(It has been suggested, however, that the six-day run of this play may have been due in part to the thinness of the Princes's Men's repertory, as well as to the genuine popularity of the play.)
The same company would stage Marmion's next play, A Fine Companion, a year or so after his first.
Their theatre also was new, first built in 1629 by Richard Gunnell and William Blagrave; the play's Prologue refers to the theatre's location, between the Blackfriars to its east and the Cockpit to its west.
The cast list for Holland's Leaguer gives this information:
|Philautus, a lord enamored of himself||William Browne|
|Ardelio, his parasite||Ellis Worth|
|Trimalchio, a humorous gallant||Andrew Cane|
|Argutes, an impostor||Matthew Smith|
|Autolicus, his disciple||James Sneller|
|Capritio, a young novice||Henry Gradwell|
|Miscellanio, his tutor||Thomas Bond|
|Snarl, friend to Philautus||Richard Fowler|
|Fidelio, friend to Philautus||Edward May|
|Jeffey, tenant to Philautus||Robert Hunt|
|Triphoena, wife to Philautus||Robert Stratford|
|Faustina, sister to Philautus||Richard Godwin|
|Millicent, daughter to Agurtes||John Wright|
|Margery, her maid||Richard Fouch|
|Quartilla, gentlewoman to Triphoena||Arthur Savill|
|2 Whores. Pander. Officers|
In addition to being a popular comic actor, Andrew Cane was a working goldsmith who brought his goldsmith apprentices into the theatre, as boy players filling female roles. In this production, both Arthur Savill and John Wright were such apprentice goldsmith/actors. (Wright and Samuel Mannery would be in Beeston's Boys in 1639.)
Earlier playwrights had also experimented with place realism, as in Lording Barry's Ram Alley (c. 1607) and Ben Jonson's Bartholomew Fair (1614). Indeed, the publication of Jonson's play in 1631 may have been important in initiating the Caroline fashion. Marmion was one of the Sons of Ben, self-professed followers of Jonson; and Holland's Leaguer bears resemblances to several Jonson plays, most notably The Alchemist.
Holland was reportedly the name of the woman who ran the establishment — though a popular rumor also linked the house specifically with Dutch prostitutes.
The brothel was a topical subject in 1631, because it had been attacked and damaged during the annual Shrove Tuesday tumult by the London apprentices. Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) was the 'prentices holiday, and they often celebrated by running wild and causing destruction. (The Cockpit Theatre was damaged in their Shrove Tuesday rioting on March 4, 1617.) Brothels were a regular target of the 'prentices. The play refers directly to this riotous habit, in Act IV scene 3:
(The 'prentices' Shrove Tuesday riots were sometimes severe. On March 24, 1668, they attacked the London brothels — including the house of Damaris Page, favored by King Charles's brother the Duke of York, later King James II. The action was so violent that troops had to be called up in response. In the aftermath, eight 'prentices were executed, including four who were hanged, drawn and quartered. Two of their severed heads were set up on London Bridge, to convey a cautionary message to the public.)
For his woman of virtue, Fidelio plans to employ his own fiancé, Faustina. They have been contracted for the past six years; Faustina's father, cool to the match, gained his daughter's promise to live in seclusion for seven yars before marrying. Though the father is dead, Faustina loyally maintains her commitment to the seven-year vow. Initially suspicious of the plan, Faustina is won over by Fidelio's arguments. She plays her part in the scheme — which is a success: her rejection shocks Philautus into abandoning his butterfly life. He goes off to the wars in the Netherlands, and returns with honor.
The trick of the matter is that Philautus and Faustina are brother and sister. When he first meets her, Philautus remarks that he has a sister with the same name; but he is no smarter than many other protagonists in English Renaissance comedy, and does not realize that the two Faustinas are one until the final Act of the drama. The six-year separation is supposed to have made them relative strangers. In the realization scene, Philautus says, "Let me look upon her" — which suggests that she was veiled or masked earlier, making his failure to recognize her perhaps more plausible (somewhat).
The play's subplot deals with a group of would-be gallants, including Triphoena's bashful brother Capritio, his tutor Miscellanio, and the flamboyant Trimalchio. They fall victim to the manipulations of two tricksters, Agurtes and his confederate Autolicus. The subplot is a negative mirror-image of the main plot; as Philautus is tricked out of his vices through his attraction to Faustina, so Capritio and Trimalchio are tricked out of a diamond and a pocket watch by Argutes' daughter Millicent. In pursuit of the gallant's lifestyle, the play's four gulls (Ardelio, Trimalchio, Capritio, and Miscellanio) end up at Holland's Leaguer in Act IV, where they are more abused than satisfied by the denizens of Mistress Holland's house. They think they are arrested by the constables and the night watch — though these are actually Argutes and Autolicus and their henchmen, disguised.
In the end, Ardelio is dismissed by Philautus, and the other gulls are reformed, at least to the point of entering into the marriages that normally end a comedy. Trimalchio marries Millicent, under the illusion that she's a duke's daughter; Capritio marries her maid Margery, while Miscellanio weds Quartilla, Triphoena's gentlewoman.