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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

§ 15. Aristotle’s Ethics dramatised in The Muses Looking-Glasse

In March, 1632, king Charles visited Cambridge, and the Trinity men acted before him The Jealous Lovers, written for the occasion. It is Randolph’s only failure. Its dramatic character is so bad that the ability of the writing cannot redeem it. After the king’s visit, Randolph left Cambridge for London, “called thence to keep the flock of Corydon.” In An Eglogue to Mr. Johnson, he describes how he had relished his Aristotelian studies—“those deep and learned layes” which “the shepherd of Stagira used to sing”; but now he has to keep “another’s flock,” and not he but “the Master shears the sheep.” Fleay’s interpretation of this passage is that Randolph was manager of prince Charles’s men acting at Salisbury court in 1632 and 1633. At Salisbury court theatre, Fleay thinks. The Muses Looking-Glasse was presented towards the end of 1632. (It was not printed till 1638, when the writer was dead.) This theory accords very well with the character of Randolph’s masterpiece, and explains the genesis of this new and distinct type of dramatic art. It is just such a work as the writer of Aristippus might be expected to produce if he were called upon to expand his short “shew” into something that could compete in length, interest and dignity with the plays of a better class. Randolph’s creative capacity had been stimulated to this effort by close contact with the drama of the London stage; but the Aristotelian student is still in evidence. The main part of the piece consists of a series of fifteen scenes, in which the vices of Aristotle’s Ethics appear in couples or singly and, in accordance with the theory of comedy put forward in the first act of the piece, hold up a mirror in which spectators may note their own defects; this is how comedies “laugh” people “into wit and virtue.” These scenes, therefore, are planned like the “colloquies” of Day’s Parliament of Bees; but the contrast is great between Day’s delicate rimes and Randolph’s masculine and emphatic blank verse, which only occasionally uses the heroic couplet. Kolax, the flatterer, remains on all the time because “Any vice yields work for flattery.” In these strongly written scenes, the influence of Jonson’s satiric plays is very obvious. In act I, there is an excellent scene in which Comedy, Tragedy, Mime and Satire dispute together and expound their functions according to classic theory. Before the vices come in, we have a masque,

  • a rude dance,
  • Presented by the seven deadly sins.
  • In act V, after Mediocrity, the mother of virtues, has expounded in a hundred lines Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean, she presents a masque of her daughters, “wherein all the Vertues dance together.” The invention of all this is both copious and happy. The author describes his work as containing
  • No plot at all, but a meer Olla Podrida,
  • A medley of ill plac’d and worse penned Humours,
  • borrowed from the man
  • to whom he owes
  • All the poor skill he has, great Aristotle.