Difference between revisions of "Bear a Brain, or Better Late Than Never"

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Revision as of 01:33, 27 July 2012

Thomas Dekker (1599)


Historical Records

Henslowe's Diary

F. 63 (Greg I.110)

Lent vnto Robart shawe the 1 of aguste
1599 to paye mr deckers for a boocke
                         beare a braine
called [bettr latte then never] the some
of xxxxs in fulle payment lent vnto mr
deckers at that time xxs so all is ... iijli


File:BearBrain.jpg
Henslowe's diary, F. 63v (Henslowe-Alleyn)

Theatrical Provenance

Bear a Brain, apparently initially called Better Late than Never, was acquired by the Admiral's Men in the summer of 1599, as the Globe was being built across Maid Lane.


Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (Harbage)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

None known.


References to the Play

None known.


Critical Commentary

Fleay listed Bear a Brain among Thomas Dekker's work but considered it "an old play of doubtful authorship" (BCED, 1.125). He then asked, "Can it be that this title was discarded for Look About You (LAY)," which he had already "attributed to [Anthony] Wadson." In support of the conjecture, Fleay called attention to one instance of the phrase, "bear a brain," in LAY. In the entry on Wadeson, Fleay linked The Honourable Life of the Humorous Earl of Gloster with his Conquest of Portugal (Gloster), which is certainly by Wadeson, with LAY through the character of the Earl, who appears in the extant LAY (BCED, 2.266-67). He considered Gloster a sequel to LAY.

Greg was more enthusiastic about Dekker's authorship of Bear a Brain but less so about that authorship if Bear a Brain was masquerading in the diary as Look About You. Greg was rather insistent that LAY was not written by Dekker. He granted that the phrase, "bear a brain," could mean "look about you" (also "have a care"), but saw nothing that suggested the several instances of "look about you" in the text of LAY had been edited from "bear a brain." He considered the authorship by Wadeson and implied assent by agreeing that Gloster. Loathe to let Bear a Brain be a discrete play, Greg toyed with the possibility that its title phrase could once have been an alternate for Gentle Craft and therefore The Shoemaker's Holiday, but he cannot find sufficient reason to do so (II.#179, pp. 204-5).

Knutson concurs with Fleay that the payment of 60s. for Bear a Brain, 20s. of which was designated by Henslowe as a loan, indicates that the play was secondhand (119). She considers the play purchased due to the language of the entry ("... in fulle payment ...").

Gurr repeats Greg's fanciful association of Bear a Brain with The Shoemaker's Holiday but does not comment on prior considerations of LAY (245, n97).

For What It's Worth

See Disguises for another lost-play candidate as the Henslowe title for LAY.




Works Cited

Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company 1594-1625. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Knutson, Roslyn L. "The Commercial Significance of the Payments for Playtexts in Henslowe's Diary, 1597-1603." Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England, 5 (1991): 117-63.



Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 6 February 2012.