The Custom of the Country

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The Custom of the Country
by John Fletcher and Philip Massinger

The Custom of the Country is a Jacobean tragicomedy first performed circa 1619.

John Fletcher followed Shakespeare as house playwright for the King's Men and was one of the most popular and influential playwrights of his day. Written in collaboration with Philip Massinger, The Custom of the Country remained a popular part of the repertoire well into the 17th century.

Jacobean tragicomedy is famous for the surprising turns its various actions can take, and The Custom of the Country is no exception.

Famed for its bawdiness, this vigorous and enjoyable play traces the fortunes of two brothers shipwrecked in a foreign land. It is by turns poignant and risque, sentimental and satirical within a beautifully crafted plot.

Count Clodio is an Italian governor who claims the traditional right of droit de seigneur ('the custom of the country'); he is also the suitor of Zenocia. Against her father Charino's advice, Zenocia prefers Arnoldo, a young man travelling with his older brother Rutilio. Arnoldo and Zenocia marry, and resist Clodio's attempt to claim his "right" with Zenocia. They escape with Clodio in hot pursuit. Reaching the seacoast, the three young people are waylaid by Leopold, the captain of a Portuguese vessel. The two young men escape by swimming to shore, but Zenocia falls into Leopold's clutches.

Then their real troubles begin, and they have many adventures before all ends happily. Those adventures include Rutilio's service as a very in-demand male stud in a brothel for the ladies of the city - which no doubt contributed to the play's reputation for indecency!  John Dryden referred to the play in his Essay of Dramatick Poesie; he was concerned to defend Restoration plays from the charge of lewdness, and claimed that there is more "bawdry" in this play than in all later plays combined.

The related subplot concerns the adventures of Rutilio, who fights a duel with Manuel's arrogant young nephew Duarte and apparently kills him. Rutilio is unknowingly sheltered by his opponent's mother Guidomar, the arrested by the watch, then ransomed by Sulpitia for her sexual service. Rutilio is redeemd from this servitude by a recovered and repetant Duarte, and eventually marries Guidomar.

The Custom of the Country is a skilful mixture of tragicomic romance and farcical bawdry in the guise of a 'chastity play'. In the end, chastity and marriage triumph over lechery and lust.

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The Custom of the Country was performed by the Fallen Angel Theatre Company at The White Bear, 138 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4DJ in December 2007 and January 2008.

More information on this production




Forthcoming Fallen Angel production

The Remains of the Day - Musical

Alex Loveless' musical adaptation of the novel by

Kazuro Ishiguro

directed by Chris Loveless

Kazuo Ishiguro's Booker Prize-winning novel
The Remains of the Day
will premiere as a stage musical in London in 2010.