A Looking Glass for London and England by Robert Greene and Thomas Lodge

Title: A Looking Glass for London and England.
Author: Robert Greene and Thomas Lodge.
Date: c. 1590.
Earliest Extant Edition: 1594.

Genre: Morality Play, Biblical.
Language Difficulty Rating: 7 (medium difficulty).
Setting: Nineveh in the ancient Assyrian Empire, Israel, c. 8th century B.C.

WHY READ A LOOKING GLASS for LONDON and ENGLAND?

  1. A Looking Glass provides a fun portrayal of a city consumed with sin, and contains the always-entertaining combination of murder, adultery and incest.
  2. The play abounds in delightful special effects, including angels descending from above, the arm of God waving a sword, and a whale vomiting a prophet onto the stage. 
  3. Co-author Thomas Lodge portrays in detail some examples of the evils of money-lending prevalent in England in the 16th century. The practice of usury was felt to destroy the lives of its victims, and the arrangements by which the English borrowed money were creative and unusual, and always to the advantage of the lender.

Playwright George Peele wrote the only surviving work (David and Bethsabe) comprised entirely of the retelling of a story from the Bible, but he may have taken his cue from A Looking Glass for London and England, in which co-authors Robert Greene and Thomas Lodge tackled the Book of Jonah.

It is actually quite fascinating to see how closely our authors followed and adapted the text of the Bible in certain scenes, sometimes literally line-by-line: it is easy to imagine Greene or Lodge sitting at his desk, composing a scene with the Great or Coverdale Bible opened to Jonah in front of him, assiduously transposing the verse of Jonah 2 in one case and Jonah 4 in another into iambic pentameter.

A Looking Glass is a satisfyingly complete play, despite its ultimate didactic goal of warning the members its audience to reform their sinful ways before God does it for them. And one has to wonder how seriously we today should take these admonitions, knowing as we do how dissolutely Robert Greene led his own depressingly brief life.

Our Story: the city of Nineveh is a den of iniquity: the king wants to marry his sister, money-lenders are destroying the lives of their clients, and murder and drunkenness are rampant in the streets. The prophet Jonas has been assigned the task of saving the Ninevites from themselves: is he man enough to handle this task?

Download and Read A Looking Glass for London and England:

On-line Reading:
Annotated Edition, pdf

Plain Background for Printing:
Annotated Edition, pdf

Theatre Script (play text only):
A Looking Glass for London Script

Further Reading:

1.