Nicholas Udall Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Nicholas Udall is known today almost exclusively as the author of the first regular English comedy, Ralph Roister Doister. He was better known in his own time, however, as a scholar and translator. Aside from a few occasional verses and a medical book (Compendiosa totius anatomie delineatio, 1552), the balance of Udall’s work consists of translations of Latin authors. In 1534, he published Floures for Latine Spekynge, a translation into idiomatic English of selected parts of Terence. Two translations of the great Humanist Desiderius Erasmus followed, Apopthegmes in 1542 and The Paraphrase of Erasmus upon the New Testament in 1549. Finally, in 1550, Udall published a translation of Peter Martyr’s Protestant disputation with Roman opponents, Tractatie de Sacramente (1549); Udall’s work is entitled A Discourse or Tractise of Petur Martyr.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Nicholas Udall’s literary efforts are almost exclusively connected to his work as a scholar and teacher. Except for a few verses written to celebrate the coronation of Anne Boleyn, the famous second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Queen Elizabeth, the translations and plays credited to him were produced to aid him in his profession. Even the play that secured his reputation, the innovative and delightful Ralph Roister Doister, was most likely composed as a Christmas comedy for a boys’ school in London.

The Floures for Latine Spekynge is a work written by a schoolmaster for schoolchildren. Udall’s work was used in a Latin-English dictionary published in 1548 by Thomas Cooper: Bibliotheca Eliotae. Cooper praises “the learned man Udall, by whose scholarly annotations our labors have been lightened in many places, give deserved praise and gratitude.”

Udall’s purpose in Floures for Latine Spekynge was to give students selected Latin passages from Terence as exercises. Udall best explains his intent on the title page:Floures for Latine Spekynge selected and gathered out of Terence, and the same translated into Englyeshe, together with the exposition and settynge forthe as welle of such latyne words, as were thought nedeful to be annoted, as also of dyvers grammatical rules, very profytable and necessary for the expedite knowledge in the latine tongue: Compiled by Nicholas Udall.


(The entire section is 595 words.)


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Boas, Frederick F. An Introduction to Tudor Drama. 1933. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1978. Contains basic facts about Udall and his works, including his relationship with Queen Mary and a lawsuit against him in the early 1500’s. Offers a comment on the classical influences on Udall, the “most representative” English playwright in the three decades between John Heywood and the major Inns of Court dramas of the 1560’s.

Cartwright, Kent. Theatre and Humanism: English Drama in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Cartwright examines the influence of Humanism on English drama in the 1500’s. Udall followed Humanism and received instruction in it. Includes bibliography and index.

Edgerton, William. Nicholas Udall. New York: Twayne, 1965. The biographical sections are enlarged by references to major historical events. Respublica is dismissed as probably not by Udall. The longest chapter is devoted to Ralph Roister Doister, with emphasis on the dating problem and on the presence of Latin influence in the comedy. Includes annotated bibliography.

Walker, Greg. The Politics of Performance in Early Renaissance Drama. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Walker examines the theater of Great Britain, focusing on the writers Udall, David Lindsay, John Heywood, and Thomas Norton. Includes bibliography and index.