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BROME AS A DRAMATIST1
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
1 Since the writing of this section another dissertation on Brome has appeared, A Study of the Comedies of Richard Brome, especially as Representative of Dramatic Decadence. by H. F. Allen, University of Michigan, 1912. The main thesis of this study, that Brome is a decadent dramatist, no one has ever disputed, but many of Dr. Allen's points have not sufficient evidence of first-hand investigation to make them convincing. He has not even availed himself of the material Dr. Faust had collected on the very points under discussion. The significant contributions of this study I have quoted in foot-notes.
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), 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. 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.
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
8 Fleay, Biog. Chron. 1. 301.
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), 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 2
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 Witches 1 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.2 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, 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, 4 which was not published until 1635, and was,
1 See title page to a Maiden-head well Lost, 1634, and Schelling's list, Eliz. Drama 2. 586.
2 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.
3 See pp. 176, 189 ff., 246 ff., 250 ff. 4 Bk. 8. p. 512.