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More in this section The Broom Project

Biography of Richard Brome

The exact date of Brome’s birth is not known but it is surmised that the likely date was circa 1590. Equally uncertain is the date at which he became Ben Jonson’s “man” (a term which has been variously interpreted as Jonson’s servant, amanuensis and theatre assistant). Brome is famously referred to in this way within the Induction to Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair and it is often assumed that Brome must have been publicly acknowledged as Jonson’s “man” by 1614, the date of the play’s initial performances. But Jonson revised Bartholomew Fair prior to its publication in 1631, and the reference may possibly be a late addition. All other references to their relationship accrue around this later period. Brome appears to have established his reputation as a dramatist with four plays staged by the King’s Men over the years 1629-1632: The Love-Sick Maid (now lost), The Northern Lass (printed 1632), The City Wit and The Novella. Sometime after this period Brome seems to have begun working for the Prince’s Men at the Red Bull and they may have staged either or both The Weeding of Covent Garden and The Queen’s Exchange, although it was the King’s Men who performed his collaboration with Heywood, The Late Lancashire Witches, in 1634. The following year Brome entered into a formal contract with a rival company, the King’s Revels, based at the Salisbury Court Theatre, who claimed in consequence an exclusive right to the staging of his subsequent work. They were responsible for mounting by far the largest group of his plays: The Sparagus Garden (1635, published 1640), Queen and Concubine (1635-6), The New Academy (1636), The Antipodes (1636-7, published 1640); then later after the company had reformed as Queen Henrietta’s Men, The English Moor (1637), The Damoiselle (1638), The Love-Sick Court (1638) and The Florentine Friend (1638, now lost). A Mad Couple Well Match’d, though written in 1638 for the Salisbury Court Theatre, was rejected by them and offered to Beeston and his company at the Cockpit, who staged the play in 1639. This was not the first time that Brome had turned to Beeston when in need of income: the Salisbury Court contract did not offer him quite the water-tight security Brome might have hoped when signing it. During a prolonged period of plague when the theatres generally were closed but Beeston’s company somehow successfully continued to play, an impoverished Brome had offered to them The Antipodes and was taken to court by the King’s Revels Company for breach of contract. The documents surviving from the ensuing case offer considerable insight into the working conditions of dramatists in the Caroline period, their problematic relationships with the various acting companies, and likely fees for their work. Beeston’s company were to mount the last plays that Brome wrote before the closing of the theatres in 1642: The Court Beggar (1640) and The Jovial Crew (1642) together with a revival of The Weeding of Covent Garden in 1641. Of Brome’s last years little is known: the last few months of his life were spent as a Brother in Charterhouse. His death is recorded as 24th September 1652, and the papers record his burial at a cost of 13s.


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