Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Renaissance)
Article abstract: Best remembered because his translations of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey inspired John Keats to write a well-known sonnet, George Chapman also was a poet and dramatist whose tragedies reflected his classical background.
George Chapman was born about 1559, probably in or near Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England, where his well-connected family had lived for decades. His father, Thomas Chapman, was a local landowner; his mother Joan was the daughter of George Nodes, sergeant of the buckhounds to King Henry VIII and later monarchs. On his mother’s side, Chapman was related to Edward Grimeston, whose family served the English government in France and who wrote A General Inventory of the History of France (1607). The Grimeston relationship probably nurtured Chapman’s interest in France and may explain why most of his tragedies are based on French history.
Little is known of his formal education. There is some evidence that he attended both Oxford and Cambridge Universities, but without taking a degree at either. A late seventeenth century account says that at Oxford, Chapman “was observed to be most excellent in the Latin and Greek tongues,” but his contemporaries did not consider him much of a classicist. They claimed he accomplished his translations of Homer only with considerable dependence upon the works of continental Hellenists, and indeed his work is closer in style...
(The entire section is 2094 words.)
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Biography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Little is known of George Chapman’s life before the publication of The Shadow of Night. He was born near Hitchin, a town in rural Herfordshire, England, around 1559. His parents were Thomas and Joan Chapman. Thomas was wealthy, and Joan was the daughter of George Nodes, who had served Henry VIII. Chapman’s older brother, Thomas, inherited nearly all the family estate, and Chapman was in financial straits for most of his adult life.
In about 1574, George Chapman may have attended a university, possibly Oxford. If he did so, he did not attend for long. He eventually joined Sir Ralph Sabler’s household and was there until 1583 or 1585. From 1591 to 1592, he served in the battles against Spain in the Low Countries. After returning to England, Chapman fell under the influence of a group of prominent young men that included Christopher Marlowe and was nominally led by Sir Walter Ralegh. Their theories about philosophy and the occult provide much of the substance of Chapman’s first poem, The Shadow of Night. With the publication of this poem and Ovid’s Banquet of Sense (1595), Chapman became a prominent poet, but he remained poor.
Much of Chapman’s adult life was marred by periodic imprisonment and battles with creditors. He had bad luck with his patrons, and his plays, even when successful, did not pay him enough to achieve permanent security. In 1600, he was jailed on fraudulent charges of failing to pay his...
(The entire section is 628 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Although George Chapman was born into a fairly wealthy and well-connected family, it was his fate to suffer poverty because he was the younger son. Not much is known about his early years. He spent some time at Oxford but did not take a degree there. After a brief period of service in the household of a nobleman, he saw military action on the Continent, participating in the Low Country campaigns of 1591-1592. His first literary accomplishment was the publication of The Shadow of Night, an esoteric poem reflecting his association with a group of erudite young scholars, including Sir Walter Ralegh, all of whom reputedly dabbled in the occult. His publication of a continuation of Marlowe’s Hero and Leander clearly established his relationship with the ill-fated younger playwright.
His own early career as a playwright barely supported him, and he was imprisoned for debt in 1600. After his release, he attempted to supplement his income from the stage by seeking patronage for his nondramatic poetry. The youthful Prince Henry, a genuine patron of the arts, offered to support Chapman’s proposed translation of the complete works of Homer. Unfortunately, the death of the young prince put an end to such hopes, and Chapman was never to be completely free from the specter of poverty. When he collaborated with Ben Jonson and John Marston on the city comedy Eastward Ho! (pr., pb. 1605), Chapman found himself in prison again, this time for...
(The entire section is 437 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
George Chapman was an important poet, dramatist, and translator during the English Renaissance. He is best remembered as the translator of the works of Homer. His massive accomplishment in the field of drama is respected by scholars, and his original poetry has attracted serious critical attention.
Although the date of his birth, near Hitchin, Hertfordshire, is not certain, he was probably a little older than William Shakespeare and more than a dozen years older than Ben Jonson, his longtime friend and sometime enemy. According to seventeenth century historian Anthony à Wood, Chapman attended one of the universities. Afterward he may have served in the Netherlands with the forces of Sir Francis Vere; if so, he shared another experience with Jonson, for the latter was also a soldier in the Netherlands.
Chapman’s literary career began no later than 1594, for in that year his pair of poems The Shadow of Night was published. Ovid’s Banquet of Sense, an allegorical poem, followed in 1595, and he published his completion of Christopher Marlowe’s Hero and Leander in 1598. In 1596 Chapman launched his dramatic career with the performance of his The Blind Beggar of Alexandria, the first “humour” comedy, by the Admiral’s Men. There followed steady production of dramas, sometimes alone, sometimes with collaborators. Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia (1598) referred to him as one of England’s best...
(The entire section is 524 words.)