George Chapman (c. 1559-1634) was a classical scholar, translator, dramatist and poet. His first poem The Shadow of Night, 1594, caused a minor sensation with its bleak tone, predicting the gothic fascination that would sweep England centuries later. The dedications to Shadow suggest Chapman was for a time a part of Raleigh's salon of intellectuals, that gained a historical nickname "The School of Night" from Chapman's poem, and an odd line in Shakespeare.
Chapman completed Christopher Marlowe's unfinished translation of Hero & Leander. His first play, Bussy d'Ambois was performed by Paul's Boys in 1604. Chapman collaborated with Ben Jonson on the comic drama Eastward Ho!, in 1605. Because of some vague slurs about Scots in Eastward both Jonson and Chapman were briefly imprisoned.
Chapman is best remembered for his translations of Homer's epic Greek poems.
Chapman & Oxford
George Chapman is linked at least three ways to the Vere family through his writings.
1. There is the famous flattering passage about the Earl of Oxford in Chapman's
The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, a play printed in 1613,
but thought to have been written as early as 1607.
I overtook, coming from Italy,
In Germany, a great and famous earl
Of England, the most goodly-fashioned man
I ever saw; from head to foot in form
Rare and most absolute; he had a face
Like one of the most ancient honored Romans,
From whence his noblest family was derived;
He was beside of spirit passing great,
Valiant, and learned, and liberal as the sun,
Spoke and writ sweetly, or of learned subjects,
Or of the discipline of public weals;
And 'twas the Earl of Oxford; and being offered
At that time, by Duke Casimir, the view
Of his right royal army then in field,
Refused it, and no foot was moved to stir
Out of his own free fore-determined course:
I, wondering at it, asked for it his reason,
It being an offer so much for his honor.
He, all acknowledging, said 'twas not fit
To take those honors that one cannot quit.
Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois, Act III, Scene 4 - 84-103
2. Chapman was friends with Oxford's daughter Susan de Vere the Countess Montgomery, the wife of the patron of the Shakespeare First Folio. Chapman wrote a dedication poem to Susan that was published in his translation of the Illiad, in 1609.
To the Great and Vertuous, the Countess of Montgomerie:
Your Fame (great Lady) is so loud resounded,
By your free Trumpet, my right worthy friend;
That, with it, all my forces stand confounded,
Armed and disarmed at once, to one just end;
To honor and describe the blessed consent
Twixt your high blood and soul, in virtues rare.
Of which, my friends praise is so eminent,
That I shall hardly like his echo fair,
To render only the ends of his shrill Verse.
Besides; my bounds are short; and I must merely,
My will to honor your rare parts, rehearse;
With more time singing your renown more clearly
Mean-time, take Homer for my wants supply:
To whom adjoined your Name shall never die.
Oxford wrote a poem that uses an echo effect, and that lyric is what Chapman is alluding to here.
3. Chapman wrote a long poem in 1622 dedicated to and featuring the exploits of Horatio Vere, Oxford's cousin, who had recently died. The work is called Pro Vere, Autumni Lachrymae. Inscribed to the Immortal Memory of the most Pious and Incomparable Soldier, Sir Horatio Vere, Knight.
The quarto was printed by B. Alsop for Thomas Walkley in 1622. Isn't it interesting that in the same year that Walkley obtained a manuscript of Othello and printed it, he was working on Chapman's memorial to Oxford's trusted cousin Horatio. Perhaps Horatio's death freed up a boxed typescript.
Given Chapman's strong connections to the Vere family, the content of the play Monsieur D'Olive, and the language that the D'Olive speaks, there are strong reasons to identify the character Monsieur D'Olive with Oxford. He has the clichés and mannerisms that mark Oxford's style. Additionally, he mentions the mythical King Gyges and Gyges' ring, a rare allusion which appears in an Oxford poem. And there is the obvious symbol of the Olive which is green (ver) and is sacred to Minerva.
D'Olive : Faith, sir, I had a poor roof or a penthouse to shade me from the sun,
and three or four tiles to shroud me from the rain, and thought myself
As private as I had King Gyges' ring, and could have gone invisible; yet saw all ...
... our great men
Like to a mass of clouds and now seem like
An elephant, and straightways like an ox
And then a mouse: or like those changeable creatures
that live in the burdello ...
D'Olive: Well. well, lets leave these wit skirmishes, and say when shall we meet ?
Mugeron: How think you, are we not met now ?
D'Olive: Tush, man! I mean at my chamber, where we may take free use of ourselves;
that is, drink sack, and talk satire, and let our wits run wild goose
chase over court and country. I will have my chamber the rendezvous of
all good wits, the shop of good words, the mint of good jests, an
ordinary of fine discourse; critics, essayists, linguists, poets, and
other professors of that faculty of wit, shall at certain hours i' th'
day resort thither; it shall be a second Sorbonne ...
This, I believe, is Chapman's recollection of Oxford's speaking style, from personal experience.
The next excerpt brings us almost into smoking-gun territory where the Olive/Oxford persona merges with a blend of Shakespeare references.
Duke : But pray thee briefly say what said the weaver.
D'Olive: The weaver, sir, much like the virginal Jack,
Start nimbly up; the colour of his beard
I scarce remember; but purblind he was
With the Geneva print, and wore one ear
Shorter than the other for a difference
How oft when thou, my music, music play'st,
Upon that blessed wood whose motion sounds
With thy sweet fingers when thou gently sway'st
The wiry concord that mine ear confounds,
Do I envy those jacks that nimble leap,
To kiss the tender inward of thy hand,
Whilst my poor lips which should that harvest reap
At the wood's boldness by thee blushing stand. Sonnet 128
Oph. There's rue for you,and here's some for me.
We may call it herb of grace o' Sundays.
O, you must wear your rue with a difference! Hamlet Act IV Scene 5
Elizabethan Satires and Tracts
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