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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

§ 9. The Northern Lasse

Fifteen of Brome’s plays have come down to us. Four of these were published in quarto in Brome’s lifetime; five were printed together, in 1653, shortly after his death; five more in 1659; and one other, in quarto, in 1657. The plays have been conveniently classed under the headings of comedies of manners, romantic comedies and romantic dramas of intrigue. These divisions exhibit Brome’s debt to Jonson, for the first class is much the largest, including nine plays. But these nine plays are not purely Jonsonian. The Northern Lasse is the earliest of the extant plays. It was printed in 1632 and, again, in 1635 and in 1663. It was the most popular of Brome’s plays and definitely made his reputation as a writer. It is full of humours, which fill up the scenes of an ingenious plot; but its popularity was mainly due to the romantic note struck in the character of the northern lass herself. The modern reader finds it hard to detect the charm of Constance; she is very thinly and imperfectly drawn, and her “northern” speech is clumsy; but she pleased John Ford and Thomas Dekker. It would appear that the seventeenth century found in her some faint anticipation of the charm of the Scottish heroines of The Waverley Novels. Brome did not get this romantic note from Jonson, and the six romantic plays suggest to us that it was more natural to him than Jonson’s hard, intellectual satire, and that he would have done better work if he had used it oftener. But the nine plays of Jonsonian humour and plot have certain merits. Brome always does his best. He works without enthusiasm, but steadily and conscientiously, and, as pieces of stagecraft, the plays are never contemptible. As a picture of the London of the period, they are full of interest and value. If their outlook were broader, if they depicted not only the vices and follies of life, but, also, its virtues and amenities, they would be read with eagerness, but it is not fair to blame Brome only for this defect. It is the weakness of the satiric method of Jonson that it tends continually to describe only what it can scourge, so that its world gets uglier and uglier. Brome’s temperament fitted him for a kindlier type of comedy, and there are many indications in his plays that he would have produced better work under a gentler master than Jonson. Jonson’s satire is often mitigated by the introduction of a purely comic idea, which is not vicious or even eccentric, but merely whimsical, such as Morose’s hatred of noise. Brome shows a special aptitude in copying his master in this respect, and his touch is lighter. Jonson is sometimes over-ingenious and his workmanship heavy-handed. The Antipodes is Brome’s best effort in this kind.