Authors: George Chapman

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English poet, playwright, and translator

Author Works

Drama:

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)

Poetry:

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

Translations:

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)

Biography

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.{$I[AN]9810000646}{$I[A]Chapman, George}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Chapman, George}{$I[tim]1559;Chapman, George}

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.

BibliographyBeach, Vincent W. George Chapman: An Annotated Bibliography of Commentary and Criticism. New York: G. K. Hall, 1995. A reference work providing extensive bibliographical information on Chapman. Index.Bradbrook, Muriel C. George Chapman. London: Longman, 1977. This brief general overview of Chapman’s life and work contains sections on the lyric poetry, including Hero and Leander and the translations of Homer and Hesiod. The individual chapters on the comedies and tragedies conclude that Chapman’s modern reputation will have to be based on only the best of the lyrics plus two tragedies, Bussy d’Ambois and the two parts of the Byron play.Braunmuller, A. R. Natural Fictions: George Chapman’s Major Tragedies. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992. Presents Chapman’s plays in their relation to the poet’s theory of art and its connections to the world of history and experience that censored two of his plays and punished him because these dramas offended the French court.Donno, Elizabeth Story. “The Epyllion.” In English Poetry and Prose, 1540-1674, edited by Christopher Ricks. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1986. Donno’s essay provides an excellent introduction to Elizabethan narrative poetry, especially the mythological variety. Her account of Chapman’s narrative verse is sound; another chapter covers his dramatic poetry. The index offers good cross-referencing. Includes a select bibliography.Florby, Gunilla. The Painful Passage to Virtue: A Study of George Chapman’s the Tragedy of “Bussy D’Ambois” and “The Revenge of Bussy d’Ambois.” Lund, Sweden: CWK Gleerup, 1982. An examination of the two Chapman tragedies about Bussy d’Ambois. Bibliography.Hamlin, William M. “A Borrowing from Nashe in Chapman’s Bussy d’Ambois.” Notes and Queries 48, no. 3 (September, 2001): 264-265. Hamlin raises the possibility that Chapman borrowed phrases from Thomas Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller in his work Bussy d’Ambois.Hulse, Clark. Metamorphic Verse: The Elizabethan Minor Epic. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981. Hulse has accomplished the most complete redefinition of Elizabethan narrative poetry of modern times. His account of Chapman and his contribution is thorough and complete. The bibliographical apparatus is professional.Huntington, John. Ambition, Rank, and Poetry in 1590’s England. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001. Huntington uncovers a form of subtle social protest encoded in the writings of aspiring Elizabethan poets, and argues that these writers invested their poetry with a new social vision that challenged a nobility of blood and proposed a nobility of learning instead. Huntington focuses on the early work of George Chapman and on the writings of others who shared his social agenda and his nonprivileged status.Ide, Richard S. Possessed with Greatness: The Heroic Tragedies of Shakespeare and Chapman. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980. Shakespeare and Chapman, who shared an interest in the epic tradition and military heroism, individually wrote a number of tragedies with soldiers as protagonists: Othello, Bussy D’Ambois, Antony and Cleopatra, The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Byron, and Coriolanus. In each, the soldier’s self-conception and aspirations lead him into fatal conflict with society.Kermode, Frank. “The Banquet of Sense.” In Shakespeare, Spenser, Donne. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971. Presents a revelatory commentary on Chapman’s narratives; the insights are simply unparalleled. Includes substantial notes, a bibliography, and an index.MacLure, Millar. George Chapman: A Critical Study. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1966. This full-scale critical analysis of all of Chapman’s writings includes extensive coverage of his narrative poetry and integrates it well with the rest of his life’s work. MacLure pays particular attention to his diction and his use of poetic devices. Contains an index, notes, and a bibliography.Rees, Ennis. The Tragedies of George Chapman: Renaissance Ethics in Action. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1954. Rees suggests that Chapman’s pattern in his heroic tragedies was to “juxtapose a reprehensible tragic hero …against the ethical code of Christian humanism” and to develop his plots and conflicts from that starting point.Ribner, Irving. Jacobean Tragedy: The Quest for Moral Order. London: Methuen, 1962. Chapman is one of six playwrights Ribner considers in this examination of how playwrights in an irreligious age strove to find a moral order. The analyses of the tragedies are enlightening and useful for placing Chapman and his works in their moral and religious milieu.Snare, Gerald. The Mystification of George Chapman. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1989. The title is slightly misleading. This first-rate critical analysis actually attempts to demystify Chapman and his work, which had suffered from a prevailing view that it was unnecessarily obscure and contorted. Snare’s discussions are lucid. Includes good notes, an index, and a bibliography.Spivack, Charlotte. George Chapman. New York: Twayne, 1967. An admiring study accessible to the nonspecialist, the book begins with a biographical section and then reviews Chapman’s literary work. Spivack considers him an important poet, a great playwright, and a consistent philosopher–a more favorable assessment than that of other critics.Taunton, Nina. Fifteen-nineties Drama and Militarism: Portrayals of War in Marlowe, Chapman, and Shakespeare’s “Henry V.” Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2001. An examination of war in the drama of Chapman and Christopher Marlowe as well as in William Shakespeare’s Henry V. Bibliography and index.Waddington, Raymond B. The Mind’s Empire: Myth and Form in George Chapman’s Narrative Poems. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974. Focuses exclusively on Chapman’s poems; analyzes them exhaustively and relates them to their cultural and historical backgrounds. Emphasis is on structural analysis. Contains an extensive bibliography, index, and complete notes.
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