Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tomkis, Thomas

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TOMKIS, or TOMKYS, THOMAS (fl. 1614), dramatist, entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1597, was admitted scholar in 1599, graduated B.A. in 1600, was elected minor fellow in 1602, proceeded M.A. in 1604, and became a major fellow during the same year. When James I visited the university of Cambridge in March 1615, Tomkis wrote a comedy called ‘Albumazar’ for performance by members of his college. In the senior bursar's account-book under the head of ‘extraordinaries’ for the year 1615 is the item: ‘Given Mr. Tomkis for his paines in penning and ordering the Englishe Commedie at or Mrs Appoyntmt xxli’ (Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. xii. 155). The piece was published in London without delay. The title-page ran: ‘Albumazar: a Comedy presented before the Kings Maiestie at Cambridge the ninth of March 1614 by the Gentlemen of Trinitie Colledge. London, printed by Nicholas Okes for Walter Burre,’ 1615, 4to (newly revised and corrected by a special hand, London, 1634, 4to; and another edition, London, 1668, 4to). John Chamberlain, the letter-writer, described this ‘English comedy … of Trinitie Colledges action and invention as having no great matter in it more than one good clown's part’ (i.e. the part of Trincalo). It was assigned to ‘Mr. Tomkis, Trinit.,’ in a contemporary account of the king's visit to Cambridge among the manuscripts of Sir Edward Dering.

The piece, which ridiculed the pretensions of astrologers, was adapted from an Italian comedy, ‘L'Astrologo,’ by a Neapolitan, Gian Battista della Porta, which was printed at Venice in 1606. ‘Albumazar’ was revived after the Restoration at the Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre on 2 Feb. 1668, when Dryden wrote a prologue in which he erroneously identified the author with Ben Jonson (Genest, i. 85). James Ralph [q. v.] based on it a comedy called ‘The Astrologer,’ which was acted for a single night at Drury Lane Theatre in 1744. Garrick revived Tomkis's piece at Drury Lane on 3 Oct. 1747, where it ran for five nights, and again on 13 March 1748. Dryden's prologue was spoken by Garrick, and Macklin and Mrs. Woffington were in the cast (ib. iv. 232, 242). Subsequently Garrick altered the piece and produced his new version (which was published) at Drury Lane on 19 Oct. 1773, when the rôle of Albumazar was undertaken by Palmer, and that of Sulpitia by Mrs. Abington (ib. v. 394). The piece was reprinted in Dodsley's ‘Collection of Old Plays’ (ed. W. C. Hazlitt, xi. 292–421).

According to a manuscript list of books and papers made by Sir John Harington early in the seventeenth century (now in Addit. MS. 27632), a second piece, ‘The Combat of Lingua,’ was from the pen of ‘Thomas Tomkis of Trinity Colledge in Cambridge’ (leaf 30; see note by Dr. Furnivall in Notes and Queries, 7th ser. ix. 382–3). This play, which is a farcical presentation of a struggle among personifications of the tongue and the five senses, was published anonymously in 1607 with the title, ‘Lingua, or The Combat of the Tongue and the five Senses for Superiority: a pleasant Comœdie,’ London, printed by G. Eld for Simon Waterson, 1607 (other editions are dated 1610 [?], 1617, 1622, 1632, 1657). The piece has been assigned, on Winstanley's authority, to Antony Brewer, but there is little reason to doubt Harington's ascription of it to Tomkis. It seems to be founded on an Italian model, and is in style and phraseology closely akin to ‘Albumazar.’ It was doubtless prepared for a performance at the university in 1607, but there is no evidence to prove that it was the unspecified comedy the production of which at King's College in February 1606–7 excited a disturbance among the auditors (Cooper, Annals, iii. 24). Simon Miller, when advertising in 1663 the edition of ‘Lingua’ of 1657, reported the tradition that Oliver Cromwell, the protector, played a part on the first production of the piece. Winstanley embellished Miller's statement, and declared that Cromwell assumed the rôle of Tactus, ‘and this mock ambition for the Crown is said to have swollen his ambition so high that afterwards he contended for it in earnest. …’ ‘Lingua’ was reprinted in Dodsley's ‘Old Plays’ (ix. 331–463).

Tomkis has been confused with Thomas Tomkins (d. 1656) [q. v.], the musician, and with his son, John Tomkins (1586–1638). There is no ground for connecting him in any way with either.

[Fleay's Biographical Chronicle; Baker's Biographia Dramatica; Introductions to Lingua and Albumazar in Dodsley's Old Plays; Winstanley's English Poets, s.v. ‘Brewer’ and ‘Tomkis;’ information kindly supplied by Dr. Aldis Wright.]

S. L.