Critical Evaluation

The English poet and critic Algernon Charles Swinburne considered All Fools to be George Chapman’s best comedy. Having proven successful with sophisticated and popular audiences, it was notably revived for performance before King James I on New Year’s Eve night, 1604. All Fools remains one of Chapman’s most skillfully constructed plays, with well-rounded, realistically established characters and a plot that transcends the contrivance of much of Jacobean comedy.

All Fools is based on elements taken from three separate plays by the Roman dramatist Terence, a favorite source of playwrights of the Elizabethan and Jacobean period. The main plot, contrasting two fathers, Gostanzo and Marc Antonio, and their two sons, Valerio and Rinaldo respectively, is adapted from the comedy Heautontimorumenos (163 b.c.e.; The Self-Tormentor, 1598). Substantial additional material is also taken from two other plays by Terence, Adelphoe (160 b.c.e.; The Brothers, 1598) and Eunuchus (163 b.c.e.; The Eunuch, 1598). In addition, Chapman freely adds to his plot, introducing figures of contemporary satire such as the notary and the doctor, in order to skewer the types so prevalent in the comedies of the period.

Chapman does more than simply translate and adapt the classical Roman comedies. He substantially revises and expands his original sources, making the major individual characters more rounded and providing them with additional motivations. While this has the effect of making the comedy more believable and substantial, it also allows Chapman to introduce a moral dimension to the play that is lacking in Terence.

The stock figures of the Roman comedy are guided by simple and often base motivations, in particular lust and avarice. Chapman’s characters, on the other hand, are imbued with the wealth of the Christian and humanist traditions, which makes them more honorable, attractive, and sympathetic. For...

(The entire section is 854 words.)