Irish Gentleman, The
James Shirley’s Poems &c. (1646) includes a section of “Prologues and Epilogues Written to severall Playes Presented in this Kingdom, and else-where,” which includes prologues that Shirley wrote for his own plays and plays by others. Included in these prologues is “A Prologue there to the Irish Gent.” (sig. 2C4v-C5r):
IT is our wonder, that this faire Island, where
The aire is held so temperate (if there
Be faith in old Geographers, who dare
With the most happy, boldly this compare)
That to the noble seeds of Art and Wit,
Honour'd else-where, it is not naturall yet.
We know at first, what black and generall curse
Fell on the earth; but shall this Isle be worse?
While others are repair'd, and grow refin'd
By Arts, shall this onely to weeds be kinde?
Let it not prove a storie of your time,
And told abroad to staine this promising Clime,
That wit, and soule-enriching Poesie,
Transported hither must like Serpents dye,
Unkinde to both alike, shall the faire Traine
Of Virgin Muses onely here be slaine?
Forbid it Phœbus, that this aire should still
Like things of venome, all thy Prophets kill:
Disperse thy beames through these cold killing parts,
And make it fruitfull in thy owne great Arts.
Oh doe not bury all your Braine in Glebes,
But tune your Harps to build the walls of Thebes;
With harmony new Towers frame, to be
Dwellings for you, and your posterity.
But truce Poetick rage, and let not what
Concernes the Countrey, fall upon a spot
Of it, a few here met to see a Play:
All these are innocent; the better they
To tell this fault abroad, that there may be,
Some repaire done to injur'd Poesie.
Then we may grow, and this place, by your raies,
Cherish'd, may turne into a Grove of Bayes.
Performed at the Werburgh Street Theatre (Dublin) by Ogilby's Men between 1636-1640.
Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues
References to the Play
For What It's Worth
Current scholarly consensus is to expand "The Irish Gent." to “The Irish Gentleman.”
From 1636-1640, Shirley lived in Ireland and wrote plays for Ogilby’s Men at the Werburgh Street Theatre; Shirley also wrote prologues and epilogues to plays by other playwrights and for revivals. For more on Shirley’s time in Ireland, see Stevenson, Slowey, Lublin, Nason, and Clark.
Gifford suggests that this prologue is addressed to the “Irish Gentry” (and not about a play (IV.102); Dyce rejects this assertion and suggests that “Irish Gent” is a title (VI.491n2). Armstrong believes that “Irish Gent” is the name of a play because it is italicized in the prologue’s title (73). Fleay concurs with Gifford that this prologue is addressed to the “Irish Gentry” and adds it is “no doubt a prologue for The Royal Master,” an extant play by James Shirley (2.244). Fleay provides no evidence for this claim, which has been mainly ignored by scholars.
In the first edition of the Annals of English Drama, Harbage lists “The Irish Gentleman” as “possibly by H. Burnell,” but, as Rankin notes, there “is no evidence for this.” In the first edition, Harbage questions if this is, indeed, a play. In the third edition of the Annals, “The Irish Gentleman” is listed as an anonymous play.
Bentley asserts that this play was definitely not by Shirley, because the prologues for Shirley’s plays in Poems &c are clearly marked as his (V.1355).
Dutton raises the possibility that “The Irish Gentleman” is “an alternative title for the (lost) Merchant of Dublin,” a lost play by John Ogilby; however, Dutton also points to the prologue’s claim that the play was “transported hither” as evidence that it was likely not by an Irish playwright (134).
For a discussion of other plays that share titles representing "a paradoxically inappropriate 'gentleman,'" see Jewish Gentleman.
This prologue is also published in Gifford and Dyce, Dramatic Works and Poems of James Shirley (vol. 6); Ray Livingstone Armstrong’s The Poems of James Shirley; and Alan J. Fletcher’s Drama and the Performing Arts in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland.
Armstrong, Ray Livingstone, ed. The Poems of James Shirley. New York: King’s Crown Press, 1941.
Bentley, Gerard Eades. The Jacobean and Caroline Stage: Plays and Playwrights. Vol. 5. Oxford: Clarendon, 1956, reprinted 1967.
Clark, Ira. “Shirley, James (bap. 1596, d. 1666).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004. Date of access 6 Oct. 2020.
Dutton, Richard. “The St. Werburgh Street Theater, Dublin.” Localizing Caroline Drama: Politics and Economics of the Early Modern English Stage, 1625-1642. Ed. Adam Zucker and Alan B. Farmer. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.
Fleay, Frederick Gard. A Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama 1559-1642. London: Reeves and Turner, 1891.
Fletcher, Alan J. Drama and the Performing Arts in Pre-Cromwellian Ireland: A Repertory of Sources and Documents from the Earliest Times until c. 1642. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2001.
Gifford, William, and Alexander Dyce. The Dramatic Works and Poems of James Shirley. Vol. VI. London: John Murray, 1833.
Harbage, Alfred. Annals of English Drama, 975-1700. 1st ed. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1940.
Harbage, Alfred, Sylvia S. Wagonheim, and Samuel Schoenbaum. Annals of English Drama, 975-1700. 3rd ed. London: Routledge, 1989.
Lublin, Robert I. “Shirley’s Dublin Days: A Nervous Première of St Patrick for Ireland.” James Shirley and Early Modern Theatre: New Critical Perspectives ed. Barbara Ravelhofer. Abingdon: Routledge, 2017. 108-23.
Rankin, Deana. "Burnell, Henry (fl. 1640–1654), playwright." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004. Date of access 6 Oct. 2020.
Shirley, James. Poems &c. London: Humphrey Moseley, 1646.
Stevenson, Allan H. “Shirley’s Years in Ireland.” The Review of English Studies 20.77 (1944): 19-28.
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