1753 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Dekker

Anonymous, in Cibber-Shiels, Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland (1753) 1:152-54.



THOMAS DECKER, a poet who lived in the reign of King James I. and as he was cotemporary with Ben Johnson, so he became more eminent by having a quarrel with that great man, than by all his works. Decker was but an indifferent poet, yet even in those days he wanted not his admirers; he had also friends among the poets; one of whom, Mr. Richard Brome, always called him Father; but it is the misfortune of little wits, that their admirers are as inconsiderable as themselves, for Brome's applauses confer no great honour on those who enjoy them. Our author joined with Webster in writing three plays, and with Rowley and Ford in another; and Langbaine asserts, that these plays in which he only contributed a part, far exceed those of his own composition. He has been concerned in eleven plays, eight whereof are of his own writing, of all which I shall give an account in their alphabetical order.

I. Fortunatus, a comedy, printed originally in 4to. but with what success, or when acted, I cannot gain any account.

II. Honest Whore, the first part; a comedy, with the humours of the Patient Man, and the Longing Wife, acted by the Queen's Servants, 1635.

III. Honest Whore, the second part, a comedy; with the humours of the Patient Man, the Impatient Wife; the Honest Whore persuaded by strong arguments to turn Courtezan again; her refusing those arguments, and lastly the comical passage of an Italian bridewel, where the scene ends. Printed in 4to. London 1630. This play Langbaine thinks was never exhibited, neither is it divided into acts.

IV. If this be not a good play the devil is in it; a comedy, acted with great applause by the Queen's majesty's servants, at the Red Bull, and dedicated to the actors. The beginning of this play seems to be writ in imitation of Machiavel's novel of Belphegor, where Pluto summons the Devils to council.

Match me in London, a Tragi-Comedy, often presented, first at the Bull's head in St. John's-street and then at a private house in Drury-lane, called the Phoenix, printed in 4to. in 1631.

VI. Northward Ho, a comedy, often acted by the children of Paul's, printed in 4to. London, 1607. This play was writ by our author and John Webster.

VII. Satyromastix, or the untrussing the humourous poet, a comical satire, presented publickly by the Lord Chamberlain's servants, and privately by the children of Paul's, printed in 4to, 1602, and dedicated to the world. This play was writ on the occasion of Ben Johnson's Poetaster, for some account of which see the Life of Johnson.

VIII. Westward Ho, a comedy, often acted by the children of Paul's, and printed in 4to. 1607; written by our author and Mr. Webster.

IX. Whore of Babylon, an history acted by the prince's servants, and printed in 4to. London 1607. The design of this play, by feigned names, is to set forth the admirable virtues of queen Elizabeth; and the dangers she escaped by the happy discovery of those designs against her sacred person by the Jesuits and bigotted Papists.

X. Wyatt's History, a play said to be writ by him and Webster, and printed in 4to. The subject of this play is Sir Thomas Wyat of Kent, who made an insurrection in the first year of Queen Mary, to prevent her match with Philip of Spain.

Besides these plays he joined with Rowley and Ford in a play called, The Witch of Edmonton, of which see Rowley.

There are four other plays attributed to our author, in which he is said by Mr. Phillips and 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 Langbaine asserts they are mistaken, for the first was written by Lewis Sharp, and the other by anonymous authors.