‘You see the times are dangerous’: The Political and Theatrical Situation of The Humorous Magistrate (1637)


  • Mary Polito University of Calgary
  • Jean-Sebastien Windle University of Calgary




The University of Calgary Library Special Collections holds an anonymous, untitled seventeenth-century dramatic manuscript, purchased in 1972 from antiquarian bookseller Edgar Osborne. In 2005 a U of C interdisciplinary research team began to investigate its provenance and learned that an earlier version of the same play, also in manuscript, untitled and anonymous is extant at Arbury Hall Warwickshire (though it had been given the title The Humorous Magistrate by a scholar investigating the drama-rich Arbury archives). An international collaborative research team, funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council, is now investigating the provenance of this body of drama, with special attention to the satirical 'country comedy' The Humorous Magistrate. In this article, team members Mary Polito and Jean-Sébastien Windle argue that internal evidence in the manuscripts supports a date of composition after 1632 for the Arbury version and after 1640 for the revised version of the play represented in the Osborne document. They argue that the play is responding to tensions between the crown and country during the Personal Rule of Charles I and that the play is linked through setting, themes, and strikingly similar dialogue to the last play performed before the closing of the theatres in September 1642: Richard Brome’s A Jovial Crew.