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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.

XII. University Plays

§ 14. Attack on Academic Personages and on the Civic Authorities

The university stage, in this burlesque of Harvey, may claim the dubious honour of having first made use of the drama in England for purposes of personal attack. And, according to Nashe, there were other plays, now lost, ridiculing members of the Harvey family. Tarrarantantara turba tumultuosa Trigonum, Tri-Harveyorum, Tri-harmonia, a show at Clare hall, was directed against the three brothers, Gabriel, Gilbert and Dick, while Duns Furens: Dickey Harvey in a Frensie, at Peterhouse, so exasperated its butt, “the little minnow,” that he broke the college windows during the performance and was set in the stocks “till the Shew was ended, and a great part of the night after.” Doubtless, personal satire, in some form, was a feature of Terminus et non terminus, acted at St. John’s in or soon after 1586, and written by Nashe and another member of the college. For, according to Harvey (Trimming of Thomas Nashe), the latter was expelled for his share in it; why Nashe, who appears to have played the part of “Varlet of Clubs” in the show, was more leniently dealt with, does not appear.

For attacks on academic personages like the Harveys, Latin was the suitable instrument; but, when college playwrights took a hand in the chronic feud between university and town, as represented by the civic authorities, they naturally fell back upon the vernacular. A remarkable episode in this connection is chronicled by Fuller in his History of the University of Cambridge, under date 1597–8.

  • The young scholars … having gotten a discovery of some town privacies from Miles Goldsborough (one of their own corporation) composed a merry (but abusive) comedy (which they called Club-Law) in English, as calculated for the capacities of such whom they intended spectators thereof. Clare-Hall was the place wherein it was acted, and the mayor, with his brethren and their wives were invited to behold it, or rather themselves abused therein. A convenient place was assigned to the townsfolk (riveted in with scholars on all sides) where they might see and be seen. Here they did behold themselves in their own best clothes (which the scholars had borrowed) … lively personated, their habits, gestures, language, lieger-jests, and expressions.