James Thomson (1700-1748) Other literary forms

James Thomson

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Although James Thomson’s reputation is as a poet, he also wrote plays that were generally successful in their day. He wrote five plays and coauthored a sixth. The Tragedy of Sophonisba, a tragedy about the Carthaginian queen Sophonisba, was performed and published in 1730. Thomson’s second tragedy, Agamemnon, appeared in 1738. His next two plays followed rapidly: Edward and Eleonora (pb. 1739) was prohibited by censorship, and Alfred (pr., pb. 1740) was coauthored with David Mallet. The play about King Alfred contains Thomson’s famous ode “Rule, Britannia,” still well known in England, especially the refrain: “Rule, Britannia, rule the waves;/ Britons never will be slaves.” Thomson’s most successful play, the tragedy Tancred and Sigismunda (pr., pb. 1745), continued to be performed in the second half of the eighteenth century and was translated into French and German. His final play, the tragedy Coriolanus (pr., pb. 1749), was not performed until after Thomson’s death.