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A Jovial Crew

Edited by E. Lowe (Original),
H. Ostovich (Modern),
R. Cave (General)

A Jovial Crew

Critical Introduction
Richard Cave, Brian Woolland, Helen Ostovich, Elizabeth Schafer
[This edition of A Jovial Crew was prepared by several editors working together and this is reflected in the multi-authored introductory essays. The opening section of the Critical Introduction on “Dramaturgy, Performativity and Metatheatricality”, which takes a broad view of the play, is by Richard Cave, with valued input from Brian Woolland, who also wrote the video commentaries that accompany the modernised text. Helen Ostovich, who prepared and annotated the modernised text, wrote the second section, “Hospitality”; this focuses on a principal theme within the comedy and offers an alternative interpretation of the play. “Towards a Stage History of A Jovial Crew” is by Elizabeth Schafer, who was responsible for overseeing the creation of the Stage History of Brome’s Plays, which is a feature of the site. The “Textual Introduction” is by Eleanor Lowe, who prepared the period text.]A Jovial Crew: Dramaturgy, Performativity and Metatheatricality.1Pepys went to see a revival of A Jovial Crew in 1661, one of the first performances of the play to be staged after the Restoration. On returning home he recorded the theatre visit in his Diary and gave his response to Brome’s play: it had certainly amused him greatly but he clearly had reservations about the experience, which he encapsulated in the view that for him the comedy was “innocent”. Did he mean that A Jovial Crew was naïve and escapist or that it was superficial in its analysis and lacked a grasp of the political complexities facing its audiences in 1642? The diary-entry offers no further insight into Pepys’s use of language, since the observation is not extended or substantiated, and so it is no longer possible to gauge his meaning exactly. That the three pairs of lovers in the plot act with a degree of naivety does not necessarily mean that the play itself partakes of that quality. It might be possible to emphasize such elements in the acting at the expense of more serious tones and intimations and the fact that the beggars are continually presented in scenes of revelry, song, ritual and impromptu play-making may encourage an audience to ignore the more challenging aspects of their existence as Brome presents it. The play’s subtitle after all is “The Merry Beggars”. John Hall’s commendatory poem on Brome and his comedy starts with the emphatic statement: “Plays are instructive Recreations”n11394, but spectacle (such as obtains in the beggars’ sequences) can all too easily be recreational in terms of audience-reception at the expense of being instructive. Such scenes require a high energy input from performers and that very quality may excite in spectators a delight untrammelled with care and devoid of insight. A given staging is not necessarily an accurate representation of the play as written.2It is tempting, when one reads the wealth of critical discussion on this comedy, to redraft that final sentence to read: “a given reading is not necessarily an accurate interpretation of the play as written”. Critics have variously seen A Jovial Crew as adopting a conservative, pro-Cavalier stance (David Farley-Hills), as decidedly radical and questioning (Martin Butler), as anti-romantic (Rosalind Gaby), as interrogating alternative types of community (Julie Sanders), and as offering a golden mean at a time of upheaval in the experience of household servants (Matthew Steggle).n11395 They each have a point that can be justified by dwelling on particular aspects of the text at the expense of others. Perhaps the fullest encounter with Brome’s text is Butler’s, which chooses to see the play as the representative drama of the period in its preoccupation with questioning everything socially, politically, morally (and to some extent, emotionally) and refusing to take anything on trust, however firmly that aspect of experience may have previously been taken as a traditional given. If a certain nostalgia informs Brome’s dedication to Thomas Stanley or the various complimentary verses addressed to Brome by Hall, “J.B.”, James Shirley, John Tatham and Alexander Brome, it is because they were composed for the printing of the play in 1652, when it was all too evident where all the questioning of the early 1640s that Butler evokes so profoundly and poignantly in his monograph was to lead politically. But it would be wrong to see that nostalgia of a later time as colouring the text of the play as written and initially staged: that would be to deny its impressive rigour, clear-sightedness and careful impartiality. What impresses is that A Jovial Crew is a play that fearlessly questions (and through its dramaturgical strategies invites spectators to question too), but invariably in a spirit of fair-mindedness. Brome’s balancing act is a tour de force.n11396 If it has a unifying object for its relentless interrogating, it lies in traditional social relations as practised within Caroline communities (marriage, paternity, employment, land tenure and rental systems, justice, estate management) and the play encourages an investigative spirit in audiences by presenting all these incidences in contrast with the workings of a community that rejects all such inherited value-systems in the pursuit of personal liberty (beggardom).3As in all fine comedies, nothing in A Jovial Crew is quite what it seems and a good deal of the humour for audiences derives from their perceiving the gap between what the characters suppose is their situation or what they choose to project as the truth about themselves and what Brome reveals is the actual reality. It is a telling moment in Act 5 when the play-within-the-play grinds to a halt as Randall, the life-long servant, happy in his settled situation, is called upon to act but forgets his lines and is overcome with embarrassment at taking on a new role before his master and his friends and as the focus of their interest. He has not the face to face up to the challenge of performing before spectators and is crippled with stage fright [JC 5.1speech1028]. Previously he has extolled to anyone who has cared to listen his delight in his modest existence, because daily it moves him along known, habitual tracks. He is proud of the fact that he has never moved more than a few miles from his place of birth. And his fellow servants, when first encountering Oliver and Tallboy in Oldrents’s mansion, echo his contentment. This is in part Brome’s means of depicting the qualities of a self-supporting estate that is governed by time-honoured traditions, but it also allows him to emphasize dramaturgically through devices of contrast the extent to which most of the other characters in the play are actors either confidently in role or struggling to appear to be so. In a play where continually one character’s experience reflects on, extends and develops another’s, the moment of Randall’s stage fright draws a marked parallel with Vincent’s anxiety when faced with begging for the first time: he has been “directed” in his movements by Springlove, the experienced beggar, and has learned his set speech, dutifully praying for his would-be patron’s wellbeing; but, though he has the rudiments, he cannot properly own the role he wishes to play [JC 3.1.speeches404-427]. He is continually slipping back into the manners and speech-patterns of his class and sees nothing bizarre in coming in his beggar’s attire to seek redress on behalf of his friend, Hillyard, and call Oliver out to a duel with the punctilious attention to detail of one of a vastly different social position than that to which he appears to belong [JC 3.1.speeches468-478]. Only as a gentleman is he comfortably in character, despite appearances.4The perplexities involved in assuming a persona is a central concern of the comedy. Consider Oliver on his first appearance: within seconds of arriving onstage he creates the space to be alone and then is given by Brome a lengthy solo speech [JC 3.1.speech467]. I have designated it as such because it is a moot point (to be worked on in a production) whether this is best delivered as inward communing with himself (a soliloquy) or as direct address to the audience with whose help he is trying to reason his way out of a dilemma. Oliver is from London and he is troubled with how to seduce the two beggar women (as he supposes them) whom he has spied on his approach. As Brian Woolland observed after directing this sequence for the workshops:If Oliver’s speech is played as an ‘internal monologue’, then this opens a split in his character (there are different sides to his personality). If he directs the speech to the theatre audience and tries to charm us, to persuade us even as he persuades himself that it is not only acceptable but wise to take one’s sexual pleasures by preying on beggar women (because country maids are less likely to be riddled with pox than city doxies) we see him performing a version of himself even as he is trying the persona out.n113975This is either a man actively choosing to role-play from amongst his various personae or a man, freed by being in the country and not the town with its prying critics of his conduct, willing himself to try a new role as worldly sexual predator. Is he the practised seducer or the novice, keen to prove his mettle? Either choice will have repercussions on how he approaches the women, is so “moved” by them as to proffer rape if they resist his advances, and then copes with the interruption of Springlove, Hillyard and Vincent. Neither choice as to how to play the solo speech will allay an audience’s shock when his wit and charm turn nasty, because the women do not respond in the manner of the roles to which he has assigned them. What we observe in the varying predicaments of Randall, Vincent and Oliver are instances where Brome transforms his sense of the omnipresence of performativity in social relations into a decisive social critique. In all three sequences discussed, Brome interrogates class attitudes, speech registers, modes and manners of address to reveal them as merely constructs, whatever social value is read into them.6There is both comic pleasure and instruction in these explorations of easy or difficult forms of role-play. A particularly instructive episode (and a fine example of Brome’s ability to imagine his way fully into his subject) is the disruption of the attempted rape. In the nick of time, Springlove appears with Hillyard and Vincent and the lads are immediately intent on giving Oliver a good drubbing in the way men of their gentlemanly standing would: “Let’s beat his brains out”, says one; “Or cut the lecher’s throat” is the reply [JC 3.1.speeches520-523]. Springlove is altogether cooler and more circumspect, knowing from experience that, appearing as they do in their beggar’s dress, the lads would have no redress against Oliver, were he to take them to court where their appearance would be against them as vagrants and apparent rogues. Springlove takes a different approach. Pretending that Rachel and Meriel must be the sexual offenders, he advises Oliver not to dirty himself with their punishment but to send instantly for the beadle whose office is to administer such correction. This line of approach has the required effect: Oliver’s attention is distracted from the girls long enough to realise he is outnumbered by beggars, he rewards Springlove for his advice, and races away for fear of being “beggar-mauled” [JC 3.1.speeches526-530]. The sequence is rich in social observation and comment: if beggars choose to live outside conventional society, then they have no means of protection within its legal structures: they have none of the “standing” that Vincent and Hillyard can rely on in their personae as gentlemen. Safety, as Springlove demonstrates, lies in cleverly manipulating the legal structures in their favour with his talk of the beadle. The line he takes with Oliver is to suppose he, evidently a young gentleman to judge by his clothes and manner, must be in the right; and that assumption tellingly exposes a considerable divide between law in theory and justice in practice. A remarkable moment in this searching social analysis occurs when Oliver responds to Springlove’s mention of the beadle with “Do you talk Shake-rag?” [JC 3.1.speech529]. Oliver, the cultured, play-going Londoner, at once evokes Shakespeare and the mad King Lear’s rage against the beadle (lusting after the whore he is correcting) and promptly dismisses the recollection with snide derision.n11398 Lear is learning about the corruptions of office that festered away under his rule and authority, and this referencing of hypocrisy in those who should be a moral example is a neat judgement against Oliver, which damns him out of his own mouth despite his attempt to dismiss the recall with superior scorn.n11399 The metatheatricality of the moment throws into sharp relief the question of how deeply endemic role-play is in the experience of all the characters presently onstage whether in conscious or unconscious manifestations. Only perhaps Springlove may be described in this scene as wholly self-possessed in being fully and spontaneously in control of his various personae and the specific demands each requires of him.7This sequence with its expertly controlled shifts of tone (from the comic to the disturbing) and its changing focus and impact (emotional, social, intellectual, psychological) comes at the exact mid-point of the play; and it causes spectators to appraise new characters entering the action (Amy, Martin, Tallboy, Sentwell and Clack) and to re-appraise those who have peopled the scene earlier. How many rest easy in themselves and in how many of them is that ease merited or a reflection of genuine inner stability? Oldrents possesses an estate that seems a second Eden as he talks of it with Springlove, and yet circumstances prove him to be heart-sore in relation to his family’s past (relating to how they came into possession of the estate through duplicity), to his personal history (in abandoning a woman on whom he fathered a son), and to his future (the prognostication that his daughters will be beggars). In the midst of wealth (his income, precisely stated in the opening act, is in excess of twelve thousand poundsn11400) he experiences profound melancholy. When committed to a life of jollity at the urging of his friend, Hearty, Oldrents’ gaiety appears forced even in that friend’s eyes: “But this is overdone. I do not like it” [JC 2.2.speech292]. Once out of his conventional role, Oldrents lives in emotional extremes, as if he is uncertain whether he is a character in a tragedy or a comedy. Is Hearty the loyal friend or an embodiment of the classical comic type: the parasite? Meriel and Rachel desire a life of liberty free from the responsibilities of being heirs to their father’s estate and elect to play at being beggars, despite their boyfriends’ awareness that the reality of such a lifestyle may well prove “stockant, whippant” [JC 2.1.speech203]. Springlove is well established in Oldrents’ favour with good prospects before him, but has to respond to inner urgings to take to the roads and the travelling life. Martin and Tallboy may be of gentlemanly origins but the one is a snob and a miser and the other a wimp, infatuated more with his own emotions than his so-called beloved. Clack, though a Justice, is miserly, insistently patriarchal in his dealings with Amy, and obsessed with wielding power over others through force of voice if not through his office. Only Amy is self-possessed in proactively organising her own marital future and in her confidently charitable dealings with others (she is a fit match by the end for Springlove). All the characters listed here have security, wellbeing, a steady income yet all are gripped with cares and long to be free of them, finding the traditional duties, pieties or responsibilities expected of them irksome. The “freedom” of beggars and the unknown chances of the open road are what many of them most envy or try in the course of Brome’s action to emulate.8The immediately noticeable feature about Brome’s presentation of the beggars is that they too are associated with performance. But whereas the characters discussed till now engage with role play in confronting the demands of their social lives, the beggars are usually seen indulging in a round of festivities and ritual celebrations, as if perpetually at their ease. Theirs is seemingly a world of endless play: music, singing, dance recur in the stage directions relating to their activities; a birthing ceremony and a wedding are staged as occasions of mirth and feasting; a masque is projected and the troupe becomes literally a theatrical troupe of strolling players for the final play-within-the-play.n11401 These appearances are very seductive for what they demand in terms of a wide variety of performing skills. But here as elsewhere in the play, appearances are deceptive. The five chief spokespersons for the beggars are not to the condition born but brought low to it by circumstance: they include a one-time poet, an attorney, a cashiered soldier and a courtier on hard times, while their chief, the Patrico, comes of relatives who were dispossessed of their estates and is believed to have been formerly a cleric, since he is now their Hedge Priest. It is a veritable cross-section of Caroline society. They have all fallen from their former standing, are declassed, but are not as abject in spirit as in their social predicament. One by one the first four take turns to introduce each other, stressing the miseries of their colleagues’ various social positions, the hardships they suffered, the covert criminality which their ways of life occasioned and the reasons for their falls from grace.n11402 It is each man’s indomitability in rising from demeaning circumstance which is honoured in the telling. If they are subversive, it is less by choice than chance at falling foul of a society that consequently expelled them.9The beggars’ chosen mode of communal expression is in song, where the danger in performance is that the pleasures of the music may overwhelm the instruction to be found in the lyrics. One of the earliest songs in the play (it ends Act 1) is a call to return to a life in nature imitating the constant movement of the birds:From bush to bush, from tree to tree,
Why in one place then tarry we?
10The couplet that ends the second stanza gives insight into the mindset shared by the beggars, the compensation that they find in their alternative state:And where we pass, and make resort,
It is our Kingdom and our Court.
[JC 1.1.speech177]
11The poem celebrates the power of the mind and of language to make a heaven or Eden of anywhere. But a night spent on hard ground and continually bitten by lice is anything but idyllic for the lovers: being “crupper-cramped” and “bumfiddled” does not inspire Meriel to Arcadian hyperboles. And indeed to the wary, the terms evoking that Eden, “our Kingdom and our Court”, are dangerously radical in an age when the King himself was on the march to York and beyond to repel challenges to his authority. If we look more closely at the scenes of festive gaiety, we find that one involves the creation (presumably by the men) of as much noise as possible to override one of their women in labour; the dance put on by the Patrico for the delectation of Oldrents and Hearty is a display of nubile damsels amongst whom the old men are expected to make a choice of bedmatesn11403 (the implication of this and Oliver’s assumption that he will get a sexual “reward” on offering Meriel and Rachel a tidy sum of money make clear that this was male patrons’ customary expectation in giving charity to beggarwomen); the marriage feast is in honour of a geriatric pair (one blind, one lame), whose dancing, gluttony and kissing are at the gross end of carnival humour; and the projected masque devised by the quondam Poet culminates in a free-for-all, where everyone is knocked senseless but the representative of beggary, who ends as King of a kind of No-Man’s-Land. The “celebrations” are increasingly menacing and grotesque. They have an undeniable vigour and Bacchic surge of energy in performance but those qualities exist disturbingly in tension with the idyllicising power of words. Here is the third part of the Poet’s epithalamium for the ancient bridal pair:Prepare yourselves like fairy elves
Now in a dance to show
That you approve the God of Love
Has many shafts to’s bow.
With golden head, and some of lead,
But that which made these feel,
By subtle craft was sure a shaft
That headed was with steel.
For they were old; no earth more cold;
Their hearts were flints entire;
Whence the steel’s stroke did sparks provoke
That set their bloods on fire.
[JC 4.2.speech 773]
12Always in the beggars’ scenes the language needs contextualising visually; the resulting contrast here between elegant wit and sad reality is both poignant and hilarious: uplifting in its demonstration that the life force does not lose its urgency with age, but dispiriting in its frank display of human decrepitude effortfully seeking physical release. Like Oldrents’ forced joviality, there is a desperation to the beggars’ need to party. That the contented Randall should break down when required to participate in their last shindig, the play-within-the-play, is a kind of critique of its fast-paced, cartoon-like rendering of experiences that were formerly painful for all involved (hilarious though the performance is for the theatre audience). A production should sustain as subtle a balance between dark and light tones as Brome’s dramaturgy does in presenting the beggars. Balance, poise are essential qualities in a performance of A Jovial Crew, because it depicts down through its constituent layers a society that has seemingly lost all sense of perspective; and the comedy does this through Brome’s creation of a dramatic structure that continually shifts an audience’s perspective, with results that are both comic and unsettling.13Brian Woolland has written persuasively of how Jonson creates comedy (and, as he has subsequently argued in conversation, Brome too) by deploying a technique akin to what in cinema we have come to know as montage: a quick editing strategy that invites spectators not to settle into any particular convention or way of receiving the material that is being presented, since a range of readings is offered that provoke at once a delight in choice but also the awareness that “meaning” may somehow be contained within the spectrum of possibilities, may even be an amalgam of seeming contradictions.n11404 This is certainly a neat way of describing Brome’s dramaturgical strategies in A Jovial Crew. This is why nothing is quite what it seems in the comedy. The life of the country estate and the life on the open road are not a simple opposition: the more we learn of Oldrent’s past family and personal history the more we perceive that there is no strict division between these seemingly polarised social conditions, since there has been permeability and interchange. If Oldrents is generous to a fault in giving charity to beggars, it is because he is all too aware of a relationship. Nor is the opposition a simple one between courtiers and beggars, because living a life of leisure is the aim of both and from such a perspective they exist not in opposition to each other but as mirror images (even though a degree of distortion may be involved). As Matthew Steggle observes of the play:…here beggars frighten the not-rich by resembling the rich: fat courtier, fat beggar. Beggars are perceived as almost in alliance with the more wealthy against a virtuous, and underprivileged, working class.n1140514Randall and the butler’s pride in their modest savings is offset and put into perspective by an audience’s informed awareness of how much Oldrent’s income is and how easily he can choose to settle a thousand pound a year on his newly affianced son, Springlove. Shift the perspective again and that audience can note that, despite their modest income and their required round of household duties, Randall, the butler and their fellow servants have by contrast with the beggars a permanent roof over their heads, constant subsistence, and no threat of punishment looms over them merely for being what they are. Just how casual rather than causal that fear of punishment is, Justice Clack exemplifies: “But you know my way of justice - and that’s a sure way - is to punish ’em first and be compassionate afterwards, as I find ’em upon their examination” [JC 5.1.speech 893]. Oldrents may laud his home and domain as being as near to perfection as Jonson’s evocation of Penshurst, when he is trying to urge Springlove to stay within its bounds; yet it is knowledge of how tediously predictable and constricting the life is that is spent pandering to their father’s elderly and lecherous guests, which chiefly motivates his daughters’ absconding. Though their elected boyfriends may have grown equally predictable, they at least have some energy and commitment to their relationships, which is markedly different from the pitiable suitor offered to Amy in an arranged marriage or the self-serving man she mistakenly runs away with in desperation. Scene after scene in the play qualifies, conflicts with, challenges or subverts what went before.15The ending of the comedy may seem to afford some resolutions with Oldrents reconciled with his daughters and their partners, with his newly discovered son (once a cheerful nomad but soon to be settled and wed) and with the Patrico (the thorn in his conscience now salved with the offer of a modest home and a position as beadsman to the family on a reasonable salary). All culminates in their cheerful return to Oldrents’ Nottinghamshire estate. But how secure is this conclusion? If the dramaturgical strategy of continually shifting perspectives has done its work, then it cannot but seem a conscious artifice. Though a neat tying of ends, it arises directly out of the play-within-the-play and seems to partake of its naïve contrivance. Where earlier scenes have circled about each other critically, the ending shifts as does the play-within-the-play to a traditional linear narrative of causes, consequences and effects, in which the lessons of the past are acknowledged and time is, perhaps, redeemed. But the overt theatricality (the deliberate literary and dramatic shaping of events to a conventional design) undercuts its confidence and exposes the weakness of its conservatism, given the force of the technique of montage or of endlessly shifting perspectives that has preceded it. It is a final shifting of perspective that admits the impossibility of any ending but a fantasy (wish-fulfilling, perhaps, but a delusion nonetheless). The effect is to throw spectators back to the searching, the questioning that constitutes the body of the play with its uncertainty about the past (its traditions and expectations) and about the future (with its potential, its yet unrealised freedoms and its troubling because expected and marked differences) and its awareness of a present full of restless enquiry. A Jovial Crew is a remarkable portrait of an era alienated from itself and its inherited responsibilities, where the urge to escape (whatever the dangers) or to seek the oblivion of an endless round of frantic partying is all too credible. It is to Brome’s credit that he perceived the strength of that private will to escape even while seeing the challenging social and political complexities of the year in which the play was written and staged. Romantic tendencies may systematically be placed within the relentlessly shifting perspectives, but the impulse behind them is not belittled. That is the final balancing of tensions that gives the comedy its rigour and stringency.16A Jovial Crew is a big play that demands a large cast: there are twenty-four speaking roles plus enough extras to make the band of beggars a credible size, though the technique of contrasting sequences allows for a considerable degree of doubling. What is notable is how full of possibilities for comic invention, vocal and physical, are even quite small roles, such as Tallboy, Sentwell or Clack, the Usher, Butler and Cook, all of whom emerge quite late in the action in Acts Four and Five. The comedy was appropriately devised for Beeston’s Boys (otherwise known as the King and Queen’s Young Company) at the Cockpit Theatre in Drury Lane. If Brome’s comment at the end of his dedicatory epistle to Stanley (“…it [A Jovial Crew] had the luck to tumble last of all in the Epidemicall ruine of the Scene”) is accurate, then the play was first performed in 1642 rather than 1641 as indicated on the title-page.n11406 Little is known about the composition of Beeston’s company, though Bentley hazards from a variety of sources that, while (as its popular name implies) the troupe contained a reasonable number of boy actors of varying ages, it also included at least five or six men of adult age.n11407 If this were indeed so, then it would perhaps allow for roles such as Oldrents, Hearty, Randall, the Patrico and Clack to be played by senior members and for the remaining roles to be played by the boys. The age-gap between performers would give some bite to a comedy that is much preoccupied with the need of younger members of society to break away from habitual patterns of living within a codified society and seek their personal freedom elsewhere. This would give a particular poignancy to the play-within-the-play in Act Five, where those younger folk would be acting out the consequences of their quest for independence for the pleasure and instruction of an audience composed entirely of their seniors. (It would give an edge too to Randalll’s inability to find a comfortable place as an actor amongst the youngsters and add to the dignity of the Patrico that he is so self-possessed as to be quite above issues of placing or loss of face.) A preponderance of boy players would augment the self-referential, metatheatrical elements of the play as written by bringing to the playing a felt sense of performance; and indeed the play is much concerned with the experimental trying out of roles other than those previously prescribed. What is noticeable about the text of A Jovial Crew is that its demands in terms of stage provision are far less demanding than Brome’s most recent works, The Antipodes or The Court Beggar. No stage directions for an “above” require the use of a gallery playing space (though one might have expected such an instruction for the siting of the “audience” during the staging of the play-within-the-play, presumably it was deemed more important for Oldrents to be capable of moving into the action in time); and there is little use of “within” except for sound effects, such as the nightingale that sets Springlove’s pulses racing when he is trying to listen to Oldrents’ arguments about why he should stay in his job as bailiff. The significant exception to this point, however, occurs in the opening act, where what is required is a definite discovery space, which is to be used most effectively for the moment when Springlove joins the beggars. Here the explicit direction occurs: “He [Springlove] opens the scene; the beggars are discovered in their postures; then they issue forth; and last the PATRICO” [JC 1.1.speech80]. They have previously been heard singing “within” (they replace the nightingale’s trills with the yet more tempting lure of their festivities). The direction on the page simply records what must in the theatre have been a veritable coup de théâtre. It is the audience’s first sight of the beggars and the moment is held with the figures in tableau, framed within the discovery space; and it is their most positive appearance in the play (thereafter they become increasingly more troubling, except for their last appearance in the play-within-the-play). Brome was highly attuned to the multiple dramaturgical uses that might be made of how spaces within the actual theatre provision are used. Here I would argue the frame and the postures in tableau distance the singing beggars, idealising their bucolic joviality. This is what the inexperienced imagine that a nomadic life comprises (freedom from care, a perpetual holiday full of song and laughter). It will be the yardstick against which the realities of that life as actually experienced will subsequently be measured: the beggars at their merriest, an undeniably jovial crew. It is an idyll and the staging at once presents and critiques its attractions.n11408 By not overly deploying the stage provision and especially the discovery space in later sequences in the comedy,n11409 which would have diminished the effect in spectators’ memories, that moment of revelation would stay firmly in their minds with the emotive force of a vision. Was this what Brome’s contemporaries saw in their mind’s eye when they imagined a commonwealth as a political alternative to Charles’s years of personal (absolutist) rule with the encroaching losses of liberty that it fostered? It is remarkable how Brome can use details of casting and of scenic provision to politicise his stage. The completeness of the dramaturgy as text and integrated staging are impressive.Hospitalityn11410 in A Jovial Crew17A Jovial Crew is built upon various reinforcing instances of and implicit arguments for good old-fashioned English hospitality. The logic of the emphasis is no doubt the result of political tensions in England, including civil unrest, shortly to become civil war, and nostalgia for a past in which king and country got along. Oldrents illustrates the key model for hospitality in his government of his household; his steward Springlove parallels that model in his good household management and charity to the jovial crew of beggars and gypsies; the beggars themselves reflect back that model in their acceptance of new travellers in need of lodging and food on the road. The magistrate’s household, on the other hand, demonstrates the reverse of this standard of hospitality, so that we get the paradigm and the contrast to increase our understanding of what English hospitality represents for the traditional gentry household, the community respectful of and relying on that tradition, and the strangers who anticipate activating that tradition, as opposed to the uncouth misfit who tries to appropriate the host-role in a shoddy imitation of the real thing. 18Brome’s concept relies heavily on ideas of hospitality in Jonson (“To Penshurst”, echoed in “Inviting a Friend to Supper” and “To Sir Robert Wroth”) in representing Oldrents’ estate as “an ancient pile” (“To Penshurst”, 5) with abundant farms and pleasurable “walks for health, as well as sport” (9), plentiful food sources to “crown [his] open table” (27), all tended by happy workers supplying his “liberal board … / With all that hospitality doth know!” (59-60). As at Penshurst, so at Oldrents’ estate: all guests receive the same food and drink - lodging too, if they need it - as that enjoyed by the owner of the house. As Jonson said of Penshurst: “There’s nothing I can wish, for which I stay” (75). The welcome, entertainment, and cheer are unstinting, unforced. Guests are welcome regardless of their status, and all share the same dinner together. The host mingles with his guests, and offers the best available food, drink, and entertainment.n11411 Such country houses, also reflected in “To Sir Robert Wroth”, are little self-sustaining realms within the kingdom, not dependent upon “blow[ing] up orphans, widows, and their states” (79) to “heap a mass of wretched wealth, / Purchased by rapine, worse than stealth” (81-2), the mean-mindedness that marks the miserly house of Justice Clack.19Brome also owes a debt to Massinger, whose A New Way to Pay Old Debts (1625, published 1633) describes the relations between hosts and guests, positioning the birthright gentry on country estates (Lady Allworth, Lord Lovell) against a middle-class urban usurper of country-house legitimacy (Overreach). Like Massinger’s play, A Jovial Crew takes place in Nottinghamshire, although that county is not mentioned until Act 5.n11412 Possibly Brome, like his mentor Jonson, wanted to compliment William Cavendish, earl of Newcastle, as the perfect estate-owner and host at Welbeck Abbey and Bolsover Castle, a staunch member of the royalist cause and head of the northern armies by the end of 1642. As Matthew Steggle has already argued, A Jovial Crew was probably first performed in early 1642 (new calendar), before war was declared toward the end of that year and the public theatres shut down.n11413 So, as one of the last plays of the Caroline period, A Jovial Crew critiques traditional English patriarchy in ways very similar to Massinger’s play, one of the first plays of the Caroline reign.20In his analysis of Massinger’s social divide, Albert Tricomi argues that the playwright dramatises “the contrast between the arriviste estate of Sir Giles Overreach and the long-established estate headed by Lady Alworth”.n11414 He characterises the former as “the manor of greed” and the latter as the “manor of largesse”, positioning the country-houses as antithetical regimes whose governance we can identify as analogically political in the details of each household’s concern (or lack thereof) with social welfare:Massinger’s comedy is thoroughly distinctive in representing the daily operations of its two manorial estates. We learn, for example, about the food prepared, the china it is served on, the lavish dress ladies wear on festive occasions, the bustle of the cooks, ushers, and stewards before a banquet, the discussion of business matters, the farewells that conclude these grand occasions, and the departures by coach.n1141521These are the key actions in what Henry Wotton called “every man’s proper mansion”, the “theatre” that stages the host and the guest in the performance of hospitality: the entrance, the entertainment, and the exit.n11416 Brome broadly replicates the “manor of largesse” in Oldrents’ household and the “manor of greed” in the ill-managed house of the miserly Justice Clack, and emphasises the theatrics of hospitality in the many disguises and complex performances of the characters in life-roles and in the concluding play-within-the-play.22Oldrents’ hospitality extends from the house to the barn, and then to reciprocal or charitable visits throughout the neighbourhood, all of which seem to demonstrate his “largesse” as an honourable gentleman doing his duty at home and abroad. In Act 1 we see Oldrents as host welcoming two types of guests: his friend Hearty, a financially distressed gentleman whom Jonson would have called a parasite, and the beggars entertained at Springlove’s behest. For Oldrents, both types of visitors display the host’s social status and gentility, but also display the status of the guests, with Hearty as a companion in the house, and beggars consigned to the barn (a mutually agreeable domestic geography). These acts of hospitality demonstrate Oldrents’ (and Springlove’s) charity as a Christian duty and as an ethical and ancient display of Englishness in responding to the social crisis that creates upper- and lower-class beggars. Such English ideas about hospitality, as Felicity Heal has argued, extended beyond local communities, and were an important part of English national identity.n11417 Springlove’s response to Oldrents’ generosity to him is both to emulate (in welcoming and paying for the beggars) and to feel conflicted: “I am confounded in my obligation / To this good man” [JC 1.1.speech 58], he tells us. To what extent does his debt to Oldrents mean that Springlove has to forego his own desires? This question is especially fraught since, although he leaves his impeccably organized accounts as steward and his on-going charitable donations in the hands of a reliable substitute, he still feels torn over the emotional upset he causes his employer.23Why does Springlove react so intensely? He himself was rescued from a life of poverty as a child when Oldrents virtually adopted and educated him, ultimately making him his steward, a position of high responsibility that resulted from a charitable and hospitable act. What should arise from the relationship? In the linking of host and guest, who owes what? Is the generosity of the host totally open and unconditional, or is it dependent on certain conventions or pre-conditions? Should Springlove repay Oldrents’ generosity by giving up his own independence entirely? Or is Oldrents taking advantage of his foster-son? Part of the answer appears in the behaviour of Oldrents’ daughters, who can see that their father’s hospitality is a double-edged sword: they are expected to cater to his guests, even if those guests are unworthy, taking advantage of their host’s generosity to paw his daughters. Meriel and Rachel do not want to be nice to dirty old men [JC 2.1.speeches137-138]. Meriel resents being “pent-up and tied by the nose to the continual steam of hot hospitality” [JC 2.1.speech122]. They desire the liberty that beggars have, not the “rule and government” [JC 2.1.speech125] imposed by their father, who “stifles us” [JC 2.1.speech123]. They deny Vincent’s conventional assumption that the girls merely want to “ramble out this summer among [their] father’s tenants” [JC 2.1.speech197] and be served up treats as their guests. Oldrents’ daughters reject such mimicry of paternal hospitality; they are tired of being decorous young ladies receiving the traditional gentry’s due from inferiors. Instead their liberty is to be without law, governor, or religion, and yet they themselves will be “no rebels” [JC 2.1.speech206] - an important distinction in 1642. They are seeking a different kind of accommodation with a more natural world that will let them be what they are - young, healthy, appetitive, and curious about choices beyond their father’s gates. They seek nature’s hospitality, released from the constraints of home. As “king of canters” [JC 2.1.speech224], Springlove represents that natural world, and can provide them with a kind of passport to the upside-down world of hospitable beggars who will repay the steward’s kindness with “the gratitude of … loyal subjects” [JC 2.1.speech224] by giving what they can of food, lodging, and entertainment to Meriel, Rachel, Vincent, and Hilliard.24In Act 3, with the young people on the road, we see hospitality and charity from a quite different point of view. The new beggars are disillusioned with the comforts and “liberty” of the begging life: they wear rags, have to sleep with little protection from bad weather, sore from the hard ground, itching from straw and insects, disgusted by leftover food collected “from a gentleman’s house” [JC 3.1.speech392], and forced to learn the language of seeking alms. The young men are subject to beatings from gentlemen who refuse to help them on the road, and the young women are accosted by another gentleman, Oliver, who has rape on his mind. An implicit comment on social breakdown of the approaching civil war, the relationship between host and guest, charity-giver and charity-receiver, has become an unequal and predatory combat out on the open road surrounded by hedges and ditches, the “nature” that the young people so romantically sought. True hospitality re-emerges only when Springlove offers to take Amy and Martin into his protection as the beggar-king.25The positive side of gentry hospitality is the focus of Act 4. Oliver and Tallboy visit Oldrents’ house seeking Hearty’s authority to restrain his son Martin (who has ostensibly eloped with Amy). Most of the scene reveals the delightful farce of the parade of elderly servants attesting to the bounty of Oldrents as host and representing that bounty in their own behaviour. As in Massinger’s depiction of the Allworth house in A New Way to Pay Old Debts, in which the steward Order demonstrates the virtues of good management and all the servants cluster affectionately around the young Allworth when he leaves to join his employer Lord Lovell, we not only hear the function of each servant named in Brome’s play, but also see the ancient custom of gentry hospitality in “the same livery-beard” [JC 4.1.speech666] the aged servants wear, much to Tallboy’s amusement. All the servants praise Oldrents in the same words (“He’s no snail, sir”) and tend to the guests without waiting for the master’s command: they know what hospitality means. The usher invites them into house; the butler offers drinks; the cook offers food; the chaplain adds his welcome as a kind of benediction; and finally Oldrents and Hearty complete the welcome with more drink, followed up by musical entertainment illustrating the harmony of the household. All the elderly men of the house sing a round. A similar, if less decorous, entertainment shows us the beggars at their best in 4.2. Music, laughter, and song accompany what feast they can provide, and the warmth of feeling leads to Springlove’s kissing Amy in the straw. Their engagement has its counterpart in the celebration of the beggars’ wedding. The pairing of two elderly but frisky lovers was to be completed by a beggars’ masque, but instead the jovial crew are overrun by constable and watch, and taken into custody, to appear before Justice Clack as vagrants, guilty before being proved innocent - or innocent enough to release.26The final act of the play demonstrates how much better it is to be hospitable like Oldrents and Springlove than to be miserly and grasping like Clack, who does not want to entertain Oldrents and Hearty, any more than he wants to pay players to perform for his guests. Sentwell convinces him to accept the players on the grounds that the distraction they provide might save him “the expense of a runlet of sack the while” [JC 5.1.speech895]. Clack’s parsimonious reception of Oldrents is the opposite of what a good host should do: according to Randalll, Clack’s household tries to fill his belly with “thin drink to save his meat - It’s the manner in churls’ houses” [JC 5.1.speech926]. Oldrents comments on the “miser’s feast … To see how thin and scattering the dishes stood, as if they feared quarrelling” [JC 5.1.speech961], bottles of wine brought to the table one by one, to prevent too much drinking, the servants untrained and clumsy. The contrast between Oldrents and Clack is obvious, but underplayed, not like the detailed contrast between banquets in Massinger’s play. In A New Way to Pay, one of the invited, Justice Greedy, has to eat in the kitchen when an unexpected guest (Wellborn) arrives with Lady Allworth, and master-servant relations are characterised by bullying and sniping. The sole object of the Clack scene is to re-cement the idea of proper hospitality, despite the fact that we know some of its short-comings. Some of the beggars are people who lost their homes, social status, and employment in hard times not always of their own making - the soldier, the lawyer, the courtier, and the poet. The hardest hit was the Patrico, discovered to be Wrought-on, the grandson of a man whom Oldrents’ grandfather had ruined in a business deal - only to have his sister ruined by Oldrents himself, the father of her son. The revelation that Springlove is Oldrents’ natural son and heir brings the play back to hospitality and charity as beginning at home. Oldrents himself had once been a traveller on the road that lured Springlove away every year, but matrimony and responsibility seem to have settled the spirits of both father and son in the happy finale. Oldrents claims Springlove as his son, and gives him an income of £1000 a year to maintain his wife; his daughters’ marital choices, whatever they are, have already won his approval. Even the Patrico wins a gentlemanly annuity to restore him to his proper station in life.27Brome’s genuinely comic ending smoothes over the play’s social unrest rather more comfortably than Massinger’s. In A New Way to Pay Old Debts, the traditional gentry system wins at an uncomfortable cost. The prodigal Wellborn is a less likeable version of the Patrico’s/Wrought-on’s family distress. Massinger’s play weighs heavily on the corruption of English tradition, mostly caused by the lower classes pushing their way upwards without understanding the principles at stake. Overreach’s career rises from success in trade to marrying a gentleman’s daughter and then defrauding her nephew of his country estate, enabled by vicious lawyers and judges. Instead of learning to be hospitable and charitable, he abuses everyone in his path, especially fallen gentry, and tries to buy his daughter a noble husband, whose children would then acquire the class he can never have. His assault on the upper class is paralleled by Tapwell’s rise from servant to tavern-owner, commercialising hospitality and repaying the kindness of others with brutality. So, in Massinger’s play, most of the plot depends quantitatively on illustrating social abuse. In Brome’s play, however, the Oldrents’ plot and the jovial crew of beggars represent shared virtues, and only Clack in the final act represents the corruption that is defeated by hospitality, social belonging, and good-heartedness.Towards a stage history of A Jovial Crew28A Jovial Crew, or The Merry Beggars is the one play by Brome that has a sustained stage history which spans several centuries; however, the play has almost always been radically adapted by those producing and performing it. There seems to be something about A Jovial Crew that inspires theatre practitioners, but which does not quite fit their agendas, or their estimation of what their contemporary audiences want to see in the theatre.29It is difficult to excavate details of the play in production in the Restoration period: A Jovial Crew seems to have been popular; certainly Pepys saw it three times in less than five months in 1661.n11418 On Thursday 25 July Pepys records, “I went away with Mr. Moore and he and I to the Theatre, and saw “The Jovial Crew,” the first time I saw it, and indeed it is as merry and the most innocent play that ever I saw, and well performed.” On Tuesday 27 August Pepys notes, “Hence my wife and I to the Theatre, and there saw “The Joviall Crew,” where the King, Duke and Duchess, and Madame Palmer were; and my wife, to her great content, had a full sight of them all the while. The play full of mirth.” Then again on 11 November Pepys “went away to the Theatre, to “The Joviall Crew”.” Pepys clearly enjoyed A Jovial Crew in performance and when, in 1669, he returned once more to see the play, he was disappointed, but only because of falling standards in production values: Pepys comments, “then abroad with my wife to the King’s playhouse and there saw “The Joviall Crew”, but ill acted to what it was heretofore in Clun’s time and when Lacy could dance”.n11419 Pepys’ use of the adjective “innocent” to describe the play when he first saw it might seem in tension with readings of Brome today as an oppositional playwright; however, the political freightage of a line like ‘The court goes a-begging, I think’ [JC 3.1.speech455] will vary from one moment to another and perhaps in 1661, when the English court had just returned from begging abroad in France, the line was less dangerous, more ‘innocent’, than it might have appeared in 1642.30In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century theatres, the appeal of A Jovial Crew lay partly in its music. Like The Northern Lass in the same period, A Jovial Crew fitted well with the contemporary fashion for ballads and traditional airs.n11420 However, English musical theatre at the beginning of the eighteenth century was also political because it was part of English culture’s sometimes edgy negotiation with Italian opera. In the century that was to see the British Imperial project at its most ambitious, the foreignness of Italian Opera was, for some, a political issue. As a consequence, a real “native” drama, like A Jovial Crew could easily morph into an alternative to “foreign” opera at a time when the Opposition-led rejection of Italian opera “eventually (1745) resulted in Handel’s bankruptcy and reinvention as the composer of English-language oratorios”.n1142131Perhaps the most critical event in A Jovial Crew’s stage history, however, took place in January 1728, when John Gay’s phenomenally successful The Beggar’s Opera opened. A Jovial Crew and The Beggar’s Opera share obvious common ground: an interest in alternative societies, the dispossessed, political satire, and both plays use their alternative societies to satirise the ruling classes. Indeed, it is not impossible that Brome’s text might have been an influence on or even a source for Gay, as A Jovial Crew was frequently performed in the period when Gay was writing The Beggar’s Opera. However, as The Beggar’s Opera satirised the fashion for Italian Opera so wittily, it also opened up even greater opportunities for A Jovial Crew, which could be marketed as an English alternative to opera, with nothing Italian or foreign about it, and as a play which sat very happily with the ballad opera format of The Beggar’s Opera. The number of songs in A Jovial Crew was increased in order for it to compete more effectively in the wake of the commercial success of The Beggar’s Opera, and in 1731 A Jovial Crew was almost completely rewritten as a full opera, with the text published in the same year. This adaptation features some fifty-three songs and is probably by Matthew Concanen, Edward Roome, and Sir William Yonge, though the printed text does not specify the authors’ names. The opening run of consecutive performances lasted from 8 February to 16 February, a run which indicated unusual success in box office terms. A Jovial Crew and The Beggar’s Opera then developed something of a symbiotic relationship and although A Jovial Crew never achieved the commercial success of The Beggar’s Opera, the two plays/ ballad operas were often offered as rival attractions.n11422 The dance element in A Jovial Crew was also occasionally expanded, as well as the singing, and certainly at some periods during the eighteenth century, the dancing was deemed worthy of advertisement in its own right: for example, the performance on 13 December 1770 was advertised as including “the Crutch Dance incidental to the Opera”.n11423 For the performance on 11 March 1771 audiences were promised “Crutch Dance restored”.n11424 Occasionally A Jovial Crew was also scaled down to an afterpiece; for example on 25 October 1770 James Love’s afterpiece based on Brome’s text was performed.n1142532In 1819 A Jovial Crew was reviewed by Charles Lamb, writing in the Examiner.n11426 Lamb used his review to reminisce about the previous revival of seven years earlier, musing “Can I be so long (it seems but yesterday) since we saw poor Lovegrove in Justice Clack? his childish treble still pipes in our ears: ‘Whip ’em, whip ’em, whip ’em.’” In the performance under review, Dowton as Clack, “shook our ribs most inconveniently” and was “in excellent foolery” but Lamb thought “there was still a higher strain of fatuity in his predecessor” whose “eyes distilled a richer dotage”. Lamb thought “Easy natural Wrench” appeared “too comfortable a personage perhaps to personify Springlove” but Miss Stevenson, “a fine open-countenanced lass, with glorious girlish manners”, was a fine Meriel. However, for Lamb, the star performance was Fanny Kelly’s Rachel:Her gabbling lachrymose petitions; her tones, such as we have heard by the side of old woods, when an irresistible face has come peeping on one on a sudden; with her full black locks, and a voice--how shall we describe it?—a voice that was by nature meant to convey nothing but truth and goodness, but warped by circumstance into an assurance that she is telling us a lie--that catching twitch of the thievish irreproveable finger--those ballad-singers’ notes, so vulgar, yet so unvulgar--that assurance, so like impudence, and yet so many countless leagues removed from it--her jeers, which we had rather stand, than be caressed with others ladies’ compliments, a summer’s day long—her face, with a wild out-of -door’s grace upon it—33Allowing for the fact that Lamb was in love with Kelly, what is most interesting about his panegyric is that Kelly’s Rachel, unlike the Rachel of Brome’s play, appears to have been excellent at begging.n11427 Indeed Lamb reports that a complete stranger sitting next to him commented “What a lass that were […] to go a gipseying through the world with.” This reference to “gipseying” is particularly useful as it helps locate A Jovial Crew in relation to Romantic constructions of Romany people, who had first appeared in England in the sixteenth century. A Jovial Crew is not about Romany people, and yet one reason the play remained attractive over the years was because it could participate in an ongoing fashion in theatre and literature for particular, often orientalist, constructions of Romany lifestyles, constructions which, in the theatre, nearly always involved lots of “gypsy” music. Lamb’s review of the play is also pertinent when he comments “By the way, [A Jovial Crew] is the true Beggar’s Opera. The other should have been called the Mirror for Highwaymen.” Certainly there are far more beggars in A Jovial Crew, or The Merry Beggars than can be found in The Beggar’s Opera.34Despite the publication of Brome’s plays in 1873, there are no records of performances following in the wake of Pearson’s old spelling editions; theatrical pioneers such as William Poel did not experiment with Brome, who was suffering something of an eclipse in reputation, along with most Caroline playwrights.35Brome had to wait until the early 1990s, in the U.K., to experience a brief renaissance in terms of performance history. In a period when, even though Margaret Thatcher was no longer Prime Minister, her policies were still very much in force, there was an increase in visible homelessness, with people seen to be living on the streets more than before; this made A Jovial Crew a play that spoke to the cultural moment.n11428 As one place that homeless people in London congregated was close to the National Theatre, it seems appropriate that A Jovial Crew was mounted by the National Theatre in a workshop production in 1991.n11429 There were only two performances and these were not reviewed by the national press. In introducing his adaptation of A Jovial Crew in 1992, and also, importantly, in justifying his modification of Brome’s text, Stephen Jeffreys reports of the National production: “the overall impression was that the play as it stood was unperformable”.n1143036Jeffreys’ radical adaptation of A Jovial Crew was performed the following year by the Royal Shakespeare Company (R.S.C.) in the Swan Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon. The production was directed by Max Stafford-Clark and was his debut at the R.S.C. after many years as Artistic Director at the Royal Court. Stafford-Clark was known for overtly politically committed theatre and, in a “Director’s Note” in the production programme, he spelt out his approach to A Jovial Crew:Academic opinion was accustomed to regarding Richard Brome as a jovial dramatist whose comedies were of passing interest. More recent scholarship reveals him as a leading Caroline playwright whose journalistic determination to mirror the concerns of his time led to trouble with the authorities on at least one occasion. With this in mind investigation shows ‘A Jovial Crew’ to be not dissimilar to many of the plays that were being written in Eastern Europe a few years ago; a coded message from a society on the brink of civil war.37The re-visioning of Brome as a dramatist has much to do with Stafford-Clark’s despair at the state of theatre under Thatcherism, and indeed one of Stafford-Clark’s big successes at the Royal Court, the 1988 premiere of Our Country’s Good, written by Timberlake Wertenbaker, was, at least in part, a defence of theatre in the face of cuts to its funding. Our Country’s Good deals with the dispossessed (convicts) travelling away from home (transportation to Australia) and has points of connection with A Jovial Crew’s interest in alternative societies in the face of social breakdown. Another recent success for Stafford-Clark had been his 1987 production of Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money, which set out to excoriate City wheeling and dealing but, ironically, the production became a great hit with the very city traders and bankers it satirised. For the Serious Money production, Stafford-Clark collaborated with musicians Ian Dury and Mickey Gallagher, who also wrote the music for A Jovial Crew.n1143138The Stafford-Clark/ Jeffreys production of A Jovial Crew was extensively reviewed and these reviews offer an important commentary on Brome’s play, as well as responding to the production. The fact that A Jovial Crew was so clearly an adaptation bothered a lot of reviewers: they wanted to be clearer about what was the work of Brome and what the work of Jeffreys. So for City Limits (30 April 1992) the play “has been so thoroughly reworked” that “it’s impossible to tell which material is original and which masterly pastiche”. The critic of The Sunday Telegraph (26 April 1992) was decidedly worried: “The trouble is that we are never told how much of all this is Brome and how much Jeffreys”, while the Daily Telegraph (23 April 1992) felt that “Again and again you find yourself wanting to know which bits were written by Brome and which bits have been added”.39The Sunday Times (26 April 1992) reviewer, John Peter, had done some homework and was annoyed at the extent of the adaptation, commenting sarcastically: “Wouldn’t it be nice if minor 17th-century playwrights could have seen their own world through the eyes of 20th-century socialists who have read Marx and Christopher Hill?” The reviewer felt Jeffreys and Stafford-Clark had decided Brome is “namby-pamby” and so they have added a trial scene in which Judge Clack sentences a young beggar-woman to a whipping and thunders out his belief in “punish first and be compassionate afterwards”. In sum Peter criticised the fact that the beggars’ backgrounds are made more detailed, making them more obviously the victims of a heartless society; aspiring beggars are ironically lectured on the three Rs: respect, responsibility and religion; some characters analyse their world in the language of sociology paperbacks; and when the beggars put on a play at the end, it turns out to be not Brome’s harmless social parable, but a strident hotch-potch about Utopia towards which they march off in picturesque defiance.n11432 However this reviewer was annoyed by the production and felt lectured at: Stafford-Clark directed as if he believed “deep down he knew he was directing not a play, but an Open University lecture”. While this review is only one end of the spectrum of reviewers’ responses, and some were far more positive, the basic question posed by Peter - why “put on a play if you find its social stance so inadequate” - was echoed in some of the more positive reviews.40The politics of the newspapers reviewing A Jovial Crew often match quite precisely the tone of the review, possibly because the increased visibility of homelessness in British culture had become such a controversial issue and the papers roughly pro- government were far more likely to dislike the production.n11433 As the Observer (26 April 1992) indicates London was getting used to “Cardboard City and foldaway boxes in the Strand”. Consequently it is no surprise to find another negative review in the Sunday Times’s sister paper, the Times (23 April 1992). This reviewer, Benedict Nightingale, had also been doing his research: Allardyce Nicoll, doyen of theatre historians, he noted, summed up Richard Brome with “not a great talent” - and who could “quarrel with that snotty verdict, when his plays were sighted onstage about as often as Yeti in the Chilterns?” Generally Nightingale was approving but he disliked the sequence when the male beggars “clatter about in a weird ritual dance that ends with a bare-breasted girl doused with drink and spattered with well-aimed sputum”, which he ironically dismissed as some pro-Commonwealth agitprop.41The (interpolated) “bare-breasted girl” sequence was much commented on and the Mail on Sunday (26 April 1992) in evoking the “beggars’ barn-dance which becomes a 17th-Century version of an acid-house rave-up”, to a degree which “would certainly have startled Brome”, guessed that one “hapless young actress” could “surely not have read her contract’s small print” as she “is required to be transported into a sort of fit, stripped to the waist and subsequently hurled about more casually than could reasonably be expected by any performer outside an adagio act”.42Some reviewers engaged in thoughtful literary discussion of Brome’s play as well as evoking the production. For example, Michael Billington in the Guardian (23 April 1992), who thought the production “excellent”, also felt that Jeffreys’ adaptation “needlessly enhances the original’s prophetic irony”. He expanded on this point: A Jovial Crew, he wrote, “is a remarkable play that both celebrates and criticises the myth of pastoral freedom”. Brome, at a time of gathering crisis, sees the attraction of the beggars’ way of life: “No alteration in a commonwealth or innovation shakes a thought of theirs.” Billington, like other reviewers, then goes on to pose the question: “But, if Brome’s play is so journalistically apposite, why tamper with it? My feeling is that the director and adaptor endow an already fascinating play with excessively historical awareness, turning it into a Foresight Saga.” Billington also evokes one moment of particularly effective, non literary, theatre: “The beggars […] are seen as a collective force. Some of their songs have a touch of Rambling Sid Rumpold but the moment when they are revealed in a straw-stuffed barn frieze is as stunning as a Bunuel parody of the Apostles.”43Paul Taylor, reviewing A Jovial Crew for the Independent (24 April 1992) chose to draw parallels between the play and As You Like It, which was then playing in the Stratford main house: “The correspondences are fascinating. Both plays at once celebrate and criticise the myth of pastoral freedom […] Both plays start with two young women stealing away from home and taking their chances in an unaccustomed mode of living.” Taylor approved of the Jeffreys’ production, praising the conversion of half the beggars into “Diggers and Levellers in embryo” and adding:One of the evening’s most beautiful scenes, where Amie (Sophie Okonedo) engages in a wise, gentle wooing of the restless steward, Springlove (Ron Cook), has no counterpart in the original, and contributes enormously to the emotional balance of the piece.44Ron Cook’s Springlove was the performance which was most consistently praised by the reviewers, although Roger Frost as Clack was also much commended. Claire Armitstead, reviewing the 1993 revival of the production in the Guardian (26 April 1993), mentions the “skinny-shanked, hiccupping motormouth of a Clack”, who is convinced that “My humour is the law”, while Irving Wardle in the Independent on Sunday (26 April 1992) suggested that Frost had “developed circular breathing to stop anyone else getting a word in”. It is worth noting that the one sequence which was most consistently rated highly by the critics was by Brome, not Jeffreys; this was the moment when, in Paul Taylor’s description, “the four disguised, incompetent gentlefolk” attempted to beg for money only proving that “however long they practised” they “would never lose their L-plates as beggars”. That this sequence has enduring power as a theatrical highlight is suggested by Brome’s own reference to it, as if it was well known, and the comedy of its “choir of those that ‘Duly and truly pray for you’”.n1143445Although many reviewers of the R.S.C. production fretted over not knowing what was Brome and what was Jeffreys, some felt “Jeffreys’ pastiche of Caroline language is so accomplished that it passes for real” (Evening Standard 22 April 1992). By the time the production was revived in 1993, reviewers could be more confident about this issue, as a text had been published. Claire Armitstead, writing in the Guardian (26 April 1993) offered a particularly interesting commentary on the ending:Where writer and adaptor overplay their hands is in their breach of faith with Brome’s conventional comedy ending. While Brome brings everyone back to their proper station, Jeffreys sends one of Oldrents’ daughters out on the road again - spurning home comforts in romantic pursuit of the very freedoms that Brome has demolished as dangerous illusion. In doing so he distorts, sentimentalises and therefore depoliticises the play in a way that seems entirely unnecessary.46There was also some judicious criticism, as well as theatre reviewing, from Aleks Sierz (who later was to characterise much significant 1990s new playwriting for British theatre as “in-yer-face”). Writing for the Tribune (30 April 1993), Sierz found a political statement when Brome explores “the lure of escapism at a time of social collapse and the fascination of an alternative society of free spirits peopled by those natural communists, the propertyless”. However, “Since the result owed more to Christopher Hill the historian than to Brome the playwright, this is not so much a rediscovered classic as a reinvented one, a bit of modern mutton tarted up as historic lamb”. Sierz also picks out “the wild bacchanalia, the parodic nativity tableau and the symbolic mummers’ play” as important moments.47The 1993 revival reviewed by Sierz was staged at the Pit, the studio theatre at the Barbican, a much smaller space than the Swan stage. Again the appositeness of the subject of homelessness was noted: Maureen Paton (Daily Express 27 April 1993) noted: “There is nothing new about an ever-growing army of disenfranchised young beggars on the streets, as this revival by the RSC makes plain.” In 1993, however, there was more of a tendency in reviews to reference New Age travellers: Kate Bassett in the Times (26 April 1993) saw the beggars as “challenging social mores and harassed by the law, as are today’s Travellers”; Ned Sherrin in the Sunday Express (5 February 1993) thought they were a “band of 17th-century, New Age, homeless Travellers”. Meanwhile Alastair Macaulay in the Financial Times (24 April 1993) found the beggars’ dance a “17th-century British Rite of Spring” and the ending, with its “I’ve a journey yet to go”, echoing “Kent’s dark words at the end of King Lear”.48The published text of Jeffreys’ adaptation includes a significantly named “Author’s Introduction”, by Jeffreys, and it is worth quoting Jeffreys’ analysis of A Jovial Crew’s virtues and weaknesses problems:Brome’s play is powered by a striking and original conceit and contains some brilliantly sustained comic scenes. It is also a fascinating social document of a precise historical period. Unfortunately it presents insuperable problems for modern directors and audiences: much of the comedy depends on contemporary references and analogies - the begging crew are an idealised literary device rather than a collection of dramatic characters; the central dramatic problem is resolved too quickly and so the second half falls apart, sustained only by a series of running gags; the denouement is wildly implausible and contradicts much of the psychology of the central character, Springlove.49Of course much of this could be contested: especially the implied view that “the psychology” of Springlove has to be post-Freudian (rather than, for example, Brechtian) in order for modern audiences to accept it. However, Jeffreys’ working knowledge of Brome’s play is indisputable, and the changes he made to Brome’s play are grounded in the analysis quoted here. Jeffreys was emboldened in his approach to the play by his reading of Martin Butler’s Theatre and Crisis; he decided A Jovial Crew was not escapist but a “state of the nation” play; and so he attempted “to deliver this hidden play from the conventions and codes of the period”.n11435 Jeffreys also delivers a breakdown on who wrote what, indicating he wrote around 45% of the published text.50Matthew Steggle, in his monograph on Brome, offers an in-depth critique of Jeffreys’ adaptation and comments that it is “caught up […] in problems of history and historicization” and that most additions “are concerned to address […] structural problems and produce a play which will entertain and satisfy a modern audience”.n11436 Steggle points out that overall the changes “unashamedly read the play in terms that anticipate the Civil War” (p.194) and that, as the beggars become “prototypes of a politically radicalized working class”, this obscures “the moments at which the beggars might remind Brome’s contemporary audience of courtiers”, courtiers whom Brome was criticising for begging more than beggars.n1143751The most striking changes made by Jeffreys are to the beginning and ending of the play: at the beginning Jeffreys puts onstage what in the original is merely a reported incident, the moment when Oldrents has his fortune told. This suggests that Jeffreys had no confidence that audiences would register the significance of the fortune-telling unless they saw it take place. The ending in Jeffreys’ text diverges also radically from Brome when it has several beggars and Meriel refuse the comedic closure that Brome offers them; instead they go off to found socialism. The rewriting here really approached the prolier-than-thou, and put this writer in mind of the lesson in Anarcho-Syndicated Commune Living in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.n1143852The RSC’s programming of A Jovial Crew and The Beggar’s Opera did produce one unexpected bonus. Veteran historian Christopher Hill, who was identified by several reviewers as an inspiration for Jeffreys’ refashioning of A Jovial Crew, saw the two plays “within a week of each other”, an experience that inspired Hill to write “From A Jovial Crew (1641) to The Beggar’s Opera (1728)”, the first chapter of his 1996 book Liberty Against the Law.n11439 Positioning A Jovial Crew and The Beggar’s Opera in relation to Robin Hood ballads, and the (apparent) lawlessness of groups such as poachers, smugglers, pirates, highwaymen and gypsies, Hill raises questions about what liberty might be (and “liberty for whom?”). These questions complement the questions about liberty and libertarianism raised by stage history of A Jovial Crew: in the theatre the play has become a nationalistic opera and an argument for socialism; it has reassured Pepys with its innocence and it has seduced Charles Lamb with its portrayal of “gipseying”; it has offered class tourism for the rich and enacted the desire for an “inborn strong desire of liberty” [JC 1.1.speech58].n11440 And, while it is a gratifying demonstration of the potential impact of theatre that the production of A Jovial Crew sent Hill back to reading Brome’s plays, Brome himself intimated his own view on the power of the theatre when he commented of A Jovial Crew that, without theatrical production, as merely a literary text, his play only “limps hither with a wooden leg”.n11441

n11394   are instructive Recreations” John Hall, “To Master RICHARD BROME, on his Play, called, a Joviall Crew: or, The merry BEGGARS” in Richard Brome, A Joviall Crew (London: Printed by J.Y. for E.D. and N.E., 1652), A3r. [go to text]

n11395   servants (Matthew Steggle). See David Farley-Hills, The Comic in Renaissance Comedy (London: Macmillan, 1982); Martin Butler, Theatre and Crisis: 1632-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984); Rosalind Gaby, “Of vagabonds and commonwealths: Beggars’ Bush; A Jovial Crew and The Sisters”, Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, 34 (1994) 401-424; Julie Sanders, “Beggars’ commonwealths and the pre-Civil War stage: Suckling’s The Goblins, Richard Brome’s A Jovial Crew and James Shirley’s The Sisters”, Modern Language Review, 97 (2002), 1-14; and Matthew Steggle, Richard Brome: Place and Politics on the Caroline Stage (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004). I am not disparaging these essays and monographs, as they have all in turn considerably enriched my reading of A Jovial Crew. I wish rather to point out how they take divergent lines of approach, which is proof of the sheer diversity of Brome’s comedy. Read together, they give a wonderful insight into the influences, political and theatrical, on Brome’s invention by each setting the play in a particular social and cultural context. I would also wish to draw attention to a further excellent article: Mary Polito and Jean-Sébastien Windle, “‘You see the times are dangerous’: The Political and Theatrical Situation of The Humorous Magistrate”, Early Theatre, 12.1 (2009), 93-118. This draws some remarkable parallels between Brome’s comedy and an anonymous play of the same period that exists only in several manuscripts. [go to text]

n11396   tour de force. Perhaps this meticulous balancing of judgements is what misled Pepys into interpreting the play as anodyne. It did not stop him from visiting two further performances of the comedy within the year. [go to text]

n11397   the persona out. From a private correspondence between Brian Woolland and Richard Cave, consequent upon the workshop in which BW was outlining issues or insights that he would have liked the time to develop further. I would wish to record an immense debt to Brian Woolland not only for the pleasurable and instructive ways his workshops illuminated this comedy but for his generous sharing of ideas with me, as I was engaged on writing this introduction. [go to text]

n11398   with snide derision. The reference is to Lear’s outburst after meeting with the blinded Gloucester that commences with his pithy denunciation of Authority (“A dog’s obey’d in office”):
Thou rascal beadle, hold thy bloody hand.
Why dost thou lash that whore? Strip thine own back;
Thou hotly lusts to use in that kind
For which thou whipp’st her.
(King Lear, 4.6.157-161)
[go to text]

n11399   with superior scorn. “Rag” is an evocative pun in the context: it had weight in the Caroline period as a description of a disreputable, contemptible person (OED rag n2, 11), while also referring to scraps of material (a reflection on Springlove’s clothing) and fragments of any kind (here the echo of the Shakespearean text). On all counts Oliver is being superior and derisive. [go to text]

n11400   twelve thousand pounds The National Currency Converter indicates that such a sum in terms of 2009 currency would be worth well over a million pounds sterling. This is in marked contrast with Randall’s savings of £40 and the Butler’s of £200 (worth in today’s money £3432 and a little over £17000 respectively). [go to text]

n11401   the final play-within-the-play. We do not see the troupe as a whole at their begging exercise and have to judge their skill through the fact that they have chosen as their leader, the ever-resourceful Springlove whom we do see begging successively. There is one moment when something of their expertise is sensed and that is with the arrival of Sentwell and the law officers when they are seen racing across the stage before vanishing “into the barn and the bushes by”. [go to text]

n11402   falls from grace. As Rosemary Gaby observes: Brome’s beggars commit no crimes (Gaby, “Of vagabonds and commonwealths”, p. 408), unlike the gypsies in Jonson’s masque at court, The Gypsies Metamorphosed (1621), where the central section includes an elaborate sequence in which the gypsies pick the pockets of all the clowns and wenches present while ostensibly telling their fortunes. The masque was popular with the nobility (especially the Duke of Buckingham), who delighted in taking part. Was Brome perhaps remembering this occasion when aristocrats merrily went slumming while he was composing the sequences involving Rachel, Meriel and their boyfriends? (The masque is often considered a potent influence on Brome’s comedy.) [go to text]

n11403   choice of bedmates Given what later we learn is the back-history behind Oldrents’ conscience over fathering a child on a beggarwoman, who chances to be the Patrico’s late sister, it is possible that the Patrico is testing whether Oldrents still has a taste for beggarwomen’s flesh. [go to text]

n11404   of seeming contradictions. Brian Woolland first began exploring the potential of this critical approach in “Working with Jonson”: see, Richard Cave, Elizabeth Schafer and Brian Woolland, Ben Jonson and Theatre, performance, practice and theory (London: Routledge, 1999), Section Two, pp. 89-136. He has developed the ideas launched there in a subsequent volume, Jonsonians: Living Traditions (Aldershot and Burlington: Ashgate, 2003). [go to text]

n11405   virtuous, and underprivileged, working class. Steggle, Richard Brome, p. 168. [go to text]

n11406   on the title-page. It is not clear, as Bentley has argued, whether this is to be interpreted as the last ever new play to be performed before the closing of the theatres by order of Parliament in September 1642, the last play ever to be staged in a theatre at that date, or the last play of Brome’s to be played by Beeston’s company before the closure. (See G.E. Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1956], Vol. III, pp. 71-72.) For the quotation, see the Quarto A2v. [go to text]

n11407   of adult age. Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage, Vol. I, p.324, where he lists the following adults as acting with the troupe in 1637: Beeston, Bird, Axen, Page, Gibbs and Stutville. [go to text]

n11408   critiques its attractions. Interestingly that moment was captured in Jeffreys’ adaptation as staged by the R.S.C. and it was one effect that repeatedly brought impressed comment from reviewers. (See in Elizabeth Schafer’s stage history of A Jovial Crew, Michael Billington’s likening of this episode to the feast of the beggars in Bunuel’s Viridiana, which has at first the appearance of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”.) [go to text]

n11409   in the comedy, The discovery space is used only once more in 2.2., when Randall again “opens the scene” to reveal the beggars now at their feast to celebrate the newly born infant. Here, as in their first appearance within the discovery space, the beggars are somewhat confined within that inner space, since we are to suppose them as indoors. Their remaining appearances are to be supposed as occurring when they are on the road, where they more forcefully occupy the entire playing space. [go to text]

n11410   Hospitality My work on hospitality is influenced by the MA thesis of Christopher Laser, Hospitality in Some Works of Thomas Heywood (McMaster University, 2009), which itself was influenced significantly by Jacques Derrida and Anne Dufourmantelle, Of Hospitality,trans. Rachel Bowlby(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000). [go to text]

n11411   available food, drink, and entertainment. See Felicity Heal, “The Idea of Hospitality in Early Modern England”, Past and Present 102 (Feb. 1984), 66-93; pp. 67 and 87. [go to text]

n11412   until Act 5. Julie Sanders, “Beggars' Commonwealths and the Pre-Civil War Stage”, p. 5, 15n. for a comment on the Caroline interest in the decline of hospitality, and 16n. on the association of Sherwood Forest with the Robin Hood tradition, beggars, and outlaws. [go to text]

n11413   theatres shut down. Matthew Steggle, “Redating A Jovial Crew”, Review of English Studies 53 (2002), 365-72. [go to text]

n11414   by Lady Alworth”. Albert Tricomi, “A New Way to Pay Old Debts and The Country-House Poetic Tradition”, Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England, 3 (1985), p. 178. [go to text]

n11415   departures by coach. Ibid. [go to text]

n11416   entertainment, and the exit. See Henry Wotton, The Elements of Architecture (1624), p. 82, cited in Daryl W. Palmer, Hospitable Performances: Dramatic Genre and Cultural Practices in Early Modern England (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 1992), p. 14. [go to text]

n11417   English national identity. According to Felicity Heal, the English held a high view of their own hospitality; both to social superiors, equals, and inferiors requiring poor-relief; see “The Idea of Hospitality in Early Modern England”, pp. 71 and 82. [go to text]

n11418   months in 1661. See (currently up to 1666). [go to text]

n11419   Lacy could dance”. Samuel Pepys, The Diary of Samuel Pepys: A New and Complete Transcription, ed. Robert Latham and William Matthews (London: G.Bell and Sons Ltd., 1971), volume 9. [go to text]

n11420   and traditional airs. See the stage history database elsewhere in this edition for documentation of performances. [go to text]

n11421   of English-language oratorios”. Elaine McGirr, email discussion. [go to text]

n11422   as rival attractions. The performance database includes some information on when The Beggar’s Opera was performed around the same time as A Jovial Crew: for example, on 11 March 1771, they went head to head at Drury Lane and Covent Garden. [go to text]

n11423   to the Opera”. London Stage for 1770-1771, p. 1518. [go to text]

n11424   promised “Crutch Dance restored”. London Stage for 1770-1771, p. 1532. [go to text]

n11425   text was performed. James Love was the name used by James Dance. [go to text]

n11426   in the Examiner. Charles Lamb, ‘Richard Brome’s “Jovial Crew” (1810)’, The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb, 7 volumes, edited by E.V. Lucas, (London: Methuen, 1903) Volume I, Miscellaneous Prose 1798-1834, pp. 186-7. The review originally appeared in the Examiner 4 and 5 July. [go to text]

n11427   excellent at begging. Lamb proposed marriage to Kelly in a letter of 20 July 1819; see, for example, Wayne McKenna, Charles Lamb and the Theatre, (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1978) p. 8, plus a discussion of Lamb’s preference for ‘natural’ acting such as Kelly’s. [go to text]

n11428   the cultural moment. The City Wit was also revived in 1992, at R.A.D.A., as a Caroline version of Caryl Churchill’s Serious Money, and responding to the materialism and financial shenanigans of the 1980s. [go to text]

n11429   production in 1991. The National Theatre archive holds an annotated text, production lists, music, scene breakdowns etc. Performances were on 14 and 15 February, 1991. [go to text]

n11430   stood was unperformable”. Stephen Jeffreys, “Author’s Introduction” in Richard Brome, A Jovial Crew (adapted by Stephen Jeffreys (London: Warner Chappell Plays Ltd., 1992), n.p. [go to text]

n11431   A Jovial Crew. A Jovial Crew played in the Swan Theatre alongside John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, a pairing which mirrored the relationship that developed between the two plays in the eighteenth century, and which may have helped prepare the ground for the same creative team – Max Stafford-Clark as director and Stephen Jeffreys as adapter – to create The Convict’s Opera, their 2009 collaboration which centred around a performance of The Beggar’s Opera on the transportation ships taking convicts to Australia. [go to text]

n11432   in picturesque defiance. To dismiss the dizzying moment of metatheatre in the final act of A Jovial Crew as a “harmless social parable” rather misses the theatrical opportunities provided by that sequence. [go to text]

n11433   dislike the production. These would be the Daily and Sunday Telegraph; the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday; the Daily Express and the Murdoch owned papers, the Times and the Sunday Times.More anti-government were the Guardian, the Observer and the Independent. [go to text]

n11434   pray for you’”. Richard Brome, A Jovial Crew, prefatory letter “To The Right Noble, Ingenious, and Judicious Gentleman, Thomas Stanley Esq.” (London, 1652). [go to text]

n11435   of the period”. Butler provided an essay on the play for the production programme. [go to text]

n11436   a modern audience”. Steggle, Richard Brome, p. 193. [go to text]

n11437   more than beggars. Ibid., p. 194. [go to text]

n11438   Monty Python and the Holy Grail. For a more sympathetic assessment of Jeffreys’ adaptation see Steggle, Richard Brome p. 195 which finds it a “fascinating experiment” which “richly deserves” a revival. [go to text]

n11439   Liberty Against the Law. Christopher Hill, Liberty Against the Law (London: Allen Lane, 1996) pp. 4-5. [go to text]

n11440   of liberty” [JC 1.1.speech58]. Hill, p. 19. Hill quotes the phrase “strong desire of liberty” on p. 5. [go to text]

n11441   a wooden leg”. Hill, pp. 7-8. Brome, A Jovial Crew prefatory letter “To The Right Noble, Ingenious, and Judicious Gentleman, Thomas Stanley Esq.” [go to text]

Contact: Richard Brome Online, ISBN 978-0-9557876-1-4.   © Copyright Royal Holloway, University of London, 2010