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A Jacobean comedy.

I had not previously read any Jacobean comedy, and if this is anything to go by, that is because they are not very good at it. I mean, it's not a bad play; its main plot and subplot intertwine nicely. The protagonist, Welborne, is down on his luck and has been cheated of his lands by his uncle, the evil Giles Overreach. Welborne plots to make Overreach treat him well and flatter him by pretending that he is going to marry a wealthy and noble widow. In the meantime, Overreach's daughter is in love with a page, and the page's master assists her in marrying the page by trickery. Eventually, of course, the page's master marries the wealthy widow (since they are the only two people of aristocratic origins present and consequently have to pair off), Welborne pays off all his debts and gets his land back, and Overreach's plots are so thoroughly foiled that he ends up in a madhouse.

The thing is, it isn't funny. I can't quite see how it was then. It's got the same sweep of melodrama and the same darkness and ranting villainy as the Jacobean tragedies, and I could not read it without expecting mayhem and bloodshed every minute. Overreach is so unrepentantly nasty that his snapping feels contrived-- he barely even draws a sword on anyone. The most obvious comic relief is provided by various one-note and one-joke characters such as the food-obsessed magistrate who is unable to talk about anything else, and that sort of thing is about as funny as it always is, i.e. not very.

And the language is not terribly memorable. I mean, it's not bad either, but it doesn't stick with you, it isn't quotable.

Therefore, I mostly found this interesting because it is such an obvious transitional piece between the Elizabethan comedies and later things such as Sheridan-- the names-as-characterization and some of the choreography of people hiding and reappearing and whispering in ears prefigure School for Scandal very plainly. A scholarly note, rather than a living piece of theatre.


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March 2017

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