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Josephus, Ælian, Herodian, and Plutarch’s “Lives," translated by Sir Thomas North in 1579 from the French of Amyot; and from the Latin, Livy, Florus, Sallust, Suetonius, Tacitus, Cæsar, Justin, Quintus Curtius, Eutropius and Marcellinus.*
A translation of the “Menæchmi” of Plautus appeared in 1595, with no other information as to its author than two initial letters “W. W.” The “Iliad” was published in Greek in 1591, “The Knights” of Aristophanes in 1593, and Chapman's celebrated translation of Homer, or more accurately speaking, the translation of seven books of the “Iliad” and of the description of Achilles' shield, in 1598. Chapman completed the work in 1611.
To the Greek versions already mentioned may be added that of Lycophron, the obscure and enigmatical author of“ Cassandra,” who, in the strange confusion of taste that prevailed everywhere in the sixteenth century, when equal veneration was paid to all relics of antiquity, had the good fortune to be taken for a great poet, and to be ranked by some beside Homer and Pindar.
Merely for the sake of completing the list, I further mention the appearance in Greek of six homilies of St. Chrysostom, the first book of Herodotus, fifteen orations of Demosthenes, one oration of Lysias, a treatise by Plutarch and three orations of Isocrates.
As to editions of Latin authors the list is too long for enumeration, and moreover it is so full and complete that it would be useless to give it. The Latin writers were far more read than the Greek, and it was Seneca and not Sophocles who was taken as the great model of dramatic literature in the sixteenth, and even in the seventeenth century. No other writer of antiquity had perhaps so great an influence as he had, and the importance of the part he played in the constitution of the neo-classic drama in England as well as on the continent can hardly be overrated. For the harmonious and graceful art of Sophocles a more mellowed and cultured taste is required, and it is easy to understand how the sixteenth century, in all the effervescence of its youthful imagination, was more open to the charms of the pomp and splendour of Seneca. *
* List given by Nathan Drake.
Much as Ben Jonson, who was the most deeply versed in classical literature of all the poets of the time, might preach in favour of the imitation of ancient models, he himself followed as little as anybody the great Greek masters.
“From this example,” says Schlegel, “we see the influence which the prevailing tone of an age, and the course already pursued in any art, necessarily have upon even the most independent minds.” + Between the years 1559 and 1566, translations into English of all Seneca's tragedies appeared in succession. During this time mention is only once made of a Greek tragedy, and this was hardly a translation, but rather a very free imitation of the “Phoenissä" of Euripides, from which Gascoigne with two fellow-helpers made up a play entitled “Jocasta.”
In 1581 (when Shakespeare was seventeen years of age) a complete edition of Seneca's tragedies appeared in English, composed of all the preceding translations.
In speaking of the defects of mediæval poetry, M. Littré makes a very good observation on the imperative necessity of modern art seeking instruction from that of the ancients.
“Greek and Latin antiquity,” he says, “amassed treasures of style without which no finished work could present itself for the future in
* Senecam nullo Græcorum majestate inferiorem existimo, cultu vero ac nitore, etiam Euripide majorem. Inventiones sane illorum sunt: at majestas carminis sonus, spiritus, ipsius.—“Poetique,” by J. C. Scaliger, Book VI., Chap. VI.
† “Dramatic Art and Literature," Lecture XXVII.
the regions of ideal beauty. Antique art is both a model and a stepping-stone for modern art, and this model and this stepping-stone were wholly wanting to the trouvères."
The English play-wrights of the sixteenth century were almost as ignorant as the trouvères, of Greek art, but with Latin works they were well acquainted, and it is something to say that they read and admired Plautus, Terence, and Seneca.
From the time that this partial knowledge of the classics began to spread in England a sensible improvement may be remarked in its dramatic art. In the reign of Edward VI, or of Mary-the exact date is not known
-a comedy was written entitled “Jack Juggler," in imitation of Plautus, the author expressly stating in his prologue that he took for his model the first comedy of the Latin poet-viz.“ Amphitryon.” We see in it a new Sosie under the name of Jenkin, and a new Mercury under the name of Jack, who, after having taken the reform and appearance of Jenkin, tries to pursuade him that he is not himself but some one else; the reasons given only succeed in bringing conviction home to Jenkin's mind when they are corroborated, according to custom, by the peremptory arguments of blows.
In the prologue to "Ralph Roister Doister,” a comedy written about the same time, the author, Nicholas Udall, head master of Eton and afterwards of Westminster School, refers by name to Plautus and Terence, of whom he claims to be a follower.
The oldest dramatic work extant in England, in which personages borrowed from classical legends appear on the scene, is a burlesque interlude entitled “Thersites," which was acted in 1537, though not printed until somewhere between 1560 and 1563. It is an absurd play and without any literary merit, but it possesses a certain historical interest. I only pause for an instant over it, with the view of enlivening this dry enumeration of names and dates with a few burlesque quotations.
The title page sets forth the purport of the piece in these words : “Thys enterlude folowynge dothe declare how that the greatest boesters are not the greatest doers.” Thersites, at his entrance on the stage, says that he has just returned from the siege of Troy, while at the same time he speaks of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and expresses his resolution to walk through London in spite of all opposition from the civic authorities. Having lost his armour at the siege of Troy he applies to Vulcan for a new suit; he asks for a sallet, by which he means a helmet, but which Vulcan persists in understanding as a salad, thus giving rise, says Collier, to "a colloquy of equivoque, the oldest on our stage."
“ Thersites. I meane a sallet with whiche men do fyght.
Vulcan. It is a small tastinge of a man's might
Ther. Goddes passion, Vulcan, where is thy wit and memory? I wolde have a sallet made of stele,
Vul. Whye, Syr, in youre stomacke longe you shall it fele,
These jokes are poor enough, and have no other merit than that of showing us the art of punning in its earliest and most ingenuous infancy, in what has wittily been termed its hieratic age.
Thersites finally gets his armour, and donning it he cries:
“I wyll neytber spare nor for heate nor for colde, Where art thou, King Arthur, and the knightes of the round
The entrance of a soldier on the scene twice puts the braggadocio to flight, who in order to run faster on the second occasion throws away both club and
sword. Collier further adds that, in the course of the play,–
“ Telemachus, a child troubled with worms, arrives with a letter from Ulysses to the mother of Thersites, soliciting a remedy; for the cure of Telemachus a charm is subsequently given, but it is difficult now to understand the humour of this part of the piece, which perhaps had some temporary application.”
At the beginning of Elizabeth's reign we meet with several plays with classical subjects : “Cambyses,” á lamentable tragedy," runs its title page, “mixed full of pleasant mirth; Appius and Virginia,” an allegorical rather than an historical piece, and much in the style of the old Moralities. Conscience, Justice and Rumour are personified, and employ themselves chiefly in punishing Appius and in consoling Virginius. Virginia and her mother go to church, and Virginius, like a sound orthodox believer, explains the creation of man and woman in full conformity with the second chapter of the Book of Genesis. Mention is also made of an historical play called “Julius Cæsar," which was acted before the court in 1561 or 1562, and is “the earliest instance,” says Collier, “of a subject from the Roman history being, brought upon
1564-sh The 18th January, 1562, is an important date in the history of the English stage. On that day, two years before Shakespeare was born, took place the representation before the Queen, at Whitehall, of a tragedy which marked the opening of a new era. This was the tragedy of “Gorboduc,” or “Ferrex and Porrex," written by Thomas Sackville, who has been already mentioned among the nobles of Elizabeth's court distinguished for their learning Sackville studied some time both at Oxford and Cambridge, at which latter university he took his Master's degree. Protector of letters, writer of sonnets, author
* “Hist. Dram. Poetry,” Vol. II.