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date: 25 November 2020

Cambridge Drama in the Late Tudor and Early Stuart Periods

Abstract and Keywords

The launch of the London professional theater saw English academic drama quickly gravitate into the orbit of the popular stage and it catered to much the same audience tastes and expectations. Henceforth, although most university plays were written in Latin, they present many of the same features—including the notorious excesses—of vernacular drama. A number of Cambridge plays reflect the influence of contemporary popular literature, and, above all, that of the plays of William Shakespeare. Accordingly, the dramatic literature of the universities deserves to be regarded as an organic part of the English cultural heritage and should not be marginalized by the label “Neo-Latin.” No serious student of the theater in the late Tudor and early Stuart periods can afford to ignore the university drama of this time. This essay contains a survey of the more important plays produced at Cambridge, where rumbustious comedies written in imitation of those of Plautus and Terence were the standard fare.

Keywords: Cambridge, drama, Tudor, early Stuart, university, Shakespeare, Cambridge

General Introduction

In the Renaissance, dramatics were frequently employed as an educational tool. As explained by Thomas Heywood in his 1612 Apology for Actors (sig, C3v):

In the time of my residence in Cambridge, I have seene Tragedyes, Comedyes, Historyes, Pastorals and Shewes, publickly acted, in which the Graduates of good place and reputation have bene specially parted: this is held necessary for the emboldening of their iunior schollers, to arme them with audacity against they come to bee imployed in any publicke exercise, as in the reading of the Dialecticke, Rhetoricke, Ethicke, Mathematick, the Physicke, or Metaphysicke Lectures. It teacheth audacity to the bashfull Grammarian, being newly admitted into the private Colledge, and after matriculated and entered as a member of the University, and makes him a bold Sophister.

It is therefore not surprising that the production of plays began at the English universities about 1540.1 It continued as an uninterrupted tradition until productions ceased at the same time that the Commonwealth shuttered the London theaters, and it was likely connected to the ejection of loyalist Fellows by parliamentarian visitors (unlike the latter, dramatic activity did not resume during the Restoration).

Unlike its counterparts in other countries, English university drama had two distinctive, and possibly related, features. First, with very few exceptions (Thomas Legge at Cambridge, Robert Burton at Oxford), plays were written as well as acted by students (almost always ones who had already acquired the bachelor’s degree) rather than by their professors. Second, academic drama in England was unique for its degree of interaction with contemporary vernacular plays. For after the London popular theater started up, drama at Cambridge and Oxford was quickly drawn into its orbit and adopted a number of features calculated to appeal to similar audience tastes and expectations (examples of such features are ghost-apparitions and other interventions of the supernatural and extravagant ghastliness in tragedies). In addition, academic plays occasionally exerted influence on vernacular ones. This development had the effect of making academic drama a part of the national cultural heritage to a degree that cannot be claimed for other nations. This is not surprising. Most Englishmen who wrote in Latin were addressing themselves to their fellow countrymen rather than to an international audience. They had the same concerns, and reacted to the same stimuli, as did any other authors, and no watertight bulkhead existed between Latin and vernacular literature (indeed, plenty of authors wrote works in both languages). Therefore literary influence, going in both directions, can frequently be observed.

As a consequence, university plays sometimes have the capacity to teach us interesting things about vernacular ones, particularly those of Shakespeare. More frequently, they show Shakespeare’s influence exerting itself in a quarter where, perhaps, one would not expect to find it. Hence no understanding of the dramatic life of Tudor and early Stuart England can be complete if this body of literature is left out of account. It should, incidentally, come as no surprise that throughout this essay it is assumed that Shakespeare knew Latin sufficiently well to read and learn from academic plays. Any doubt on the subject cannot survive an attentive reading of T. W. Baldwin’s exhaustive study of Elizabethan secondary education,2 and, indeed, a local tradition persists that Shakespeare spent his “lost” years teaching at a secondary school in Hampshire. If this is true, Latin is what he would have taught.

If academic dramatics were intented originally to be educational and morally improving, such dramatics came to serve other needs as well. Plays were a common form of entertainment during royal visitations and for the edification of other distinguished guests. They were a vehicle whereby the universities could demonstrate their political loyalty and religious orthodoxy.3 Most important, in an age in which organized athletics did not yet exist, dramatic productions were the only sanctioned means by which students could exercise their high spirits and find relief from the stresses of university life. This is why we not infrequently hear of riotous behavior in connection with dramatic performances.

During the Renaissance, the ability to read, write, and converse in Latin was the hallmark of the educated classes, a prerequisite for a career in any of the learned professions, an instrument facilitating male bonding among the educated (the so-called respublica literarum), and a prestigious class marker, and Latin was the normal language of universities. Hence academic plays were usually written in that language, although no rule existed forbidding vernacular ones and a handful of plays were produced in English. With only a single exception,4 collegiate dining halls served as the venues for production, and dramatic activity was mostly limited to a few colleges that had the necessary talent, resources, and enthusiasm: Christ Church and St. John’s at Oxford and Queens’, St. John’s, and, above all Trinity, at Cambridge. Plays were usually performed at traditional times of the year (such as Shrovetide and the baccalaureate celebrations in March), although on rare occasions, at least at Oxford, a college would designate a particular year for a dramatic “festival,” and multiple plays would be performed over the course of that year. The raised dais normally used for the collegiate high table was employed as a stage, with two or more free-standing “houses” erected to represent palaces, private dwellings, or whatever other buildings individual plays required.5 A “house” could be constructed so as to facilitate interior scenes, and some were two-story affairs that could permit action aloft on roofs or balconies. Other stage features, such as altars, tombs, and cranes used to display characters flying in mid-air, were used as needed, and a good deal of money was sometimes spent on productions. Ignoring the “three actor rule” of classical drama, playwrights felt free to employ an unlimited number of actors. It was not unknown for boys as young as twelve to matriculate, so there was a steady supply of college members with unchanged voices to play female roles. Many plays featured music, both vocal and instrumental, the latter sometimes supplied by hired town musicians.6

Plays were almost always written in the standard Renaissance five-act format, and prologues and epilogues were often used. Acts were subdivided into numbered scenes. Each of these, prefaced by a list of the speaking parts it contains, is precipitated either by a change in the grouping of onstage characters or when the stage is momentarily cleared. As such, these scenedivisions often serve as a rather imperfect means of indicating entrances and exits, and no discontinuity of time or place is necessarily implied.

The Rationale for This Essay

In writing this first installment of a two-part survey of English academic drama, I have chosen to present separate discussions of theatrics at Cambridge and Oxford, for two reasons. First, at least for the Tudor period, a straightforward chronological treatment has already been written,7 and (save for pointing out what we have learned since it appeared) it would be otiose to repeat that manner of presentation here. Second, in certain respects the dramatic traditions at the two universities differed considerably, and so they invite separate discussions.

As in much Renaissance literature, imitatio of classical models was the general rule. Seneca was the paradigmatic tragedian, so academic tragedies were regularly organized in the five-act structure Roman drama was supposed to have employed—although many modern scholars have expressed doubts that Roman tragedies and comedies were actually written in five acts—and academic tragedies employed Senecan poetics and rhetoric, sometimes to the point of presenting the reader with a pastiche of phrases culled from that author.8 Sometimes characterizations were also modeled after Senecan originals: the protagonist of Thomas Legge’s 1579 trilogy Richardus Tertius, discussed below, for example, is to a large extent based on that archetypal wicked uncle, Seneca’s Thyestes, and William Gager’s representation of the vengefully murderous mother Althea in his 1581 Meleager owes much to Seneca’s Medea. At this time, Greek tragedy was little understood and not recognized as an alternative model for imitation, so that in his Latin translation of Sophocles’ Antigone (printed in 1581—the venue of performance, if any, is not known) Thomas Watson found it necessary to add a prologue and impose a five-act structure. Such was the paradigmatic authority of Senecan tragedy at both universities.

Comedy was different. Cambridge authors imitated the equally paradigmatic examples of Plautus and Terence. Their comedies tend to be lively, rumbustious, and occasionally bawdy, with a lot of physical action (in the form of dancing, scurrying, and hitting) and song. In Cambridge comedies, such Roman plot elements resurface as situations involving mistaken or misrepresented identity, such as a rascally servant’s defeat of a dour and repressive father or some similarly obstructive person, achieved by playing a series of swindles and practical jokes on him, so that the feckless mooncalf he has decided to champion can marry the girl of his choice. Ancient comedy featured a repertoire of stock characters (the mooncalf in question and his girlfriend, the rascally slave, the dour father, the prostitute, the pimp and bawd, the parasite, the blustering miles gloriosus, and so forth) who regularly reappear in Cambridge comedy. As we shall see, these characters are supplemented by some new comic stereotypes: the pedantic tutor who constantly quotes (and often misquotes) snatches of classical authors and textbook extracts, the university student, the stage-Spaniard,9 and the Puritan.

Cambridge comedies go even further in imitating Roman models. Plautus and Terence employ colloquial diction that does not appear in standard Golden and Silver Age Latin and, writing during the Roman Republic, they used words and grammatical forms that had grown obsolete by the time of the canonic Roman authors we normally read (features such as vorto for verto, siet for sit, and the passive infinitive ending –ier). As a means of retaining the flavor of Roman comedy, Cambridge authors larded their plays with such linguistic features, probably under the impression that they were colloquialisms or belonged to some special comic dialect, without any proper understanding of Latin’s linguistic evolution. Also, although the meters of Roman comedy were not properly comprehended prior to their explanation by Richard Bentley in the eighteenth century,10 to give their plays a properly Roman look on paper, Cambridge authors wrote out their texts chopped up into lines that look as if they were poetry paper (visually, they ordinarily resemble Plautus’s favorite meter, trochaic septenarii), although what they were writing was little more than prose. This practice was not invented at Cambridge; rather, some comedies written on the Continent did this too.11

Oxford comedy took a different course. Roman models were not so sedulously imitated, and most of these comedies were considerably more sedate and pastoral, sometimes producing a kind of namby-pamby effect in comparison with Cambridge ones. Even the play that comes closest to the Cambridge variety, Robert Burton’s 1617 Philosophaster (which, like a number of Cambridge ones, is set at a university and is rather bawdy), fails to imitate ancient models as closely as do ones acted at Cambridge. Furthermore, at Cambridge comedy predominated, whereas at Oxford it did not. It is no exaggeration to say that comedy was a Cambridge specialty, and most of the most memorable plays produced there belonged to that genre. “Cambridge for comedy, Oxford for tragedy” is a formula liable to important exceptions concerning both universities, but it serves to convey an idea of the general situation.

Now let us consider some of the more important and memorable Cambridge plays, in their approximate chronological order, at the same time paying particular attention to the ones that in some way resonate with contemporary vernacular literature, with a focus on the late Tudor and early Stuart periods. This means that the history of academic drama in its earliest decades will be passed over—curious readers are referred to the work by Frederick S. Boas already cited. In choosing plays for discussion, strong preference will be given to those for which modern editions featuring English translations are available. It must be understood that this is a body of literature still only partially explored, and that the picture presented here is only a provisional one, subject to modification as presently unpublished plays are the subject of future study.

Some Cambridge Plays12

Thomas Legge’s Richardus Tertius trilogy

An important early milestone in the history of academic drama was the production of Richardus Tertius by Thomas Legge, Master of Gonville and Caius College, at St. John’s College, Cambridge, in 1579. It was unusual for a playwright belonging to one college to have his play produced at another. It was done in this case because Legge’s college had no dramatic life and because St. John’s was considerably larger with a dining hall capable of accommodating a greater number of spectators and with the human resources necessary to mount a trilogy with a remarkably huge cast of characters. Huge because we have cast lists for the three plays and they show that there was no recourse to part “doubling” whereby one actor played two or more roles. The music for Legge’s trilogy, incidentally, was supplied by professional town musicians, and it was composed by their bandleader, a certain William Bird. Hence this music, preserved in some manuscripts, has erroneously been attributed to the great William Byrd. It should be removed from future editions of Byrd’s work.

Earlier writers have severely criticized Richardus for supposed structural problems, according to the assumption that it is a single play, impossibly long and consisting of fifteen acts. But it is, in fact, a trilogy of five-act plays, with each act subdivided into scenes in the normal way. Richardus was the first English chronicle play, in either Latin or the vernacular, and, although it was never printed, the unusual number of surviving manuscripts (more than for any other academic play), suggests that it was highly popular. Some evidence exists, not altogether clear or convincing, that it underwent at least one revival at a time when the undergraduate Christopher Marlowe would have been able to attend. And it is no wonder that the trilogy was popular: Richardus delivered the message to Englishmen that their own history was as worthy of literary treatment as that of the Greeks and Romans. In age when patriotic sentiment was on the rise, this must have been an enormously compelling message.

Legge’s trilogy goes over the same ground as does Shakespeare’s Richard III: it dramatizes the rise to power, rule, and downfall of a murderous tyrant, told from the standard loyalist Tudor viewpoint. At its best, it is dramatic and exciting: Legge was capable of writing highly effective individual scenes, many patterned on the short ones in the pseudo-Senecan Octavia. But Richardus Tertius cannot be described as entirely successful. It contains lengthy passages of Seneca-imitating rhetoric that strike a modern reader as tedious and impede the plot’s forward motion (an Elizabethan audience, of course, may well have reacted to this rhetoric very differently). Far worse, rather than the ambitious Machiavellian monster of Sir Thomas More, Polydore Vergil, and Joseph Hall’s chronicle, The Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and Yorke, Legge’s Richard is essentially a weak and indecisive personality whose lieutenants all too often devise the evil schemes he puts into practice and who frequently have to intervene to buck up his resolve. Significantly, little mention is made of Richard’s deformity, the outward embodiment of his twisted inner nature, so both physically and morally this Richard is not a monster. Legge’s decision to make Richard a weakling was a serious artistic miscalculation, and he missed a fine opportunity to create a striking and memorable stagecharacter, leaving to Shakespeare the effective development of the hints provided by the literary sources on which they both drew.

The most important question regarding Legge’s trilogy is, of course, whether it exerted any influence on Shakespeare. Here, caution needs to be exercised. Richardus Tertius and Richard III confront us with a great many similarities since both playwrights were dramatizing the same source material, in particular Hall’s chronicle. So in trying to determine whether Shakespeare had read Legge’s trilogy, all similarities that are liable to this explanation must be discounted,13 and we must ask whether, when they have been removed from consideration, any still remain. Indeed, several do remain. Richard’s courtship of the eldest daughter of Queen Elizabeth in the final scene of Act IV in the last play of the series bears a strong resemblance to Richard’s wooing of Anne in Richard III I.ii. These scenes of course involve different women, and they do not have the same outcome (Legge’s Richard fails to gain his object, Shakespeare’s succeeds). Nevertheless, in both scenes Richard tries to gain a political objective by forcing his attentions on a reluctant woman, using bullying tactics to obtain his goal. And in the course of both scenes, he draws a dagger, places its point against his breast, and offers to let the woman kill him. Legge’s scene is based on nothing in the historical sources and is, as far as we know, his own invention.14 Then too, there is the way Richard learns of the Buckingham rebellion in the third play of the trilogy, which Legge engineers by having a series of messengers come onstage relating the latest developments. Shakespeare does the same, and this resemblance too cannot be ascribed to shared sources. It seems difficult to avoid the conclusion that Shakespeare indeed did read and learn from Legge.

Thomas Legge’s Solymitana Clades Trilogy

Although Richardus Tertius was the predecessor of all the chronicle plays written for the London popular stage, it paradoxically found no imitators in academic drama. There are no other history plays dramatizing English subjects.15 And, other than Legge’s own Solymitana Clades, an abortive attempt to write a trilogy dramatizing Josephus’s History of the Jewish War, a project its author clearly abandoned in mid-composition, no subsequent trilogy was written16: the closest approximation to this is Matthew Gwinne’s Nero (printed in 1603), which was of such enormous Richardus-like proportions, and required a similarly large cast of actors, that Gwinne included instructions on how it could be broken in half and performed as two plays. Even so, it would have placed such terrific demands on Gwinne’s college (St. John’s, Oxford) that it was never performed. Legge’s Solymitana Clades (which is preserved in a single manuscript) suffers from equal gigantism, being considerably longer than Richardus Tertius, and, since it attempts to include all the historical material handled by Josephus and therefore lacks a single central character, it is desperately lacking in dramatic focus. Nevertheless, some individual scenes are highly effective. For the modern reader, it presents two particular points of interest: its astonishingly detailed stage directions (Legge even includes an appended essay specifying how the costumes should look) and the fact that it contains a great deal more onstage horrifics than did Richardus. This suggests the growing influence of the London popular theater: academic drama lagged behind in adopting its excesses no less than its other characteristic features. For a modern reader, the principal interest of Legge’s trilogy is that it seems designed to dramatize the ill-effects of religious fanaticisms. Caius College under Legge was as close to being a Catholic college as was possible and harbored a number of recusants, and Legge himself sometimes fell under suspicion of Catholicism. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say he was one of those rarest figures, a tolerant man in an age of religious intolerance.

Edward Forsett’s Pedantius

If Legge missed the opportunity to present academic drama with its first memorable character, soon thereafter Edward Forsett made good this failure in his 1581 comedy Pedantius. This is the first of a number of comedies set at a university that finds humor in various aspects of academic life. The title character is, beyond any reasonable doubt, conceived as a parody of the eccentric Cambridge don Gabriel Harvey, a highly conceited pedant with a particular bent for Cicero, whom he is forever quoting. His characterization is deftly executed: over the course of the play it is gradually revealed that his claims to erudition are largely fraudulent. In many respects, Forsett’s satirical portrait of Harvey anticipates the better known one of Thomas Nashe in his 1593 Strange News and 1596 Have with You to Saffron-Walden. Indeed, it seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that Nashe studied Pendantius and imitated many of Forsett’s parodistic tactics. A closer study of the relation of Nashe to Forsett would be highly desirable.

Anthony Grafton noted that one of Harvey’s “foolish mannerisms” was his habit of “thrusting himself on pretty women,”17 and it is this foible that supplies Pedantius with its plot.18 Pedantius has fallen absurdly in love with a local wench named Lydia, and he spends the entire play bathetically mooning over the girl and pressing his suit with the same comic clumsiness of Theocritus’s Polyphemus wooing Galatea. Lydia, of course, is too sensible to have anything to do with him and is constantly fending him off (at the end of the play she makes a far more appropriate marriage with a townsman named Crobolus).

Pedantius’s associate throughout the play is the repulsive Dromodotus, an unreformed scholastic who is always quoting bits of dry as dust Aristotelian philosophy. Forsett was using Dromodotus as a vehicle for registering the same kind of protest against the irrelevance and meager intellectual content of the university curriculum that Adam Smith later expressed in Book Five of The Wealth of Nations. His characterization is far more unfriendly than that of Pedantius himself. Pedantius’s love of Lydia may be hilariously misguided and inappropriate, but at least it does appear to be genuine and shows that the man is capable of loving, so that, when he receives his comeuppance at the end of the play, our reaction is a mixed one of laughter and sympathy. Dromodotus, however, is at all times immune to human feelings: he is represented as a cold and unfeeling monster who employs scholastic formulae to wall himself off from the fundamental realities of human existence. His speeches sometimes resemble the jabber of a madman. Then too, it is impossible to avoid the impression that Dromodotus’s views about sex are supposed to seem pathological, and that Forsett is using him as a means of expressing his frustrations about living in a celibate community (something that the Oxford playwright William Gager did on a considerably greater scale).

Throughout the play these two academics are played off against the townsmen (oppidani). These two repeatedly speak of the oppidani with extreme contempt, dismissing them as brute beasts. Academic drama and other literature is often studded with evidence of elitism, with references to the leve vulgus (“the empty-headed common sort”) and so forth. It is in the nature of comedy to be subversive and stand accepted values on their heads. Therefore academicians’ disdain of and condescension toward townsmen becomes a subject for ridicule at a number of points in the play. More important, the world of the townsmen is played off against that of the academics. The denizens of the former world are presented as normal and wholesome; even the worst of them, Pogglostus the cutpurse, seems a viable human being. Pedantius and Dromodotus, on the other hand, are represented as a pair of grotesques. Their cadaverous likenesses in the woodcut that prefaces the printed version captures this perfectly.

As fine an exercise in character delineation as Forsett’s representation of these two academics may be, the truly important and memorable character in his comedy is Lydia. If the eternal rule of comedy is that endings must be happy, Renaissance comedy adds the more particular requirement that comedy should end with a Christian marriage (or, in some cases, an estranged marriage reconciled). Since a Christian marriage is a union of equal souls, this expectation has important dramatic consequences. A typical situation in a Plautine comedy is that a young man falls in love with, or at least lusts after, some girl, and, to gain her, has to enter into some kind of duel of wits with his obstructive father. Usually the young man is so obviously unequal to the task that he requires the assistance of a brainy and dynamic slave, who engineers a series of deceptions and practical jokes designed to undermine the father’s authority within his household, so that the son may have his way, not without hilarious disruption of the normal social order. The essence of the plot lies in the father-son struggle and the defeat of the father is a necessary feature of the play’s happy ending,19 but, considered in her own right, the girl herself is a distinctly secondary character. Sometimes she does not even appear onstage. But in Renaissance comedy the idea of Christian marriage requires that the girl must play an important part and, in some sense, be the boy’s equal. Therefore these female roles feature bright, energetic, and articulate girls with forceful personalities and minds of their own. This is true regarding Lydia’s later counterparts in academic comedy, such as the title character in the 1595 Laelia, Lavinia in the anonymous 1605–06 Zelotypus, Rosabella in George Ruggle’s 1615 Ignoramus, and Eucomissa in Abraham Cowley’s 1638 Naufragium Ioculare. In addition, of course, this is equally true of the portrait gallery of such young women in Shakespeare’s comedies. In this way, therefore, Forsett’s Lydia was particularly fateful for the future of English drama, and it seems impossible to exclude the possibility that Shakespeare learned how to write these female lead parts by reading Pedantius or subsequent Cambridge comedies with similar roles.

Pedantius is precedent-setting for academic comedy in another way as well. This is the first of several plays we shall encounter that either have an academic setting or at least feature university men as main characters. Although few if any other plays contain the kind of ad hominem lampoon of a recognizable personality that we find in Pedantius or that are employed in such an outspoken manner to vent the author’s (and theatergoer’s) frustrations over enduring the stresses of life in a university community and being obliged to endure a curriculum that was becoming increasingly irrelevant to contemporary realities,20 plenty of subsequent plays do generate humor by poking gentler and more generalized fun at features of academic life, including pedantic dons, classical authors, and the kind of textbooks students were required to read.


Another Cambridge comedy of this period is Hymenaeus, performed in 1578 and very likely written by Abraham Fraunce, better known for such works as The Lamentations of Amyntas for the Death of Phillis, paraphrastically translated out of the Latine into English Hexameters (1587), The Arcadian Rhetorike (1588), The Lawiers Logike (1588), and The Countesse of Pembrokes Yvychurch (1591), the 1583 play Victoria discussed below. Hymenaeus is based on Decameron IV.10. But, as the author points out in the Prologue, it is a highly creative adaptation of Boccaccio’s tale. In the original, a surgeon’s wife thinks her lover is dead, and she puts him into a chest, which is carried off by two usurers. He wakes up and is arrested as a thief. The lady’s servant tells a magistrate how she had put him into the chest, unknown to the usurers. He escapes hanging, the moneylenders are fined, and the lover is free to continue his adulterous relation with the surgeon’s wife. In Hymenaeus, the physician and his wife are transformed into the standard authoritarian father of Roman comedy and his daughter, and the adulterous lover into a suitor. Hence, the play’s ending features a wedding. Further complications are added. The lover has two rivals, a comic physician and a German, and each suitor is given a cheeky servant, so the play is loaded with plenty of witty backchat. The setting is shifted from Salerno to the university city of Padua and the play’s lover, Erophilus, is made a student, which allows for the inclusion of a certain amount of academic humor. It will be seen, therefore, that Boccaccio’s story has been recast along the lines of a Roman comedy and its characters are all familiar comic stereotypes. But, even if Hymenaeus breaks no new ground, the quality and economy of its plot construction has found admirers.

Abraham Fraunce’s Victoria

Fraunce’s 1583 Victoria is an adaptation of Luigi Pasqualigo’s Il Fidele and has been severely criticized on several scores, most seriously because the play seems unfunny and devoid of a sense of humor and because of his handling of the character Onophrius.21 Some of the complaints that have been made about Victoria actually pertain to the original play by Pasquaglio rather than to Fraunce’s adaptation.

In regard to Il Fidele, we are fortunate in having Pasqualigo’s dedicatory epistle and two intelligent and sympathetic discussions by modern critics.22 On the basis of these, it is abundantly clear that Pasquaglio had no intention of writing a humorous comedy in the manner of Plautus; rather, he meant to write a moralizing commedia erudita that would be an imitatio, speculum, imago veritatis. He was a moralist, and his idea was to write a play depicting the degeneracy of his age. His play is largely populated by amoral and openly cynical predators, who are scheming and manipulative sexual Machiavelli types. Vittoria, Cornelio’s doubly adulterous wife, differs from the rest in degree (she plots the murder of her first lover, Fidele, when his importunity threatens to embarrass her current amour with Fortunio), but not in kind. Fortunio, the maid Beatrice, the pedante Onofrio, and other characters share an alarming number of Vittoria’s traits, and their competitive strivings yield a tale of complex intrigue. Hosley (p. 81) observed: “There is also an atmosphere of impending catastrophe in Il Fidele, resulting from the vengeful brutality of its characters.” Vittoria attempts not only to murder Fidele, but Fidele wishes to return the favor, as does her cuckolded husband Cornelio. In addition, although the play has the obligatory happy ending, at a number of points this comedy teeters on the brink of becoming something quite different. In the darkness of its theme, the threats of violence overhanging its action, and the authentic emotionality of some of its characters, it at least comes close to the kind of tragicomedy that Renaissance audiences so adored.23

Fraunce’s task was to adapt Il Fidele for the specific needs and tastes of an academic audience. Although he was careful to maintain the essential terms and atmospherics of Il Fidele intact, most of the innovations he introduced were designed to increase the play’s humor. The principal way in which he did this was by his reworking of Pasqualigo’s Onophrio in a way calculated to capitalize on the recent success of Forsett’s Pedantius. The features of Pedantius’s characterization specifically included to lampoon Gabriel Harvey are, of course, discarded, and what is left is an absurdly pompous, quotation-spouting pedant. Thus Forsett’s individualized portrait is turned into a generic character, one destined to endure as a stock figure in the Cambridge comic tradition. (The suggestion has been made that Shakespeare’s Holofernes in Love’s Labour’s Lost is based on Forsett’s Pedantius,24 but it is more reasonable to associate Holofernes with the generic comic pedant who subsequently developed in academic comedy.)

The Anonymous Comedy Laelia

The anonymous comedy Laelia, produced at Queens’ College in 1595, has a plot strikingly similar to that of Twelfth Night: Laelia, desperately in love with Flaminius, disguises herself as Virginius and enters his service. Meanwhile, a girl named Isabella falls hopelessly in love with “Virginius,” but is of course frustrated. It is impossible simply to say that Shakespeare’s play is based on this one, since by 1595 this plot already had a considerable history. The ultimate source of Laelia is the Italian comedy Gl’ Ingannati (The deceived), acted by gli Intronati da Siena (“The Academy of the Thunderstruck” in Siena) in 1531 and printed at Vinegia in the following year.25 It has been shown26 that Laelia is not based directly on Gl’ Ingannati, but rather on a French translation by Charles Estienne, which first appeared in 1543 under the title Le Sacrifice, and was reprinted in 1549 and 1556 under the title Les Abusez. The principal reason for this conclusion is that Les Abusez and Laelia omit precisely the same scenes of Gl’ Ingannati, featuring the braggart Giglio. Another consideration pointing in the same direction is that the names of some of the characters in Laelia are Latinized versions of ones in the French, but not the Italian. Thus the servant originally named Pasquella is called Pasquette in the French and Pacquetta in Laelia. The innkeeper who presides over The Mirror is called Frulla in the Italian, Brouillon in the French, and Brulio in the Latin. Clemens’s daughter is called Cittina in the Italian, Finette in the French, and Finetta in the Latin.

All academic comedies based on Continental models are to some extent adaptations rather than translations, but Laelia is more faithful to its original than most. Some of the most conspicuous changes obviously grew out of the special requirements of a play written for a university audience: the part of Petrus (another comic pedant) is somewhat enlarged, and the ribaldry of the original has been toned down. Boas27 admired some changes that introduce dramaturgic and psychological improvements in the interviews between Laelia and Flaminius, regarding them as signs of an especially talented dramatic hand, and he went so far as to exclaim:

It is impossible to read such passages without feeling that the love-scenes between Flaminio and Lelia, enacted before the Intronati at Siena, are already half-transformed into those between Orsino and Viola which, on February 2, 1601/2, delighted the Middle Templars in their hall.

Issues of gender currently loom large in literary criticism, and contemporary scholarship has focused attention on the themes of gender ambiguity and homoeroticism in Twelfth Night.28 One such writer, reviewing the possible relationship between Twelfth Night and its sources, has written that29

Twelfth Night omits the explicit heterosexual encounters of the sources, thus concentrating on the possibilities of homoerotic desire which the aggressively heterosexual encounters of the sources defuse … [the play shifts] the emphasis of the action from heterosexual union to homosexual as well as heterosexual possibilities … the entanglements of gender and the displacements of desire are the distinguishing features of Twelfth Night, even though representations of such desires also appear in the sources

One begs to differ vehemently, for homosexual elements are already explicitly developed in Gl’ Ingannati and its derivatives. A distinct undertone of homoeroticism is found in the strange power of attraction the disguised girl exerts over the young man whom she is serving, no less than in the attraction of the disguised Viola for Orsino, and the lesbianism implied in the Viola-Olivia relationship is fully prefigured in the “Fabio”—Isabella relationship in Gl’ Ingannati (where they have these names), particularly visible in the love scene between the two (II.v). Hence the themes of gender ambiguities and homoeroticism provoked by Viola’s transvestitism are already fully present in Gl’ Ingannati and derivatives, so that upon inspection Shakespeare’s allegedly radical revision of the tale turns out to be, at least in this particular respect, not very original after all. Much likelier he acquired this theme from his source. All that can ultimately be said about Shakespeare’s debts is that one of these plays, Les Abusez or Laelia, suggested not only the idea for a plot, but also the theme of transvestism, and showed him how the possibilities of this latter might be exploited. There is no particular reason for claiming that Laelia was the play in question. By the same token, there is no visible way of demonstrating that it was not.

William Alabaster’s Roxana

At just about the same time that Laelia appeared, William Alabaster of Trinity College produced his tragedy Roxana. Boas ridiculed Roxana as little more than a shortened adaptation of Luigi Groto’s 1572 revenge play La Dalida and came dangerously close to calling Alabaster a plagiarist.30 But various writers who have taken the trouble to compare the two plays in detail have remarked on the artistry with which Alabaster converted Groto’s interminable and hopelessly verbose play into an efficient and effective one. Ethel Kaplan, for example, wrote:31

La Dalida, which runs to over four thousand lines, is reduced by more than half in Alabaster’s adaptation. Groto’s diffuse characterizations, illogical sequences, and addiction to the relentless reiteration of numerous themes make his drama tedious at best. Alabaster reworks this source with considerable care. He corrects these defects to a great degree and exhibits dramaturgical skills not clearly evident without the gauge of the Italian text.

To a large extent, he achieved the feat of turning a bad play into a good one by recasting it in the mold of Senecan tragedy, thus replacing Groto’s flaccid turgidity with neoclassical economy and urgency. In so doing, he paid close attention to the Senecan model upon which La Dalida is loosely based, the Thyestes. This achievement by itself would deserve considerable respect, and would count as a significant form of originality. But Alabaster was considerably more than an adroit play doctor: he introduced his own idiosyncratic political outlook, and, in so doing, he managed to transform the meaning of La Dalida’s absurdly gross horrifics. Roxana is a play of considerable originality, and Alabaster is rare among playwrights of his time for imitating not only the rhetoric and theatrics of Seneca’s tragedies, but also their political import.

Alabaster’s Roxana is a standard Renaissance revenge play of the Titus Andronicus–Spanish Tragedy variety, and, like all such plays, it is ultimately indebted to Seneca’s Thyestes. King Oxartes of Bactria bequeaths his kingdom to his young son Oromasdes, appointing his brother Moleon regent until the boy comes of age. When this occurs, Moleon refuses to give up the throne and Oromasdes flees into exile. Returning, he kills Moleon and gains the throne. Moleon had concealed his daughter Roxana in a tower within a woods for her protection, and when Oromasdes was hunting in that forest he discovered her and became her lover. Eventually his consort Atossa discovers this and gains revenge by the time-honored means of deceiving Orosmasdes into devouring the children he has fathered on Roxana.

Besides shortening and greatly improving on Groto’s original telling of this ghastly tale, Alabaster’s main contribution was to load Roxana with a large number of acerbic observations about the tyranny and self-servingly lawlessness of kings. In considering these remarks, one must avoid a particular pitfall. The single event in the playwright’s life for which he is best remembered is his 1598 conversion to Catholicism and consequent imprisonment, followed by a dramatic escape and flight to Rome.32 It may seem tempting to place some kind of Catholic interpretation on these remarks and to think they are aimed at the Protestant Tudor dynasty. But in fact they are broadly expressed about kings in general, and there is nothing about them to suggest that Protestant royalty is being singled out for criticism. Indeed, if nothing were known about his subsequent conversion, then it would never have crossed anyone’s mind to regard Roxana as any kind of Catholic play. At most, Roxana would seem to show that Alabaster’s religious conversion was preceded by a period of political disaffection, so that a distinct contrast exists between the note he strikes here and the loyalism, political as well as doctrinal, displayed in his abortive attempt to write a Great National Epic, the Elisais of c. 1590,33 and this may well indicate that Roxana was written sometime later in the 1590s than is usually thought.

These observations about the play’s lack of any visible Catholic bias particularly apply to one part (III.i), which consists of a debate beween Oromasdes and his advisor Arsaces, in which the majority of Alabaster’s anti-royal comments appear. This scene is modeled after ones in Thyestes and the pseudo-Senecan Octavia, in which a confidant unsuccessfully attempts to dissuade a monarch from tyrannical and lawless behavior. The issue under discussion is the proposal made by Orosmasdes to divorce Atossa because of her barrenness. Quite clearly, the debate is intended to remind one of the Henrican divorce. This is particularly so because, although the characters in the play are ostensibly pagan, the objections raised by Arsaces are much more appropriate to the sovereign of a modern Christian state than to a monarch of pagan antiquity, notoriously tolerant about the subject of divorce. Some of the religious and legal arguments against divorce used by Arsaces, to be sure, were also spoken by the Consigliere to Candaule in La Dalida III.1, but in the Italian play these are diluted by being mixed in with a number of other considerations not relevant to this issue. Alabaster judiciously pruned away such extraneous arguments and retained only those pertinent to Henry’s situation, adding many new ones of his own. The striking feature of this debate is its evenhandedness. Part of the argument made by Oromasdes is that, in divorcing Atossa, he would be acting in the best interest of Bactria, for, if he died childless, the lack of an heir would sooner or later plunge the nation into war and anarchy. A Catholic apologist would never acknowledge that Henry VIII had been motivated by dispassionate reasons of state rather than mere lust for Anne Boleyn. Ultimately, it does not matter whether the reader decides that Oromasdes is justified in seeking a divorce or Arsaces is correct to diagnose his plan as an act of tyrannical lawlessness. The striking feature of this scene is that both sides are allowed to state their case fully and reasonably, and the individual reader is permitted to draw his own conclusions about the debate’s outcome.

After a lengthy period of neglect and disparagement by all but a few (including, most conspicuously, T. S. Elliot), Senecan tragedy is currently enjoying something of a rehabilitation. It has recently been pointed out that one of the reasons for this revival of interest is that these plays, written during the reigns of Claudius and/or Nero, often explore the problems posed by tyranny, and so they resonate with the issues of tyrannical government and totalitarianism that have so dominated the twentieth century.34 The overwrought and neurotic ways in which Seneca’s characters behave resemble the ways people may actually comport themselves in police states. While Renaissance playwrights routinely imitated the external trappings of Senecan tragedy, they rarely reproduce its inner spirit as accurately as does Roxana.

The Parnassus Trilogy

Shakespeare crops up again, explicitly, in a trio of plays performed at the end of the sixteenth century. Although most academic plays were written in Latin, a number of English ones survive. Of these, the most important are the three Cambridge Parnassus plays, Pilgrimage to Parnassus, The Return from Parnassus, and The Second Part of the Return from Parnassus, or the Scourge of Simony. These do not form a trilogy in the same sense as Legge’s Richardus Tertius (they were not written to be performed in immediate juxtaposition on the same occasion, an idea Legge no doubt got from Aeschylus’ Oresteia), and may not even have been written by the same author or authors, but rather were performed at St. John’s College during successive Christmas seasons. Nevertheless they feature the same characters and tell a connected story. In the first play, Philomusus and Studioso are bent on making a pilgrimage to Parnassus. They make their way, first, through the land of the Trivium, which is “much like Wales, full of craggie mountains and thornie vallies, and in which there are two desperate robbers, named Genus and Species, which take captive every true man’s invention.” There they encounter the sot Madido, who boasts that, given enough sack, he can write a better poem than Kinsayder’s Satires, Lodge’s Fig for Momus, Bastard’s Epigrams, or Lichfield’s Trimming of Nash. Philomusus finds him attractive but is pulled away by Studioso. They continue on to the land of Rhetoric, where they meet Stupido, an anti-intellectual Puritan, the wanton Amoretto, and Ingenioso, who has returned from Parnassus disillusioned, having “burned his books, split his pen, rent his paper, and cursed the cozening hearts that brought me up to no better fortune.” Their journey has consumed four years when they arrive at Parnassus, where they join Phoebus alongside the Muses’ springs. This all has of course been an allegorical description of the four years normally taken to complete an undergraduate degree.

The fictive time of The First Part of the Return from Parnassus is set three years later (the cumulative amount of time required by statute to earn the master’s as well as the bachelor’s degrees). Our two scholars are determined to leave Parnassus and seek their fortunes. After leaving, they encounter once more the disillusioned Ingenioso, who announces that “Wit is but a phantasm and idea, a quarrelling shadow that will seldom dwell in the same room with a full purse,” and soon discover the truth of his assertion when they learn that literary activity is not financially rewarding. Going to London, Philomusus can find employment only as a parish sexton, and Studioso as tutor to an imperious boy who treats him like a menial servant. Ingenioso is paid by a patron named Gullio to write poetry, which the man can palm off as his own creations, providing him with verses “written in two three divers veins—Chaucer’s, Gowers, and Shakespeare’s. He expostulates on the excellence of “sweet Mr. Shakespeare,” quoting the beginning of Venus and Adonis and referring to Romeo and Juliet. Then Ingenioso finds employment as a printer’s proofreader, while Studioso and Philomusus proclaim they will seek rewards by removing to Rome.

In The Second Part of the Return from Parnassus our scholars’ fortunes fare no better. Having tried their hand at various employments, including attempting to become physicians, fiddlers, and actors, at the end of the trilogy they are reduced to spending the rest of their lives as shepherds. The most remarkable feature of his play is a protracted discussion (in I.ii) between Ingenioso and Judicio in which they offer their verdicts about various contemporary writers, including Spenser, Constable, Watson, Drayton, John Davies, Marston, Marlowe, Jonson, Shakespeare, and Nashe. Some of these have become famous and are frequently quoted.

The play displays an interest in contemporary dramatic activity in another way as well, when it introduces as characters the actors Richard Burbage and William Kempe, and the printer John Danter (who issued the first Shakespeare play to appear in print, Titus Andronicus, in 1594, and also a defective Romeo and Juliet, in 1597).

Various claims have been made that characters in the trilogy represent actual persons: for example, that Ingenioso is Nashe, Judicio is Henry Chettle, and even that Studioso is Shakespeare.35 It is easy to make such assertions, but difficult to do so in such a way that they carry any particular conviction. This appears to be a line of thought best left unpursued.

The Parnassus trilogy presents two features of particular importance for historians of literature. The first is that to staff the modern centralized36 state and the Church of England with a sufficiency of educated men it was found necessary to cast a wide net for their recruitment, so that higher education was rendered generally accessible by such devices as scholarships and reduced tuition fees for commoners. It appears that this system worked rather too well, so that, just as in many countries today, there was an overproduction of university graduates hungry for jobs. Many students in the audience soon to be faced with the stiff competition for what employment was available must have been experiencing anxiety about their future prospects, and the second and third plays in the “trilogy” take a comically bleak look at their quandary. Awareness of this situation is important for the study of late Tudor and early Stuart Neo-Latin literature, for it provided the context in which many young men wrote as a tactic for landing a job or patronage. The publication of a slim volume of Latin verse was often a vehicle for advertising the author’s intellectual abilities, learning, doctrinal orthodoxy, and loyalty to the Crown. Thus, eager to tell those in a position to give them jobs and prospective patrons what they wanted to hear, these young men were easily enticed into writing stuff that was more or less frankly propagandistic, which goes far toward explaining the nature of much of the Anglo-Latin literature of this period.

The second, of course, is the remarkable evidence these plays contain concerning the university community’s keen interest in, and obvious familiarity with, vernacular literature for, of course, their author or authors could not have inserted all their observations about, quotations from, and verbal echoes37 of such literature if they could not count on the audience’s appreciation of these remarks. It is well known that university authorities took a dim view of the presence of professional acting troupes in their towns, obliging them to keep their distance and to carry out performances in such nonacademic venues as the courtyards of inns.38 But this policy was most likely inspired by the opinion that the acting profession was disreputable, and should not be taken as any kind of indication that the university communities looked down on contemporary vernacular literature and drama as the exclusive property of the leve vulgus.

The remarks in these plays also serve as a kind of barometer of the current reputation of William Shakespeare. By the end of the 1590s, obviously, he was recognized as an important figure on the literary scene (it is interesting, though, that he seems to have impressed the Return playwright or playwrights mostly as the author of perfumed erotic poetry: of Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, and Romeo and Juliet), but in their brief survey he does not “bestride the narrow world like a Colossus.” In much the same way, in his Palladis Tamia, published in the same year that Pilgrimage to Parnassus was acted, when he reviews the current literary scene Francis Meres includes Shakespeare’s name when listing “our best for tragedy” and “our best for comedy,” but he does not single him out for commendation above the other playwrights in his lists. Beginning with the following decade the situation changes rapidly as Shakespeare becomes the paradigmatic playwright. In a number of plays of the early seventeenth century discussed in the course of this essay, we can observe dramatists copying Shakespeare’s dramatic techniques and parodying specific scenes from his plays. Indeed, as discussed in the essay on English Jesuit drama, also contained in the Oxford Handbooks Online in Literature series, Shakespeare became such an important playwright that even Anglo-Catholic exiles on the Continent felt his influence (a copy of the First Folio has been recently discovered in the municipal library of St. Omer, now in France, which was the site of a Jesuit school with a particularly thriving dramatic tradition).

The Anonymous Zelotypus

This generalization about the swiftly growing popularity of Shakespeare is illustrated by the next play to be discussed. The date of the anonymous St. John’s College comedy Zelotypus can be narrowed down to 1605 or 1606 because the manuscripts that preserve it append a list of the actors who participated in the performance, and, since many university records are preserved,39 it is an easy matter to identify the dates during which each was in residence at the university. In it, Cassander, a citizen of Venice and a naturally jealous man, is egged on to develop a mania concerning the chastity of Lavinia, his virtuous wife. The egging in question is done by the unprincipled and malevolent parasite Elenchio, who has conceived a grudge against him, for having suffered some minor slights. Elenchio weaves one tissue of lies to convince Cassander of Lavinia’s infidelity, going to the extreme of telling him that she has volunteered for work in a local bordello. With a second set of shameless misrepresentations he convinces the Venetian authorities that Cassander has suborned a physician to poison the fathers of two young noblemen who have become infatuated with Lavinia, thus procuring Cassander’s exile from the city.

The play seems conceived in conformity with Sir Philip Sidney’s famous defense of literature in Apologie for Poetrie (p. 98, Sheppard) that it exerts an improving effect on readers and spectators insofar is it provides positive exempla for imitation and negative ones for avoidance, so that, if you will, it can be regarded as a subordinate department of moral philosophy. Certainly Zelotypus abounds with exempla of both kinds, virtuous people and ones who learn virtue in the course of the play, and also villains and rascals, but none makes a stronger impression than its protagonist, who exemplifies the dangers of excessive jealousy, a failing that, all too easily fed by Elenchio’s accusations against Lavinia, carries him to the point of madness.

The most memorable contemporary play illustrating the dangers of this particular moral deficiency is of course Shakespeare’s Othello, and surely it is no accident that Zelotypus was written not long after the first performance of that play. An entry in a 1604 Revels Office account notes that on November 1 of that year a play entitled The Moor of Venis by “Shaxberd” was performed at the Banqueting House at Whitehall. In comparing Zelotypus with Othello one can readily appreciate that the fundamental dramatic situation in the Cambridge comedy replicates that of Shakespeare’s play: Cassander is a comic equivalent of Othello, Lavinia of Desdemona, and Elenchio of Iago. Other similarities are apparent. Lavinia’s handmaid Smeralda provides a kind of counterpart to Othello’s Emilia (albeit Smeralda’s moral compass is much steadier than Emilia’s), Zelotypus features minor characters named Ludovicus and Glorianus, whereas Othello has a Lodovico and a Gratiano, and, of course, both plays have a Venetian setting.

Although he is in no sense a victim of excessive prosperity, Cassander probably comes as close to being a tragic character as comedy admits. His irrational propensity to jealousy resembles a genuine tragic flaw and, precisely like Othello, this defect serves as a convenient handle for an enemy bent on his destruction, who manages to convince him that his wife is a faithless whore. Cassander indulges in rant not entirely unlike that of a tragic character. He is ultimately reduced to becoming a typically stage madman hagridden by hallucinations. Elenchio is obviously a descendant of the kind of rascally slave in Roman comedy (the title character in Plautus’s Pseudolus, Tranio in Mostellaria, and so forth). He shares quite a few characteristics with them: he is the most intelligent, articulate, and dynamic character in the play, highly inventive in the manufacturing of schemes, and he is able to manipulate everybody around him by spinning his falsehoods and because he is good with the use of words, and, like Elenchio, he takes great delight in doing so and relishes his fertile brain. But the differences between Elenchio and his Roman forebears are as striking as the similarities. Pseudolus, Tranio, and their ilk do no real harm to anybody, nor do they mean to. Indeed, the intentions of such characters are usually benevolent, as they strive to do such things as outwit a stodgy paterfamilias. But Elenchio’s schemes and misrepresentations create genuine human suffering, and this is what he intends, with undisguised relish. He object is nothing less than the total destruction of Cassander. If Cassander is as close to a tragic hero as comedy can contain, Elenchio is as close to a genuinely evil man as it can tolerate.

In no way does Zelotypus invite reading as some kind of burlesque or parody of Othello, and we are never asked to have a laugh at Shakespeare’s expense. Rather, the anonymous author of our play seems to have had a considerably more interesting and original purpose in mind: to demonstrate how it is possible to tell essentially the same story as either a tragedy or a comedy. Comedy, of course, has it is own rules, and due respect had to be observed for the iron law that they must have happy endings, and that whatever suffering they depict can be only temporary. Therefore Cassander does no lasting harm to Lavinia and does not actually go off into exile, and, whereas at the end of Othello Iago is about to be led off to a torture chamber, Elenchio gets off with a light slap on the wrist in exchange for a promise that he will sin no more, which is, perhaps, less than entirely convincing: one is far from sure he has learned his lesson. We have already seen that an almost invariable rule of Renaissance comedy is that it must conclude, not just with a happy ending, but also with a marriage. In this case, the main plot concludes with a reconciliation and a marriage renewed, and a subplot ends with the girls Aurelia and Talanta (who have been kidnapped from Ferrara and pressed into service in the bordello, virtually as slaves) being restored to their freedom and married to the two young Venetian knights Ascanius and Valerius. All these alterations are required in order to create a satisfactory comedy. Nevertheless, the nuclear dramatic situation is the same as in Othello, and the moral lesson about jealousy Zelotypus has to teach is essentially the same. Possibly, therefore, one of the author’s objects was to illustrate that Sidney’s theory of moral didacticism has an equal application to both dramatic genres.

George Ruggle’s Ignoramus

The most important and influential Cambridge comedy produced in the seventeenth century was George Ruggle’s 1615 Ignoramus. Certainly this is true in terms of the number of printed editions and manuscript copies left behind it, and also in terms of the number of revival performances it enjoyed, including at least one apparent one in the following century.40 It was also the subject of no less than three English translations, by Robert Codrington (1662), Fernando Parkhurst (c. 1662), and Edward Ravenscroft (1678). Parkhurst’s translation was performed at the Cockpit in Drury Lane.41

Manlius, a London alderman, married Dorothea, a woman of Bordeaux, to whom on his deathbed he entrusted the two daughters whom he had by a former wife, Catharina and Isabella. After Manlius’s death a certain Theodorus married Dorothea, by whom he had twins, Antonius and Antoninus, so similar that they could not be distinguished save by a mole on Antoninus’s right cheek. Theodorus and Dorothea agreed to betroth the two daughters to the two sons, Catharina to Antoninus, Isabella to Antonius. While being reared at Deptford, Isabella was kidnapped by the Moor Urtado. Theodorus left his wife at London together with Catharina and Antoninus, and he sailed to Bordeaux with Antonius. At the beginning of the play, old Theodorus narrates this story to his son Antonius, whom he sends to London to fetch his mother and the family. Captivated by love of Rosabella, he manufactures excuses; his father insists; at length, and with difficulty, he obtains a delay of two hours. Antonius complains about his misfortune and tells of his love, how he is wooing Rosabella, the daughter of a noble Portuguese. Dying at Fez, he has entrusted his daughter to Rodrigo Torcol, who, plying a pander’s trade at Bordeaux, refuses to sell her for anything less than six hundred gold crowns. This sum has been pledged by the lawyer Ignoramus, engaged in settling legal disputes at Bordeaux. Still, Antonius is happy, because the lovers have plighted their mutual troth. Ignoramus appears and tells of his love for Rosabella, and he mocks Musaeus, a university-educated lawyer. Ignoramus and Torcol strike up a bargain that, if he either brings or sends six hundred crowns with a legal document and a private sign, he will bear off Rosabella. This Ignoramus promises to do. Antonius’s wily servant Trico—the name is supposed to remind one of the English word “trick”—intervenes on Antonius’s behalf and devises schemes by which the lovers can remain united and Igoramus can be defeated. He recruits a rascal named Cupes, who hawks books in the marketplace, as his lieutenant. There follow a long series of complications and deceptions engineered by Trico, and the result of these is that Ignoramus is ultimately baffled and the lovers united.

Although some misguided readers have imagined that Ruggle’s intention was to lampoon the municipal government of Cambridge, clearly his actual target was jackleg common-law lawyers. University men disdained and resented competitors they regarded as uneducated and unqualified rivals.42 Ignoramus is preeminently a comedy about language. In the first place, it is a macaronic play, in which English characters speak English, French ones speak Latin, and a Portuguese speaks stage-Spanish. The play’s deceptions require several French characters to pretend they are English and speak accordingly, so they adopt linguistic as well as physical disguises. The play’s multilingualism facilitates another innovation, a comic look at differences of nationality and national temperament. And language is important for Ignoramus’s characterization. His most memorable feature is his abuse of language, for he may be described as a man who is semiliterate in several languages. He speaks the uncouth terminology of the common law, a mixture of mangled Anglo-Saxon, Norman French, Latin, and English, which is so strange and uncouth that in one scene some characters conclude he is demonically possessed and perform a mock exorcism involving emptying a chamber pot over his head. Not entirely unlike Forsett’s Pedantius, there is something palpably bogus about Ignoramus, and his deplorable use of language is a perfect index of his shady and questionable qualities. By way of contrast, the university-educated Musaeus speaks perfect Latin, which is equally emblematic of his praiseworthy qualities.

Ignoramus shows Shakespearian influence of two kinds. First, one of the important ways in which Giambattista Porta’s 1596 La Trappolaria was altered into Ignoramus was by the addition of more secondary characters. The great majority of these are memorable and endearing citizens of the “little world” of commoners, clowns, and rascals that exists alongside the “big world” of Antonius, Rosabella, and Theodorus. This two-world bipolarity is a characteristic feature of Shakespearian comedy. On the one hand, we have the “big world” of upper-class characters and also the “little world” inhabited by low-class ones who supply the broad humor in his plays. In Shakespearian comedies these two worlds coexist and sometimes interact. The most obvious distinction between the denizens of these two worlds is of course their different social standings, but a second and equally important one is ontological. The “big world” characters are confronted with serious predicaments, to which they react with genuine feelings, and they have a capacity for real suffering. On the other hand, we are not invited to take the predicaments, feelings, and pain of the denizens of the “little world” with equal seriousness. These characters are not quite so real, insofar as their doings and sufferings are, by comparison, inconsequential in the literal sense that they have no serious consequences. It is almost as if Shakespeare’s two-world comedies were written according to some notion that the upper classes had more exquisite sensibilities and the lower classes were less capable of experiencing pain. There is no reason to think Shakespeare actually entertained any such theory, but it does seem as if he wrote his comedies according to this assumption. If there is any truth in this observation, surely the reason was not any kind of elitism on Shakespeare’s part (he created his “little world” characters with great insight and affection), but rather because this bipolarity helped his plays produce their comic effect. We in the audience are encouraged to empathize with the “big world” characters and suffer along with them, but we are allowed to remain relatively detached about the vicissitudes of the “little world” ones, which leaves us free to react to their doings with uncomplicated laughter. Any substantial amount of empathy would only get in the way of the fun.43

By adding this plethora of secondary characters, Ruggle produced a comedy largely devoted to exploring the coexistence and interaction of these two worlds. The ongoing squabbles and reconciliations between Cupes and Polla come as close as anything in academic drama to being a “little world” subplot unfolding alongside the drama of the Antonius-Rosabella predicament, which is more elevated both sociologically and in terms of moral gravity. Forsett’s Pedantius has a cast divided into townsmen and academics and comically investigates the collision of these amusing but wholesome and unpretentious rascals with the otherworldly, self-important, and rather morbid denizens of academe, Pedantius and Dromodotus. Writing under Shakespeare’s influence, Ruggle does the same thing on a more ambitious scale, both by giving his “little world” a considerably larger population and by devoting many of his scenes to it, introducing plenty of broad humor and slapstick into his play. The energetic farce this yields is especially calculated to appeal to the English taste for broad humor.44

Then too, Act V begins with a ribald language lesson in which Nell asks Vince what some French words mean, and he amuses himself by providing misleading off-color definitions. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this scene was patterned after Henry V III.iv.

John Chappell (?), Susenbrotus

Ignoramus, as we shall see below, was a personal favorite of King James. A second Cambridge comedy that tickled the royal fancy was the 1616 Susenbrotus,45 possibly by John Chappell, acted at Trinity College in March 1616 and performed again shortly after at the royal hunting lodge at Royston. The title character in this play is Johannes Susenbrotus, a German grammarian whose textbooks were standard fare in English schools. He is presented as a schoolmaster of the standard quotation-spouting pedantic variety (many of his quotes are drawn from William Lily’s A Short Grammar Generally to Be Used, appointed by governmental decree to be the standard manual from which English schoolboys learned the rudiments of Latin). He is smitten with love for Fortunia, a girl in the service of the merchant Emporius, presently away from home on business. Fortunia is also courted by Phantastes, a bad poet, Don Pedro Pantaleone of Valencia, supposedly a soldier but in truth a penniless coward, and Captain Spavento, a stock miles gloriosus whose name is taken from a traditional character of the commedia dell’arte. She is also loved by Mercenario, her fellow servant and confidant.

Emporus comes home unexpectedly. Although he has forbidden Fortunia to have dealings with them, he finds them in his house, explodes with anger, and banishes her and Mercenario. At one point in the play, Fortunia has confided to Mercenario that she is actually a young man: her bankrupt master Egestus has sold her into servitude to improve his situation and disguised her is a girl on the theory that girls fetch more money on the market. Later on, Emporus confides to the audience that he is well aware of the deception and knows that “Fortunia” is in fact Egestus’s own son.

The numerous comic confusions that result from this gender misrepresentation of course are resolved at the end of the play. In the course of it, as a means of making a positive impression on Fortunia because of his pedigree, Susenbrotus gets the idea of employing his pupils to stage a play. This performance he devises (to be enacted in English) is not an actual play but rather a kind of heraldic masque in which the blazons or emblems of his ancestry are to be paraded. These blazons are Jesuit, Puritan, Usurer, and Pedant.46

Obviously, Susenbrotus was a clever recombination of elements familiar to the audience from previous plays. Susenbrotus is a comic pedant of the Pedantius-Onofrio type, and his inappropriate love for Fortunia inevitably recalls Pedantius’s infatuation with Lydia. Mercenario plays a role not entirely unlike that of Forsett’s Crobulus. The gender misrepresentation and the comically inappropriate erotic attractions it creates are likewise reminiscent of an earlier play. But which one? The obvious answer might seem to be Laelia, but that play had been produced twenty years earlier. Pedantius and Ignoramus had made a deep impression on Cambridge audiences, and they were well remembered and frequently imitated. Even though Laelia had been performed on a memorable occasion (when the Earl of Essex and some other young lords were in Cambridge to receive the master’s degree) one wonders whether the same can be said about that play. Another and perhaps superior possibility is that the author of Susenbrotus was writing under the influence of Twelfth Night (first recorded performance at the Middle Temple in February 1602). Indeed, McQuillen (p. 10) suggested that the play was composed for James’s personal pleasure47 and was designed to cater to his homoerotic tastes. But, no matter what the facts of his personal life may have been, what evidence is there that James had any particular liking for the literature of homosexuality? An alternative proposal might be that Susenbrotus was intended to capitalize on the popularity of Shakespeare’s play. Indeed, Twelfth Night appears to have inspired, directly or indirectly, a vogue for Cambridge comedies dealing with the related themes of gender misrepresentation and transvestism over the next few years. Further examples of such plays include Edmund Stubbes’s absurdly farcical Fraus Honesta (acted in 1623 but evidently written in 1619) and John Hacket’s Loiola, produced in the same year, discussed below.

Some Plays with Sectarian Bias

We must now turn back and consider the second Prologue to Ignoramus. King James had attended the Cambridge performance. He requested that the play be repeated at his Newmarket hunting lodge a few weeks later, and this Prologue was specially crafted to appeal to his tastes. It contains humorous barbs aimed at certain continental Catholic pamphleteers who had dared cross swords with the king, particularly the German polemicist Kasper Schoppe. Other than that, anti-Catholic humor is restricted to II.iii, which contains hits against the Jesuit order, a favorite target of loyalist dislike in the wake of the Gunpowder Plot. A little of this stuff may be tolerable, but during James’s reign several Cambridge comedies appeared that were entirely devoted to the same heavy-handed anti-Catholicism: the anonymous and undated Risus Anglicanus.48 Risus Anglicanus is an exhibition of rather brutal anti-Jesuit humor, and the only thing that recommends it to the attention of modern readers is that it seems to have certain points in common with John Donne’s equally unlovely Ignatius His Conclave. A third anti-Catholic comedy is Richard Smith’s Hierarchomachia: Or, the Anti-bishop, which makes fun of Gregory XV’s appointment of a Catholic bishop-in-absentia for England in 1623. But, even if Shoenbaum49 had tentatively diagnosed this as a Cambridge play, its more recent editor50 has pointed out that the single manuscript that preserves it is written in the same hand as the remarkably detailed record of the events of the Christmas Prince dramatic festival celebrated at St. John’s College, Oxford, in 1607,51 and, in any event, it appears to have been purely a closet drama, written without any intent of bringing it to the stage.52

This injection of sectarian polemics into academic drama was a novel development during the early Stuart period, and one cannot help thinking that, at its worst, it reflects attempts to curry the favor of a sovereign who saw nothing wrong with sending over bullyboys to the Continent to slit the noses of those who dared ridicule him in print. Descent to this kind of humor does such playwrights, and their university, no credit. With rare exceptions (one thinks of Thomas Campion’s reference to “Ignitius Loyola” in his epic poem on the Gunpowder Plot)53 there is little in all this stuff that has the power to make a modern reader grin but much to make him grimace.

John Hacket’s Loiola

The reader may be surprised that Hacket’s Loiloa (acted in 1623 but written c. 1616) is not included in this list of anti-Catholic comedies. As one would only expect, this play features a certain amount of anti-Jesuit humor, particularly in the masque of Jesuit Virtues that concludes Act I, but this must be balanced against several other considerations. The first is that Hacket spends at least as much time making fun of Puritans, and specifically a Calvinistic congregation at Amsterdam—the setting of the play—called the Separatists, who spawned the Pilgrim Fathers who settled New England. The second is that his Loyola (a contemporary Jesuit, who is by no means to be confused with Ignatius Loyola) is a surprisingly sympathetic figure. The plot turns on the need to rescue the girl Caelia from involuntary servitude in a brothel, and it is Loiola who puts his innate rascality to a benevolent purpose by devising the scheme that achieves this. On the other hand, Martinus, a Dutch member of the Puritan congregation of English ancestry, is given a decidedly unpleasant characterization.

The play has two important themes. The first is gender misrepresentation and homosexuality. Faustina has disguised herself as a mute boy and entered the service of Martinus’s son Musonius, who falls in love with this supposed servant. This obviously replicates the situation of Twelfth Night (or just possibly of Laelia, discussed above), just as one feature of Loyola’s play, whereby he is smuggled into the brothel hidden inside a chest, evidently comes from Cybeline. But in Loiola the homosexual possibilities of Twelfth Night are made fully explicit, and one is impressed by the way Musonius’s feelings are presented as being in no way morally questionable, or even especially remarkable. This theme is further exploited by a remarkable amount of transvestism. Loyola’s plan for rescuing Celia requires the mute to enter the brothel disguised as a newly purchased Ethiopian slave and then swap costumes (and therefore genders) with her so she can make her escape. When his plan is put into practice, the audience is treated to the remarkable spectacle of a male actor playing the part of a girl pretending to be a man disguised as a girl!

The play’s second theme is involuntary servitude. With its spurious “Ethiopians” (and a genuine one who makes a brief appearance), it deals with the enslavement of Caelia and, of course, also with Caelia’s imprisonment in a brothel. She was rescued from a calamitous fire is a child by a cynical Frenchman who sold her into bondage, and the Puritan Martinus is now seeking to purchase her as his bride. Her situation fills the play’s decent characters with shock and disgust, and they regard her rescue as an urgent necessity. The play’s villains, on the other hand, are the unsympathetic characters who profit from human enslavement. Laverna is portrayed as a grasping harpy (although her husband Acheron, co-owner of the brothel, has serious qualms about the situation and is in fact the first to ask Loyola to help her). Martinus regards Caelia as little more than an item of property to be haggled over and bought. And Monsieur Michel, a dealer in African slaves, is portrayed as unpleasantly brutal, grasping, and choleric. Hacket’s play may be a comedy, but a fair amount of genuine moral indignation palpably entered into its writing.

Robert Ward’s Fucus Histriomastix

If Cambridge playwrights sometimes employed Catholicism as the butt of their humor, they were equally adept at lampooning Puritans. One such play in which this is done is the 1623 Fucus Histriomastix (Fucus, the Scourge of Actors) by Robert Ward of Queens’ College. The title itself is revealing: fucus literally means “face paint, cosmetics,” and figuratively “deception,” and, when used as the name of the play’s main character, serves to indicate his humbug, for unmasking hypocrisy is perennially a favorite form of comically sabotaging the image of a pretentious character. This play was produced later in the same year as Hacket’s Loiola, and the characterization of Fucus as a hypocrite looks as if it was inspired by Hacket’s Martinus. Histriomastix refers to the fact that Puritans had incurred the wrath of academic playwrights by their outspoken opposition to theatrical activities, of both the London and the Oxbridge varieties, and lampooning Puritans was their means of retaliation. (This is a subject that will come to the fore when, in a parallel discussion of Oxford dramatics, the famous pamphleteering war between William Gager and Dr. John Rainolds that occurred at Oxford in 1592 will be considered, and indeed the text of Ward’s play contains a number of echoes of Gager’s stout defense of academic theater). Its proximate cause was the recent attempt of certain Puritan members of the university to prevent a performance of Hacket’s comedy Loiola in connection with a proposed royal visitation.

The premise of Ward’s allegorical comedy is that Fucus is pursuing several strategies for putting an end to academic drama: these include disrupting the impending marriage of Comoedia and Philomathes (“Lovelearning,” a typical university student or, if you will, the entire academic community personified), kidnapping Applause, without whom Comaedia cannot live, attacking Comaedia with envy and slander, and disgracing her by hissing her out of the theater. Or rather, to decipher this transparent allegory, he is striving to keep this very comedy from being performed tonight or, failing that, to keep it from being applauded. And much depends on the outcome of this enterprise, for, as we are told at the end of the Second Prologue, Fucus’s success would entail the end of dramatic performances. This, then, is putatively a decisive moment in the history of academic comedy, and Ward goes out of his way to underscore what is at stake by reminding us that comedy does have a history, by including verbal echoes of Forsett’s Pedantius, the anonymous Laelia, Ruggle’s Ignoramus, and probably a number of other earlier comedies yet to be identified.

Fucus Histriomastix appears to have a certain Shakespearean quality because it plays off the “big world” of its principal characters against a “little world” subplot involving the peasant Villanus and his beloved Ballada, and the play is peopled with a throng of comical rustics. As noted above, it is not clear whether Ward was writing under the influence of Ruggle’s Ignoramus or learned this two-world technique directly from Shakespeare. Another question not easily answered is whether Ward’s portrayal of Fucus (and also the equally hypocritical Puritan Ipswichus in William Johnson’s 1638 Valetudinarium) was conceived under the influence of Malvolio in Shakespeare’s 1614 Twelfth Night. Puritans opposed to drama were of course a repeated target of playwrights both nonacademic and academic. One of Martinus’s features in Hacket’s Loyola inherited and greatly elaborated by Ward is his dislike of theatrics (his name was probably chosen to remind the audience of Martin Marprelate), and the whole subject of dramatists’ reaction to the Puritan assault has been well treated in an article by Patrick Collinson.54

Abraham Cowley’s Naufragium Ioculare

Abraham Cowley’s 1638 Naufragium Ioculare was one of a trio of comedies produced in the late 1630s, a final efflorescence of Cambridge comedy shortly before college dramatics were ended under the Commonwealth.55 At the beginning of the play we meet two university men traveling abroad, Gelasimus and old man Polyporus’s illegitimate son Morion, under the supervision of their pedantic tutor Gnomicus. Together with their unprincipled servant Dinon, they have just landed at Dunkirk. Fetching up in a tavern, they become quite drunk and are deceived by Dinon into imagining they are still at sea, have become overtaken by a great storm, and are suffering shipwreck. The raucous tone of the play is set by the fact that Act I contains an erection joke and features onstage vomiting.

In Act II the play begins to develop a plot of sorts. Aemilio, the legitimate son of Polyporus, is being held captive by Bombardomachides, a soldier distinctly belonging to the miles gloriosus class. Aemilio is in love with Eucomissa, the daughter of Bombardomachides, and likewise his sister Aegle is in love with a young gentleman named Calliphanes Junior, although his father, Calliphanes Senior, is dead set against their marriage. The plot is a standard one: with the help of Eucomissa’s maid Psecas, Dinon inflicts a number of swindles and practical jokes on Bombardomachides and Calliphanes Senior, so that at the end of the play Morion and Aegle gain their freedom and the two couples go happily to the altar.

But Naufragium Ioculare is not one of those plays in which the plot is the main focus of our attention. Rather, the play is made memorable by meditations on comedy itself. The tone is set by a self-referential, almost metatheatrical, observation made by Aemilio at the end of Act I. Speaking of the way the two drunken students have been tricked into thinking they have been shipwrecked, Aemilio remarks: “An audience would have to die from laughter, if somebody dramatized this as a comedy.” A brief discussion between Aemilio and Dinon in Act III about the art of humor provokes Aemilio to suggest that they found a School of Joking, in which prospective gentlemen could receive instruction in elegant wit. The proposal is put into practice and later in Act III we are allowed to see the school in operation. In devising this fancy of a School of Joking, Cowley’s intention was probably to poke fun at the way in which, during the seventeenth century, such new subjects as mathematics and history were being added to the English university curriculum, each with its own new professorial chair, by devising a comical reductio ad absurditatem. But the idea that humor can be reduced to a set of teachable precepts that constitute an ars iocandi is not as silly as he imagined: intellectuals from Aristotle to Sigmund Freud have speculated on the nature of jokes and what makes them funny, and, thanks to the pioneering work in the past few decades of such individuals as Mikhail Bakhtin and Caesar Barber, we now have a burgeoning literature of comic criticism, so that discussion of humor is by no means foreign to the modern academy.

If Cowley was concerned with the theory of comedy, he also took an interest in its history. Cowley’s play contains a number of elements that seem deliberately included to remind the audience of George Ruggle’s Ignoramus. It is possible to attribute this motive to him, since these elements are poorly assimilated into the present play. It is probably set at Dunkirk for no better reason than that Ignoramus is set at Bordeaux, since in Naufragium Ioculare virtually no capital is made of its French location beyond a single passing satirical hit at the French. When Calliphanes tells his son Gelasimus that he must marry and the reluctant boy manufactures a series of unconvincing excuses for not complying, and these look like an abbreviated imitation of Antonius’s similar excuses in Ignoramus, invented for the same purpose. One of the more puzzling features of Naufragium Ioculare is the inclusion of an exorcist who briefly flits across the stage, perhaps with a bit of humorous dumb show not indicated by a stage direction, for no very obvious reason. The idea of the miles gloriosus Bombardomachides recruiting an exorcist to chase alleged demons out of his house would be a good one, rich in comic possibilities, had Cowley bothered to develop it. But he did not, and the only reason one can imagine for the inclusion of this minor character is that Ignoramus had contained a hilarious scene of mock exorcism.

Thomas Ryley, Cornelianum Dolium

Another of these plays was one with a seemingly strange title, Cornelianum Dolium. This is a reference to the sweating tub invented by Cornelius Agrippa for the cure of venereal diseases, likewise called “Cornelius’ tub” by Nashe in his 1594 The Unfortunate Traveller or the Life of Jack Wilton and by Middleton, Dekker, and Barry in their 1608 The Family of Love (III.iii); as we shall see, this is comedy in which syphilis plays a large part. The play was printed in 1638 with its author identified only as “T. R.,” and its provenance is not given. But it is clearly a Cambridge comedy, both because of its intrinsic nature and because it contains a number of quotations from, or borrowings from, earlier Cambridge plays. One line appears to echo Legge’s Richardus Tertius 4467, and the transaction in V.vii, when the professional thieves Lurcanio and Latrunculus break into the chapel, open Cornelius’s coffin, and are astonished when he rises up alive, doubtless took its immediate inspiration from Thomas Randolph’s 1632 comedy The Jealous Lovers IV.v, in which the witty but unprincipled Sexton (who probably inspired the similar character in this play) and his wife Staphyla are likewise bent on robbing a coffin and are terrified when Tyndarus and Techmessa rise out of it. But the author of Cornelianum Dolium may also have read and learned from an earlier comic grave-robbing scene, Abraham Fraunce’s Victoria III.viii. When Grinchamus says Ambidextri personam me acturum iuvat (1774), this looks like an explicit allusion to Ambidexter Ignoramus, the title character of Ruggle’s Ignoramus: he is saying he thinks it would serve his interests to act as duplicitously as that character. In Ignoramus much is made of the contrast of university-educated lawyers, represented by Musaeus, and run-of-the-mill common lawyers, such as the title character, and this finds a parallel in the contrast of the Neapolitan stranger, an educated physician, and the barber-surgeon Syringius in the present play. Then too, although it is engineered very differently, the germ for the idea of the exorcism scene in Cornelianum Dolium (III.v) may have come from the similar one in Ignoramus.

Likewise, as will be shown below, Cornelianum Dolium exerted an influence on Johnson’s 1638 Valetudinarium. This also was a medical comedy, in which all of the principal characters are afflicted by various real or imaginary diseases that represent their damaged mental or spiritual conditions, and they are cured by the wise physician Archiater. Not unlike Valetudinarium, Cornelianum Dolum is set in a place of healing, and, as we shall see, in it, too, bodily disease is given a symbolic value and represents a spiritual condition. All of these considerations, taken in combination, strongly suggest we are dealing with a Cambridge play.

More specifically, Cornelianum Dolium is set in Cornelius’s disease-filled brothel, located in platea argentaria. On one level, this is a Latin equivalent of saying he dwells in Easy Street. But it probably also can be taken literally as an allusion to Silver Street in Cambridge, and it contains a covert gibe against Queens’ College, located in that street. Queens’ is being equated with Cornelius’s house with its infected, depraved inhabitants, which reflects the bad blood between Trinity College and Queens’ at this time (this animus seems to have arisen when the comedies The Rival Friends by Peter Hausted of Queens’ and The Jealous Lovers by Thomas Randolph of Trinity were performed in 1632 during a visitation by the king and queen. Hausted’s play was ill-received, Randolph’s The Jealous Lovers found favor. Inn the aftermath, Henry Butts, vice-chancellor of the university, committed suicide).56 This strongly suggests that this play was acted at Trinity College. It is commonly thought that the initials “T. R.” indicate that the play is the work of the same Thomas Randolph. But there are strong arguments against this attribution. Randolph otherwise wrote his plays exclusively in English, and he exhibits no interest in moralization in them (with the partial exception of Hey for Honesty, Down with Knavery, an expanded réchauffé of Aristophanes’ Plutus in which the moralistic element is largely inherited from his Greek model). Nor does he display any interest in satirizing the professions, an important concern in Cornelianum Dolium. Randolph’s editor, William Carew Hazlitt, pointed out that, were Cornelianum Dolium by Randolph, it would have been in the printer’s best interest to advertise the fact on the title page to increase sales, an argument from probability that can be matched by two others: first, it seems unlikely Randolph would have repeated the situation of the grave robber being alarmed at finding somebody alive in a coffin if he had already used it in The Jealous Lovers, and, second, it might also appear strange that Cornelianum Dolium escaped the attention of Randolph’s brother Robert, who served as his literary executor and appears to have made an industrious attempt to gather up his works after his death. A more attractive tentative attribution, therefore, is to a second Trinity man of the time who is known to have participated in college dramatics as an actor, a certain Thomas Ryley (the play contains a joke involving the word hypodidascalus, the official title of the Second Master of the Westminster School, but since both Randolph and Ryley were products of that school, it offers no evidence for authorship).

The play begins with a squabble between Opilio, a pastor, and Priscianus, a schoolmaster, during which Priscianus accuses Opilio of being unqualified for his position because he knows no Latin and accuses him of being a Puritan (this carries us back to subjects familiar from Ignoramus and John Case’s Apologia Academiae). Old Cornelius, suffering from the last stages of syphilis, turns up at pest-house accompanied by a pimp named Grincham and a trio of whores (two of whom have the significant names Tubercula and Sciatica), who are ready to appropriate his worldly goods as soon as he dies. Syringius, an incompetent surgeon, can do no good for him, so by the end of Act I he is resigned to his fate. But a stranger from Naples turns up who is a much more able physician, and he expresses his confidence he can work a cure. At the beginning of Act III he produces his sweating tub. Fearing that this cure might work so that they will fail to get his property, Cornelius’s unprincipled hangers-on disguise themselves as specters and attempt to frighten him to death. In Act IV, the Neapolitan’s efforts do not appear to be going well: he reports that Cornelius is intent on dying and his retinue are hopeful. But at one point the stage clears and the physician confides to the audience that the cure is in fact going to work, and that he is pretending otherwise so as to show up those unprincipled servants for the deceitful tricksters they are. Cornelius himself enters and we learn that, although his physical health indeed is improving and he is eager to get well, he is still damaged in his mind. The stranger-physician invites him to join in the exposure and punishment of his servants, and he eagerly falls in with this idea, and this gives him a new enthusiasm for life. In Act V the stranger informs the pack of rascals that Cornelius is now dead, and they squabble over the division of his property. Eventually Cornelius is brought onstage in his coffin, and when he suddenly pops up a pair of scurvy villains, friends of the three whores, are driven mad by their astonishment. They report what they have seen to their companions, to their great consternation. Finally Cornelius arrives with some bailiffs: they must return his goods and are destined for a whipping. The play ends with Cornelius announcing his determination to lead a virtuous life in future.

So in Cornelianum Dolum syphilis acquires a symbolic value, representing an unhealthy spiritual condition. Cornelius frankly admits he is damaged both without and within, and his cure cannot be considered complete until he has been healed in both ways. Syphilis, of course, is a particularly appropriate disease to bear this symbolic weight: it was a malady that constantly commended itself to the attention of moralizing humorists of the time because it seemed such an appropriate requital for the sin by which it is acquired.57 In this play, the happy ending is the restoration of Cornelius to inner as well as outer health. Ryley was so intent on exploring this theme that (uniquely, among the comedies we are considering) he did not bother to outfit it with a pair of lovers and make a wedding part of its successful conclusion.

William Johnson, Valetudinarium

The third play in this trio was William Johnson’s 1638 Valetudinarium (since Cornelianum Dolium was printed in that same year, it had presumably been acted somewhat earlier). With its adroit juxtapositions of pathetic (or, more likely, deliberately bathetic) scenes with lowbrow farce, and the energy and wit with which its comic scenes are written, Valetudiniarium is competently crafted. Its characters, admittedly, are all individuals we have met before: besides stock ones inherited from Plautus and Terence, it includes characters no less familiar from previous Cambridge comedies: a wayward undergraduate, Pythiolus, and his tutor, who in this play is portrayed as a Puritan rather than the normal comic pedant. Similarities of both character and manner of speech suggest that Johnston had studied the lampoon of a stage-Puritan in Robert Ward’s earlier Fucus sive Histriomastix.

The play’s plot starts when old man Ucalegon’s son Perilupus, who is wrongly thought to have died in a fire, sees this as an opportunity to test the love of his beloved Mirabella. So he swaps costumes with a rascal named Magneticus as a means of doing this. Meanwhile Ucalegon takes his daughter Cordelia to the hospital to have a wound treated. At the hospital, the chief physician Archiater, a handsome young man, unsuccessfully tries to woo Mirabella. Subsequently it emerges that Cordelia is desperately in love with Archiater, so that matters are at their usual sixes and sevens. After a long series of complications, matters are sorted out so that Archiater is happily paired with Cordelia and Perilupus with Mirabella. Among the play’s numerous minor characters whose various ailments compel them to visit the hospital are a Puritan couple, Ipswichus and Lynna (who take their names from Ipswich and King’s Lynn, two East Anglian bastions of Puritanism). Johnson’s unfriendly remarks about New England and his scoffing at Puritan hostility toward the theater in the plays epilogue are unremarkable in a seventeenth-century comedy but acquire extra point and force when it is borne in mind that Valetudinarium is one of the last academic comedies, written on the eve of the Civil War.

Ryley’s play is set in a pest-house for syphilitics, and Johnson’s play at the great London hospital of St. Bartholomew’s hard by Smithfield Market. Johnson made a rather unusual decision in naming his play after a building rather than a lead character, but in this case the choice of title is entirely appropriate because the hospital dominates the play both literally and metaphorically. Hans-Jürgen Weckermann has observed how58:

diseases, whether referring to physical, psychic or mental illnesses, dominate the atmosphere of the play. Magneticus tries to pass himself off as a lame man and later pretends to have been injured in a fire; Cordelia stays in the hospital for a while because she has indeed suffered some burns; her father Ucalegon temporarily loses his eyesight; testy old Algidius is plagued by constitutional coldness; the physician Archiater at one point thinks the heavens themselves infected with diseases; the solution of the love plot is brought about by Mirabella’s feigning a sudden illness; and the town beadle Molossus is afflicted with various imaginary diseases. Moreover, Archiater is driven to insanity by the frenzy of his misdirected love, whereas the girl he repudiates belabors the conventional paradox of being wounded internally at the same time that her external wounds have healed. Perilupus offers another illustration of the affinity of love and madness in his strange device of testing Mirabella’s faithfulness, which threatens for a while to make both the two lovers and his father Ucalegon unhappy. All these references to and manifestations of diseases, it is true, are not handled in a very subtle manner, but they do furnish the play with something like a unifying theme. When in the end all the characters have been cured of their real or imagined diseases, their physical restoration to health symbolizes the development they have undergone from wrong notions of self to a truer perception of their nature.

In truth, Weckermann’s insightful remarks are more applicable to Cornelianum Dolium, from which Johnson got this idea. Likewise his Archiater, a highly competent physician capable of effecting spiritual as well as physical cures, is clearly based on Ryley’s Neapolitan stranger.

The play was produced at Queens’ College on February 6, 1638. Cowley’s Naufragium Ioculare had been acted at Trinity College only four days earlier. In Valetudinarium two sots waking from a drunken sleep are convinced by a prank that they have slept for ten years and the world has changed radically in the meantime. This comic device rather suspiciously resembles the practical joke that gives Naufragium Ioculare its title. This is not the only similarity between these two plays. in Naufragium Ioculare we first meet the rogue Aemilio dressed in rags, and he exchanges costumes (and therefore identities, or at least social status) with the unconscious Morion, and in Valetudinarium the roguish Magneticus is first encountered similarly dressed, and when he swaps costumes with the upper-class Perilupus he too acquires a kind of new self based on his sudden social acceptability. Both plays, therefore, use the same comic device to make the point that the clothes make the man. Then too both plays feature a tutor, although Cowley’s Gnomicus is not a Puritan but rather a pedant, quite likely modeled on Onophrius in Abraham Fraunce’s Victoria, since Onophrius, like Gnomicus, is cast in the role of a tutor who accompanies a young ward on a trip abroad. All in all, it appears there is some connection between the two plays. Either Johnson and Cowley, writing at the same time, entered into a friendly competition in handling the same dramatic elements, or one of these playwrights found out about and deliberately stole these elements from the other one, presumably to demonstrate he could do a better job of handling them.

In sum, here we have a trio of plays written near the end of the Cambridge dramatic tradition, tightly interrelated and composed by playwrights who were, in their various ways, well aware of each other’s work. One has the distinct impression that the nature of these interrelationships has not been thoroughly plumbed: were they motivated by friendship, friendly competition, or an invidious desire to outdo each other? Whatever the correct answer may be, if it is rewarding to read each of these plays in isolation, it is considerably more so to read them side by side. And, in any event, these three taken together show that even in its last years Cambridge comedy was still thriving with its customary energy and inventiveness. Its demise was entirely the work of outside influences.

David Waterhouse’s Cleophilus and Simo

At Oxford, the beginning of the Protectorate served as the definitive end of university theatrics, not revived under the Restoration. Significantly, Christopher Wren included a proscenium stage in his original plan for the Sheldonian Theater, but he subsequently omitted it, presumably because he realized that academic drama was permanently defunct.59 Although the situation at Cambridge is generally considered to have been the same, matters are in fact not quite so straightforward. In 1700 and 1702, respectively, David Waterhouse published two Latin plays,60 Cleophilus and Simo, which strongly resemble traditional Cambridge comedies. In Cleophilus a young man is strapped for cash because his parsimonious and hardhearted father controls the family money. Being unable to cope with the situation himself, he relies on the intervention of a slave, who in the end saves the day by an exercise of cleverness. Waterhouse’s single great stroke of originality was to give the play a contemporary spin by substituting the need to publish a book for some romantic difficulty as the source of Cleophilus’s predicament. In Simo the title character is always being made a butt of jokes by his friend Gelota, and the plot revolves around a block of wood sitting in a workman’s shop, spotted by Gelota because of its strong resemblance to Simo. Neither play would be of any special interest to modern readers had they been written prior to the Civil War, but the feature that commands our attention is their date. Were these closet dramas in which Waterhouse imitated the comedies of bygone days purely as a paper exercise? Were they written as part of some failed attempt to revive the Cambridge theatrical tradition or were they actually performed? No archival evidence for their performance has been discovered, but the reason for this might simply be that it has not occurred to anybody to look for any. One hopes that future research will cast more light on this interesting question. In either case, Waterhouse’s object was clearly to turn back the hands of time, but his attempt was a failure.


This synoptic view of Cambridge comedies reveals an important feature that might easily escape notice if plays were to be considered only individually. This is the degree to which Cambridge dramatists were familiar with at least the more memorable plays of their predecessors and were conscious that they were operating in a tradition. Hence they sometimes larded their plays with allusions to earlier Cambridge comedies. But this discovery immediately raises a question: to what degree could they count on their audiences recognizing and appreciating these references that pointed backward? In other words, was this consciousness that the comic genre in which they worked constituted a tradition limited to playwrights who went out of their way to study the works of their predecessors or was it a more widespread awareness within the university community?

In seeking to answer this question, our best guide is the fact that the plays we have are preserved in manuscripts. Even the handful that found their way into print were published substantially after their production: Ruggle’s Ignoramus was not printed until 1630, and both Forsett’s Pedantius and the first, pirated, edition of Alabaster’s Roxana in the following year, and each of these plays could have survived to reach print only because they had existed for several decades in manuscript form (as it happens, each of these three plays also survives in multiple manuscript copies). Of all our surviving play manuscripts, not one looks as if it was executed in connection with an original performance. Rather, they exist because subsequent individuals copied them out, thinking they were worth preserving and reading. A notable example is William Sancroft, a sometime Master of Emmanuel College, who seems to have been an avid collector of dramatic manuscripts and, since in later life he became Archbishop of Canterbury, a number of these survive, some of which are still housed in the library of Lambeth Palace. It is especially interesting that Sancroft did not belong to a college that engaged in dramatics. Judging by the number of play manuscripts that survive (Legge’s Richardus Tertius is preserved by eleven, and Ruggle’s Ignoramus follows close behind with nine), quite a number of men in the Cambridge community must have shared Sancroft’s enthusiasm. The existence of all these manuscripts makes manifest that the enactment of a play was not an ephemeral event, with its memory quickly fading afterward. Much to the contrary, plays were often copied, read, and studied for many years thereafter. The existence of these manuscripts attests to a considerable continuity in institutional memory, no doubt reinforced by the fact that students who went on to study for higher degrees would remain at the university for some time, and collegiate Fellows even longer. It would therefore appear that, when Cambridge playwrights harked back to memorable works by their predecessors, they could count upon a fair degree of familiarity on the part of a reasonably sizeable portion of their spectators. These manuscripts likewise show that the mere rehearsal of the dates on which plays were acted would fail to convey the importance of the role played by dramatics in the academic community.

Another and much more important lesson to be learned from a synoptic view of Cambridge drama is that a generalization offered at the beginning of this essay, that the Latin dramatic literature of this universities deserves to be regarded as an organic part of the English cultural heritage, is now substantiated. The Latin dramatic literature of the time (and also much nondramatic literature written in Latin) does not deserve to be marginalized by the label “Neo-Latin,” which suggests that it falls within the purview of a different academic discipline and is the exclusive concern of specialists belonging to that discipline. When it comes to drama, given the degree to which Latin and vernacular drama influenced each other, and also the way in which Latin drama of the period was written so as to cater to tastes shaped by the popular London theater, this conclusion begins to appear obligatory. It therefore follows that no serious student of late Tudor and early Stuart literature can afford to ignore academic drama. This conviction will become all the stronger when we turn to the dramatic activity at the University of Oxford.

Bibliography of Plays

(a) General Studies

Boas, Frederick S. University Drama in the Tudor Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1914 (repr. New York, B. Blom, 1966), 183.Find this resource:

Cioni, Fernando. “Stages at the University of Cambridge in Tudor England.” In English Renaissance Scenes: From Canon to Margins. Edited by Paola Pugliatti and Alessandro Serpieri, 127–149. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2008.Find this resource:

Greenwood, David. “The Staging of Neo-Latin Plays in Sixteenth Century England.” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 12 (1969): 33–42.Find this resource:

Nelson, Alan. Cambridge. 2 vols. Records of Early English Drama. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989.Find this resource:

Nelson, Alan. Early Cambridge Theatres: University, College, and Town Stages, 1464–1720. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994.Find this resource:

Smith, Bruce R. Ancient Scripts and Modern Experience on the English Stage, 1500–1700. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988.Find this resource:

(b) Most recent editions of individual Cambridge plays discussed here

Alabaster, William. Roxana (date uncertain). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at This edition includes Alabaster’s own English translation, preserved by Folger Library MS. V. b. 222 (fols. 29–37v).

Anon. Laelia (1595). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Anon. The Parnassus Plays (1598–1601). In The Three Parnassus Plays, 1598–1601. Edited by James B. Leishman. London: Nichols and Watson, 1949. See also Paula Glatzer, The Complaint of the Poet: The Parnassus Plays. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 1977.Find this resource:

Anon. Risus Anglicanus (1620). Unedited, but see the photographic reproduction of the ms. In Malcolm M. Brennan, Risus Anglicanus, John Hacket, Loioia, Prepared with an Introduction by Malcolm M. Brennan. Renaissance Latin Drama in England, second series. Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms, 1988.Find this resource:

Anon. Zelotypus (1605–06). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Chappell, John (?). Susenbrotus (1616). In A Comedy Called Susenbrotus. Edited by Connie McQuillen. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Cowley, Abraham. Naufragium Ioculare (1638). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Forsett, Edward. Pedantius (1581). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Fraunce, Abraham (?). Hymenaeus (1578). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Fraunce, Abraham. Victoria (1583). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at See also C. G. Moore Smith, Victoria, a Latin Comedy by Abraham Fraunce (Louvain, Belgium: A. Uystpruyst, 1906); Hans-Dieter Blume, Hymenaeus, Abraham Fraunce, Victoria, Laelia. Renaissance Latin Drama in England 13. Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms, 1991.Find this resource:

Hacket, John. Loiola (acted 1623 but probably written in 1616). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at this resource:

Johnson, William. Valetudinarium (1638). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Legge, Thomas. Richardus Tertius (1579). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Legge, Thomas. Solymitana Clades (unperformed). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Ruggle, George. Ignoramus (1615). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Ryly, Thomas. Cornelianum Dolium (printed 1638). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Stubbe, Edmund. Fraus Honesta (acted 1623, but written c. 1619). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Ward, Robert. Fucus Histriomastix (1623). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Waterhouse, David. Cleophilus (printed 1700). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Waterhouse, David. Simo (printed 1702). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Watson, Thomas. Absalom (1541). In A Humanist’s “Trew Imitation’: Thomas Watson’s Absalom. Edited by John Hazel Smith. Illinois Studies in Language and Literature 52. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1964.Find this resource:

(c) Most recent editions of plays written and performed elsewhere (plays by William Shakespeare not included)

Anon. Gl’ Ingannati (1531). In Commedie del Cinquecento. Edited by Nino Borsellino. Milan: Edizioni Feltrinelli, 1962.Find this resource:

Burton, Robert. Philosophaster. Edited by Connie McQuillen. Renaissance Text Series 15. Binghamton, N.Y: Renaissance Society of America, 1993.Find this resource:

Drury, William. Aluredus sive Alfredus (1619). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Drury, William. Reparatus sive Depositum (1621). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Estienne, Charles. Les Abusez (originally entitled Le Sacrifice, 1543). Text in the Philological Museum at

Gager, William. Meleager (1581). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Groto, Luigi. La Dalida (1572). Text in the Philological Museum at

Gwinne, Matthew. Nero (unperformed, printed 1603). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at

Munday, Anthony. Fidele and Fortunia (1585). In A Critical Edition of Anthony Munday’s Fedele and Fortunio. Edited by Rochard Hosley. New York: Garland, 1981.Find this resource:

Pasqualigo, Luigi. Il Fidele (1579). Edited by Francesca Romana de Angelis. Rome: E. et A. Editori Associati, 1989.Find this resource:

Parta, Giambattista. La Trappolaria (1596). Text (provided by Cono A. Mangieri) available online at

Watson, Thomas. Antigone (1581). Text and translation in the Philological Museum at


(1) The earliest extant play is Thomas Watson’s 1541 Cambridge tragedy Absalom.

(2) T. W. Baldwin, William Shakespere’s Small Latine and Lesse Greeke, 2 vols. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1944), which can be read at

(3) The need for such exhibitions of corporate loyalty was necessary because it was sometimes called into question: H. C. Porter, Reform and Reaction in Tudor Cambridge (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1958).

(4) Plays were performed in the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, in connection with the royal visitation of 1565. The advantage of that venue, obviously, was its large seating capacity. But the experiment was never repeated, most likely because dramatics within collegiate chapels offended religious sensibilities (and also because of the chapel’s unsuitable acoustics).

(5) Alan H. Nelson, Early Cambridge Theatres: College, University, and Town Stages, 1464–1720 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1994). For archival material, see Alan H. Nelson, Cambridge, Records of Early English Drama series (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989), particularly vol. 2, 714–722. For these temporary stage buildings erected in collegiate dining halls, see also David Greenwood, “The Staging of Neo-Latin Plays in Sixteenth Century England,” Research Opportunities in Renaissance Drama 12 (1969): 33–42; and Bruce R. Smith, Ancient Scripts and Modern Experience on the English Stage, 1500–1700 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1988), 74–76.

(6) Most memorably, the music for Thomas Legge’s Richardus Tertius trilogy, composed by a certain local bandleader named William Bird, is misattributed to the great William Byrd and regularly appears in the editions of that composer’s complete works.

(7) Frederick C. Boas, University Drama in the Tudor Age (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1914, reprinted New York: B. Blom, 1966).

(8) In the Renaissance a popular method of Latin verse composition relied on, to an appreciable extent, pasting together a large number of phrases and tags culled mostly from the canonic Roman poets (although some adherents to this system went further afield). Evidently this was a method that appears to have been taught in some but not all schools since some writers employed it and other did not; or, at least, since Latin verse composition was a standard curriculum item in secondary schools, one may probably assume that this method originated in the classroom. This method of composition should not be regarded as the equivalent of training wheels on a bicycle or a schoolmaster’s device for helping out backward students. Poets who were trained to write this way—Milton, for example—continued to do so throughout their lives.

(9) He can be identified as a stock character insofar as he appears in George Ruggle’s 1615 Ignoramus and also the 1616 comedy Susenbrotus. Don Armado in Love’s Labour’s Lost is, of course, another specimen of the breed.

(10) In an appendix to his 1726 edition of Terence.

(11) The Continental plays included in Gary R. Grund, ed., Humanist Comedies (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005) feature these same pseudo-metrics. At most, some (but not all) playwrights wrote in such a way that each line ended with an iamb.

(12) The fundamental work for the study of Cambridge dramatics is Nelson, Cambridge (1989). See also Fernando Cioni, “Stages at the University of Cambridge in Tudor England,” in English Renaissance Scenes: From Canon to Margins, edited by Paola Pugliatti and Alessandro Serpieri, 127–149 (Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2008). Some of the plays mentioned in that essay are not discussed here because editions are not available.

(13) This was acknowledged to be the only possible strategy by G. B. Churchill, Richard III up to Shakespeare (Berlin: Meyer & Müller, 1900, repr. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1976).

(14) In a general way it is modeled on Lycus’s courtship of Megara in Seneca’s Hercules Furens, but the business of the dagger is not Senecan. There is a similar transaction in Robert Burton’s Oxford comedy Philosophaster, where Antonius unsuccessfully tries to woo Camaena. It is unclear whether Burton is parodying Legge or Shakespeare.

(15) But, for some inexplicable reason, English history plays written in Latin were commonplace in Anglo-Catholic educational institutions on the Continent: such prominent Catholic playwrights as Thomas Compton Carleton, William Drury, and Joseph Simons wrote them.

(16) In a certain sense, to be sure, it is true that the three Parnassus comedies discussed below constitute a trilogy, since they tell a continuous story and have characters that appear in all three plays. But they were written to be performed in three successive years rather than on a single occasion. It is not even clear that all three Parnassus plays were written by the same author or authors.

(17) Disciditur ut agatur: How Gabriel Harvey Read his Livy,” in Annotation and Its Texts, edited by Stephen A. Barney, 113 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

(18) It should be added that in many ways Pedantius reads like a sequel to an earlier, lost work since it contains a number of allusions to unexplained people and incidents that would otherwise be impossible to understand.

(19) This struggle is the subject of D. F. Sutton, Ancient Comedy: The War of the Generations (New York: Twayne, 1993).

(20) As an illustration of this generalization, consider the Oxford philosopher John Case, in his own (far more attractive) way as dedicated an Aristotelian as Dromodotus. One searches his copious writings in vain for any substantial awareness of the revolution in modern astronomy created by Copernicus and Galileo. Plenty of university men must have been conscious they were being taught obsolete and discredited science. Or something of the same way, students of the law were given instruction in Roman law rather than the Anglo-Saxon common law on which the English legal system was actually based.

(21) It was criticized particularly by its first editor, C. G. Moore Smith, A Latin Comedy by Abraham Fraunce (Louvain, Belgium: A. Uystpruyst, 1906), in his introduction, and by Hans-Dieter Blume, Hymenaeus, Abraham Fraunce, Victoria, Laelia, Renaissance Latin Drama in England 13 (Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms, 1991), 29–48.

(22) By Francesca Romana de’ Angelis in the introduction to her edition of the play (Rome, 1989), and by Richard Hosley in the course of his introduction to another (and, as far as one can see, entirely independent) English adaptation, Anthony Munday’s 1585 Fidele and Fortunio (77–85).

(23) See particularly Frank Humphrey Ristine, English Tragicomedy: Its Origin and History (New York: Russell & Russell, 1910); Marvin T. Herrick, Tragicomedy: Its Origin and Development in Italy, France and England (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965); and Verna A. Foster, The Name and Nature of Tragicomedy (Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2004). Obviously, judging a work belonging to one genre by the standards appropriate for another one is bound to produce bad results.

(24) Suggested by G. B. Churchill and Wolfgang Keller at Shakespeare Jahrbuch 34 (1898): 275ff.

(25) The Italian text can be found in the first volume of Commedie del Cinquecento, edited by Nino Borsellino (Milan: Edizioni Feltrinelli, 1962). An abridged English translation has been printed by Geoffrey Bullough, Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare, vol. 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958), 286–339. A full one is found in Bruce Penman, Five Italian Renaissance Comedies (New York: Penguin, 1990). The play was also translated in 1862 by Thomas Love Peacock.

(26) By C. G. Moore Smith, Laelia, A Comedy Acted at Queens’ College, Cambridge, Probably on March 1st, 1595 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1910).

(27) Op. cit., 294–296 (the quotation is from 296).

(28) Cf., for example, Stevie Davis’s essay “Boy-Girls and Girl-Boys: Sexual Indeterminacy,” in her Twelfth Night (London: Penguin Critical Studies, 1993), 113–135. At the beginning of her essay, she makes the point that the London theater used boy actors to play women, and that in modern productions in which Viola is normally played by an actress “some but not all of the pederastic implication is forfeited” (115). Academic plays also employed boy actors.

(29) Laurie E. Osborne, The Trick of Singularity: Twelfth Night and the Performance Editions (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1996), 168.

(30) Op. cit., 186–188. See most recently the considerably more respectful discussion by Howard B. Norland, Neoclassical Tragedy in Elizabethan England (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2009), 144–152. In any discussion of this play, and Alabaster’s claim that an unauthorized first edition of it was “plagiarized” (i.e., pirated), it must be borne in mind that at this time plagiarism was neither a crime in the eyes of the law nor regarded as a serious breach of professional ethics.

(31) Ethel Rosenberg Kaplan, “William Alabaster’s Roxana: A Critical Edition of the English Version with Parallel Latin Text,” PhD diss., Harvard University, 1980, 312.

(32) The chief document for his conversion is the autobiographical document Alabaster’s Conversion, preserved in a MS owned by the English College at Rome.

(33) Only Book I was ever written. See Michael O’Connor, ed., “The ‘Elisaeis’ of William Alabaster,” Studies in Philology 76 (1979). This poem was hailed as the poem of the age by Spenser (Colin Clout’s Come Home Again, 400ff.), and Alabaster’s failure to complete it may have spurred him to write The Faerie Queene.

(34) For a thoughtful exploration of this subject, see William M. Calder III, “The Rediscovery of Seneca Tragicus at the End of the XXth Century,” in Imperium Romanum: Studien zu Geschichte und Rezeption, edited by Peter Kneissl and Volker Losemann, 73–82, Festschrift Karl Christ (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 1998). The reader may also care to see Gordon Braden, Renaissance Tragedy and the Senecan Tradition: Anger’s Privilege (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985).

(35) This game has been played ever since F. G. Fleay’s A Biographical Chronicle of the English Drama, 1559–1642 (London: Reeves and Turner, 1891). Modern examples involving Shakespeare are Eric Sams, The Real Shakespeare: Retrieving the Early Years, 1564–1594 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1995), 378; and Peter Ackroyd, Shakespeare, the Biography (London: Chatto and Windus, 2005), 77.

(36) Discussed in the course of Warren Boutcher, “Pilgrimage to Parnassus: Local Intellectual Traditions, Humanistic Education, and the Cultural Geography of Sixteenth Century England, in Pedagogy and Power: Rhetorics of Classical Learning, edited by Y. L. Too and N. Livingston, 110–148 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

(37) Especially of works by Nashe.

(38) For this policy at Cambridge, see Nelson, Cambridge, vol. 2 (1989), 723–725. Nevertheless, when Shakespeare’s company, the King’s Men, appeared at Oxford in 1610 to perform Romeo and Juliet and Jonson’s The Alchemist, one cannot help wondering whether university authorities could have given the members of this company this cold shoulder without inflicting an intolerable insult on their patron, the sovereign. These performances are documented by the report of an attendee: see Henry Jackson’s letter of September 10.

(39) Available in summary form in Part 1 of John Venn and J. A. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses: A Biographical List of All Known Students, Graduates and Holders of Office at the University of Cambridge, from the Earliest Times to 1900, 4 vols. (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1922–27).

(40) A poem entitled “Prologue to Igoramus, by Antonius” is printed on p. 278 of The Poetical Works, Latin and English, of Vincent Bourne, a New Edition (London, 1838). The poem is surely not by the eighteenth-century Neo-Latin poet Vincent Bourne. The tendency exists in a number of early editions of his poetry to pad the volumes with all sorts of material not by him, at least some of which originated at Eton It appears to have been written in connection with a production undertaken at a date sufficiently late that these lines could plausibly be misattributed to Bourne.

(41) The only other English university play to receive the compliment of a translation was Abraham Cowley’s Naulum Ioculare, by Charles Johnson, printed in 1705 under the title Fortune in Her Wits (the translation of William Alabaster’s Roxana preserved in a Folger Library MS., in all probability made by the playwright himself, was never acted or published).

(42) Universities were jealous of their monopoly on the professions. One finds a similar hostility toward uneducated preachers motivated by divine inspiration in the unpublished treatise Apologia Academiarum by the Oxford philosopher John Case, preserved by MS. Oxford, Corpus Christi 321 (discussed in Appendix 4 of Charles B. Schmitt, John Case and Aristotelianism in Renaissance England [Kingston, Ontario: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1983]—but Schmitt failed to appreciate that this was a major theme in the treatise). And in much the same spirit, the comedy Cornelianum Dolium (probably by Thomas Ryley) described below contrasts Syringius, an incompetent barber-surgeon who fails to help the syphilitic Cornelius, with the Neapolitan stranger, a trained physician who is able to achieve a cure.

(43) One is reminded of Aristotle’s dictum in the Poetics (1449a32) that comedy deals with “some defect or ugliness which is not painful.” It is true, of course, that some of Shakespeare’s “little world” characters are capable of feeling pain (Bottom is clearly and genuinely put out by the reaction to his play, and even Dogberry is given feelings). But the point is that the audience seems invited to react to such feelings with amused detachment rather than any great amount of empathy.

(44) Subsequent academic plays that feature this two-world bipolarity are Robert Ward’s Fucus sive Histriomastix, discussed below, and two Douai tragicomedies by the Catholic playwright William Drury, his 1619 Aluredus sive Alfredus and 1621 Reparatus sive Depositum. One cannot tell whether Ward and Drury learned this technique from Ignoramus or directly from Shakespeare.

(45) Connie McQuillen, ed., A Comedy Called Susenbrotus (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997). For John Chappell as the likely author cf. the discussion on p. 4. McQuillen declines to attribute the play to him definitely because he is not named as author on either of the MSS. that preserve the play, but plenty of play MSS. fail to record the names of authors.

(46) As noted by McQuillan (p. 8) this is based on a satiric “Cambridge Heraldrie,” which had already been circulating for several years: Calendar of State Papers 59:6567 and British Library, Add. MS. 34218, fol. 163v (reproduced by Nelson, Cambridge [1989], vol. 2, 1243). This document added a fifth emblem, Ignoramus (standing for ignorance, and evidently having nothing to do with Ruggle’s character, except that it may have suggested his name).

(47) Her interpretation was inspired by the extant Prologue, in which Cantabria, or Cambridge personified, has a short dialogue with Aulicus (“Courtier”) in which Aulicus tells her she has been “summoned to perform a duty.” But the MSS. preserve a second Prologue that may have been specifically written for the revival performance at Royston, similar to the second one of Ignoramus.

(48) Risus Anglicanus is not definitely a Cambridge play, but it is commonly assumed to be one.

(49) Samuel Schoenbaum, Annals of English Drama, 975–1700, 2d ed. (London: Routledge, 1964), 113.

(50) Suzanne Gosset, ed., Hierarchomachia: Or, the Anti-bishop (Lewisburg Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1981), 47.

(51) St. John’s College, Oxon., MS 52.1, consisting of 260 numbered pages containing play texts linked by connective narrative tissue. A complete transcript was published by Frederick S. Boas, with the help of W. W. Greg, under the title The Christmas Prince (Malone Society Reprints, Oxford, 1922), and a photographic reproduction of the manuscript has been published with an introduction by Earl Jeffrey Richards as volume 1.11 of the Renaissance Latin Drama in England series (Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms, 1982).

(53) De Pulverea Coniuratione I.305 (

(54) “Ecclesiastica Vitriol: Religious Satire in the 1590s and the Invention of Puritanism,” in The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade, edited by John Alexander Guy, 149–170 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

(55) These three plays seem to have been produced in the order Cornelianum Dolium, Naufragium Ioculare, Valetudinarium. They are considered out of their proper chronological sequence here because it is useful to discuss Cornelianum Dolium and Valetudinarium together.

(56) For details of his suicide, see the documents quoted in Nelson, Cambridge, vol. 1 (1989), 641–643.

(57) Thus (to cite one among countless examples) syphilis is treated with a decidedly grim humor in some of the Latin epigrams of Thomas Campion, himself a physician by profession. See

(58) Abraham Cowley, Naufragium Ioculare, William Johnson, Valetudinarium, Prepared with an Introduction by Hans-Jürgen Weckermann, Renaissance Latin Drama in England 2.18 (Hildesheim, Germany: Georg Olms, 1991), 11.

(59) See Anthony Geraghty, “Wren’s Preliminary Design for the Sheldonian Theatre,” Architectural History 45 (2002): 275–288.

(60) Simo was printed with an attribution to “D. C.,” but there is little doubt that Waterhouse was its true author.