THOMAS RANDOLPH was the son of a steward to Lord Zouch. He was a king's scholar at Westminster, and obtained a fellowship at Cambridge. His wit and learning endeared him to Ben Jonson, who owned him, like Cartwright, as his adopted son in the Muses. Unhappily he followed the taste of Ben not only at the pen, but at the bottle; and he closed his life in poverty, at the age of twenty-nine, — a date lamentably premature, when we consider the promises of his genius. His wit and humour are very conspicuous in the Puritan characters, whom he supposes the spectators of his scenes in the Muse's Looking-Glass. Throughout the rest of that drama (though it is on the whole his best performance) he unfortunately prescribed to himself too hard and confined a system of dramatic effect. Professing simply,
—in single scenes to show,
How comedy presents each single vice,
he introduces the vices and contrasted humours of human nature in a tissue of unconnected personifications, and even refines his representations of abstract character into conflicts of speculative opinion.
For his skill in this philosophical pageantry the poet speaks of being indebted to Aristotle, and probably thought of his play what Voltaire said of one of his own, "This would please you, if you were Greeks." The female critic's reply to Voltaire was very reasonable, "But we are not Greeks." Judging of Randolph, however, by the plan which he professed to follow, his execution is vigorous: his ideal characters are at once distinct and various, and compact with the expression which he purposes to give them. He was the author of five other dramatic pieces, besides miscellaneous poems.
He died at the house of his friend, W. Stafford, Esq. of Blatherwyke, in his native county, and was buried in the adjacent church, where an appropriate monument was erected to him by Sir Christopher, afterwards Lord Hatton.