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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

V. Early English Comedy

§ 17. Prodigal son plays

Another version of Juvenis, Pater, Uxor, which we possess in complete form, is The Disobedient Child, by Thomas Ingelend, “late student of Cambridge.” Printed about 1560, it not improbably dates from the reign of Henry VIII or Edward VI, for, though it ends with a prayer for queen Elizabeth, the audience, a few lines previously, are bidden “truly serve the King.” In this adaptation of Textor’s dialogue, Ingelend shows rhetorical and inventive gifts; but, on the whole, compared with the original, The Disobedient Child is a heavy-handed production. The didactic element is spun out at wearisome length, and most of the new characters introduced, the priest, the devil and the perorator, who speaks the epilogue, deliver themselves of superfluous monologues. But the scene between the man-cook, Long-tongue, and the maid-cook, Blanche blab-it-out, who prepare the marriage feast, is a lively piece of below-stairs humour, which is supplemented by the racy account of the guests’ uproarious behaviour given by the bridegroom’s servant. And Ingelend shows a true lyric vein in the song wherein the lover declares to his “sweet rose” his eternal fidelity:

  • Wherefore let my father spite and spurn,
  • My fantasy will never turn.
  • Though Textor’s plays are neo-classic, in so far as they are written in Latin and under humanist influences, they and the English versions of them belong in form to the interlude type. It was from the Dutch school of dramatists that Tudor play-wrights learnt to combine the “prodigal son” theme with the general framework and conventions of Roman comedy. The most popular work produced by this school, the Acolastus of Gnaphaeus, was issued in England with a translation by John Palsgrave in 1540. It was intended primarily to serve as a schoolbook, each scene being immediately followed by the English rendering with a marginal commentary. But Palsgrave also desired, as he states in the dedication to Henry VIII, “to move into the hearts” of his countrymen “some little grain of honest and virtuous envy” of the foreign author’s achievement.