Academic journal article Early Theatre

Offstage and Onstage Drama: New Approaches to Richard Brome

Academic journal article Early Theatre

Offstage and Onstage Drama: New Approaches to Richard Brome

Article excerpt

Richard Brome had his dramatic debut in Ben Jonson's play, Bartholomew Fair, where he is described by the Stage-keeper in the Induction as skulking about backstage: 'But for the whole play, will you ha' the truth on't? I am looking, lest the poet hear me, or his man, Master Brome, behind the arras. It is like to be a very conceited scurvy one, in plain English' (Induction, 6-9). (1) So Jonson immortalizes Brome as being backstage, literally and metaphorically within his master's shadow. Beginning with Edward Phillips, writing twenty three years after the playwright's death, critical evaluation preserves Brome's literary and social status as Jonson's servant. For many years he has remained a shadowy figure in the tiring house and in Jonson's service, even electing servitude as a frame of self-reference. (2)

The introduction to Matthew Steggle's seminal work on Brome, Place and Politics on the Caroline Stage, identifies several good reasons why this relatively neglected Caroline playwright deserves attention. Among them are Brome's complex, stimulating, and entertaining plays; his relationship with key dramatists and poets (including his time in Jonson's service); the variety of his literary legacy and its theatrical afterlife; legal evidence, contributing towards Renaissance scholars' knowledge of the working lives of theatre professionals; and his rare status and example as a servant writer. (3)

This list summarizes many excellent reasons for studying Brome's work and life, and the dramatic and biographical importance highlighted by Steggle is reflected in the four varied essays which follow. (4) The first paper concerns Brome's contract with the Salisbury Court theatre, while the latter three take an individual Brome play as their subject: The English Moor, The Antipodes, and The Weeding of Covent Garden. Each essay considers Brome and his writing from a different angle: Eleanor Collins re-examines Brome's theatre contract with the King's Revels company and the Salisbury Court theatre; Karen Kettnich uses The Antipodes as the focal point of an assessment of improvisation on the renaissance stage; Farah Karim-Cooper analyses the use of cosmetics in The English Moor and the implications of black make-up in terms of race and gender; and Mimi Yiu explores the concept of gendered space and architecture in The Weeding of Covent Garden.

Study of Brome and his work is soon to be facilitated substantially by an online edition of his plays under the general editorship of Richard Allen Cave, answering T.S. Eliot's call for Brome's plays to be both more accessible and widely read. (5) However, it is important to establish that the essays proffered in this Issues in Review do not simply take as their common focus 'Richard Brome: the man and his plays'. This would suggest that playwrights and their work exist in a vacuum, which of course they do not. As Steggle's study indicates, Brome operates within a web of social, theatrical, and political connections. A welcome increase in the forthcoming collected editions of major Caroline dramatists, in print and online, will stimulate both the discovery of previously inaccessible dramatic texts for new readers and opportunities for further connections between dramatists, playing companies, players, and audiences, the 'social network' advocated by Scott McMillin writing in an earlier Issues in Review. (6)

These new editions are also able to make use of new technologies, allowing them to unite and display a variety of textual and visual materials. Editions (such as Internet Shakespeare Editions) already exist on stand-alone internet sites, enabling 'users' to view different versions of texts (both transcriptions of original printed material and modernised versions with annotation). Texts in development are additionally being supplemented with pictorial images and, in the case of the Brome project, video clips of archived or specially commissioned performances of excerpts of text by professional actors. …

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