John B. Rollins
John Crowne followed his first comedy, The Countrey Wit (1676), with the two parts of The Destruction of Jerusalem, arguably two of his finest works. The first part premiered on 12 January 1677 and the second part one week later.1 Neither play has received much critical attention, and those critics who have offered commentary have either condemned it out of hand simply for being a rhymed heroic drama or have been content with discussing Crowne’s sources. Capwell, who first noted this tendency to criticize the genre rather than the work,2 chose to respond by limiting his discussion to Crowne’s departures from his sources without ever engaging directly with the implications of the play itself. White demonstrates beyond doubt that Crowne combined elements drawn from Racine’s Bérénice, Josphus’s The War of the Jews, and Seutonius’s account of the relationship between Titus and Berenice. Capwell criticizes White for simply listing these sources and then attempts to explain Crowne’s alterations. However, he seems to regard the romantic plots to be the chief focus of the play: “The historical material, however, primarily supplies merely background for the love stories, and Crowne’s skill in weaving the fortunes of Phraartes and Clarona and Titus and Berenice into the historical material is notable.”3 While these plots and characters are significant and can certainly provide insight into characters Crowne subsequently created, the center of the play4 is, as the title suggests, the destruction of the city of Jerusalem.
1The London Stage: 1600–1700, ed. W. B. Van Lennep, E. L. Avery, A. H. Scouten, G. W. Stone Jr., and C. B. Hogan 11 vols. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 1960–69), 1:252. It would appear that the play’s popularity led to the reprint of Thomas Dekker’s Canaan’s Calamitie, Jerusalem’s Misery; and England’s Mirror (London: Edward Thomas, 1677).
2Richard Capwell, “A Biographical and Critical Study of John Crowne” (Ph.D. diss., Duke University 1964), 214.
4For the purpose of this discussion, I will treat parts 1 and 2 as a single work (or, as Crowne suggests in the epilogue to part 1, “damn ‘em both now under one”).