Thomas Lodge Drama Analysis

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Despite attempts to credit him with a number of early Elizabethan plays, especially the highly successful Mucedorus (pr. 1598), Thomas Lodge can be definitely identified as the author of only two extant plays, The Wounds of Civill War and A Looking Glass for London and England, the latter written with Robert Greene.

Neither of Lodge’s plays can be dated with any precision, but both were probably written between 1585, when he made his first voyage to the Americas, and 1589, when he seems to have given up writing for the theater. Both A Looking Glass for London and England and The Wounds of Civill War were first published in 1594. Although published slightly later, The Wounds of Civill War is believed to be the earlier of the two. Little is known of the stage history of either play. The title page of The Wounds of Civill War indicates that the play was performed by the Admiral’s Men, but the records of the company do not mention the play. The early history of A Looking Glass for London and England is similarly blank, but there are records of a revival in 1592 and other indications that the play was successful. Allusions to Jonah and the whale and the story of Nineveh became popular on the puppet stage, and the influence of the play may have reached as far as Germany. Neither play has received much critical attention, nor has either play remained a living part of the English theatrical repertory.

Both of Lodge’s dramatic works are experimental, which is at once their strength and their weakness. Like the other University Wits , Lodge was a dramatic pioneer, experimenting with new forms or with new uses for old theatrical materials. Unfortunately, he does not seem to have had the sense of dramatic form that allowed other writers, such as Shakespeare, to take the basic idea of the history play and create from it a much tighter and richer drama. Lodge’s chief talent seems to have been as a lyric poet, but the verse of his plays shows his full lyric genius only rarely. Written at a time when blank verse first began to appear on the stage, Lodge’s lines tend to be monotonous. He depends heavily on long set speeches rather than on true dialogue, which makes the plays seem rather stiff and sometimes unemotional. The plays also suffer from Lodge’s tendency to moralize rather than let the action carry his moral concerns.

Lodge’s work, however, should not be judged too harshly. While he was not a Shakespeare or a Marlowe, Lodge was a competent and sometimes daring dramatist. Despite his weaknesses, his influence on the English theater is significant and undeniable. The Wounds of Civill War and A Looking Glass for London and England remain important texts, the first for its pioneering role in the development of the history play and the second for its sophisticated combination of widely diverse literary elements, providing almost a summary of the most significant influences on the early English theater.

The Wounds of Civill War

The exact date of Lodge’s first play, The Wounds of Civill War, is a matter of considerable critical discussion, principally because of its possible relationship with Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine the Great, Parts I and II (pr. c. 1587). The Wounds of Civill War has traditionally been dated later than Marlowe’s tragedy. The two plays show a number of striking similarities, but while it seems probable that one play influenced the other, it is impossible to determine in which direction the influence moved. The argument for dating The Wounds of Civill War after 1587 is based primarily on the questionable assumption that the weaker playwright, Lodge, must have been influenced by the stronger writer, Marlowe. This assumption has been challenged by critics who offer strong evidence for an earlier date for Lodge’s play. In his Thomas Lodge: The History of an Elizabethan (1931), N. Burton Paradise notes that similar scenes in the two plays could easily have begun with Lodge rather than with Marlowe, or could have been borrowed by both playwrights from other sources. The often-mentioned chariot scene in each play, for example—in which the hero enters in a chariot pulled by men—could have been derived from a similar scene in Jocasta (pr. 1566, pb. 1573), an earlier play that is a translation by George Gascoigne and Francis Kinwelmershe, which might have been familiar to both writers. It has also been noted that there are no verbal parallels between...

(The entire section is 1872 words.)