The Shadow of Night, George Chapman’s first extant published work, has come to be thought of as the spiritual father of the Metaphysical school of English poetry. The book includes two separate long poems: “Hymnus in Noctem,” and “Hymnus in Cynthiam.” Both are highly allegorical and difficult by reason of their complex and allusive style. Two main themes of both poems are the celebration of intellect and the lamentation of worldly injustice. Many scholars have assumed that THE SHADOW OF NIGHT was a poetic manifesto of a group of poets and intellectuals (including Chapman, Sir Walter Raleigh, Christopher Marlowe, and several others) who were characterized by a desire to push reason and science to the point of atheism. Shakespeare is said to have satirized this group in LOVE’S LABOR’S LOST, and to have called it “the school of night.” Despite the fact that these men knew one another and undoubtedly shared many unusual ideas, the school of night as such is probably the invention of modern scholars whose conclusions are based on some striking but inadequate evidence. Chapman’s THE SHADOW OF NIGHT should be read as an expression of his own attitudes and early poetic interests; that is, it should be read on its own terms.
Chapman was a believer in the Platonic doctrine that true poetry is divinely inspired; and he was also convinced that most men of his day were incapable of achieving such inspiration or,...
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