Thomas Norton Additional Biography

Biography

The only achievement of Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville in drama consists of their collaboration on Gorboduc, first performed at one of the Inns of Court, the Inner Temple, on January 6, 1561. It was enough of a success to gain a second performance, before Queen Elizabeth I, on January 18 at Whitehall. Norton, born in 1532, was a member of a wealthy London family associated with the Grocer’s Company. While still quite young, he entered the household of Lord Somerset, the Protector, where he proved himself an intelligent youth and served that nobleman well as amanuensis. Some of Norton’s Calvinist ideas were formulated while he served under Somerset; as early as 1552 Norton corresponded with John Calvin.

The lives of Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville, four years Norton’s junior, intersected several times during their careers. The first such occasion perhaps came in 1555, when they both entered the Inner Temple to study law, of which Norton later made a successful career, serving as counsel for the Stationers’ Company and later as solicitor for the Merchant Taylors’ Company.

Norton married twice, both times to relatives of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer: first to a daughter, Margery, then to a cousin, Alice. Cranmer was burned by the Catholics in 1556, the year after Norton married Margery. Later in life Norton was virulently anti-Catholic.

Norton and Sackville were associated as members of Elizabeth’s first Parliament in 1558. Norton began the main period of his literary career about that time: His translation of Calvin was published in 1561;...

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Bibliography

Baker, Howard. Induction to Tragedy: A Study in a Development of Form in “Gorboduc,” “The Spanish Tragedy,” and “Titus Andronicus.” 1939. Reprint. New York: Russell & Russell, 1965. This standard work considers the tragic form from two viewpoints: artistry and moral significance. Baker discusses the authorship question of Gorboduc and the possible Senecan influence and also considers native English dramatic influences to be very strong. Pays some attention to the historical criticism of the play.

Berlin, Normand. Thomas Sackville. New York: Twayne, 1974. This biographical and critical study discusses Norton as well as Sackville.

Clemen, Wolfgang. English Tragedy Before Shakespeare: The Development of Dramatic Speech. Translated by T. S. Dorsch. London: Methuen, 1961. In this study of the “set speech,” the author finds Gorboduc weakened by the lack of correlation between speech and characterization or speech and action.

Graves, Michael A. R. Thomas Norton: The Parliament Man. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1994. Biographical and critical study.

Whall, Helen M. To Instruct and Delight: Didactic Method in Five Tudor Dramas. New York: Garland, 1988. Finds Gorboduc consciously designed for artistic effects and its authors unsatisfied with simply delivering a powerful message. Shows evidence of their artistic concerns in the elaborate dumb shows, the patterned divisions of the five acts, and their innovative verse.