"Thomaso, or the Wanderer" is mid-seventeenth-century stage play, a two-part comedy written by Thomas Killigrew, The work was composed in Madrid, c. 1654. "Thomaso" is based on Killigrew's personal experiences as a Royalist exile during the era of the Commonwealth, when he was abroad continuously from 1647 to 1660.

"Thomaso" is now best known as the foundation upon which Aphra Behn constructed her finest play, "The Rover, or the Banished Cavaliers" (1677).


Though Killigrew drew upon Mateo Alemán's picaresque novel "Guzmán de Alfarache" for source material, his "Thomaso" is generally considered strongly autobiographical; it is no accident that the title is the Spanish version of the playwright's given name. Like his earlier comedy "The Parson's Wedding" (but unlike the tragicomedies that make of most of his dramatic output), "Thomaso" features abundant bawdy humor and sexual frankness, to the discomfiture of generations of traditional critics. Killigrew's heroine Angellica speaks out for the emotional freedom of women, and Thomaso is an unblushing libertine.

Critical responses to autobiographical works often confuse the author and the work. Theatrical rival Richard Flecknoe published a book titled "The Life of Thomaso the Wanderer" (1676) that lambasted Killigrew with a sweeping personal attack. Flecknoe asserted that Killigrew was "born to discredit all the Professions he was of; Traveller, Courtier, Soldier, and Buffoon." [Dale B. J. Randall, "Winter Fruit: English Drama, 1642–1660", Lexington, KY, University Press of Kentucky, 1995; p. 281.]


Both parts of "Thomaso" were first published in "Comedies and Tragedies", the collected edition of Killigrew's plays that Henry Herringman issued in 1664. In the collected edition, "Thomaso" is dedicated to "the fair and kind friends to Prince Palatine Polixander."

The printed text divides the play into a Part 1 and Part 2 of five Acts each. Critics note, however, that Part 1 provides no dramatic denouement at its end, so that the work is, in effect, a single ten-Act work (a characteristic "Thomaso" shares with the author's other double dramas, "Cicilia and Clorinda" and "Bellamira Her Dream").

Abortive performance

"Thomaso" was never performed in the seventeenth century, and certainly not since; many critics regard it as unactable, and place it securely in the category of closet drama. Yet Killigrew once attempted to mount a production — and an extraordinary one. In October 1664, Killigrew's King's Company gave an unprecedented all-female-cast production of his "Parson's Wedding". At the same time, Killigrew prepared a similar all-women staging of "Thomaso". [Elizabeth Howe, "The First English Actresses: Woman and Drama, 1660–1700", Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992; p. 58.] A cast list for the intended production survives; the leading actress Anne Marshall was intended for the role of Angelica, Mary Knep was cast as Lucette, and beginner Nell Gwyn was also in the cast. [Robert D. Hume and Harold Love, eds., "Plays, Poems, and Miscellaneous Writings Associated With George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham", Vol. 1, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2007; pp. 17-18.] (The list assigns the 14-year-old "Nelly" the part of "Paulina, a courtesan of the first rank" [Charles Beauclerk, "Nell Gwyn: Mistress to a King", New York, Grove Press, 2005; p. 73.] — a role she would soon fill in real life.)

The production, meant for November 1664, never materialized, perhaps due to the inherent dramaturgic limitations of Killigrew's expansive text. (Gwyn's stage debut had to wait another four months.)


Thomaso is a young English gentleman living in Spain during the English Interregnum; he belongs to a set of other Royalist exiles, some of them serving in the Spanish army. The two plays deliver a very episodic picture of his life and adventures, through ten Acts and 73 scenes.

Thomaso impresses his compatriots with his wardrobe and his wit. He carries on a sexual liaison with the famous courtesan Angellica, and accepts gifts from her; she defends his conduct. Yet Thomaso also can maintain a more normal and morally and socially correct relationship with a woman when he chooses, and as he does with the virtuous (and wealthy) Serulina. (The play never reconciles the two erotic modes.) [Kathleen M. Lynch, "The Social Mode of Restoration Comedy", New York, Macmillan, 1926; pp. 130-1.]

A comic and farcical subplot centers on the character Edwardo, who is a foolish pretender to the gentility and honor that Thomaso genuinely possesses.

Critics and commentators have not hesitated to point out the obvious faults in "Thomaso"; verdicts like "rambling, long-winded" [John Harold Wilson, "Nell Gwyn, Royal Mistress", New York, Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1952; p. 31.] and "indulgent and inert" [Susan Carlson, "Cannibalizing and Carnivalizing: Reviving Aphra Behn's "The Rover"," "Theatre Journal", Vol. 47 No. 4 (December 1995), pp. 517-39; see p. 519.] are common in the relevant literature.

"The Rover"

Aphra Behn was a friend and colleague of Killigrew; her use of "Thomaso" for "The Rover" should not be misunderstood as any sort of artistic abuse or plagiarism.

"Aphra improved greatly on the original, and, in the first of the two plays she made from it, produced a masterpiece of light-hearted comedy, broad and outspoken, but not lacking in beauty of form and language. It was certainly one of the best plays of romantic intrigue written during the Restoration." [George Woodcock, "Aphra Behn, the English Sappho", New York, Black Rose, 1989; p. 123.]

Behn's Willmore is her version of Killigrew/Thomaso. [Peter Thomson, "The Cambridge Introduction to English Theatre, 1660–1900", Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006; p. 7.]

The modern increase in critical attention to Behn and her works has meant an accompanying increase in attention to Behn's antecedents, including Killigrew's "Thomaso". [Hero Chalmers, "Royalist Women Writers, 1650–1689", Oxford, Clarendon Press, 2004.
Nancy Copeland, "'Once a whore and ever?' Whore and Virgin in "The Rover" and Its Antecedents," "Restoration" Vol. 16 (1992), pp. 20-27.
Thomas N. Corns, "A History of Seventeenth-Century English Literature", London, Blackwell, 2007.
Jones DeRitter, "The Gypsy, "The Rover", and The Wanderer: Aphra Behn's Revision of Thomas Killigrew," "Restoration" Vol. 10 (1986), pp. 82-92.
Karen Raber, "Dramatic Difference: Gender, Class, and Genre in Early Modern Closet Drama", Newark, DE, University of Delaware Press, 2002.
Laura J. Rosenthal, "Playwrights and Plagiarists in Early Modern England: Gender, Authorship, Literary Property", Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press, 1996.
Harold M. Weber, "The Restoration Rake-Hero: Transformations in Sexual Understanding in Seventeenth-Century England", Madison, WI, University of Wisconsin Press, 1986.
] Commentators deplore Killigrew's misogyny — though some also note the curious streak of proto-feminism in his work, as when Angellica protests the "slavery" that women suffer.

Modern produtions of "The Rover" have occasionally supplemented Behn's text with material from "Thomaso". [Carlson, "Cannibalizing and Carnivalizing," pp. 520, 522.]


External links

"Thomaso" online:
* [;idno=P1.0150 "Part 1"]
* [;idno=P1.0151 "Part 2"]

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