noise of the Crew,” “the hogs in the Hovel,” are not at all what the knights errant expected and their fair damsels are “crupper-crampt,” “bum-sidled with the straw,” “numm'd i' the bum” (G 2r; III,i) from their hard lodging. Where now is the fanciful dream of the free and open road?

And so it goes—begging to eat is not fun but a profession in which hungry days come before the art is learned; the woodland is not free from predators like Oliver, who assumes the girls' virtue is as free as their life appears to be; man does not cast off miserliness or selfishness on a whim but carries it with him as does Martin, who agrees to help Amie escape an enforced marriage purely to advance his own station. It would appear that one by one each of the expected triumphs of the green world over the waste land is undercut by intruding a kind of harsh reality into the merry beggars' world.

Equally as skillful as he undercuts romantic notion, Brome also shows the other side of the coin. The hospitality which so marks the beggar-crew is paralleled by Oldrents's open door and, as his name indicates, his charity toward those on his land is as great as theirs under the sky.65 He is as willing to grant freedom of will to Springlove as the beggar-priest, Patrico, is to his band. Oldrents's concern for his daughters' happiness and future would cast him as the genuine Patrico and the beggar-priest's vulgar disregard for anything more than the physical functions of the “doxies” and “dells” as somewhat obscene. Justice Clack may be a fool but he is harmless compared to the immorality of the lawyer-beggar or the soldier-beggar. The fact of the matter is although folly certainly forms a part of life in Oldrents's world, it is a much more compassionate, humanly responsible world than that of the beggars.

The deliberate undercutting of generic expectancy casts a sombre mood over romance in A Jovial Crew and shifts it away from the usual moral reassessments found in green world comedy. Thus the total comic effect is akin to that of The Antipodes although the dramatic process is different. The two worlds of A Jovial Crew do not occupy opposite sides of the moral globe, but when man chooses to live a life antipodal to accepted social and moral existence, he is, as it were, sole-to-sole with those of established custom and human responsibility. Then we have the question, “How can both be found standing upright?” There is something of the “strong moral polarity” in A Jovial Crew which Ian Donaldson sees as integral to Jonson's thought. The dichotomy is not, however, as severe as that envisioned by Jonson in Discoveries.

How many have I known, [said the learned poet] that would not have their vices hid? Nay, and to be noted, live like Antipodes to others in the same City; never see the Sun rise, or set, in so many years; but be as they were watching a Corpse by Torchlight; would not sin the common way; but held that a kind of Rusticity; they would do it new, or contrary, for the infamy? They were ambitious of living backward; and at last arrived at that, as they would love nothing but the vices; not vicious customs. It was impossible to reform these natures; they were dried, and hardened in their ill.66

Brome was much more conservative and conciliatory than his master. There is, nonetheless, a distinctly Saturnalian quality to Brome's beggar world, an antimasque license which is only dispelled through the enactment of a play-within-a-play concluding the performance. By this time, however, the play has moved from the somber world of moral opposites. In what might seem a rather unsatisfactory contrivance, the harsh beggar world is replaced by a theatrical one.

Old. But is there a Play to be expected and acted by Beggars?

Cla. That is to say, by Vagabonds; that is to say by strolling Players. They are upon their Purgation. If they can present any thing to please you, they may escape the Law; that is (a hay) If not, tomorrow, Gentlemen, shall be acted, Abuses stripped and whipped among 'em.

(N 3v; V,i)

The real beggars disappear and the conclusion of the play involves the rehabilitation of player-beggars. Previous economic injustices are reformed; parents and children, ladies and lovers are reconciled; Oldrents discovers Springlove is a lost son; and so the conventional romantic ending appears to be tacked on to what is an anti-romance. Oldrents's final claim, “Here are no Beggars … no Rogues, nor Players: But a select Company, to fill this House with Mirth” (O 3v; V,i), is a prognosis for the future and not a reflection on the past. The prologue warned that the title A Jovial Crew may seem to promise mirth, but the play itself does not fulfill that promise. It presents a world of displaced characters invaded by others who would desire the same displacement. Player-beggars are joined by would-be players, and both try to act out life rather than live it. Real human harmony remains but a wistful longing, and only briefly can actors in a theater fill a house with mirth. Again as in The Antipodes, Brome has turned his art upon itself. In The Antipodes he turned play within play within play to satiric purpose, using comedy to serve as its own catharsis; in A Jovial Crew he turns romance upon itself, again using character-players to act out their own antiromance. Life itself remains morally open-ended and true human reality is both heart-warming and bone-chilling. Yet the net result is not despair over the inability to achieve harmony outside of the theater. Long-lost Springlove, a symbolic character quite unique in Bromean drama, prognosticates a human impulse which negates despair. In a Caroline world, a far cry from the moral world which Brome envisioned, Springlove characterizes a wistfully hopeful rather than a desperate prognosis.

That satire in the usual Jonsonian sense is not the form of A Jovial Crew does not mean that Brome's favorite targets are ignored. When Hearty is encouraging Oldrents to ignore fortunetelling, for example, he gives a series of instances of their equivocations, each directed at objects of Bromean ridicule in other plays. One fortuneteller, says Hearty,

                    … told a Gentleman
His son should be a man-killer, and hanged for it;
Who, after proved a great and rich Physician,
And with great Fame in the University
Hanged up in Picture for a grave example.

Such a dig at doctors is worthy of Jonson. Another is the “squinteyed boy” who was forecast to be a pick-purse and a thief that grew up to be a cunning lawyer. Or, Hearty goes on,

Was not a Shepherd-boy foretold to be
A Drunkard, and to get his living from
Bawds, Whores, Thieves, Quarrellers, and the like?
And did not he become a Suburb Justice?
And live in Wine and Worship by the Fees
Racked out of such delinquents?

(B 1v-B 2r; I,i)

Later, among the beggar band, Brome singles out individuals whose circumstances afford satiric jibes at contemporary London conditions. The poet, who learned his art well in his profession, now practices it better by begging. The courtier, on the other hand, begs for pleasure as his father did before him, “refusing great and constant means from able friends to make him a staid man.” After all, “What's a gentleman but's pleasure” (C 4r-v; I,i). Justice Clack, who doesn't enter the play until Act V, is at once humorous and the object of satire in his insistence upon punishing before examining, to make the law “surer” on his side (M 3v; V,i). However, such jibes are only incidental; although incorporating something of Jonson's satiric vision, the play stops short of satire itself and remains contemplative. In its totality of dramatic impression, The Jovial Crew stands apart from the mainstream of Caroline comedy, satiric or otherwise. Its distinctive quality, like that of The Antipodes, owes its success to Brome's skill in turning conventionality into originality.


  1. The play is called The Weeding of Covent-Garden on the title page; it is equally often referred to by its running title The Covent-Garden Weeded.

  2. This utilization of a popular locale to establish a kind of unity for comedies of manners and intrigues is discussed by Richard Perkinson in his article “Topographical Comedy in the Seventeenth Century” (English Literary History III [1936], 270-90) and by Theodore Miles in “Place-Realism in a Group of Caroline Plays” (Review of English Studies XVIII [1942], 428-40). Other plays discussed in the group are Shakerley Marmion's Hollands Leaguer (1613), Thomas Nabbes's Tottenham Court (1633), and Thomas Jordan's The Walks of Islington and Hogsden (1641). Neither Perkinson nor Miles includes A Mad Couple Well Match't.

  3. Miles, op. cit., p. 433.

  4. Giles Floyd, “A Critical Edition of Brome's The Jovial Crew with Introduction, Textual Notes, and Glossary,” Diss., University of Iowa, 1943, p. xxvii.

  5. [Ralph J.] Kaufmann's comment (Richard Brome: Caroline Dramatist [New York and London, 1961], p. 80) that the description of Gabriel's humor (E 2r-v; III,i) can only be described as a rudimentary psychiatric “case history” makes Gabriel an interesting forerunner for Peregrine Joyless in The Antipodes.

  6. This refers to the identification of Dainty in The Court Begger as Inigo Jones. Sir John Suckling, satirized with Jones and Davenant in The Court Begger, comes in for his share of ridicule in a prefatory poem to The Covent-Garden Weeded called “Upon Aglaura printed in Folio.” In the poem Brome says, among other things,

    This great voluminous Pamphlet may be said
    To be like one that hath more hair than head;
    More excrement than body. Trees, which sprout
    With broad leaves, have still the smallest fruit.

    (A 2r)

    The poem was obviously added to Brome's manuscript later, as Aglaura was not written until late 1637 and published in folio form in 1638. Bentley points out that “according to contemporary accounts, Suckling gave the play to the King's Men instead of selling it, like a good work-a-day playwright, and he paid for special costumes and, according to Aubrey, scenery as well. Richard Brome could not forget this unfair competition with the poor professionals and grumbled about it repeatedly” (V, 1206).

  7. In 1631, Frances Russell, fourth Earl of Bedford, engaged Inigo Jones “to lay out Covent Garden and to build a church in the piazzas which were projected” (E. Beresford Chancellor, The Annals of Covent Garden [London, 1930], p. 33).

  8. C. H. Herford, Percy and Evelyn Simpson, eds Ben Jonson, 11 vols. (Oxford, 1925–51), VII, 209-10.

  9. OED, rook. Applied to persons as an abusive or disparaging term; a cheat, a swindler, or sharper. Thomas Dekker in The Wonderful Year (pub. 1603) uses “Rook” to mean a literary thief; “So many Rookes, catchpolls of poesy, That feed upon the fallings of hye wit” (Works [1884-86], I, 89).

  10. The jibe is based on the professional prestige Inigo Jones enjoyed as an architect. Cockbrain's comment places Jones back in the building trade where Brome obviously thinks he belongs.

  11. Kaufmann, op. cit., pp. 75-87. This theme is not the exclusive prerogative of this play. In The Queen's Exchange, written about the same time, Segebert's children take polarized positions in relation to their father. In other plays, attempts to enforce marriage produce the same result. In The Novella Victoria takes on the role of a courtesan; Millicent in The English Moor is disguised as a blackamoor.

  12. Miles, op. cit., pp. 434-35.

  13. Kaufmann, op. cit., pp. 59-60.

  14. Clarence Edward Andrews, Richard Brome: A Study of His Life and Work (New York, 1913), p. 56.

  15. Gerald Eades Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage, 7 vols. (Oxford, 1941–68), III, 81. The place of The New Academy in Brome's chronology is discussed in Chapter 1.

  16. Kaufmann, op cit., pp. 53-57. John Payne Collier (History of English Dramatic Poetry II [London, 1831], 22-24) cites evidence that a company of French actors performed in London in 1629 (consult A. H. Upham, The French Influence in English Literature [New York, 1908], pp. 321-22). The lack of success of this endeavor, however, renders the occasion unlikely evidence for dating The New Academy earlier than Kaufmann suggests.

  17. Upham, op. cit., p. 331.

  18. The general influence of this new wave of Platonics upon such writers as Suckling and Davenant has been discussed by Jefferson Butler Fletcher (“Precieuses at the Court of Charles I,” Journal of Comparative Literature I [1903], 120-53); A. H. Upham (op. cit., pp. 308-64); and more recently by C. V. Wedgwood (“Comedy in the Reign of Charles I,” Studies in Social History, ed. John Harold Plumb [London, 1955], pp. 109-37); and George Sensabaugh (“Love Ethics in Platonic Court Drama 1625-1642,” Huntington Library Quarterly I [1937-38], 277-304).

  19. Fletcher, op. cit., p. 150.

  20. Sedge, op. cit., p. 171.

  21. Sir Edmund Gosse and T. J. Wise, eds, The Complete Works of Charles Algernon Swinburne, 20 vols. (London, 1925–27), XII, 336.

  22. Ram Alley was a well-known place of sanctuary in London south of Fleet Street where characters of questionable reputation gathered. The location is mentioned in Return from Parnassus (1601-1603), I, ii, 274; Massinger's A New Way to Pay Old Debts (1621) II, ii, 123; and Jonson's A Staple of News (1626) II, v, 113. Its associations for the audience would be immediate. Another point of interest is that a new edition of David, Lord Barrey's play Ram Alley (1607-1608; pub. 1611) was printed in 1636, presumably to profit by the popularity of place-realism.

  23. Kaufmann, op. cit., p. 56.

  24. C. V. Wedgwood (op. cit., pp. 122-23) compares this situation to similar ones occurring earlier in Marston's Eastward Ho (1605) and in The City Madam (1637) by George Chapman.

  25. Sedge, op. cit., p. 174.

  26. Felix E. Schelling, Elizabethan Drama 1558–1642, 2 vols. (London, 1908), II, 272-73.

  27. Floyd, op. cit., p. xxvi.

  28. Kaufmann, op. cit., pp. 57, 182.

  29. Swinburne, pp. 329-30.

  30. Charles E. Guardia, “Richard Brome as a Follower of Ben Jonson,” Diss., Louisiana State University, 1939, p. 46.

  31. Elizabeth Cook, “The Plays of Richard Brome,” More Books XXII (1947), 299.

  32. Swinburne, p. 335.

  33. Alfred Harbage, Cavalier Drama (London, 1936), p. 158.

  34. Kaufmann, op. cit., p. 109ff.

  35. Sedge, op. cit., p. 209.

  36. Cited in Sensabaugh, op. cit., p. 279. The letter is dated June 3, 1634.

  37. Kaufmann, op. cit., p. 120.

  38. In the tragicomedies the action begins in and then moves out of the court world.

  39. As, for example, he does in the Prologue to The Court Begger.

  40. For specific examples interpolated into the dialogue from The Voyages and Travels of Sir John Mandeville and also from Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, consult the explanatory notes in Ann Haaker's edition of The Antipodes (Lincoln, Nebraska, 1966).

  41. Lawrence Babb, The Elizabethan Malady (East Lansing, Mich., 1951), p. 123. Professor Babb also points out that there are no medical resemblances to Hughball's method in medical writing of the period.

  42. In Ford's play, Palador, Prince of Cyprus, is in a melancholic condition as a result of his love for the lost Eroclea. His doctor, Corax, reveals the cause of the Prince's lethargy through the “Masque of Melancholy.” The masque does not effect a cure, however. The Prince is only restored to health when united to his love. Brome, on the other hand, uses his masque at the end of The Antipodes as an illustration of what the plays-within-the-play have already effected.

  43. Swinburne, op. cit., pp. 334-35.

  44. Professor [Philip] Bordinat (“A Study of the Salisbury Court Theatre,” Diss. University of Birmingham, 1952, pp. 166-68) indicates scenes in which Letoy, Joyless, and Diana must have been watching from the upper stage. Letoy is with them at first and then descends to the main acting area from which he both directs the action and calls up comments to the viewers above. Later, as the play-within-the-play comes to an end, Letoy invites them down for “their parts are next.” Bordinat also gives a good argument (pp. 180-83) that when By-Play tells of Peregrine's mad intrusion into the actors' “Tyring-house,” he is describing the storage rooms of the Salisbury Court Theatre. The lines (sig. G 1v-2r; III,v), indicate, says Bordinat, that costumes were stored in an upper room and stage properties in a lower, thus facilitating quick movement of set pieces on and off the main acting platforms (i.e., a table set forth, covered with treasure [sig. K 3v; V,iv]).

  45. Andrews, op. cit., pp. 122-24.

  46. The exposure of the guilt of Claudius in Hamlet's “mousetrap” scene is not the least of these.

  47. Joe Lee Davis, “Richard Brome's Neglected Contribution to Comic Theory,” Studies in Philology XXX (1943), 520-28. Professor Davis expands his comparison of The Antipodes and The Muse's Looking Glass in “Thalia's Double Image,” Chapter two in The Sons of Ben (Detroit, 1967), pp. 59-80.

  48. For an account of the importance of The Floating Island in contemporary religious and political controversy, consult Bentley, V, 1189-95.

  49. Ian Donaldson, The World Upside-Down (Oxford, 1970), p. 81.

  50. The whole of the paragraph from which Donaldson quotes is as follows:

    But should one wish to examine more elaborately the question of the Antipodes, he would easily find them to be old wives' fables. For if two men on opposite sides placed the soles of their feet each against each, whether they chose to stand on earth, or water, or air, or fire, or any other kind of body, how could both be found standing upright? The one would be assuredly found in the natural upright position, and the other, contrary to nature, head downward. Such positions are opposed to reason, and alien to our nature and condition. And how, again, when it rains upon both of them, is it possible to say that the rain falls down upon the two, and not that it falls down to the one and up to the other, or falls against them, or towards them, or away from them. For to think that there are Antipodes compels us to think also that rain falls on them from an opposite direction to ours; and any one will, with good reason, deride these ludicrous theories, which set forth principles incongruous, ill-adjusted, and contrary to nature.

    (John Watson McCrindle, ed., The Christian Topography of Cosmas, Hakluyt Society, O.S. XCVIII [London, 1897], 17)

    We cannot expect, of course, that Brome or any other of his Renaissance contemporaries would necessarily know Cosmas, but, as McCrindle points out, “Nearly all the Christian fathers held the same opinion as Cosmas about the Antipodes” (loc. cit.), and through them the concept became a Renaissance commonplace.

  51. Professor Donaldson devotes a chapter to discussing the relationship of Brome's The Antipodes to this theory of comedy (op. cit., pp. 82-98).

  52. Or again,

    Fac. And Lovers are as phantastic as ours?
    2 Her. But none that will hang themselves for Love, or
    eat candle ends, or drink to their Mistress' eyes, till
    their own bid them good night, as the Sublunary
    Lovers do.

    (Jonson, VII, 519-20)

  53. Donaldson, op. cit., p. 78.

  54. Swinburne, p. 335.

  55. Bentley, III, 71-72.

  56. William Van Lennep et al., eds., The London Stage 1660-18 (Carbondale, Ill., 1960-68), I, i (1965), 31-46; and J. Q. Adams, The Dramatic Records of Sir Henry Herbert (New Haven, 1917), p. 118.

  57. For the dates of these seventeenth- and eighteenth-century revivals both as a play and as a comic opera, consult The London Stage, passim.

  58. Robert Clifford Latham and William Mathews, eds., The Diary of Samuel Pepys (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1970), II, 141.

  59. J. A. Symonds, “Review of the Dramatic Works of Richard Brome,” Academy V (March 21, 1874), 305 (école buissonière-hedgeschool; faire l'école buissonière-to play truant).

  60. Thomas Marc Parrott and Robert Hamilton, A Short View of English Drama (New York, 1943), p. 178. For further comment on the green world quality of A Jovial Crew, consult Swinburne, p. 337, and Schelling, op. cit., p. 170.

  61. Kaufmann, op. cit., p. 170.

  62. OED, doxy. Originally the term in Vagabond's Cant for the unmarried mistress of a beggar or a rogue; a beggar's trull or wench.

  63. OED, Dell. Rogues' Cant. arch. A young girl (of the vagrant class); a wench.

  64. OED 5, Mell. To copulate. The OED cites this line as an example.

  65. Professor Haaker explains in her edition of A Jovial Crew (Lincoln, Nebraska, 1968) that “whereas rents of farm lands increased threefold between 1600 and 1688, Oldrents generously allowed his tenants to continue at the old rate” (p. 15n). References are made throughout the play to his open-heartedness and kindness.

  66. Jonson, VIII, 580-81.

Selected Bibliography

Primary Sources

1. Individual Works

The Antipodes: a Comedy. Printed by J. Okes, for Francis Constable, and are to be sold at his shops in Kings-street at the sign of the Goat, and in Westminster-hall (London, 1640).

Five New Plays, viz. The Mad Couple Well Matcht. Novella. Court Begger. City Wit. Damoiselle. Printed for Humphrey Moseley, Richard Marriot, and Thomas Dring, and are to be sold at their Shops (London, 1653).

Five New Plays, viz. The English Moor, or The Mock-Marriage. The Love-sick Court, or The Ambitious Politique. Covent Garden Weeded. The New Academy, or The New Exchange. The Queen and Concubine. Printed for A. Crook at the Green Dragon in Saint Paul's Church-yard, and for H. Brome at the Gunn in Ivy-lane (London, 1659).

A Jovial Crew: or, The Merry Beggars. Printed by J.Y. for E.D. and N.E. and are to be sold at the Gun in Ivy-Lane (London, 1652).

The Northern Lass, a Comedy. Printed by Aug. Mathews, and are to be sold by Nicholas Vavasor, dwelling at the little South door of St. Paul's Church (London, 1632).

The Queen's Exchange, a Comedy. Printed for Henry Brome at the Hand in Paul's Churchyard (London, 1657).

The Sparagus Garden: a Comedy. Printed by J. Okes, for Francis Constable, and are to be sold at his shops in Kings-street at the sign of the Goat, and in Westminster-hall (London, 1640).

2. Collaboration

Heywood, Thomas and Brome, Richard. The Late Lancashire Witches. Printed by Thomas Harper for Benjamin Fisher, and are to be sold at his Shop at the Sign of the Talbot, without Aldersgate (London, 1634).

3. Collection

Lachrymae Musarum; The Tears of the Muses. Collected and set forth by R. B. Printed by Thomas Newcomb (London, 1649).

Secondary Sources

Adams, Joseph Quincy, ed. The Dramatic Records of Sir Henry Herbert 1623-1673. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1917. Sir Henry Herbert's office-book (no longer extant) covered the period 1622-42 during which he was Master of the Revels. Among other relevant documents, Adams brings together quotations from it which appear dispersed throughout the works of Edmund Malone and George Chalmers.

Allen, Herbert F. A Study of the Comedies of Richard Brome: Especially as Representative of Dramatic Decadence. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1912. Originally a University of Michigan thesis, the critical attitudes expressed are out of date and based upon a questionable definition of decadence.

Andrews, Clarence Edward. Richard Brome: A Study of His Life and Works. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1913. Part of the Yale Studies in English Series, this work originally prefaced a dissertation edition of The Antipodes. The author's interest in his subject is historic rather than intrinsic.

Bentley, Gerald Eades. The Jacobean and Caroline Stage. 7 vols. London: Oxford University Press, 1941-68. This monumental work follows on from E. K. Chambers's Elizabethan Drama and is indispensable to anyone working in Renaissance Drama.

Clark, Arthur Melville. Thomas Heywood: Playwright and Miscellanist. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1931. A solid scholarly study of Heywood in which the critic credits Brome for what dramatic merit The Late Lancashire Witches has.

Cope, Jackson I. “Richard Brome: The World as Antipodes,” in The Theater and the Dream: From Metaphor to From in Renaissance Drama. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973. A highly complex theoretical study of the manner in which the metaphors “all the world's a stage” and life “is such stuff as dreams are made on” relate to dramatic structure and to art as a reflection of human experience. Includes discussion of The Queen's Exchange, The English Moor, The Antipodes, and A Jovial Crew. Shorter comments on The Queen and Concubine and The Novella appear in the notes. “Brome is the most accomplished and serious dramatist between the Jacobean masters and Dryden.”

Davis, Joe Lee. “Richard Brome's Neglected Contribution to Comic Theory,” Studies in Philology XXXX (1943), 520-28. Excellent study of The Antipodes's comic theory as “cathartic” and “extrarealistic,” inspired by Thomas Randolph's The Muses' Looking Glass (1630).

———. The Sons of Ben. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1967. This work includes comment on eleven of Brome's plays as well as selected works by Henry Glapthorne, Peter Hausted, Thomas Killigrew, Shackerley Marmion, Jasper Mayne, Thomas Nabbes, and Thomas Randolph. Professor Davis sees only Brome's The Antipodes and Randolph's The Muses' Looking Glass as standing apart from the plays of these “minor dramatists” or “small fry.”

Donaldson, Ian. “‘Living Backward’: The Antipodes,” in The World Upside-Down: Comedy from Jonson to Fielding. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970. Critical study of The Antipodes relating it to traditional views of the antipodes as a locale of physical and moral opposites and to the theory of comic inversion.

Fletcher, Jefferson Butler. “Precieuses at the Court of Charles I,” Journal of Comparative Literature I (1903), 120-53. Includes Brome among satiric opponents of the Neo-Platonic love cult in the court of Charles I.

Greg, W. W. A Bibliography of the English Printed Drama to the Restoration. 4 vols. London: Oxford University Press, 1939-59. The title of this work is self-explanatory and its reputation as an indispensable bibliographic tool is firmly established.

Haaker, Ann. “The Plague, the Theatre, and the Poet,” Renaissance Drama n.s. I (1968), 283-306. Documentary and historical discussion of the legal disputes between Brome and the Salisbury Court Theatre in 1640 which reveals much basic information on Caroline Playwrights' contracts with theaters.

Ingram, R. W. “The Musical Art of Richard Brome's Comedies,” Renaissance Drama n.s. VII (1976), 219-42. This study gives credit to Brome for his skill in incorporating music and musical entertainments as integral parts of total dramatic impression.

Jonson, Ben. The New Inn or The Light Heart. Edited with Introduction, Notes, and Glossary by George Bremner Tennant. Yale Studies in English XXXIV (1908). New York: Henry Holt and Company.

———. Works. Edited by C. H. Herford, Percy and Evelyn Simpson. 11 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925-51.

Kaufmann, R. J. Richard Brome: Caroline Dramatist. New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1961. A good modern critical study of some of Brome's works which, although claiming to present a “sympathetic account of Brome's seventeenth century conservatism,” does credit Brome with some creative originality and independent artistic consciousness.

Lynch, Kathleen. The Social Mode of Restoration Comedy. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1926. Traces gradual shifts in moral attitudes and comic standards from the late Elizabethan period through the Restoration and concludes that the drama of Ethridge, Congreve, and their contemporaries is part of a developmental process of which Brome is a part.

Miles, Theodore. “Place-Realism in a Group of Caroline Plays,” Review of English Studies XVIII (1942), 428-40. Includes Brome's Covent-Graden Weeded and Sparagus Garden among contemporary vogue of realistic plays dealing with specific London areas.

Nicoll, Allardyce, and Boswell, Eleanore, eds. “Dramatic Records: The Lord Chamberlain's Office,” Malone Society Collections, general editor W. W. Greg, II: 3 (1931), 321-416. Basic theatrical records from 1619 to 1637, including Brome as Queen of Bohemia's player and listing performances of The Late Lancashire Witches and The Love-sick Maid.

Perkinson, Richard H. “Topographical Comedy in the Seventeenth Century,” English Literary History III (1936), 270-90. Relates earlier topographical comedies to Restoration in the use of realistic settings as plausible backgrounds for comedies of manners.

Sensabaugh, George. “Platonic Court Drama,” Huntington Library Quarterly I (1937-38), 277-99. Background study of tenets, ethics, and criticism of Neo-Platonic love cult at Caroline court.

Swinburne, Algernon Charles. “Richard Brome,” in The Complete Works XII (1926), 326-38. Sir Edmund Gosse and Thomas J. Wise, eds., 20 vols. London: William Heineman Ltd., 1925-27. Highly stylized Victorian evaluations of Brome's plays, comparing him unfavorably to Jonson.

Symonds, John Addington. “Review of the Dramatic Works of Richard Brome,” Academy V (March 21, 1874), 304-305. Extremely negative view of Brome as a “lackey” to Ben Jonson.

Thaler, Alwin. “Was Richard Brome an Actor?” Modern Language Notes XXXVI (1921), 88-91. Argues Brome as actor from his inclusion in 1628 in a royal warrant to the Queen of Bohemia's players.

Wedgwood, C. V. “Comedy in the Reign of Charles I,” Studies in Social History. J. H. Plumb, ed. London: Longmans, Green and Company, 1955, pp. 109-37. Relates specific motifs of Caroline comedy to topics of contemporary society.

Ira Clark (essay date 1992)

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

SOURCE: “Brome's Comedy of Types and Inversions,” in Professional Playwrights: Massinger, Ford, Shirley, & Brome, The University Press of Kentucky, 1992, pp. 155-96.

[In the following essay, Clark detects a strain of sociopolitical criticism running throughout Brome's body of work but notes that the playwright offers no solutions to the problems he identifies.]


There is even less information about Richard Brome and his acquaintances than there is about his colleagues and theirs. Apart from evidence about his theatrical associates, few traces of his background remain. Compared to that loyal son of the adviser and agent of noble patrons, Massinger, that genteel son placed at the inns of court by his well connected family, Ford, or that ambitious son of a moderately prosperous merchant, Shirley, we have scant knowledge of Brome's family, schooling, or friendships. So his attitudes remain even more open to conjecture than theirs. The hints left for us indicate that he came from common origins and worked his way up. One pattern among overachievers is to turn on their heritages, try to ignore their pasts, and take on their patrons' values. Most critics, such as McLuskie in The Revels History of English Drama, have accepted Kaufmann's description of a morally, socially, and politically normative as well as artistically traditional Brome.1 But another pattern is also familiar: overachievers can cultivate their origins, develop critiques of current sociopolitical and artistic givens, and suggest revisions. This view, which has been recommended by Sedge, intimated by Shaw, and argued by Butler, seems to offer an increasingly attractive hypothesis about Brome's attitudes and plays.2

No biography has been verified before the famous reference to Jonson's “man, Master Brome,” in the induction to Bartholomew Fair (1614). Because Brome had a penchant and an ear for dialects it does not seem unlikely that he came to London from the outlands. And because a Richard Brome is listed among the Queen of Bohemia's Players, it seems likely that he was once an itinerant player in a troupe traveling the provinces.3 He was thoroughly professional, and many of his friends were theater professionals. Jonson proclaimed and Brome took pride in his rare master's professional paternity; Dekker made the same claim; and Heywood collaborated with Brome twice. Ford and Shirley wrote commendatory verses for his plays, and he returned the compliment to Shirley. John Tatham, who succeeded Heywood both as the Poet Laureate of London for the Lord Mayor's pageants and as the principal writer for the Red Bull theater, traded commendatory verses with Brome. Other lesser literary figures, too, wrote to honor him: Robert Chamberlain, an apothegmatist; John Hall, a friend of Shirley as well as a pamphleteer commended by Cromwell. And Brome wrote to honor many of them: Shakerley Marmion, a boon companion of Suckling and the author of Cupid and Psyche; Thomas Nabbes, another playwright who was associated with the Salisbury Court theater; Humphrey Mills, a hack. Other friends apart from Stephen(?) Brome, his brother, and Alexander Brome, his unrelated editor, seem to stem from stage associations. His closest known friends, Christopher and especially William Beeston, father and son, were theatrical impresarios; the son risked, and got, censorship and reprimand with Brome. A double commender, C.G., if Christopher Goad, was a member of the King's Revels at Salisbury Court; he also praised Tatham. Most of these theater professionals were closer to the city than to the court.

After his initial success with the King's Men at the private Blackfriars as well as at the public Globe, Brome concentrated on less prestigious theaters and so on privileged audiences less likely to have been ranked with courtiers. After producing The Northern Lass (1629) and perhaps The Queen's Exchange (1629-31?), certainly The Novella and probably The Covent-Garden Weeded (both 1632) for the King's Men, Brome seems to have written primarily for a succession of companies at the Salisbury Court theater. Brome did his last plays, beginning with A Mad Couple Well Match'd (1639), for Beeston's Boys at the Cockpit in Drury Lane. While Salisbury Court and the Cockpit in Drury Lane were private theaters, neither proved as courtly or as prestigious as Blackfriars. And only the Cockpit presumed so high.

The final meager evidence about Brome's projected audience comes with two of his three dedicatees. To William Seymour, Earl of Hertford, Brome presented a manuscript of The English Moor (1637) and dedicated The Antipodes (1638). Hertford was appointed governor of the Prince of Wales in 1641 and he did ultimately support the king. But through the 1630s he was, as Butler shows, one of the nobles who criticized many of Charles's actions. Brome's most significant dedication was to William Cavendish, the Earl of Newcastle, that notable patron especially associated with Brome's mentor, Jonson, and with Shirley. To Newcastle, Brome dedicated The Sparagus Garden (1635) when he published it in 1640; and for Newcastle's comedy, The Variety (1641?), he wrote a commendatory poem. Butler recounts Newcastle's nostalgia for the Elizabethan court and his desire for reforms in the Stuart court. Similar sentiments compelled a number of privileged Carolines to express the need for changes in view of the future, not merely in retrospect on the past.4 There are indications, then, that Brome shared with much of his known audience a nostalgia for tradition combined with some dismay over the current court scrambling that thrived on absolutism and favoritism; moreover, such feelings could take the form of proposed changes. A similar tendency appears in Brome's revisionary adoption of dramatic traditions. Both inclinations are revealed in the ways Brome's plays repeatedly present problems requiring personal and sociopolitical change.


Situating Brome's political and social views, like characterizing his associations, is more difficult than for the other Caroline professional playwrights. Evaluations from Kaufmann's in the 1950s through Shaw's and Butler's in the 1980s have made clearer for Brome than for Massinger—much clearer than for Ford or for Shirley—that here was neither an evasion of the present nor a mirror of decadence. Brome presented pressing issues in a pressing time. His persistent concern with Caroline sociopolitics, like Shirley's, is indicated by the settings and subjects of his plays. All those extant present contemporary London or its environs, except for a few tragicomedies. The Queen's Exchange is set in British antiquity, The Novella in contemporary Venice, and The Love-sick Court (1633-38?) in a burlesque domain of current plays; The Queen and Concubine (1635-36) is set in Sicily but it comments on favoritism in sociopolitics and on adherence to hierarchy. Like Shirley and a few other Caroline dramatists, Brome employed local sites such as Ram Alley for A Mad Couple Well-Match'd; some of these are mentioned in his titles, as in The Covent-Garden Weeded and The Sparagus Garden.5 More often than Shirley's, Brome's plays target celebrities, such as Inigo Jones in The Covent-Garden Weeded, who is joined by Sir John Suckling and Sir William Davenant in The Court Beggar (1640).6 Brome serves social historians better than the other Caroline professionals do because he perpetually mentions new fads such as balconies, litters, men's pocket combs, and women's black bags. And he rivals Shirley's record for presenting contemporary institutions, such as The New Academy, or The New Exchange (1635?), The Damoiselle, or The New Ordinary (1638?), and the blackface masque in The English Moor, or The Mock-Marriage, as vehicles for themes.

Brome's contemporary allusions do not seem casual. His pointed albeit intermittent references to courts and legalities provide more than evidence of irritations that culminated in the well-known lawsuit over his contract with the Salisbury Court company. They indicate ire at authorities who abuse their positions and subjects who scramble for status to abuse. From The Northern Lass's aptly named blustering Bulfinch and overbearing, lecherous Squelch, who are attended by the larcenous Constable Vexhem, to A Jovial Crew's verbosely abusive Justice Clack, his portraits of justices show a Brome disturbed by peremptory, tyrannous authority. His recurring stories about victims of malicious and predatory lawsuits reveal a Brome anguished by the misuse of the courts. Yet legal suits in Brome can be atoned for. For instance, Meanwell and Rashley entangle The English Moor in their repentance for an unjust suit against decayed Winloss. And often in Brome the law's victims have counter-balances. Ruined Brookall, who rails against the law's inequities and refuses to perjure himself as a paid witness, contrasts in The Damoiselle with Justice Bumpsey, who maintains his family by shrewd generosity.

If there is plenty of evidence for what Brome took to be political and social problems in his era, there is little agreement in ours as to what attitudes he held. Kaufmann portrays a nostalgic conservative concerned to preserve Elizabethan values, Butler a radical political critic. Though contradictory, these views are not necessarily contrary. Recent historians corroborate that few of the political or social inclinations held by privileged Carolines as yet constituted oppositions. And visions of the past provided a primary source and motive for most of the era's calls for reform as well as for reaction. Peter Burke represents many students of the era: then “popular political consciousness was negative rather than positive.”7 Just so, Brome's predominant social and political targets are obvious, yet no consistent Brome platform is discernible. Apparently he saw no solutions apart from recognizing individual merit and granting mutual forgiveness. But he did come to suggest a way to try out change.

Brome's commitment to facing sociopolitical problems and his difficulty with offering solutions can be exemplified by what is often considered escapist, his last play before the closing of the theaters, A Jovial Crew: or The Merry Beggars (1641). Kaufmann was the first to reject a frothy Jovial Crew. He saw a “profoundly escapist” play that provided a dual moral: When the members of society become disenchanted they surrender to social dissolution. And only a few segments of society, probably particular extended households, can preserve Elizabethan values—by withdrawing into gentrified small gardens where each individual contributes to a tiny hierarchy.8 So the opening of Brome's prologue offers forthright melancholia:

The title of our play, A Jovial Crew,
May seem to promise mirth, which were a new
And forc'd thing in these sad and tragic days
For you to find, or we express in plays.
We wish you then would change that expectation,
Since jovial mirth is now grown out of fashion.(9)

There comes to be no question that vagabondage fails to provide any escape. From the time that two sisters propose to become vagrants with their suitors, idyllic retreat gets undercut. Meriel may rhapsodize about “Couchant and passant, guardant, rampant beggars” as “th'only happy people in a nation,”

The only free men of a commonwealth;
Free above scot-free; that observe no law,
Obey no governor, use no religion,
But what they draw from their own ancient custom,
Or constitute themselves, yet are no rebels.


But as she fantasizes, the young men discern a far different heraldry for beggarage: “current and vagrant … Stockant, whippant.” The runaways' public affirmations get confuted by their asides begging out. An oft quoted encomium extolls vagabondage as a conventionally utopian “wealth for public benefit” where “no grievance or perplexity; / No fear of war, or state disturbances. / No alteration in a commonwealth, / Or innovation, shakes a thought of theirs” (IV.ii.90-93, 98). But the interrupting “Of ours, you should say” corrects the Freudian slip, accentuating that each wishes the status on anybody else. This paean functions like the songs and dances that the beggars use to hide the anguished cries of a mother giving birth.

For beggars, freedom from responsibilities does not mean freedom from want, or from the struggle to survive by begging, prostitution, and theft, or from powerlessness before arbitrary threats, beatings, rapes, and imprisonments, or from the dread that drives many of them to bravado revelry and drunkenness. Economically it means they have nothing left to lose. Politically it means subjection to the arbitrary exercise of police power or ordinary force, to the wills of the physically and verbally domineering Justice Clack and his venal and vicious son Oliver. Butler recognizes here a reflection of the difficulties of gaining freedom without creating license, which confronted England during the short parliament of 1640.10 For if beggarage fails, so does Kaufmann's nostalgic escape into small preserves of idyllic Elizabethan gentility. The gentry get undercut by their patent self-indulgence: Tallboy's moping over the flight of his enforced bride, Oliver Clack's leering and lecherous threats of force, Justice Clack's capricious and willful misuses of prerogative, Hearty's irresponsible retreat in vinous revelry. More important, the play's agents of resolution get undercut: the runaways' father, Oldrents, whose name indicates his station, and the good steward of Oldrents's estate, Springlove, who returns each year to the beggars' commonwealth.

Springlove is one director in A Jovial Crew. Another is a vagabond poet. As the beggars celebrate the wedding of an impotent old man and a drunken old woman, this master of the revels proposes to “present a commonwealth: Utopia, / With all her branches and consistencies,” “The country, the city, the court, and the camp, epitomiz'd and personated by a gentleman, a merchant, a courtier, and a soldier,” plus three professions, “Divinity and Law” and learning (IV.ii.179-91). The roles in this induction are filled by beggars who have fallen from the estates they represent, with Springlove standing for a citizen merchant and a runaway lover for a country gentleman. The poet proposes for his plot civil strife concluding in a revolution: “I would have the country, the city, and the court, be at great variance for superiority. Then would I have Divinity and Law stretch their wide throats to appease and reconcile them; then would I have the soldier cudgel them all together and overtop them all. Stay. … A beggar … must at last overcome the soldier, and bring them all to Beggars' Hall” (IV.ii.207-17). This apocalyptic fantasy of the victory of disenfranchised beggars and disenchanted poets, Sidney's vates, may mirror the radical social prophecies promulgated among the increasing number of “masterless men” portrayed in Christopher Hill's The World Turned Upside Down.11 But in A Jovial Crew the fantasy never gets produced since the magistrates ride in, cut off the presentation, break up the assembly, then threaten, arrest, and impound the beggars.

What finally gets presented is an induction for Oldrents at Justice Clack's. Instead of projecting revolution Springlove's production recalls the inexplicable melancholy of the old country gentleman who typifies the malaise and the nostalgia of his caste. Oldrents balks at the original, empathetic titles for the inset, The Two Lost Daughters and The Vagrant Steward. Instead he consents to see The Merry Beggars, a prescription for escaping melancholy and a choice that implicitly indicts him for indulging in revelry so as to evade his responsibilities. The hedge-priest, Patrico, presents actors who play their own roles in Oldrents's life. So the performance dissolves the distinctions between the lives of the inset's characters and those of its onstage audience. Oldrents's masked runaway daughters and steward reveal their attempt to revive him by temporarily joining the merry beggars and thereby fulfilling without harm the fortune teller's sad prophecy. Springlove has directed a restorative comedy during which loyal daughters renew their patriarch's mirth and through which the good steward fulfills his perpetual promise: “this is your birthnight into a new world. And we all know (or have been told) that all come crying into the world, when the whole world of pleasures is before us. The world itself had ne'er been glorious, had it not first been a confused chaos” (III.i.34-38).

But recovery from unease may not seem reassuring. After the inset dissolves into the play Patrico reveals a family disease: he is the beggared grandson of one Wrought-on, whom Oldrents's grandfather “craftily wrought out / Of his estate” by unjust lawsuits (V.i.412-13, 320-26). Oldrents's estates are not so ancient nor so sound nor so secure as might be inferred from his name and status. As degree comes by lineal descent, so do sins. Moreover, Wrought-on reveals, descendants commit new sins: Oldrents sired a bastard on Wrought-on's sister, who died in childbirth. Following romance tradition, the lost child is recovered in the good steward, Springlove, and miraculously reconciled to the father he never knew. But despite reparation of this estate, Brome's play does not suggest any easy restoration of society. For that would require the incredibly charitable forgiveness of a Wrought-on, who for a tiny competence agrees to finish his days as Oldrents's “faithful beadsman,” and of a Springlove, who proves to be a saint.

The dissolving of distinctions between the inset, The Merry Beggars, and the play for a Caroline audience, A Jovial Crew, suggests that Brome's presentation reflected his society and warned it of its need to meet sociopolitical responsibilities. A Jovial Crew sketches a matrix of problems Brome attacked in domains political, social, and familial, including pervasive interests economical. In Brome's plays all three arenas of human interaction exhibit complementary problems: abusing and hustling power. In politics some people exercise arbitrary authority while others scramble for preferment. In society some take advantage of status while others assault the hierarchy. In families fathers compel their children's occupational and marital decisions while children use and deny their fathers. Brome's families further implicate interlocking sexual questions: a double standard of philandering lovers and husbands versus faithful maids and wives threatens gender relations; and the exploitation and dread of cuckoldry undermine families. But while Brome finds plenty of problems he also discredits potential programs for recovery. So no specific political or social responses, other than charitable forgiveness, ever get defined in A Jovial Crew. Too much here depends on Hearty's idea of human action and reaction for “the whim of it” and on the conclusion's impractical reliance on “great providence.”

Brome's plays are pervaded with precisely this same combination of an exhortation to face sociopolitical problems with an absence of principles on which change might be based or goals to which it could conform. His later plays became progressively more irresolute as Caroline dilemmas became more defined, and less avoidable. In sum, he consistently castigates oppressive authority and authoritarian abuses, thereby seeming subversive; yet he also adheres uneasily to inequitable received sexual norms and demonstrates inevitable human failures, thereby seeming traditional. Not atypical of the era, Brome is a subversive traditionalist whose plays, reflecting and satirizing human folly, damn no one. Had the aborted apocalyptic induction by the beggars' poet been performed, it might have suggested means of resolution. For elsewhere Brome proffers a process and a mood whereby tradition might be reformed.

Agreeing with Massinger's stance and opposing Ford's and Shirley's, Brome criticizes a monarch's use of authority for being tyrannical in two tragicomedies: his uneven variation of King Lear's ancient setting, state, and family in The Queen's Exchange (presumably early) and his unusual hagiographic The Queen and Concubine (apparently mid-career). In both Brome also features a target for all the Caroline professionals, the sycophantic scramble for unmerited preferment to royal favoritism. And in both he joins Massinger in presenting sociopolitical climbing as sustaining and being fostered by absolutism. Willful tyranny appears at the opening of The Queen's Exchange. The queen of the West Saxons, Bertha, imposes on her council her choice of a husband, Osriick of Northumbria, who is alien to her citizens by his absolutism as well as by his birth. Invoking divine sovereignty, Bertha demands that her advisers “rectify” their “scrupulous judgement” to her commandment. But Kentlike Segebert, pleading his oath to the late king, pledges loyalty to nationalist commonweal traditions. After Segebert is banished, the sycophancy of Northumbrians vacillating before the passionate, despotic Osriick is mirrored by one Jeffrey. Jeffrey's destructive zeal when celebrating the king's forthcoming marriage initially earns him promotion from village to court fool; reflecting court madness he mounts “the hobby horse of preferment” and gallops away from country virtues (II.ii).12 Thereafter he points up the advancements for folly and the penalties for merit. He describes the bribery, purchase, backbiting, dealings, and wheelings of court fortune whereby the desertless rise by each others' falls (especially III/500-504). After miraculous tragicomic reversals, The Queen's Exchange concludes with a political homily: Osriick, who has been reawakened to responsible monarchy, praises the allegiance and care of his country's lords who counteracted his commands; and Bertha begs the loyal Segebert's pardon.

The Queen and Concubine presents a spectacle of mutually reinforcing tyrannical authority and sycophantic competition. Gonzago, an absolute, capricious ruler who envies recognition for anyone else, banishes his patient Griselda queen, Eulalia, and orders the execution of his victorious general, Sforza, on false charges of adultery; meanwhile he elevates the queen's protégé and Sforza's daughter, Alinda, to royal mistress, then queen, and he recalls Sforza's rival to be his commander-in-chief. Alinda, who has learned at court to seek preferment regardless of the price to others, leads a set of treacherous climbers. In one of several damning scenes she concludes instructions to her machiavellian accomplice with a stairway of ambition metaphor: she might pity her former protectress and her father “For being hew'd out and squar'd thus to my use, / But that they make those necessary steps / By which I must ascend to my Ambition. / They that will rise unto a supream Head / Should not regard upon whose Necks they tread” (I.ix/19-20). The banished queen, who remains faithful despite provocation and temptation, leads a loyally obedient citizenry. Attended by her fool and her councillor, she heals, teaches, and wins all the countryside of her plagued Palermo. Another opposition pits the chief sycophant Horatio, who labels himself with variations on the formulaic “old courtiers … still true to the Crown” and with his ludicrous imitations of his monarch's vacillations, against the rival generals, who make a pact to save the king from his own order to execute the crown prince. Alinda's and Gonzago's overweening conniving becomes so disgusting that they have to retire to separate religious retreats, leaving the body politic to the fit leadership of others.

Though other plays by Brome rarely focus on arbitrary rule as a specific problem, they criticize it implicitly for sponsoring, perhaps requiring, destructive preferment-seeking. Brome's ploy is aligned with the popular conservative subversion best known through Robin Hood: attack your king's agents as you declare your loyalty to and common cause with him.13 Brome's trenchant attack on the system of preferment, The Court Beggar, is potent because of the play's obvious parallels to current sociopolitics and its readily recognized butts. Scholars since Kaufmann have recognized that the play attacks the system of dissolute, rapacious patronage represented by Sir John Suckling—the personal vanity, lechery, gambling, and mad abuse of status, along with the public military ineptitude if not cowardice.14 Butler has specified and amplified the play's implications beyond its condemnation of the personal and social bankruptcy when courtiers beg the unmerited monopolies that buy them clout. The play pinpoints those political failures of the Caroline court that led to the double debacle of the Royal Expedition to the North during the First Bishops' War and of the Short Parliament of 1640. With Civil War looming, no wonder the Master of the Revels, presumably reflecting the king's fury, prohibited this play or any like it by Beeston's Boys and threatened the Cockpit players and their manager.15 Brome is hard on the complementary political evils of tyrannical abuses of authority and greedy, ambitious scrambling for preferment. He is even more antagonistic in his frequent satires of related manifestations in social domains that overlap with these.

Like many other Caroline plays, The Queen's Exchange and The Queen and Concubine highlight the contrast between a virtuous communal country and an arrogant absolutist court. In The Queen and Concubine the country's moral superiority appears in Alinda's transformation at court from “simple Countrey Innocence” to “comely Ambition.” The philandering king's arousal by Alinda's prostitution for advancement epitomizes his court's system of preferment: underlings get status, wealth, and power by offering themselves for use by their superiors. Poised against this violation of traditional ideals of social bonding is the loyalty of Eulalia's exiles and provincials. Though comic characters, their shrewd hospitality maintains a roughhewn country of honest thrift, prudent labor, and service to the hierarchical community. Brome's wittiest attack on courtly morals and sensibilities appears in The Love-sick Court (1633-34, 1638?). Since Kaufmann's analysis this tragicomedy has been recognized as a travesty on the extravagant platonic love and political courtship fostered by Henrietta Maria.16 Brome's hostile representation of court abuses and his occasional representations of country virtues, however, do not signify the embrace of country inferred by Butler. Brome's gentry, as in A Jovial Crew, cause significant problems. A more difficult problem is posed by the third major sociopolitical sphere. The commercial city, which is foregrounded by Brome as well as by Shirley, appears briefly in A Jovial Crew and often in Citwit's skirmishes with Courtwit and Swaynwit in The Court Beggar. Most of Brome's plays continue to display the ambivalence notable in the early Northern Lass's portrayal of the circle of Lady Fitchow, the ambitious and successful city widow. Against the country innocence of the title heroine, Constance, most members of Fitchow's circle seem grasping; but against the other Constance, the mercenary whore Holdup, they come off well. And Master Tridewell makes an appealing concerned citizen.

Brome's sociopolitical sets can be summed up in The Court Beggar's Courtwit, Swaynwit, and Citwit. These hangers-on, who earn their support by amusing the “humorous” widow, Lady Strangelove, are notable for both distinctive folly and individual potential. The fulsome Courtwit greases the social wheel. The cowardly backbiting Citwit evolves into a blustering reformer. The punitive enforcer Swaynwit makes a forthright traditional critic. Though their flaws must be taken into account, each is capable of contibuting to society. And though none is granted approval, their final mutual acceptance and dealings may intimate possible social consensus.

Although the potential for community among Courtwit, Swaynwit, and Citwit indicates that Brome represents London's spectrum of social types with more ambivalence than does Shirley, Brome's city particularly breeds sharpers. Especially in his topographical comedies and in The City Wit,The English Moor, and A Mad Couple Well Match'd, the prevalent upward striving and greedy grasping of London's citizens, combined with their endemic failure of courage, seem to be fostered by the city's environs. Brome's arraignment of the city appears in his early, then revised, genial satire The City Wit. An “honest” merchant has to turn to disguises and deceits to recoup his losses to lying, defaulting debtors. Scorned by his ambitious mother-in-law and rebuffed by his debtors, Crasy adopts their scams to earn “more in a weeks Cosenage, then in all [his] daies of Honesty” (V/357). He takes advantage of the ambition, greed, larceny, and lechery of representative estates: a driving mother-in-law, a compliant wife, and “a thrifty Citizen”; a witless court-aspiring brother-in-law and two other courtiers; and a pedant. Proving that knavery is as easy as it is profitable, he resents human ingratitude and feels disgust at the role he must play to gain respect (note V/357-58). Yet Crasy is typical of Brome's ambivalent presentations, for he proves both that gulls are not necessarily witless but perhaps generous, and he demonstrates that citizens can be selflessly forgiving.

In sum, through estates represented in London society Brome focuses on social abuses that are related to the political ones he attacked: the tyrannous use of power and the scramble for empowering status. The former appears most identifiably in his familiar satire on usurers.17 Quicksands, the aptly named, rapacious usurer in The English Moor, represents the unrepentant destroyer. He deserves the condemnatory humiliation arranged by his former victims when they try to cuckold him and when they publicize his idiot bastard. But Vermin in The Damoiselle is finally restored after initially refusing to help the decayed gentry he has cheated. His victims, including his prodigal son and his pawned daughter, who rebel against his parsimony and profiteering, generate so much social pressure that he is converted to giving them approval and aid; so they in turn accept him again. Thus, depending on a repentant reaction on the part of an offender, Brome presents an alternative ending to destructive socioeconomic tyranny. While the recalcitrant deserve ostracism, the reformed gain reconciliation.

The scramble for status is featured in Brome's frequent satire of academies for the aspiring. Typical is his presentation of the new ordinary, which caters to the “fashion sick” ness for new “French frippery” and new French “court carriage” that are taught by the new instructor for whom The Damoiselle is named. Academies provide the Caroline professionals with easy targets because they claim they can teach climbers how to parade the manners and styles affected by those who hold a coveted status. Just so, in The New Academy Strigood advertises “professors of court discipline” who are prepared to teach the French manners, posturings, and fashions, Platonic love and vacuous politeness, and musical and dancing accomplishments esteemed around Henrietta Maria's court.

More distinctively, Brome takes as particular butts the gulls who enroll in academies for strivers. Striggod draws in plenty of pupils to learn absurdly elaborate, stylized conventions: the presumptuous Lady Nestlecock and her overprotected imbecile son, her melancholy suitor and his daughter, and Maudlin, her new sister-in-law and former maid to her half-brother. Often Brome targets country aspirants who are getting cheated by city slickers and court dependents. The Sparagus Garden spot-lights the leeching of Tim Hoyden by a gang of London conmen led by the shifty knight Mony-lacks. Hoyden's blood has to be drawn out and replaced by reputedly noble, aphrodisiac asparagus, while his country yeoman's manners need to be supplanted by the rudiments of “the severall carriages and deportments by garbe, by congy, complement, &c” (IV.ix/194) practiced by gentlemen. Mainly his purse needs to be drained of £400 until he becomes dimly aware that he is imitating forms as empty as it is. Similarly, in The Covent-Garden Weeded Captain Driblow employs forms of compliment and elevation to bilk ignorantly aspiring Mun Clotpoll. Clotpoll, notebook perpetually at hand for recording imitable acts and witticisms, seeks initiation into the Philoblathici and Philobattici, the Brotherhood of the Blade and Battoune, with its auxiliary Sisterhood of the Scabbard. These roarers' French balls (an adaptation of Jonson's “vapors”) and whores so parody court styles and ends that critics see Brome demonstrating that a society based on abusive authoritarianism and sycophantic favoritism brings forth cheating and whoring.18

Whereas other Caroline professional playwrights mainly relate politics to the family, Brome more often shows interactions between society and the family. Social and personal abuses reflect and inextricably reinforce each other as they parallel state abuses. Brome repeatedly features the clash of fathers forcing marital decisions on their children, thereby compelling these children into dilemmas and evasions. This pattern extends from The Novella, where two city and family fathers arrange a sociopolitical and economic match that would block both of their children's love choices, through A Jovial Crew, where Justice Clack propels his niece into running away from an enforced marriage he has proposed. Typically, patriarchal compulsion issues from greed, as when Justice Testy marries off his niece and ward, Millicent, to the usurer Quicksands in The English Moor, the usurer Vermin schemes about his daughter in The Damoiselle, or Sir Andrew Mendicant proffers his daughter in The Court Beggar. Usually the guardian's choice is a miser, a madman, or a booby unsuitable from any perspective other than the guardian's gain. Other familiar paternal tyrannies also appear through Brome: a father in The Sparagus Garden causes his son consternation by prohibiting his marriage, out of spite for the woman's family; and a father in The New Academy drives away his daughter, out of wrath against the family of his foster daughter. The frequency with which Brome's guardians take advantage of their rank suggests mutually supporting abuses of authority in all social domains.

The mutual support of abusive parental and social authorities compounds severe problems for children: in The Novella Pantaloni and Guadagni harry their children from quandaries and equivocations to subterfuges, and in The Sparagus Garden Sam Touchwood is driven from anguished guilt into deception. While Brome's plays generate great sympathy for adolescents, they also depict rebellion by the afflicted offspring as an unacceptable violation of traditional family norms. Brome's vilest villain appears in The Queen's Exchange; the ingrate son Ossa plays a betraying Edmund to Segebert's Gloucester and to his brother's Edgar. In The Queen and Concubine Alinda's ambition is condemned for the double perfidy against her father and against her queen and protectress, whereas the prince is honored for his loyalty in spite of his father's capricious sentence of execution. Yet the children in Brome's plays are often conditioned by repressions harsh enough and psyches burdened enough to sanction trickery as a means of gaining their fathers' sympathies and blessings. The plays allow such children the ruse of rebellion in order to evade their patriarchs' unfair use of power. When Joyce and Gabriella flee their furious patriarch in The New Academy or Wat and Alice flee their usurious father Vermin in The Damoiselle, they find new protectors who help them reform their fathers. Though the majority of offspring in Brome's plays remain obedient, some of their tricks threaten Caroline society. In The English Moor the ward Millicent and a host of Quicksands's victims suggest adultery as a response to her enforced marriage to the old usurer. But while her bawdy turnoff songs and her suitors' hymeneal cuckolding masque produce satisfying satiric discomfort for two old connivers, the means risk Millicent's integrity and threaten an audience left out of the con until late in the play. Brome's plays often emit an uneasy tone of subversion by children, which does not come to rest in received family practices nor to resolution in reform.

This complex of family relationships is summed up in The Covent-Garden Weeded, inside a complex set of multiple parallels in arbitrary royal sociopolitical regulations and arbitrary Puritan moral restrictions.19 Crossewill so enjoys opposing everyone, particularly his children, that he alters his goals when others concur with him. Since he requires that his children achieve his ends in his way, his daughter tries to box him into blessing either her beloved or her perpetual maidenhood, his distraught elder son flees to Puritan rather than patriarchal oppression, and his younger son escapes to London to practice gallantry under the pretense of learning the law. And since he delights in thwarting their widely praised inclinations, they manipulate him by reverse psychology, pretending interest in the opposite of what they want until they get him to recognize and reform his arbitrary willfulness. In the end all turn their inversions to their society's sense of rightside up. While this presents an odd notion of filial duty, the children's ultimate allegiance to social norms amounts to their ultimate obedience to their father's best instincts. Such inversions are typical of Brome's satiric attacks on the abuses of arrogant authority and ungrateful ambition. Such irresolute endings, both affirming and criticizing his society, leave no definite basis for ethical judgments.

The most vivid examples of Brome's (and satire's) propensity to attack abuses without providing consistent grounds for resolution appear in his presentation of two sexual relations that preoccupied the Carolines and their plays: the double standard and cuckoldry. From a masculine view he depicts almost all of his characters, both male and female, as accepting without question the double standard. But though he does not suggest Massinger's general reforms or Shirley's postmarital ones, neither does he mirror Ford's tacit approval. Instead, he often establishes a bivalent perspective that sets him apart from the other Caroline professionals and that alienates many critics because of its alleged “disgusting moral decadence.”20 In Brome's plays a woman who commits adultery for socioeconomic advancement comes off badly. Often, however, a woman who commits adultery, or more likely perpetrates the ruse of committing adultery, is presented as understandably countering men's waywardness; so her case gains sympathy if not approval. While cuckoldry causes psychological stress for husbands, women might justly claim equal access to reciprocal or corrective adultery, and especially to the pretense of adultery. This position Ford never entertained, Shirley abhorred, and Massinger presented only one time, briefly, in The Picture.

Brome's sympathetic presentation of Sir Philip Lucklesse, the prize sought and won by Constance, the popular, innocent heroine of The Northern Lass, sets a double standard. Only tactics are considered during the extrication of this first of Brome's many prodigals from two misogynist nightmares: an entanglement with a “cunning whore,” his former mistress Constance, and an entrapment in a lucrative marital contract with a domineering widow, Mistress Fitchow. Sir Philip is the least objectionable of an ever wilder, more destructive line of familiar prodigals redeemed by some pure or “spoiled but loyal” lass. In The Covent-Garden Weeded roistering whoremaster Nick is married to Crossewill's niece. In The New Academy the braggadochio squire of city wives, Valentine Askal, is protected by his unrecognized half-sister, Hannah, whom he slanders. In The English Moor Nathaniel Banelass is saved by a bed trick arranged by the self-sacrificing Phillis Winlose, another maiden he has tried to train in whoredom. The ancient widower Striker in The Sparagus Garden is preserved by his housekeeper, Friswood, who has served him in bed for years. A marked increase in prodigal rascality shows up in A Mad Couple Well Match'd in the person of Carelesse. The dissolute heir is condemned not so much for his insulting attempt to seduce his virtuous young aunt, Lady Thrivewell, as for his ungrateful damage of her adulterous old husband, his benefactor. Carelesse's perversities win him the fortune of another type, the lecherous widow, Mrs. Crostill. Finally, the society of The Damoiselle disregard the whoremongering of Wat, the prodigal son of the usurer; but they castigate him for trying to pander his prospective bride and they convert him. This last case, of the one philanderer Brome's other characters condemn, also exposes the interlocking crux of cuckoldry.

From the early The City Wit Brome's plays, like many a Caroline's, are preoccupied with the anxieties husbands have about cuckoldry. Torn by his jealous love of his compliant wife, Josina, Crasy decides that his least anxious course lies in disguising himself so as to appear to pander for her and to cuckold himself. He thereby regains the debts owed him by two would-be courtiers and wins revenge as they beat each other; then he says he believes Josina recognized his disguise. Unsettling, The City Wit nevertheless comes the closest of Brome's plays to easing the fears roused by cuckoldry. The most bothersome cases, judged by the critical response, involve tradesmen and their wives. Contrary to critical assertions, such cases do not primarily condemn mercenary commercial greed and ridicule imitations of some licentious female freedom practiced as Platonism, as in The Love-sick Court. Kaufmann and Shaw consider Rebecca Brittleware of The Sparagus Garden a nag who reduces her husband to subservience.21 But she is hardly blameworthy. She desperately wants a child; so new man litters and St. Paul's steeple become as sexually laden as The Knight of the Burning Pestle she wants to see and the elite gardens of promiscuity she wants to visit. Moreover, Brittleware is so jealously possessive and terrified of cuckoldry that he confines her. Therefore, she tells her aunt, rather than getting revenge by acting out his suspicions she abuses his illusions in hopes of wearing out his cuckoldry “in conceit.” He comes to trust rather than own her. According to some critics, the problem of Rafe Camelion in The New Academy is timorous uxoriousness in imitation of Platonic court fashions; he supposedly allows his wife Hannah so much unscrutinized freedom that it destroys the “natural relationship” of a superior husband's protectiveness of his wife.22 Rather, Hannah, seeing her Camelion's neglect of her and his attraction to public amusements, needs assurance of his love. She seeks not protection (she capably guards her fidelity) but loving concern in front of a sexually cynical society eager to foul their reputations with intimations of wittolry.

The critical disapproval of the mores and art registered about these plays scarcely approaches the moral and critical wrath roused by A Mad Couple Well Match'd. Shaw approvingly quotes Sedge's, and presumably Kaufmann's, evaluation: “Brome's play clearly exposes the dangerous excess in feminism that can result from the Platonic non-jealousy ethic.”23 Brome's attack on the cynical manipulation of Platonic courtliness seems obvious; the so-called “dangerous excess in feminism” seems mistaken. Lady Thrivewell is generally appreciated for saving her husband from a mercenary predator on his infidelity, but she is not so loudly applauded for fooling him into believing briefly that she has cuckolded him. As Shaw notes, he needs to recognize that “what is sauce for the gander can be sauce for the goose”24; and he needs momentarily at least to suffer the anguish he apparently feels a wife is obliged to endure in silence. But Shaw's “can” signals the play's moral inconsistency. While reciprocity is remarkably presented as possible, understandable, and affecting, it is not approved. The Lady remains responsible for fidelity. Moreover, the parallel plots fail to show reciprocity. Saleware profits from the adultery of his wife Alice ([Ram] Ally), just as the Lady recoups her husband's payment by shrewd dealing. But rather than being commended for economic gains or for understanding his spouse's adultery, as Lady Thrivewell is, Saleware is predictably condemned for complacent cuckoldry. And this despite his wretchedness when Ally exploits his professed courtly trust and denies him the access others purchase. Likewise, Ally is utterly condemned for sexual profiteering whereas philandering and fortune hunting are amicably forgiven Carelesse, who is granted the guardian angel, Saveall, and who is rewarded by marriage to a rich widow—precisely for abusing her the way he does his whore Phoebe. The best deal for any woman in the play is the award earned by the ironically named Phoebe for her employment in Lady Thrivewell's bed trick on Carelesse: she gets married off to his man, with good riddance to Carelesse's past. In sum, Brome's radical suggestion about sexual equity is inconsistent. But the hint of women's equivalent sexual freedom sets Brome apart from his peers. And it rouses critical consternation from ours.

Brome's suggestions about family and sexual relations, like his suggestions about politics and society, combine a radical aversion to tyrannical authority with a strong disapproval of ambitious insurrection. His stance, then, is the hardest to characterize among the Caroline professional playwrights: he is similar to Massinger on the need for social and family reform but less sanguine than is Massinger's accommodation of tradition; he is like Ford in his support of traditions but more probing than is Ford's espousal of ideal absolutism; he is favorable to Shirley's role playing but averse to Shirley's embrace of court norms. Brome's radical tendencies were disallowed by critics, who annexed his increasing questions to normative positions; but Butler has resituated Brome's politics within a revisionist history that recognizes a negative sociopolitics of subversive traditionalism. Brome complicated the problems of his ambivalent perspective by his inconsistent applications, which morally uncomfortable critics compound into condemnation or frustrated defensiveness. Brome's inconsistency might be interpreted more usefully as an indication of his increasingly profound questioning and of his exploitation of satire's freedom from the need for a platform. My uneasy conclusion about Brome's values melds with an appraisal of his development of the techniques of parody and inversion into a process that taps a potential for fundamental reform.


Brome's parodic style presents his variation on the imitation of craft characteristic of the Caroline professional playwrights. Neither a regular collaborator with Fletcher and others like Massinger nor with Dekker and others like Ford, not an eclectic autodidact like Shirley, Brome devoted his apprenticeship to Ben Jonson. Jonson's commendation of this son on his first publication, The Northern Lass, in 1632, is so important that it was reprinted in 1659 at the head of the second posthumous collection of Brome, Five New Plays by “An Ingenious Servant, and Imitator of his Master, that famously Renowned Poet Ben. Johnson.” At first Jonson vented his envy of the success of his apprentice's “sweepings,” malicious wordplay that some of Ben's tribe perpetuated. Then he commended Brome's play, “often Acted with good Applause, at the Globe, and Black-Fryers.” Introducing “my Old Faithful Seruant, and (by his continu'd Vertue) my loving Friend: the Author of this Work, M. RICH. BROME” with his peculiar blend of sensitive consideration and perceptive arrogance, Jonson provides a broadly applicable principle:

I Had you for a Servant, once, Dick Brome;
          And you perform'd a Servants faithful parts:
Now, you are got into a nearer roome,
          Of Fellowship,
professing my old Arts.
And you doe doe them well, with good applause,
          Which you have justly gained from the Stage,
By observation of those Comick Lawes
          Which I, your Master,
first did teach the Age.
You learn'd it well; and for it, serv'd your time
          A Prentise-ship: which few doe now a dayes.
Now each Court-Hobby-horse will wince in rime;
          Both learned, and unlearned, all write Playes.
It was not so of old: Men tooke up trades
          That knew the Crafts they had bin bred in, right:

Jonson applauds the technique and aesthetics achieved by apprenticeship to a master; and he sneers at poets and dramatists who never learn the mystery. He also defines one base and suggests another for Brome's creation of new art by imitation. Brome the traditionalist practiced and extended the craft he inherited by creating variations on its ideas and techniques. Brome the opponent of ignorant courtly amateurs parodied, burlesqued, and inverted their very ruptures of old techniques, thereby creating new variations.25

Despite recording their agreement that Brome did embody Jonson's principle of nurturing wit by imitating his master, critics have been less than specific about the nature of his imitation. All recognize that Brome often and obviously alluded to Jonson. The City Wit announces that it bears the “seal of Ben” before the apprentice's disguise as a conwoman recalls Epicoene, and his mention of an “Indenture Tripartite, and't please you, like Subtle, Doll, and Face” refers to The Alchemist (III.i/318). In emulation of “my Reverend Ancestor Justice Adam Overdoe” of Bartholomew Fair,The Covent-Garden Weeded's Justice Cockbrain proposes to uproot local enormities while wearing a series of disguises in which he gets duped and beaten. The Sparagus Garden brings in The Alchemist when Monylacks agrees to shift funds from a gull to himself and his partner, just like Subtle and Lungs; and old Striker's subterfuge through feigned diseases of exaggerated age recalls Volpone. Similar references reappear prominently: Epicoene's transvestism shows up in The New Academy and in The Damoiselle; so do a Cokes-influenced Nehemiah Nestlecock and the Overdone Bumpseys. Scholars have, however, neglected the middle ground of design between their annotations of specific echoes and inspirations and their assumptions that Brome reproduced Jonson's moral concerns in a flawed medium.26 Brome's designs are supplied in part through his adherence to Jonson's principle of imitating from the best exempla available.

This principle is suggested by other poems that usher in The Northern Lass. One claim of paternity, “To my Sonne Broom and his LASSE,” is made by Dekker; his London settings and Middleton irony proved important to The City Wit,A Mad Couple, and Brome's various topographical satires, and his romantic comedies about the city's citizens are reflected in this play and others. Another commendation is made by Ford; his promotion of curative drama became a central principle for Brome. In a poem before A Jovial Crew fellow playwright John Tatham added Beaumont and Fletcher and Shakespeare as Brome's antecedents. These statements are confirmed by Brome's edition and reintroduction of Fletcher's Monsieur Thomas in 1639 and his employment of Fletcherian intrigue comedy in The Novella and tragicomedy in The Queen and Concubine. They are also confirmed by his early variation on Shakespeare's Gloucester plot in The Queen's Exchange.27 In addition Brome later collaborated with Heywood (extant is The Late Lancashire Witches [1634]) and perhaps with Chapman. From the prologue to The Sparagus Garden to the epilogue of The English Moor Brome modestly affirmed his debt to English dramatic traditions and claimed never to trespass against the old “laws of comedy.” These facts corroborate both his outrage over the violations committed by unprofessional Sucklings and his ability to burlesque and invert the violations. Neither the commendations nor the acknowledgments indicate the freedom Brome expanded from a frequent imitation of folk game and song motifs, as in his Lass. The commendations do, however, consistently praise his ingenuity and ability to imitate “souls language,” apparently in appreciation of his playful prose of dialect and jargon, idiolect and character tag, quip and saw. And they universally praise his moral point, apparently in admiration of his satire.

One quality contemporaries regularly acclaimed in Brome is typical of the Caroline professionals: he manipulated complex multiple plots in the manner of the old masters. In a 1640 commendation prefacing The Sparagus Garden C.G. delights in the mazelike “designment” that encompasses plentiful variety within “proportion.” And in “To the Readers” of the 1659 Five New Plays the collector opens by praising the playwright's understanding of the “Proportions and Beauties of a Scene.” Brome developed this skill through imitation of the plotting conventions of traditional genres. By the revived, and likely early, version of The City Wit, he was mastering Jonsonian adaptations of the estates morality play. His city and topographical satires depend on reviews of stereotyped sociopolitical estates, from courtiers to citizen merchants, and of the professions of teacher, doctor, soldier, and lawyer to indict failures to contribute to the commonweal. The traditional morality play remains visible in The Queen and Concubine; the antithesis between the queen's saintliness and the whore's ambitions is augmented by parallel antithetical types—good councillor versus evil usher, country magistrates versus court politicians, and country clowns versus court knaves. The most characteristic of Brome's plot designs, as Shaw repeatedly demonstrates, links multiple plots around triangles of characters; usually these feature the intrigues and counter-intrigues of an antagonist with his cronies who block a sympathetic pair with their associates. While such exemplary plots as The Northern Lass, The Novella, and The Court Beggar do not maintain the restrictive social and moral hierarchies posited by Levin, Brome creates unity through the mutual personal associations and common locations, interdependently effecting events, and social and moral thematics of his plots.28

In addition, Brome's mature craft was affected considerably by innovations in drama that repelled him and his fellow professionals. The prologue and epilogue to The Court Beggar express blunt antipathy toward those new “wits o' Court” who, by subsidizing performances of faddish, ghostwritten fluff and by bribing audiences, were destroying the professional dramatic heritage. He refuses to create “gaudy Sceane(s),” outline plots, or deploy facile sentiment even though his audience has “grown, / Deeply in love with a new Strayne of wit / Which he condemns, at least disliketh it.” So in the play he satirizes the courtly pseudo-dramatist/producers, Suckling and Davenant, who threaten his art as much as his livelihood.29 Moreover, he burlesques their tragicomic mode, thereby clarifying his own characteristics. Kaufmann first identified Brome's The Love-sick Court as a burlesque of voguish courtly romantic productions.30 The title puns on the maladies of two courts, the dramatic presentations that inflated courts and the histrionics and social predilections of the Caroline court. The play's typically twisting and surprising tragicomic plot turns on the friendship of two apparent brothers who compete for a princess enamored of both. This narrative provides a frame on which are woven ragtag clichés of courtly love and manners drama: self-sacrifice, the insidious plotting and miraculous conversion of a throne-seeking villain, an attempted rape, a quest for an ambiguous oracle, a mistaken identity arising from the ancient concealment of a baby, the insinuation of incest, the resurrection of a possum-playing protagonist. Types include righteous councillors and ambitious machiavels, a fickle populace, a possessive mother with a blackmailing old nurse, and a set of comic servants who travesty the royal plot. The characters ingratiate themselves in inflated courtly compliments and agonize over their choices in high-flown soliloquies. If emblems such as the duel (when the protagonists hurl themselves at each other in a feigned pass before each whirls round spreading his arms and baring his breast for his “brother's” deadly thrust) just slash, other burlesques prove fatal. Especially mordant moments include the old nurse Garula's interrupting leers over a titillating double identity, the pointlessness of its concealment, and her use of it to aid the pretensions of her idiotic son. The Love-sick Court exhibits the talent in adaptive imitation that Brome employed to create his own, freer style.

Brome's innovative, liberating forms evolved out of his imitation of traditions, particularly out of his extension of interpolated songs and masques, plays within plays, characters playing deceptive roles, native folk performances, and improvisations, all of which can point beyond any immediate scene. Prominent in the final A Jovial Crew, such devices constituted a repertoire that Brome developed from The Northern Lass, whose country heroine is characterized by lyrics about her innocent love-longing. These do as much to further her cause as the deceptive roles played by the city sharpers; and they appear the purer against Constance Holdup's bawdy songs.31 Her cause and the play's resolution are fostered by a marriage masque that thwarts one impropitious marriage and encourages two auspicious ones ( Brome's interest in dissolving a play in its climactic masque comes with The City Wit. Its late hymeneal offering evolves into bawdy songs, revelations of the multiple disguises and counterplots perpetrated by Crasy's crew, and a celebration of human venality's absolution in a general amnesty and communion of the erring—in the play and in the world.

The English Moor further expands masquings: a scoffing “Hornmasque” is presented by gallants ruined by the old usurer Quicksands so as to threaten him with cuckoldry, one of the “miseries of inforced marriage”; a later queen of “Ethiop” masque is mounted by Quicksands to disclose his chaste wife's protective disguise. These masques within the play give way to play acting as they provide opportunities for characters to manipulate roles so as to effect the heroine's escape, perpetrate a reclaiming bed trick, and reveal Quicksands's idiot bastard. Disguises and deceptions aid these and other character manipulations; they include the apparent mutually fatal duel of supposedly rival fathers, several transvestite appearances, and the racial masking of the title character. The practical ends of the masquers and the dissolution of the insets' boundaries inside the play's world are possible in part because Brome imitates another dramatic tradition—improvisation. The characters' manipulative play is warranted by a tradition of free play within specified dramatic situations. Cope makes a forceful case for Brome's adaptation of commedia dell'arte because the pedant introduces the masque in The City Wit as following “the fashion of Italy” in employing “extempore” speeches and because The Novella, which is set in Venice, uses names and roles transmitted by that tradition.32

All these metadramatic devices—song and implied folk fest, masque and revel, role manipulation and extemporaneous acting—do more than blur if not obliterate boundaries between plays and life, inside Brome's plays. They help bring about Brome's well-known use of comedy as a moral and psychological curative. Besides alluding to extempore acting, Brome's prologue to The Novella requires his auditors to judge the play by laws, since understanding precedes an appreciation of his mirth. In “To the Stationer, on the publishing Mr. Bromes Comedies” Alexander Brome specifies that Brome's style “Makes us at once both serious, and smile. / Wraps serious truths in fab'lous mysteries, / And thereby makes us merry, and yet wise” (vii). His commendation praises Brome's “Instructive Recreations” (viii), which satirize vice and vanity while they praise virtue, so that they satisfy poetry's traditional goal of mixing profit with pleasure. This praise is duly repeated in the stationers' introduction to the 1659 edition. T. S.'s commendatory poem to the same edition uses a traditional trope to declare that Brome lances not men but manners; like a surgeon he binds people's wounds, concealing the patient's identity while he treats the sore. And C. G.'s commendation of the earlier The Sparagus Garden suggests that Brome's representations that purge humors or moderate neuroses are more effective than others that remove vices by surgery.

Critics have noted that Brome developed Ford's dreamlike metadramatic cures in The Lover's Melancholy into a central technique that Cope calls the “psychiatric manipulation of reality” for the good of characters.33 Cope maps the technique from the entranced role playing and identity trade that relieve the king in The Queen's Exchange through a prelude in The English Moor, a center in The Antipodes, and a postlude in A Jovial Crew. To these should be added plays during which role playing in itself effects some cure. For instance, The Court Beggar's concluding masque unmasks the rapacious fraud of Sir Ferdinand. As Butler points out, when the representative court beggar Mendicant breaks in with his projectors, the scene turns into a masque that emblemizes a problem beyond the play: madness in England's court and society. It implies a national malady's desperate need of the kind of cure prescribed for many of the play's characters.34 Though perhaps it reveals evidence of an epidemic, the intrigue play-acting in Brome usually treats onstage patients and effects a theater audience's pleasurable profit more than it prescribes to the nation. In The Covent-Garden Weeded, for example, Mihil produces an elaborate scene wherein whores and swaggerers act out complementary Puritan roles in a drunken party to disabuse, then revive, his brother from an extended stupor; and in The Damoiselle Drygrounds arranges an elaborate staging to heal relations in several families.

Although Brome's prologue to The Sparagus Garden reminds his audience “that to expect high Language, or much Cost, / Were a sure way, now, to make all be lost,” audiences have long recognized his linguistic ingenuity. Dekker called attention to it in commending The Northern Lass, his brother and F. T. made reference to it, Alexander Brome observed it before the 1653 plays and T. S. before the 1659 plays. Like the rest of his craft, Brome's style issues from imitation, particularly burlesque. Shaw has observed that while Brome's wooing verse is often couched in a stiff, dated Petrarchism, his frequent songs can achieve a lyric, if bawdy, grace. And his presentation of comic repartee and retorts, extended clichés, dialects, foreign accents, occupational jargons and social registers, stock character tags, and occasional series of balanced passages of account or abuse—that is, his parody—can be very effective.35 Frequently he underscores mimicry by stacking absurd, heavily alliterated parallel gradations. Often he manages comic bawdry through the double sexual meanings inadvertently produced by innocents, like those by Rebecca in The Sparagus Garden. More often he creates caricatures like those in The City Wit, where the pedant Sarpego pours forth from his cornucopia inkhornisms, transmogrified translations, fragments of Erasmian adages, inept and inaccurate allusions, fractured etymologies, and corrupted conjugations, and Crasy as a doctor offers dubious prognoses and suspicious prescriptions. Brome produces clever imitations of regionalisms, as in The Northern Lass or in The Sparagus Garden's buffoonery of the traditional clown of Taunton Dean, Tom Hoyden.36 And he mimics foreign accents, as in the pageant of suitors in The Novella.

Characterization through parodies of social registers is particularly significant in Brome. In A Jovial Crew he marks off the beggars' cant by the failure of the gentrified begging of the four disguised runaways; they know not how to “duly and truly pray for you.” Brome exploits social register in his satire on usage by the upwardly mobile court apes who try out the “single rapier complement” and the “Back-sword complement” or “swipe” taught in The Sparagus Garden. And social register is given particular heed in the epilogue after Citwit's absurd challenges in imitation of Swaynwit in The Court Beggar. Brome's telling burlesque style is perhaps most effective in the many character tags that reinforce his social themes. Illustrative are the false nonchalance in the tag of the disturbed wittol, Saleware, “Sapientia mea mihi, stultitia tua tibi,” and his groveling punctuation, “ant like your Lordship,” during a conference with his wife's master, Lord Lovely, in A Mad Couple Well Match'd (V.i/84-85). An early tag, the pedant Sarpego's empty-headed if well-meaning salutation “salvete salvetote,” and the last, Justice Clack's overbearing interruption “if we both speak together, how shall we hear one another,” reverse the order of Brome's stylistic development. His linguistic parody becomes more potent as it escapes from oppressive authority into blessed release.

As in his stylistic burlesque, which dissolves as it designates social boundaries, Brome more than any other Caroline professional playwright expanded rigorous imitation of traditional masters and genres. He notably expanded Jonsonian estates morality and citizen intrigue comedy through multilevel plots to extemporaneous play, generic parody through travesty to topsyturvydom, interpolated songs through drama-dissolving masques and plays within plays to folk carnival, manipulative role performance to curative audience participation. Brome's craft developed from traditional discipleship to independent inventiveness, from imitation to discovery in The Antipodes.


As much as any other Caroline professional play, from prefatory commendations through concluding antimasque and masque, Brome's The Antipodes (composed 1636, played 1637, printed 1640) proclaims its heritage. C. G. tells censorious critics that poets need not elegize Jonson since his mode “sojourns” in Brome's traditional comedy. “The Prologue” says that this servant, then journeyman, and now master “cannot court” new writing fads but instead emulates old mentors:

The poets late sublimed from our age,
Who best could understand and best devise
Works that must ever live upon the stage,
Did well approve and lead this humble way,
Which we are bound to travail in tonight.(37)

The puns on traveling and toiling, enduring agony and birth pangs signal a play that stages a fantasy voyage to the Antipodes, topsyturvy anti-London, to cure mad Peregrine Joyless, a young gentleman so taken with The Travels of Sir John Mandeville that he has not yet bedded his wife of three years, and to cure the troubles of the rest of his family, the lord who presents the inset play, and perhaps all of society. Typically, in concluding the prologue Brome claims that his old-fashioned play and its “low and homebred subjects have their use” beyond any amateur high-flown, pastoral, tragicomic theatrical in vogue at court; moreover, he offers his audience delight, perhaps renewal.

Critics have investigated the implications of this prefatory matter to discover how Jonson's comic traditions work in The Antipodes. Its inversions of tropes and of types from estates moralities, for example, have been mentioned by Ian Donaldson and developed by Martin Butler.38 The most influential critics have focused on Brome's use of Jonsonian enhanced metatheatrics in inset plays, role-playing, antimasque and masque for satire and Fordian cure. In his part of the epilogue Doctor Hughball, the psychiatrist who helps direct such devices, signals the importance of metadramatic extension. He begins a traditional plea for applause by confessing, “Whether my cure be perfect yet or no, / It lies not in my doctorship to know.” Thus, however fully he has explained the traditional attempt to cure through play-acting, he leaves the results open to question. This opening Joe Lee Davis has exploited in a seminal essay describing Brome's curative drama. Davis demonstrates that the play's satire does much more than expose vices to correction. Through the play within the play and the concluding masque, satire provides therapeutic psychological catharsis and realignment by “engrossing [characters] in a world more incongruously out of balance than they” are.39 Modified in Haaker's introduction and Shaw's discussion, Davis's insights have been focused on the multiple neurotic audiences of The Antipodes, for the circles of sickness expand around Peregrine to take in his family, the disturbed couple Blaze and Barbara, Hughball and his patron, the impresario Lord Letoy, and the Salisbury Court audience. Then they have been extended in opposed directions by Donaldson and Cope.

Donaldson employs some traditions of topsyturvydom, a functional explanation of holiday by anthropologist Max Gluckman, and a related dramatic hypothesis by C. L. Barber. He sees sharp contrasts between virtue and iniquity, normality and absurdity. For him, then, the exposure of audiences to extremes during holiday release reinforces conformity to the normative hierarchy during work days, since it facilitates the restoration of controls or grants new clarification.40 The most convincing emblem for Donaldson's interpretation is Letoy's concluding presentation of a Jonsonian antimasque and masque. To “A most untunable flourish” Discord ushers in a retinue she presents in a “SONG IN UNTUNABLE NOTES”:

Come forth my darlings, you that breed
The common strifes that discord feed:
          Come in the first place,
my dear Folly;
          Jealousy next, then Melancholy.
          And last come Madness; thou
art he
          That bear'st th'
effects of all those three.


After their dance another flourish announces an encompassing song and dance by Harmony and her train. Letoy explains their actions:

See Harmony approaches, leading on
'Gainst Discord's factions four great deities:
Mercury, Cupid, Bacchus, and Apollo.
Wit against Folly, Love against Jealousy,
Wine against Melancholy, and 'gainst Madness,
Observe the matter and the method.
And how upon the approach of Harmony,
Discord and her disorders are confounded.


Letoy thus claims that the discord and antipodal world his players presented to Peregrine and the other audiences were temporary; they revert to control. But the condition of restoration may not be reversion. Since Hughball questions the suitability of this presentation in the first place and since Letoy disclaims any insight into what form of good the presentation will effect in Peregrine, restoration may include change. Hence Cope's emphasis.

Cope engages a tradition where dreams and play(s), particularly metadramatic improvisations, release participants and observers from maladies. He focuses on the tradition of freeplay represented by the leading actor in Letoy's troupe, Byplay or Extempore.41 Byplay's very name evokes both the theme of sexuality and the potential for change despite the governance of directors or social norms. Cope's idea of technique is especially appropriate to an Elizabethan theater Steven Mullaney has since emphasized in The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in Renaissance England. Elizabethan theaters were situated on physical and sociopolitical boundaries that dramatists and players could exploit as liberties, undefinable or variably defined margins freed for vicarious experiment.

Even many critics who are fixed on setting a more constrained situation and a stricter definition than Cope and Mullaney propose practically concede that the normative function theory of metadrama is not able to define, to delimit, The Antipodes. Davis cannot discover any stable satiric target; Kaufmann perceives “a loss of proper proportion”; and Haaker finds affinities with Rabelais's disorienting Gargantua and Pantagruel.42The Antipodes' characters themselves note the inset play's remarkable likenesses as well as contrasts to their society. When a gentleman in the inset tells his servingman how to wear his cloak so as to display its showy lining, Peregrine remarks that he has seen this fashion and so Letoy claims that the custom “was deriv'd from the Antipodes” (IV.ii.15); later, antipodal projectors appear favored and antipodal lawyers ultimately accept fees, like their London counterparts. Butler uses such parallels to show Brome's indictment of current politics. From passages such as Diana's naively shrewd estimate of anti-London, which implicates that in London too “Courtiers are the best beggars” and churchmen are usurers, Butler draws a convincing conclusion: “Anti-London is not always an inversion of normality but a revelation of what normality ordinarily hides; inversion—sickness—is part of ‘normal’ life,” at least under Charles I. His serendipitous Cokayne seems less a saturnalian safety valve than a “radical critique.”43 Butler further describes Brome's dedicatee, William Seymour, the Earl of Hertford, to whom Brome also dedicated his only extant manuscript. Seymour was reputedly a plain lord who was disaffected despite his royal posts—like Letoy. Finally Butler implies connections between The Antipodes and popular broadside and likely dramatic traditions of satiric emblems, which were aimed at practices associated with Charles's court.44 He could have extended his context to include antipodal and festival emblems in popular culture that differ from Donaldson's. Furthermore, he could have taken comfort in a revisionary anthropological hypothesis about liminal and antipodal revelry that counters Gluckman's and also in a revisionary thesis about festive folk drama that modifies Barber's.

In “World Upside Down: The Iconography of a European Broadsheet Type,” David Kunzle catalogs popular printed images of inversion from the early Renaissance through the eighteenth century.45 Just as many of these depictions invert predator and prey, human and animal, so Hughball prepares Peregrine for his dream voyage: “Our hawks become their game, our game their hawks. / And so the like in hunting: there the deer Pursue / the hounds … one sheep worr[ies] a dozen foxes … their parrots teach / Their mistresses to talk” (, 159-60). But the predominant broadside scenes, like The Antipodes, invert social and gender roles. In the broadsides maids and servants rule mistresses and masters, children teach their elders, and the old seek childish amusements; just so Hughball describes “here (heaven be prais'd) the magistrates / Govern the people; there the people rule / The magistrates. … As parents here, and masters / Command, there they obey the child and servant” (

Particularly pertinent to The Antipodes, women in these broadsides rule men and hunt combat, playing duelists and roarers, whereas men obey and prove physically passive, playing sempsters and man-scolds. Hughball's introduction to such role reversals is tellingly confused. He claims that feminine-masculine gender roles are natural, but his testimony demonstrates that they are social:

Doctor.                                         Nay,
lady, 'tis by nature.
Here generally men govern the women—
But there the women overrule the men.
Diana.                                        But
pray, sir, is't by nature or by art
That wives o'ersway their husbands there?
Doctor.                                                                                           By
Diana. Then art's
above nature, as they are under us.
Doctor. In brief, sir,
Degrees of people, both in sex and quality,
Deport themselves in life and conversation
Quite contrary to us.
Diana.                                         Why
then, the women
Do get the men with child, and put the poor fools
To grievous pain, I warrant you, in bearing.
Doctor. No, lady, no; that
were to make men women,
And women men. But there the maids do woo
The bachelors, and 'tis most probable,
The wives lie uppermost.


Despite Hughball's denial and Joyless's ineffectual interruptions to control his wife by invoking traditional prerogatives of authority (omitted here), Diana perceives more through topsyturvydom than the men concede, perhaps more than they conceive. Traditional popular inversions in revelry can offer satiric critique and illuminating vicarious trial of subversion just as well as they can provide temporary release, clarification, and reversion to repression.

More evidence and interpretation is supplied by Natalie Zemon Davis and other social historians. “The Reasons of Misrule,” on customs of festive carnival, masking, and misrule, primarily concerns French charivari, but “Women on Top” draws on extensive English materials.46 Davis concludes that fests, particularly those associated with adolescents, not only reinforce traditional norms, they also offer alternative mores and social structures. Comic and festive inversions of women's roles can particularly be seen to provide a mode of protest and to suggest political and social innovation: “Play with various images of woman-on-top, then, kept open an alternate way of conceiving family structure.” Historians of popular English culture have documented that revelry considered amusing diversion by authorities did at times erupt into rebellion, particularly on the traditional carnival days, Shrove Tuesday, Ascension Day, Mayday, Midsummer, and Saint Bartholomew's Day.47

Looking for support from social theorists, Davis considers revisions of Gluckman's hypothesis that holidays serve as instruments of repression. In “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period of Rites de Pasage,” Victor Turner taps some of the revolutionary potential latent in Arnold van Gennep's middle stage of ritual passage between separation and incorporation.48 And in Carnival and Theater; Plebeian Culture and the Structure of Authority in Renaissance England Michael D. Bristol combines this modified hypothesis with Mikhail Bakhtin's influential study of the radical popular backgrounds of festivity, Rabelais and His World. He thereby puts Elizabethan, primarily Shakespearean, drama in a frame very different from the conservative setting of folk carnival promulgated by E. K. Chambers and C. L. Barber. He concludes that traditions of disrespect, which represent spiritualized sociopolitical and moral norms as bodily, bawdily material ones, supply a plebeian counter to official consolidations of authority and tendencies to tyrannize; they provide a “second culture's” resistance to absolutism. In sum, instead of a normative theory of how festival functions in society, these scholars focus on how festival can produce unpredictable outcomes.

The aptness of considering The Antipodes as resistance and vicarious experiment with the unpredictable can be seen in various ways—from the play's language of physical bawdry to its antipodal extemporaneous forms. There is only one memorable scatological reference, when Barbara misunderstands Blaze doing “two mutes” (V.v.24-27). But Brome's customary sexual bawdry pervades the play from its opening, particularly in references to cuckoldry: Blaze plays nothing; Martha makes naively telling remarks, even unwittingly suggesting lesbianism (I.iv.55-58); the man-scold is forbidden the “use” of his chiefest “natural members … that man takes pleasure in, / The tongue!” (IV.v.19-22); gentlemen and schoolboys get mad about the license masters take with the “behinds” of their students, suggesting homosexuality (, vii); Joyless mistakes Barbara's euphemistic references to Letoy's “daughters” (V.ii, iii).

Characters also turn specifically to popular culture for relief and sanction. A threatened Joyless whistles the common “Fortune My Foe” (III.v.61); when Peregrine attacks Letoy's tiring house he follows the apprentices' traditional Shrove Tuesday demolition of whore houses (; Byplay and Letoy find precedents for extemporaneous play in Tarlton's and Kemp's jigs (II.ii.43ff). Charivari's treatment of apprehensions about May-December weddings (a normative practice in anti-London []) provides a setting for the cure of old Joyless's insane jealousy of his young wife. Topsyturvy festivity provides a new clime for the passage beyond the prolonged adolescence of Peregrine's mad exploration to escape parental controls and beyond Martha's married maidenhood and withheld motherhood. Topsyturvy festivity also provides the opportunity to restore Diana to her biological father after his years of paranoia over her legitimacy.

The Antipodes shows the necessity of a healing reform beyond the necessity of some release from tyranny. Moreover, it shows that necessity in three arenas: an oppressive social hierarchy that requires self-destructive climbing, an unjust political tyranny that compels sycophancy and leads to frustrated rebellion, and a family patriarchy that drives both the authoritarian father and the subject children and wife mad. But The Antipodes refuses to specify reforms, presumably because that would institute new oppressions. Instead it exemplifies a process of extemporaneous free play, of improvisation, of vicarious trial of potential reforms whereby tradition suggests and initiates change.

The first act and the beginning of the second act set the terms of The Antipodes. Blaze welcomes Joyless to London after the “time's calamity,” the eighteen-month plague of 1636-37, which oppressed the population and led to the prohibition of vicarious release at theaters. But now the restrictions, “Thanks to high Providence,” have been removed and a doctor approaches who can cure the “sorrow” “In the sad number of [Joyless's] family.” Hughball performs miraculous psychological cures in a desperately stricken society. Blaze's litany of recoveries and chant of variations on “I name no man; but this / Was pretty well, you'll say” outlines major social and political plagues that parallel major family and personal ills. The doctor has cured a bankrupt country gentleman so that he plays the profligate gallant with the best. He has cured confused magistrates so that they “can now distinguish / And know both when and how to take of both” bribes and fees so as to increase their security and wealth (I.i.68-70). He has cured a woman mad from studying how to love her husband till “now she lies as lovingly on a flockbed / With her own knight as she had done on down / With many others” (I.i.61-63). The impressive result in terms of numbers, desperate need, and efficacy is his cure of “horn-mad” husbands, authoritarian guardians of their families, “by the dozens.” Blaze even lets slip that he credits Hughball with his own recovery. Hughball depends for his cures on a popular tradition: a festive performance that “begets both wonder and delight / In his observers, while the stupid patient / Finds health at unawares” (I.i.26-28). Everything indicates that the time that plagued has come to foster health and that progress in Hughball's cure of the Joylesses would promise a mode of curing authorities who abuse a stricken society.

Joyless's authoritarianism suppresses play. He has deprived his son of travel; so Peregrine has been mad the five years since he turned twenty:

                                                                                                    His mother and
Myself oppos'd him still in all and, strongly
Against his will, still held him in and won
Him into marriage, hoping that would call
In his extravagant thoughts; but all prevail'd not,
Nor stay'd him, though at home, from traveling
So far beyond himself that now, too late,
I wish he had gone abroad to meet his fate.


The density of restrictive signifiers, “oppos'd,” the repeated “still,” “hold,” “would call in,” “stay'd,” forbidding the son's “will” to wander in “extravagant” “traveling,” parodies paternal repression. Thus confined, the son named for a roving hawk can escape only through madness. His madness includes sexual abstinence, which has left his deprived wife Martha “full of passion.” Joyless's fear of cuckoldry threatens his new wife's sanity and his own. From her first appearance he keeps threatening to banish her to isolation and imprisonment:

And let no looser words, or wand'ring look,
Bewray an intimation of the slight
Regard you bear your husband, lest I send you
Upon a further pilgrimage than [Hughball]
Feigns to convey my son.


Masculine husbandry, oppression of the wife, threatens the same madness that paternalism has visited upon the son. Joyless indeed.

The Joylesses are not an isolated case. Blaze is often disturbed and Barbara can be stung by bawdry, which is innocently introduced by Martha. To Barbara's guilt-stricken conscience Martha's incredulity about husbands procreating hints at a slur about adultery. So when this “poor piece of innocence three years married” wonders “what a man does in child-getting” her request unwittingly accuses: “Pray take me for a night or two, or take / My husband and instruct him but one night. / Our country folks will say you London wives / Do not lie every night with your own husbands” (I.iv.67-70). Brome's bawdry is most telling among The Antipodes' women. Martha, who like Rebecca in The Sparagus Garden is preoccupied with having a baby, makes unwitting bawdry. But Diana, also like Rebecca, employs bawdry to purge her husband's jealousy; following Hughball's prescription, she tries to “spur [Joyless's] jealousy off o'the legs” (II.i.38). And Barbara uses bawdry to express revelry and to maintain her sexual independence.

Their bawdry confirms the central preoccupation of The Antipodes. Barbara states the problem succinctly in response to Martha's funnily pathetic query about whether Barbara really has two children or her husband lied: “I am sure / I groan'd for mine and bore 'em, when at best / He but believes he got 'em” (I.iv.26-28). The play's central issue is precisely the male's anguish and insecure tyranny, which rise from his pride in the power of patrilineage despite the fact that he can possess only uncertain faith that he perpetuates and governs his own family's traditionally continuous identity. This predicament Hughball undertakes to cure through participatory role playing among Letoy's troupe: “[These] Shall all be your guests tonight, and not alone / Spectators, but (as we will carry it) actors / To fill your comic scenes with double mirth” (II.i.42-44). Just earlier the healer assured Letoy of Diana's entry wearing Letoy's ring, a taunting emblem of the men's predicament in its sexual connotations of foreplay and consummation, marriage and free play. When Letoy sent it to Diana by Blaze it disturbed Blaze's memories: “Tell [Hughball] it wants a finger? My small wit / Already finds what finger it must fit” ( Ironically, perhaps inevitably, although Letoy's ring harasses Joyless throughout the play and even though Letoy serves as an agent for the cure, Letoy also proves to have been the sickest patriarch.

His first appearance is marked by anxiety over the issues of genus. For he recognizes in his tribe or family, his gens, the root or origin that identifies stock or generations and their continuity in begetting or generating by genitalia. As he enters he is questioning Blaze, the emblazoner of his coat of arms:

Letoy. Why, broughtst thou
not mine arms and
Home with thee, Blaze, mine honest herald's painter?
Blaze. I have not yet, my lord,
but all's in readiness
According to the herald's full directions.
Letoy. But has he gone to the root;
has he deriv'd me
Ex origine, ab antiquo?


Letoy's fixation on genus becomes increasingly obvious when he cites family precedents and insists on untrammeled prerogatives as he “toys” with Joyless's fear of cuckoldry. Near the end, after he has fulfilled literary tradition by testing Diana's virtue, he reveals that at one time his obsession with his family's past plus his concern for his current ego and his family's future purity intensified into mania. Out of a groundless suspicion of cuckoldry he madly denied his daughter, who was rightly christened Diana:

Now shall you know what mov'd me, sir, I was
A thing beyond a madman, like yourself
Jealous; and had that strong distrust, and fancied
Such proofs unto myself against my wife
That I conceiv'd the child was not mine own,
And scorn'd to father it; yet I gave to breed her
And marry her as the daughter of this gentleman
(Two thousand pound I guess you had with her);
But since your match, my wife upon her death bed
So clear'd herself of all my foul suspicions
(Blest be her memory) that I then resolv'd
By some quaint way (for I am still Letoy)
To see and try her throughly; and so much
To make her mine, as I should find her worthy.
And now thou art my daughter and mine heir,
Provided still (for I am still Letoy)
You honorably love her, and defy
The cuckold-making fiend, foul jealousy.


Letoy's success in facing his angst over genus is limited and retrospective. Thus his mixed motives in trying to cure Joyless's malady.

Joyless's terrified oppression of himself and his family is repeatedly revealed to be destructive rather than generative. The disastrous outcome for both his wife and his son is perhaps most graphic when Diana, trying to cure her husband by participating in the play for his son's benefit, identifies the symptoms of Joyless's madness:

Joyless. Diana, yet be wise;
bear not the name
Of sober chastity to play the beast in.
Diana. Think not yourself, nor
make yourself a beast
Before you are one; and when you appear so,
Then thank yourself. Your Jealousy durst not trust me.
Joyless. I now could wish my son
had been as far
In the Antipodes as he thinks himself,
Ere I had run this hazard.
Diana. Why should you wish so?
Had you rather lose
Your son than please your wife? You show your love both ways.


Joyless's jealous possessiveness and paranoid ego do worse than bar love; they threaten to end his family. His oppressiveness seems to prohibit enjoyment with his new wife, thereby cutting off more progeny; at the same time it continues to render his heir impotent to continue the line. Hughball's and Letoy's cure of horn madness, the phobia of cuckoldry, compels the patient to accept the threat.

Apparently the physician and the layman practice the radical method of confirming the jealous husband's worst fears. Blaze and Barbara, Hughball and Letoy hint at the cure. Barbara describes it when she loquaciously agrees with Letoy's vaunt of having “wrought” more than twenty cures: “You [Letoy] were the means to make me an honest woman, / Or (at the least) [Blaze] a contented man. … I know what was done first, if my lord took / That course with you as me. … Content! So was my husband when he knew / The worst he could by his wife” (V.viii.1-19). Barbara continues, despite Letoy's attempts to silence her, to implicate Letoy's biological daughter since “old whoremasters … call their wenches daughters.” Letoy's practice seems antipodal to his preoccupations with genus, except for two psychological comforts prevalent in western societies: misery loves company and, perversely, masculine pride can issue from cuckolding others as well as from remaining unhorned. Letoy's understanding plumbs deeper than Joyless's interest in a buff woman who is capable of dominating any old husband (III.iv).

The traditions of his house have left Letoy anguishing over a dilemma. Despite his fear of failing to maintain the purity of his venerated line, his very family heritage has made him acutely aware that pride in the past and the present can stifle continuity. Since the Letoys have led in sponsoring innovation, he is acutely aware of his responsibility to promote the change that is necessary to maintaining generation. He tells Blaze that “My ancestors and I have been beginners / Of all new fashions in the court of England / From before Primo Ricardi Secundi / Until this day” (I.v.15-18). Letoy is the antipodal lord of his society. Unlike other lords he dresses like a peddler while he supports a company of actors who dress like lords. Whereas other lords run into debt with shows too often ghost written by impoverished poets, he “write[s] all [his] plays [him]self” (I.v.76). And he underwrites, produces, and directs a magnificent repertoire of pleasurable, healthful stage plays. But if in his post of impresario he exercises control, in living up to his name of Letoy he recognizes the importance of improvisation, of innovation. Thus he creates a liberty in which people can act out vicarious roles; he thereby frees them to experiment with social change without facing horrendously damaging consequences.

When Hughball predicts acclaim for the social physician and the “lord of fancy” who restore the healthful mirth of their participating audience, Letoy claims that his “antiquity” dates from “Ages before the fancies were begot, / And shall beget still new to the world's end” (II.i.7-9). He is declaring his legacy of control; but he is also using sexual metaphors to suggest possibilities beyond that control. While he aims to achieve specific goals and maintains strict directorship in some ways, he also acknowledges the necessity of promoting free play with its unpredictable potential. Estimating that his actors are “all perfect / But one,” Letoy admits that Byplay's “shifts extempore, / (Knowing the purpose what he is to speak to) … moves mirth in me 'bove all the rest” (II.i.15-19). And Hughball realizes that Byplay's improvisations will prove invaluable as the spectators become interlocutors. Still, free play incurs risks few will venture. Exhorting his troupe Letoy corrects the absurdly formal speeches and mannered posturings that violate the decorum required by his style of directing. Then he berates Byplay for overgoing directorial attempts to overcontrol:

But you, sir, are incorrigible, and
Take license to yourself to add unto
Your parts your own free fancy, and sometimes
To alter or diminish what the writer
With care and skill compos'd; and when you are
To speak to your coactors in the scene,
You hold interlocutions with the audients—
Byplay. That is a way, my lord,
has bin allow'd
On elder stages to move mirth and laughter.
Letoy. Yes, in the days of Tarlton
and Kemp,
Before the stage was purg'd from barbarism.
Tonight I'll give thee leave to try thy wit.


Three sanctions in this release to curative extemporaneous play assuage Letoy's fear of surrendering some direction to experimentation. First, the circumstances virtually require it; whoever gives up control must recognize dire need. Second, the release is for a specific temporary occasion; whoever gives up control tries to limit the period of vicarious trial. Third, tradition itself provides a precedent for trying change by improvising and sets rules for opening opportunities to salutary reform. All three imply carnival. All are potentially radical in both senses of maintaining a society's roots and of changing a society at root. Letoy expresses a principle of The Antipodes and a principle Brome held to throughout his playwriting career.

The inset play increasingly involves the spectators, who are drawn in by Byplay's dominating, role-shifting performance until, with only general direction by Letoy, it dissolves into The Antipodes. “Hoyday! The rest will all be lost,” Letoy tells Joyless, turning to instruct Byplay to entice Peregrine to his state marriage with Martha. “We now / Give over the play, and do all by extempore / For your son's good, to sooth him into's wits” (IV.x.116-18). Perhaps recognition of good physic as well as wise counsel (after Brome's fantasy) causes anti-Londoners to richly reward their poets, those antipodal Puritans. Extempore playing proves efficacious in healing and reforming—not as a program, but as a process. The inset play's progress, which encourages vicarious social, political, and finally personal experimentation, takes up the center of The Antipodes.

The Antipodes' inset play, though it provokes interaction with everyone, is primarily aimed at relieving Peregrine's mad Mandevillian escape from Joyless's paternal oppressions. In doing so through the commonplace analogy, it extends patriarchy from the absolutism of the family through the arbitrary hierarchy of society to the capricious tyranny of the state. There can be little question of the focus on law in the inset play. Each section of the inset, which begins with Quailpipe's prologue (II.v) and concludes with the marriage masque for Peregrine and Martha, the king of the Antipodes by conquest and its queen by inheritance (IV.xi), opens with a legal concern. The first begins with a gentleman chasing two sergeants who refuse his plea to be arrested and arraigned (; after a brief intermission the second begins with an unlikely conference between an impoverished lawyer and his rich client, a poet (III.ii); after Peregrine's entry into the play by attacking the performers' tiring house and declaring himself king, the third section begins with an absurd court hearing presided over by Byplay (III.vii); finally, when the Joyless entourage retire still further from the play, Peregrine gathers intelligence so he can judge and correct enormities in his kingdom (IV.i). The opening of each section manifests temporary escape from arbitrary authority. More, the last section indicates the necessity of change in the sociopolitical order, following the popular Renaissance stage tradition of the investigative disguised prince, lynx-eyed Haroun-al-Raschid, Jonson's imitative Justice Overdo, and his descendant, Brome's Cockbrain. Most, the central break is supplied by Peregrine storming the tiring house, taking “strict survey” of the actors' properties, and laying claim to dominion over anti-London, in imitation of the London apprentices' Shrovetide revelry.

Other factors contribute to an atmosphere of carnival exploration of family, social, and political reform through the play set inside The Antipodes. In one series of releases the inset's sections progressively focus first on an inverted family and educational system, next on an inverted social hierarchy, then on a perverted judiciary's enforcement of an arbitrary social structure, and climactically on Peregrine's assumption of authority to “reduce” Antipodean mores to English manners. But as Peregrine discovers what are for him abnormalities, he senses how arbitrary manners and mores can be. So he begins his demand for his new subjects' “submission” and “conformity” with mercy. In another pattern of releases, through the insertions Byplay doubles roles, increasing his command of the stage by taking the parts of ever more arbitrary, capricious, and zany authorities. In a final release the inset play's first two sections, which proceed to Peregrine's takeover, lead to the inescapable conclusion that the arbitrary absurdity of anti-London in many ways resembles that of London. And the inset's concluding two sections suggest, by a review of inverted power relationships through the extended family, the society, and the magistracy, that many current inequities need redress.

The opening section of the inset presents a rather straightforward inversion of domestic relations. Habits, manners, even grammar illustrate how servants command mistresses, who rule their husbands; the servants get increasing bonuses, the wives make jointures, the husbands bring dowries. But since in the Antipodes the old normally marry the young, some relations seem to represent London's practices that violate its professions. Gentlemen there are required by their wives to increase family estates by serving as gigolos who satisfy the wives of aged merchants and beget their children; and maids who bear families for aged ladies take precedence over their mistresses. The role of rake there is compelled on unwilling gentry, just as the role of bait is popularly forced on unwilling wives by greedy London merchants. In this odd manner, there patrilineage is reinforced by economics and fiat. What seems askew is not the mores but the moral approval of the Antipodeans. A similar pattern appears in youth ruling age and young women serving as tutors, particularly to senile men. Indeed, Peregrine urges the actors to agree that wisdom comes primarily from the beardless, not the greybeards.

The second section of the inset initially features an “honest lawyer, and though poor, no marvel,” who astoundingly counsels mediation rather than litigation to a “spruce young captain” who seeks escape from the feathermaker's duns to not pay his account and needs relief from his coachman's beatings. This section increasingly emphasizes the closeness of apparent oddities in anti-London to abuses in current England. A buff woman, who wins a decree permitting her duel, forces the lawyer to accept a fee rather than a thrashing. “He will take money yet / Rather than blows; and so far he agrees / With our rich lawyers, that sometimes give blows, / And shrewd ones, for their money,” Diana observes (III.v.27-30). The entry of a beggar trailed by a gallant who is begging from him suggests a remarkable set of likenesses. Not only do beggars and courtiers prove interchangeable in their insatiable search for funds but “politic young student[s]” prime the pump for larger allowances with gifts to their parents and grandparents. Direct commerce appears through the anti-charity of anti-London lawyers who collect beggars' fees to pay off London lawyers who curse the burden of poverty cases. Direct correspondence is discovered in the universal hypocrisy of usury, particularly among “some that pass for grave and pious churchmen” (III.v.92).

A change of focus from family to state commences with the third section of The Antipodes' inset, when the conqueror, Peregrine, admires the adjudication of a “point of justice” by an arbitrary, capricious, and confiscatory judge, Byplay. The greedy male magistrate's domineering enforcement of arbitrary morals parallels London's mores rather than its professed ideals. This “jeering judge” interrupts with sarcastic remarks, refuses to listen to charges or lawyers, and hears the defendant before the plaintiff. Mainly he bullies the citizen into a sycophantic obeisance that recalls Saleware's subservience (“An't please you, sir, my lord, an't like your honor”) under the threat of the swordbearer whose place “is to show correction” (III.ix.12). The citizen has brought a breach of promise suit on behalf of his wife against a gentleman who was given clothing to service her. He presents two arguments for his demand that the gentleman “satisfy” his wife: as his commander she makes him a whole tradesman; and gentlemen need to sire children (particularly sons) of citizens who will become the new gentry inheriting the estates their biological fathers lost to citizens. This custom rings familiar tunes satirizing London. But the gentleman antipodally creates discord by accepting imprisonment for violating anti-London's profession and London's practice of the double standard. He chooses to remain faithful, not “stand out with all men's wives / Except mine own” (III.ix.45-46). As a citizen the judge refuses to allow so dangerous a breach of “city custom, / By gentlemen's neglect of tradesmen's wives” and as a gentleman and representative of a rapacious state he abhors letting wealth get away. So he determines to seize the wares and satisfy the wife himself: “I'll do't, and set all straight and right: / Justice is blind, but judges have their sight” (III.ix.75-76). “And feeling, too, in the Antipodes.” And in England.

In the final section of the inset, Peregrine, following Hughball's advice, dons a disguise so as to “perceive / What to approve, and what correct” (IV.i.4-5). Resolving to “cherish, or severely punish,” he investigates family, social, and state hierarchies, values, and mores. As he discovers these to be wrongheadedly arbitrary and capriciously greedy, he decides to use authoritarian compulsion to right them, that is, to reduce them to London's ideals. But since many reflect London's normative practices or invert them so that suppressors and suppressed merely exchange roles, what gets revealed is the necessity not of revolution, a 180-degree spin, but of reformation. It would begin with the recognition of the irrational basis for many common practices and with the forgiveness of fallible humans. For arbitrary repression in The Antipodes requires the release of merciful amnesty. Just so, Peregrine gets released from his father, Joyless's family gets released from a destructive, jealous paternalism, and London gets released from a sociopolitical plague. Thus what gets prescribed is a process.

The first two scenes recall antipodal family and gender hierarchies that suggest parallels in London. A drunken old woman plays hooky from her lessons to enjoy bearbaiting; a gentleman indulging in ostentatious consumption fears to offend his servingman; then a lusty maid insultingly tries to pick him up. As this scene inverts the anticipated roles of sexual harassment, it modulates into a set of scenes showing the state's intervention in family and social habits. When a constable enters, the aggressor accuses the gentleman and his servingman of being street-walkers assaulting her virginity. She thereby initiates a paradigm of the problems produced by the authoritarian enforcement of customs that are all too often as inequitable as they are arbitrary. For the constable refuses to hear the gentleman's protests because women by virtue of their antipodal gender role perforce take precedence; he compounds the problem by accepting her word because of her superior social status. He further proclaims that one witness is more credible than two (though he is wary of self-interest) and that the law should always support the weaker side (despite the contradiction of his previous arguments). When he orders the two men off to prison, Peregrine is dismayed: “Here's much to be reformed” (IV.iii.25). Thus the scene's first point, the arbitrary and unjust nature of customs and their authoritarian enforcement, comes by way of the shock of recognition during role inversions. The scene's second point follows when Peregrine orders the gentleman freed and the maid jailed. At Hughball's prompting the new, just monarch grants clemency and release because “They are an ignorant nation, / And have my pity mingled with correction” (IV.iii.32-33) and because this may be her first offence. Then he advises her to follow his example when her truant grandmother returns from bearbaiting. Peregrine provides no solution to the shocking problem, only an understanding, forgiving process for its resolution: “Go and transgress no more” (IV.iii.38).

The next crucial scene reaffirms both lessons as the Man-scold indicts the law and his punishment of ducking: “The law's a river, is't? Yes, 'tis a river, / Through which great men, and cunning, wade, or swim; / But mean and ignorant must drown in't” (IV.v.7-9). Again, Peregrine is appalled by the reversal of gender roles wherein a man is denied speech or a female brandishes a sword while a male plies a needle: they are “so contrary / In all that we hold proper to each sex,” “'Twill ask long time and study to reduce / Their manners to our government” (IV.v.31-32, 34-35). The scene implies recognition, again through gender role inversion, of the unfairness of the sentence and the arbitrariness of what is proper. It also implies recognition that “reducing” the mores of others, through the claim of leading them back to proper mores, involves compulsion. And it implies that vicarious topsyturvy role playing can create an understanding that offers the potential for valuable reform, though making changes in an enforcing social hierarchy will be much harder to effect than making changes in these “low” domestic concerns, which are “easy to be qualified” (IV.v.36).

The next scenes, which present a parodic inversion of courtiers who talk and roughhouse like lowlifes with carriers who compliment like sophisticates, provide transit through questions of social mobility to concerns of state. The courtiers prove “rude silken clowns” who wrangle over petty gambling, sleazy clothing, and cheap food in sexual bawdry punctuated by small oaths; their flytings lead to slapstick buffetings; their interests are told by broadside ballads. But the transporters emit high-flown compliments, offers of mutual aid, and proposals for a fine lunch graced by conversation about correspondence from the Continent, new ideas at the universities, and politics at court. Since carriers are intellectual but courtiers illiterate in anti-London, Peregrine decrees that “Before I reign / A month among them, they shall change their notes, / Or I'll ordain a course to change their coats. / I shall have much to do in reformation” (IV.ix.35-39). He recognizes the need for meritorious achievement; holders of high status should at least be educated. Such reforms of the social hierarchy have great implications for the state.

As Peregrine improves at identifying madness, Hughball signals that the inset is proceeding “Beyond the line.” He introduces Byplay ironically, as “A statesman, studious for the commonwealth, / Solicited by projectors of the country” (IV.ix.56-58). Byplay's entry, amid clamoring projectors grasping bundles of proposals, initiates the inset's presentation of correspondences. It also introduces Brome's customary concern over the waste that results from arbitrary tyranny and its concomitant sycophantic scrambling for status, wealth, and power. Having approved a number of foolish projects, the “statesman” particularly commends increasing wool “By flaying of live horses and new covering them / With sheepskins” (IV.x.16-17). Descending from absurdity to vice, this favorite supports aid for a broke young gambler, a collection for a broken old bawd, and relief for thieves, burglars, conmen, and pimps; meanwhile he advocates the punishment of their victims for permitting damage to the “weal public”—all these apparently caricatures of current state abuses. At each discovery Peregrine becomes more indignant, until he breaks in on plans to take up a collection for a palsied “captain of the cutpurses”: “I'll hang ye all.” But Byplay leads a chorus who implore mercy, “Let not our ignorance suffer in your wrath / Before we understand your highness' laws; / We went by custom, and the warrant which / We had in your late predecessor's reign,” and pledge obedience (IV.x.86-95). Again Peregrine responds with forgiveness: “My mercy / Meets your submission. See you merit it / In your conformity” (IV.x.96-98).

Peregrine is virtually cured, wanting an easy return to London via the marriage masque. So Letoy explains to Joyless how Hughball has directed Peregrine's progress from madness to folly to sanity. Yet all is not done. The last act of the play produces a different cure through still more role playing. Diana, who has associated curing with role playing all along, wonders if Hughball's prescription for Joyless's son might help Joyless:

But 'tis the real knowledge of the woman
(Carnal, I think you mean) that carries it.
Nay, right or wrong, I could even wish
If he were not my husband's son, the doctor
Had made myself his recipe, to be the means
Of such a cure.
Perhaps that course might cure your [Joyless's]
          madness, too,
Of jealousy, and set all right on all sides.


Diana turns the play back to the issue that haunts Blaze, Joyless, and Letoy, the issue that haunts Brome's plays, the issue of issue and patriarchal ego, the issue of cuckoldry.

Throughout the insets Diana and Joyless, as well as Peregrine (and occasionally Martha) have been responding to Hughball, the troupe, and Letoy, to the playing, role playing, and free play which can lead to vicarious experiment and cure. Diana and Letoy have also concentrated on curing Joyless's insanely patriarchal jealousy. Ever after Diana accepted Letoy's ring, their repeated show and talk of it have prodded her old husband's dread of having “fallen through the doctor's fingers / Into the lord's hands” (II.iii.58-59). Letoy's psychosocial pressure has barely countered Joyless's attempts to banish his wife from her first play, since Joyless has feared Diana's collaboration with Byplay, both the actor and the action, during Letoy's frequent intermezzos of feasting and courting. “Kissing indeed is prologue to a play, / Compos'd by th' devil, and acted by the Children / Of his Black Revels,” he anguishes (II.v.30-32). He is horrified by Diana's empathy for the antipodean custom of contracting with young gentry to impregnate the wives of impotent oldsters. Such experiments in thought, much more Diana's pretense of putting in for a “share amongst” actors who “may want one to act the whore” (III.v.51,54), severely threaten old Joyless. So for his cure Diana risks experimenting with the condition of her own name: “Your jealousy durst not trust me / Behind you in the country, and since I'm here, / I'll see and know and follow th' fashion; if / It be to cuckold you, I cannot help it” ( She stresses both the power of custom and the potency of experiment. Here reform and cure are, at the least, analogous. Both threaten Joyless as the antipodal play within the play dissolves into more role playing and scene setting in the final act of The Antipodes.

After the inset Joyless finds that he has been locked up for the night and that his host and his wife are missing. Possessed by mad folly he puts The Antipodes' crucial problem poignantly: “Why, rather, if [Letoy] did intend my shame / And [Diana's] dishonor, did he not betray me / From her out of his house, to travel in / The bare suspicion of their filthiness?” (V.i.10-14). But even if a husband does not face such an incident and even if his disease is in remission, his dread of cuckoldry remains incurable. Joyless will always face the dilemma that Hughball and Letoy cannot do away with but can try to resolve by compelling a husband onto one of its two painful horns. The perfect resolution can be achieved by their typical cure—let a husband, like Blaze, know that the worst has transpired. More psychologically amenable, but less sure, is to get a husband to trust that his wife is in deed a Diana. Impelling a husband onto this horn is much harder. Since suspicions are rife and the proof of innocence is impossible, credence in this case is ever precarious. To be reasonably sound, then, a husband (or a wife) can either forgive or he (she) can trust the spouse. Letoy and Diana propose the latter cure for Joyless.

The treatment commences with letting Joyless believe the worst and concludes with disabusing him. Charivaresque comedy opens the last act of The Antipodes, when Joyless, feeling the horns of his dilemma and his cuckoldry, appears in anguish. Barbara regales Joyless with news of the bedding of Peregrine and Martha, unaware that he suffers the news with reference to Letoy and Diana. Then a taunting and comforting Byplay, having allowed Joyless to purge considerable passion, enters to save Barbara or Joyless or both from the hornmad husband's knife and to usher him to another staging: Letoy's theater-proven testing of Diana. Joyless witnesses their parodic debate. In aphorisms phrased as capping couplets the faithful Diana resists the worldly wise Letoy's successive offers of riches instead of comfort, sensual satisfaction for aged impotence, and vengeance for jealous possessiveness. After the witness exalts his wife's “invincible” fidelity, he realizes that Letoy had Byplay bring him to this testing scene. He might have seen only an act:

                                                                                Stay, stay, stay, stay;
Why may not this be then a counterfeit action,
Or a false mist to blind me with more error?
The ill I fear'd may have
been done before,
And all this but deceit to daub it o'er.


His observation is exact. Letoy's confessional revelation to keep Joyless from “falling back again” (that he is testing his own daughter out of toying with his own madness) does not in itself assure. Joyless's ultimate tolerance and belief must come from internal reform. For his own health he must accept play, improvisation beyond his control.

In the end Letoy tries to reassert his directorship and paternalism by confessing his part in the role playing and scene setting. He has tested his daughter Diana. He has arranged for her adoption by Truelock. He calls in the Antimasque of Discord and the Masque of Harmony. But, if he wants to succeed, Letoy too has to surrender some control to extemporaneous play. Verification of whether his and Hughball's “cure be perfect yet or no” is granted only by society's applause for whatever reforms issue from improvisation. Such vicarious social experiment may resemble satire's correction in order to restore norms, and it can function to allow temporary release in order to effectively reinstitute received mores. But it can also lead through traditional ways to salutary changes in the family, the society, and the state. The faith and forgiveness that underlie improvisation, carnival, and May-December charivari, all of which promote thinking about the unthinkable and trying the untryable, can encourage reforming the recalcitrant, realizing the unrealizable.


  1. Kaufmann's valuable Richard Brome, Caroline Playwright, despite placing Brome in what now seems an obsolescent view of his times, incisively interprets his works; particularly observe 1-16. McLuskie, in The Revels History of Drama in English, ed. Potter, 237-48.

  2. Sedge, “Social and Ethical Concerns,” 330. I rely on Catherine Shaw's review of relevant data about Brome's life (Richard Brome, 17-33) and use her comprehensive treatment of his works. Brome plays a major part in Butler's Theatre and Crisis.

  3. Shaw, Richard Brome, 18, 149 n.5.

  4. For both lords see Butler, Theatre and Crisis, 193-98. For more about Newcastle see my account of Shirley's audience, above.

  5. See Richard H. Perkinson, “Topographical Comedy in the Seventeenth Century,” Theodore Miles, “Place-Realism in a Group of Caroline Plays,” and Shaw, Richard Brome, 87.

  6. See Shaw, Richard Brome, 77-78 and 70, Kaufmann, Richard Brome, 151-68, and John Freehafer, “Brome, Suckling, and Davenant's Theater Project of 1639.”

  7. Burke, “Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century London,” in Barry Reay, ed., Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century England, 48.

  8. Kaufmann, Richard Brome, 168-74.

  9. For A Jovial Crew I cite and quote the edition by Ann Haaker.

  10. Butler, Theatre and Crisis, 274.

  11. Hill, World Turned Upside Down, 32-45, especially 39.

  12. Because of its fullness and availability, the edition I cite for the act.scene/page of all Brome's works apart from The Antipodes and A Jovial Crew is John Pearson's inadequate The Dramatic Works of Richard Brome. I correct the text from original editions.

  13. For examples see Barry Reay's “Introduction” and Bernard Capp's “Popular Literature” in Reay, Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century England, 21, 209-11.

  14. Besides Kaufmann, Richard Brome, 151-68, and Freehafer, “Brome, Suckling,” see Sedge, “Social and Ethical Concerns,” 252-54, Shaw, Richard Brome, 68-74, and Tricomi's caveats in Anticourt Drama, 182-84.

  15. See Bentley's The Jacobean and Caroline Stage 1: 332-34, along with the biographical accounts already cited. For Butler, see Theatre and Crisis, 220-29.

  16. Kaufmann, Richard Brome, 109-30. For a catalog of the attributes that were commonly ridiculed see the gleanings of George F. Sensabaugh in “Love Ethics in Platonic Court Drama 1625-1642.”

  17. Kaufmann's useful discussion of Brome's stage usurers (Richard Brome, 131-50) omits the tradition of Renaissance stage usurers and fails to acknowledge that Brome sometimes offers reform as well as condemnation to loan sharks.

  18. See ibid., 67-87, Shaw, Richard Brome, especially 79, and Butler, Theatre and Crisis, 155-57.

  19. See Kaufmann, Richard Brome, 68-74.

  20. For the tone of these see Haaker's bibliographical essay in Logan and Smith, The Later Jacobean and Caroline Dramatists, 185, and Shaw's summation in Richard Brome, 136-37. For responses see Shaw's individual readings.

  21. See Shaw, Richard Brome, 58-59 and 81.

  22. See Shaw (ibid., 85), who quotes with approval Sedge, “Social and Ethical Concerns,” 171.

  23. The quotation (Shaw, Richard Brome, 174) caps a discussion beginning at 171; Kaufmann's agreement is suggested on 56; Shaw sums up uneasily, 87-92; she also provides a helpful survey of previous critics.

  24. Ibid., 88.

  25. My view of Brome's appropriative parody focuses more on its employment to attack social problems and it deals less with literary questions than do Robert N. Watson's helpful ideas about Jonson's appropriative imitation. See his Ben Jonson's Parodic Strategy: Literary Imperialism in the Comedies.

  26. Kaufmann's discussion, which has dominated criticism, provides an important example of the problem (Richard Brome, 36-46). His moral assumptions about Brome, 37-38, seem to lead to foregone conclusions about artistic demerits when Brome's presentation does not seem as conservative as Kaufmann postulated.

  27. For suggestive criticism on his debts see ibid., 36; for specific parallels see Joe Lee Davis's The Sons of Ben: Jonsonian Comedy in Caroline England, 148-50, 152-56, 188-90.

  28. See particularly Shaw's discussions on 35-37, 57-58, and 68-69 of Richard Brome.

  29. See the accounts in Kaufmann, Richard Brome, 151-68, and Freehafer, “Brome, Suckling.”

  30. Kaufmann, Richard Brome, 109-30. Although Kaufmann's interpretation seems obvious now, the fact that for three centuries the play was apparently accepted as a cheap imitation of the voguish pattern of courtly tragicomedy indicates how hyperbolic this subgenre became.

  31. On Brome's use of songs generally see R.W. Ingram's “The Musical Art of Richard Brome's Comedies.”

  32. See Cope's argument in The Theater and the Dream, note 4, 297-98.

  33. The quotation appears on 135 of ibid.; the discussion extends to 169.

  34. Butler, Theatre and Crisis, 224-27, sums up his analysis of this play's implications when seen through the masque.

  35. Shaw, Richard Brome, 139-43. As I do in my general characterization of the style of each Caroline professional playwright, I defer detailed commentary until the exemplary play, The Antipodes.

  36. See Charles Read Baskervill's The Elizabethan Jig and Related Song Drama, 198, 319.

  37. For The Antipodes I cite and quote the edition by Ann Haaker.

  38. See Donaldson on The Antipodes and its tropes in The World Upside Down, 78-98, and Butler on estates, Theatre and Crisis, 210-14.

  39. Davis, “Richard Brome's Neglected Contribution,” expanded in The Sons of Ben, 65-80; the quotation appears on 75.

  40. For Donaldson on The Antipodes and on Gluckman, see World Upside Down, particularly 96-97, 14-16. For Barber's seminal formulation see Shakespeare's Festive Comedy.

  41. Cope, Theater and the Dream, 147-59.

  42. Davis, Sons of Ben, 71-74; Kaufmann, Richard Brome, 61; and Haaker, “Introduction,” The Antipodes, xiii.

  43. The quotations, from Theatre and Crisis, 214 and 220, virtually frame Butler's discussion.

  44. For the first, see ibid., 194, 207, 219; for the second, 228-33ff.

  45. In The Reversible World: Symbolic Inversion in Art and Society, ed. Barbara A. Babcock, 39-94, particularly 41-52. The tradition of adynata issuing from Virgilian tradition, popular sources, or both, may overlap. See Ernst Robert Curtius's European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, 94-98.

  46. Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France, 97-123, 124-51; my subsequent quotation appears on 143.

  47. See Reay and Burke in Reay's Popular Culture, 21 and 34-39.

  48. Turner, The Forest of Symbols, 93-111, and van Gennep, The Rites of Passage. For a helpful account and bibliography of this revision by Turner and others see Babcock's “Introduction” to Reversible World, 13-36.

Work Cited

Babcock, Barbara A., The Reversible World: Symbolic Inversion in Art and Society. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1978.

Barber, C.L. Shakespeare's Festive Comedy. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1959.

Baskervill, Charles Read. The Elizabethan Jig and Related Song Drama. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1929.

Bentley, Gerald Eades. The Jacobean and Caroline Stage. 7 vols. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1941-68.

Brome, Richard. The Antipodes. Ed. Ann Haaker. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1966.

———. The Dramatic Works of Richard Brome. Ed. John Pearson. 3 vols. London: 1873. New York: AMS Press, 1966.

———. A Jovial Crew. Ed. Ann Haaker. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press: 1968.

Butler, Martin. Theatre and Crisis, 1632-1642. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984. Candido, Joseph. “The ‘Strange Truth’ of Perkin Warbeck.Philological Quarterly 59 (1980): 300-316.

Cope, Jackson I. The Theater and the Dream: From Metaphor to Form in Renaissance Drama. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1973.

Curtius, Ernst Robert. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Trans. Willard R. Trask. New York: Pantheon, 1953.

Davis, Joe Lee. “Richard Brome's Neglected Contribution to Comic Theory.” Studies in Philology 40 (1943): 520–28.

———. The Sons of Ben: Jonsonian Comedy in Caroline England. Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1967.

Davis, Natalie Zemon. Society and Culture in Early Modern France. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1975.

Donaldson, Ian. The World Upside Down. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970.

Freehafer, John. “Brome, Suckling, and Davenant's Theater Project of 1639.” Texas Studies in Language and Literature 10 (1968): 367-83.

Hill, Christopher. The World Turned Upside Down. Middlesex: Penguin, 1972.

Ingram, R.W. “The Musical Art of Richard Brome's Comedies.” Renaissance Drama 7 (1976): 219-52.

Kaufmann, R.J. Richard Brome, Caroline Playwright. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1961.

Logan, Terence P., and Denzell S. Smith. The Later Jacobean and Caroline Dramatists. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1978.

Miles, Theodore. “Place-Realism in a Group of Caroline Plays.” Review of English Studies 18 (1942): 428-40.

Perkinson, Richard H. “Topographical Comedy in the Seventeenth Century.” English Literary History 3 (1936): 270-90.

Reay, Barry, ed. Popular Culture in Seventeenth-Century England. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985.

Sedge, Douglas. “Social and Ethical Concerns in Caroline Drama.” Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Birmingham, 1966.

Sensabaugh, George F. “Love Ethics in Platonic Court Drama, 1625-1642.” Huntington Library Quarterly 1 (1937-38): 277-304.

Shaw, Catherine. Richard Brome. Boston: Twayne, 1980.

Shirley, James. The Dramatic Works and Poems of James Shirley. Ed. William Gifford and Alexander Dyce. 6 vols. London: J. Murray, 1833. New York: Russell & Russell, 1966.

—. The Humourous Courtier. Ed. Marvin Morillo. New York: Garland, 1979.

—. The Lady of Pleasure. Ed. Marilyn J. Thorssen. New York: Garland, 1980.

—. The Poems. Ed. Ray Livingstone Armstrong. Morningside Heights, N.Y.: King's Crown Press, 1941.

Smith, Steven R. “The London Apprentices as Seventeenth-Century Adolescents.” Past & Present 61 (1973): 149-61.

—. “Religion and the Conception of Youth in 17th-Century England.” History of Childhood Quarterly 2 (1975): 493-516.

Smuts, R. Malcolm. Court Culture and the Origins of a Royalist Tradition in Early Stuart England. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1987.

Sommerville, J.P. Politics and Ideology in England, 1603-1640. London: Longmans, 1986.

Stavig, Mark. John Ford and the Moral Order. Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1968.

Stebbins, Robert A. Teachers and Meaning: Definitions of Classroom Situations. Monographs and Theoretical Studies in Sociology and Anthropology in Honour of Nels Anderson, pub. 10. Gen. ed. K. Ishwaran. Leiden: Brill, 1975.

Stenton, Doris Mary. The English Woman in History. New York: Macmillan, 1959.

Stone, Lawrence. The Causes of the English Revolution, 1529-1642. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972.

—. The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1965.

—. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1977.

Strong, Roy. Splendor at Court: Renaissance Spectacle and the Theater of Power. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973.

Tricomi, A.H. Anticourt Drama in England, 1603-1642. Charlottesville: Univ. of Virginia Press, 1989.

Turner, Victor. “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period of Rites de Pasage.The Forest of Symbols. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1967. 93-111.

van Gennep, Arnold. The Rites of Passage. Trans. Monika Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1960.

Watson, Robert N. Ben Jonson's Parodic Strategy: Literary Imperialism in the Comedies. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1987.