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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

VII. The Restoration Drama

§ 17. His Tragedies

The tragedies of Darius (1688), Regulus (1692) and Caligula (1698) call for no more than a passing mention. Crowne’s last two comedies are, however, more interesting. The English Frier (1690) is a mordant satire on the personal lives and characters of the Catholic priests who had been high in favour at the court of James II. Father Petre has been suggested as the original of Father Finical; and the satire is certainly on much the same lines as that of several scandalous narratives of “the Martin’s” life. The piece owes much to Molière’s Tartuffe (printed 1669), well known in England by this time.

The story of The Curious Impertinent in Don Quixote, which had been used ten years previously by Southerne in The Disappointment, or the Mother in Fashion, furnished Crowne with a central idea for his last comedy The Married Beau (1694). It is less witty and coarser than his other comedies. Crowne seems to have been alive in 1701.

Lee has been called an inferior Otway, and Crowne, so far as his tragedies are concerned, might be called a second-rate Lee. His plays have all Lee’s turgidity, with none of that author’s redeeming though crazy picturesqueness. They preserve a dead level of mediocrity, and it seems almost incredible that such a piece as The Destruction of Jerusalem could ever have gained the marked success which it undoubtedly secured. Nothing but mounting elaborate enough to impress an uncritical audience could have saved such plays as these from immediate and final damnation. Such originality and talent as Crowne possessed found vent in his comedies; and it may be pointed out that, of all the tragic dramatists of the time who wrote comedies, he alone produced any that have a claim to be remembered. His Sir Courtly Nice is a genuinely comic and living personage, and, though he has found numerous imitators, the creation of the type belongs to Crowne.