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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

§ 20. Comedies of Cartwright, and Mayne

Two writers who were among the “sons” of Ben and of great repute in their day need not detain us long. William Cartwright was the son of an innkeeper at Cirencester. He was educated at Westminster and Christ Church, Oxford, and rose to be the most noted man in his university as a strenuous scholar, an admired dramatist and a “seraphical” preacher. His first play, probably, was his comedy The Ordinary, produced about 1635. This was followed by three tragicomedies, The Lady Errant, The Royall Slave and The Siedge or Love’s Convert. After taking holy orders in 1638, he did not write any more plays. He died in 1643. His plays, therefore, were probably composed hurriedly. They are essentially the work of a man of parts, who writes for reputation without any true respect either for his art or for himself. His comedy is a flashy and vulgar imitation of Jonsonian “humours,” as tedious as it is coarse. His tragicomedies belong to the school of enervated romance which pleased king Charles and was suited to the French tastes of the queen. The Royall Slave was presented before the king and queen at Oxford on 30 August, 1636, by the students of Christ Church, and, again, six months later, at Hampton court, by the king’s players. The students are said to have acted best. Very probably, professionals found it difficult to adapt themselves to the extravagant sentiment and preciosity of Cartwright’s style. Jonson’s saying, “my son Cartwright writes all like a man,” suggests a directness of style and truth of inspiration which are not found in Cartwright’s plays.

Jasper Mayne, dramatist, translator and archdeacon, was a Devonshire man, educated at Westminster school and Christ Church, Oxford. Like his friend Cartwright, he was an admired preacher. He produced a tragicomedy, The Amorous Warre and a comedy, The Citye Match, which was acted at Whitehall by the king’s command in 1639. It is a much better comedy than Cartwright’s, with plenty of life and movement in it, and, although it has no moral elevation, it is without Cartwright’s obscenity. Mayne’s most useful contribution to the literature of his country was his translation of Lucian.

The tragicomedies of Cartwright and Mayne belong to the group of romantic plays specially characteristic of the closing years of the drama, written to please the court and the current liking for inflated sentiment and fantastic emotion. But, before we deal summarily with these plays, a figure of some consequence calls for a less perfunctory consideration.