Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 25. Tom Tyler

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

§ 25. Tom Tyler

On the other hand, the popular drama, increasingly produced by men with something of the culture of the universities or the capital, tended towards a higher level of construction and of diction. An example of early native farcical comedy is extant in the anonymous Tom Tyler and his Wife, acted by “pretty boys,” which from its language and versification cannot have been written later than the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign, and probably goes back further. Though allegorical figures, Destiny, Desire and Patience, are introduced, the play is in effect a domestic drama of low life, showing how Tom suffers tribulation at the hands of his shrewish wife, and how, even when a friend has tamed her by drastic methods, he weakly surrenders the fruits of the victory which has been won for him. The piece has a lusty swing and vigour in its action and dialogue, and in its racy songs. It has also a certain underlying unity in the idea that a man cannot escape his fate, however unpleasant it may be. As Tom Tyler ruefully exclaims:

  • If Fortune will it, I must fulfil it;
  • If Destiny say it, I cannot denay it.
  • But, if Tom Tyler be compared with The Taming of a Shrew (to instance a play on a somewhat kindred theme, though it lies slightly beyond the period dealt with in this chapter), it will be evident how much native comedy had gained from contact with foreign models in careful articulation of plot and in refinement of diction and portraiture.