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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.

XIII. Lesser Elizabethan Dramatists

§ 7. Haughton’s Comedies: Girm the Collier of Croyden and English-Men For my Money

We have seen reason to think that, in the Two Lamentable Tragedies, a glimpse is given us of the tragic style of William Haughton. This writer, when he first appears in Henslowe’s diary, is called “Yonge Harton,” and we may suppose, therefore, that he belonged to a group of younger men than are represented by Munday and Chettle. Like Richard Hathwaye, he is known to us only from Henslowe’s notices, where he appears most frequently in collaboration with John Day; but some six plays are referred to his sole authorship. One of these, A Woman will have her Will, was entered on the Stationers’ register in August, 1601, but the first extant edition was printed in 1616 as English-Men For my Money. For another extant play, printed in 1662 as Grim The Collier of Croyden; Or, The Devil and his Dame: With The Devil and Saint Dunston, Henslowe made a payment to Haughton in 1600. Both these plays, like Looke about you, were originally named from a proverb or pithy phrase which is used with more or less frequency in the play; but, if we may take them as examples of Haughton’s comedy, they represent him at the beginning and the end of his development. The Devil and hisDame belongs in all its characteristics to the sixteenth century, when a clear species of comedy had not yet been evolved. A Woman will have her Will, on the contrary, is regular comedy, with all the characteristics of the earlier interlude, or earlier chronicle history, definitely discarded. The Devil and his Dame is of the same type as the extant Munday plays, although the claim may be urged that it exhibits more constructive ability in grafting upon a quasi-historical ground a comic plot, which almost squeezes out of existence an earlier element of confused folklore and history. Morgan, earl of London, and Lacy, earl of Kent, are colourless historical characters. Robin Goodfellow is introduced from English folklore. The comic scenes introducing Grim the collier, Clack the miller and Joan, are good examples of the comedy which was developed from the improvisations of clowns like Kemp and Tarlton. But these familiar elements are mixed with others which, perhaps, are Haughton’s. The play opens with a prologue from St. Dunstan, who, “on a sudden,” is “o’ercome with sleep,” and dreams that he sees Pluto and three other “judges of black hell” sitting as “justice-benchers”

  • To hear th’ arraignment of Malbecco’s ghost
  • —the Malbecco of the ninth and tenth cantos of the third book of Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Malbecco urges that his wife is to blame for his suicide, and the judges decide that Belphegor shall be sent among men to discover whether the many tales “of men made miserable by marriage” have any truth in them. Thus, the real subject of the play is introduced, St. Dunstan wakes up and we proceed, with him as chorus, to watch the fortunes of the too much married fiend. The conception of a single comic idea dominating and unifying a succession of incidents is realised in this play as it never is by Munday or even by the anonymous author of Looke about you. In 1576, we hear of The Historie of the Collier, which may have been the original upon which Haughton worked. His play, in itself, is a good specimen of lesser Elizabethan drama; but it is also interesting as a link between the early amorphous type of play and the later comedy of manners, of which his second extant play, A Woman will have her Will, is a notable example.

    This play, in its general style, savours so fully of the seventeenth century that we are inclined to wonder whether any revision of it took place before 1616, the date of the first extant edition. There is no mark of any such revision in the play as we have it. A London merchant, whose rather unamiable characteristics are excused by his supposed Portuguese extraction, has three daughters whom he wishes to marry to three foreigners, a Frenchman, an Italian and a Dutchman. The comedy describes how the three girls, with the help of their three English lovers, succeed in outwitting the father and the three foreigners. There is a brisk succession and variety of comic incident; but the incident is not managed so cleverly or neatly as to justify us in classing the play as a comedy of intrigue. Nevertheless, this is the stuff out of which the genius of a Johnson could produce his comedies of intrigue and manners, and which holds us back from regarding his work as so absolutely original as he thought it. The three foreigners, each speaking a special variety of broken English, seem, to-day, stupid and tedious; but the minute picture of the lanes of the old city of London, in which, for a night, the characters play hide and seek, and the homely and lively reproduction of citizen life, are full of movement and naturalness, and give the play an attractiveness of its own. The characters have no romantic charm; the daughters and their lovers lack refinement of both manners and morals. Haughton has been claimed as a university man, and his writing implies some culture; but his purposes are somewhat blunted by his personages. The serving man, Frisco, who is nearest of all the characters to the early clown type of humour, is the fullest and heartiest personality in the piece. The interest of the play, if we may date it in substance before 1600, lies in its being a comedy of mingled intrigue and manners, without any archaic intermixture, written unaffectedly and easily, alongside the romantic comedy of Shakespeare and, perhaps, before the humorous comedy of Jonson.