"There was a challenge lately intended for the Duke of Buckingham upon Sir William Coventrys account. . . . The occasion . . .was a new play to be acted on Saturday last called the Country gentleman. . . . But the King hath prevented all; and the play is not acted."—Samuel Pepys, 2 March 1669
This edition makes available for the first time The Country Gentleman, a play written by Sir Robert Howard and the Duke of Buckingham, personally suppressed by King Charles II in 1669. Its vicious personal attack on Sir William Coventry provoked a scandal. Consequently, it was banned before public performance and very naturally never printed. The play was long presumed lost.
Fortunately, Pepys recorded the whole affair in some detail, and his description of the play's central satiric scene with "two tables . . . with a round hole in the middle" made it possible to identify an untitled, undated, anonymous MS in the Folger Library as a complete scribal copy of the play. This find is only the second such recovery of a "lost" Restoration play in the twentieth century.
The Introduction gives a full account of the play's scandalous genesis—a lurid tale of political intrigue, a prevented duel between members of the King's Privy Council, and a fall from high office. For those curious about how literary "discoveries" come about, the editors have added an account of the detective work which began with an odd entry in Annals of English Drama, and led from the Folger Library in Washington to artistocrats' private collections in England.
The play itself is brisk, delicious comedy, featuring pairs of lovers caught up in the intrigues of rivals—all against motifs of city vs. country life and scathing satire of government "business." The Country Gentleman is both timely in its use of the gay-couple love game, and a surprisingly early precursor of the exemplary comedies of the 1690s. Ironically, this cheerful, witty play became the vehicle for satire which shook the whole government of England.
|Publisher:||University of Pennsylvania Press|
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