Bear a Brain, or Better Late Than Never

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Thomas Dekker (1599)


Contents

Historical Records

Payments to Playwrights (Henslowe's Diary)

F. 63 (Greg I.110)

Lent vnto Robart shawe the 1 of aguste
1599 to paye mr deckers for a boocke
                         beare a braine
called [bettr latte then never] the some
of xxxxs in fulle payment lent vnto mr
deckers at that time xxs so all is ... iijli


Theatrical Provenance

"Bear a Brain," apparently initially called "Better Late than Never," was acquired by the Admiral's Men in the summer of 1599, as the Globe was being built across Maid Lane.

Probable Genre(s)

Comedy (Harbage)


Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

None known.


References to the Play

None known.


Critical Commentary

Fleay listed "Bear a Brain" among Thomas Dekker's work but considered it "an old play of doubtful authorship" (BCED, 1.125). He then asked, "Can it be that this title was discarded for Look About You (LAY)," which he had already "attributed to [Anthony] Wadson." In support of the conjecture, Fleay called attention to one instance of the phrase, "bear a brain," in LAY. In the entry on Wadeson, Fleay linked "The Honourable Life of the Humorous Earl of Gloster with his Conquest of Portugal" ("Gloster"), which is certainly by Wadeson, with LAY through the character of the Earl, who appears in the extant LAY (BCED, 2.266-67). He considered "Gloster" a sequel to LAY.

Greg was enthusiastic about Dekker's authorship of "Bear a Brain" but less so about that authorship if "Bear a Brain" was masquerading in the diary as Look About You. Greg was rather insistent that LAY was not written by Dekker. He granted that the phrase, "bear a brain," could mean "look about you" (also "have a care"), but saw nothing that suggested the several instances of "look about you" in the text of LAY had been edited from "bear a brain." He considered the authorship by Wadeson and implied assent by agreeing that "Gloster" makes a suitable sequel to LAY. Loathe to let "Bear a Brain" be a discrete play, Greg toyed with the possibility that its title phrase could once have been an alternate for Gentle Craft and therefore The Shoemaker's Holiday, but he cannot find sufficient reason to do so (II.#179, pp. 204-5).

Knutson concurs with Fleay that the payment of 60s. for "Bear a Brain," 20s. of which was designated by Henslowe as a loan, indicates that the play was secondhand (119). She considers the play purchased due to the language of the entry ("... in fulle payment ...").

Gurr repeats Greg's fanciful association of "Bear a Brain" with The Shoemaker's Holiday but, having decided that "Disguises" was LAY, he does not comment on Greg's musings on LAY (245, n97).

For What It's Worth

See "Disguises" for another lost-play candidate as the Henslowe title for LAY.



Works Cited

Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company 1594-1625. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Knutson, Roslyn L. "The Commercial Significance of the Payments for Playtexts in Henslowe's Diary, 1597-1603." Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England, 5 (1991): 117-63.



Site created and maintained by Roslyn L. Knutson, Professor Emerita, University of Arkansas at Little Rock; updated 6 February 2012.

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