Thomas Lodge 1558–1625
Elizabethan poet, dramatist, satirist, pamphlet, treatise, and prose writer.
Lodge is best known as the author of the prose romance Rosalynde, which served as the basis for William Shakespeare's As You Like It. However, to reduce his varied and colorful career to this single achievement is to do him a disservice. An accomplished lyricist, dramatist, critic, and translator, Lodge was also a physician and adventurer—the consummate Renaissance Man. He experimented with a variety of literary forms and genres, contributed to the early development of the novel, and is credited with producing the first formal satire in English. His life outside of literature included round-the-world voyages, a mid-life career change that found him ministering as a dedicated physician to London's plague victims, and conversion to Catholicism during a time when such a move was not only unpopular but dangerous. Although Lodge was overshadowed by more famous writers during his lifetime and long neglected by scholars after his death, his life and works have been examined with renewed interest in the twentieth century. Recent scholarship has suggested that Lodge's many and varied pursuits make him the ideal object of study as a representative of his times—Elizabethan and Jacobean England.
Lodge was born into a wealthy London family in 1558, the year Elizabeth I attained the throne. His father, Sir Thomas Lodge, had been Lord Mayor of London in 1562, and his mother, Lodge's third wife, was Anne Loddington Lodge, a widow whose inheritance included landed estates. Young Thomas served as page to the Stanleys, Earls of Derby, until approximately 1571, when he enrolled in the Merchant-Taylors' School. From there he went on to Trinity College, Oxford, where he took his degree in 1577. The following year, he began to study law at the Inns of Court as a member of the society of Lincoln's Inn. His literary career was launched in 1579 with the publication of his defense of the theatre, Reply to Gosson, in answer to Stephen Gosson's School of Abuse. This was followed by An Alarum against Usurers, an expose of a social problem common in Lodge's time, and one with which Lodge himself was personally familiar. According to some biographers, Lodge fell victim to money-lenders after being disinherited by his parents, who disapproved of his literary endeavors and his leanings toward Catholicism. There is some evidence that Lodge actually became a member of the Roman Church and was imprisoned because of it, although the date is uncertain, possibly in 1581 or 1582. Sometime between 1586 and 1593 Lodge embarked on adventures to the Azores and Canary Islands and to the New World, which he visited on two separate occasions. It was during these voyages that he produced his two most famous works, Rosalynde (1590) and A Margarite of America (published in 1596). At age 39, Lodge took up a new career, entering the University at Avignon to study medicine in 1597 and becoming a Doctor of Medicine a year later. In 1602 he was incorporated as a Doctor of Medicine at Oxford. He was known as a dedicated physician in London during the years of the great plague, and in 1603 he called for the construction of a hospital in which to isolate plague victims in A Treatise of the Plague. These years also saw his greatest success as a translator, most notably of the works of Josephus and Seneca. He died of the plague in London in 1625.
Lodge was an eclectic writer who produced works in many genres, and indeed, some of his individual works seem to defy generic classification altogether. Reply to Gosson, his first literary work, was a pamphlet defending the theater from Puritan attacks. Next he appended his first prose romance to a diatribe against money lenders, Alarum against Usurers, along with a verse satire, Truth's Complaint over England. He produced many works of poetry and two dramas—The Wounds of Civil War, and A Looking Glasse, for London and England—the latter in collaboration with his friend Robert Greene. Much of his modern literary reputation, though, rests on his works of prose fiction, beginning with the poorly received Forbonius and Prisceria and progressing to his most famous work, Rosalynde. As Shakespeare made use of his writings, Lodge, in turn, acknowledged use of the euphuistic style associated with another contemporary, John Lyly. Rosalynde was subtitled Euphues Golden Legacie and it was followed in 1592 by Euphues Shadow: The Battle of the Senses. Lodge's self-described historical pieces, Robert Second Duke of Normandy, commonly known as Robin the Devil (1591), combines elements of allegory, romance, and even early novel, as does The Life and Death of William Longbeard (1593). After Rosalynde, Lodge's most famous work is A Margarite of America, produced during one of his voyages to the New World and published in 1596. Despite Lodge's claim that he translated this work from a manuscript he found in a Jesuit library in Santos, Brazil, literary historians generally consider it a product of Lodge's own imagination. In his later years Lodge turned from original writing to translating into English the works of Seneca and Josephus, and to publishing scientific papers based on his experiences as a physician. Best known in the latter category was A Treatise of the Plague (1603) in which he recommended various public health and sanitary procedures to curb the spread of the deadly plague ravaging London at the time.
The difficulty of obtaining Lodge's writings contributed greatly to his obscurity, which lasted from his death until the late nineteenth century, when Sir Edmund Gosse reprinted the texts in a limited edition which itself soon became difficult to obtain. It was not until the 1930s that Lodge's life and works became well known, largely through the biographies of N. B. Paradise, and Charles J. Sisson. Still, critical examination of the writings was sparse until the 1960s when Wesley D. Rae undertook the task. Twentieth-century critics generally agree that Lodge was unfairly underestimated and overshadowed by the more famous writers of his time, most especially Shakespeare. Rae claims that Lodge "helped usher in the Golden Age of Elizabethan literature, [and] his name belongs with the more famous names of Spenser, Sidney, Marlowe, and Shakespeare." Paradise regrets that, because of the connection to Shakespeare, Lodge "is known to the modern world as the author of Rosalynde, not as one of the first of English satirists, not as one of the earliest defenders of the stage against the assaults of the Puritans, not as one of the first Englishmen to make the long and hazardous voyage to the new world, not as the translator of the works of Seneca or Josephus." Rosalynde, the only one of Lodge's works to achieve success in his lifetime, is still considered his masterpiece. Some literary historians claim it as one of the first English novels; others suggest that, at the very least, it is a work that anticipates the novel form. The extent to which Lodge was influenced in its writing by the euphuistic style of John Lyly is a matter of some dispute among critics. Although some dismiss Rosalynde as derivative, John Mackinnon Robertson has insisted that Lodge's "borrowings" from Lyly led to a work that was innovative rather than imitative: "Lodge in Rosalynde merely employed Lilly's mannerisms in a new kind of story-telling." There is general agreement that the quality of Lodge's work declined in the years following Rosalynde's publication. A Margarite of America, has received mixed reviews. Some scholars praise its innovative qualities, such as the in medeas res opening and the fact that it combines the features of several literary genres; others are disturbed by the level of violence and even nihilism represented within the narrative and find that the combination of various generic elements produces an incomprehensible result. Robertson has called it "the most senseless literary construction of the period." Lodge's minor works have been considered significant largely because of Lodge's creative experiments with the literary conventions of his day. Literary historians A. W. Ward and A. R. Waller believe that An Alarum against Usurers is one of the first attempts at realism. Paradise agrees, claiming that in Alarum, Lodge "hit upon a new literary device, that of realistic representation of the ordinary life of London." Such other critics as Pat Ryan, have suggested that A Fig for Momus is the first formal satire written in English.