Nicholas Udall Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Nicholas Udall (or Udal, Owdall, Uvedale, Owdale, Dowdall, Woodall, Woddell, or Yevedale) was born during the Christmas season, probably of 1505, in Southampton, Hampshire, England. Little is known of his family, but some scholars speculate that the future playwright was a member of the prominent Uvedale family in Hampshire. No record exists of Udall’s ever having been married.

In 1517, Udall can be placed in residence at St. Mary’s College, Winchester, a school noted for rigorous studies, long days, and few holidays. At Winchester, where Latin was the language both of studies and of daily life, Udall would have studied the works of Vergil, Cicero, Terence, and other Latin authors, but especially Terence, whose subjects and Latin style are accessible to students. Udall’s later devotion to the works of Terence can reasonably be traced to his early days at Winchester.

In 1520, Udall was admitted to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, the center for Humanistic studies. Under the tutelage of Thomas Lupset, lecturer and friend of the Humanists Sir Thomas More and Erasmus, the young Udall, in company with his friend John Leland, embraced Humanistic ideas and skills to such an extent that Udall and Leland are usually considered to be “second-generation Humanists.” It was at Corpus Christi College also that Udall met Edward Wotton, lecturer in Latin and Greek and a scholarly English physician. Udall’s later Compendiosa totius anatomie delineatio, an illustrated digest of anatomy, may be traced to his association with Wotton.

At Oxford, Udall most likely studied under the Spanish Humanist and Latin lecturer Juan Luis Vives. From Vives, Udall would have been introduced to such Humanistic concepts as the importance of education for women, the importance of the vernacular, and reasonable arguments for morality. Although Vives adopted Plato’s opinion of poetry, especially of drama, the Humanistic principles he espoused can be found in Udall’s Ralph Roister Doister. A clearly English play, written in the vernacular, it has a strong, well-educated heroine in Dame Christian Custance. Furthermore, it is free of the more earthy, obscene, and immoral thoughts, actions, and language of Latin comedies.

The exciting intellectual atmosphere at Oxford might well have led the young scholar-author close to his first scrape with the law. He had received his bachelor of arts degree in 1524 and immediately became a probationary fellow of the college. By 1526, he was a full fellow and lecturer in Greek. In 1527, the English authorities arrested several Oxford men for circulating Lutheran works and the outlawed Tyndale Bible. Apparently Udall was one of several men who were admonished to avoid even the...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born about 1505, Nicholas Udall (YEW-dahl) was educated at Winchester and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he served as lecturer from 1526 to 1528. At the age of twenty-seven or twenty-eight, he assisted in the preparation of verses for Anne Boleyn’s coronation. From 1533 to 1547 he was vicar of Braintree, Essex, and from 1534 to 1541 he was headmaster of Eton. In 1534 he published a significant collection, Floures for Latine Spekynge, and in 1538 he was paid for “playing before my Lord.” His career at Eton ended in disgrace, however, for he was accused of theft and other misconduct and dismissed.

For the next fourteen years, Udall was writer, tutor, and churchman under patronage of members of the royal household. His principles as churchman were flexible enough to permit his serving Edward VI as a Protestant and Mary Tudor as a Catholic. Before the latter he performed or produced various dialogues and interludes. The date of his only surviving play, Ralph Roister Doister, is uncertain, but it was probably 1552, for evidence suggests it was first performed at Windsor Castle in September, 1552. The printed epilogue praises “our most noble Queen,” but this might have been an addition for a later performance before Elizabeth I.

Udall was a prominent scholar of his day. In 1549 he published The Paraphrase of Erasmus upon the New Testament, a translation of the Dutch humanist’s Latin commentaries on the New Testament on which he had collaborated with Princess Mary Tudor. By royal order, Udall’s Paraphrase became the prescribed biblical commentary for all clergy, and along with the English Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, it appeared in every church pulpit in England. In 1555 Udall was appointed headmaster of Westminster School; he died the next year. His most important work, Ralph Roister Doister, bears the marks of his many talents as a humanist, a classical scholar, and a teacher.