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 debts. After certain passages of Eastward Ho! were perceived...
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