Younger Brother, The

Anon. (>1617)

Historical Records

Performance Records

Edward Alleyn's Diary

Edward Alleyn recorded in his diary for 3 October 1617 that he went to the Red Bull playhouse, where he received £3.6s.4d for the play:

I went to ye red bull & R for ye younger brother, but 3. 6. 4.
(Dulwich College, MSS 9, fol. 2r; qtd. Bentley, JCS, 5.1448).

Book Trade Records

Stationers' Register

In late 1653, the printer Richard Marriott entered a group of twenty-one plays in the Stationers' Register. Among the titles is:

The Younger Brother

Hill's List of Early Plays in Manuscript

Hill's list of manuscript plays, datable to 1677-1703, seems to list the titles of more than fifty plays, many of them lost. The twenty-third of them is:

The younger Brother or male Curtesan.

Sloane ms 2893 p192.jpg

Theatrical Provenance

In existence, and in the possession of a company at the Red Bull Theatre, on 3 October 1617. That company is generally conjecturally identified as Prince Charles's (I).

Probable Genre(s)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Richard Brome, A Mad Couple Well Matched. The rakish gentleman Careless and his servant Wat are penniless, and discussing how to make some money:

If you could leave her now, and betake your selfe handsomely to other Women, I have thought on a course.
What, quickly, what ist?
To set up a Male bawdy house.
Fy upon't.
You are handsome, lovely, and I thinke able to do one Mans worke, two or three such Gentlemen more which I know, and can describe to you, with the wayes I'le finde to bring in custome shall fill your purses---
And empt our bones. I ever had enough of one Mistris Variety would destroy me. No Gentlemen can be able to hold it out. They are too weake to make common He whores.
For a little while Sir, till we have got a stock of rich cloathes; And then we will put Drey-men, and Wineporters, Cornish Wrastlers & such like into those cloaths; and make them Country Cavaliers. Have you not seen course snowt-faire drudges, clapt into bravery, that would doe more bodily service in a Brothell then twenty Ladies Daughters? They are the Game-beares of a Bawdy-house, can play ten single courses for a cleane-bred Gentle-womans one, wee will hire fellowes for groates a peece a day, that shall (without the additaments of Clary, Cawdle or Cock-broth) get us forty peeces a Man before Night, or perhaps a hundred by next Morning, out of such shee customers, as an Aunt of mine shall finde out for us.
O base Villaine! No I'le never fall so deep below a Gentleman, as to be Master of a Baudy-house.
Very good decay'd Gentlemen have done as much.
(Brome, A Mad Couple Well Match'd, B2v: for edition and discussion, see Brome, A Mad Couple Well Matched ed. Eleanor Lowe in Richard A. Cave, gen. ed., Richard Brome Online).

Possible references to the Play

None known

Critical Commentary

This play-title survives in three problematic records. In what follows, I assume that the same play is referred to each time, although it should be borne in mind that there is little positive evidence for this beyond the application of Ockham's Razor. Its application here, though, is potentially risky, since - as discussed below under "For What It's Worth" - at least two further and entirely separate plays from the Restoration theatre hit upon the same title.

Of the first record, Bentley comments (5.1448-9):

Alleyn's account-book entry is a bit cryptic, but I have suggested in the light of its context and of the theatrical situation of 1617 that it records the payment of an instalment on their debt by Prince Charles's (I) company, who seem to have been playing at the Red Bull at the time… It is alternately possible that Alleyn was recording the sale of the manuscript of the play to the company, but such a transaction would be more unusual for him.

Andrew Gurr, on the other hand, suggests that there is merit in the idea, not much liked by Bentley, that Alleyn may have provided the manuscript:

In his later years, still owning some famous old plays, Alleyn seems to have had several dealings with the Beeston company playing at the Red Bull and Beeston's other playhouse, the Cockpit. On 3 October 1617 Alleyn noted that he went there and collected ‘but 3. 6. 4.’ for The Younger Brother. That may have been the fee either for the loan or sale of the play to Prince Charles's Men, then renting the Red Bull from Beeston, although the ‘but’ suggests he regretted how small the sum was, which may mean it was just his share of the takings for the play.
(Gurr, "Did Shakespeare Own his Own Playbooks?" 213-4)

The second and third records of the title The Younger Brother are on two of the most enigmatic lists of lost plays from the period: Marriott's List (1653) and Hill's List of Early Plays in Manuscript. (For further discussion of each, click the respective phrase). The Younger Brother is the only title in common between these two documents. Hill's List seems to testify to the survival of at least one manuscript of the play as late as the 1670s.

Hill's List's entry also provides the best point of attack on the play's likely content, thanks to its subtitle, The Male Courtesan, which seems to point definitely towards bawdy comedy. Adams (90) compares the figures of Touchwood Senior in A Chaste Maid in Cheapside and Rutilio in The Custom of the Country, both of whom are compelled into (comic) forms of male prostitution.

For what it's worth

We don't know that the 1617 Younger Brother was itself a comedy. It could equally well have been a tragedy: for a wild suggestion along these lines, see the entry on A King with His Two Sons.

"M.W."'s comedy The Marriage Broker features a younger brother:

An English younger brother, whose Estate
Consists in his annuity and wit:
The starres do tell me your annuity
Is sold, and that your wits are roming after.

(M.W., A comedy called The marriage broaker, 9).

This quotation offers a useful distillation of the two usual features of the younger brother on the Renaissance comic stage, namely, shortage of money, and the ability to be a witty plotter. Later city comedies which revolve around eponymous younger brothers include Aphra Behn, The Younger Brother, or the Amorous Jilt, and Mary Pix's The beau defeated, or, The lucky younger brother. (Bentley, 5.1449, observes that there is "probably no connexion" between Behn's play and this lost play).

"Courtesan", a euphemism for "prostitute", is a word which, in city comedy, carries a rich freight of associations around codes of dress and behaviour. The possible analogues mentioned by Adams are good ones, insofar as they refer to men pressured into and rewarded for sex, but neither of them extensively explores the comic potential of a man becoming a courtesan in this more socially nuanced sense. In this connection, then, one could also consider the comic possibilities of a "male bawdy house" as explored, around 1638, by Richard Brome. In the snatch of dialogue quoted above Brome imagines, in effect, a whole structure for a play: humble beginnings, increasing prosperity and recruitment (and better costumes), and the insatiable demand gradually turning the enterprise from a pleasure into a curse. In Brome's imagination, the male brothel is a fertile site for role reversals in terms of gender, power, and social class. Perhaps The Younger Brother, or the Male Courtesan explored similar territory.

Works Cited

Adams, Joseph Quincy. “Hill’s List of Early Plays in Manuscript.” The Library 4th Ser., 20.1 (1939): 71-99. Print.

Behn, Aphra. The younger brother, or, The amorous jilt. London: J. Harris, 1696.

Brome, Richard. A Mad Couple Well Match'd in Five new playes. London: Humphrey Moseley, Richard Marriot, and Thomas Dring, 1653.

Brome, Richard. A Mad Couple Well Matched ed. Eleanor Lowe in Richard A. Cave, gen. ed., Richard Brome Online

Gurr, Andrew. "Did Shakespeare Own his Own Playbooks?" Review of English Studies 60 (2009): 206-229.

Pix, Mary. The beau defeated, or, The lucky younger brother a comedy, as it is now acted by His Majesty's servants at the New Theatre in Lincolns-Inn-Fields. London: W. Turner, [1700] .

W., M. A comedy called The marriage broaker, or, The pander. London: n.p., 1662.

Page created and maintained by Matthew Steggle: last revised, 2 June 2016.