Randolph’s play, entitled ‘Amyntas, or the Impossible Dowry,’ belongs no doubt to the few years that intervened between the author’s exchanging the academic quiet of Cambridge and the courts of Trinity, of which college he was a fellow, for the life and bustle of theatre and tavern in London about 1632, and his premature death which took place in March, 1635, before he had completed his thirtieth year. It is tempting to imagine that the revival of Fletcher’s play on Twelfth Night, 1633-4, may possibly have occasioned Randolph’s attempt, in which case the play must belong to the very last year of his life; but though there is nothing to make this supposition improbable, pastoral representations were far too general at that date for it to be necessary to look for any specific suggestion. The play first appeared in print in the collected edition of the author’s poems edited by his brother in 1638.
Like Fletcher’s play, the Amyntas is a conscious attempt at so altering the accepted type of the Arcadian pastoral as to fit it for representation on the popular stage, for though acted, as the title-page informs us, before their Majesties at Whitehall, it was probably also performed and intended by the author for performance on the public boards. Yet the two experiments differ widely. Fletcher, as we have seen, while completing the romanticizing of the pastoral by employing the machinery and conventions of the English instead of the classical stage, nevertheless introduced into his play none of the diversity and breadth of interest commonly found in the romantic drama proper, and indeed the Faithful Shepherdess lacks almost entirely even that elaboration and firmness of plot which we find in the Pastor fido. Randolph, on the other hand, chose a plot closely resembling Guarini’s in structure, and even retained much of the scenic arrangement of the Italian theatre. But in the complexity of action and multiplicity of incident, in the comedy of certain scenes and the substratum of pure farce in others, he introduced elements of the popular drama of a nature powerfully to affect the essence of his production. Where Fletcher substituted for a theoretic classicism an academic romanticism, Randolph insisted on treating the venerable proprieties of the pastoral according to the traditions of English melodrama.
Like the Pastor fido, Randolph’s Amyntas is weighted with a preliminary history. Philaebus, the son of the archiflamen Pilumnus, was betrothed to the shepherdess Lalage, who, however, was captivated by the greater wealth of the shepherd Claius, upon whom she bestowed her hand. Moved by his son’s grief, Pilumnus entreated Ceres’ revenge on the faithless nymph, and Lalage died in giving birth to the twins Amyntas and Amarillis. This but added to Philaebus’ despair, so that he died upon her tomb, and the bereft father having once more sought the aid of the goddess, the oracle pronounced the curse: