Reference > Cambridge History > The Age of Dryden > The Restoration Drama > Sir Courtly Nice
  Crowne His Tragedies  


The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

VII. The Restoration Drama.

§ 16. Sir Courtly Nice.

His best comedies came next: City Politiques (1683), and Sir Courtly Nice, or It cannot be (1685). The date of the former of these pieces, long a subject of debate, 13  is now established. In its elaborate and very amusing satire on the whigs, despite Crowne’s perfunctory professions to the contrary, the originals from which some of the portraits were drawn may be detected without difficulty. Titus Oates masquerades as Dr. Panchy, and Stephen Colledge is introduced in the guise of a bricklayer; while frequent hits are made at Shaftesbury in the person of the Podestà of the very un-Neapolitan “Naples” where the action is supposed to take place.   24
  Sir Courtly Nice is by far the best of Crowne’s plays, and has in it something of the true spirit of comedy which, in this age, reched its height in the group of comic dramatists headed by Congreve. 14  It is founded on Moreto’s play No puede ser guardar una mujer (No holding a Woman), which is itself an imitation of Lope de Vega’s Mayor Imposibile (The greatest of impossibilities). An English version of Moreto’s comedy, by Sir Thomas St. Serfe, had been produced without success in 1668, under the title Tarugo’s Wiles, or the Coffee-House; but Crowne does not seem to have been aware of its existence. In any case, the principal characters in Crowne’s play are new. Sir Courtly himself, with Hothead and Testimony—an admirably contrasted pair, representing, in a most diverting manner, the extreme factions of the age—and Surly are all due to Crowne’s invention. 15    25

Note 13Biographia Dramatica gives the date of production as 1675; while several other authorities, including Genest, state that it did not appear until 1688. The earlier of these dates is, from internal evidence, impossible; for Dryden’s Medal, published in 1682, is referred to by name, and the play is full of satire about plots and counterplots, burning the city and letting in the French. It seems probable that this comedy was confused with The Country Wit, which actually appeared in 1675; in any case, the publication of the Term Catalogues establishes beyond further question the fact that City Politiques was first published in 1683. It was re-issued in 1688. [ back ]
Note 14. See, ante, Chap. VI. [ back ]
Note 15. Hothead is charged with not often attending church—“What then, I’m for the church.” Timothy wants to know whether we can’t be saved unless we go to Oxford. Sir Courtly, though he has bestowed “some garniture on plays, as a song or a prologue,” holds to the principle that “Men of quality are above wit.” The play is full of allusions to the politics of the day, and an entirely new verb “to Godfrey” is introduced, in obvious allusion to the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey in 1678. Mountfort was unequalled in the part of Sir Courtly Nice, which he performed at its original production at the Theatre Royal, though Colley Cibber made a great success of the part in the eighteenth century, when it was frequently revived. [ back ]

  Crowne His Tragedies  

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