The New Academy; or, The New ExchangeCritical Introduction
Date1The New Academy receives its one and only printing in the Five New Plays volume of 1659, seven years after Brome’s death. There is nothing in that printing that indicates a precise date of composition or of performance; there is no external evidence of a performance date that might establish a terminus post quem. But as Matthew Steggle notes, while earlier scholarship suggested a wide range of dates of composition, Lucy Munro’s identification of a jestbook referred to by the character Nehemiah as The Book of Bulls by A.S. makes it highly likely that the play was written and first performed in the spring of 1636n10009. The Book of Bulls was entered in the Stationers’ Register on 6 April 1636 and for the joke of Nehemiah’s reference to be current, The New Academy would have had to be performed shortly after the jestbook’s appearance for sale. While some Brome plays show signs of revision for later revivals, making problematic the use of this kind of reference for dating, The New Academy has none of these signs.2The subtitle’s reference to ‘The New Exchange’ adds little to questions of date: the New Exchange on the Strand was opened in 1609 and by the 1630s was only new by comparison with the Royal Exchange, opened in 1566. But the main title is highly topical: though there is little evidence for the widespread creation of academies of polite manners in London in the 1630s, one did open and with a splash: Sir Francis Kynaston opened his academy, the Musæum Minervæ in 1635, its creation a manifestation of contemporary enthusiasm for the reformation of manners and, in particular, fascination with French and (to a lesser degree) Italian civic and court culture. The opening was celebrated with a masque, subsequently printed: Corona Minervæ. Or A masque presented before Prince Charles His Highnesse, the Duke of Yorke his brother, and the Lady Mary his sister, the 27th of February, at the Colledge of the Museum [sic] Minervæ (1635); and in 1636 Kynaston published a brief and idealistic set of regulations for his academy, The Constitutions of the Musæum Minervæ. With the use of the term ‘Regent’ for Strigood as the head of his ‘New Academy’, Brome seems to allude directly to Kynaston’s enterprise. There is a mild satire on such enterprises as the Musæum Minervæ here, though Strigood is a dastardly fake and there is no suggestion that in this way he resembles Kynaston. The commentary on the Musæum may be more about raising an eyebrow concerning its idealism; the satire appears more directed at those who seek through the briefest of visits to acquire a thin veneer of manners, understanding nothing of what really makes for a man or woman of civility.3Kynaston’s Musæum Minervæ was situated in Bedford Street, Covent Garden, at the heart of the newly fashionable West End, outside the City walls and close to the royal centres of Whitehall and Westminster. The Academy, which received financial support from Charles I, surely achieved instant fame and it is likely that its establishment was a trigger for the writing of Brome’s play. But apart from the use of the term ‘Regent’ and various inconsequential mentions of Desiderius Erasmus in the masque Corona Minervæ (one of The New Academy’s characters is called Erasmus), there is little substantive connection between The New Academy and Kynaston’s new academy.4In all, the topical relevance and reference points to the spring of 1636 as the date of both composition and first performance.First performance5No records of performances of The New Academy have been found. However, more precise dating of the play adds considerably to the likelihood that it was written for and performed at the Salisbury Court playhouse; Brome had been contracted to its King’s Revels company on 20 July 1635. The Salisbury Court theatre, situated just beyond the western walls of the City of London, was well-placed to attract an audience from both the commercial centre of the City and the newly-established suburbs between the City and the royal centres of Whitehall and Westminster. The New Academy may well be written with this mixed audience in mind, explaining its lack of the most polarised kind of satire: neither City nor polite culture is denigrated per se; rather, Brome’s play seems to see virtues in both and to focus more on how particular personalities react in the circumstances dictated by contemporary society.6As the play goes on, The New Academy contains more and more references to and displays of dance, ending with the entire cast joining in Omnium Gatherum. Dance is mildly satirised in the play; but it is also then held up as a polite activity, both promoting and representing the good and harmonious government of body and social self. R.J. Kaufmann documents the arrival of French players in 1634-5 and proposes a burst of enthusiasm for and curiosity about French courtly dance that continues for several years thereafter.n10010 But there had been prominent French dancers and dancing masters in England for some time, notably Francois de Lauze and Barthelemy de Montagut, both in England in the 1620s onwards; they engaged in a furious dispute over Montagut’s plagiarism from his colleague’s Apologie de la danse (1623), dedicated to the then marquis of Buckingham. Montagut in particular would have had topical value for Brome in the mid 1630s.n10011 A member of Queen Henrietta Maria’s household, in July 1635 he killed ‘a Grasier, a substantial honest Man, hard by Brainford for which it is thought he shall fetch a Caper at Tyburn’.n10014 Montagut was not executed, but this scandal may have made French dancing masters yet more prominent (see Ravelhofer, Early Stuart Masque, pp. 57-9, for Montagut’s turbulent and unhappy time in England in the later 1630s).Setting7The subtitle of the play is The New Exchange, and this refers to the commercial development erected by Robert Cecil, the earl of Salisbury, on the Strand in 1609; its opening was celebrated with Ben Jonson’s entertainment, Britain’s Burse.n10013 The New Exchange was less a bourse than a shopping mall, placed between the City of London and the areas of royal residence and administration in Whitehall and Westminster and close to the rapidly-developing fashionable neighbourhoods of what is now London’s West End. These neighbourhoods were attracting aristocrats and gentry, and those who aspired to mix with them. This new community was a centre of wealth and conspicuous consumption, and the enterprises that set up shop in the New Exchange were geared to supply the new world of fashion and politeness.8Act 2 of The New Academy opens in the New Exchange, in front of one of the shops or sales booths. It houses Camelion’s shop, where he - really, his wife, Hannah - sells clothing accessories to the fashionable clientele:HannahWhat lack ye, gentlemen? Fair cut-work bands, boot-hose, or boot-hose tops, shirts, waistcoats, nightcaps, what will you buy?[NA 2.1.speech260]9But apart from this scene, none of the rest of the action takes place there. The play opens either within Matchil’s house, in one of its more public spaces, or immediately outside it; this is the setting for the entire first act, which unfolds as a single scene with different groups of intersecting characters entering and leaving. Matchil is a merchant, but the play does not specify the location of his house. It is probably inside the City of London’s walls. Other locations include the house of his sister, Lady Nestlecock; but again, its location is not specified. The majority of the latter half of the play, however, takes place in ‘The New Academy’, which is based in the house of Camelion and Hannah. This is near the New Exchange, as we know from the address on a letter sent to his daughter Hannah by Captain Hardyman:‘To my dear daughter Mistress Hannah Camelion, at her shop or house in or near the New Exchange.’[NA 2.1.speech224]10What this implies is that, while The New Academy is certainly one of the plays within the ‘place realism’ group,n10014 its use of specific locations is somewhat different from a work such as The Weeding of the Covent Garden. As will be commented on more fully later in this introduction, the specific location of the New Exchange is probably there to emphasise the intersection of polite manners, amorous relationships, and marriage with the world of commerce, of different kinds of goods being traded in order to acquire others. The exploitative young man-about-town Valentine offers Hannah a sexual liaison for money, not realising that she is his half-sister; his friend Erasmus makes no bones about labelling this commerce:For as I said before, good Valentine,
I must return you to your City wives,
By the old trade to pick your maintenance
Out of ’em, as you boast you can.[NA 2.1.speech242]Brome’s borrowings: eclecticism and intertextuality11The character of The New Academy may well have a great deal to do with Brome’s new Salisbury Court obligations and his habitual approach to the composition of a play. As ever, Brome shows himself remarkably agile and splendidly pragmatic in responding to the messages being transmitted by his market: not only does he choose topics that are live and under discussion when the play is written, he seizes upon aspects of the drama and other literary work clearly most interesting to his contemporaries. Elements of The New Academy seem to derive from many of the most popular works of the day; including his own: the sub-plot of Camelion and Hannah seems to derive from elements in Brome’s recent and highly successful Sparagus Garden. This might lead one to think the play derivative and even shamelessly plagiaristic; but often Brome’s allusions and borrowings are commented on within the play, inverted, or developed in ways that make his practice genuinely intertextual. He offers opportunities to the audience to recognise a similarity or connection, but then also invites recognition of the ways in which his character differs. For instance: shopkeeper’s wives are typically represented in contemporary plays as spendthrifts and careless of their reputations, as in James Shirley’s The Lady of Pleasure. Brome’s Hannah is exactly the reverse, prudently dispensing small sums of her father’s money to his profligate stepson and pleading with her husband to cease exposing her to circumstances that may undermine her good name.Ben Jonson, Epicoene12In The New Academy, a striking instance comes in Matchil’s powerful soliloquy in Act 3, when the character comments on his quest for a silent wife, effectively invoking Morose in Epicoene, but then points out that his circumstances are even worse than those of his model in Jonson’s play:and for th’unmanly joy
I took in one wife’s death, because a shrew -
Though otherwise virtuous - I am in another
Trebly tormented; not alone with noise,
But with a fear of unchaste purposes,
Which if they come to act, my purse must pay for.[NA 3.1.speech546]13‘Not alone with noise’: it is almost as though the character himself knows the connection. Brome’s original audience would certainly spot the reference: Epicoene was revived in 1636, the same year as The New Academy’s composition; and, as Janette Dillon points out, Epicoene was first performed within a year of the opening of the New Exchange.n1001514The tricking of Morose in Jonson’s play is to deter him from diverting his wealth from his nephew. In The New Academy, Matchil’s decision to remarry is designed to frustrate the ambitions of his relatives, principally his sister Lady Nestlecock and his half-brother Strigood. They hope that, after the supposed death of his son and his estrangement from his daughter, he will have no option but to bequeath his property to them. Matchil’s motives are then somewhat similar to those of Jonson’s character, who marries not least to disappoint his nephew Sir Dauphine. Morose - morbidly averse to noise - ‘marries’ Epicoene, seemingly a demure and largely silent young woman; but immediately upon her marriage ‘she’ becomes loquacious and imperious. Epicoene is ultimately revealed to be a boy in disguise, rendering the marriage invalid. Brome does not exactly imitate Jonson’s play in this regard: Matchil marries his long-time servant Rachel, and there is no chance that he is mistaken about her gender. But she, like Epicoene, reveals herself as loud, censorious, domineering, and alarmingly likely to take lovers as soon as the wedding is over: she has been situationally silent, her docility a function not of personality but position as a servant. Matchil is offered no device to escape from his marriage to Rachel; but Epicoene’s ‘invalid marriage’ as a mechanism for ending the play is shared with The New Academy, with regard to the apparent marriages of the four young people, the brother and sister of the Matchil and the French Lafoy families. Consanguinity renders these ‘marriages’ null-and-void; and in any case it turns out that the marriages had been fictitious.15Matchil is different from Morose, not least in that he appears to regain his position of supremacy and authority at the end of the play. Brome also gives his character a more complex set of motives, a point that Matchil himself seems to point out to the audience - ‘not alone with noise’ - in his Act 3 soliloquy:For my lost son, I rashly wrought revenge
Upon an innocent girl; and with her
Have lost mine own; ….
I see my faults, and feel the punishments.
And, rather than stand out in my defence,
T’enjoy some peace I will endure some sorrow,
And bear it civilly.[NA 3.1.speech546]16Matchil does not seek divorce or annulment of the marriage, as Morose does; rather he turns inward, recognises the faults that have led him to this pass, and vows to accommodate himself to a future that appalls him. This entails a knowing subordination to his new wife and an attempt - which he knows will probably be futile - to reason her out of indulging in promiscuous behaviour.17There are other connections between The New Academy and Epicoene. Both plays stage marriages in which traditional gender roles have been reversed: in Epicoene the Otters and in Brome’s play Camelion and Hannah. But in Jonson’s play Mistress Otter has seized dominance and her husband, unless drunk and out of her sight and hearing, is entirely submissive. In The New Academy, however, Hannah pleads with her husband to assume the traditional male role as a protector of his wife and her reputation. He refuses, cloaking a desire to get his own way by thrusting on her an apparent and unwelcome freedom. The Otters have a gender-reversal marriage, but it is very different from that of Camelion and Hannah.18Brome’s melancholy, versifying knight Sir Swithin Whimlby resembles Epicoene’s poetic Sir John Daw. It is striking, however, how differently Brome handles this material. Daw is contemptible: a self-absorbed, vain liar when it comes to claiming sexual prowess and experience with Epicoene. Jonson subjects him to ridicule in the humiliating mock-duel with Sir Amorous La Foole and by having his sexual bragging mercilessly exposed when Epicoene’s real gender is revealed at the end of the play. In contrast, Whimlby is pitiable rather than contemptible. His lame verses and self-indulgence in histrionic grief over the death of his wife Grissel have to be set alongside his frenzied concern when his ‘niece’ Blith Tripshort goes missing in the Academy. Whimlby traduces no-one’s reputation. Jonson’s character is a ‘jackdaw’, a name, as the Oxford English Dictionary says, ‘applied contemptuously to a loquacious person’ (jackdaw 2). Brome’s character has a name that seems composed of a succession of effete sounds. It is notable that, although Whimlby is the only titled male in the play, his knighthood serves primarily to indicate the distance that exists by the 1630s between the award of the honour and its military origins.n10016 There is a military man in The New Academy: Mr. or Captain Hardyman, whose surname, capacity for calm command, and lack of title of honour seem to mark him as a deliberate contrast to the ineffectual Sir Swithin. Brome seems to have borrowed an idea from Jonson once more, but to have adapted it purposively.
Ben Jonson, Every Man in his Humour19While the occasion for The New Academy is the arrival of academies for the teaching of manners and dancing, and the development of shopping and consumerism in the New Exchange, characters and situations of Brome’s play seem clearly related to those of Every Man in his Humour.20Brome seems to have taken many of the characters of Jonson’s play, separated their various humours, and often recombined them in order to complicate, to concentrate, and to add a theatrical twist. Aspects of the characters of Kno’well and Kitely are combined to form Matchil: an older man worried about the moral health of his children (Kno’well) who is also married to a younger woman and fearful of being cuckolded (Kitely). As in Every Man in his Humour, there are two young men-about-town: Jonson’s Ed Kno’well and Wellbred become Erasmus and Valentine; Jonson's Wellbred saves Kitely’s sister from the tyranny of her brother's home through a clandestine marriage; Erasmus offers an escape through marriage to Mistress Blith, enabling her to avoid being yoked for life to the foolish Nehemiah. Brome even uses Cash, the same name for his play’s principal servant as had Jonson. However, the Cash of Every Man in his Humour (usually addressed as Thomas) has little complexity; Brome combines this role with a version of Kno’well’s servant Brainworm, who disguises himself and performs in different roles in what Burbage and Garrick appear to have realized is the star-turn of the play.21Connections to The New Academy’s subplot of Camelion and his wife Hannah are less simple. Camelion explicitly rejects the kind of jealousy characteristic of Kitely, a kind of knowing reversal characteristic of this play; the possibility that Brome expected his audience to note the similarity and the contrast is tantalising. Camelion eventually erupts with the same humiliating fear of cuckoldry that Kitely increasingly displays in Jonson’s play. Hannah is as virtuous as Jonson's Dame Kitely. Camelion excuses himself from attention to his wife so that he can spend his time at the ducking pond in Islington, and the pond is even mentioned in the first scene of Every Man in his Humour:StephenWhat, do you talk on it? Because I dwell at Hogsden, I shall keep company with none but the archers of Finsbury? Or the citizens, that come a ducking to Islington ponds?n10017
(1.1.45-47)22The two gulls, Stephen and Matthew, are clearly part of the inspiration for Brome’s Nehemiah.
Shrew-taming plays: The Taming of the Shrew and John Fletcher’s The Woman’s Prize (?1611)23Brome’s Sir Swithin Whimlby spends much of his time on stage lamenting the death of his first wife, Grissel. Her name is an obvious reference to the much-told folk story of Patient Grissel, best known through Chaucer’s ‘Clerk’s Tale’ in The Canterbury Tales; and from the play Patient Grissel (1599) by Thomas Dekker, Henry Chettle, and William Haughton; there are numerous seventeenth-century tellings of this tale. Whimlby’s lament for the dead Grissel contributes to The New Academy’s representation of different kinds of marriages and, in particular, wives; the emphasis is on the contrast between the submissive, demure wife and the shrew. In Matchil’s case, the choice of his servant Rachel as a new wife to follow the unlamented shrew perhaps presents a man seeking a Grissel of his own. Although I see no specific resemblances between The New Academy and Patient Grissel, there seem to be clear connections between Brome’s play and shrew-taming plays, including The Taming of the Shrew and, in particular, John Fletcher’s The Woman’s Prize; or The Tamer Tamed; Fletcher’s play is itself influenced by Epicoene. Like Jonson’s play, The Woman’s Prize was revived in the 1630s, along with The Taming of the Shrew, producing a well-known crisis in 1633 when the Master of the Revels, Sir Henry Herbert, held up court performance of Fletcher’s play because he disapproved of some elements of the text (or perhaps this fuss gave cover for a dispute over non-payment of a fee or bribe). When played, however, Herbert noted that they were ‘likt’ (Shakespeare) and ‘very much likt’ (Fletcher).24A contemporary audience for The New Academy would probably have recognised immediately the resemblances between Matchil and Fletcher’s Petruccio. Both are widowers at the start of their play, having previously been married to shrewish women. Both then marry apparently docile and submissive women, but each immediately discovers that the new wife has a mind and a voice of her own. Matchil confronts his dire circumstances setting out the follies and worse that have led him to this pass and, in the conclusion to that remarkable Act 3 soliloquy, resolves to seek an accommodation with Rachel to preserve his dignity and honour, if not domestic happiness:And, rather than stand out in my defence,
T’enjoy some peace I will endure some sorrow,
And bear it civilly. [Calls offstage] Within there.ServantSir.MatchilGo call your mistress, pray her to come alone Exit SERVANT
My resolution brings me yet some ease:
Men that are born to serve, must seek to please.[NA 3.1.speech546]25Matchil’s calling of his wife through the Servant recalls Shakespeare’s new husbands summoning their wives at the end of The Taming of the Shrew; the contrast between Matchil’s commanding ‘Go’ and ‘call’ and more pleading ‘pray her to come alone’ mirrors the different terms used by Hortensio, Lucentio, and finally Petruccio in Shakespeare’s play: ‘bid your mistress come to me’ (5.2.81); ‘Go and entreat my wife to come to me forthwith’ (91); and ‘go to your mistress. / Say I command her to come to me’ (5.2.99-100).n10018 Matchil’s address to his servant shows him dwindling from a Petruccio to a Hortensio, and ruefully knowing that that is the case .26Brome, as he does frequently in this play, imitates but reverses: in The Taming of the Shrew Petruccio explains Katherine’s violent behaviour as a game between them: ‘’Tis bargained ’twixt us twain, being alone, / That she shall still be curst in company’ (2.1.296-7). Matchil’s arrangement with Rachel is the reverse:RachelI’ll close w’ye.
You’ll be content, so I will suffer you
To bear a loud command o’er me in public,
That I shall carry it in private. Is’t not so?[NA 3.1.speech570]27Rachel can be ‘curst’ at home, so long as she feigns submission in company. Brome has compressed into Matchil’s speech and the subsequent exchange with Rachel much that evokes both The Taming of the Shrew and The Woman’s Prize; he will then go on to show Matchil apparently regaining supremacy in the marriage as the play continues.
Philip Massinger, The City Madam (1632)28Massinger’s The City Madam, clearly related to Brome’s The City Wit, has one close connection with The New Academy: the corruption of apprentices by a brother of each play’s principal character. In Massinger’s play, Luke Frugal, who has spent his inheritance and now works as a servant in the house of his brother, Sir John Frugal, corrupts his fellow-apprentices Goldwire Junior and Tradewell Junior and encourages them to embezzle money from their master. In Brome’s play it is Matchil’s half-brother Strigood, his own estate already dissipated, who has already Cash before the play has opened. In both cases, the temptation takes the form of encouragement for the apprentices to live the lives of affluent young men about town, using their master’s money.29Once more Brome shows himself capable of taking a hint from another play and adding complexity and depth. Strigood has corrupted Cash in order to be able to blackmail the servant for his own benefit and Cash is only too aware of the desperate position he has created for himself. And Cash is motivated not only by the fantasy of living extravagantly, but also the desire to marry Matchil’s daughter, Joyce. Although such a match was not beyond the bounds of possibility in the period, it is noticeable that only Cash seems to take this prospect seriously. In performance there might well be something pathetic about the character, something of the dreamer and fantasist. Cash is trapped by his past behaviour, and also perhaps by aspirations that are never going to be fulfilled: in seeking Joyce as his wife, he is out of his league.
James Shirley, Love Tricks, or The School of Complement (1625; published 1631); and William Hawkins, Apollo Shroving (1627)30Like The New Academy, Shirley’s play is also stimulated by the growth of a polite culture in early seventeenth-century London and with it an anxious desire to acquire the skills and attributes that would enable one to flourish in this brave new world of civility. Love Tricks is, however, more unreservedly satiric in its treatment of an academy of civility; it also concentrates on the language of compliment, almost to the exclusion of other civil arts, such as the dancing that is so prominent in The New Academy. The professors in the academy are more like Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel in Love’s Labours Lost than they resemble Brome’s teachers:GorgonYou shall be verberated, and reverberated, my exact piece of stollidity: please you draw near, there is the star of Eloquence, under whom I am an Hypodidascal, in English, his Usher.n1001931Shirley’s play acknowledges this focus: Gorgon tells a student, ‘so, sir, looke you, I should teach you to make a leg first, but these postures anon’ (p. 31).32The ridiculousness of affected speech is also one of the principal topics of William Hawkins’s Apollo Shroving. Composed for the Schollars of the Free-schoole of Hadleigh in Suffolke. And acted by them on Shrouetuesday, being the sixt of February, 1626 (1627). Hawkins’s satire on an academy gone wrong is summed up by Lala, strikingly ‘a woman spectator’, who complains about excessive latinate and romance diction: ‘Here’s linsey-woolsy fustian, where every English thread is overcast with a thick woollen woof of strange words, which have so deep a nap, that the plain ground cannot be seen’ (p. 8).33The primary focus in The New Academy is deportment of the body, and affected speech is presented ambiguously: somewhat ridiculous, in places incomprehensible, almost a foreign language (Nehemiah: ‘Mother f’sooth, is not this French?’ [NA 4.2.speech903]), and yet surprisingly effective in dousing the fires of animosity. Nonetheless, there is a clear similarity between the language arts of Brome’s academy and those of Love Tricks and Apollo Shroving. In The New Academy the professors advertise the education they can teach with a demonstration of their linguistic arts:PapillionFair star of courtship, my unworthy humble self, a professed servant to the integrity of beauty, makes this clear testimony of your merits, that every eye that sees you owes you his heart for tribute, and that unjustly your beholders live, that live not in your service.NehemiahMother f’sooth, is not this French?Lady NestlecockPeace, child. Hear more on’t.JoyceNoble sir, you are so exactly deserving in the opinion of all righteous judgements, that the least syllable of your fair testimony is able to re-edify the ruins of a decayed commendation.[NA 4.2.speeches902-905]34Then Lady Nestlecock and Rachel’s suspension of their enmity is achieved through hyperbolic compliment:ErasmusBut are they friends again?StrigoodAnd deep in compliment.
Our school affords no such in act or language.Enter LADY NESTLECOCK and RACHELLady NestlecockSister, indeed I am too much your trouble.RachelPray, madam, let me serve you truly, truly.
I’ll be your servant for a year and a day.Lady NestlecockIndeed, indeed, you wrong yourself, I am yours.RachelI am your servant’s servant, and will serve
Under your ladyship’s cook to do you service.Lady NestlecockIndeed, you may not.[Rachel]If I may not be
Accepted for your household servant, let me
Become your charwoman in any office
From cupboard to close-stool. I can do all
To do your ladyship service.ValentineThis now savours of compliment indeed.RachelIn sooth, ’tis sooth, forsooth the tale I tell you.[NA 5.2.speeches1200-1209]34Whereas some satires on academies were uniformly mocking and disdainful, Brome’s presentation of the topic is, as often, far more complex. The manners and ‘civility’ acquired at the academy may be superficial and somewhat ridiculous, as the convoluted rhetoric of compliment demonstrated, but the audience then sees bitter familial resentments neutralised by these very arts: Lady Nestlecock and her new sister-in-law Rachel had been at each others’ throats, but they learn the civil language lessons of the academy so well that, however hyperbolic and sickeningly insincere, their rarefied exchanges in the final scene leave no oxygen where vituperation might survive.35In Love Tricks, the same euphemistic and Euphuistic style governs the civil speech being taught:GorgonLady, wounded by your beauty, I will acknowledge mercy if you kill me not, yet rather murther me, then vulnerate still your creature, unlesse you mean to medicine where you have hurt, and I implore no better remedy then I may derive from the instrument wherewith you pierced mee, like Achilles’ Spear, your eye having shot lightning into my breast, hath power with a smile to fetch out the consuming fire, and yet leave my heart inflamed.DeliaSir, although where I am not guilty of offence, I might deny justly, to descend to a satisfaction: yet rather than I would be counted a murtherer, I would study to preserve so sweet a model as yourself; and since you desire my eye which enflamed you, should with the virtue of a gracious smile make you happy in your fire, it shall shine as you would have it, and disclaim that beam shall shine upon another object.GorgonSo, very well, this is your cunning lesson. (pp. 34-5)36Gorgon’s final line, with its deployment of the common sexual pun on ‘cunning’, reveals something of a difference, however. Brome’s characters open themselves on several occasions to scatological humour (‘in any office / From cupboard to close-stool’ [NA 5.2speech1207] … ‘This now savours of compliment indeed’ [NA 5.2speech1208]), whereas Shirley’s jokes are more sexual: Gorgon has before been speaking of polite action and says, ‘That is, you would not bite her by the lip. / Or if thou thinkst I there too high am plast, / Ile be content to sucke below thy waste’ (p. 32). Brome can be surprisingly ‘chaste’ in such plays, eschewing the obvious possibility of bawdy, sexual comedy. Conditioned perhaps by the Salisbury Court audience of the mid 1630s, The New Academy is itself more polite, still funny but choosing its targets carefully to remain within the bounds of propriety. It is a striking feature of this play how little reference there is to sexual activity: romantic love conquers young hearts, marriages are prudent and respectful at their best. There is little sense that even Brome’s villains are interested in illicit sex in this play: Cash wants to be taken for a gentleman, but he wants to marry Joyce. Valentine is perhaps the only male who is looking for something underhand, but what he really wants is money: he is franker than he perhaps knows in presenting himself as, in effect, a male prostitute. Even though he suggests a jaunt to the naughty suburbs with Hannah, his really pressing desire is to get more money from her. And when offered the chance, he leaps immediately, not to bed but to the altar, with Lady Nestlecock. Ardent sexual desire is marginalized and rendered dubious and disconcerting as being expressed only by the Frenchman Galliard, ‘this hot-reined monsieur’ [NA 3.2.speech737]: those foreigners! However, even Galliard’s Gallic sexual ardour is presented indulgently. Francis Kynaston’s regulations for the Musæum Minervæ had explicitly banned foreigners as professors; there is no such xenophobia in Brome’s play.The Themes of The New Academy37Anyone considering Brome’s The New Academy at this juncture is fortunate to be able to do so in the light of the discussions of the play in Matthew Steggle’s Richard Brome: Place and Politics on the Caroline Stage (Manchester UP, 2004) ;n10020 and Jean E. Howard’s Theater of a City: The Places of London Comedy, 1598-1642 (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press, 2007).n10021 These are the most sustained and considered readings yet of the play. All seeking to understand The New Academy and its context should read these accounts of the play. Although this introduction reaches some different conclusions, or sometimes the same conclusions by a different route, it is indebted to Steggle and Howard’s analyses at every turn.Civility, education, and the social body38Following Norbert Elias’s pioneering work, The Civilising Process (1969; 1982), and especially the first volume on ‘The Reformation of Manners’, much has been written on the development and increasing centrality of the concept of ‘civility’ in Western society.n10022 In particular, the work of Anna Bryson has concentrated attention on the importance of civility for English, and specifically London, society in the first few decades of the seventeenth century.n10023Urban life and civility39The New Academy is written and first performed during a period of intense interest in the way to live politely and successfully in the new society of England’s capital. ‘London’ had long been confined to the area within the City walls: a major commercial, industrial, and trading city of northern Europe. It was, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, clearly distinct from the surrounding suburbs and villages and, most importantly, from the centre of royal authority, some distance west along the Thames at Westminster. But by the beginning of the seventeenth century, not least by virtue of the acquisition of York Place, renamed Whitehall Palace, by Henry VIII, who made it his principal London residence, the area between the City of London and Westminster was beginning to fill. Development in the 1620s and 1630s, especially that of Covent Garden, created a new, fashionable phenomenon: ‘The town’, a residential and commercial district distinct from the City, occupied by aristocracy and gentry, those who aspired to that status, and those who catered to the needs of a wealthy and ambitious clientele. The manners of The Town looked more to those of the royal court, and this effect was only intensified by ever-greater consciousness of the most admired societies of continental Europe, especially those of Italy and France. French influence reached its height following Charles I’s marriage to Henrietta Maria; their court consciously modelled itself on what was deemed to be the more sophisticated culture of Paris and the French monarchy.40However, it is important to avoid the temptation to look only to the royal court as a reference. New Historicist literary studies tend to see everything in terms of power and studies of the literature of the 1630s are sometimes overwhelmingly conditioned by a desire to show the relevance of all works to the great contest over power that was going to erupt in the 1640s: the Civil Wars. But we should remember that almost everyone was surprised and horrified by the stumble into conflict and no-one knew in 1636 that war was coming. Brome’s New Academy scarcely seems aware of high politics; the characters of highest social standing are the lachrymose knight Sir Swithin Whimlby and Lady Nestlecock, and we know nothing of where they got these minor titles. Otherwise, everyone comes from the ranks of the modestly wealthy and modestly well-educated (with the exception of their servants). It would take formidably complex argument to make a convincing case that this play is predominantly concerned with high politics. The only character who seems to want to consort with members of the royal court is Matchil’s embezzling servant Cash, and his aspirations are represented as both personally disastrous and pathetic.41Instead, we should concentrate on what is actually present in the play; and this reminds us that one does not need royal courts to be concerned with civility. As will be discussed more fully below, one of the key texts propelling European ambitions for the reformation of manners is Desiderius Erasmus’s De civilitate morum puerilium (1526), which maintained its influence for well over a century; and Erasmus’s text is striking for its lack of reference to monarchs or great aristocrats: it is aimed at the gentry and, perhaps, particularly at the new urban class eager to attain both manners and education (Erasmus was born into the urban, commercial culture of the Low Countries and was a creature of the city rather than the court).42Anna Bryson acknowledges the significance of the expansion of the court, but lays greater stress on the increasing importance of manners and civility in a new, broader community of those who aspire to politeness:Throughout this period, the royal court expanded, and even more significantly, nobles and gentlemen increasingly flocked to London for at least part of the year for recreational, as well as educational, legal and political purposes. In these social milieux, more fluid and sometimes more anonymous than the world of the counties, personal grace, address and demeanour could become a more urgent concern as the real or aspiring gentleman sought to present his claim, as Smith put it, to ‘be called master’. (pp. 146-7)43Norbert Elias is more emphatic, pointing out that Erasmus is both odd and in a sense representative of his period: ‘Erasmus did not see his precepts as intended for a particular class. He placed no particular emphasis on social distinctions, if we disregard occasional criticism of peasants and small tradesmen’ (pp. 65-66).44One of the problems here is that we can easily associate the word ‘courtly’ too closely with the ‘Court’. Jean E. Howard, commenting on Anna Bryson’s careful delineation of the issues, summarises: ‘Especially in the English context, it did not necessarily refer to the behaviour governing courtiers, but to the codes of conduct governing social interactions within “good” society, however variously defined. Bryson has argued that in the seventeenth century, civility became an ideal within urbane London culture, the West End equally with the Court’ (p. 168).45London - meaning both within and outwith the walls of the ancient city - astonished and perhaps horrified contemporaries as it grew at a pace and to a size never before seen in England. As it did so and as the English economy developed and the structures of English life changed in the century after the break with Rome in 1534, an entirely new phenomenon appeared in the form of an urban culture recognisably akin to that in which most modern Westerners live. London’s population was characterised by high mobility, economic, social, and cultural ambition and dynamism, and much greater diversity than in 1500. The greater and richer population constituted a market for consumer goods and services of all kinds; increased trade created a fascination with (sometimes a horror of) the foreign, even the exotic; and with these came the desire to differentiate oneself by acquisition of goods and attributes associated with the better sort and the better life. The tendentious equation of manners and materials in polite society is signified in the rhetorical balance of Brome’s title and sub-title: The New Academy and the New Exchange.Education and the reformation of manners46In plays such as The Weeding of the Covent Garden and The Sparagus Garden, Brome shows characters from the provinces who come to London and are ‘civilised’ to a greater or lesser degree by their contact with urban manners. But in The New Academy there is a sense that everyone, even those London born-and-bred, even those of gentle status, is learning a new way of living: they all end up in the last scenes in ‘The New Academy’: as in the name of the final dance, ‘Omnium Gatherum’. London itself - especially The Town - is the most important school. When Matchil’s son, hitherto disguised as Papillion, has to explain (rather unconvincingly) why he had delayed contacting his father on arrival from Paris, he stresses the educative experience of simply being there: ‘I was curious / First to observe the town, and taste the news; / When, more by providence than accident, / Here we made choice of lodging, saw and liked / The practices of the society’. [NA 5.2.speech1285]47The New Academy has a number of intertwined plots and, though the history of the Matchil family dominates, some apparently lesser plots command greater attention than one might expect, given the brevity of their presentation. The contest over Mistress Blith Tripshort is part of the play’s representation of a debate over the nature of education and maturity. Blith comes with a fortune controlled by her ‘uncle’, Sir Swithin. There is no mention of her parentage; he may be her natural father. Sir Swithin is trying to arrange a double marriage, himself with Lady Nestlecock, Blith with her son. Nehemiah is a very appealing stage figure, like Cokes in Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair - lively, childish, fond of toys and games; but none of that can compensate Blith for his being immature and foolish, in no way fit for matrimony. Despite the double entendres contained in his speeches, Brome’s Nehemiah shows no sign of being sexually aware. Blith would be condemned to marrying a pre-pubescent male with no sign of the ability to grow up and father children. Blith is only too conscious that being married to him is to be yoked to an ass; and she imagines a future in which her own moral decline results:I shall be quickly weary with laughing at him. His fooling will soon be stale and tedious; and then to beat him would be as toilsome to me; and lastly, to be tied to nothing but to cuckold him is such a common town-trick that I scorn to follow the fashion.
[NA 2.2.speech389]48The alternative, eventually offered to her in the final act, is clandestine marriage to Erasmus.49Erasmus begins the play as Valentine’s urbane friend, but he steadily backs away from too great an intimacy with a man he comes to see as a rascal. In the process, Erasmus emerges as the principal voice of correct moral judgement and behaviour among the young men of the play: he tries to establish peace between Matchil and his new wife; then he chaperones Rachel, to ensure that she does not commit adultery with Valentine or anyone else; he seeks to restrain Camelion from excessive exposure of Hannah to slander. And then in the final scene, intriguingly with the aid of Camelion, he offers himself to Blith as an escape route: enter into a clandestine marriage with me to make it impossible to be forced into Nehemiah’s arms. The dialogue between Blith and Erasmus is only a few lines long but it assumes a disproportionate prominence, not least because the language they use has a formality and sobriety unique in the play, conveying that each fully grasps the momentousness of the decision she is about to take: it is an intense and electric dialogue, heightened by the presence behind them of the grotesque Camelion.Erasmus and De civilitate50In a famous early modern allegory, Hercules chose between the easy and sexy blandishments of Vice and the arduous, chaste company of Virtue; Blith chooses between Nehemiah and Erasmus. The names are significant. Nehemiah, from biblical history (the Book of Nehemiah), has many virtues as a defender of the Jewish people (Brome’s Nehemiah does not display his namesake’s bravery and fortitude, however); but he is also a eunuch (and landless: is Lady Nestlecock poorer than she is admitting?). In the play, the character Nehemiah is wholly unsuitable as a husband because he appears to be trapped in a prepubescent world of games and jests - Lady Nestlecock’s naming of her son is clearly aspirational. Brome has probably chosen the name Erasmus for Nehemiah’s rival because of the highly influential work on boys’ education in good manners by Desiderius Erasmus, De civilitate morum puerilium (1526). First translated into English in 1532, Erasmus’s work was, for the next century and more, the basis for a flood of books on what we might now call the socialisation of boys. Brome probably expects his contemporary audience to recognise the character as standing for the long tradition of forming young men as productive and valuable members of society from the rough and disruptive raw material of boyhood.51The New Academy presents a series of young men in the period of transition from boyhood to maturity, the latter indicated by marriage. As well as Erasmus, Valentine, and Nehemiah, the sons of Matchil and Lafoy end the play en route to their weddings. And there are three other examples of men (of different ages) attempting to fashion themselves in terms of good comportment with a view to matrimony: Cash, Matchil’s servant in his business activities, puts on the clothes and the mannerisms of a gentleman when off duty, hoping to marry his master’s daughter Joyce (though a close reader of De civilitate would remember that Erasmus says that clothing ‘is in a sense the body of the body. From it we can deduce the attitude of the mind’ [Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, p. 67]); Ephraim, Lady Nestlecock’s servant, tries to fashion his language in such a way as to make him an acceptable suitor for his mistress; and Sir Swithin Whimlby, who speaks only in an affected verse style for much of the early part of the play, then adopts a rougher and more ‘masculine’ style when that appears to be the way to Lady Nestlecock’s esteem.52But in each of these three cases the superficiality of what is affected is held up as inadequate, even the enemy of true civility. Cash is a thief; clothes do not make him honest or attractive, and Joyce ridicules him. Ephraim’s aping of Sir Swithin’s verse renders him pathetic and his offer of marriage to Lady Nestlecock is greeted with contempt and anger. Sir Swithin’s performance of virility lasts no more than a few moments and is entirely unconvincing. (The cross-marriages of the four Matchil and Lafoy children are presented as inherently ridiculous: their untroubled willingness to change partners when sibling relationships are revealed is something that could only exist on the stage; but compare this view with that of Matthew Steggle, who sees them as more significant: ‘the four youngsters, who seemed a few lines earlier to be lacking any concept of shame, turn out in the end to be morally sophisticated educators of their elders’ [p. 99]).53Erasmus is the most moral and the most ‘grown-up’ of the young men, characterised by his thoughtfulness, expressed in sophisticated and complex speeches. It is striking that Matchil, the principal protagonist, has from early in the play identified Erasmus as a suitable husband for Blith, in contrast to his nephew Nehemiah (‘And for your niece, / Let me alone, I’ll fit her with a match. / I know a lad that’s worthy of her’ [NA 2.2.speech458]); and Matchil reconciles Sir Swithin to the clandestine marriage at the conclusion:Sir Swithin, let ’em have [your blessing];
This is the gentleman I would have spoke for:
In birth, in means, in person every way
Deserving her. Take him upon my word.[NA 5.2.speech1255]54There is something of the quality of allegory about this: Erasmus, the young man named for the great writer on male socialisation and education in civility, is ushered into marriage with a character named for happiness and kindliness. In The New Academy (perhaps exhibiting wishful thinking) it is the embodiment of civility who is rewarded with earthly prosperity. However, it is essential to note that the choice is actually the woman’s: Happiness and Kindliness rejects familial pressure to marry the witless but monied and chooses instead to ally herself to intelligence, social sophistication, and respectfulness. Not the least of Erasmus’s attractions is that he offers her the choice, calling it freedom, and in so doing acknowledges her as having a mind of her own and a right to autonomy. The contrast between this brief, intense, reasoned, and quiet exchange and the surrounding eruptions of anger, disdain, and folly creates one of The New Academy’s most powerful moments (see the discussion of the play’s language, below). Matchil has been meaning to promote the match between Blith and Erasmus, and (despite his name) he may be right: here we get a glimpse of a marriage alliance that may prove successful, in that it is founded on a meeting of minds (unlike that of Matchil himself and his former servant Rachel, or Valentine and Lady Nestelcock). The linguistic difference manifests and figures the differences between this relationship and those of the other couples in the play. The brief exchange between Blith and Erasmus differs from much of the rest of The New Academy in that its language communicates the creation of ‘a more relative, privately defined basis of trust’ (these terms, though deployed by Richard Allen Cave in a discussion of Every Man in his Humour, where he is distinguishing Shakespeare’s psychological verisimilitude from the different styles of Robert Greene and John Lyly, apply equally well in this episode).n10024Ecclesiasticus, the education of the young male, and the choice of a wife55In a prominent scene of the play, the beginning of Act 4, Nehemiah enters carrying a book, claiming that it has enabled him to cross the boundary between childishness and the adult world. The book was given to him by his governor, Ephraim, servant to Lady Nestlecock.NehemiahEphraim, thou hast made me a man, both without, witness this sword, and within, witness this precious book, which I have gotten almost by heart already.EphraimBut sir, beware you fall not back again
Into your childish follies: but go forwards
In manly actions, for non progredi id est regredi.[NA 4.1.speeches749-750]56The audience eagerly awaits the revelation of the name of the ‘precious book’. But it turns out that this is a jest book, not at all what the audience thought.57The joke clearly depends on the audience having a mistaken idea of what book Ephraim gave his pupil. And what the audience probably thought was that he was carrying one of the many handbooks on the education of boys that were prominent in the period. If it was not a derivitive of De civilitate, it may well have been one of the many drawn from Ecclesiasticus, the apocryphal book of the Bible largely composed of injunctions concerning civilised conduct and, in particular, the education of young males: clearly appropriate to Brome’s play and more widely to the social concerns of the 1630s. Ecclesiasticus was often reprinted separately as a conduct book in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.58As well as containing recommendations and injunctions about specific aspects of male conduct, Ecclesiasticus contains many other statements of clear relevance to The New Academy. Of the marriage of Blith and Erasmus: ‘Marry thy daughter, and so shalt thou have performed a weighty matter: but give her to a man of understanding’ (Ecclesiasticus 7:25).n10025 Whimlby himself seems to embody the misery of the wifeless man: ‘he that hath no wife will wander up and down mourning’ (Ecclesiasticus 36:25). Of the contrast between Erasmus and Nehemiah: ‘The talking of a fool is like a burden in the way: but grace shall be found in the lips of the wise’ (Ecclesiasticus 21:16); Blith recognises Nehemiah would be a gross impediment: ‘Bless me from being fool-clogged’ (Act 5, Scene 2).59Chapters 25 and 26 are the source text for representations of the miseries of life with a shrew and the blessings of marriage to a demure woman:Well is him that dwelleth with a wife of understanding, and that hath not slipped with his tongue, and that hath not served a man more unworthy than himself: (25:8)Give me any plague, but the plague of the heart: and any wickedness, but the wickedness of a woman: (25:13)Blessed is the man that hath a virtuous wife, for the number of his days shall be double. (26:1)A virtuous woman rejoiceth her husband, and he shall fulfil the years of his life in peace. (26:2)A good wife is a good portion, which shall be given in the portion of them that fear the Lord. (26:3)An evil wife is a yoke shaken to and fro: he that hath hold of her is as though he held a scorpion. (26:7)A drunken woman and a gadder abroad causeth great anger, and she will not cover her own shame. (26:8)The whoredom of a woman may be known in her haughty looks and eyelids. (26:9)A silent and loving woman is a gift of the Lord; and there is nothing so much worth as a mind well instructed. (26:14)A shamefaced and faithful woman is a double grace, and her continent mind cannot be valued. (26:15)60What is striking here is that the same text, widely read and imitated in the period, addresses so many of the themes of The New Academy and, in particular, those of male education and the miseries of marriage to a shrew.Dance and the social body61Both Erasmus’s De civilitate and Ecclesiasticus (which clearly influences De Civilitate) have much to do with the disciplining of the body. The New Academy has, as one of the central themes dominating a variety of scenes but particularly those in the Academy itself in Act 4, the illustration of the disciplined body, particularly the male body; and that discipline is particularly displayed in dance. Women’s bodies are disciplined too, but the emphasis in the female appears to be on the disciplining of the tongue, in both the taming of Rachel, Matchil’s new wife to replace his now-dead shrewish one, and the disciplining of Rachel and Lady Nestlecock as sisters-in-law.62New forms of dancing had become prominent in the London of the seventeenth century, particularly in the 1620s and 30s. French dancing in particular became fashionable, increasingly so with the arrival of Charles I’s consort, the French princess Henrietta Maria.n10026 Enthusiasm for ‘courtly’ dancing existed well beyond the court, however, and there were numerous dancing masters (about half of them French) in London by the date of The New Academy. Though there are few records of dancing academies with their own premises, an education in dance was clearly becoming a highly desirable accomplishment to those ambitious to be members of polite urban society.63By the end of the sevententh century, ‘the affected, emasculated French dancing master became a stock figure in Caroline comedies and remained a favourite with Restoration drama. In opposition to the ‘French footeman’, ‘Rat’, or ‘Court dancing Weesill’, dramatists scripted a positive figure - male, heterosexual, English - into the play: audiences were invited to identify with conspicuously local heroes who had trouble with remembering steps and figures. Paradoxically, the English gentleman’s performance required carefully modulated imperfection’ (Ravelhofer, p. 69). But in Brome’s New Academy there is no such hostility - or maybe fear - of French proficiency in the dance. Just as French characters in the play are represented sympathetically and, if anything, as more cultured and less hypocritical than the English, so also French dance is represented without any sense that it stands for foreign corruption, wickedness, or the undermining of solid English masculinity. The satire in The New Academy is not on the French dancing master but on Strigood, the English fraud, who when confronted with real French people in the persons of Galliard and Papillion, crumples and reveals that he has barely a word of their language:[Hannah] said they can speak English, that’s a help,
For devil of French have I to entertain ’em.[NA 3.2.speech713]64As Barbara Ravelhofer says, analyses of the discourses of the body in recent years have been powerfully influenced by the work of Michel Foucault, with its emphasis on coercion and a negative interpretation of control, imposed or spontaneous. But she tries delicately to widen our view by directing us to other possibilities:In a beautiful reading, Sarah Cohen draws our attention to an alternative Post-Foucauldian model which regards the body as ‘an agent of cultural expression’, a producer of social meaning rather than a passive receptor’.n1002765Cohen writes that French authors on aristocracy in the seventeenth century ‘asserted that personal grace, although constituting a “little ray of divinity,” could be known only through its physical display. Dance offered a means for one tangibly to enact this mysterious, crucial display’ (Ravelhofer, The Early Stuart Masque, p. 13). Though Cohen is writing principally about the highly elaborate dance theories developed in France in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such ideas were current, perhaps in less developed form, in England (as well as elsewhere) from the late 1590s. Ben Jonson’s Pleasure Reconciled to Virtue and Sir John Davies’s Orchestra attribute an elevated metaphysical value to dance; and in the final years before the outbreak of civil war Jonson and Brome’s patron, William Cavendish, earl of Newcastle, was sufficiently alienated from courtly dancing culture to satirise its claims in both The Country Captain and, especially, The Variety (Brome’s poem in praise of the latter is included in the preliminaries for The Weeding of Covent Garden).n10028 Though Brome is very much a commercial writer, his audience knew a great deal about courtly dance and it is no surprise that he staged discussion of the complex ideas that underlay early Baroque dance culture. Unlike Newcastle, Brome does seem to subscribe to the notion that dance is both a figuration and a key component of the social skills necessary to this urban concentration of people.66The ‘professors’ of the Academy demonstrate elite dances, both to their prospective students and to the audience in the theatre; but it is striking that the play ends with a country dance. Although Jean E. Howard rightly asserts that ‘country dancing, often performed to popular tunes, typically was opposed to forms of court dancing because it emphasised rougher movements’ (Theater of a City, pp. 171-2), it would be wrong to think that it was banished from polite society. Barbara Ravelhofer reminds us that ‘by the late seventeenth century, country dances were deemed as integral to good manners as witty conversation’ (The Early Stuart Masque, p. 43), and that ‘country dances were taught in dancing schools and some limited evidence links such schools with the theatre and the Caroline court, showing that the repertoire was acceptable for aristocratic and even royal performers’ (p. 44). The lines introducing the dance, spoken by Nehemiah, may help explain why performance of such an apparently unsophisticated dance (‘one frisk, one fling now, one careering dance’ [NA 5.2.speech1305], as Matchil describes it) should end the play:I call it in English
Omnium Gatherum, ’tis the daintiest dance.
We had it here today. I and my mother,
My aunt and all can dance in’t, as well as the best,
With everyone in their own footing.[NA 5.2.speech1308]67Nehemiah calls it ‘dainty’ but the real point is that it excludes no-one - ‘Omnium Gatherum’ - and all can perform ‘in their own footing’. This appears to mean that the form of this dance is not so rigid as to demean those not exactly in step: there’s room enough in this dance, and in the harmonious society formed by the reconciliations at the end of the play, for all sorts. Nehemiah concludes, ‘Now observe’; but in a sense the audience has already observed. The social graces may be superficial, may mask hypocrisy, may be a lie; but they can be useful in enabling complex modern societies to function without conflict. Nehemiah’s speech suggests that these skills and codes create an environment in which everyone can be free to act individually, in loose formation, without their differences incurring the repressive ire of other members of the group.68The country dance communicates the ideal of a tolerant and diverse society; the more sophisticated dances show off the well-disciplined body of the socially superior (though we should note that Camelion dances the ‘Tresmont’ and tells Strigood that he practiced dancing before he was married: ‘I have something left / Yet in these legs, that can express at least / Love to the quality’ (Act 3, Scene 2) [NA 3.2.speech651]. And that all seems very serene and idealistic. As ever in this play, however, Brome does not close his eye to ambiguity or rest with simple, idealised conclusions. Jean E. Howard catches the complexity of representations of the dance when writing of Shirley’s The Ball: ‘throughout the play a subtle tension persists between embracing and denigrating the dance and the dancing master’ (p. 171). Similarly, Brome’s play acknowledges that the body, while it may be used to express immaterial ideals, can also be deployed with more physical intent and meaning. One of The New Academy’s set-pieces comes when the young Frenchmen, recruited as professors of dance and the bodily arts, are called upon to demonstrate what they will teach; Galliard’s explanation makes it increasingly plain that the display of the body can communicate immediate, physical desires, advertising both itself and availability:And marriages, together of the fashions
Of man and woman, how his callet, and her
Black-bag came on together; how his pocketcomb,
To spruce his perrule, and her girdle-glass,
To order her black pashes, came together;
How his walking in the streets without a cloak
And her without a man came up together;
Of these, and of a hundred more the like,
We shall demonstrate reasons and instructions
Shall render you most graceful in each fashion.[NA 4.2.speech980]69‘Came together’ …’came on together’ … ‘came up together’: knowing this bodily code will enable men and women to identify each other as being in the market for some sort of alliance, probably on a dark night.Academy - Exchange - Commerce - Theatre70When working on this speech with actors in the project’s workshops, engagement with audiences onstage – the prospective students of the academy – and with the audience in the theatre rapidly came to the fore: the man without a cloak and the woman without a man could easily be sitting within a few feet of the actors . The theatre itself became recognisable as a site for social and sexual display and negotiation. Brome, as so often in his plays, stages performance; here, dance and the advertising display of the skills to be acquired in The New Academy. So doing, he crystalises the audience’s awareness that their own lives are performative, especially on the stage of the new, sophisticated suburbs of London and in its places of social gathering and entertainment, including the theatre in which the play is being witnessed. As Francis Bacon says in The Advancement of Learning, ‘in this theatre of man’s life it is reserved only for God and Angels to be lookers on’. Bacon’s comments on life as a performance are shortly followed by an analogy concerning clothing and contemporary plays: in some philosophies virtue and pleasure are interchangeable, ‘as it is used in some comedies of errors, wherein the mistress and the maid change habits’.n1002971Performance frequently presupposes narrative, and narrative relies on change, an emotional and psychological journey over its course. Change - even exchange - is likely to be central to any good drama; and so one should be cautious in making too much of this play’s sub-title.72Nonetheless, it is striking how many changes and exchanges take place over the course of The New Academy. A number of these show characters revising their previous choices, particularly marital choices: at the beginning of the play Lady Nestlecock is close to settling on Sir Swithin Whimlby, an aged and lachrymose widower, mainly, so far as one can see, because she will be able to achieve a parallel marriage between her son, Nehemiah, and Sir Swithin’s ‘niece’, Blith Tripshort. But by the end of the play both these marriages are off. Lady Nestlecock has chosen instead a ne'er-do-well younger suitor, Valentine. Her brother Matchil has made a different kind of change, from being contentedly a widower, relieved by her death of a shrewish wife, to a new marriage, with his former servant Rachel. Rachel too has undergone a change, not only in leaving behind her domestic servant status but also becoming vociferous and demanding. And these are but a few instances.73Change is good, as the modern saying has it, the bizarrely unqualified confidence perhaps an indication of whistling in the dark. Brome certainly gives us, as is appropriate to a comedy, the sense that the changes effected in The New Academy are by-and-large to everyone’s benefit (though one wonders how long Lady Nestlecock will remain on good terms with Valentine and one feels that not nearly enough change has come to Hannah, who is permanently ‘fool-clogged’, to use Blith’s phrase, in marriage with Camelion). But Brome is not blind to less obviously admirable aspects of change. The subtitle – The New Exchange – unavoidably connects many of the changes with commerce. Marriage involves the transfer of property and money. Sir Swithin seems to have no qualms about trying to force Blith into the arms of Nehemiah, obviously against her will. One wonders what led to the marriage of Hannah and Camelion: was the disposable female effectively sold to an affluent London tradesman (hers appears to be the only marriage in the play that results in social descent)? Erasmus assures Blith that he is not marrying her for her money, or not only for her money – small mercy, one might think, though it does mean that she is the purchaser, he the commodity. It is some comfort that it is not only women who are bought and sold in this play. Valentine, having sold merchants’ wives temporary access to himself for small amounts of money (or so he claims), makes the big sale of marriage to Lady Nestlecock – one hopes the bank accounts were sufficiently well-filled to make it worthwhile removing himself from the cattle-market. As Matthew Steggle writes, ‘within the Exchange, Valentine describes how his own body in turn becomes a commodity in need of salesman-like presentation to those with whom he seeks to do business: “Instantly her eye was fixt, / And streight ran over my delineaments, / Which I set to her view; and took occasion / To ask her how the object pleas’d her” (2.24, 26)”. Jean-Christophe Agnew’s description of how mercantile texts in this period present the body fits the bill perfectly: “The body had become, in effect, a commodity ...[.] In its own, albeit figurative way, the human body had become the newest of England’s draperies”.’n10030Dressing, Creating, and Changing the Social Self74Galliard’s account of what the Academy teaches moves seamlessly from the artful comportment of that commodity (the body’s shrugs and the obeisances) to the way the body is clothed (‘his callet, and her / Black-bag’) and, in particular, accessorised: ‘his pocketcomb, / To spruce his perrule, and her girdle-glass, / To order her black pashes’. Such items are at the heart of the play and the new consumer culture it presents; they are what Hannah and her husband sell in the New Exchange:What lack ye, gentlemen? Fair cut-work bands, boot-hose, or boot-hose tops, shirts, waistcoats, nightcaps, what will you buy?
[NA 2.1.speech260]75Galliard’s speech is only the most evident indication of the play’s concern with clothing, dress, and costume. The New Academy begins with Cash dressed in his servant’s costume, but being blackmailed by Strigood who has seen him dressed as an affluent and sophisticated man-about-town, the clothes purchased with money stolen from his master Matchil. Cash ‘passes’ with ease: in The New Academy, his master’s daughter, Joyce, initially does not recognise her family’s servant (who is her servant also in the courtship sense of being her suitor in marriage). Strigood himself changes his appearance, cutting his hair, shaving his beard, and wearing different clothes in order to adopt the persona of Regent of the Academy. Valentine’s reply to Hannah when she asks the standard shopkeeper’s question, ‘What lack ye?’, puns on ‘buy’ and ‘borrow’ in such a way as to alert the audience to the fact that exteriors can be changed and decorated to construct, often temporarily, novel identities:I come not now to buy,
But in plain terms to borrow. Do you not know me?[NA 2.1.speech261]76Ironically, she does indeed know him (he is her half-brother), whereas he assumes that, because she is a shopworker, and presumably dressed like one, there is no possibility of a connection between them. But more deeply, the question seems to be whether, in the dynamic world of seventeenth-century London, social identities are really fixed; or whether a veneer of cultural education, acquired at the Academy, and a veneer of clothing (or even clothing’s veneer of accessories), acquired at the Exchange, cannot really compose a new self, every bit as authentic and serviceable as the last. Earlier examples from London myth (Dick Wittington becoming Lord Mayor of London) required a lifetime of successful labour for the achievement of transformation; maybe in this new world that onerous requirement can be dispensed with: the clothes make the man. This sense, that manipulation of an exterior can - for social purposes at least - change the person, is epitomized in the use of masks by Joyce and Gabriella as instructors in The New Academy; or, seen in a more cynical light, as the sexual wares on offer in Strigood’s emporium of the new exchange.77The body as a ‘commodity’: the shops of the New Exchange sold fashionable accessories, and there is the uneasy sense that in some cases selves and bodies are being traded in this play as similarly inconsequential and interchangeable (the four Matchil and Lafoy children exchange spouses on the eve of marriage without any sense that this is more than a lark). In the Academy too there is a sense that attributes are being sold. The claim is that what is being inculcated is essential to the man or woman of civility; but if these can be purchased with money alone, in what sense are they of the essence? Or, if of the essence, is that essence really at all valuable? Kynaston’s Constitutions present his Musæum Minervæ in unremittingly idealistic terms; but Brome’s Academy points out the contrast between these and the more pragmatic, instrumental deal on offer. Strigood offers a short-cut to social acceptance, a series of verbal and bodily tricks. Matchil’s new wife, the former servant Rachel, thinks she will grow into her new status by learning card games and dancing, and becoming sexually promiscuous; Matchil’s servant Cash steals from his master to acquire the costume of a man-about-town and spends the remaining money on gambling and roistering. More gravely, whatever the pretended educational purposes of the Academy, the truth is that Joyce and Gabriella are to be exposed to prostitution; the two young men who arrive assume that the enterprise is no more than a cover for sex work (when Sir Swithin cannot find his niece Blith in the academy, he imagines the worst).78Brome therefore is no wide-eyed innocent in his representation of academies, exchanges, and the events and characters of his play. Fascinatingly, he offers no easy conclusion: at its best, civility is a high social virtue; but it is hard to distinguish from its less admirable function as a cloak for darker social transactions. Education may be a baser industry than its practitioners like to think. And theatre too: Brome is engaged in an unvarnished commercial enterprise. What do audiences pay to witness? What are playwrights and actors really selling?The Language of The New Academy79One of the challenges for an editor of Brome is to decide whether to represent particular passages as verse or prose. Sometimes there is no doubt, and The New Academy makes some verse the target of mockery: Sir Swithin’s lachrymose poetic effusions and Ephraim’s lame imitations. But much of the play is set as verse; and some of the passages set as prose in the original printing have rhythms that evoke iambic pentameter. Deciding how to represent speeches has to be done on a case-by-case basis. In general this edition has been conservative, reproducing the lay-out of the original printing unless there are overwhelming reasons to do otherwise.80It is, nonetheless, useful for actors to be conscious of Brome’s remarkably subtle, flexible, and sophisticated way with the language of this and his other plays. He rarely attempts a style that might draw attention to itself as art; when Sir Swithin waxes lyrical, it is because the character writes like that, not the author. There is little that is immediately remarkable about Brome’s diction or figurative uses; his characters speak relatively plainly. But Brome frequently uses changes of rhythms, a slight elevation or subsidence of style, to communicate to the audience a change in tone, the commencement of a new step along the play’s journey, or the need to attend to a character or an action in a new way.81The best example of that in The New Academy is the brief discussion between Erasmus and Mistress Blith in the final act, during which Blith agrees to a clandestine marriage in order to render herself unavailable for a forced marriage to the foolish and immature Nehemiah. Throughout the play Erasmus has spoken with a sobriety and formality that mark him as a moral touchstone; but Blith has had few lines before this point and the audience is unlikely to have formed a strong emotional connection with her. In this crucial scene, however, both characters speak with intensity, clarity, and authority:ErasmusBe fearless, lady, and upon my life,
Honour, and faith, you are secure from danger.BlithSir, I have put me in your hands, you see,
So liberally that I may fear to suffer
If not a censure, yet a supposition
Of too much easiness, in being led
So suddenly, so far towards your desire.
But my opinion of your nobleness,
Joined with your protestation, pleads my pardon.
At least it may, the wretchedness considered,
To which I was enthralled.ErasmusIt is not more my love
Unto your virtue, and your fair endowments,
Than pity in me labours your release,
Nor is it rather to enrich myself,
Than to save you from so immense a danger,
As you had fallen into by yielding under
Your uncle’s weakness in so fond a match. [NA 5.2speeches1091-1093]82From Erasmus’s first lines the audience is aware that this is different from much of the play, where Brome displays considerable skill in being able to shape into verse speeches that sound like an imitation of the language of ordinary men in conversation and argument. But in this scene both characters speak as though their lines have been written, or certainly pre-conceived and prepared. Sentences lengthen; subordinate clauses intervene to ensure that meaning is suitably qualified and composed; diction changes; peetic rhythms become more pronounced. Verbal and sonic patterning (‘So suddenly, so far’; ‘protestation, pleads my pardon’) intensify so that the audience becomes conscious, if not actually of the patterns, then certainly that this is speech very different from that hitherto experienced. It is only for a moment; but in that moment Brome manages to change the tone, almost the genre of the play through this intensification of literary language.83Similarly, Matchil’s soliloquy in Act 3 achieves its fascinating effects through variations in diction and style. Matchil begins by casting himself as the victim in some heroic myth, a romantic Prometheus whose heart, not his liver, is torn:MatchilAffliction on affliction hourly finds me,
And lays me on the rack, tearing my heart
Like greedy vultures .[NA 3.1.speech546]84Erasmus and Blith speak with care and consciousness in Act 5; but here Matchil is self-conscious, self-regarding, and self-pitying, a different thing altogether. He has a histrionic quality at the beginning of his speech, performing his victimhood to the audience. But the expression of his predicament leads him to a position in which he must confront his own culpability, and the diction and rhythms change strikingly:I cannot but observe withal, how just
A judgement follows mine own wilful acts,
In the same kind, of doing ills for ills.85No longer casting himself as a persecuted hero, Matchil’s language returns to something much closer to an everyday register. And by the end of the speech, he deploys rhetorical and stylistic intensifications, not to conceal his follies and seek audience sympathy, but to achieve a forceful and pungent expression of his predicament:I see my faults, and feel the punishments.
And, rather than stand out in my defence,
T’enjoy some peace I will endure some sorrow,
And bear it civilly. [Calls offstage] Within there.
Enter SERVANTServantSir.MatchilGo call your mistress, pray her to come alone. Exit SERVANT
My resolution brings me yet some ease:
Men that are born to serve, must seek to please.86The parallelisms (‘faults … punishments’, ‘peace … sorrow’, ‘serve … please’) drive home contrasts, ironies, and the unpalatable choices Matchil must make . The variations in register in this speech are essential in order for the audience to take the emotional journey with the character and comprehend Matchil’s decision to submit himself.Performance issues87The New Academy strikes an editor as the work of a very professional playwright; one can see why there was competition for Brome’s services among contemporary acting companies. Keenly attuned to recent developments in the social and cultural life of the capital and his audience, the play represents and explores these, with Brome alluding to and imitating popular works of the Jacobean and Caroline repertoire (see above). Brome’s borrowings show him to be an appreciative audience for much that was most successful in the work of his contemporaries.88The play is also remarkably efficient in the demands - or rather lack of demands - it places on a theatre. There is no need for elaborate sets; no-one needs to lie down or is asked to sit; meals are taken offstage:HannahSir, your collation stays.Strigood’Tis well. Gallants and ladies,
Wilt please you enter?[NA 4.2.speeches1026-1027]89There are no complicated or elaborate properties: a letter; a ‘can’ for sack and some glasses; perhaps some toys for Nehemiah; some marriage contracts; little else. The play does require some distinctive costumes, for reasons given above, but we know the acting companies made considerable investments in these.90Instead, the play is created by the words and the actors’ bodies and their movements, the latter being particularly important in a play concerning deportment and dancing. As is clear when the whole cast assembles for the catastrophe and a final dance, the stage needs to be almost entirely clear. The two young women, Joyce and Gabriella, at one stage are required by Strigood to sing offstage and ‘above’ -Up maids, and quickly; or ’tis not your masks
Can keep you undiscovered. Go, be ready
With music and your voices, when I call to ye.[NA 4.2.speech960]91- but otherwise even the architectural form of the playhouse is not explicitly invoked. There is a lean, stripped-down quality to The New Academy, and it is admirable.92The key performance decisions are therefore about characters. Brome clearly inherits from Ben Jonson a dramatic style in which characters are revealed by what they do (doing including conversing), but equally clearly such a statement is not enough. There are too many moments like Matchil’s Act 3 soliloquy [NA 3.1.speech546] that achieve a kind of psychological verisimilitude expressed through sophisticated verbal forms for this to be the case. The primary performance question, as a result, is where transitions occur between different acting styles, how realistic to make the representation of emotional states or the interiority of characters, and how deeply to invoke the audience’s sympathies.93In the Project’s workshops with actors these questions were discussed and no easy answers found. However, it seemed that, if the actor trusted Brome’s text, the subtle variations of style and resulting differences in the nature of the audience’s engagement largely dissipated problems that loomed large when simply reading. What we might conceptualise as a problem, the play treats as simplicity itself. Similarly, the resolution of the different plot elements in the final scene, which on the page seemed to this editor perfunctory and unlikely to succeed, worked lightly and easily in little more than a staged reading. The New Academy, interesting as it is, may not be outstanding among Brome’s plays; but one feels that it is the creation of a master of his craft and one well worth staging.
n10009 spring of 1636
n10010 R.J. Kaufmann documents the arrival of French players in 1634-5 and proposes a burst of enthusiasm for and curiosity about French courtly dance that continues for several years thereafter.
n10011 Montagut in particular would have had topical value for Brome in the mid 1630s.
n10014 A member of Queen Henrietta Maria’s household, in July 1635 he killed ‘a Grasier, a substantial honest Man, hard by Brainford for which it is thought he shall fetch a Caper at Tyburn’.
n10013 Ben Jonson’s entertainment, Britain’s Burse.
n10014 the ‘place realism’ group,
n10015 as Janette Dillon points out, Epicoene was first performed within a year of the opening of the New Exchange.
n10016 It is notable that, although Whimlby is the only titled male in the play, his knighthood serves primarily to indicate the distance that exists by the 1630s between the award of the honour and its military origins.
n10017 come a ducking to Islington ponds?
n10018 Say I command her to come to me’ (5.2.99-100).
n10019 in English, his Usher.
n10020 Anyone considering Brome’s The New Academy at this juncture is fortunate to be able to do so in the light of the discussions of the play in Matthew Steggle’s Richard Brome: Place and Politics on the Caroline Stage (Manchester UP, 2004) ;
n10021 Jean E. Howard’s Theater of a City: The Places of London Comedy, 1598-1642 (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press, 2007).
n10022 Following Norbert Elias’s pioneering work, The Civilising Process (1969; 1982), and especially the first volume on ‘The Reformation of Manners’, much has been written on the development and increasing centrality of the concept of ‘civility’ in Western society.
n10023 society in the first few decades of the seventeenth century.
n10024 (these terms, though deployed by Richard Allen Cave in a discussion of Every Man in his Humour, where he is distinguishing Shakespeare’s psychological verisimilitude from the different styles of Robert Greene and John Lyly, apply equally well in this episode).
n10025 (Ecclesiasticus 7:25).
n10026 French dancing in particular became fashionable, increasingly so with the arrival of Charles I’s consort, the French princess Henrietta Maria.
n10027 In a beautiful reading, Sarah Cohen draws our attention to an alternative Post-Foucauldian model which regards the body as ‘an agent of cultural expression’, a producer of social meaning rather than a passive receptor’.
n10028 (Brome’s poem in praise of the latter is included in the preliminaries for The Weeding of Covent Garden).
n10029 Bacon’s comments on life as a performance are shortly followed by an analogy concerning clothing and contemporary plays: in some philosophies virtue and pleasure are interchangeable, ‘as it is used in some comedies of errors, wherein the mistress and the maid change habits’.
n10030 Jean-Christophe Agnew’s description of how mercantile texts in this period present the body fits the bill perfectly: “The body had become, in effect, a commodity ...[.] In its own, albeit figurative way, the human body had become the newest of England’s draperies”.’