George Chapman 1559?-1634
English playwright, poet, and translator.
The following entry presents information on Chapman's plays through 1995.
Remembered as one of the most cerebral of the English Renaissance dramatists, Chapman maintained high artistic standards for himself and for his contemporaries based on a solid foundation of aesthetics found in works of classical antiquity. He is chiefly remembered for complex, philosophically and politically charged tragedies such as Bussy D'Ambois (1604), The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron (1607-08), and The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois (1610-11). Commentators have noted that a central concern in Chapman's works is that of the role of the individual in society, in which the dramatist often imbues his tragic heroes with characteristics of classical Stoicism to accentuate their innate, natural virtuosity within a corrupt social order. Indeed, some critics have maintained that Chapman mastered the depiction of Stoic philosophy in his dramas, surpassing such illustrious contemporaries as Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson. “Unlike any of them,” Marvin J. LaHood has observed, Chapman “grew towards a complete acceptance of Senecan Stoicism and tried to incorporate his beliefs into his dramas. The result was the creation of an Elizabethan hero unique in his strict adherence to a classic creed.”
Chapman's life is not well documented. He was born in Hitchen, Hertfordshire, probably around the year 1559, the second son of a prosperous yeoman and copyholder. His mother was the daughter of a royal huntsman at the court of Henry VIII. Little is known about Chapman's formative years, though it is presumed that he attended the grammar school at Hitchen. Contemporary accounts also indicate that he attended Oxford beginning in 1574, where he is said to have excelled in Greek and Latin. After matriculating at Oxford, Chapman gained employment with a prominent nobleman, Sir Ralph Sadler, with whom he served from 1583 to 1585. Subsequently, he enlisted in Sir Francis Vere's military expedition into the United Provinces, which were engaged in the Eighty Years War. Upon returning to England in 1594, Chapman established residence in London and published his first work, The Shadow of Night: Containing Two Poeticall Hymnes. During this time, he entered Sir Walter Raleigh's circle known as “The School of Night.” This literary group was recognized for its devotion to scientific and philosophical speculation, though it occasionally dabbled in the occult. Toward the end of the 1590s, Chapman also debuted as a dramatist with a pair of comedies, The Blind Beggar of Alexandria (1596) and A Humorous Day's Mirth (1597). These plays were written for the Lord Admiral's Men, a major theatrical company in London. Other comedies followed, written for similar private theatrical companies. By the close of the Elizabethan period, Chapman was widely recognized as a leading dramatist and poet, yet the meager income from the production of his plays forced him to live in poverty. In 1599, his misfortunes led him to relinquish his claim to the family estate for a small cash settlement. The following year, Chapman was imprisoned for debt, the unwitting victim of a fraudulent money-lender.
With the accession of James I to the throne in 1603, Chapman's fortunes suddenly changed when he was given a position in the household of Prince Henry. He continued composing plays, including his last major comedy, Eastward Ho (1605), written in collaboration with Ben Jonson and John Marston. The play's sarcastic political aspersions against policies favored by James I resulted in imprisonment for Chapman and Jonson, though both were soon released. During this period, Chapman also began writing his greatest tragedies, including Bussy D'Ambois, the two-part Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron, and The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois. He also undertook the project of translating into modern English the classical Greek works of Homer. Chapman's translation of the first twelve books of the Iliad appeared in 1611, prefaced by a dedication to Prince Henry, who had endorsed the work with the promise of three hundred pounds and a pension. However, when the young prince died suddenly in 1612, his father failed to fulfill Henry's promise to Chapman. A similar fate befell Chapman's hope in his last patron, Robert Carr, later Earl of Somerset, whose career at court was effectively terminated due to a series of marital scandals. In effect, Chapman remained without a patron for his entire literary career, the financial and professional consequences of which were disastrous. Around 1613, he wrote two more tragedies, Caesar and Pompey and The Tragedy of Chabot, Admiral of France, though there is no indication that they were ever performed in his lifetime. He also completed another translation of Homer's poetry by 1624, but his last few decades were nevertheless spent in relative obscurity. He died on May 12, 1634.
Although rarely performed today, Chapman's plays enjoyed considerable success on the London stage during his lifetime. While it is true that the playwright borrowed heavily from classical sources, he nevertheless succeeded in creating memorable, crowd-pleasing characters who resonated with contemporary theatergoers. Chapman was strongly influenced by the literary principles of Italian Renaissance writers such as Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, who believed that true artistic style should be modeled after works of classical antiquity. He was particularly interested in the philosophy of Stoicism, or the idea that a fully evolved human being should be free from passion, emotionally temperate, and submissive to natural law. While Chapman's reliance on classical sources was not in itself an artistic departure from his contemporaries, he did innovate English Renaissance tragedy by employing recent French history as the subject matter in several of his dramas. Bussy D'Ambois dramatizes the life and execution of a notorious duelist and agitator in the court of Henry IV, who still ruled in France at the time of the play's production. In his tragedy, Chapman imbues the reckless historical figure with the mythic qualities of Hercules and Prometheus, casting Bussy as a self-made, towering individual whose virtue poses a threat to the corrupt French court. However, Bussy's mythic grandeur is undercut by an Achillean short temper, which is used against him by the courtiers to bring about his tragic demise. Similarly, The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron examines the intrigues and eventual execution of a popular French general and courtier who embodies some of the same classical attributes as Bussy. In Byron, Chapman expands on the nascent theme of the individual versus society begun in Bussy D'Ambois, emphasizing the conflict between the traditional feudal ethics of Byron and the Machiavellian political values of Henry IV and his court. In The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, Chapman invents a fictional brother, Clermont, for the historical Bussy, who is urged by Bussy's ghost to exact revenge for his death. In this play, Chapman contributes to the popular stage convention of the Elizabethan revenger made famous by Shakespeare's Hamlet; however, Chapman introduces a new level of sophistication and refinement to the genre in that he makes Clermont a follower of Stoicism, who must choose between opposing philosophical beliefs and familial obligations. Chapman's later tragedies, Caesar and Pompey and The Tragedy of Chabot, Admiral of France, further elaborate on his interest in exploring the paradox of reconciling the stoic hero with his corrupt society. Indeed, these plays underscore the dramatist's pessimistic conception that there is an irreconcilable correlation between classical ethical ideals and the corrupt political values of his own time.
Unlike his tragedies, Chapman's comedies have received scant critical approval despite their general appeal with Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences. While it is true that some commentators have demonstrated that Chapman innovated such genres as the “comedy of humors” (later perfected by Ben Jonson) in A Humorous Day's Mirth and English tragicomedy in The Gentleman Usher (1602-03), others have continued to malign the aesthetic scope of the plays as unoriginal, stylistically confusing, and dramatically incoherent. If critics were generally unsatisfied with the quality of Chapman's comedies, they nearly all recognized the playwright's sophisticated, intellectual, almost doctrinal transformation of classical ideals into compelling tragedies. Yet despite the significant amount of attention devoted to Chapman's major tragedies, there is surprisingly little consensus about what Chapman's artistic objectives were in writing them. Perhaps the most prominent object of critical discussion surrounds Chapman's conception of Stoicism as it is expressed in such dramas as Bussy D'Ambois, The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron, The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, and Caesar and Pompey. The critical debate includes opinions on such issues as the ways in which Chapman manipulated the classical Stoic aesthetic to conform to his Jacobean sensibilities; Chapman's complicated attempt to reconcile the conflict between the contrasting classical ideals of Stoicism and Neoplatonism; and the extent to which Chapman relied on Stoicism in the creation of his tragic heroes. Indeed, one critic, Richard S. Ide (1984) downplayed the significance of Clermont, Chapman's most Stoic tragic hero in The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, positing instead that the dramatist was more concerned with renovating the conventional depiction of the Elizabethan revenge play with his own “neoplatonic esthetic” about how the genre should be represented. Another critic, Ennis Rees (1954), proposed that Chapman prominently incorporates the ideals of Christian humanism into his tragedies with only a minor emphasis on Stoicism. Commentators have observed that Chapman's preoccupation with Stoicism belies a pessimistic interest in the individual and his place in society. These critics have pointed out that the playwright ingeniously developed complex conflicts between an individual (portrayed as a virtuous, plain-spoken—if not too proud—outsider) and society (depicted as the court degraded by intrigue, immorality, and corruption). Further, they have asserted that this paradox is evident in all of Chapman's major tragedies, where the individual eventually succumbs to the social corruption, dies trying to fight it, or both. Chapman's most enduring example of such an individual is the tragic figure of Bussy D'Ambois. As Roger Truscott Burbridge noted, “Bussy's failure can only be ascribed, I think, to the practical impossibility of any positive ideal action in a society riddled with intrigue and artifice; Bussy is heroic material in the wrong place.”
The Blind Beggar of Alexandria 1596
A Humorous Day's Mirth 1597
All Fools 1601
Sir Giles Goosecap 1602
The Gentleman Usher 1602-03
Bussy D'Ambois 1604
Monsieur D'Olive 1604-05
The Widow's Tears 1604-05
Eastward Ho [with Ben Jonson and John Marston] 1605
The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron 1607-08
The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois 1610-11
Caesar and Pompey c. 1613
The Tragedy of Chabot, Admiral of France c. 1613
The Shadow of Night: Containing Two Poeticall Hymnes (poetry) 1594
Ouid's Banquet of Sence. A Coronet for His Mistresse Philosophie, and His Amorous Zodiacke. With a Translation of a Latine Coppie, Written by a Fryer, Anno Dom. 1400 (poetry) 1595
Hero and Leander [parts 1 and 2 by Christopher Marlowe, parts 3-6 by Chapman] (poetry) 1598
The Illiads of Homer [translator] (poetry) 1611
Homer's Odysses [translator] (poetry) 1614-1615
The Whole Works of Homer; In His Illiads, and Odysses [translator] (poetry) 1616
The Plays and...
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Criticism: General Commentary
SOURCE: MacLure, Millar. “Tragedy.” In George Chapman: A Critical Study, pp. 108-57. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1966.
[In the following essay, MacLure provides a comprehensive survey of Chapman's tragedies, demonstrating that the playwright displays a marked conflict between pedantic knowledge and creative imagination in his works.]
Chapman's definition of tragedy is frequently quoted, with or without the reservation that it does not necessarily describe his own contributions to the genre:
Poor envious souls they are that cavil at truth's want in these natural fictions; material instruction, elegant and sententious excitation to virtue, and deflection from her contrary, being the soul, limbs and limits of an autentical tragedy.
A highly characteristic utterance, complete with physiological analogy, moral energy, and contempt for such poor creatures as might take any other view, though it echoes pretty closely some Jonsonian phrases in the preface to Sejanus: “truth of Argument,” “gravity and height of Elocution,” “fulnesse and frequency of Sentence,” with the end of “imitating justice and instructing to life.” As two recent books on Jacobean tragedy1 remind us, the post-Senecan and post-morality tragedy of the Jacobean age was bound to try good and evil by the assay of rhetoric in...
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SOURCE: LaHood, Marvin J. “Chapman's Stoicism.” Lock Haven Review, no. 9 (1967): 8-15.
[In the essay below, LaHood discusses Chapman's experimentation with Senecan Stoicism from inception in Bussy D'Ambois to maturation in The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois.]
George Chapman (1559-1634) is sometimes ignored, often misunderstood, and almost always underrated by literary historians. His life spans the rise, fruition, and decay of the greatest dramatic age in the history of English literature. A student at Oxford, he may have attended Cambridge as well. He did not begin to write plays until he was thirty-seven; this is reflected in the highly circumspective tone of much of his drama. An important translator of Homer, he was also influenced by him. Jonson was a close friend, and with him and Marston, Chapman wrote a fine comedy, Eastward Ho. Like Jonson, he knew and loved the classics, and believed in the high seriousness of the dramatist's vocation. Jonson told Drummond of Hawthornden that “next myself, only Fletcher and Chapman can make a masque.” He completed Marlowe's Hero and Leander, and created a Marlovian hero in Bussy D'Ambois. In his last plays, Chapman drew on contemporary French history for a framework around which he wove a sometimes brilliant, sometimes obscure web of philosophical thought. He died on May 12, 1634; his grave is marked by a monument erected by his friend...
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SOURCE: MacPherson, David C. “Chapman's Adaptations of New Comedy.” In English Miscellany: A Symposium of History Literature and the Arts Vol. 19, edited by Mario Praz, pp. 51-64. Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 1968.
[In the following essay, MacPherson examines the satiric aspects of All Fools and May-Day, asserting that Chapman was neither highly imitative of his classical sources nor was he overly influenced by the harsh “comicall satyre” of his peers.]
Although George Chapman is best known for his translations of Homer and for his tragedies, his eight comedies are significant achievements also. Aside from their obvious value as delightful entertainment, the comedies repay study because, in the context of the times and the genre, they are surprisingly original1. While Chapman was clearly interested in the tradition of New Comedy, he considered the Ancients and the Italians his guides, not commanders. It is true that Terence is the source of All Fools (1599-1604) and Alessandro Piccolomini's Alessandro (1543-44) is the source of May-Day (c. 1602)2; but Chapman's plays are so different from their sources that, after close study, one is impressed far more by his bold alterations than by the fact that he is borrowing plots. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the effect of his changes is essentially the same in All...
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SOURCE: Monsarrat, Gilles D. “George Chapman: Necessity and Suicide.” In Light from the Porch: Stoicism and English Renaissance Literature Collection Études Anglaises, Vol. 86, pp. 189-221. Paris: Didier-Érudition, 1984.
[In the essay below, Monsarrat maintains that while Chapman created a “full-fledged Stoic” in Clermont in The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, there is little evidence to suggest that the playwright utilized Stoic philosophy in any other of his dramatic works.]
George Chapman's early poems and plays do not reveal any interest in Stoic philosophy. The Shadow of Night (1594) was born of the cult of melancholy, a most unstoic attitude. Sacred Night is a “house of mourning” into which the poet invites his readers to “weepe, weepe [their] soules, into felicitie” with him.1 Though Chapman claims in “Hymnus in Noctem” that “Sweete Peaces richest crowne is made of starres” (l. 374), he does not seem to have found true peace in nocturnal melancholy but, only several years later, in the Stoicism of Epictetus. Ovids Banquet of Sence (1595) is a difficult poem and we need only concern ourselves with a group of stanzas that form a “digression” on “contentment”. The joys composed of “beautie ioyned with loue”
Are armes more proofe gainst any griefe we proue, Then all their vertue-scorning miserie Or...
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Criticism: Bussy D'Ambois
SOURCE: Waddington, Raymond B. “Prometheus and Hercules: The Dialectic of Bussy D'Ambois.” ELH 34, no. 1 (March 1967): 21-48.
[In the following essay, Waddington examines the mythic structure of Bussy D'Ambois, detailing how analogies to Prometheus and Hercules serve to underscore Bussy's tragic failure.]
Bussy D'Ambois projects natural man into the fallen world to demonstrate that he cannot survive by nature alone. The given of man's existence is the world of evil that Chapman anatomized in The Shadow of Night nearly a decade earlier. This pair of hymns, particularly the first, provide a useful gloss upon the dramatic milieu of Bussy. The “Hymnvs in Noctem” laments the loss of the primal order and harmony that existed when night held sway over all things. Exploiting the paradox that the original chaos was order and the present order is chaotic, Chapman attributes the failure of man's vision to the presence of a “stepdame Night,” blindness of the mind. Now men are “manlesse,” transformed by passion to “Calydonian bores,” afflicted with ambition or “cursed auarice,” as tyranny, rape, bondage mark the boundaries of the human condition. Chapman symbolically forms his plea for a regeneration of virtue by appealing to the great mythological figures for aid in arousing man from his complacent bestiality. He invokes the “dreadfull and the iust...
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SOURCE: Orange, Linwood E. “Bussy D'Ambois: The Web of Pretense.” Southern Quarterly 8, no. 1 (October 1969): 37-56.
[In the essay below, Orange maintains that Chapman intentionally created Bussy as a blunt soldier—a stock character in Elizabethan drama, but never before a protagonist—to establish a clear dichotomy between the forthright tragic hero and the corrupt, deceitful court.]
What is to be thought of a tragic protagonist who speaks derogatorily of persons of high station one moment and the next allies himself with a powerful ambitious lord who promises advancement? Who feels himself so blemished by some casual banter that he brushes apology aside and needlessly brings death to five young men? Who boasts that as the king's “eagle” he will cleanse the court and prey upon such evils as worldly clergymen of “luxurious gut” (III ii 43) immediately after he has employed a priest as a pander in an illicit affair?1 Who dies ingloriously at the hands of cut-throats hired by the outraged husband of his mistress, but whose remains are described as “brave relics of a complete man” (V iv 147)? Understandably critics are not in agreement [about Chapman's Bussy D'Ambois].
To Parrott, Bussy “is the very incarnation of virtus, as the Romans understood it, ‘the sum of all the bodily and mental excellences of man,’”2 who...
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SOURCE: Burbridge, Roger Truscott. “Speech and Action in Chapman's Bussy D'Ambois.” Tennessee Studies in Literature 17 (1972): 59-65.
[In the following essay, Burbridge argues that despite Chapman's efforts to unite language and action in Bussy D'Ambois, he succeeds in representing “the constructive force of virtue only in words, not in deeds.”]
Early in the first act of Bussy D'Ambois, Bussy justifies his entering the corrupt world of the court by announcing:
I am for honest actions, not for great: If I may bring up a new fashion, And rise in Court with virtue, speed his [Monsieur's] plough.
In the rest of this speech Bussy prepares the audience for a struggle between his virtue and the “policy” of Monsieur and other politicians of the court. As the play progresses, however, this conflict between good and evil is blurred by the action, as well as by the inaction, of the hero. We are told by everyone in the play that Bussy has superior strength and virtue, yet his actions fall far short of the standards indicated by the various comments made about him both by others and by himself. He becomes, in fact, a murderer and an adulterer, and he is exposed by the very people he has determined to purge from the court. Yet trapped though he is by circumstances, everything that is said by...
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SOURCE: Ide, Richard S. “Bussy D'Ambois and the Quest for Virtue.” In Possessed with Greatness: The Heroic Tragedies of Chapman and Shakespeare, pp. 75-101. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1980.
[In the essay below, Ide discusses Bussy as a complex tragic hero who—through his quest for virtue—reestablishes heroic idealism in a society degraded by pessimism and moral corruption.]
The term “heroic tragedy” seems especially appropriate to Chapman's Bussy D'Ambois, for it reflects accurately both the moral ambiguity of the soldier-hero's behavior and the nature of his tragic conflict with society. Bussy's attempt to unmetaphor an epic conception of self leads to astonishing yet morally reprehensible actions that are incompatible with society's standards of acceptable behavior. Although Chapman's heroic tragedy is set in France in the 1570s and purports to be a historical biography, Bussy's conflict with society appears to be influenced by Essex's tragedy at the turn of the century in England, and Bussy's astonishing behavior is directly related to the heroic areté of Homer's Achilles. Like Essex—the hero to whom Chapman dedicated his 1598 Iliads—Bussy is a “contemporary Achilles,” a hero of epic prowess who is tragically displaced in a nonheroic milieu.
Since 1598, however, apparently owing to Essex's tragic blunder and...
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SOURCE: Krasner, James N. “The Tragedy of Bussy D'Ambois and the Creation of Heroism.” Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism, and Reviews, Vol. 4, edited by Leeds Barroll, pp. 107-21. New York: AMS Press, 1989.
[In the following essay, Krasner argues that Chapman attempts to reconcile two conflicting conceptions of the artist in Bussy D'Ambois: “the artist as political myth-maker and the artist as aesthetic creator.”]
Bussy D'Ambois has frequently been referred to as a hero of epic proportions. The relationship between Chapman's understanding of the epic hero and his portrayal of Bussy, a tragic hero in a degenerate time, has already been insightfully examined by Richard Ide in his book Possessed with Greatness.1 But Ide neglects to discuss Chapman's view of the relationship between artist and hero that so thoroughly informs The Tragedy of Bussy D'Ambois. The major conflict in the play is not between two different visions of the hero but between two different visions of the hero-making artist. Both Bussy and Monsieur attempt to transform a man into a legend with words, but while Monsieur is more politically adept, Bussy's superior poetic craftsmanship assures him the artistic victory. Bussy becomes a hero for his words rather than his deeds, and political heroism is shown to be insignificant when compared...
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Criticism: The Conspiracy And Tragedy Of Charles, Duke Of Byron
SOURCE: Demers, Patricia. “The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles Duke of Byron: The Evaporation of Honour.” Renaissance and Reformation 11, no. 2 (1975): 85-96.
[In the essay below, Demers examines evaporation imagery in Byron, relating it to the protagonist's gradual tragic fall through the course of the two dramas.]
… see in his revolt how honour's flood Ebbs into air, when men are great, not good.(1)
Charles de Gontaut, Duke of Byron, is no reincarnation of Bussy D'Ambois. The superficial similarities he bears to Chapman's earlier hero only serve to outline more clearly the distance between them. The Prologue awards him the status of an autumnal star (1. 12) and a fanfare of loud music (I. ii) announces his entrance—so unlike the posthumous stellification and quiet choric self-introduction of Bussy. Byron approaches the discontented La Fin, “alone, and heavy countenanc'd” (II. i. 54), in a way reminiscent of Monsieur's approach to Bussy, just as La Fin's description of the chaotic influence of the moon (III. i. 6-16) recalls the lunar control of Monsieur's imagistic delineation of Bussy's “great heart” (Bussy D'Ambois, I. ii. 138-146). But in The Conspiracy the roles of victimizer and prey are reversed, and the mention of the moon is not part of an ominous encomium but of an admitted lure. It is Byron who is played upon when he commiserates...
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SOURCE: Craig, Jane Melbourne. “Chapman's Two Byrons.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 22, no. 2 (spring 1982): 271-83.
[In the following essay, Craig maintains that Chapman intentionally depicted Byron as a divided character who presents a constantly shifting perspective between the concepts of Platonism and Christianity.]
The protagonist of George Chapman's The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles Duke of Byron (1608) is an arrogant, imperceptive military leader who conspires with the enemies of his good king to renew a disastrous civil war, yet delivers brilliant speeches that proclaim the dignity of man. It is unfruitful to compare him to other military heroes such as Coriolanus or Othello, who like him are manipulated by lesser men, because contradictions in their natures, revealed by the dramatic action, are nevertheless believable as aspects of character, whereas the contradiction in Byron is presentational. His speeches reveal a quality of mind inconsistent not only with his actions, but also with his apparent lack of comprehension. There is a somewhat comparable contradiction in Bussy D'Ambois in which Bussy's unimpressive actions onstage are set against extravagant praise of him by other characters, but the contradiction in Byron is more compressed, originating directly from the character himself.
Several critics have commented on the inconsistency of...
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SOURCE: Leggatt, Alexander. “Tone and Structure in Chapman's Byron.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 24, no. 2 (spring 1984): 307-26.
[In the essay below, Leggatt posits that Byron should be more fully considered as two separate plays rather than as one long ten-act drama, arguing that Chapman employed a distinct shift in tone from the comedic to the tragic in order to distinguish the two plays.]
To a degree unusual in the criticism of Elizabethan two-part plays, Chapman's The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron has been treated as a single work. Derek Crawley describes it simply as “a ten-act play,”1 and this view is widely shared. Inevitably, it has caused problems in responding to the ending of the first play, Byron's Conspiracy. James Smith sees the break between the two plays as “an artificial contrivance,”2 suggesting that the ending of the first play, in which Byron repents and is forgiven by the King, is also artificial. In cases where a two-part play can be regarded as both one work and two, no such problem arises. The battle of Shrewsbury resolves enough of the issues of Henry IV, Part One—notably the competition between Hal and Hotspur—that it can be seen as a satisfactory ending; at the same time it leaves enough unfinished business that it also seems a pause in a larger, continuing action. The truce...
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SOURCE: Braunmuller, A. R. “Rare Virtues and Their Impair in The Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron.” In Natural Fictions: George Chapman's Major Tragedies, pp. 83-107. London: Associated University Presses, 1992.
[In the following essay, Braunmuller analyzes the “intellectual complexity” of Byron, detailing how Chapman employed various themes, images, and forms of dialogue to create an incoherent milieu in which “Byron's character and Henry's court make perception and judgment unstable and shifting.”]
Byron's Conspiracy ends with a curious comic scene, displaying Savoy's discomfiture when he fails in sophisticated badinage with three court ladies. King Henry, the newly-reconciled Byron, and other courtiers observe the scene, commenting upon it as if it were a dramatic episode played for their benefit:
Sir, if it please you to be taught any courtship take you to your stand; Savoy is at it with three mistresses at once; he loves each of them best, yet all differently.
For the time he hath been here, he hath talked a volume greater than the Turk's Alcoran; stand up close; his lips go still.
Eventually, Savoy takes an embarrassed though not inelegant leave and flees to his native land. After some jests concerning Savoy's imitation of D'Auvergne's...
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SOURCE: Venet, Gisèle. “Baroque Space and Time in Chapman's Tragedy: The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Byron.” In French Essays on Shakespeare and His Contemporaries: “What Would France with Us?,” edited by Jean-Marie Maguin and Michèle Willems, pp. 304-13. London: Associated University Presses, 1995.
[In the essay below, Venet considers Byron “the story of the great contradictions of the baroque era,” especially the opposition between medieval feudal values and Renaissance political values.]
The Conspiracie and Tragedie of Charles Duke of Byron, Marshall of France. Acted in two playes at the Black-Friers is a bipartite play, as the title of the immediately published 1608 text indicates. Chapman's play is the tragedy of a double world as well as that of a divided universe.
First, it is a tragedy of the present, staging real events of contemporary history—from 1599 to 1602—in the France of King Henry IV, who was still alive at the time Chapman was writing. The work coexists in its fictional form with the historical tragedy being played out in the century, years in which violent changes heralded new national spaces and new historical times. Janine Garrisson, a French historian of this period, sees the drama played between Byron and Henry IV as an account of the conflict between two worlds, that of feudal France, made incarnate in Byron,1 and...
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Criticism: The Revenge Of Bussy D'Ambois
SOURCE: Rees, Ennis. “The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois.” In The Tragedies of George Chapman: Renaissance Ethics in Action, pp. 93-125. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1954.
[In the essay below, Rees contends that Chapman imbued the character of Clermont in The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois with his own Christian humanist values, concluding that the playwright's ultimate objective was the moral instruction of his audience.]
In the chapters on Bussy and Byron we saw how Chapman employed cautionary examples to illustrate his doctrine of virtue. In the three tragedies that remain for our consideration—The Revenge, Caesar and Pompey, and Chabot—the poet used a more direct, and to some readers a less dramatic, mode of presentation. These are the plays in which Chapman undertook a more positive statement of his ethical philosophy by embodying as much of it as he could in dramatic characters of exemplary moral stature.
Since Chapman emphasized the didactic in the Tamburlaine convention, surely we should expect at least an equal emphasis when he undertakes the bloodiest and most “irrational” of Elizabethan genres, the tragedy of revenge. The hero of The Revenge, Clermont D'Ambois, is far indeed from being the slave of his passions blinded by lust for his enemy's blood; nor is he a baffled, tortured Hamlet, though he is much...
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SOURCE: Bement, Peter. “The Stoicism of Chapman's Clermont D'Ambois.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 12, no. 2 (spring 1972): 345-57.
[In the following essay, Bement considers how Chapman manipulated the two principal divergent ideals of Stoicism—namely, action versus contemplation—in the character of Clermont to create a “heroic reformer” who performs “nobly and virtuously what is normally understood to be a violent and bloody action in the midst of a vicious world.”]
There is in all of George Chapman's work a high moral idealism coupled with an overwhelming sense of the world's hostility to true virtue. In poems like The Shadow of Night, this makes itself felt as a dedication to the other-worldly ideals of neoplatonic mysticism and a retired life of study, contemplation rather than action. But Chapman seems nonetheless to have been fascinated by the world of action and the public men who inhabit it, and in his tragedies particularly, he probes the possibilities of achieving virtue in the active life, confronting the “goodness” of virtue with the “greatness” of a life inevitably tainted by money, politics, and sex.1 Bussy D'Ambois's abandonment of the contemplative life in an attempt to “rise in court with virtue” had led to tragic failure,2 but it does usefully illustrate the nature of Chapman's ethical concerns in the tragedies. The...
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SOURCE: Demers, Patricia. “Chapman's The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois: Fixity and the Absolute Man.” Renaissance and Reformation 12, no. 1 (1976): 12-20.
[In the essay below, Demers contends that Clermont in The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois represents a Stoic absolutism in the midst of the corrupt and chaotic French court, elevating Chapman's play from a mere revenge tragedy to a kind of morality play.]
In all successes Fortune and the day To me alike are; I am fix'd, be she Never so fickle; …(1)
In a world where man is insignificant “unless he be a politician” (I. ii. 141), Clermont D'Ambois, the most reluctant and unlikely of avengers, devotes himself quite assiduously to being “no politician” and “no lawyer” (IV. i. 48, 57). However, his significance is not to be doubted. He does not suffer for being no “great and politicke man … [who] Never explores himself to find his faults.”2 Moreover, he offers no pale recastings of the desire to enjoy fame in a statue; hence, he is also unlike the “sleight man” who stands “Starke as a statue” and “Whose learning formes not lifes integritie.”3 His lack of such greatness and sleightness seems commendable indeed. But Chapman's gleanings from Wolfius's Epictetus furnish more than foils for his Senecal hero. The poetry he composed at about the same time as the play corroborates...
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SOURCE: Kistler, Suzanne F. “‘Strange and Far-Removed Shores’: A Reconsideration of The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois.” Studies in Philology 77, no. 2 (spring 1980): 128-44.
[In the following essay, Kistler takes exception to the prevailing critical perception of Clermont as a Stoic avenger in The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois. The critic maintains, instead, that the “revenger's deed represents not the triumph but the defeat of his ideals, just as his suicide betrays a mortally damaged spirit.”]
Few critics claim that Shakespeare was the inspiration for the character of Hamlet, and fewer still find Kyd mirrored in Hieronimo, or Marston in Antonio. We dismiss such suggestions, which occasionally crop up in undergraduate classrooms, as patently naïve. Yet for some seventy years now, no one has challenged the critical cliché that George Chapman's Stoic revenger, Clermont D'Ambois, is a spokesman for the playwright himself. Aside from its simplism, obvious difficulties arise from this approach to The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, notably with the character of Clermont himself, who is preachy, pedantic, and a bit of a prig. Surely it is odd for Chapman to be so inept at dramatizing his own views. Again, what are we to think when he puts into Clermont's mouth a stirring defense of the St. Bartholomew Massacre? And the fundamental contradiction in a Stoic's undertaking “so irrational a...
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SOURCE: Ide, Richard S. “Exploiting the Tradition: The Elizabethan Revenger as Chapman's ‘Complete Man.’” In Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England: An Annual Gathering of Research, Criticism, and Reviews 1, edited by J. Leeds Barroll III, pp. 159-72. New York: AMS Press, 1984.
[In the essay below, Ide argues that Chapman's purpose in writing The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois was to renovate the conventional depiction of the Elizabethan revenge play with his own “neoplatonic esthetic” about how the genre should be represented.]
Criticism of Chapman's The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois has recently completed a remarkable turnabout. Formerly, critics were wont to view The Revenge as a heroic tragedy in which an exemplary hero—whether Bowers's “English gentleman,” Wieler's “Stoical man,” or Rees's “Christian Stoic”—is victimized by fallen men in a corrupt world.1 With the luminous portrayal of Clermont D'Ambois set against the degenerate French court, Chapman is able to promote the “material instruction, elegant and sententious excitation to virtue, and deflection from her contrary” which he believed to be “the soul, limbs, and limits of an autentical tragedy.”2 At about the same time that this critical consensus was being reached, however, M. Jacquot was announcing his misgivings about Clermont's exemplary stature and unwittingly...
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Bement, Peter. George Chapman: Action and Contemplation in His Tragedies. Jacobean Drama Studies 8, edited by James Hogg. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Englishe Sprache und Literatur, 1974, 292 p.
Maintains that Chapman's intellectual approach to addressing the theme of action and contemplation in his tragedies transcends the typical pedantic doctrine on the subject from the English Renaissance period.
Crawley, Derek. Character in Relation to Action in the Tragedies of George Chapman. Jacobean Drama Studies, Vol. 16, edited by James Hogg. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Englishe Sprache und Literatur, 1974, 202 p.
Traces the maturation of Chapman's character development in his tragedies, arguing that this progression positively influenced the structure, rhetoric, and unity of his plays.
Florby, Gunilla. The Painful Passage to Virtue: A Study of George Chapman's The Tragedy of Bussy D'Ambois and The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois. Lund, Sweden: CWK Gleerup, 1982, 265 p.
In-depth textual analysis of Chapman's two Bussy plays, emphasizing the “subtle tensions between adaptation and source.”
Grant, Thomas M. The Comedies of George Chapman: A Study in Development. Jacobean Drama Studies 5, edited by James Hogg. Salzburg, Austria: Institut für Englishe...
(The entire section is 586 words.)