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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

IX. Lesser Jacobean and Caroline Dramatists

§ 12. A Joviall Crew, Brome’s best Play

By way of proving this point more fully and carrying further the comparison of Brome with Dekker, we may next consider Brome’s masterpiece, A Joviall Crew, Or, The Merry Beggars. It was the latest play written by Brome, being produced in 1641 and continuing on the stage till it came to be the very last play acted before parliament closed the theatres in 1642—“it had the luck to tumble last of all in the Epidemicall ruin of the Scene!” In his prologue, Brome notes that his title promises mirth,

  • Which were a new
  • And forc’d thing in these sad and tragic days;
  • but, since he finds that plays are now liked which tediously and tearfully relate lovers’ distresses, up to the point at which
  • some impossibility
  • Concludes all strife and makes a comedy,
  • he, therefore, composes a kind of parody on this popular style, in which he hopes the sadness will not make any woman weep. This interesting account of the genesis of the play would hardly have been surmised by the critic without the author’s help. The finest thing in the play, and, indeed, in all Brome’s writings, is the description of the steward Springlove’s annual hunger for the green grass and the careless content of the wandering beggar.
  • You kept a swallow in a cage that while.
  • I cannot, Sir, endure another summer
  • In that restraint with life: ’t was then my torment
  • But now my death.
  • We have to wait till the days of George Borrow and R. L. Stevenson for a repetition of Brome’s conception of the joy and glory of vagabondage. The sketch of the beggars’ content is combined with a very natural picture of the kind and compassionate master and squire. There is a touch of religious feeling in the picture of Oldrents’s kindness of heart, and his compassion for the poor and unfortunate; the only drawback to the charm of the play is the occasional coarseness of the realism in the description of the jovial crew of beggars. The first act of this play is work of high and rare merit. Brome’s English is admirably plain, unaffected and direct; his blank verse is unadorned, but clear and natural, and he reaps the reward of his simplicity. To the student of decadent romanticism, this play has the perfection of a cup of cold water in a dry and thirsty land.