Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 8. Porter’s Two angry women of Abington

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

§ 8. Porter’s Two angry women of Abington

In this respect, A Woman will have her Will resembles another extant comedy, which it is surprising to find in existence before 1600. Henry Porter’s first work for Henslowe is dated May, 1598, and, in about eleven months, he took part in five plays, producing three alone, and co-operating in the otherwith Chettle and Jonson. Of these, there is extant only The two angry women of Abington, of which there were two editions in 1599. The most probable interpretation of Henslowe’s entries is that this play was the Love Prevented of 1598. But Porter had probably served a short apprenticeship as a dramatist, since we have record of a payment to him of £5 in December, 1596. It would, indeed, be hard to believe that he wrote The two angry women of Abington as his first piece of dramatic work. It is a comedy of such full-blooded gusto and such strength and decision of style that it lifts its author out of the ranks of lesser dramatists. “Abington” is the village of Abingdon near Oxford, and the play is a strong and sturdy picture of rural life; it smacks of the soil, and has in it something of the vigour and virility which stamp Jonson’s best work. The two angry mothers of the play are not altogether pleasing characters, but they are alive and life-like; and the husbands are delineated firmly and naturally, without any fumbling or exaggeration. The daughter Mall, no doubt, is an “animal”; she is without the romantic charm of Juliet, but is an honest English lass for all that, living and breathing as Rubens might have painted her. The life in the writing of the play is what makes it remarkable. It does not smell of the lamp. The author has a native power of imparting substance and vitality to his characters, and he would have gone far if he had continued to write. The merit of Porter’s play has caused the suggestion that it is to be identified with The Comedy of Humours of May, 1597, and that he suggested to Jonson his theories of “humours” in the composition of comedy; but there is clear evidence that the latter play is Chapman’s Humerous dayes Myrth. Nevertheless, Jonson’s stimulus from such work as Porter’s need not be doubted. He collaborated with Porter in Hot Anger soon Cold in 1598, and produced his Every Man in His Humour in the same year—in which play it is not so much the theory of “humours” that is remarkable as the sober forceful painting of English life and character. Ben Jonson was not so isolated as he supposed. Just as we can perceive a background to Shakespeare’s genius in the work of Munday and Chettle, so the comedies of the younger men among our lesser dramatists—such men as Haughton and Porter—prove that Jonson’s art was in the airwhen he began to write; and from Porter he need not have disdained to learn.