Nicholas Udall 1504-1556
English playwright, essayist, and translator.
Udall has been hailed as the “father of English comedy.” His play Ralph Roister Doister (1552), which adheres to a classical five-act structure and draws on the Roman comedies of Plautus and Terence, is credited with establishing the foundation for English Renaissance comedy, which reached a peak with writers such as William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. In addition, Udall's translations of works by Terence and Erasmus were some of the most widely read books of the Elizabethan period.
There is some conflicting information concerning his birth, but it is believed that Udall was born in Southampton sometime in December 1504. He started his studies at Oxford in 1520, and received a Bachelors of Art degree in 1524. His leanings toward Protestant beliefs are evidenced by his being named as a person receiving illicit books, including William Tyndale's English translation of the New Testament. Udall left Oxford in 1529. In 1533, verses he composed with John Leland were included in the pageant celebrating the coronation of Anne Boleyn. The following year marked a turning point in Udall's career: his book, Floures for Latine Spekynge (1534), consisting of passages from Terence translated by Udall, was adopted for use in schools to teach Latin; it continued to be an important text for fifty years. Udall was named the headmaster of Eton in 1535 but left in disgrace in 1541. The circumstances of his departure are murky, but Udall was imprisoned for a brief time, charged with disposing of chapel ornaments. Some scholars suggest that the incident indicates Udall's participation in the removal of images from churches, a more radical Protestant activity than was currently tolerated. The affair did not appear to harm his career, however; his next major work, Apophthegmes, a translation of parts of Erasmus's Apophthegemeta, was published the following year. He also began to enjoy the favor of Queen Catherine Parr, who contracted him to begin a translation of Erasmus's Paraphrase of the New Testament. Princess Mary, with help from her tutor, contributed to this work, which was published as The first tome or volume of the Paraphrase of Erasmus upon the Newe Testamente in 1548. Udall continued producing translations and scholarly works in the succeeding years, and was awarded two ecclesiastical positions. He was appointed headmaster of St. Peter's Grammar School in Westminster the year before his death in 1556.
Udall's best-known work, Ralph Roister Doister, is regarded as a significant work in the development of English drama, among the first English plays to utilize a classical five-act structure and the first to apply that structure to a unified action following a classical design. Udall borrowed from classical writings in composing Ralph Roister Doister, adapting elements from Terence's Eunuchus and Plautus's Miles Gloriosus, and blending them with traditional English materials. This mixing of the vernacular with the classical also had a profound influence on later playwrights. Among the other plays attributed to Udall, Thersites (1537), Respublica (c. 1553-55), and Jacob and Esau (c. 1547-57) are rooted in Terentian comedy, while Jack Juggler (c. 1547-57) is adapted from Plautus's Amphitruo. Udall's interest in Terence is further seen in Floures for Latine Spekynge, which provides passages from Terence that Udall felt would be useful in not only learning the Latin language, but would also be enjoyed for the beauty of the written passages. Its wide use as a textbook meant that it became a significant avenue by which Terence's works influenced the development of later English playwrights. Among Udall's other works, The Paraphrase of Erasmus was important to contemporary audiences for providing biblical commentary in English to accompany the English translations of the Bible, which were just beginning to appear.
Much of the critical attention paid to Udall through the years has focused on Ralph Roister Doister. Seen as a pioneering and innovative work, the play has been examined in the context of the development of English drama; its structure has been analyzed, its use of classical and native English materials has been investigated, and its impact on later playwrights has been assessed. Similarly, Floures for Latine Spekynge has been viewed as an important influence on subsequent generations of English writers. With this and his other translations, scholars note, Udall made a significant contribution to the development of English, demonstrating its capacity as a literary language. Furthermore, Udall's selection of materials to translate, most notably works by Erasmus, has been seen as making a valuable contribution to the spread of Reformist thought in England.
*Floures for Latine Spekynge Selected and Gathered Oute of Terence (prose) 1534
†A New Enterlude Called Thersytes [Thersites] (play) 1537
Apophthegmes, that is to saie, prompte, quicke, wittie and sentencious saiynges of certain Emperours, Kynges Capitaines, Philosophiers and Oratours, as well Grekes, as Romaines … First gathered and compiled in Latine by the ryght famous clerke Maister Erasmus of Roterodame. And now translated into Englyshe by N. Udall [translator] (prose) 1542
†A Newe Mery and Wittie Comedie or Enterlude, Newely Imprinted. Treating upon the Historie of Jacob and Esau [Jacob and Esau] (play) c. 1547-57
†A New Enterlued for Chyldren to Playe, Named Jacke Jugeler [Jack Juggler] (play) c. 1547-57
The first tome or volume of the Paraphrase of Erasmus upon the Newe Testamente [translator; with Mary Tudor and Thomas Key] (prose) 1548
A Discourse or Traictise of Petur Martyr Vermill a Floretine, Wherein He Declared His Iudgemente Concernynge the Sacrament of the Lordes Supper [translator] (prose) 1550
Ralph Roister Doister (play) 1552
Compendiosa Totius Anatomie Delineatio, ære exarata per T. Geminum [translator] (prose) 1553
†Respublica (play) c. 1553-55
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SOURCE: Peery, William. “The Prayer for the Queen in Roister Doister.” Studies in English 27 (1948): 222-33.
[In the following essay, Peery considers the prayer at the close of Ralph Roister Doister, arguing that it is addressed to Queen Mary, rather than Queen Elizabeth, as is often assumed. This contention has implications for the dating of the play and the authorship of the prayer.]
The prayer for the queen and estates1 which brings Ralph Roister Doister to a close raises two problems: for whom was it offered, and who wrote it? Though these are admittedly not major issues, they have been so often clouded that they merit further study. To answer the related questions of application and authorship is the purpose of this paper.
Most scholars—including Cooper, Arber, Hazlitt, Ward, Flügel, Chambers, Farmer, Child, Schweikert, and Greg2—have held the opinion that the prayer was offered for Elizabeth. Two, Lee and Scheurweghs,3 find the prayer applicable to either Mary or Elizabeth. Only a few4 have taken the prayer as one for Mary.
Why have almost all students of Udall applied the prayer to Elizabeth? Cooper and Schweikert give no reason beyond their assumption, probably correct, that the text of the play as we have it was printed during Elizabeth's reign.5 Arber, Hazlitt, Ward, and...
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SOURCE: Plumstead, A. W. “Satirical Parody in Roister Doister: A Reinterpretation.” Studies in Philology 60, no. 2 (April 1963): 141-54.
[In the following essay, Plumstead reads Ralph Roister Doister as a parody of medieval chivalric heroes.]
Professor Ewald Flugel has called Nicholas Udall “the father of English comedy,” and according to Allardyce Nicoll, Ralph Roister Doister is “the first complete English comedy designed for public performance in London.”1 Critical discussions of the play, however, have been largely concerned with its date, its sources, and its adaptation of the characters and techniques of Plautus and Terence to the English stage.2 Because of Udall's blending of Roman and “native” English elements, Roister Doister has now settled into a comfortable niche in surveys of Pre-Shakespearean drama as an important transitional step in the growth and structure of English Renaissance comedy which reached its peak in Shakespeare and Jonson.
There is a dimension of Roister Doister, however, which has been overlooked—one which lends more humor and meaning to the play, making it a better comedy in its own right, and one which adds further commentary on the times and the direction that English comedy was to take. References in the play to knights and chivalric conventions...
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SOURCE: Edgerton, William L. “Floures for Latine Spekynge,” “Apophthegmes,” and “The Paraphrase of Erasmus.” In Nicholas Udall, pp. 68-81. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1965.
[In the first essay below, Edgerton analyzes Floures for Latine Spekynge in terms of what it reveals about Tudor education and as its relationship to Ralph Roister Doister. In the second and third essays, he examines Udall's intentions and style in his translations of Erasmus.]
FLOURES FOR LATINE SPEKYNGE
Floures for Latine Spekynge probably gives a better understanding of what actually was studied by Tudor schoolboys than the much better known Schoolmaster, by Roger Ascham. Floures is not a scolding admonition, by a schoolmaster who never taught in grammar schools, of what should be taught; but a good example of what the Tudor schoolboy actually studied. In fact, a perusal of Floures explains to some extent that love of words and sometimes exhausting prolixity that are characteristic of Tudor writing. The careful scholarship behind the Floures is attested to by the fact that much of the book was used in a famous Latin-English dictionary of 1548: Thomas Cooper's Bibliotheca Eliotae. In a preface to this work (which was re-issued in 1552 and 1559) Cooper wrote “To the learned man Udall, by whose scholarly...
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SOURCE: Nethercot, Arthur H. “Nicholas Udall.” In Elizabethan Plays, edited by Arthur H. Nethercot, Charles R. Baskervil and Virgil B. Heltzel, pp. 1-4. New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, Inc., 1971.
[In the following essay, Nethercot discusses Udall's career and examines his major work, Ralph Roister Doister.]
One day in the early nineteenth century the Reverend Thomas Briggs attended a public auction of books and came away with what has so far turned out to be a unique copy, in black letter, of Roister Doister, which shares with Gammer Gurton's Needle the somewhat misleading designation of “the first regular English comedy.” “Regular” would seem to many historians of English drama to mean that it followed the established classical rules or principles.
Sometime between July 22, 1566, and July 22, 1567, the Register of the stationers, printers, and booksellers of London recorded a fee of fourpence as “Recevyd of Thomas hackett for his lycence for pryntinge of a play intituled Rauf Ruyster Duster, etc.” Since Briggs's copy lacked either a title page or a colophon, it was fortunate that Thomas Wilson, an old Etonian pupil of Nicholas Udall's, in the third edition of The Rule of Reason, Containing the Art of Logic (1553), had printed, as an example of the vast difference punctuation can make in the meaning of a text, the garbled letter which Ralph...
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SOURCE: Axton, Marie. “Thersites.” In Three Tudor Classical Interludes: Thersites, Jacke Jugeler, Horestes, edited by Marie Axton, pp. 5-15. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1982.
[In the following essay, Axton examines the drama Thersites and compares Udall's work with earlier versions of the story.]
Thersites [hereafter abbreviated as T] has plenty of action but little plot. The cowardly anti-hero sets off for war with swaggering words and a Herculean club, browbeating Mulciber into forging him some armour. Loftily resisting his Mother's entreaties to stay at home, he shows his valour in combat with a passing snail, but soon takes refuge in Mater's skirts when an honest English soldier appears. A letter comes from Ulysses, delivered by his son, Telemachus, begging his old enemy to intercede with Mater: her aid is sought in curing Telemachus of the worms. Thersites now berates his Mother, knocking her about the stage till her curses change to blessings and she undertakes the successful cure of the well-behaved boy. Ungrateful and preposterous as ever, her own son Thersites launches into a Skeltonic tirade against the old ‘witch’ until he is finally apprehended by the return of the English soldier and runs off leaving his club and sword. Miles points the moral.
SOURCES AND BACKGROUND
To take such an ignominious legendary figure as the...
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SOURCE: Norland, Howard B. “Roister Doister and the ‘Regularizing’ of English Comedy.” Genre 18, no. 4 (1985): 323-34.
[In the following essay, Norland examines Ralph Roister Doister in light of its innovation and mode of story telling.]
Roister Doister is traditionally considered to be “the first regular English comedy.”1 This designation seems to result primarily from the play's observance of the five-act structure and its perceived imitation of Latin comedy. It is not, of course, the first English comedy; England's first extant secular play, Medwall's Fulgens and Lucres, performed more than fifty years earlier, has a better claim to that title. And it is not the first play in England to use the five-act structure; Grimald's Archipropheta, composed in 1546-47, adopted it. It may also not be the first English play to imitate Latin comedy; Jacke Juggeler which announces in its prologue its indebtedness to Plautus's “first commedie,” Amphitruo, may precede Roister Doister by a year or two. Roister Doister may be the most fully developed comedy to be produced in England before the reign of Elizabeth; however, it is not as “regular” a comedy nor as “English” as Baldwin and other critics believed.
Though some earlier scholars thought the play was written during Nicholas Udall's tenure as...
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SOURCE: Pittenger, Elizabeth. “‘To Serve the Queere’: Nicholas Udall, Master of Revels.” In Queering the Renaissance, edited by Jonathan Goldberg, pp. 162-89. Durham: Duke University Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Pittenger examines material connected with Udall and attempts to gain insight into his suspected relationships with his pupils.]
Thence for my voice, I must (no choice) Away of forse, like posting horse, For sundrie men, had plagards then, such childe to take: The better brest, the lesser rest, To serve the Queere, now there now heere, For time so spent, I may repent, and sorrow make. … From Paules I went, to Eaton sent, To learne streight waies, the latin phraies, Where fiftie three, stripes given to mee, at once I had: For fault but small, or none at all, It came to pas, thus beat I was, See Udall see, the mercie of thee, to me poore lad.(1)
The Authors life of his owne penning,” written by Thomas Tusser for the introduction to his Fiue hundred pointes of good Husbandrie (1573), is a generic example of autobiographical writing that recalls the experiences of a schoolboy.2 The conventional topics—being selected for the choir (“Queere”), going on from Petty school to higher forms (St. Paul's and Eton), the lessons in grammar (“the latin phraies”) and discipline...
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SOURCE: Walker, Greg. “Dramatic Justice at the Marian Court: Nicholas Udall'sRespublica.” In The Politics of Performance in Early Renaissance Drama, pp. 163-95. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
[In the following essay, Walker provides an overview of Udall's life and career as well as an in-depth analysis of Respublica.]
Born in Southampton in 1504, Nicholas Udall attended Winchester College from 1517 and went up to Corpus Christi College, Oxford in 1520. After a period as a Fellow of Corpus and university lecturer in Logic, he left Oxford in 1529 and made a living as a writer and freelance scholar before being appointed headmaster of Eton in 1534.1 While at Eton, Udall seems to have developed a reputation for the zealous administration of corporal punishment. A former pupil was later to protest about his treatment at the headmaster's hands in doggerel verse.
From Paul's I went, to Eton sent, To learn straightways the Latin phrase; Where fifty-three stripes given to me at once I had For fault but small, or none at all. See, Udall, see, the mercy of thee, to me, poor lad.(2)
But it was his departure from Eton, rather than the disciplinary regime he oversaw there, which has aroused the most anxious scholarly comment.
On 12 March 1541, one John Hoorde, late scholar of Eton, was examined by...
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Edgerton, William L. “Nicholas Udall in the Indexes of Prohibited Books.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 55 (1956): 247-52.
Discusses the condemnation of Udall's works by the Catholic Church through the years.
Maulsby, D. L. “The Relation Between Udall's Roister Doister and the Comedies of Plautus and Terence.” Englische Studien 38 (1907): 251-77.
Demonstrates the influence of Plautus and Terrence on the writing of Ralph Roister Doister.
Miller, Edwin Shepard. “Roister Doister ‘Funeralls’.” Studies in Philology 43 (1946): 42-58.
Considers the significance of the funerals in Ralph Roister Doister and the rituals that surround them.
Additional coverage of Udall's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 62; Literature Resource Center; and Reference Guide to English Literature.
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