Wit in a Madness

Richard Brome (?1623-40)

Historical Records

Stationers' Register

19 March 1639/40. Entered to Francis Constable:

three Playes called. Sparagus Garden. The Antipodes. & Witt in a Madnes. [by Ric deleted].

17 February 1647/8. The administrators of the estate of Alice Constable, widow of Francis Constable, transferred to Richard Thrale twenty copyrights including:

14. Sparagus Garden a play.
15. The Antipodes a play.
16. Witt in a Madnes. a play.
17. The Chast maide of Cheapside. a play.
18. The Ladies priviledge a play [brace]
19. Witt in a Constable. a play [brace] by Henry Glapthorne.

9 September 1653. Entered to Humprhey Moseley, forty-one plays of which the second and third are:

Witt in Madnesse [brace]
The Louesick Maid, or the honour of Young Ladies. by [brace] Rich: Brome.

11 April 1681. Dorothy Thrale, administratrix of Richard Thrale, assigned The Sparagus Garden, The Antipodes, and Wit in a Madness, with thirty-nine other titles, to Benjamin Thrale.

(Cited from Bentley, 3.78 and 3.92; S.R.2, 1.289-290.)

Theatrical Provenance

King's Revels/Queen Henrietta's Men?

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

None known.

References to the Play

None known.

Critical Commentary

Looking at the records from 1639/40, 1647/8, and 1681, Bentley (3.92) cast doubt on whether Wit in a Madness was necessarily by Brome at all. But the 1653 entry, seemingly overlooked by Bentley in this particular context, seems to resolve that doubt.

Harbage dates it c.1635-40, and accordingly lists it under the year 1637; but "1637" has since been repeated in online sources (such as Wikipedia) as if unqualified fact. Shaw (17-18) prefers the conjectural date 1638-9. Steggle (118-23) notes that a major difficulty with the 1635-40 theory is that in his 1640 legal deposition Brome claimed only to have written seven new plays for the King's Revels/Queen Henrietta's Men in that period. All seven of these seem to be already accounted for.

In "Elizabethan-Restoration Palimpsest", Harbage speculates that Thomas D'Urfey's city comedy The Richmond Heiress, or a woman once in the right (1693), which features a heroine who feigns madness, "levied upon Brome's lost Wit in Madness" [sic] (309).

For What It's Worth

Harbage's idea, regrettably, is pure wishful thinking.

For a discussion of the lost Brome play The Lovesick Maid, registered alongside Wit in a Madness, see here.

Feigned madness, as a device, is present in plays of the period including Hamlet, The Changeling. and Brome's own The Court Beggar.

Henry Glapthorne's Wit in A Constable (1636-8, revised 1639), which appears near Wit in a Madness on the Thrale list, shares the same format of title - wit present where one might not expect to find it. Perhaps one play was cashing in on the success of the other.

Works Cited

Harbage, Alfred. 'Elizabethan-Restoration Palimpsest'. Modern Language Review 35 (1940): 287-319.
Shaw, Catherine M. Richard Brome. Boston: Twayne, 1980.
Steggle, Matthew. Richard Brome: Place and Politics on the Caroline Stage. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004.

Site created and maintained by Matthew Steggle: updated 15 February 2010.