1In 1799, the poet and playwright Edward Jerningham (1737-1812) brought out The Peckham Frolic: or Nell Gwyn, a short historical play of the kind at which he had rather unsuccessfully tried his hand in previous decades (Smith). Inspired by the legend that it was in Peckham, Surrey, that Charles II used to be entertained by his mistress Nell Gwyn (1650-1687), Jerningham’s comedy not only featured the Merry Monarch himself but also a handful of disreputable writers whose names had become associated with the proverbially immoral Restoration court: John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1647-1680); Sir Charles Sedley (c.1639-1701); and Thomas Killigrew (1612-1683). Neither very scandalous nor very comic, the action of The Peckham Frolic centres on Nell Gwyn’s attempts, in the interest of diversion and financial gain, to pair off Killigrew’s maiden aunt Ann with Sir Oliver Luke, a well-to-do country gentleman knighted in the days of Oliver Cromwell and now seeking to redeem himself with the king. Proposing to act as an intermediary for this “Cromwelian [sic] calf” (2) unconversant with the usages and habits (5) of Peckham, the Killigrew character points out that the language of the place “is not very copious… we have but two vowels which govern our whole alphabet, and they are U and I: but U is always kept in slavish subjection to I” (7). He goes on to demonstrate the truth and the deceitfulness of this claim by bringing home to the knight the destitute condition of the royal court: “no silver rivulets refresh the torrid region, – no golden showers descend. The pipes and conductors of the royal stream sleep in disgraceful repose – the playful fountains of royal remuneration glitter no more to the garish day” (8). Sir Oliver’s baffled response, “I do not comprehend one word of your text” (8), is met by Killigrew with a more plainly spoken request for a grant of five hundred pounds, a request so crass as to momentarily dumb the knight and make his interlocutor wonder, “have you lost the powers of speech?” (9).
- 1 To this category belong such works as Polly Peachum 9; Ned Ward 11; Ben Johnson’s Jests 29-30; The (...)
- 2 Wood 4: col. 694. According to Wood, “it was usually said of this noted person, that when he took (...)
2Modest as Jerningham’s dramatic talents were, in characterising his “beggarly royalist” as a smooth talker he was judiciously capitalising on, as well as perpetuating the image of Killigrew’s personality that had been handed down for more than a century. Reliable accounts of his career as a courtier, royal resident, dramatist and director of the King’s company of actors included in late seventeenth- and eighteenth-century surveys of the English stage are few and far between (Langbaine 2: 311-14; Baker 87, 273-74, 369) and largely outnumbered by the jest-books and collections of anecdotes which never tired of rehearsing the amusing stories, real or invented, which highlighted Killigrew’s reputation of an accomplished conversationalist.1 Even works of political history aspiring to greater seriousness remembered him as an adept in the art of “bold and sharp Repartee,” who enjoyed a “Liberty of Fooling” in his capacity as Charles II’s unofficial court jester (R. Bulstrode 227-28; W. Bustrode 54-55; Ben Saddi, 62-63; Walsh). In his own lifetime this view of Killigrew as a master of the spoken word was memorably articulated by Sir John Denham: “Had Cowley ne’er spoke, Killigrew ne’er writ, / Combin’d in one, they’d made a matchless wit.”2
3But it was the poet Richard Flecknoe (c.1605-1677), immortalised as Thomas Shadwell’s ancestor in Dryden’s 1682 satire, who came closest to typifying the nature of this verbal wit in his Life of Tomaso the Wanderer. Probably occasioned by Killigrew’s refusal to stage one or more of Flecknoe’s plays, his caustic lampoon reviewed Killigrew’s career and personality under separate headings – “Of his Nature and Disposition,” “How he Wandred Abroad,” “How he was a Soldier,” and several more. Flecknoe’s assessment of the peculiar ways of the Stuart courtier deserves being quoted at some length:
Although he had a better place in Court, then he deserved, yet he would needs add the Buffoon’s place unto it, as more suitable to his humour and disposition, and more priviledge to abuse and raile at every one: there being none of any Dignity in Church or State whom he had not saucily abus’d with his leud and scurrilous Tongue; for he was a bold abusive wit…he talkt madly, dash, dash, and never car’d how he bespatter’d others, or defil’d himself, sparing neither his own, nor others shames; and his impudent boldness was all his wit, with which he caus’d Laughter…his Jests having always somewhat of malice in them, and he being the worst sort of Satyr… (Flecknoe 6)
Even allowing for a modicum of exaggeration on the part of an inveterate enemy, “abuse,” “raillery,” “scurrility” and “defilement” go a long way towards capturing Killigrew’s irrepressible and indecorous verbal skill, practised at anyone’s and everyone’s expense.
4Although actuated by more serious concerns, modern critics in one important respect have proved to be the heirs to Flecknoe’s compartmentalised review of Killigrew’s personality and his works. Whereas his dramatic characters’ inclination to railing has been noted as a feature of his style (Harbage 185), few if any critics have stopped to wonder in what other respects the conversationalist’s talents left their mark on the playwright’s art (Randall 255, ff.; Vander Motten, “Recycling”). More specifically, how his widely publicised oral skills found expression in – or gave shape to – the texture of his dramatic speeches, and to what use(s) these were put, is an issue that has never been investigated. A first rough distinction needs to be made at the outset. Killigrew’s romantic tragicomedies illustrate how an author who owed whatever education he had to the culture of the Stuart court – with its dramatic entertainments, its promotion of the Cavalier poetical tradition, and its interest in the fashionable Platonic love cult – succeeded, sometimes in all seriousness, often no doubt tongue-in-cheek, in appropriating the refined, artificial language of that culture. With their energetic lower-class characters and convoluted plots focussing on sexual intrigue, the comedies The Parson’s Wedding and Thomaso; or the Wanderer, on the other hand, partake of the mode of the “libertine picaresque” (Novak 57). If the former qualifies as a “city comedy” with a London setting (Hume), the autobiographically inspired Thomaso uniquely exploits the comic opportunities generated by the exiled Cavaliers’ confrontation of continental characters and situations. It is in these two plays that we encounter the idiom that came most naturally to the dramatist and in which his wit most obviously manifested itself. Any attempt, however tentative, at clarifying the nature of this comic discourse must necessarily be preceded by a brief consideration of some of the facts about Killigrew’s plays.
- 3 Herringman catered to “the better-educated Londoners frequenting the Strand” (Miller 297).
5Composed between 1635 and 1654, Killigrew’s eight plays – five tragicomedies, two comedies, and one tragedy – were brought out by Henry Herringman (1628-1704) in a folio edition entitled Comedies, and Tragedies in 1664.3 Only two of these, the tragicomedies The Prisoners and Claracilla, had ever been published before, in 1641 – and the separate pagination for these two plays in the Folio may suggest that they were last-minute additions. With its eye-catching frontispiece picturing the dramatist in his study, a general title-page resembling that of the landmark 1647 Beaumont and Fletcher Folio, and separate title-pages for each of the plays included, the 1664 Killigrew Folio was in many respects a piece of “carefully managed self-advertisement” (Vander Motten, “Recycling” 145; Wright 80-83). Yet the general title itself testifies to a certain amount of generic confusion for which the publisher may not have been solely responsible. Only two of the eleven plays in the volume are “comedies,” and only one is a “tragedy,” so that the foregrounding on the title-page of Comedies (in slightly larger print than Tragedies) and the absence of the term “tragicomedies” indicate that the author thought of his two comedies as the more significant part of his work. This is certainly the case in terms of sheer bulk, for The Parson’s Wedding and the two parts of Thomaso are the three longest plays in the Folio, accounting together for more than one third of its 650 printed pages.
- 4 Manuscripts are extant of Claricilla (Harvard Theatre Collection) and Cecilia and Clorinda (Folger (...)
- 5 My estimate is based on an approximate conversion of Killigrew’s continuous prose into blank verse (...)
- 6 Of his first three plays, The Prisoners and The Princess were left untouched; the cuts in the thir (...)
- 7 The Prisoners had been performed at the Phoenix, Drury Lane, in 1636. The Princess was probably ac (...)
6Length – excessive length – is of course the distinguishing characteristic of Killigrew’s works. We have no information about previous states of most of the texts or how they reached their final form in the 1664 edition (Killigrew, Claricilla 48-49).4 But if their probable chronology of composition – never definitively established – is accepted, the playwright’s long-winded manner evidently intensified as his career progressed. His first two plays, belonging to the 1630s, are the shortest, numbering thirty-one and forty-six printed pages in the Folio. Of the final four, three are two-part, interminable works: Cecilia and Clorinda (composed 1649-50?), Bellamira Her Dream (composed 1650-52?) and Thomaso run to 90, 107 and a staggering 150 pages, respectively. If it is considered that the maximum length for a producible playbook in Elizabethan days was around 2,800 lines, and that this was probably not much different after 1660, only three of Killigrew’s plays would have been producible in the state of completion in which they have reached us (Erne 11-17, 159-67).5 As the director of the Theatre Royal, Bridges Street, Killigrew obviously realised all too well that his play-texts were unfit for the stage. This is evident from the Worcester copy of the Folio containing his instructions, annotations and excisions, all effected with an eye to performance, between May 1664 and May 1668 (Van Lennep; Wertheim; Visser). Capricious as Killigrew’s pruning of his plays may have been – Cecilia and Clorinda was left as printed in the Folio6 – he had undeniably composed and subsequently revised with different target audiences in mind.7 Given the overall make-up of the volume, the Folio would have been planned as a reading edition, in which dramatic economy of expression was sacrificed to “novelistic” prolixity (Randall 255). Killigrew’s choice of Herringman as his publisher was no coincidence. Not only were the latter’s folio editions intended “to endorse an English literary canon,” establishing Killigrew and others as “the significant writers of the Civil War and Restoration.” The very format also stood for “completeness, cultural prominence, and, hopefully, literary immortality” (Connor 177). To put it differently, in Herringman’s 1664 publishing venture, Killigrew was happy to advertise himself as a “literary dramatist,” a phrase, as Lukas Erne has pointed out in connection with Shakespeare, encapsulating “at once a style of writing, an anticipated readerly reception, a claim for generic respectability, and an authorial ambition” (4, 194-96).
- 8 See the oratorical speeches by Sir Peaceable Studious and by Lady Sanspareille in Loves Adventures (...)
7Despite the “readerly reception” that Killigrew would have aimed at, the main ingredients of his dramatic style severely tax the reader’s staying power. The extensive casts of characters (at least thirty-six in Thomaso); the crisscrossing main- and sub-plots; the chatty dialogues slowing down the action; the philosophising soliloquies only exceeded in prolixity by those in Margaret Cavendish’s plays8; the mental leaps, leading to further digressions; and the restless flow of the prose, erratically punctuated even by seventeenth-century standards and unbridled by the restraints imposed by blank verse: all of these reflect his garrulous nature and must be taken into account in any attempt to evaluate the author’s use of comic speech.
8A short passage towards the end of The Parsons Wedding provides us with a revealing comment in this respect. Sadd and Constant, “two dull Suitors” to Mrs Pleasant and Lady Wild, both youthful and well-to-do, are told by the Captain, “a leading wit, full of Designs,” that despite all their machinations they have failed to conquer the ladies, who are to be joined to Ned Wild and Mr Careless. Those responsible for Sadd’s and Constant’s failure, the Captain explains, are “the wits of the Town” (actually his own cronies), who “claim a right in the Ladies, as Orphan-wits” [i.e. as fledgling wits they would like to adopt] (“Comedies” 5.3.145). “The wits!,” Constant retorts, “hang ’em in their strong lines.” To which the Captain replies, “Why I, such a clinch as that has undone you, and upon my knowledge ’twere enough to hinder your next match.” Constant’s “strong lines” – a pun on the sturdy ropes with which town wits ought to be hanged – was a phrase used by contemporary critics and poets to denote a style characterised by “elliptical expression,” “metrical irregularity,” and “abstruse ideas,” and hence difficult to comprehend (Dimes). In the opinion of the Captain, who thrives on circumlocution, it is Constant’s bland wit and his bent for epigrammatic succinctness that have proved his undoing with the ladies and will do so again in the future – and his view on the subject may be taken to represent Killigrew’s own. If they could have met, the Captain no more than his creator himself would have agreed with Polonius that “[b]revity is the soul of wit” (Shakespeare 665). And if the dramatist was familiar with one of the “established source[s] for Renaissance ideas on speech and silence” (Mirabelli 314), Plutarch’s De Garrulitate, he would scarcely have felt concerned by the warning that those who use speech “badly and wantonly” are likely to be “ridiculed for their attempts at gaining admiration” (Plutarch 411). Loquacity in Killigrew hardly ever degenerates into emptiness.
9Evidence as to the type of monologic discourse that appealed to the playwright is provided by the scene in Thomaso (“Comedies” Part I, 4.360-62), in which the people of Madrid have come to watch the mountebank Lopus puff up his oils, spirits, and powders as panaceas for all ills, including ugliness and old age. This scene, as Gerard Langbaine pointed out as early as 1691 (2: 313-14), was transcribed almost word for word from Jonson’s Volpone, 2.2, in which the eponymous hero, disguised as the mountebank Scoto of Mantua, cries up his wares on a stage facing the window of Celia, wife to the jealous Corvino (Jonson 35-41). Volpone’s address to the crowd, which is interspersed with a song by the Fox’s accomplices and brief comments by Sir Politic Would-be and Peregrine, re-appears in an uninterrupted and rearranged form in Thomaso, where it has all the makings of a set speech. After having enumerated all the salubrious properties of his “blessed Unguento” [lubricant], Lopus slyly strikes home:
For this is the Physitian, this the Medicine; this Counsels, this Cures; this gives the Direction, this works the effect; And in Sum, both together may be termed an Abstract of the Theorick and Practick in the Aesculapian Art; The price is but four Royalls, that is the price, and less I know, in curtesie you cannot offer me; take it, or leave it; However, both I and it are at your service; I ask you not neer the value of the thing; For then I should ask you a thousand Duckets; so several Grandees and Grandessa’s have given me. But I despise money, onely to shew my affection to you, Honourable Gentlemen, and this most inclyte [i.e. ‘illustrious’] Town; I have neglected the Messages of divers Princes and Nobles, and directed my Journey hither, onely to present you with the fruits of my experience, and travels […] (“Comedies” 360-61)
10Killigrew gets considerable comic mileage out of the plagiarised but cleverly integrated lines from Volpone, which prepare us for the hilarious scenes in Part II of the play, focussing on the failed metamorphosis of Edwardo and Ferdinando and of the deformed but rich creatures on whom they have set their sights. Beyond this, however, there can be little doubt that the dramatist was fascinated by the mountebank’s array of oratorical tricks. As Jonson’s Sir Politic himself, dumbfounded by Scoto’s performance, was made to remark, “Is not his language rare?” (2.2.112). Scoto’s persuasive display of his medical expertise sprinkled with foreign words; his disinterested service to the people; his appeal to their common-sense and emotions; his modesty combined with the pride he takes in noble patronage: these are not only preserved but given added cumulative weight in Killigrew’s compressed version of Jonson’s lines, culminating in Lopus’s promise of eternal youth. In Killigrew’s eyes the mountebank would not just have been a pedlar of medicines but, above all, a gifted word-monger casting his spell over the audience and the reader, holding them in thrall in his combined capacities as an orator, a raconteur, a joker and a public performer. The fact, however, that in his personal copy of the Folio to which I have referred, the dramatist marked the intensely theatrical mountebank scene for deletion (Van Lennep 804) may suggest that he felt that this particular type of oratory, however attractive, did not adequately reflect his own instincts. In The Parson’s Wedding indeed, he had already begun to elaborate the much less oratorical brand of prose to which he was to give loose rein in Thomaso.
11The opening monologue of The Parson’s Wedding exhibits some of the hallmarks of the dramatist’s characteristic prose style and the uses to which it was put. Raging against the ungrateful Parson, whom he has rescued from penury but who has now secretly offered to marry the beautiful Wanton, the Captain’s sexual partner, the latter is heard to say:
No more, I’le sooner be reconcil’d to want, or sickness, then that Rascal; A thing, that my Charity made sociable; one that when I smil’d would fawn upon me, and wag his stearn, like starved Dogs; so nasty, the Company cried foh [faugh] upon him; He stunk so of Poverty, Ale, and Bawdry. So poor and despicable, when I relieved him, he could not avow his calling, for want of a Cassock, but stood at Corners of Streets, and whisper’d Gentlemen in the Ear, as they pass’d, and so deliver’d his Wants like a Message which being done, the Rogue vanished, and would dive at Westminster like a Dabchick [an agile water-bird], and rise again at Temple-gate; The ingenuity of the Rascal, his Wit being snuft by want, burnt cleer then, and furnish’d him with a bawdy Jest or two, to take the Company; But now the Rogue shall find he has lost a Patron […]. (“Comedies” 1.1.71)
- 9 The bustling encounter between the Captain and the Parson may have been inspired by Jonson’s The A (...)
- 10 See Falstaff’s lines on Justice Shallow, in Henry IV Part 2, 3.2: “This same starved justice hath (...)
Not only does the choleric Captain’s speech establish his outrage as the major impulse behind his plot to ruin the Parson, and not only does it prepare us for the mud-slinging match between them later on in this scene.9 Its constituent elements, with their distinct Falstaffian flavour, also mark it out as a fine example of Killigrew’s vituperative wit remarked on by contemporary and modern critics.10 The Captain’s torrent of words works its effect in two ways: first, by its dehumanisation of the opportunistic and slightly sinister Parson, who is described as a “thing,” a “starved dog” and a “dabchick”; second, by highlighting the condition of physical and mental distress this “rascal” found himself in before being elevated to his present position in the Captain’s company of soldiers – a “nasty,” beggarly creature, smelling of poverty and cheap beer, the remains of whose starved wit were only capable of “a bawdy jest or two.” The Captain’s rant sheds light on his vindictive nature as much as on his imaginative powers, although in the world of the play this type of invective is not his exclusive talent.
- 11 Carlo Buffone is described as “[a] Publik-scurrulous, & prophane Iester…[a] good Feast-hound or Ba (...)
12But the lines also carry an air of self-sufficiency, as if they could be detached from their dramatic context without any substantial loss of meaning – an impression conveyed by a good many speeches in Killigrew’s comedies. Underlying such impression is the playwright’s bent for stylistic affectation, which tends to be oblivious of dramatic economy. The Captain’s speech is not only the boisterous opening of a boisterous comedy, it also echoes the genre known as the character, in the manner of Sir Thomas Overbury’s New and Choice Characters (1615) and John Earle’s Microcosmographie (1628), or character descriptions of the kind prefixed to Jonson’s Every Man Out of His Humor (1600).11 The pleasure of the text would have depended to no small extent on the reader’s recognition that Killigrew has momentarily remodelled the genre’s syntactical conventions (Croll 35) while placing his Parson, no abstract type but an individual, in the recognisable context of mid seventeenth-century London – that of Puritan preachers, Westminster, and Temple Gate [Temple Bar]. Such take-offs on an established literary form are admittedly few and far between but they are symptomatic of a more widespread effort on the part of a comic dramatist to find his own voice.
13Exemplifying the discursive texture of Killigrew’s comedies, the Captain’s lines exhibit features of what is known in histories of English prose as the “curt style” or “stile coupé”: the brief members of the sentence, mostly of unequal length; the shifts in syntactical form; the use of enumeration linked by “and”; the absence of subordinating connectives such as “for” and “since”; the ellipsis of subject and verb (“He was so poor and despicable…”); and the tendency to state and exhaust the main idea in the first member of the sentence (Croll 30-8) only to elaborate it afterwards by means of similes (“like starved dogs”; “like a dabchick”). The heavy punctuation, characteristic of this style, reinforces the staccato rhythm and here as elsewhere is well suited to reproduce colloquial speech – especially raillery, obscenities and words spoken in anger. Despite its compactness, however, Killigrew’s curt style must be recognised for what it is. Deliberately asymmetric and broken up on the syntactic level while providing the building-blocks for speeches of considerable length, it largely conforms to the observation formulated by Erasmus in his influential De Utraque Verborum ac Rerum Copia (1514), that “extension and compression of language” are complementary and will indeed often be found in one and the same artist (Cave 20; Erasmus bk 1, ch. iv-vi).
- 12 See the speech of “the old decayed Curtezan” Helena, hoping to be restored to youthful beauty by t (...)
14Whether this type of prose was intended as a close approximation of the rhythms of Jacobean and Caroline popular speech or merely a transcription of Killigrew’s idiosyncratic manner, it is very difficult to determine. Flecknoe’s testimony that Killigrew talked “madly, dash, dash” should not be lightly dismissed but the latter may just as well have borrowed aspects of this anti-Ciceronian prose from Ben Jonson, its foremost practitioner in such comedies as Every Man Out of his Humor and Epicoene, or The Silent Woman (1609). As Jonas Barish has noted in connection with Jonson, “the curt style lends itself to the expression of quick shifts in feeling, afterthoughts, self-corrections, unexpected interpolations or dislocations of attention” (51) – effects readily encountered in Killigrew’s comedies as well.12 The latter’s allusions to plays by Jonson and his revival of some of them after 1660 certainly testify to his familiarity with the older playwright (Sorelius, ch. II). Other dramatists who provided plot incidents and characters for The Parson’s Wedding and Thomaso, including Lording Barry (bapt. 1580-1629), Shackerley Marmion (1603-1639), John Fletcher (1579-1625) and Richard Brome (1590?-1652), were no likely sources of inspiration in stylistic matters (Langbaine 313; Drakakis; Davis 203-06). But the most conspicuous feature of this style is what Walter J. Ong has called a “residue of primary orality,” namely its “addiction to amplification” or copia, which helps sustain “the continuous flow of discourse” (3). Copiousness of expression, as I have suggested, is the invariable vehicle of Killigrew’s wit, a driving force so ubiquitous that it must have been a deeply ingrained personality trait. Always out to cut a good figure, the dramatist would have agreed with the words of Sir William Davenant, who in the “Preface” to his heroic poem Gondibert (1650) declared that wit is “a Webb consisting of the subtlest threds, and like that of the Spider is considerately woven out of our selves” (18-20). “Woven out of our selves”: inasmuch as a particular style of writing may be taken to reflect an author’s temperament, one feels tempted to conclude that Killigrew adopted the “curt” style, with its jagged, unpremeditated appearance, as the most suitable instrument with which to record the fickle movement of his mind and the leaps and bounds of a catch-all imagination. A handful of excerpts will suffice to illustrate to what other uses this style was put.
15The Parson’s Wedding and, even more so, the two parts of Thomaso provide us with numerous stretches of dialogue and extensive monologues calculated to put on display the playwright’s erudition. Frequently integrated into longer scenes which do little to advance the plot, such speeches proceed by accumulating variations on the same idea, until we are forced to recognise the speaker’s resourcefulness and acknowledge the clever smirk of the author who scripted the lines. In The Parson’s Wedding 1.3.80-86, the city-slicker Jolly entertains Jack Constant and Will Sadd with a vehement diatribe against the country gentry. The inquisitive interruptions by Jolly’s interlocutors – brief breathing-spaces for the reader, the audience and the actor alike – are geared to the end of allowing Jolly to exhibit his talent for pontification. Fulminating against the antiquated ways of his boorish neighbours, Jolly demolishes the reputation of the son of the local Knight of the Shire (the representative in Parliament), calling him
Hobinol the second; By this life, ‘tis a very Veal, and he licks his Nose like one of them; By his discourse you’ld guess he had eaten nothing but Hay; I wonder he doth not go on all four too, and hold up his leg when he stales [i.e. urinates]; he talks of nothing but the stable. The Coblers Black-bird at the corner has more discourse; he has not so much as the family-jest, which these Coridons use to inherit; I pos’d him in Booker’s Prophesies, till he confest he had not master’d his Almanack yet […]. (“Comedies” 81)
- 13 “Which Coridon first hearing, ran in haste / To rescue her [i.e. the fair Pastorella], but when he (...)
Here again a character becomes identified with an animal whose daily existence he shares: the “Veal’s” uncouth appearance, dull diet, and uncommunicative manner (outdone even by the cobbler’s chatty blackbird) neatly sum up the personality of Jolly’s satirical butt. And these lines also reveal the particular humour of the speaker, Jolly’s hatred of the country. In addition, however, the nicknames for the Knight’s son, “Coridon” and “Hobinol the second,” both suggested by the pastoral context, subtly challenge the powers of interpretation of the reader, who is expected to recall that Coridon is a cowardly youth in Book 6 of Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1596) and Hobbinol the embodiment of paradisiacal happiness in the June Eclogue of the same poet’s Shepheardes Calender.13 As “Hobinol the second,” the Knight’s son is thus made out to be the successor to Spenser’s rustic and the representative of a line of country oafs, who is drab enough to have missed out on the “family-jest” that comes with the inheritance. Descended from a fictional character, his ignorance of the real world is so glaring that when he is interrogated about “Booker’s Prophesies,” i.e. the predictions contained in the popular almanacs of the astrologer John Booker (Capp), his knowledge is found to be deficient, a serious inconvenience for a country-dweller whose livelihood is dependent on meteorological forecasts.
- 14 Thomaso contains allusions to Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays, The Merry Wives of Windsor and Othello(...)
16Killigrew could have restricted Jolly’s tirade to the identification of the Knight’s son with a calf – a metaphor driven home in a string of five or six successive sentences. But one of the features of his exuberant wit is that, in its penchant for copiousness, it is ever on the prowl for the next, felicitous idea with which to top off a train of thought. A full appreciation of such monologues is thus predicated upon the reader’s complicity, his/her willingness and ability to tease out the modern and classical literary echoes, historical allusions, and popular lore sprucing up the characters’ lines – the kind of disparate information that the author might well have stored in a commonplace book.14
17In Thomaso such displays of knowledge, more often than not piled up in clusters, are generally subservient to a broader, twofold aim more likely to be revealed by a close reading than in performance: first, to provide an imaginative record of the Cavaliers’ experience of exile, a rare topic in English dramatic history; and second, to allow the protagonist (the dramatist’s alter ego), through the exercise of his wit, to make sense of a precarious life of wandering and in so doing remain in control of the situation. These aims underlie the many speeches wryly commenting on the impoverished condition of the English expatriates and on such topics as the national character, the eating habits, the religious practices, the political situation and the climate of continental nations (Vander Motten, “Recycling”). In the searing dog days, Edwardo comments, the aspect which the river in Madrid with its imposing bridge offers is that of
[t]wo and twenty Arches, over a Kennel [=canal] of Snow water! […] there is not stream enough to quench the Mules shoos as they pass; the Coach wheels hiss as they drive in ‘t, while Don Phaeton sits in the Box, and Apollo flaming about his ears; ‘tis the first River I ever saw Coaches take the Air in […]. (“Comedies” Part I, 1.2.319)
The passage and its broader context illustrate the associational nature of Killigrew’s wit. The English commanders’ crossing of a shallow river in mule-driven coaches conjures up the story of Phaethon’s borrowing of the sun chariot, pulled by winged horses, and the dire consequences of his uncontrolled flight, which set the earth on fire, created deserts, and caused rivers to dry up – elements of the story in Book II of Ovid’s Metamorphoses which the educated reader is supposed to bring to mind (Ovid 15ff.). Nor is the Ovidian reference strictly decorative, for it subtly hints at the idea of metamorphosis (understood as mental and moral transformation) which emerges as a significant aspect of Killigrew’s fictional reconstruction of the exile experience.
18A look at two similar passages, one from either comedy, reveals Killigrew’s adapted discursive tactics in Thomaso, in this case in relation to the idea of courtship. In answer to Wild’s inquiry what he would like for supper, the Captain in The Parson’s Wedding orders a profusion of daintily cooked fish, fowl and beef, including a “Bird of Paradise,” his metaphorical phrase for “[a] Girl of Fifteen, smooth as Satten, White as her Sunday Apron, Plump, and of the first down.” Evidently an experienced cook, the Captain plans to
pluck her, and lay [i.e. let] her dry betwixt a couple of sheets; There pour into her so much oyl of Wit as will make her turn to a man, & stick into her heart three corns of whole love…then having strewed a man all over her, shut the door, and leave us, wee’le work our selves into such a Sauce as you can never surfeit on, so Poynant and yet no Hogough [i.e. ‘haut goût’ or seasoning; also denoting venereal disease] […] This shook together by an English Cook (for your French seasoning spoils many a woman) and there’s a Dish for a King […]. (“Comedies” Part II, 3.2.110)
Highlighting the speaker’s sexual appetite and his humiliating attitude to love-making, the drawn-out culinary metaphor, with its salacious word-play, ethnic slur, and incidental gibe at the King’s “fine” palate, is typically stretched to its limit but remains largely ornamental, inviting the reader’s admiration for its sparkles of wit if not for its philosophy. The protagonist in Thomaso conceives of courtship in very similar terms but adds a self-referential note, envisaging that
if I would eat a Girle it should be a Dutch-girle, a North Holland child, ‘tis pure Vitello [Ital., a sucking calf], Mungany [meaning not clear], or Capon de Lecho [capon: Span., a castrated rooster; lechon: sucking pig] as white and sweet as either; and when ‘tis wean’d, the Pigs, her Foster Brothers, that suck’d with her, are as good as she; In earnest, Madam, a Rotterdams Pig, taken from my Hostesses own breast; dost remember, Ned, when we stole the Sowes-baby out of the Cradle where the kind Nurse had hid it? (“Comedies” Part II, 5.7.456)
In accordance with this play’s European orientation, the “old” metaphor has of course been enriched with some exotically sounding terms thrown in for the sake of the couleur locale. But Thomaso’s speech is primarily an in-joke at the writer’s own expense, one which would have caught on with readers who knew that Killigrew’s well-to-do second wife, Charlotte van Hesse-Piershil (1629-1715), whom he had married in 1655, was just such a “North Holland child” and that the management of her paternal estate had been entrusted to her eldest “foster” brother (Vander Motten, “Lost Years” 316-17). The culinary-sexual metaphor informing the purple patch in The Parson’s Wedding has here become tinged with pathos masquerading as grandiloquence.
19No less than the disrupted idiom in which they are couched, the heterogeneous components of many monologues in Thomaso, including the misspelled foreign lingo, the memories of the home country, and the ruminations on old age, create an impression of chaotic fragmentation reflecting what Christopher D’Addario has called “the pressures placed on the material and affective lives of these [exiled] writers through their removal from the familiar” (9). It has been observed that plays like Davenant’s The Wits (1636) and John Fletcher’s Wit without Money (1639), the latter revived by Killigrew in 1660, “discuss the way in which wit can be used as a valid alternative means of survival when property and material wealth are confiscated” (Bancroft 59). I would suggest that Thomaso’s bitter-smart comments on his straightened circumstances are foregrounded as a form of intellectual capital substituting for such “material wealth” and allowing the writer, through the intermediary of his garrulous protagonist, to come to terms with his plight as a younger, penniless son of the gentry, who had thrown in his lot with the exiled Stuarts. Reinforcing the play’s episodic, morality-like structure and its halting progress towards a dénouement, speeches in Thomaso are thus made to contribute to a larger, extra-dramatic, overarching pattern – one imitating Killigrew’s longing for the end of exile and the restoration of the monarchy. The quips and quirks of Killigrew’s characters and the deprecatory manner of his protagonist, apart from being pretexts for “linguistic exhibitionism” (Barish 112), have here acquired near-therapeutic value, serving to keep at bay the vicissitudes of fortune.
20It should be clear that Killigrew’s comic dialogue is not mainly a matter of flashy, quick-witted repartee, in the refined manner of John Dryden’s “high-spirited lovers” Celadon and Florimell in Secret Love (1669) (Dryden 16) although there is that too – as in the oyster-eating scene in The Parson’s Wedding (2.7), which makes efficient use of clever retorts. His comedies admittedly lack the light-heartedness and elegance of idiom that we encounter in, say, Sir George Etherege’s She Would If She Could (1668) or Dryden’s Marriage A-la-Mode (1673). Whereas Killigrew the conversationalist had a talent for the volatile bon mot, the playwright produced a type of speech that was mostly expansive and ponderous but entertaining in its range of reference and self-reflexivity. This type of discourse unfortunately also proved too blunt a tool to sharply define and distinguish characters and give expression to a controlling moral vision, for instance by acknowledging the long-established Renaissance “distinction between right and wrong speaking – eloquence and chatter” (Hallahan 119). Killigrew was evidently no Ben Jonson.
21Many of the exchanges in both The Parson’s Wedding and Thomaso are in the nature of sprawling discussions on the subject of love and matrimony. In the former, these oppose, schematically speaking, two sets of characters: Widow Wild, Mrs Pleasant and their suitors Constant and Sadd, upholding romantic ideas of love-making; and the Captain, Jolly, Careless and Wild, who loudly proclaim cynical ideas similar to those voiced in, for instance, Francis Osborne’s Advice to a Son (Oxford, 1656) (Novak 56-57). Carried on at greater length in the picaresque context of Thomaso, such discussions provide a background for the eponymous character’s progression “from a state of fallen-ness to one of insight” and, finally, a repentance of sorts (Vander Motten, “Recycling” 144). To any reader familiar with Renaissance and Restoration comedy, the arguments formulated on either side may sound slightly jaded, rehearsing as they do the pitfalls inherent in courtship, marriage and widowhood. But the opportunity for bursts of irreverent wit inherent in these issues always proved an irresistible temptation to the dramatist. Witness Harrigo’s gushing deterrent against the horrors of being married to a country gentleman, whose breath is “a stink compos’d of vile Tobacco and dead Wine, stuffed nose, rotten lungs, and hollow teeth” (“Comedies,” Thomaso, Part II, 2.1.401) – a graphic harangue turning the tables on Truewit’s diatribe against women in Jonson’s Epicoene (2.2). Occasionally, however, speeches abandon their jocular or stinging tone and acquire a decidedly grim character.
22This is aptly illustrated in Wanton’s monologue in The Parson’s Wedding 4.1, which is delivered in response to Jolly’s demand to spend the night with her, in return for his part in fooling the Parson. Wanton grants Jolly’s request, with the proviso that he will be allowed to lie under her roof, though not with her (“Comedies” 122). The self-styled “whore profess’d” (122) thereupon makes men of Jolly’s ilk an arresting proposal that will bear quoting at some length:
I dare say, the fear of telling keeps more women honest than Bridewell Hemp [i.e. the London prison for prostitutes, where inmates were put to work beating hemp]; And were you wise men, and true Lovers of liberty, now were the time to bring wenching to that perfection no age could ever have hoped; now you may sow such seed of pleasure, you may be prayed for hereafter; Now, in this Age of zeal and Ignorance, would I have you four, in old cloathes, and demure looks, present a Petition to both Houses, and say, you are men touched in Conscience for your share in that wickedness which is known to their worships by the pleasure of Adultery, and desire it may be death, and that a Law may be pass’d to that purpose; How the women will pray for you, and at their own charges rear Statu’s [sic] in memory of their Benefactors; the young and kind would then haunt your Chambers, Pray, and present you, and Court the Sanguine youth, for the sweet sin secur’d by such a Law; None would lose an Occasion, nor churlishly oppose kind Nature, nor refuse to listen to her summons, when youth and Passion calls for those forbidden sweets; when such security as your lives are at stake, who would fear to trust; with this Law all Oaths and Protestations are cancell’d; Letters and Bawdes would grow useless too; By instinct the Kind will find the Kind; and having one nature become of one mind; Now we lose an Age, to observe and know a mans humour, ere we dare trust him; But get this Law, then ‘tis, like and enjoy; and whereas now, with expence of time and Fortune, you may glean some one Mistris amongst your neighbours wives, you shall reap women whole Armfulls as in the Common field…There has been but one Execution this hundred years […] (123)
“Wanton’s law,” as she wants it to be called, is an unmistakeable allusion to the infamous Act for Suppressing the Detestable Sins of Incest, Adultery and Fornication voted by the Puritan Commonwealth on 10 May 1650, which made the first two “felonies, carrying sentence of death without benefit of clergy” (Thomas 256). If Jolly and his cronies, Wanton suggests, were to present a petition to Parliament and managed to have a law passed that makes adultery a capital offence, all women would be eternally grateful to them. For such an act would keep boastful men from spreading untrue rumours about their conquests. And young people would follow their instincts and waste no time in committing “the sweet sin,” feeling secure in the knowledge that the provisions of the new law would enjoin a strict secrecy.
23Ill befitting Wanton’s low-life character, this is a dramatically superfluous but eloquent speech, whose coherence and oratorical effects are rare in Killigrew’s comedies. Not just a purple patch or a tongue-in-cheek test of our literacy, Wanton’s proposal reads like a piece of social commentary which claims our attention for the ambiguous and disturbing quality of its wit. Its mixture of irony (“you are men touched in conscience”) and cynicism (“their benefactors,” “this age of zeal and ignorance”) reflects broadly popular opinion in condemning subversive ideas, Cavalier and other, about “traditional moral values” (Capp, “England’s” 132). But it also pokes fun at the excesses of the 1650 Act, holding out the paradoxical prospect that its very rigidity will bring “wenching to that perfection no age could ever have hoped.” If the speech imagines a band of confirmed fornicators as the fathers of a law against adultery, it could also be taken to imply that many of the men who passed the law in the Rump Parliament were themselves no better – a suggestion that a Restoration reader might well have found himself (or herself) in agreement with. And the gratitude in the shape of “statues” that these characters are likely to earn for giving legal sanction to their ways is both a male author’s uneasy comment on women’s growing freedom and a clear-sighted reflection on the fact that this severe piece of legislation was in reality so clogged with restrictions that few if any were ever convicted for adultery (Fraser ch. 12; Thomas 279; Booth 127-28). If Wanton’s lines were actually spoken when the play was staged on 11 October 1664, they would have derived even more piquancy from the fact that this was the performance in which, as Pepys reported, all parts were assigned to women (Pepys 5: 294).
- 15 The nature of the controversy elicited by the 1650 Act is illustrated in A Dialogue, in which Macq (...)
24At play’s end a number of ambiguities remain unresolved, leaving us to wonder where the dramatist himself stood on the issues broached along the way. But in the context of this repetitious war of words, Wanton’s wry speech offers an instance of what a modern critic has termed “the richest kind of literary wit,” that which “destabilizes and refreshes not just perceptions of social ills and moral hypocrisies but also habits of thought [and] ingrained patterns of the mind” (Michelson 144).15 The evidence of the 1664 Folio demonstrates that this “destabilising” kind of wit, here caught in the form of an impressive monologue, did not necessarily require the forum of the public stage in order to fully make its mark.
25How, then, does one account for what were evidently the ceaseless attractions of the speaking voice in Killigrew’s comedies, manifesting itself in stretches of discourse having extra-dramatic dimensions, be they ornamental, intertextual, autobiographical, satirical, or a combination of several of these? It could be plausibly argued that such dimensions were not the sole prerogative of this particular playwright – and I am not arguing that it was. The element of ostentation, however, that all of them have in common happens to be consistent with Killigrew’s perennial need for self-advertisement, both in his dramatic works and elsewhere. As is suggested by the extant portraits and engravings providing us with an excellent idea of how he liked to be pictured, Killigrew throughout his life cultivated this need through the creation of a series of personae – the mourning husband, the loose scoundrel, the Stuart supporter, the converted rake and the repentant pilgrim in his final years (Vander Motten, “Recycling” 145-50).
- 16 In a dispatch sent from Turin the play-writing envoy apologised for his “ill hand,” adding: “as so (...)
26Without venturing into the field of psychobiography, I suggest that Killigrew’s bent for witty pedantry may have been fuelled by the conscious desire to compensate for a formal education that had been at best incidental and left him in large measure a self-made man. Some contemporaries were genuinely impressed by this. Henry Bennet (bapt. 1618-1685), the future first earl of Arlington and a relative of Killigrew’s first wife Cecilia Crofts (d. 1638), in one of the dedicatory poems prefixed to The Prisoners and Claracilla (1641) commented on the plays, “I cannot choose but wonder how your Parts / Gain’d this perfection without Bookes, or Arts” (A2r). Or, in the words of “the sober English Gentleman” Harrigo, “Don Thomaso has seen the world, and gather’d from every Nation what is excellent, and can comply with times and natures, for he has been bred in Courts and Armies, those schools of the mind, where men learn to tame their wills and passions” (“Comedies” Part II, 2.1.402). Despite the important offices that came his way as a Stuart creature and protégé, including his appointment as royal resident in the northern states of Italy in the late 1640s and early 1650s, I suspect that the dramatist and theatrical manager always remained very diffident about his adequacy as a citizen of the republic of letters. Diffidence may – paradoxically – help account for the showy range of cultural references, both acknowledged and unacknowledged, which lend an air of distinction to the plays and let the reader in on the dramatist’s reading (Vander Motten, “The Saucy Zeal”; Keast) – a collaborative strategy in its own right. When in the final, spell-breaking, scene of The Parson’s Wedding Killigrew referred to himself as “the illiterate Courtier that made this Play” (“Comedies” 5.4.154), he did not hint at his lack of erudition so much as to the fact that he never mastered the art of spelling, a shortcoming that remained a nagging and permanent worry.16 Even so the juxtaposition, often in one and the same speech, of flourishes of knowledge given a charmingly poetic ring with gross vulgarities may evince a mind with which intellectual sophistication never sat easily.
27Another remarkable feature of The Parson’s Wedding and Thomaso is that, while their idiom exhibits the hallmarks of an oral mode that seeks to imitate the live language, the texts of the plays were clearly meant for an alert and knowledgeable readership. Although, strictly speaking, they cannot be described as closet plays, Killigrew’s expansive manner forced him to rely on the “private relation between text and reader” (Straznicky 382) guaranteed by the printed version rather than on the fleeting nature of the stage. The descriptive stage directions in Thomas, for instance, encompassing far more than the traditional “enter” and “exit,” confirm that he consciously used print in order to recreate the theatrical illusion for the benefit of the reader. The dramatist no doubt felt that the printed edition, providing the complete version of his plays, allowed this reader to make sense of his wit by enabling him/her to closely scrutinise his texts, go “both forward and backward” in them (Straznicky 382), and possibly revisit meaningful speeches that ran the risk of being lost on a theatre audience. Although he would not have thought of his strategy in modern terms, Killigrew in the printed edition of his plays sought to give authority to the word “as a visual image retained in visual memory” more than as a “sound or rhythm retained in acoustic memory” (Elsky115). This concern, at least, I take it to be the drift of his uncharacteristically brief address “To the Reader” prefixed to the Folio, in which he declared, “I Shall only say, If you have as much leasure to Read as I had to Write these Plays, you may, as I did, find a diversion; though I wish it you upon better terms then Twenty Years Banishment” (*2).