About the Author.


Date and Stage and Textual History.



Historical context and Political allusions in The City Wit.


Themes and Characterisation.

  i.     Gender.

ii.     Money.

Editorial Procedures.

Further Reading.

About the Author.

Over his life Richard Brome wrote 23 plays of which The City Wit is one of the earliest.  He was an editor of a piece of Fletcher’s work, perhaps an editor also of an anthology of elegies, and maybe a collaborator, though most likely a rewriter, of Heywood for the King’s Men.[1]


There is a distinct vagueness about the details of Brome’s life outside of the theatre.  Although 1590 is the date usually given for his birth, in truth we have no solid evidence to support this.  As Bentley puts it, Brome could have been born in 1575 or 1595.[2]  As with date of birth, we know nothing about where Brome was born, who his parents were, when he came to London, where he was educated.  Although it has been claimed that he was educated at Eton, this has also been shown to be unlikely.[3]  What we do know is that by 1614 Brome was working as a manservant to the great dramatist, Ben Jonson.  Jonson had a ‘man’ as early as 1609, but whether this was Brome is unclear.[4]  It is in the ‘Induction’ to Bartholomew Fair that Brome makes his appearance in the role.

But for the whole Play, will you ha’ the truth on’t?  (I am looking, lest the Poet heare me, or his man, Master Broome, behind the Arras) it is like to be a very conceited scuruy one, in plaine English.[5]

The relationship with Jonson is an important factor in Brome’s life.  Indeed, Andrews states that Brome’s “place in literature is that of the closest and most successful” follower of Jonson.[6]  It is possible that it is through Jonson that Brome received his education.  Jonson’s ‘Epigram 101’ says that “my man / Shall read a piece of Virgil, Tacitus, Livy”.[7]  This suggests that Brome was educated to some degree, or that Jonson undertook to educate him as he did Nathaniel Field.[8]  Some critics have argued that Brome was in fact Jonson’s theatrical assistant, however others also argue that he was no more than a manservant.[9]  Andrews suggests, on the evidence of ‘Epigram 101’, that he must have been more than just a menial servant.


The influence of Jonson on Brome is great and sometimes obvious, made explicitly so by Brome in his work.  Brome used some of Jonson’s plays and devices as sources for his own work, as will be seen later in the essay, and he also refers to the influence of Jonson directly for example in the ‘Prologue’ to The City Wit.  Sarpego the pedant states: ‘For it was written, when / It bore just Judgement, and the seal of Ben.’ [10] suggesting that Brome is either particularly aware of Jonson’s influence on the play or that Jonson himself approved of the play.  This part of the ‘Prologue’ was written at a later date than the rest of the play for a revival, this quotation stating how well the play was received in the past. [11]


Brome did not always have the ‘seal of Ben’.  Famous for being Jonson’s servant during his own time, Jonson apparently had an issue with his servant getting above his station.  By 1629 Brome was a professional playwright.  His now lost play The Love-sick Maid was performed by Shakespeare’s old company, the King’s Men, and was well received. [12]   That this success had come a matter of weeks after a flop by Jonson (The New Inn) seems to have riled the older playwright who responded with criticism of Brome in his Ode to Himself.

                        No doubt a mouldy Tale,

                        Like Pericles, and stale

                        As the Shrieve’s crusts, and nasty as his fish,

                        Scraps out of every Dish,

                        Throwne forth and rak’t into the common Tub,

                        May keepe up the Play Club:

                        Brooms sweepings doe as well

                        There, as his Masters meale[13]


Brome was a successful and popular playwright.[14]  He began with The Love-sick Maid in 1629, writing The City Wit roughly around the same time.  The closure of the theatres in 1642 led to the downfall of Brome and he died in poverty in either 1652 or 1653.  Alexander Brome alluded to both Brome’s background and poverty at death in a poem of 1659: “Poor he came into th’world and poor went out.”[15]


Date and Stage and Textual History.

The transcript that this edition of The City Wit is based on is from the 1653 edition published by Moseley and edited by Alexander Brome.[16]  The City Wit is considered to be among Brome’s early plays, written during the years he was at the Globe and Blackfriars theatres working with the King’s Men.  However, unlike others of the plays he wrote at this time, there is no evidence of when this play was actually written, or who first performed it.  The prologue does offer some suggestions about this because it appears in two halves, the second half of which mentions the fact that it was written for a revival of the play and that the play itself was written when the speaker was a child and when the play bore “the seal of Ben”.  Bentley says that the fact that the prologue states that the revival was given on the authority of the author and not the actors suggests that the company that was performing the revival was not the company that originally performed the play.[17] Bentley states a date for the writing of the play as c.1629.[18]  This has been disputed, however, Kaufmann dates it as being around 1630 – 1631 and Anton-Ranieri Parra believes the date to be 1632.[19]  Other than the 1637 revival, there was also a revival in 1661,[20] which implies that the play was received well at some point.


Who the play was written for and performed by is a mystery; however, we can speculate about this.  The City Wit has a large number of female roles for a Renaissance stage and one male part that requires a lot of singing.  From this it is possible to deduce that the play may have been written for a boy company, or at least a company with a large number of boy players.  This would make the prologue funnier because of the irony of a child playing the teacher; it would also help to explain the jibes made about Sarpego’s height throughout the play. [21]



Jonson heavily influenced Brome’s life and work.  This is evident in The City Wit as the play makes direct reference to one of Jonson’s plays and appears to base its plot, to some extent, on another.  Jonson wrote The Alchemist in 1610 and Brome directly refers to this play at least twice in The City Wit.  These references occur half way through, first in Act Three, scene one as Crack remarks “By indenture tripartite, and’t please you, like Subtle, Doll and Face.” [22]   This statement directly aligns the circumstances that Crack, Crasy and Tryman find themselves in with the circumstances of the characters in The Alchemist.  The ‘and’t please you’ is an intriguing piece of the speech as the character could be referring to various people: Brome could be asking the audience of the performance to accept the similarity and approve of it, he could be asking Jonson the same thing, or, quite simply, Crack could just be speaking to the characters onstage.  The statement does bring the other play to mind and in doing so encourages the audience to think of The City Wit in terms of and as being in the same league as Jonson’s work.  The similarity in terms of plot is clear, as the characters forming the indenture tripartite are two men and a woman who intend to cheat and cozen other characters as Subtle, Doll and Face do in The Alchemist.  The other direct reference to The Alchemist draws on the names again as Crasy states that Tryman says her name is Doll in Act Three scene three. [23]

There are other moments in the play where it is possible to see a link between The City Wit and The Alchemist although these are much more subtle points of comparison.  In Act Two scene two Crasy is selling himself as Doctor Pulse-feel to Josina and in his speech claims “Galen was a goose, and Paracelsus a patch to Doctor Pulse-feel.[24]  This is reminiscent of a moment in The Alchemist when Mammon says that Subtle is

An excellent Paracelsian!  And has done

Strange cures with mineral physic.  He deals all

With spirits, he.  He will not hear a word

Of Galen, or his tedious recipes.”[25]

Although not directly similar, the two quotations do encourage the suggestion that Brome drew on The Alchemist further than the more obvious references to the characters.  There is another occasion such as this one in Act Two scene six of The Alchemist where Drugger discusses a widow who lodges near to him.  Drugger states “Sir, there is lodged, hard by me/ A rich young widow”.[26]  This is comparable to the speech that Crasy makes to Pyannet about Tryman: “Love and Fortune have put upon me a right wealthy widow.  She lies at a near neighbour’s house”.[27]  Again, although the similarity is slight, the comparison is there to be made, strengthened by the fact that, from the direct references, we know that Brome drew on The Alchemist.  Later in this scene from The Alchemist there is another similarity when Drugger states “She’ll never marry/ Under a knight”[28] and that the widow’s brother “is come up/ To learn to quarrel, and to live by his wits.”[29]  Toby’s discussion of Tryman in Act Two scene three seems to follow the issue of the knight as he claims “marry she will not but a gentleman”[30] and the idea of a man coming to town to learn to live by his wits can be seen in The City Wit in Crasy’s decision to use wit and Toby’s advice to him to learn wit in Act One scene two.[31]


The other play by Jonson that appears to be a source for The City Wit is Epicoene, or the silent woman.  Perhaps the main point of comparison for the plots of these plays is the use of a woman to con someone into marrying for the ends of another person (in Epicoene it is for the knight, Dauphine) and the revelation at the end of the play that the woman is in fact a man.  In the case of Epicoene this androgynous character is Epicoene, in The City Wit it is Tryman.  There seems to be very few other points of comparison that are directly reflected in the language of the text; however, the plays are very similar in terms of themes.  Like The City Wit, Epicoene focuses heavily on the issue of gender and marriage, the role of women and men.  This can be seen in Epicoene in the poem by Sir John Daw that reads:

                        Nor is’t a tale

            That female vice should be a virtue male,

            Or masculine vice, a female virtue be:

                        You shall it see

                        Proved with increase,

            I know to speak, and she to hold her peace.[32]

The marriage of Epicoene, the ‘silent woman’ to Morose, a man who loves no noise, seems to be a perfect match; however, Epicoene changes into a very loud woman after marriage and in this and the power she exerts she is comparable to the character of Pyannet in The City Wit.  For example, after her marriage Epicoene says to Morose:

Speak to him, fellow, speak to him.  I’ll have none of this coacted, unnatural dumbness in my house, in a family where I govern.[33]

Although it is ironic that this woman is demanding her husband speak and Pyannet demands he keep his silence, the central issue is the balance of power and the woman taking control as Pyannet is seen to do.

The revelation that the woman is a man at the end of Epicoene is also seen in the end of The City Wit.  The revelations are similar, and the speeches that the two male characters, Dauphine and Crasy, make about the wo/man also have similarities.  However, The City Wit takes this disguising of the woman further as no character in the play, other than Crack, is aware that Tryman is a man whereas Epicoene is revealed by the man who coached her, Dauphine.  The conclusion of The City Wit becomes a double revelation as Tryman is revealed to be a whore and then, to everyone’s surprise, a man.  This seems to be a more complete deception.

While critics such as Andrews stress the influence of Jonson and perhaps other great writers such as Shakespeare, I would argue that there are greater, perhaps more obvious, links to the writer Robert Greene in The City Wit.[34]  Early in the play Crasy says:

            Yes, here, about a groat's worth

            Of paper it was once.  Would I had now

            Greene’s groats-worth of wit for it.[35]

Greene’s groats-worth of wit, bought with a million of repentance is most famous now for being the first text that writes about Shakespeare working in London.  It is a confessional text written on the deathbed of Robert Greene and is an autobiographical piece that describes the life of its hero, Roberto, and his downfall.  The plot involves Roberto being left a groat by his father with which he is instructed to buy wit.  Roberto enlists the aid of a prostitute to cheat his brother out of the rest of the fortune that his father left.  The use of Greene so early in Brome’s play suggests a comparison with the text similar to his use of Jonson’s Alchemist.  It can be assumed that the contemporary audience would have had some knowledge of Greene’s groats-worth of wit and the evocation of the text so early in the play encourages the audience to think of a plot that it knows and in doing so encourages them to believe that they know what to expect.  Further reading shows that the plot of The City Wit does closely follow the plot of Greene; however, Brome inverts the plot.  Both texts follow the fortunes of a prodigal.  Both feature tight-fisted merchants: in Greene this is Gorinius the father, in The City Wit it is Linsy-Wolsey.  In both texts the prodigal character is instructed to buy wit explicitly.  Gorinius instructs Roberto “to buy a groats-worth of wit”, as Toby instructs Crasy to “Purchase wit; get wit, look you, wit”. [36]   The use of similar phrasing here and the use of a similar start point to the stories encourages comparison, and the direct reference to Greene by Brome does suggest that it is a legitimate claim to make that the text was a source for Brome.  This can be carried further by the continued similarity of the plots.  Both plots deal with a deathbed scene that brings issues of generosity and inheritance into the thematic foreground.  It is interesting that while Greene’s is a deeply serious moment, Brome ultimately mocks the scene in his play by having it turn out to be a farce played by a whore pretending to be unwell and with no real fortune. [37]


The use of prostitutes by the prodigal character is something that both writers use.  In the case of Greene it is Lamilia, and in The City Wit it is Tryman.  Although the similarities are not great, as Lamilia betrays Roberto where Tryman remains loyal to Crasy throughout (an example of Brome’s inversion of Greene’s plot), both writers make these characters strong and deceitful.


Perhaps it is too much to say that The City Wit is a response to Greene’s groats-worth of wit although there are great similarities in character and plot.  However, as the audience is led to believe they know what to expect by mentioning Greene, they are surprised at the end by the triumph of Brome’s hero where Roberto fails and the revelation of the prostitute as a man in Act Five.  The City Wit shows a different way to use wit, and suggests that wit is not altogether destructive, as Greene seems to suggest as his characters fall to vice.  The humour that is created by Brome mocks the seriousness of Greene and the seriousness of his message.

It is interesting that one of the other plays that is a source for The City Wit, Epicoene, also mentions Greene’s groats-worth of wit: one of the women, Trusty, states that her father was cured of madness through reading the text.[38]  This shows that both playwrights had knowledge of Greene’s text, and the use of both Epicoene and Greene as sources for The City Wit does suggest that Greene’s presence in both The City Wit and Epicoene is more than coincidence.  That Jonson also mentions Greene suggests that the text was widely known and that it was used in a comical context that we can assume the audience would have known, and they may have expected Brome to use Greene’s groats-worth of wit irreverently because of this connection of the text with comedy.


Historical context and political allusions in The City Wit.

The City Wit has a very specific setting: London in and around the court. [39]   The time of the play is more difficult to pinpoint, as it seems to make references that would set it in a time contemporary to the writing of it; however, as we shall see, this is something that can be argued.  It is useful, though not essential, to have some kind of understanding of the history of the Caroline court when reading The City Wit, as much of the action happens around the court; characters refer to the court and various statements are made that can be read as an allusion to what was happening at the time.


If we take the date for the writing of The City Wit as 1629, it was written four years after the death of James I and the accession to the throne of Charles I.  The play is concerned with the court, the goings on at court, and being part of the court, even though the characters are largely on the outskirts, in a serving role, for example, as merchants.  The court at the time of Brome’s writing was changing.  The court of James I was very informal to the point of being vulgar. [40]  James’s court was bawdy, loved debate and was very open to the subjects of the king; however this court changed within weeks of James’s death.  Charles was a complete contrast to James and the court took on a much more sober and dignified atmosphere.  Charles was concerned, to obsession, with ritual and ceremony [41] and this brought changes to everyday life within the court.  Rules were introduced, or reinstated from Henry VIII’s reign, governing who of which office could go into which rooms and chambers, where people should or should not stand in or out of the king’s presence. [42]   In 1630 and 1631 Books of Orders were published for the purpose of telling servants the new rules. [43]   Kevin Sharpe quotes the Venetian ambassador as evidence of the rapid changes that took place: writing only days after the succession he says

The king observes a rule of great decorum.  The nobles do not enter his apartment in confusion as heretofore, but each rank has its appointed place and he has declared that he desires the rules and maxims of the late Queen Elizabeth.[44]

In relation to the play this change in the nature of the court, which, although begun early, was drawn out and took place over years rather than weeks,[45] throws the time of the play into some confusion as the tone of the court in Brome’s play does not reflect a sense of decorum but an atmosphere of bawdiness, concern with appearances and deceit.  Through this difference in tone and the way in which, particularly in Acts Three and Four, Brome stages the court and the monarch,[46] suggests that Brome intended to satirise the new way of working at court.


Satire of the court is most evident in Act Three, scene two when Pyannet coaches Sneakup in the ways of the court to enable him to con his way in to see ‘the Prince’ and thereby con ‘the Prince’ out of money.  Towards the end of the scene Pyannet runs through a list of what Sneakup must do in each chamber he must pass through:

Now mark.  I will instruct you: when you come at the Court gate, you may neither knock nor piss.  Do you mark?  You go through the Hall cover’d; through the great Chamber cover’d; through the Presence bare; through the Lobby cover’d; through the Privy Chamber bare; through the Privy Lobby cover’d; to the Prince bare.[47]

Pyannet’s language in this detailed instruction shows the vulgarity of the character and through this brings the dignity of the court down to that level.  If we take the play as being set in contemporary London, the real-life change in tone and the detail of instructions for the court is mocked in this scene through the language and Sneakup’s confusion to the point of having to make notes.[48]  The court is also mocked at the end of the scene as Sneakup reveals his worry of being caught out and Pyannet reassures him by stating “A fool is never discover’d among madmen”.[49]


Act Three scene two is full of references to the court and the political context of the time of writing, the reference to madmen being one of them.  The other that is particularly overt is a reference, again from Pyannet, about the Exchequer. 


            May not a man break wind?


            Umh, yes: but (like the Exchequer payment) somewhat abated.[50]

As with the rules of the court, the Exchequer is brought down to the level of citizens through the language used about breaking wind.  Charles I is famous for his money problems.  Inheriting not only the throne from his father, he also inherited a war and financial problems, which resulted in a crisis in 1628 –1629, [51] the time when Brome was writing.  Although it does seem that for a while the people were relatively happy to keep paying the forced loans and much later and ultimately ship money, [52] it does appear that much more money was being paid into the Exchequer than was being paid out for the direct benefit of the people.  The war with Spain, and later France, was longer than had been anticipated and promised by Charles and took place on land rather than in a short naval battle therefore proving more expensive than first thought. [53]   Although this was in 1625, it is again background to the story and demonstrates how money was very much an issue for Charles from the beginning of his reign.  These problems continued: in 1627 the ‘Five Knights’ Case’ shows how money and the getting of money was very much an issue as Charles’s prerogative to imprison without trial those refusing to pay forced loans was upheld. [54]   As money problems dominated the reign of Charles I, so money problems, the getting and giving of money, dominate The City Wit;indeed it could be argued that the play is about money.


Not only is the court of Charles I mocked through The City Wit, the person of the king himself is portrayed onstage in a mocking manner. [55]   Again this is found in Act Three scene two as Pyannet pretends to be ‘the Prince’.  Considering that the play is contemporary there is only one prince this could be – Charles I, who was also the Prince of Wales before his father’s death.  That it is a woman who pretends to be the monarch encourages comparisons with the king that suggest something about his masculinity, particularly as he is being portrayed by a shrewish woman whose own gender identity is an issue of the play.  There are other references made in the play that could be read as being derogatory about Charles and his appearance.  Sarpego the pedant is a good example of this.  Sarpego is a short character, something that is made obvious from the Prologue and referred to throughout. [56]   Charles was also a short man, and this minor feature encourages comparison especially considering the specific setting.  The gaudiness of the court is alluded to, as Sarpego dresses up for the court in gorgeous clothes but with a dirty undershirt, suggesting there is something dirty at the heart of the court underneath appearances. [57]   Continuing this Bridget makes comments about how clothes can make a man grow and appear to be bigger and better than in fact he really is. [58]


The role of women in the play is also at the forefront [59] and through this it is possible to suggest that Brome may be alluding to Henrietta Maria in the play.  Although there are no direct references to Henrietta Maria, the presence of overbearing female characters does encourage comparison with a woman who was famous at the time.  The contemporary reporting of arguments between the queen and king [60] encourages the idea that the woman wearing the trousers may be an allusion to Henrietta Maria and she can perhaps also be seen in Pyannet.  However, by 1629 Charles and his queen were becoming devoted to each other [61] and, although what was true and what was believed may be entirely different things, [62] the lack of more obvious references does make this only a vague possibility.  I would argue that Pyannet is more a criticism of Charles than Henrietta Maria, particularly in light of the fact that she plays the prince in a scene that is critical of the monarchy.


Themes and characterisation.


The City Wit is notable for the number of female characters that it has.  Gender is a theme of the play that dominates from beginning to end; indeed it is apparent in the subtitle of the play ‘The woman wears the breeches’.  The subtitle is a good indication of how gender is addressed in the play, having its focus on how women are expected to behave, as well as issues of femininity and masculinity.  This is addressed largely through the female characters and Tryman and is most obviously apparent in the character of Pyannet.  Pyannet is Sneakup’s wife and the mother-in-law of the hero Crasy.  She is first presented on the stage through other characters' descriptions of her and her behaviour.  Sarpego the pedant is most important in setting up the character, as he tells what Pyannet has done at the dinner designed to help Crasy with his creditors:

Mistress Pyannet your mother-in-law, Mr. Sneakup’s wife, though she be call’d by none but her own name, that woman of an eternal tongue; that creature of an everlasting noise… this she-thing hath burst all.[63]

Sarpego is fond of using language in a hyperbolic manner and here it is used to create an image of Pyannet that is wholly negative, most plainly in the use of ‘creature’ and ‘she-thing’ to describe her.  Through these words Pyannet is de-feminised and turned into a form of monster, presenting gender in a negative manner, most especially because this is the first woman to be talked about on the stage.  It is unfortunate for women that Pyannet lives up to her description when she does enter. [64]   Pyannet’s accusations and condemnation of Crasy in Act One scene one are said with strength and authority; however, Brome turns this into a negative for the character in part because she has already been portrayed in a negative manner relating to speech and also because of the other characters responses to her.  Crasy fails to acknowledge her until his masculinity is challenged, and she overtly takes the role of the man in this situation away from her husband who is also present:

My husband is a man of few words, and has committed his tongue to me: and I hope I shall use it to his worship.[65]

Pyannet’s negative presentation is confirmed through this as, rather than simply acting as her husband's mouthpiece, she responds in his place to Crasy’s approaches to him and she directly forbids her husband to speak (“You must talk, must you?  And your wife in presence must you?” [66] ).  Although funny, these moments present a confusion of gender roles as the de-feminised woman performs the male role.  This presentation of Pyannet continues throughout the play, and is particularly apparent as she plays the Prince and attempts to cheat Crasy. [67]


The presentation of gender that is shown through Pyannet is linked to a broader theme of gender that the play puts forward that is linked to expectations of women.  There is not a single example of a ‘good’ woman in the play, except possibly Tryman who in fact turns out to be male.  The very fact of his masculinity is derogatory to femininity as the ‘goodness’ is shown to be separate from the women anyway.  The ‘real’ women of the play are shown either to be serving women, women pretending to be men, or whores (this is true of Tryman also who, before her revelation, is presented as a whore).  Josina, Crasy’s wife, is presented as a whore from the moment he leaves as she pursues Jeremy and then later Ticket and Rufflit. [68]   The role of women as whores is most graphically discussed in the final act of the play as it is expected for Tryman to be able and willing to play the “strumpet” [69] in a masque.  Josina discusses freely her own pleasure in entertaining “some few selected” [70] gentlemen and Toby orders his bride to perform the role.  What is most amusing and enlightening about this scene is the response to Tryman when she does play the role and creates fear in the other characters that she plays the role too well.  This falls in line with other ideas Brome puts forward about appearances and contradictions in the characters.  Tryman’s too-real performance exposes the characters' hypocritical approach that says women are whores: “it can be no disgrace to figure out the part: for she that cannot play the strumpet if she would, can claim no great honour to be chaste.” [71]   One other important point that Tryman makes in relation to gender and sex supports this exposure of hypocrites.  When revealing that she is a prostitute to Crasy she states that “men that lov’d my use, lov’d it but to loath me”. [72]   This is what happens at the masque and, for a moment, shows Brome in a feminist light describing how sex and female identity cannot go together, as the male love of one leads to the hatred of the other.  At this moment Brome seems to drop his overall criticism of women and turn on the male race instead.  However, criticism of women is at the heart of the play as Jeremy, and the success of Crasy, undermines the women.  Ultimately Pyannet sees her flaws and begs forgiveness: she is shamed into this by seeing how unbecoming it was of Tryman to wear breeches. [73]   The masculine woman is made feminine by the end of the play as ‘normality’ is restored suggesting that this is the ‘right’ way to be.



Money is a focal theme of the play.  As Brome brings prostitutes to the fore so he links sex to money, and this link is something that is found throughout the play.  Money is the background to The City Wit.  Historically this is true and in terms of plot it is also the case; it is intricately linked to the issues that Brome addresses: sex, appearances, status and image. The idea that money can buy everything, including non-material goods, runs through the play.  This is evident through the simple fact that Brome deals with characters who are merchants.  The buying of clothes to improve Sarpego’s appearance is also evidence of this as Bridget describes how Sarpego has grown as a result of newly bought clothes; [74] this is also found in Toby’s belief that the man he meets at court cannot be his former tutor because he no longer looks like him. [75]   However, as is also seen in this instance, money is used to buy things to cover the reality – that Sarpego is wearing a dirty shirt.


Money permeates the lives of the characters in The City Wit.  Brome uses language to present it as a life force as important as food.  This is evident in Act One scene one as Crasy describes his unfortunate situation:

They may sit merry with their cheer, while I feed on this hard meat…Am I drawn dry?  Not so much as the lees left?[76]

Through this use of language related to consumption Brome presents money as fundamental to life itself.  The importance of money is found in the tragic tone of the scene and through the suggestion that Crasy is embroiled in a very serious downfall.  The theme of the power of money is also drawn attention to as Crasy’s speech later in the scene about the bankrupt ditch and the bridge of baseness highlights how money has power to encourage corruption:

                        I must take nimble hold upon occasion,

                        Or lie forever in the bankrupt ditch,

                        Where no man lends a hand to draw one out.

                        I will leap over it, or fall bravely in’t,                

                        Scorning the bridge of Baseness

                        I scorn thee, though thou lov’st a tradesman dearly

                        And mak’st a chandler Lord of thousands yearly.[77]

In this speech Brome establishes a conflict fundamental to the play, between honesty in the form of Crasy and deceit in the form of money.  This speech highlights how money makes and breaks friendships and the power that money has over human compassion as Crasy realises that no-one will help him in this desperation.  This realisation is found to be true as none of his former friends pays him the money that they owe in Act One scene two.  The conflict is established as Crasy makes a conscious decision not to fall to despair and baseness and the earnings that dealing without morals can bring.  This conflict continues throughout the play to its conclusion in Act Five with the triumph of honesty over money.


The power of money to buy everything can be seen in most of the characters in the play.  This is true of tight-fisted, money-loving Linsy-Wolsey and Pyannet who buys her son’s way into court and out of marriage, and also in Rufflit who links money to sex as he claims that sex can pay his debts. [78]

            Throughout the play characters justify their actions related to keeping their money rather than aiding their friend, Crasy.  Rufflit is particularly vocal in this:

All things rob one another: churches poule the people, princes pill the church; minions draw from princes, mistresses suck minions, and the pox undoes mistresses; physicians plagues their patients; orators their clients; courtiers their suitors, and the Devil all.  The water robs the earth, earth chokes the water: fire burns air, air still consumes the fires.[79]

This speech places the gaining of money through cheating people in a natural and correct order.  The use of nature and the very ordered manner of the speech gives what Rufflit says a tone of legitimacy and a sense that this has been the case forever.  However, while giving this use of money a sense of legitimacy, Brome undermines it by exposing the corruption of it at the same time.  By opposing this speech with the character of the honest Crasy, Brome shows the audience the wrongness of this approach.  Brome exposes the corrupt heart of society in The City Wit, at the centre of which is money.  However, Brome also shows that there are other approaches, as honesty, through the use of wit, wins.


Editorial Procedures.

My intention with this edition of The City Wit has been to create a version of the text that is accessible for a modern readership at any level of study and knowledge, but to also retain the authenticity of a seventeenth century text.  I believe that it is important, and that there is space in the market, for various editions that fulfil different purposes or editorial functions.  In this edition I have tried to achieve a balance between modernity and the original text.  I have not changed spellings of names even though a different spelling might perhaps emphasize the meaning; for example, I have left the spelling of ‘Crasy’ as ‘Crasy’ rather than altering it to ‘Crazy’.  I have kept the spellings of names that are found in the transcripts ‘Dramatis Personae’.  Spellings generally have been modernised to improve understanding and where this alteration has not changed the understanding or interpretation of the text that I believe Brome intended.  For example, in Sarpego’s speech to Crasy in Act I scene II the word ‘lanthorne’ has only had the ‘e’ removed to spell ‘lanthorn’ rather than change the entire the word to ‘lantern’. [80]   As I say in the note for this passage, Sarpego is referring to Crasy’s genitalia in an offensive and humorous manner, and changing the spelling for the sake of correctness and modernity would diminish Brome’s writing in this instance.  This is also the case for the spelling of ‘Cornu copia’ in the same passage.  The spelling has not been modernised where meaning would potentially be lost.  There are instances throughout the text when it has been necessary for me to change the spelling of words because it impacts on meaning and therefore understanding.  This has been, almost exclusively, with the word ‘I’.  There are times throughout the text where I have changed this to ‘aye’ for the purposes of correctness and clarity. The use of capitals has also been modernised and made consistent throughout the text.


Throughout the transcript of the text there are hyphens present both in and at the end of speeches.  These I have taken as indicating pauses, speakers drifting off mid-sentence, or interruptions.  I have changed the three hyphens ‘---‘ for three dots instead ‘…’.  The meaning is not changed but perhaps, and hopefully, enhanced.


Often Brome has spelt words ending in ‘ed’ with ‘’d’.  These I have left as they are and have not replaced with ‘ed’.  Likewise, words that have ended ‘ed’ I have not altered, as I felt it unnecessary to interfere: the meaning of the words is not impaired and this aesthetic means that the text retains some feeling of its original state.  In cases where the word has been mis-spelt in the original transcript – such as Crasy’s ‘faln’ in Act I scene I – I have corrected the spelling for clarity but used the ‘’n’ rather than ‘en’ because I did not think complete modernisation was necessary for reader understanding.


Throughout the process of editing this play I have been constantly aware of the nature of performing the text and how my edition may influence that.  As a result of this I have been restrained in the addition of stage directions.  Brome has already included many stage directions in The City Wit that are useful and important to the play. [81]   Directors will, of course, interpret and alter the text as they see fit and the addition of stage directions has been mainly for the aid of readers in visualising the action.  I have clarified who is on and off stage, for example, adding people to ‘enter’ stage directions that have been missed off in the transcript but later speak, [82] and correcting stage directions when a character leaves but speaks immediately after.  For example, in the transcripts Act I scene I a stage direction reads ‘Exit Jos.’ And then she speaks.  It seems to make greater sense that the direction should read ‘Exit Jeremy’ and I have amended it to do so. [83]   I have added stage directions in some instances to indicate who a character is addressing, for example during Pyannet’s showdown with Crasy in Act I scene I. [84]   I felt that these additions did not impair the potential for interpretation of the text but added to the ability to visualise what is a potentially humorous scene and one that establishes some of the themes and conflicts that Brome addresses and uses throughout the play.


The play is written extensively in prose, which is expected in a play that focuses on low characters.  There are times, however, when Brome uses verse, most notably during the first and fourth acts.  I have left this as it is found in the transcript.  Although at times it could be said that the verse is ‘bad’ it is clearly meant to be in verse as Brome uses rhyming couplets and most often an iambic pentameter.  It seems that Brome uses verse at times when the tone of the play changes from one of comedy to tragedy, of course made comic by the characters melodramatics. [85]   It did not seems necessary or appropriate therefore to change the verse to prose or vice versa.


I have attempted to modernise punctuation and grammar throughout the text.  This has mostly involved the removal of unnecessary commas, colons, or semi-colons, and the addition where these punctuation marks have been missing.  I have also removed brackets where they have not been totally necessary, partly because in performance brackets cannot be seen.


There have been few occasions when it has been necessary for me to make a choice between which word was appropriate for the sentence because of the potential that a mis-spelt word has created a new meaning.  The only place in which I have completely altered the line in the transcript is Act I scene II when Toby says to Crasy: “Desire little; cover little; no not your own”.  I could not make this sentence make sense with the spelling of no as either ‘no’ or ‘know’.  I therefore changed the sentence to read “Desire little; covet little; no, not your own”, [86] based on a religious understanding of adultery that makes it possible for a person to desire what they already have.  This meaning fits the intention of Toby’s speech and therefore the change does not create any major discrepancy in the text.


I have added line numbers to the text although I have been unable to begin counting at the beginning of each scene as I had hoped, hence the rather large line numbers.


I have also attempted to provide translations for all the Latin and Greek used in the play, however, there are some words that I have been unable to translate.


Further Reading.




Coward, Barry, The Stuart Age: England 1603 – 1714, second edition, London, Longman, 1994.


Plowden, Alison, Henrietta Maria: Charles I’s Indomitable queen, Gloucestershire, Sutton Publishing, 2001.


Starkey, David, The English Court from the Wars of the Roses to the Civil War, New York, Longman, 1987.


Tomlinson, Howard, Before the English Civil War, London, Macmillan Press, 1983.



Richard Brome.


Andrews, Clarence Edward, Richard Brome: A Study of his life and works, Connecticut, Archon Books, 1972.


Bentley, Gerald Eades, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage, Oxford, Oxford UP , 1967.


Kaufmann, R. J., Richard Brome: Caroline Playwright, London and New York, Columbia, 1961.


Shaw, Catherine M., Richard Brome, Boston, Twayne Publishers, 1980.


Steggle, Matthew, Richard Brome: Place and politics on the Caroline Stage, Manchester, Manchester University Press, forthcoming 2004.



Other texts.


Greene, Robert, Greene’s groats-worth of wit, published 1592, found at:

http://www.uoregon.edu/~rbear/greene1.html  October 2003.


Jonson, Ben, The Alchemist, Douglas Brown (Ed.), London, New Mermaids,1966.


Jonson, Ben, Epicoene, R. V. Holdsworth (Ed.), London, New Mermaids, 1979.




[1] Andrews, Richard Brome, pp. 17, 20-21, 36.

[2] Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage volume III, pp. 49-50

[3] Steggle, Richard Brome: Place and Politics on the Caroline stage, chapter one.

[4] Andrews, p.2

[5] Jonson, Induction to Bartholomew Fair, quoted in Steggle, Chapter one.

[6] Andrews, p.1

[7]Andrews, p.2

[8] ibid, p.2

[9] Steggle, chapter one.

[10] Brome, The City Wit, Prologue, lines 41-42.

[11] Bentley, p.60

[12] ibid, pp.51, 77-78

[13] Jonson, Ode to Himself, quoted in Steggle, Chapter one.

[14] See Date and Stage and Textual History, and Andrews, p.36

[15] A.Brome quoted in Andrews, p.18

[16] Andrews, p.41

[17] Bentley, the Jacobean and Caroline stage, vol.III, p.60

[18] ibid. p.59

[19] Steggle, chapter one.

[20] Steggle, chapter 8, p.349

[21] See, for example, Prologue line 48; Act 4 scene 1 lines 2590 and 2598; Epilogue line 4551.

[22] Brome, CW, Act 3 scene 1, line 1943

[23] ibid, Act 3 scene 3, line 2224

[24] ibid, Act 2 scene 2, lines 1061-1062

[25] Jonson, The Alchemist, Act 2 scene 3, lines 230-233

[26] Jonson, The Alchemist, Act 2 scene 6, lines 28-29

[27] Brome, CW, Act 4 scene 1, lines 2752-2753

[28] Jonson, The Alchemist, Act 2 scene 6, lines 50-51

[29] ibid, Act 2 scene 6, lines 60-61

[30] Brome, CW, Act 2 scene 3, lines 1374-1375

[31] ibid, Act 1 scene 2, line 651

[32] Jonson, Epicoene, Act 2, scene 3, lines 114 - 119

[33] ibid, Act 3 scene 5, lines 48-50

[34] Andrews, pp.81-97 for the influence of Jonson on Brome.  It is also possible that there are moments of the play reminiscent of Volpone, and perhaps Brome even draws on Shakespeare at times, using A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Timon of Athens.  Unfortunately time has not allowed for me to explore these similarities further.

[35] Brome, CW, Act 1, scene 1, lines 123-124

[36] Brome, CW, Act 1, scene 2, lines 650

[37] ibid, Act 3 scene 1, lines 1893-1894; Act 4 scene 4, lines 3577-3579

[38] Jonson, Epicoene, Act 4 scene 4, lines 104-108

[39] See Act One scene one, lines 548-553 for example.

[40] Sharpe, The Image of Virtue in Starkey, The English Court, p.227

[41] Sharpe, The Personal Rule of Charles I in Tomlinson, Before the English Civil War, p.59

[42] Sharpe, The Image of Virtue, p.235

[43] Coward, p.169

[44] Sharpe, The Image of Virtue, p.228

[45] ibid, p.228

[46] Steggle, chapter one.

[47] Brome, CW, Act 3 scene 2, lines 2139-2142

[48] ibid, Act 3 scene 2, line 2165

[49] ibid, Act 3 scene 2, line 2212

[50] Brome, CW, Act 3 scene 2, lines 2147-2150

[51] Coward, The Stuart Age, p.164, 166

[52] Coward, p.169

[53] ibid, p.160

[54] ibid, p.163

[55] Brome, CW, Act 3 scene 2, lines 2118-2213

[56] Especially Prologue, line 48 and Act 4 scene 1, lines 2588 and 2596

[57] Brome, CW, Act 3 scene 4, lines 2349-2356

[58] ibid, Act 4 scene 1, line 2596

[59] See Themes section of Introduction.

[60] Coward, p.177

[61] ibid, p.177

[62] Coward, p.177

[63] Brome, CW, Act 1 scene 1, lines 284-290

[64] Andrews, p. 61

[65] Brome, CW, Act 1 scene 1, lines 383-384

[66] ibid, Act 1 scene 1, lines 401-402

[67] ibid, Act  4 scene 1, lines 3765-2767

[68] Shaw, Richard Brome, p.65 states that “considering Pyannet is already the garrulous shrew, we might ask what else Josina could have been but the wayward wife.”

[69] Brome, CW, Act 5, line 4118

[70] ibid, Act 5, lines 4113-4114

[71] ibid, Act 5, lines 4121-4123

[72] ibid, Act 3 scene 3, lines 2230-2231

[73] Brome, CW, Act 5, lines 4478-4483

[74] ibid, Act 4 scene 1, lines 2588-2591

[75] ibid, Act 3 scene 4, lines 2429-2431

[76] ibid, Act 1 scene 1, lines 106-119

[77]Brome, CW, Act 1 scene 1, lines 205-217

[78] Brome, CW, Act 4 scene 1, lines 2988-2989

[79] ibid, Act 4 scene 1, lines 2973-2977

[80] Brome, CW, Act 1 scene 2, lines 629-631

[81] Act I scenes I – holding the bags etc.

[82] For example Toby has been added to the stage direction at Act 1 scene 1, line 293

[83] Brome, CW, Act 1 scene 1, line 531

[84] ibid, Act1 scene 1, lines 302-379

[85] Brome, CW, Act 4 scene 1, lines 2626-2663

[86] ibid, Act 1 scene 2, line 640