So tonight, John Crowne's Regulus
(c. 1694). In many ways, this is the best of the three I've read (obviously, Havard's was no-contest awful, but Crowne's is better than More's, I think, in some ways). For one thing, Crowne takes up the Polybian tradition, and starts in Carthage, where, once we finally meet him, Regulus is overambitious and over-confident; ignoring everyone's advice and escalating bad omens (including multiple appearances of his dead wife's ghost) in his arrogance. For another, the Carthaginians, far from being Evil Villainous Types are embroiled in their own power struggles to save/get control of their city.
The first two acts are completely taken up with Carthaginian politics, where wicked-demagogue Asdrubal is trying to stage a coup against decent-prince Hamilcar (whose daughter Elisa is in love with the noble Spartan mercenary captain Xanthippus); commentary, political manouvering, and comedy is provided by the Corrupt Priest, Snobbish Noble, and Grasping Merchant-type (I forget their names, but it's never hard to tell who's talking; it's also pretty clear that this is all satire on English court/clergy/etc., although I don't know enough to pick out the particular references. On the other hand, there is also a strong anti-populist current going on: I really need to learn more this period and its politics, I think.). This is much more successful, though, than Havard's extremely pathetic attempts at Roman politics and conspiracy.
When we finally get to the Roman camp, Fulvia, Regulus' new fiancée who is inexplicably hanging out in an army camp along with her father the proconsul, is moping and worrying about her lover, on the grounds that someone as perfect as Regulus is doomed to an early death. Lepidus arrives and tries to reason with here. They talk for a while, and finally Fulvia mentions the rather good reasons she has: earthquakes, ghosts, mysterious eclipses. This is going to become a theme: no one ever seems to mention the obvious reasons for anything before they have exhausted debate on the trivial ones.
So Regulus goes off to fight, and then we get back to Carthage, where Asdrubal stages his coup, then offers to spare Hamilcar if his daughter will marry him. Hamilcar, being the upright
Carthaginian that he is, will have none of her betraying her engagement to the equally upright Xanthippus, but Elisa plans to stage a murder-suicide at the altar, and agrees. Just as we are starting to wonder why the play is entitled "Regulus" Xanthippus arrives, having, under Hamilcar's orders, tricked and captured Regulus. Asdrubal is captured, the coup is averted, all of the satiricals punished and Xanthippus and Elisa reunited. After a momentary "damn, where did we put Regulus," Hamilcar goes off to deal with him, since Xanthippus and Elisa are clearly being too lovey-dovey to do anything useful. Until, that is, Xanthippus hears that Regulus has been chained in dungeon; then he ditches his bride-to-be to go off and demand better treatment for his noble and amazing captive. Eventually the Regulus-as-ambassador is proposed -- Crowne has him just embassying to the Roman camp, which keeps him on the better side of history, I suppose.
But first we have another bizarre scene in the prison, where Snobbish Noble, Asdrubal, and Corrupt Priest are planning to buy their way out and getting drunk until Snobbish Noble's wife shows up, reveals that she's actually in love with Asdrubal, and curses out her husband for having betrayed Asdrubal in a last-ditch attempt to save himself. Then she flounces out. Some Senators come in, annoyed at the high-handed way Xanthippus has been managing his prisoner, and offer power to Asdrubal. He promptly turns on his former accomplices.
And then we finally get to Regulus' big scene. Once he's captured, unfortunately, Regulus reverts to type and becomes noble, stoic, and unyielding in the good Roman way. Lepidus sics Fulvia on him, in the standard last-ditch attempt to save the life of noble self-sacrificing commander. Regulus pretends he's been poisoned; it convinces everyone except Fulvia, who flips out, until Regulus' first wife's ghost appears and makes her faint so Regulus can get away.
Meanwhile, Asdrubal's second coup is quashed again. Regulus comes back. The Carthaginian senate wants to torture him; his admirer Xanthippus protests and storms out. Fulvia shows up leading a sortie of Romans whome Xanthippus has let in, but she is just in enough time to watch Regulus die from his torture. Fulvia suddenly goes mad and starts raving. Xanthippus, Elisa, and Hamilcar go off to Sparta to live happily ever after, taking Fulvia with them. The end.
So this one had comedy, crazy melodrama, true love, and speeches about Roman Virtue. The only thing it doesn't have is arguments about who gets to stand up in whose presence, which is a bit unfortunate. Overall, though, the best Regulus play so far. (I still have Jacob Jones, which the introduction to the Crowne claims is unspeakably bad, so it should very entertaining.)