One of the great Brome experts (is there more than one?) has told me more than once that I should write about The Sparagus Garden, but I doubt I will. All the same, I thought I'd set out a little Holzknechtian summary in case the folks over at Blogging the Renaissance would like to include it in their Holzknecht Redivivus. The play is part of a small sub-genre of place comedies set in specific London locales in the 1630s; it is supposed to have been very popular and have earned the gents of the King's Revels 1000 pounds (!), though Bentley considers this figure an exaggeration. It's got an allusion to Beaumont's Pestle, and perhaps a few other plays that I might write up for the Notes and Queries series.
The Sparagus Garden, A Comedie
Performed, 1635 at Salisbury Court; printed 1640 by J. Okes for Francis Constable.
............}young Gentlemen and friends [brothers-in-law; friends of Samuel]
..........}Old Adversaries, and Justices
Samuel, Sonne to Touch-wood.
[Hugh] Mony-lacks, a needy Knight that lives by shifts [once Striker's son-in-law]
...............}Confederates with Mony-lacks
Tim. Hoyden, the new made Gentleman
Coulter, his Man.
Thomas Hoyden, Tim. Hoydens brother.
Sir Arnold Cautious, a stale Batchelour, and a ridiculous Lover of women.
Trampler, a Lawyer.
Annabel, Daughter to Mony-lacks, and Grandchild to Striker. [in love with Samuel]
[Fid] Friswood, her nurse; and House-keeper to [and former mistress of] Striker.
Rebecca, wife to Brittle-ware [niece of Friswood].
Martha, the Gardiners wife.
Gilbert and Walter approach Touchwood to learn his feelings about a match between Touchwood's son, Samuel, and Annabel, the grand-daughter of his nemesis, Striker. They remind him that their own fathers had been important civic men, had quarreled, and had then been reconciled in a marriage between Gilbert and Walter's sister. Touchwood declares that he has disowned Samuel until he renounces Annabel and does some great offense to Striker. Gilbert and Walter comfort Samuel and plot some "witty" way to fulfill the wealthy father's demands and still match with Annabel. Mony-lacks comes to Striker, the father of his deceased wife, and suffers Striker's calumny. Striker will care for Annabel, his grand-daughter as long as Mony-lacks renounces any claim on her; otherwise he will expel her from his household and leave her on the hands of this destitute knight. After mentioning his part in promoting the Asparagus Garden scheme, Mony-lacks reveals that Annabel and Samuel have been meeting clandestinely and leaves [with Striker saying that his home is "no enchanted castle" to keep Mony-lacks from leaving; I note this minor parallel to All's Lost by Lust]. Striker confronts Annabel's nurse who claims that she made up the story of Annabel's love for Samuel to see if Mony-lacks would tell tales and in hopes that Striker would beat Mony-lacks from his house. After a warning that she must keep Annabel and Samuel apart, she tells her charge of the danger, as Samuel appears. He hands them a note with a plot to be reunited.
Rebecca and Brittleware quarrel. They have been married five years with no children and she wants to be pregnant. Mony-lacks, who has been their lodger, hears her complaints and tells her that eating asparagus--a [phallic] aphrodisiac--in the wonderful new pleasure garden will help her to conceive. She departs and Brittleware and Mony-lacks plot their next move: their confederate, Springe, is bringing to town a country bumpkin who wants to become a gentleman. Tim Hoyden arrives and tells his story: his mother, a gentlewoman, gave birth to him in Somersetshire and in her will she maintained that her brother was a gentleman. She wanted her boy to become a gentleman himself, then visit his uncle, and so Tim has come to town with four hundred pounds. He will spend it on clothes, on establishing his credentials as a gentleman, and on being cheated so he can see how London's sophisticates live. Mony-lacks and his friends are happy to oblige: Brittleware, claiming to be a surgeon, says that Tim must have his base blood bled from him and Mony-lacks explains that a diet of delicacies, including asparagus, will replace his lost blood with ennobled new blood. Tim could not be happier. Meanwhile, Walter and Gilbert convince Touchwood that Samuel has impregnated Annabel and left her. Touchwood rejoices and after feigning a stern reprimand, gives Samuel a bag of money to travel to France and enjoy himself. Although he is sworn not to say anything about the pregnancy to anyone who doesn't tell him first, he confronts Striker and alludes to the pending disgrace, hoping to vex him to death. Striker returns home, hears from Friswood that Annabel is indeed pregnant, and threatens to throw her and the nurse out of doors. But Friswood blackmails him, reminding him that many years ago his own sister had been impregnated by an unknown gallant and that Striker had sent her away and kept her marriage portion for himself; if he throws out Annabel and the Nurse, she will reveal this fact and add to his own disgrace. He agrees to keep silent.
The Gardiner and his wife Martha talk about the Asparagus pleasure garden they operate: costly meals, costly rooms, and great profits. Gilbert, Walter, and Samuel arrive but cannot get a room--Martha knows that she can get better rates by keeping her popular rooms for rendezvous between gallants and the wives of broken citizens. They set up in an arbor to wait for Walter's uncle, Cautious, a voyeur who likes to gaze on beautiful women but knows they are not honest and won't bother to marry. Gilbert spies Cautious, tells him that he must save his nephew from the bad influence of a poet [Samuel, introduced as "Bounce"] and help Walter to a good marriage. In a feigned quarrel between Bounce and Cautious, Walter takes his uncle's part, securing his admiration and determination to be helpful. Three graceful ladies come in and dance with three courtiers. Then Mony-lacks, Springe, Tim, Coulter, Rebecca, and Brittleware arrive. Rebecca and Brittleware retire to lounge to try the powers of asparagus. Mony-lacks and Springe discuss Tim's progress towards becoming a gentleman. It's true that he is almost broke and has made good progress. They persuade him to dismiss Coulter, who must return to Somerset and take service with Tim's clownish older brother [unbeknownst to Tim, his brother is his elder half-brother]. Rebecca returns unsatisfied and grows more frustrated as she sees city wives of her acquaintance in pleasantly blissful disregard dispensing the high fees demanded of Martha. As everyone departs, Martha pays Mony-lacks for all of the clients he has brought to her Sparagus Garden.
Tom meets Coulter before Striker's house. They enter and he tells [in a STRONG Somerset accent] how his [step] mother was Striker's sister and asks Friswood to acquaint Striker with this news. They withdraw as Touchwood enters to mock Striker. The Curate wheels Striker out from his sickbed and Touchwood gloats. Once Friswood scolds him for making light of Annabel's condition, Touchwood is freed from his oath and gloats even more. They nearly come to blows, but Tom and Coulter intervene. As Touchwood and the curate depart, Striker dismisses Tim until he can prove his relationship. Striker also feels renewed affection for his poor grand-daughter who has been abused by the Touchwood family and begins to reconcile with her. Cautious arrives to woo Annabel for Walter and Striker sings her praises while downplaying Walter's worth--he has a scoundrel's reputation and not a lot of money, not a good match for the virginal and timid Annabel who is better suited to be a nurse. Gilbert arrives with his arm in a sling and tells Cautious that Walter and Bounce had tricked him and that they had then fallen out because Walter had disgraced another virgin. Cautious declares his intention to marry Annabel himself. Meanwhile, at Brittleware's, Tim has learned the rules of gentlemanly behavior and now takes notes as Springe and Brittleware practice conceited greetings and backhanded compliments. Gil, Wat, and Sam observe and then enter. They mention that Rebecca has taken off in one of the new-fangled Sedan chairs and Brittleware goes after her. They consult with Mony-lacks about Cautious marrying his daughter, while trading barbs with Tim and his new conceited phrases. Tom and Coulter arrive and fight with Tim, but then he agrees to go inside and wait for Rebecca.
The attorney, Trampler, tells Touchwood about the marriage contract he has drawn up for Annabel and Cautious and offers to help Touchwood match Samuel instead. Touchwood resolves to vex Striker, either by ruining the match so that Annabel will be an unwed mother, or to befriend him since vexing Striker only makes him healthier. Gilbert and Wat arrive, planning to get Touchwood to break the match and are happy to see he already plans to; they just need to manage the timing. Tom and Coulter arrive to demand a warrant from Touchwood to arrest Mony-lacks and his crew; they were drugged at Brittleware's and when they revived everyone was gone and Tim's last set of clothes were there but Tim, Striker's nephew and son of Audrey, had vanished. Touchwood, Tom and Coulter, and Gilbert and Wat all head to Striker's to find Mony-lacks. The Curate, on his way to perform Annabel's marriage to Cautious, encounters Brittleware looking for Rebecca. They meet Trampler who says that Rebecca is at Striker's; as they depart, they find a Sedan chair with a woman's garment peeking out and Brittleware throws open the door expecting to find Rebecca. Instead he finds Tim, wearing Brittleware's mother's garments, being led to St. Giles. They all head toward Striker's. At Striker's Friswood and Rebecca have been dressing Annabel. Striker and Cautious arrive and send Fris and Rebecca to fetch her from her prayers. Mony-lacks arrives and threatens to undo the match of his daughter, takes a bribe of 40 pieces from Striker to stay silent, then tells Cautious that as Annabel's father he has already pre-contracted her for 40 pieces and will lose 100 if she marries someone else. Cautious asks Striker to pay the 100 pieces from the dowry he has promised and he does, grudgingly. Gil, Wat, Touchwood, Tom, and Sam arrive at Striker's. Touchwood promises to remain silent until the wedding is underway. While waiting, Touchwood asks for more information from Tom and learns that Striker's disgraced sister Audrey had fled to Somerset, married Hoyden, and that Hoyden had raised Tim as his own, revealing the truth to Tom on his deathbed. Annabel and her female attendants arrive for the wedding; she wears mourning. Eventually Fris and Touchwood's comments make it clear that she is pregnant and Cautious backs out of the wedding, but the lawyer tells him he has a commitment to see her wed or will lose his estate. Cautious offers Wat 1000 pounds to wed Annabel or find her a husband in "Bounce." Touchwood now reveals the basis of his quarrel with Striker: long ago, he loved Audrey and impregnated her before they wed; Striker kept her portion and banished her; Touchwood refused to wed her, hoping Striker would relent; during the stand-off, Audrey didn't understand Touchwood's motive and thinking herself disgraced, fled; Touchwood later married and had a son, Samuel; but now it turns out that Tim is actually his son by Audrey. As everyone is amazed by this revelation, Walter says he has persuaded Bounce to marry fallen Annabel, but Touchwood prevents this match saying that he will allow Samuel to marry Annabel to make up for his own disgraceful actions toward Audrey. Bounce reveals himself as Samuel and Annabel takes the pillow out of her gown, producing Samuel's letters that clear her of any disgrace. Tim now comes on stage with a jewel that had been hidden on his person, proving his relationship to his uncle Striker and now finding that he has a gentleman father in Touchwood. He shows off his gentlemanly behavior by insulting Striker. Chastised, Striker wishes to marry Friswood and make an honest woman of her. Rebecca and Brittleware reconcile too. Touchwood offers to raise Tom as a gentleman, without all the bleeding. They celebrate the new amity with wine.