"Who Think Themselves Most Wise, Are Greatest Fools"
Context: Alexander, now considered a minor figure in the Elizabethan literary world, was a Scottish poet and a close friend of King James I. Educated in Glasgow and Germany, he achieved his first renown with four examples of Senecan drama composed between 1603 and 1607, and published during the latter year under the collective title Monarchicke Tragedies. He also wrote a number of sonnets and later composed an epic in twelve books entitled Doomes-day. He is best known today for the royal favors conferred upon him. One was a grant given him by James I: the entire eastern half of Canada, named Nova Scotia for the occasion; its older name was Acadia. Although the French conquest of Canada deprived Alexander of his proprietorship, he was not left destitute; the king made him sole printer of the King James version of the Psalms, and his patent ran for thirty-one years. His literary efforts, although respectable, are no longer greatly admired; and his Monarchicke Tragedies are now considered important more for the political wisdom they contain than for their dramatic interest. They deal with four important political events of the ancient world, and employ the conventions of chorus and alternately rhyming verse. Croesus was the second in the series, the other three being Darius, The Alexandrian Tragedy, and Julius Caesar. Croesus opens with a speech by Solon; this intellectual light of ancient Greece has been sent for by Croesus, King of Lydia. Croesus, famed for his wealth, does not wish to profit by Solon's wisdom; instead, he wants Solon to approve his great material happiness. In his speech Solon considers the nature of happiness and pities the man who loves only material things. A chorus follows which compares the passions with reason. The actual play then begins, with a conversation among Croesus, Aesop, and Solon. Croesus boasts of his good fortune and tells Solon he should be a courtier and share in it. Solon insists he prefers less worldly pleasures:
SOLONSpare (courteous King) that undeserved praise,I am but one who doe the world despise,And would my thoughts to some perfection raise,A wisedome-lover, willing to be wise:Yet all that I have learn'd (huge toyles now past)By long experience, and in famous Schooles,Is but to know my ignorance at last;Who think themselves most wise, are greatest fooles.CROESUSThis is the nature of a noble minde,It rather would be good, then be so thought,As if it had no ayme, but fame to finde,Such as the shadow, not the substance sought:Yet forc'd to give that which thou wilt not take:The world, what thou hold'st down, doth raise more high,That which thy face thus shunnes, shines on thy back:Praise followes them, who what they merit flye:And now I thinke, on th'earth no creature lives,Who better can instruct what I would learne,Then thou to whom franke Nature largely givesA minde to see, a judgement to discerne.