1. Edmund Stubbe or Stubbs, son of Francis Stubbe of Scottowe, Norfolk, a Westminster scholar. matriculated from Trinity College, Cambridge as a pensioner in 1611. Admitted to the B. A. in 1614-15, proceeded M. A. in 1618 and took his B. D. in 1631, having been elected a fellow of the college in 1616. In later life he was in turn Rector of Huntingfield, Suffolk, Longford, Derbyshire, and Cookley, Suffolk, and died in 1659. NOTE 1 Stubbe is best remembered as the author of the comedy Fraus Honesta, performed at Trinity College in February 1619 and the subject of a revival performance then years later. NOTE 2 The meaning of the title (which might otherwise be a trifle puzzling) is spelled out in the course of the play (1857f.):
Euge nunc meas honestas fraudes, Undique iam date mihi moechos veteres aut
meretrices malas, et probi faxo conveniant coniuges.
[“Now hooray for my honest deceptions. Give me your old adulterers or wicked whores, and I’ll make ’em get along as upright married couples.”]
2. The play begins, and continues for the first four Acts, as a rather routine and predictable Renaissance comedy written along Roman lines. The central character is the young man Callidamus, who is confronted with two problems: the first is that the girl he loves, Floretta, is in herself love with his best friend, Diodorus. In addition, he has lost his parents in a shipwreck many years previously, and so is an orphan. A further complication is created by the fact that Floretta’s stepfather Chrysophilus (“Gold-Lover”), is an unprincipled miser determined to prevent Callidorus from marrying, so as to hang on to his dowry, which has been entrusted to him. For that matter, his wife Lupina drowned his sister Callanthia for the same purpose, and then drowned herself in a fit of remorse. Given this situation and admixture of comical secondary parts including (a couple of clever servants, a squabbling elderly couple, a nun who is no better than she ought to be) and we have all the ingredients necessary for a comedy written along comfortably standardized lines, at best amusing but by no means challenging. Since the nearly invariable rule of Renaissance comedy is that the play must conclude with a Christian marriage, no matter how much at sixes and sevens everything may be, in the end Callidorus will get his Floretta, his long-parents will pop up out of nowhere with some colorful story to tell as an explanation for their protracted absence, Chrysophilus will get his deserved comeuppance (and lose his money), and any other problems used to create plot-complications will be resolved as part of the general happy ending inevitably contained in Act V. Such a play would have provided a satisfactory evening’s amusement for a Cambridge audience and, if well enough written, might even warrant a modern edition.
3. But this is not the play we have, for in Act V things go completely haywire. We suddenly find ourselves in an environment that has more to do with Feydeau than with Plautus or Terence. The problem is that, while disguised identify is of course of the standard moves of Roman comedy and its derivatives, in Fraus Honesta, the number of disguised characters is multiplied beyond all rhyme or reason. Here is the full roster:
Nearly all the major roles in the dramatis personae become involved in disguising themselves, sometimes briefly but sometimes for long periods of time, and especially in the play’s climactic scene,V.ii, we learn that some of of the characters with whom we think we have become familiar throughout the play are in truth somebody other than they seem. One has to feel sorry for poor Callidamus, for having to cope with all these disguised characters, who include his parents and the girl he wants to marry (when he exclaims with exasperation at 1822 Iam liquido videntur omnia [“now everything is clearly seen”], this underscores how unclear everything has been until now, to him and to us. But this is not all. It will be seen from the above list that five of these disguises involve gender misrepresentation, engineered (as we are informed in several instances) by a simple change of costume. Such gender misrepresentation of course constitute another common comic device, but the number of them in Fraus Honesta is likewise remarkable. The upshot is that in many instances, we learn strange and entirely unanticipated things about the play’s characters, and discover that we ourselves, just like the other characters in the play, have been victims of deception. To an almost dream-like extent, in Act V we suddenly find ourselves plunged into a world of shifting and unstable identities, where nothing can be taken for granted. This is true to the extent that when in V.viii Ergasilus teases Misogamus with the mendacious announcement that he is actually a woman, we are quite prepared to believe him. Why shouldn’t we, when we have already learned that this is actually true of his boon companion Perillus?
4. This is of course all quite silly, and stretches our credibility well beyond the breaking-point. The series of astounding revelations in V.ii is an exercise in sheer absurdity and at this point our ability to indulge in a “wilful suspension of disbelief” and accept the stock plot gimmicks of Roman comedy is destroyed, making us acutely aware of their actual improbability. And this, I submit, is exactly the effect Stubbe was trying to achieve. As an alternative to dismissing Fraus Honesta as a farrago of senseless trash written by an incompetent, the only way to make sense out of the play seems to be to assume that Stubbe was indulging in a broadly farcical parody of some play or plays featuring these intertwined themes of disguised identity, gender misrepresentation, and transvestism, handled in such a way that the obligatory happy ending involves the disclosure of similar deceptions coupled with the resolution of the misunderstandings and problems they have created. Stubbe’s intent, in other words, was to engage in a reductio ad absurdum sabotaging and discrediting the plot conventions of the kind of play he purports to be writing. This understanding that he is actually indulging in literary parody seems the only way of rescuing Fraus Honesta from the harsh criticisms that would otherwise be leveled against it.
5. At the same time, this reading poses an obvious question: over and above the entire comic tradition, what was the immediate target of Stubbe’s satire? There is probably no need to search for any single play. Rather, it appears that in this same time-frame there was a seeming uptick of interest in these same themes of disguised identity, gender misrepresentation, and transvestism in other Cambridge comedies. Although at least one such play did exist, the anonymous Laelia of 1595, in this period there appeared the 1616 Susembrotus, evidently by John Chappell, NOTE 3 in the course of which Emporus comes home unexpectedly. Although he has forbidden his servant Fortunia to have dealings with some of the play’s other characters, he finds them in his house, explodes with anger, and banishes her and Mercenario. At one point in the play, Fortunia has confided to Mercenario that she is actually a young man: her bankrupt master Egestus has sold her into servitude to improve his situation, and disguised her is a girl on the theory that girls fetch more money on the market. Later on, Emporus confides to the audience that he is well aware of the deception, and knows that “Fortunia” is in fact Egestus’ own son. Then too, there is John Hacket’s Loiola (produced in 1623, but evidently written in 1616). In it, Faustina has disguised herself as a mute boy and entered the service of Martinus’ son Musonius, who falls in love with this supposed servant. This obviously replicates the situation of Twelfth Night (or just possibly of the 1595 Laelia, which has much the same plot), but in Loiola the homosexual possibilities of Twelfth Night are made fully explicit in a way left unexplored by Shakespeare, and one is impressed by the way Musonius’ feelings are presented as being in no way morally questionable, or even especially remarkable. This theme is further exploited by a remarkable amount of transvestism. Loyola’s plan for rescuing Celia requires the mute to enter the brothel disguised as a newly-purchased Ethiopian slave and then swap costumes (and therefore genders) with her so she can make her escape. When his plan is put into practice, the audience is treated to the remarkable spectacle of a male actor playing the part of a girl pretending to be a man disguised as a girl! It may not be irrelevant to add a mention of Henry Bellamy’s Iphis produced at St. John’s College, Oxford, ca. 1625, which handles similar themes. It is probably enough to say that Stubbe was lampooning other Cambridge plays which had handled these same themes, dwelling on their intrinsic improbability, without singling out any particular one as the object of his subversive handling.
6. This leaves outstanding the much more debatable question of how much Twelfth Night may have stood in the background of some or all of the plays I have mentioned. The dramatic situation of Hacket’s Loiola clearly replicates that of Shakespeare’s play. But so does that of the earlier Laelia, which may or may not have provided Shakespeare with his inspiration (I have discussed the problem here). The question seems incapable of a definitive answer. Some readers may care to think that one feature of Fraus Honesta tends to show we are in a Shakespearian environment (and of course by the time Fraus Honesta was written Shakespeare was looming large in the literary scene). Throughout the play, Nitella horribly mistreats her husband Onobarus, but in V.vi he finally gets the upper hand. Nitella is nothing if not shrewish, and at the end of the play she is tamed. But this consideration is scarcely probative.
7. A few observations about the peculiarities of Stubbe’s Latin are in order. We may first remark on his proclivity for writing verbless sentences in cases where the identity of the verb is self-evident, with the individual reader being allowed to supply them mentally. The play contains a sufficient number of such sentences that it is not possible to attribute such missing verbs to the vagaries of manuscript tradition. Then too, Stubbe is a great one for overusing certain words, of which certe and iam, nunc, and nunc iam are by far the most conspicuous. The appear so often that they are often little more than verbal tics. And sentences of the structure “not this, but rather that“ are too common. Finally, there are several common locutions in Cambridge comedies, such as pish (expressing disdain), ha ha he (laughing), tic toc (knocking on a door), and tiff taff (hitting someone). These are written into plays’ texts and at least at first sight look like words spoken by the actor, but it is not quite certain that at least some of these are not more in the nature of stage directions, meant to indicate that one of these noises is to occur at this point. Stubbe uses all of these, but adds a number of idiosyncratic ones of his own, such as puff, snap, whoop and which (slapping someone) and, most frequently, chick (a kind of cluck of satisfaction.). In addition, a couple of times one of his characters utters the unusual expletive cancro, “cancer take it!,“ which has evidently crept into his Latin from the Spanish.
8. The stage resources required for producing Honesta Fraus were rather modest: visible on the stage are two “houses,” one representing the house of Chrysophilus and the other that of Onobarus. The former is two stories high and must have a window on the upper storey (it may be significant that a similar structure is used in Hacket’s 1623 Loiola, also produced at Trinity College. The latter must be equipped so as to facilitate the performance of interior scenes.
9. Our play is represented by the following textual sources:
A Fraus Honesta, Comoedia Cantabrigiae olim acta, Authore Mro. Stubbe Collegii Trinitatis Socio. Londini, typis August. Math., impensis Richarde Thrale. 1632. Author identified. Available online here.
E Emmanuel College, Cambridge, ms. 185 (3.1.7). Author identified, and accompanied with a cast list. States that the play was performed decimo die Februarii 1616.
T1 Trinity College, Cambridge, ms. R.17.9 (pp. 35 - 51). Author unidentified, with an introductory note “printed 1632,” in a collection of Cambridge plays created by binding together three mss. of different sizes that also includes John Hacket’ Loiola (1623) and Edward Forsett’s Pedantius (1581). Lines 1 - 262 missing. Despite the copyist’s awareness of the printed text, not a mere book apograph.
T2 Trinity College, Cambridge, ms. R.17.10 pp. 1 - 16). Author unspecified, with a cast list. The final item in a collection of Cambridge plays written out in a single hand, also containing Hacket’ Loiola (1623) William Mewe’s Pseudomagia (n. d.), and William Alabaster’s Roxana (somewhat before 1595), and Samuel Brooke’s Scyros (1613) .Lines 609 - 980 missing.
I of course extend my thanks to the libraries owning these manuscripts for providing me with photographic reproductions, which form the basis of the collation presented here. The text of the present edition is synthesized from all four of these sources.