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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

§ 13. His romantic experiments; partial success of The Queen and Concubine

A Joviall Crew is classed among Brome’s romantic dramas of intrigue; and two plays, The Queen and Concubine and The Queenes Exchange, have been reckoned as pure romantic dramas. This division, of course, is merely intended to meet the requirement of convenience. Of the six romantic plays, the last two mentioned and The Love-sick Court best illustrate Brome’s ideas of romance and poetry, and thus call for some notice. Brome’s modest conception of himself as a playwright and not an author or poet—his disinclination to indulge in imaginative effort—stamps him as out of sympathy with the fashionable taste for lengthy imaginative sentiment. He had a real sense of artistic form, and recoiled not only from the sentimentality, but from the incoherence, both in plan and metre, of the later Caroline drama. We have already quoted his account of the composition of A Joviall Crew. In the prologue to The Antipodes, he complains that “opinion” cares only for plays that

  • carry state,
  • In scene magnificent and language high,
  • And cloathes worth all the rest, except the action.
  • The taste of the journeyman playwright, on this head, was certainly far sounder than that of the king and his court. Yet Brome did essay romantic drama, and with very interesting results. The Love-sick Court was, probably, the earliest of the batch; The Queenes Exchange dates from about 1632, and The Queen and Concubine from after 1635. In these plays we see Brome manfully striving to write as a poet and to achieve a good romantic play. In the first two, he is often at a loss; his art fails him, and only fumbling work is produced; but The Queen and Concubine marks a very definite advance, and shows that Brome might have produced excellent romantic work if his public had asked for it. Shakespeare, rather than Fletcher, is the master from whom Brome takes his suggestions, and the good queen Eulalia, whose trials and virtues are touchingly described, is a blend of the patient Grissill of Dekker and queen Katharine in Henry VIII. There are two fine songs in the play; one of them—“What if a day, or a month, or a year”—possessing the true Elizabethan charm of Campion or Dekker. The shining merit of Brome in these plays, for all their feeble workmanship, is his capacity for the unsophisticated and direct expression of emotion. We escape from inflated sentiment and return to a simplicity of moral feeling which belongs to the earlier days of the drama. Brome’s humility was described above as almost servile; and the suggestion was made that his unaffected modesty is reflected in the restraint and the naturalness of his art. Like Day, Brome proves his manliness when he falls on evil days. He wrote his dedication of A Joviall Crew, when it was printed in 1652, a few months before his death, “in these anti-ingenious Times,” when the theatres had been closed for ten years. “Since the Times conspire to make us all Beggars,” he says, “let us make ourselves merry.” That is what his “play drives at.” He does not flinch in his extremity: “I am poor and proud,” he tells us; “you know, Sir, I am old and cannot cringe.” This is his last word.