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the hogge hath lost his pearle

21 may 2024

If you have been roaming around these pages, by this point you're wondering "Where does this guy find all these old plays?"

The imaginary meta-question deserves some attention. I studied early-modern English drama in graduate school in the early 1980s. Back then, if you wanted to read some old plays – and they weren't by Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, or weren't among a handful of famous titles by their contemporaries that were in print – you used the bibliographical tools in the reference room of your university library. (This presumes you could just wander into a university library.)

If you could, and if you found an obscure title that intrigued you, it had probably never seen a modern reprinting. Odds were not good that your library owned a 16th/17th-century quarto, or would let you read it if they did. So you hoped that your library had a set of Early English Books on microfilm. You screwed your courage to the sticking place and threaded a reel onto the microfilm reader. It was the wrong reel, so after spinning through it and cursing and loading a different reel and cranking it seven-eighths of the way through, you could finally read Robert Tailor's 1614 comedy The Hogge Hath Lost His Pearle.

Anymore (always provided you have some pull with a university library), getting a copy of The Hogge Hath Lost His Pearle is trivially easy. Early English Books has been on the web for a while now, and you can download any surviving old play in seconds and start reading it on your iPad.

What's a bit different now is knowing of that play's existence to start with. That was easier in 1980. Google knows everything but curates nothing. Browsing the myriad items in Early English Books online is hopeless. Your library now probably doesn't hold books like Walter Wilson Greg's List of English Plays Written before 1643 and Printed before 1700 (1900, reprinted 1969) in its reference section. Your library may not have a reference section at all.

The University of California at San Diego, for instance, does not have a copy of Greg's handlist, because I own their copy now. It was deaccessioned and I bought it via ABE Books. And that's how I find old plays. As technology gave, technology hath taken away, so I am still cobbling together my approaches to finding things to read.

The "hog" in The Hogge Hath Lost His Pearle is a usurer, and his surname really is Hogge. Two marriage-to-heiress plots run in parallel. In the first, a wastrel named Haddit calls upon his friend Lightfoote to help him marry the usurer's daughter.

In the second, a fellow named Carracus calls upon his friend Albert to help him run away with a young woman named Maria Wealthy. Albert shows up early for the elopement and ends up slipping into Maria's bed, further evidence that nights were really dark in the 17th century. The device recalls Shakespearean bed-tricks in All's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure. Though in both those plays, the "it was too dark to know who I was having sex with" device unites couples who have by rights should be together; here it makes Maria into a faithless fiancée as well as a wayward daughter.

The plots start to converge in the second act, when Maria's brother arrives to pay court to Rebecka Hogge. A new triangle gets constructed, and the polygon takes shape. If my metaphors resemble mechanical drawing … so does the play, I guess. We learn, ironically, that Lord Wealthy wasn't even opposed to Carracus as a son-in-law, so that plot has only the bed trick to thicken it. Meanwhile, the usurer plot creaks along, with Haddit planning to steal Hogge's ducats as well as his daughter.

It is a month into their marriage before Carracus and Maria realize that she lost her maidenhead not to him but to Albert. This news drives Carracus mad; Maria feigns death, then dresses as a boy; Albert wanders the woods posting written apologies on trees; all three of them eventually meet up in the forest. Much forgiving and making up closes the fourth act.

Most of the fifth act is taken up with a silly masque whereby Hogge is distracted, so that Haddit can spirit away Rebecka plus the contents of her father's strongbox. All ends in a rather perfunctory way, with Hogge acquiescing in the marriage and promising to give up avarice.

So it's not a good old play, but it's worth re-reading these items that languish long out of print. The "test of time" needs re-examinations every so often. The Hogge Hath Lost His Pearle probably does show quite a bit of the influence of Shakespeare: the bed-trick, the Merchant-of-Venice-like cheating of a usurer (though Tailor is far more mild than Shakespeare, and except possibly for the daughter's name Rebecka, there is nothing Jewish about this usurer). There's also the Winter's-Tale device of a spurned wife pretending to die (though also less fraught here). And the prologue to Hogge mentions Pericles!

Tailor, Robert. The Hogge Hath Lost His Pearle. London: Richard Redmer, 1614.