George Chapman Additional Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

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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(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

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.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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...

(The entire section is 524 words.)