Authors: Nicholas Udall

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright and translator

Author Works


Ralph Roister Doister, pr. c. 1552


Compendiosa totius anatomie delineatio, 1552


Floures for Latine Spekynge, 1534 (of Terence)

Apopthegmes, 1542 (of Erasmus)

The Paraphrase of Erasmus upon the New Testament, 1549 (of Erasmus)

A Discourse or Tractise of Petur Martyr, 1550 (of Peter Martyr’s Tractatie de Sacramente)


Born about 1505, Nicholas Udall (YEW-dahl) was educated at Winchester and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he served as lecturer from 1526 to 1528. At the age of twenty-seven or twenty-eight, he assisted in the preparation of verses for Anne Boleyn’s coronation. From 1533 to 1547 he was vicar of Braintree, Essex, and from 1534 to 1541 he was headmaster of Eton. In 1534 he published a significant collection, Floures for Latine Spekynge, and in 1538 he was paid for “playing before my Lord.” His career at Eton ended in disgrace, however, for he was accused of theft and other misconduct and dismissed.{$I[AN]9810000375}{$I[A]Udall, Nicholas}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Udall, Nicholas}{$I[tim]1505;Udall, Nicholas}

For the next fourteen years, Udall was writer, tutor, and churchman under patronage of members of the royal household. His principles as churchman were flexible enough to permit his serving Edward VI as a Protestant and Mary Tudor as a Catholic. Before the latter he performed or produced various dialogues and interludes. The date of his only surviving play, Ralph Roister Doister, is uncertain, but it was probably 1552, for evidence suggests it was first performed at Windsor Castle in September, 1552. The printed epilogue praises “our most noble Queen,” but this might have been an addition for a later performance before Elizabeth I.

Udall was a prominent scholar of his day. In 1549 he published The Paraphrase of Erasmus upon the New Testament, a translation of the Dutch humanist’s Latin commentaries on the New Testament on which he had collaborated with Princess Mary Tudor. By royal order, Udall’s Paraphrase became the prescribed biblical commentary for all clergy, and along with the English Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, it appeared in every church pulpit in England. In 1555 Udall was appointed headmaster of Westminster School; he died the next year. His most important work, Ralph Roister Doister, bears the marks of his many talents as a humanist, a classical scholar, and a teacher.

BibliographyBoas, Frederick F. An Introduction to Tudor Drama. 1933. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1978. Contains basic facts about Udall and his works, including his relationship with Queen Mary and a lawsuit against him in the early 1500’s. Offers a comment on the classical influences on Udall, the “most representative” English playwright in the three decades between John Heywood and the major Inns of Court dramas of the 1560’s.Cartwright, Kent. Theatre and Humanism: English Drama in the Sixteenth Century. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Cartwright examines the influence of Humanism on English drama in the 1500’s. Udall followed Humanism and received instruction in it. Includes bibliography and index.Edgerton, William. Nicholas Udall. New York: Twayne, 1965. The biographical sections are enlarged by references to major historical events. Respublica is dismissed as probably not by Udall. The longest chapter is devoted to Ralph Roister Doister, with emphasis on the dating problem and on the presence of Latin influence in the comedy. Includes annotated bibliography.Walker, Greg. The Politics of Performance in Early Renaissance Drama. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Walker examines the theater of Great Britain, focusing on the writers Udall, David Lindsay, John Heywood, and Thomas Norton. Includes bibliography and index.
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