The Blind Beggar of Alexandria, pr. 1596 (fragment)
An Humourous Day’s Mirth, pr. 1597
All Fools, wr. 1599, pr. 1604 (also known as The World Runs on Wheels)
Sir Giles Goosecap, pr. c. 1601 or 1603
The Gentleman Usher, pr. c. 1602
Bussy d’Ambois, pr. 1604
Monsieur d’Olive, pr. 1604
Eastward Ho!, pr., pb. 1605 (with John Marston and Ben Jonson)
The Widow’s Tears, pr. c. 1605
The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron, pr., pb. 1608
May Day, pr. c. 1609
The Revenge of Bussy d’Ambois, pr. c. 1610
The Masque of the Middle Temple and Lincoln’s Inn, pr. 1613 (masque)
Caesar and Pompey, pr. c. 1613
The Ball, pr. 1632 (with James Shirley)
The Tragedy of Chabot, Admiral of France, pr. 1635 (with Shirley)
The Shadow of Night, 1594
Ovid’s Banquet of Sense, 1595
Hero and Leander, 1598 (completion of Christopher Marlowe’s poem)
Euthymiae Raptus: Or, The Tears of Peace, 1609
An Epicede or Funerall Song on the Death of Henry Prince of Wales, 1612
Andromeda Liberata: Or, The Nuptials of Perseus and Andromeda, 1614
Pro Vere Autumni Lachrymae, 1622
Iliad, 1598, 1609, 1611 (of Homer)
Petrarch’s Seven Penitential Psalms, 1612
Odyssey, 1614 (of Homer)
Georgics, 1618 (of Hesiod)
The Crown of All Homer’s Works, 1624 (of Homer; lesser-known works)
George Chapman was an important poet, dramatist, and translator during the English Renaissance. He is best remembered as the translator of the works of Homer. His massive accomplishment in the field of drama is respected by scholars, and his original poetry has attracted serious critical attention.
Although the date of his birth, near Hitchin, Hertfordshire, is not certain, he was probably a little older than William Shakespeare and more than a dozen years older than Ben Jonson, his longtime friend and sometime enemy. According to seventeenth century historian Anthony à Wood, Chapman attended one of the universities. Afterward he may have served in the Netherlands with the forces of Sir Francis Vere; if so, he shared another experience with Jonson, for the latter was also a soldier in the Netherlands.
Chapman’s literary career began no later than 1594, for in that year his pair of poems The Shadow of Night was published. Ovid’s Banquet of Sense, an allegorical poem, followed in 1595, and he published his completion of Christopher Marlowe’s Hero and Leander in 1598. In 1596 Chapman launched his dramatic career with the performance of his The Blind Beggar of Alexandria, the first “humour” comedy, by the Admiral’s Men. There followed steady production of dramas, sometimes alone, sometimes with collaborators. Francis Meres in Palladis Tamia (1598) referred to him as one of England’s best for comedy and tragedy.
Chapman’s first translation of Homer’s Iliad appeared in 1598 in honor of Robert Devereaux, the earl of Essex. Chapman claimed to be inspired by Homer himself as he continued this massive project. Further translations were published in 1608, and the complete Iliad and Odyssey appeared in 1616.
As was fitting for such substantial scholars and authors, Chapman and Jonson were apparently good friends for many years. Chapman contributed a major commendatory poem to the 1605 Quarto of Sejanus, and Jonson reciprocated with a highly complimentary poem for Chapman’s translation of the Georgics of Hesiod. In 1605 Chapman and Jonson were imprisoned together, apparently because of offense taken at certain satirical passages in Eastward Ho! An old commonplace book preserved in The Folger Library contains copies of ten letters by the two authors pleading for noble patrons to come to their rescue. Both of the dramatists served Henry, the Prince of Wales, and both suffered a serious loss in patronage in his untimely death. As masque-makers, both collaborated with Inigo Jones, the king’s architect and scenic designer, and Jones seems to have been the rock on which they split. Jonson and Jones both had their share of arrogance and certainty of preeminent merit, and they quarreled violently for many years. Chapman took sides with the architect rather than with his fellow-poet: an unfinished poetic invective against Jonson survives in manuscript. Almost two hundred lines, some obviously in need of revision, pour a stream of able abuse on Jonson, who almost certainly had no knowledge of the piece. Jonson made no known written attack on Chapman, but he dealt many heavy verbal blows at Jones in both printed and manuscript works. When Chapman died in poverty in 1634, Inigo Jones designed his monument. He is buried at St. Giles-in-the-Fields, London.