1894 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Tomkis

Edmund Gosse, in The Jacobean Poets (1894) 177-78.



Tomkis, or Tomkins, was a University playwright, a scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge. Two plays of his, neither of which is a work of genius, have attracted a great deal of discussion, and were famous when some of the masterpieces of Jacobean drama were still unknown. One of these is Lingua, long attributed to Anthony Brewer. The scene is laid in Microcosmus, in a grove, and the plot didactically sets forth the combat of the tongue and the five senses for superiority. Interest was lent to Lingua by the tradition that Oliver Cromwell played in it in the part of Tactus, and had his political ambition first enflamed by it. This play was probably written soon after the accession of James I., though not published till 1607. It was very frequently reprinted in the course of the century. Tompkis' other drama, oddly enough, has also been the centre of a tissue of tradition. Albumazar, which was acted by the gentlemen of Trinity before the king in 1615, and published the same year, attracted the notice of Dryden, who caused it to be revived, and wrote a prologue for it in 1668. In his enthusiasm for his discovery, Dryden charged Ben Jonson with having chosen Albumazar as the model of his own great comedy of The Alchymist. This mistake was constantly repeated, in spite of the fact that Jonson's play preceded that of Tomkis by five years.