1691 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Dekker

Gerard Langbaine, in Account of the English Dramatick Poets (1691) 121-25.



A Poet that liv'd in the Reign of King James the First, and was Contemporary with that admirable Laureat, Mr. Benjamin Johnson. He was more famous for the contention he had with him for the Bays, than for any great Reputation he had gain'd by his own Writings. Yet even in that Age, he wanted not his Admirers, nor his Friends amongst the Poets: in which number I reckon the Ingenious Mr. Richard Brome; who always stil'd him by the Title of Father. He clubb'd with Webster in writing Three Plays; and with Rowley and Ford in another: and I think I may venture to say, that these Plays as far exceed those of his own Brain, as a  platted Whip-cord exceeds a single Thread in strength. Of those which he writ alone, I know none of much Esteem, except The Untrussing the Humourous Poet, and that chiefly on account of the Subject of it, which was the Witty Ben Johnson. He has had a Hand in Twelve Plays, Eight whereof were of his own Writing. Of all which I shall give an account, in their Alphabetical Order, as follows;

Fortunatus, a Comedy; of which I can give no other account than that I once barely saw it and is printed in quarto.

Honest Whore, the First Part; a Comedy, with the Humours of the Patient Man, and the longing Wife, acted by her Majesties Servants with great applause; printed in 4to Lond. 1635.

Honest Whore, the Second Part; a Comedy, with the Humours of the Patient Man, the Impatient Wife; the Honest Whore, perswaded by strong Arguments to turn Curtizan again: her brave refuting those Arguments; and lastly the Comical passage of an Italian Bridewel, where the Scene ends: printed in quarto Lond. 1630. This Play I believe was never acted, neither is it divided into Acts. The passage between the Patient Man, and his Impatient Wife's going to fight for the Breeches, with the happy Event, is exprest by Sr. John Harrington in Verse. See his Epigrams at the end of Orlando Furioso, Book 1. Epigr. 16.

If this be not a good Play, the Devil is in it, a Comedy acted with great applause, by the Queen's Majesties Servants, at the Red Bull; printed Lond. 16— and dedicated to his loving, and loved Friends and Fellows, the Queens Majesties Servants: by which he means the Actors. The beginning of his Play, seems to be writ in imitation of Matchiavel's Novel of Belphegor: where Pluto summons the Devils to Councel.

Match me in London, a Tragi-Comedy often presented, first at the Bull in St. John's Street, and lately at the Private-house in Drury-lane, call'd the Phoenix; printed in quarto Lond. 1631. and dedicated to the Noble Lover (and deservedly Beloved) of the Muses, Lodowick Carlel Esquire. Some account this a tolerable old Play.

Northward-Ho, a Comedy sundry times acted by the Children of Pauls, printed in quarto Lond. 1607. This Play was writ by our Author, and John Webster. The Plot of Greenshield and Featherstone's pretending to Mayberry that they had both lain with his Wife, and how they came to the knowledge of each other by her Ring, Act 1. Sc. 1. is founded on a Novel which is in the Ducento Novelle del Signior Celio Malespini, Par. 1. Nov. 2.

Satyromastix, or The Untrussing the Humourous Poet, a Comical Satyr presented publickly by the Right Honourable the Lord Chamberlain's Servants, and privately by the Children of Pauls, printed in quarto Lond. 1602. and dedicated to the World. This Play was writ on the occasion of Ben Johnson's Poetaster, where under the Title of Chrispinus, Ben lash'd our Author, which he endeavour'd to retaliate by Untrussing Ben under the Title of Horace Junior. This Play is far inferior to that of Mr. Johnson, as indeed his abilities in Poetry were no ways comparable to his: but this may be said in our Author's behalf, that 'twas not only lawful, but excusable for him to defend himself: pray therefore hear part of his Defense in his own language, and then censure as you please. "Horace (says he) trail'd his Poetasters to the Bar, the Poetasters Untruss'd Horace; how worthily either, or how wrongfully, (World) leave it to the Jury: Horace (questionless) made himself believe that his Burgonian-wit might desperately challenge all Comers, and that none durst take up the Foyles against him. Its likely, if he had not so believ'd, he had not been so deceiv'd, for he was answer'd at his own Weapon: And if before Apollo himself (who is Coronator Poetarum) an Inquisition should be taken touching this lamentable merry murdering of Innocent Poetry: all Mount Hellicon to Bun-hill, would find it on the Poetasters side se defendando."

Westward-Ho, a Comedy divers times acted by the Children of Pauls, and printed in quarto Lond. 1607. This was writ by our Author and Mr. Webster.

Whore of Babylon, an History, acted by the Prince's Servants, and printed in quarto Lond. 1607. The design of this Play is under feign'd Names to set forth the admirable Virtues of Queen Elizabeth, and the Dangers which she escap'd, by the happy discovery of those Designs against her Sacred Person by the Jesuites, and other Biggoted Papists. The Queen is shadow'd under the Title of Titania; Rome under that of Babylon; Campian the Jesuite is represented by the Name of Campeius; Dr. Parry by Parridel, &c.

Wyat's History, a Play said to be writ by Him and Webster, and printed in quarto. Tho' I never saw this Play, yet I suppose the subject of it is Sr. Thomas Wyat of Kent, who made an Insurrection in the First year of Queen Mary to prevent her Match with Philip of Spain: but as this is only conjecture, I must rest in suspence till I can see the Play.

Besides these Plays he joyn'd with Rowley and Ford in a Play call'd The Witch of Edmonton, of which you will find an account in William Rowley.

There are Four other Plays ascrib'd to our Author, in which he is said by Mr. Philips and Mr. Winstanley to be an Associate with John Webster; viz. Noble Stranger; New Trick to Cheat the Devil; Weakest goes to the Wall; Woman will have her Will. In all which they are mistaken; for the first was written by Lewis Sharp, and the other by anonymous Authors.