This special issue’s opening essay traces the circulation of Homer’s epics and Greek tragedies in sixteenth-century England, and explores their consequences for England’s commercial theatres. Bringing together new and familiar evidence on English pedagogy, translation, theatrical production, and printing, the authors argue both that these texts acquired significantly more visibility during this period than has been recognized, and that the stage offered a privileged site for their reception. The essay reflects on the distinctive methodological challenges raised by Greek transmission in a period identified by preoccupations with classical texts. After developing the foundation for the special issue, it closes by introducing the essays that follow.
What was Greek in early modern England’s commercial theatres? Early in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the language briefly takes centre stage. In reply to Cassius’ question, ‘Did Cicero say anything?,’ Casca responds, ‘Ay, he spoke Greek.’
Shakespeare found Rome’s bilingualism in Plutarch’s description of the death of Caesar. As Casca administers the first stroke, Caesar calls him a traitor in Latin (‘Ῥωμαι¨στὶ’), which prompts Casca to cry to his brother for help in Greek (‘Ἑλληνιστὶ’); at this the other conspirators rush in, and ‘bicause euerie man was desirous to haue a cut at him, so many swords and daggers lighting vpon one bodie, one of them hurte an other’.1 Shakespeare’s Antony reminds Brutus of this last, gruesome detail: ‘your vile daggers/Hack’d one another in the sides of Caesar’ (5.1.39-40). Shakespeare read this passage closely; it haunts the earlier exchange, where, reversing his source, he gives Plutarch’s Hellenist conspirator the inspired coinage ‘it was Greek to me’. For Plutarch’s readers, Casca’s instinctive bilingualism in the climactic moment of Caesar’s murder highlights the pervasive Greekness of Roman culture. For readers of Jacques Amyot’s and Thomas North’s translations, the moment also underscores the cross-cultural position of Plutarch, a Greek historian reporting on Rome. Shakespeare’s sensitivity to Plutarch’s interest in Rome’s languages suggests that these cultural complexities hovered in his mind as he composed his first play based on a Greek text. What Greek was — under Rome, or in Elizabeth’s England — was a question of some significance for him.
CASSIUS: To what effect?
CASCA: Nay, an I tell you that, I’ll ne’er look you i’ the face again: but those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own
part, it was Greek to me. (1.2.278-284)
Some time ago, T.W. Baldwin ended his chapter on ‘Shakspere’s Lesse Greeke’ with Casca’s quip: for the playwright, he concluded, ‘Graecus est, non legitur’ (‘Greek, therefore not readable’).2 His response points to a paradox in critical approaches to the place of Greek on the early modern stage. On the one hand, we have always known that Shakespeare knew and used Greek texts: he engaged with Plutarch in detail and over many years, developing an intimate debt comparable only to his uses of Holinshed’s Chronicles and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.3 On the other, we have agreed that Plutarch is the exception that proves the rule. Instead of viewing North’s Plutarch as the clearest evidence that the recovery of Greek texts that was central to early modern humanism also influenced England’s theatres, we have traditionally approached Plutarch as an anomaly: important despite being Greek, because of his Roman materials, and English translation. We have seen Shakespeare’s reading of Plutarch, that is, as a different phenomenon from Ben Jonson’s ownership of and references to Greek texts;4 George Chapman’s translation of Homer, Hesiod and Musaeus, and dramatic uses of Epictetus and Plutarch;5 and the varied imitations of Greek sources by commercial playwrights including Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, and George Peele, all of whom studied Greek at university.6 If Shakespeare’s Plutarch has struck most scholars as irrelevant to the status of Greek on the commercial stage because not properly Greek, these other contacts with Greek texts have been counted as similarly irrelevant because not properly commercial, or at least not properly mainstream.
These paradoxical assumptions have roots in a particular understanding of the English commercial stage. Scholars have seen England in general as unmoored from the Greek learning of continental Europe, and its popular commercial theatres in particular as removed from the Greek education of English humanist scholars.7 G. K. Hunter contrasted continental Europe’s scholarly classicism with a model of English drama as productively liberated from classical authority, and Martin Mueller similarly held that ‘Elizabethan tragedy proudly measures its distance from ancient models’.8 These views of the early modern English theatre as intrinsically anti-classical rest especially on understanding Shakespeare — often taken as metonym for the period’s popular drama — as a natural, unlettered genius, in contrast with bookish playwrights such as Jonson or Chapman.9 The perceived segregation between commercial theatres and academic or aristocratic theatrical performances has contributed to this divide by encouraging a view of popular commercial playwriting as severed from elite literary traditions. Growing awareness of the traffic between academic, aristocratic, and commercial drama has complicated this distinction, but has not yet led to a substantial reconsideration of the place of Greek texts in the period’s commercial theatres.10 Though scholars have shown that popular playwrights made sophisticated intertextual uses of Latin authors such as Ovid, Virgil, Seneca, and Plautus, Greek has remained largely beyond these conversations.11
Shakespeare’s attention to the special status of Greek in Plutarch’s Rome suggests a more complex literary landscape. This collection of essays takes Casca’s words as a call for rethinking the place of Greek on the early modern stage. We argue that Greek texts had a shaping influence on England’s early modern drama, and that attending to their impact offers a richer understanding not only of the period’s theatre and its engagement with the literary past, but also of this foundational moment in classical reception. We begin with the premise that all these encounters, Shakespeare’s Plutarch, Jonson’s Lucian, Chapman’s Homer, Greene’s Heliodorus and more, represent the same transnational sixteenth-century phenomenon: the discovery of Greek texts by scholars, printers, translators, and writers, who brought these texts to students, readers, and audiences across Europe, beginning the process that would eventually make them as familiar in the West as they had once been in Plutarch’s Rome. These texts circulated in early modern England in Greek, Latin, and vernacular languages; as elaborately annotated folios, portable parallel-text editions, and accessible vernacular octavos; in the form of originals, imitations, and adaptations; as books, performances, and songs. They were studied closely by many of Shakespeare’s colleagues, by the young wits, hacks, and lawyers who frequented the playhouses. Most importantly, the conversations spurred by these newly available texts left ubiquitous traces in early modern English culture, including — perhaps especially — in its theatres.
Homer and Greek tragedy in early modern England
Most scholars by now have acknowledged the impact of some Greek authors on this period’s drama. Beyond Shakespeare’s Plutarch, we recognize that Lucian influenced authors including Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and Thomas Dekker, and Shakespeare and Middleton’s Timon of Athens.12 We know that Greek romances, especially Heliodorus’ Aethiopica, shaped English drama as well as prose fiction; among others, Shakespeare alludes to the Aethiopica in Twelfth Night.13 Neil Rhodes and Jane Grogan have observed the widespread early modern interest in Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, whose impact is especially evident in Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, and Grogan has identified Herodotus as an influence on Shakespeare and Peele’s Titus Andronicus.14 Plutarch, Lucian, Heliodorus, Xenophon, and Herodotus share an important trait: they are all prose writers. Persuasively re-evaluating Greek as ‘the wild card’ that altered perceptions of both Latin and English in this period, Rhodes has argued that ‘it is Greek prose, not the poetry and drama, that is prominent in the sixteenth century’.15 He rightly calls attention to the notable visibility, relative to today, of works like Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, Isocrates’ orations, or Lucian’s dialogues. Yet in suggesting that we must choose between prose or poetry and drama, Rhodes implicitly echoes the longstanding critical claim that we will not find in early modern England the Greek writers since invested with the most substantial cultural capital: Homer and the tragedians.16 Despite some important challenges, approaches to the period’s Greek have tended to conclude, with A. D. Nuttall: ‘That Shakespeare was cut off from Greek poetry and drama is probably a bleak truth we should accept’.17 According to this scholarly consensus, tracing the influence of ‘first-division Greek literature’, of Homer, Sophocles, Euripides, or Aristophanes on early modern commercial drama, is a quixotic quest: improbable, unnecessary, and inevitably rooted more in our own wishful instincts than in the evidence.18
This special issue takes up this particular challenge. We argue that the increasing acknowledgment of English engagement with Greek prose testifies for, rather than against, an accompanying and inseparable awareness of Homer and the Greek tragedians. Critics have recently begun to uncover the breadth of these authors’ transmission in early modern Europe, and their significance for its literary worlds.19 We argue that developments in sixteenth-century English pedagogy, translation, theatrical production, and printing, demonstrate the growing visibility of these texts in English culture as well. Some of the evidence we present here is familiar; some is shown in a new light by recent scholarship; some is new. By mapping the chronology of English engagement with Greek onto the specifics of these authors’ dissemination, and onto changes in England’s universities, book trades, and stages, we seek to trace the circulation and impact of these works. At the moment when commercial playhouses began to flourish, Homer and Greek tragedy were not simply emerging into visibility in England: their trajectory had taken them from the universities to the grammar schools and beyond the classroom, and they had recently entered into England’s own book production. Emerging commercial dramatists could have encountered them in any or all of these domains. Indeed, by the sixteenth century’s final decades, the printing, adaptation, and performance of these texts had converged in England’s learned theatrical circles as a vibrant and avant-garde site of engagement. They would go on to play an important role in the complex classicisms that have come to be seen as a defining trait of this period’s commercial drama.
We begin with the Renaissance Greek curriculum, which guides Rhodes’ reappraisal of prose authors to a large extent. Micha Lazarus has recently shown that the teaching of Greek had become both widespread and routine at universities by 1540, and at strong grammar schools by about 1560.20 Prose and poetry had complementary roles in this teaching. Counting references to Greek authors in early modern grammar school documents, Baldwin observed: ‘Isocrates gets the greatest number of direct mentions, with the New Testament and Homer receiving each but one or two mentions less. The list then shades off through Demosthenes, Hesiod, Aesop, and Euripides to one or two chance mentions for each of several authors’.21 What did Baldwin’s ‘list’ mean in practice? Students would typically move from grammar to a prose author: most frequently Isocrates, often in combination with some part of the Greek Testament, with Aesop, Xenophon, or Lucian sometimes figuring as complementary or alternative authors.22 From here, they would go on to poetry, usually represented by Homer, often supplemented or introduced by Hesiod, and at times replaced or followed by Euripides.23 Additionally, they might read a further prose writer, such as Demosthenes or, less frequently, Plutarch or Heliodorus.24 Clearly, the interleaving of prose and poetry was a basic principle of the Greek curriculum.
Baldwin’s presentation of the evidence suggests that he saw these patterns as variable, and rightly so: looked at closely, no one curriculum emerges as identical to another. Rather than following a strict ‘Greek sequence’ or ‘standard syllabus’,25 courses in England drew on recent local precedent, but also improvised along the lines adumbrated by continental humanist practice, which, since its beginnings in fifteenth-century Italy, had been developing across Europe, in increasingly close collaboration with Greek printing.26 Recognizing this flexibility sheds light on curricular anomalies with important consequences for the role of poetry and drama. Homer’s works, for example, included the Battle of the Frogs and Mice, a short mock-epic that Philip Melanchthon believed the poet had composed ‘for the children whom he taught everywhere in Greece’.27 It was often printed alongside Aesop and Musaeus to introduce young readers to the Homeric idiom, and we know from the notebook of William Badger, a student at Winchester in 1561–67, that Christopher Johnson made extensive use of this poem in his teaching, in his own Latin translation.28 The two other surviving late Tudor versions suggest that others taught the poem too.29 Other records suggest pedagogical use in England of the didactic epyllia of ‘Pythagoras’, ‘Phocylides’, and Theognis, often taught on the continent.30 Although Aristophanes is not mentioned in school statutes, we know from Badger that Johnson approached Wealth ‘as a source of moral exempla to be used syllogistically’.31 Aristophanes and this play in particular had an established presence in continental curricula, which other teachers in England may have imitated: when the Earl of Essex arrived in Cambridge in 1577, formidably well-educated at the age of 11, he could reputedly read Aristophanes and Lucian without translation.32 Finally, in 1597–1600, we find Blackburn grammar school prescribing a range of Greek poets — ‘Hesiod, Homer, Theocritus, Pindarus’ — who appear in an anthology of thoroughly annotated excerpts appended to Clénard’s widely used Greek grammar.33 This anthology, Pierre Davantès’ Praxis, was often reprinted in England, and James VI studied it in Scotland.34 Other schools and tutors are likely to have made use of this resource, which also featured extracts from Aristophanes’ Wealth and Euripides’ Orestes. School theatricals also ensured students’ exposure to Greek drama outside the classroom: performances of ‘Orestes’ by Westminster schoolboys in 1567 and ‘Iphigenia’ by St Paul’s boys sometime in 1575–1582 testify to the visibility of Greek tragedy beyond any standard Greek sequence.35
Poetry and drama had, then, a fundamental role in the study of Greek at school, with a particular focus on Homer and Euripides, fringed by a constellation of other authors and excerpts. These curricula brought Greek poets and dramatists to grammar schools that educated early modern playwrights, including many who did not go on to university, such as Thomas Kyd (Merchant Taylors), Ben Jonson (Westminster), and Nathan Field (St Paul’s). In university teaching, we see these same principles. Robert Norgate, master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, from 1573–87 — when Marlowe attended the college — specified that students should construe ‘Homere or Demosthenes. or Hesiod. or Isocrates. etc.’ six days a week for about an hour each day.36 This plan of study bears out Lazarus’ suggestion that ‘the training received by the average undergraduate … recapitulated that of a full grammar-school education’, before moving on to other texts.37 The statutes for the first public lectureship in Greek, that of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in 1517, stipulated that Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, would be dedicated to grammar and ‘some part of the orations of Isocrates, Lucian, or Philostratus’, and Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays to ‘Aristophanes, Theocritus, Euripides, Sophocles, Pindar, Hesiod, or any other Greek poet of the most ancient ones, as well as some part of Demosthenes, Thucydides, Aristotle, Theophrastus or Plutarch’ (our emphasis).38 Here is the blueprint for the place Greek poets came to occupy in England’s Greek curricula at school and university: just after grammar and the first prose author. In English pedagogy, as in the continental tradition from which it evolved, Greek prose, poetry and drama coexisted and, crucially, complemented each other.
University statutes often prescribe Homer and Euripides in particular, together with Isocrates and Demosthenes in the most succinct examples, or else as part of much longer lists.39 Patterns of book ownership in the two university towns show these priorities in practice. The database of 316 inventories of books predominantly from early modern Oxford returns very similar numbers of Greek tragedy volumes as of Isocrates or Lucian, and considerably more of Homer and Demosthenes.40 In Cambridge, according to Lisa Jardine’s study of 150 probate inventories proved between 1535 and 1590, the most frequently owned books include a work of Homer and a work of Euripides, in addition to Greek grammars, dictionaries, Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics, Lucian, and a work of Plato.41 Homer and Euripides, then, were privileged authors in this academic environment, which shaped commercial playwrights including Christopher Marlowe, George Peele, Robert Greene, Thomas Heywood, Thomas Middleton, John Marston, Francis Beaumont, and John Fletcher. Curiously, moreover, the most common pedagogical text, Isocrates, is neither on Jardine’s list nor the most frequently owned Greek author in the PLRE records. The records, suggest a difference between texts used primarily for learning Greek, and texts that readers kept. The poets, it seems, typically belonged to the second category.
These patterns of study and book ownership usefully situate ‘Greek studies’ within the wider phenomenon of Greek texts’ growing influence in diverse spheres of English culture. As Lazarus stresses, university teaching featured Greek not only as a subject in itself, but across fields including medicine — for which it became essentially a prerequisite — as well as rhetoric, dialectic, and moral and political philosophy. Aristotle’s Politics, for instance, which is on Jardine’s list, attracted extensive attention in England in the sixteenth century.42 Approaches to this and other similarly popular texts were nourished by the new accessibility of original versions, yet their focus was not linguistic. Greek-only volumes account for just under a third of the PLRE copies of Greek-curriculum authors mentioned above.43 With Plutarch, whose works were read primarily outside the Greek curriculum, only 3 out of the 54 recorded copies were Greek-only, and about half were Latin, French, or English translations featuring no Greek at all. Famously, it was Louis Le Roy’s 1568 French version and commentary on Aristotle’s Politics that every other Cambridge man pored over in the late 1570s.44 Shakespeare’s ‘non-Greek’ Plutarch, that is, formed part of a larger set of Greek texts that crucially shaped English thought, and gave new coordinates to many intellectual endeavours. Though linked, of course, to the study of Greek, these texts’ impact was not bound by it. Greek study spurred their initial visibility, but translations gave them a topicality and cultural relevance far beyond their philological interest. The circulation of Greek texts marked an indelible cultural shift that emerging playwrights could not have missed.
These multiplying forms of transmission, we argue, had important implications for the period’s literary production. The distinction between pedagogical texts and texts that developed lives beyond the classroom suggests at least two kinds of circulation for Greek poets. One might, but did not need to, have mastered Greek grammar in order to take an active interest in the way Plutarch’s Lives or Aristotle’s Politics influenced English discussions of history and politics. By the same token, one did not need to study Greek to develop an interest in the literary works that scholars were exploring in the original, usually with a Latin version at hand. In fact, there was every reason to be drawn to these works. Thomas Elyot wrote: ‘From noble Homere … as from a fountaine proceded all eloquence and lernyng’.45 Piero Vettori voiced a related conventional idea: ‘Homer, the prince of poets, lit the way as it were for the others and showed them the path … through the fields of the Muses’.46 Common topoi like these cast Greek poetry as a repository of ancient wisdom, the font of rhetorical art and the origin of literary genres. English commercial playwrights voiced their awareness of the Greek origins of the theatre itself, often through familiar etymological claims. Thomas Lodge traced ‘the name of Tragedye… to his original of Tragos,Hircus, et Ode, Cantus, (so called) for that the actors thereof had in rewarde for theyr labour a Gotes skynne fylled wyth wyne’. Thomas Heywood also defended theatre by citing its illustrious Greek origins, noting that ‘[t]he word Tragedy, is derived from the Greeke word τραγος’, and ‘Comedy is deriued from the Greeke word Κομος a street, and ωδη, Cantus, a song, a streetsong’ [sic].47 Ben Jonson identified comedy’s moral power with its Aristophanic roots, and Heywood observed that ‘Homer … composed his Illiads in the shape of a Tragedy, his Odisseas like a Comedy’, while the actual dramatic forms ‘in Athens … had their first originall’.48 Before and alongside direct exposure to Homer and the tragedians, these playwrights would have encountered them in a host of familiar sources, such as Cicero, Quintilian, and Horace, who frequently invoked them; Virgil and Seneca, who famously imitated them; mythographers including Boccaccio or Conti who had publicised excerpts from them; and Erasmus, who did the same in his Adagia.49 Even those with no ambition to study Greek would have had tantalisingly fragmentary and oblique ideas about Greek poets and their reputations, sparking interest in emerging opportunities for reading their works in accessible forms.50
As Greek studies became established, ‘Greekless’ readers found themselves more and more actively directed towards these opportunities. Johnson did not teach the Odyssey at Winchester in the 1560s, but he devoted class time to the allegory of Odysseus’ travels ‘as Homer narrated’ them, and the allegory of Zeus’ golden chain in Iliad 8.18-27.51 By the time Badger and his classmates left the school, they would have had both the curiosity and the linguistic resources to explore Helius Eobanus Hessus’ acclaimed Ilias (1540) or Simon Lemnius’ Odyssea (1549), recent Latin translations whose Virgilian idiom inspired Johnson’s own version of the Battle of the Frogs and Mice.52 A similar setting inspired the first known English version of Homer. The translator, Arthur Hall, William Cecil’s ward from 1552, was educated privately together with Cecil’s son Thomas.53 Though Hall did not learn Greek in this context, he practised translation from Hugues Salel’s French Les dix premiers livres de l'Iliade (1545), another well-regarded mid-century rendition.54 (For Ezra Pound, Salel’s was ‘the only translation of Homer one can read with continued pleasure’.55) In 1581, this English Homer would become the first one to reach print, as critics often note. Yet Hall is particularly valuable in showing the parallel and interlinked paths by which Homer’s epics began to reach English audiences in the 1550s.56 His tutor, Gabriel Goodman, had just come down from Cambridge where Greek was flourishing, with college lectures starting to be formalised in Goodman’s matriculation year, 1546. That same year, he could have watched a spectacular staging of Aristophanes’ Peace — ‘with the performance of the Scarabeus his flying up to Iupiters Pallace with a Man & his Basket of victualls on her Back’ — directed by John Dee, then a newly appointed college ‘Under-Reader of the Greeke tongue’.57 Goodman would go on to exert a decisive influence on English grammar schools and their Greek curricula.58 But it was not Greek study that introduced Hall to Homer’s epic. Rather, inspired by his own Greek interests, Goodman brought the first printed vernacular verse translation of the Iliad into his teaching of French; and it made an impression on his pupils because they knew of Homer, above all as the author ‘Virgil … gathered from’.59 Hall’s translation captures a pivotal moment: the establishment of Greek in England and the new, elegant, eminently readable translations of Homer from Europe’s presses in the 1540s, combine to give Homer a presence beyond the Greek curriculum. At some point between the late 1550s and early 1560s, Thomas Drant, still in Cambridge, Englished Iliad 1-5, probably from the Greek, and most likely inspired by the same wave of continental translations.60 Hall’s and Drant’s versions represent different aspects of the same moment of reception: they bear witness to the diverse, interconnected modes of circulation of Homer’s epics at mid-century, after which they become topical as well as increasingly accessible.
For Greek tragedy, the mid-century marked a different turning point. After Erasmus’ highly popular Latin versions of Euripides’ Hecuba (1503) and Iphigenia in Aulis (1506), more translations proliferated, with a particular surge beginning in the 1540s. Euripides’ complete tragedies appeared in Latin in 1541, with Sophocles following suit in 1543, and Aeschylus in 1555.61 In the same period, writers began producing Latin and vernacular imitations and adaptations, inspired by the plays’ new accessibility. The turn to Greek in England contributed to these developments: by 1543 Roger Ascham, then a fellow in St. John’s College, Cambridge, had completed a Latin translation of Sophocles’ Philoctetes in the style of Seneca, and in 1544 John Christopherson, another Cambridge scholar, composed the only Tudor play to be written in Greek, ‘modeled closely on … Euripides’.62 Like Homer, the tragedians migrated beyond these academic settings. Ascham’s most famous pupil, Elizabeth I, was reported to have translated a play by Euripides.63 In the mid-1550s Jane, Lady Lumley produced an English version of Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis.64 Lumley’s translation reflected her private Greek education, linked only indirectly to the universities; her brother Henry Fitzalan and her husband John Lumley both studied at Queens’ College, Cambridge in the late 1540s. The next known English translation of a Greek play was even more emancipated from linguistic study: in 1566 George Gascoigne and Francis Kinwelmershe, neither of whom has been documented as attending university, produced Jocasta in English for a performance at Gray’s Inn, based on Lodovico Dolce’s 1549 Italian adaptation of Euripides’ Phoenissae, and advertising the work as a ‘Tragedie written in Greeke by Euripides’.65 Meanwhile, scholarly interest in these works continued to grow: George Peele’s English Iphigenia seems to date from his time in Oxford in the mid-1570s, and Thomas Watson’s Latin Antigone was performed sometime after 1577, probably at the Inns of Court.66
These versions suggest that English writers’ increasing interest in translating Greek tragedy developed hand-in-hand with attention to these plays’ theatrical possibilities. Ascham’s Philoctetes and Christopherson’s Jephthes are likely to have been performed in Cambridge or been written with such a performance in mind. Recent scholarship suggests that Lumley may have similarly approached Iphigenia with an interest in the practical possibilities of staging.67 Gascoigne and Kinwelmershe wrote for the stage, as did Peele and Watson. At least from the 1560s, then, we can speak of a well-documented culture of performance of Greek tragedy on England’s learned stages. Beyond these translations, schools and universities contributed to this performance culture as well: King’s College, Cambridge prepared Sophocles’ Ajax for performance before Elizabeth in 1564, just as Westminster boys performed Orestes in 1567 and St Paul’s boys performed Iphigenia sometime between 1575 and 1582.68 The attractions of the theatre, then, provided some of the strongest spurs for the period’s attention to Greek tragedy.
As translations and productions multiplied, rising interest in Greek texts registered in the publishing industry as well. The 1581 publication of Hall’s Homer translation intersected with a new phase in the expansion of Greek studies, largely unnoticed in historical accounts. In early 1581, the stationer Henry Bynneman was heavily invested in producing England’s first Greek dictionary. At this point, he got into trouble for printing a libel written by Hall, by then a quarrelsome MP and able to pay handsomely for this illicit printing.69 This commission coincided with Bynneman’s entry of Hall’s Ten Books of Homer’s Iliades in the Stationers Register.70 It is not clear which project inspired the other, but Bynneman’s involvement means that the first English Homer greeted its first potential buyers as part of a striking group of new publications, all issued by him in 1581: the Greek dictionary already mentioned, the first commentary on Aristotle’s Ethics to be published in England, and an anthology of prose texts (by Isocrates, Lucian, and pseudo-Plutarch) which would go on to become the most in-demand English imprint in Greek.71 A year after this Greek splash, Thomas Marsh printed Clénard’s grammar in England for the first time. And in March 1583, Bynneman, now in the final stages of printing a second Greek dictionary — Guillaume Morel’s Latin-Greek lexicon, with added entries in English — entered Homer in Greek and Latin, the New Testament in Greek, Aristotle’s works, and commentaries on the Politics and Ethics, the two works by Aristotle on Jardine’s list.72 Evidently, this enterprising printer-publisher and others in his profession judged that, for the first time in its history, the English market warranted specialisation in the domestic production of some Greek texts. Hall’s Homer became swept up into this broader Greek publishing venture. While his translation’s earlier origins reflect the dissemination of the Homeric epics among different types of English readers, its belated publication points to something different: a concerted interest in Greek texts, including Homer, by the English book world.
Greek plays began making their way into print at precisely the same moment. Lumley’s Iphigenia remained in manuscript, but Jocasta was printed by Bynneman in 1573, in a collection of Gascoigne’s works described as ‘Gathered partely (by translation) in the fyne outlandish gardins of Euripides …’ and republished in 1575.73 That same year, John Day brought out a Greek edition of Euripides’ Trojan Women, the first English printing of a Greek tragedy in its original language.74 Day had recently set a substantial amount of Greek text for Ascham’s posthumous Scholemaster, including extracts from Homer, Sophocles, and Hesiod.75 The promotion of Greek in this highly successful publication may have inspired Day to experiment with other outlets for his press’s newly acquired expertise. His Greek selection may have also been linked with his recent publication of the political prose of Euripides’ celebrated translator, George Buchanan.76 Indeed, two years later, Thomas Vautrollier brought out Buchanan’s Baptistes, a Latin tragedy influenced by Euripides that had previously only appeared on the continent.77 John Wolfe followed suit in 1581 by publishing Watson’s Latin Antigone and Oxford printer Joseph Barnes produced a Greek edition of Aristophanes’ Knights in 1593.78 Like Homer’s epics, then, Attic drama, which had been circulating in multiple forms within and beyond the scholar’s study, officially entered the realm of the English book trade near the end of the century, as part of its general turn towards Greek.
Compared to continental Europe, England’s Greek books may seem predictably late. The domestic context, however, tells a very different story. Classical editions, as is well known, were ‘undertaken in the largest centres of Latin printing’ and ‘distributed throughout Europe by a sophisticated and efficient network of book wholesalers and bookshops’.79 Peter Blayney estimates that between one and two thirds of books traded in England in 1526–1534 were imported, yet for classical books, reliance on the import trade was virtually complete until the 1570s.80 At this point, David McKitterick notes, the London trade began to ‘feel confident enough of its market’ to print Latin classical texts in substantial quantities.81 The explosion of original-language editions was dramatic. Out of Roman poets and dramatists, for example, Ovid’s works in Latin were first printed in England in 1570, those of Horace in 1574, and the plays of Seneca in 1589; Virgil in the original appeared in 1570 for the first time since 1515,82 and Terence in 1575, after the previous Latin edition in 1496.83 Given the status and popularity of all these Roman authors, Day’s 1575 Greek edition of Trojan Women seems not late, but in fact notably early. It is equally telling that by 1591, there are native Greek editions of Homer’s Iliad and Hesiod’s Works and Days, whereas no play by Plautus is printed in Latin in sixteenth-century England. As English stationers began to see themselves as publishers of the classics, their swift ventures into Greek clearly reflect its established presence in England’s classical pedagogy.
Examined more closely, this move towards classical publishing tells us more about the position of Homer and the tragedians in England at this time. These original-language editions appeared at a moment when voices from both universities called for a learned press that would further the cause of bonae literae in England. Beyond competitively priced textbooks for teaching, these academics called for support to English authors through financial investment, competent printing, and the securing of ‘effective Europe-wide distribution’ for their works.84 This is the backdrop against which printing houses were set up in Oxford and Cambridge in 1583-4, and London publishers like Thomas Vautrollier and John Wolfe began to invest in British academic works in Latin, and to promote them in Europe.85 Significantly, the printing of Latin drama in England begins precisely at this time, with close ties to this agenda.86 Before Vautrollier’s 1577 publication of Buchanan’s Baptistes, Latin plays by British authors had only ever reached print on the continent.87 With Baptistes, Vautrollier was reprinting a successful play by an internationally acclaimed author. Wolfe’s 1581 publication of Watson’s Latin Antigone, in contrast, broke new ground in academic publishing, by investing in a new play by a new author, and by adding Latin drama to the English scholarly achievements fostered through local print.88 Joseph Barnes did the same with his 1592 publication of Ulysses Redux (Ulysses Returned), a ‘stage translation’ of the Odyssey, composed by William Gager for an Oxford performance earlier that year.89 It was the third Latin play by a British author to find its way to print in England. Wolfe’s and Barnes’ publications offer telling commentaries on the status of Homer and Greek drama. As choice recent offerings from England’s learned playwrights, they testify to the topicality of Homer and Greek tragedy, and to their importance as a source of dramatic creativity.90 But these stylish adaptations for performance are also sixteenth-century England’s most focussed academic publications on these authors, and as such, they point suggestively to the theatre as a privileged site for their reception. The question of where we find Homer and the tragedians in England at the close of the sixteenth century finds one clear answer on the stage.
Both Watson and Gager were intimately familiar with Latin and vernacular versions of the works they also read in Greek.91 Both of them also had points of contact with the commercial stage. Watson was friendly with Marlowe and Kyd, as well as writing for the popular stage himself.92 Gager’s Odyssean play became a cause celèbre when it sparked a lively debate about the morality of the theatre; this would hardly have gone unnoticed by those writing for London’s popular stages.93 Gager was also close to Peele, who was by this time writing for the commercial stage; he had earlier praised Peele’s English Iphigenia precisely for crossing the boundary between academic and non-academic audiences. Noting that Greek and Latin are “beyond a great number of men,” he observed that “It is for them that such works are written, yet certain things written in English may please even the learned’.94 These points of exchange between the worlds of learned and popular playwriting are revealing. They offer concrete examples of how the revival of Greek at the universities, which gradually evolved into a multiform diffusion of Greek texts in England, came to find a home in London’s new playhouses. These developments lie behind lost commercial plays such as Troy, Agamemnon, and Orestes’ Furies, which suggest vernacular responses to Greek works.95 It is especially telling that commercial playwrights who did not attend university registered their interest in this cultural turn even more saliently than those that did — from Ben Jonson’s distinctive engagement with Aristophanes and Pindar, to George Chapman, who forged an entire poetic identity out of being ‘one not taught’, but who nevertheless learned the ‘Greek rootes, & from thence the Groues that grow’.96 Among the varied, complex and unpredictable classical conversations of England’s commercial stages, Homer and the tragedians made their voices heard.
Rethinking reception, or why Homer and Greek drama?
Pursuing the influence of Homer and the Greek tragedians on early modern commercial dramatists is not, then, such a quixotic project after all. Attentive reading of the period’s educational practices and patterns of textual production demonstrates that Greek poets and playwrights both circulated and attracted interest; ignoring their visibility perpetuates an incomplete understanding of the period’s literary development. And beyond the importance of correcting the historical record, tracing responses to Homeric epic and Greek tragedy in this period serves a crucial function in reshaping our understanding of England’s classicisms and its commercial theatres. Homer and the tragedians represented not simply prestigious, authoritative models for public oral performance, but the very origins of an intersection between literature and popular performance culture. Rethinking early modern playwrights’ encounters with these authors requires us to rethink not only England’s relationship with Greek, nor even simply the nature of reception, but also our understanding of England’s commercial theatre and its early development.
Tracing these texts’ circulation upends the widespread scholarly assumptions about their invisibility. In the realm of the tragedians, scholars have been surprisingly unaware of the extent of their translations into any languages during this period: as recently as 2010, Adrian Poole wrote that a small handful of plays ‘created the dominant image of Euripides at least up until the end of the 18th century, when, like Sophocles’ and Aeschylus’, his plays first became available to the Greekless reader in their entirety’,97 and Deborah Shuger has similarly identified ‘Euripides’ Hecuba (1506), Iphigenia in Aulis (1506), Alcestis (1554) and Phoenissae (1560) and Sophocles’ Antigone (1533)’ as the only ‘translations of Greek tragedy (including both Latin and vernacular) printed before 1560’ — although as noted earlier, all extant Greek tragedies had been translated into Latin by 1555.98 This widespread misunderstanding of the plays’ status has played a crucial role in perpetuating the view that Greek plays were invisible in this period, in stark contrast with the potent influence attributed to Roman drama.99 Some critics have discussed the plays’ influence in Italy and France, where printing and translation of Greek texts was more widespread: in Children of Oedipus, Martin Mueller examined Greek dramatic influence on early modern European plays, turning only to the significantly later Milton as his only English example, and more recently Blair Hoxby has pointed to the influence of Greek tragedy on the development of tragic opera in Renaissance Italy.100 More recently still, a 2015 special issue of Anabases revisited the significance of sixteenth-century Latin translations of Greek plays, with articles on Erasmus’ Euripides, Buchanan’s Alcestis, and competing translations of Sophocles’ Antigone, among others.101
English responses to Greek plays in this period, however, have continued to receive surprisingly little critical attention, despite evidence not only that continental editions and translations of Greek tragedy circulated in England, but that English writers actively participated in the phenomenon of translating Greek plays. As discussed earlier, translations of Greek plays by English writers included Ascham’s Philoctetes, Lumley’s Iphigenia, Buchanan’s Medea and Alcestis, Gascoigne and Kinwelmershe’s Jocasta, Peele’s Iphigenia, and Watson’s Antigone. Yet scholars have not typically included these plays in accounts of the period’s engagement with Greek drama. Despite Lumley’s considerable interest for feminist scholars, her translation has been widely ignored by histories of classical reception, partly because it circulated in manuscript rather than print, and partly because of her debts to Erasmus’ Latin translation.102 Gascoigne and Kinwelmershe are similarly often dismissed as having merely translated Dolce’s Giocasta, an indirect adaptation, rather than grappling directly with Euripides’ Phoenissae.103 Other translators, such as Watson, seem simply not to have registered in scholarly accounts of England’s Greek reception.104 Similarly, Erasmus’ Latin translations, dedicated to an English patron and in one case produced in England, have not been linked with England’s intellectual culture.
Despite the records of English engagement with translating Greek plays, then, reception histories of Greek drama continue to assert that ‘no English translations were printed before 1649’: either ignoring Jocasta or denying it the status of translation, and excluding from relevance all unpublished manuscripts and the Latin versions of Watson and Buchanan.105 As with responses to England’s Greek in this period more broadly, critics have been reluctant to acknowledge the evidence that in fact English men and women were demonstrably involved in reading and translating the plays. And in the absence of this acknowledgment, the prospect of pursuing responses to the plays among commercial playwrights has appeared chimerical.
Recent scholarship has begun to challenge these assumptions. Just as increased attention to the transnational book trade has called attention to the circulation of continental texts in England, increased interest in the period’s transnational traffic in theatrical performances has facilitated discussion about English awareness of and access to European performances.106 Emrys Jones notably documented Titus Andronicus’ debts to Euripides’ Hecuba, and Louise Schleiner explored apparent traces of the Oresteia in Hamlet.107 Laurie Maguire has argued for the availability of Euripides’ plays to Shakespeare, and a number of scholars have attended to echoes of Alcestis in The Winter’s Tale.108 Growing interest in the period’s academic drama has also shed new light on performances of Greek plays at Oxford, Cambridge, and the Inns of Court.109 Beyond these signs of interest from scholars of early modern drama, moreover, classicists exploring the nature of performance as a means of reception have emphasized the significance of Greek plays’ afterlives as a means of reflecting on what these plays are and do. Classical scholars including Edith Hall, Fiona Macintosh, and Helene Foley have demonstrated the value of performance reception as a methodological category, and although later periods have proven more fertile for tracing productions in detail, they have acknowledged the sixteenth century as a foundational moment for these afterlives.110
Critics have likewise been slow to recognise the circulation of Homer’s epics in England. In one crucial respect, however, the picture is different: Chapman’s translations over 1598–1624 of the Homeric corpus — including the epics as well as the pseudo-Homerica — have always attracted interest. Chapman’s Homer, described by Pound as ‘the best English “Homer”’, has traditionally figured as a landmark in work on English translation.111 Scholars focussed on Chapman’s oeuvre as a whole have related these translations to his philosophical outlook, while Colin Burrow has given them an important place in the history of English Renaissance epic and the emotions of epic.112 Many of these scholars mention the existence of English predecessors and point to Chapman’s use of continental humanist publications.113 Yet despite the fact that Chapman’s response to the epics, and to their reception by his continental contemporaries, represents one the most sustained and vivid engagements with Homer in the European Renaissance, few critics have approached his work in that light.114 The literary and philosophical conversations spurred by the discovery of Homer, and the distinctive shapes they acquired as they reached English culture, have not taken centre stage in these discussions. Thus, by contrast with Greek tragedy, where translations have been overlooked, the very visibility and extraordinariness of Chapman’s Homer has combined with the wider scepticism about the influence of Greek texts in England, to obscure the context of Homeric reception out of which his translation emerged, and its wider impact. We see this gap especially in discussions of Homer and the English stage, where critics often ask whether Shakespeare read Chapman’s Iliad, without connecting this question to the broader status of Homer in English literary and dramatic culture and its implications for writers’ attitudes to myth, their approaches to the ethics of literature, their debates about the polity, and understanding of literary genre.115
Recent scholarship has made strides in recovering these contexts. Critics have excavated the impact of the discovery of Homer’s epics on various domains, discourses, and art forms in early modern Europe.116 France especially, which often served as England’s threshold to continental humanism, has been the focus of a number of these studies. Scholars have also begun to explore the reverberations of this discovery in England, and to turn to the popular stage. Jessica Wolfe has traced Chapman’s interest in ‘ironic’ modes in the Iliad to early modern philological traditions, going on suggestively to link this ‘ironic’ take to satire on the English commercial stage.117 Wolfe’s intriguing proposal opens the way for further properly contextualised explorations of Homeric presences on the early modern stage, not only for the Iliad, but also for Odyssey. The latter is particularly overdue, given that scholars have often considered the resonances between this epic and the tragicomedies of the popular stage.118
Growing interest in reconsidering the status of Greek texts underscores the importance of articulating new models for reception in a period when access to original texts almost invariably involved some form of mediation. Alongside attention to the realities of transmission, a more fruitful approach to the period’s engagement with Greek texts must respond to changing theoretical models of intertextuality, which have made leaps in recent decades.119 Pointing to the intricacy and multiplicity of poetic memory, classical scholars have made us reconsider the implications of terms such as ‘source’, ‘allusion’, and ‘model’, placing the project of ‘source-study’ within entirely different parameters. Recent scholarship on early modern drama has begun to articulate more nuanced approaches towards these terms.120 Reassessing our understanding of Homer and the Greek tragedians requires particular sensitivity to evolving theoretical models, because of these authors’ necessary embeddedness in multiple textual forms in the sixteenth century.
These variable textual forms hinge especially on the question of language. What did Shakespeare hear in his mind when he encountered Plutarch’s Casca calling for help in Greek or when he imagined his own Cicero addressing an audience in Greek? Some readers would have encountered the Greek poets in books that had no Greek at all in them: in French, Italian, Spanish, German, or Dutch, in varied kinds of distinctly modern-sounding verse, or relatively humdrum prose. Others would have read them in Latin versions that pastiched Roman poets, especially Virgil and Seneca. Still others would have approached them in parallel texts, with an artificial Latin intended to trace the form of the Greek. A small minority even had polemical notions about what Greek sounded like. But for all of them, Greek was a foreign language and one that, unlike Latin, was largely no longer spoken: an object of study and speculation. What Greek was lay somewhere in this range of imagined possibilities. The resulting, radically different perceptions of literary texture were a crucial part of any early modern ‘allusion’ to a Greek poet and our own approach to ‘echoes’ and ‘intertexts’ must shift to accommodate them.
Beyond the forms of mediation intrinsic in translations, Greek texts reached early modern readers filtered through intervening textual responses, complicating the possibility of direct lines of transmission. Conventional approaches to tracing influences in early modern plays tend to identify the most demonstrably accessible sources, and privilege them over less conspicuously visible texts treating similar material. If we can trace an allusion to Plutarch, according to this thinking, we can exclude access to Euripides for the same material; similarly, knowledge of Heliodorus counters the possibility of recourse to the Odyssey. Scholars routinely remind us that Shakespeare could have found allusions to myth in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, or Cooper’s Dictionary, making Greek sources unnecessary.121 Yet as Emrys Jones has pointed out in his study of Shakespeare’s allusions to Hecuba, ‘we are not faced with a choice between Euripides and Ovid, since no one denies Ovidian influence. The choice is between Ovid alone and Ovid together with Euripides’.122 Evidence of reading habits consistently suggests, in fact, simultaneous engagement with multiple versions: to take only two very different commercial playwrights, Jonson’s exuberant marginalia cite multiple sources, as do Thomas Heywood’s notes on his Troia Britannica.
We have argued, similarly, that acknowledging Shakespeare’s keen interest in Plutarch does not require us to exclude the possibility of Shakespeare’s Euripides or Shakespeare’s Homer: in fact, it suggests precisely the opposite, registering his broader interest in the Greekness of Plutarch’s world. We have also proposed that some of the primary motivations for turning to Homer and Greek tragedy lay in the layered significance contributed to these texts by better-known later sources: Roman authors imitating them, or writing about the same material; early modern mythographical and rhetorical compendia responding to this mixed tradition; and the later Greek prose texts that had entered circulation more quickly. Homer and the tragedians inevitably greeted early modern readers and audiences through mediated forms both before and alongside their original versions. Encountering these texts always necessarily meant encountering multiple, simultaneous versions. They complicated notions of originality and authenticity, and must similarly challenge our understanding of reception and how it works. Their intrinsic multiplicity requires recognition of co-existing, competing, and collaborative models, and alternative forms of authority, opening up an attendant freedom to select from alternative forms of response. To trace Greek texts in this period, then, is to confront the nature of reception in an unusually full complexity. In doing so, classical scholars will find new and unfamiliar versions of Homer and of Euripides, versions worth recognising especially because of their foundational role in establishing modern encounters with these authors.
For early modernists, these insights offer resources not only for understanding the period’s evolving relationship with its classical pasts, but also for expanding our understanding of the kinds of contributions that new access to these past realms provided. We have long recognised some of the complex constellation of ideas that Greek texts brought to this period: Reformation theology rooted in new access to the Greek New Testament, emerging understandings of bodies and medicine based on the increasingly available writings of Galen and other Greek physicians, and political philosophy drawing on Aristotle and on Greek historians. Yet in all of these arenas, scholars have written about central aspects of English intellectual life without acknowledging that in doing so they are implicitly engaging with the reception of Greek textual culture. We suggest that recognising the Greek debts of these intellectual phenomena matters, and allows us to observe additional, overlooked, contributions from the new Greek revival as well.
Among these multiple forms and possibilities for creative response, a crucial feature of Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides is their association with oral performance. For scholars of the theatre, it bears reminding that early moderns consistently identified Greece with the authoritative origins of the dramatic tradition.123 Critical discussions about the genres of tragedy and comedy identified them with their Greek origins, and Homer, widely understood in terms of performance, was widely seen as the model for Greek drama; Aeschylus reportedly claimed, in a phrase widely circulated in the sixteenth century, that his works were ‘little slices from the great banquets of Homer’.124 Homer and the tragedians represented an extreme version of a culture that early moderns identified pervasively with performance. Recent scholarship on reading in antiquity has emphasized its intrinsically social, oral, and performative nature;125 William Johnson has turned especially to the writings of Plutarch to demonstrate that books, in the ancient world, served as ‘vehicles for performative reading in high social contexts.’126 Early moderns, themselves no strangers to performative reading, could easily have arrived at similar conclusions, given their roots in texts that were both easily available and intimately known to the period’s dramatists, including works by Plutarch, Plato, and Aristotle.127
Although early moderns identified Homer and Greek playwrights with the prestige of high literary culture, their associations with popular oral performance are significant for their appeal to commercial dramatists. Greek literary theory through Aristotle and Longinus promoted a model of audience-oriented literary effectiveness, rooted in soliciting affective reactions from literature.128 As scholarship on early modern English theatres has demonstrated, audiences at the commercial theatres in particular came to identify plays’ success especially with their ability to move audiences’ emotions, a goal that, Plato observed, carried its own financial rewards.129 ‘[I]f I set them crying,’ his Ion remarked of audiences to his Homeric performances, ‘I shall laugh myself because of the money I take’.130 For early modern playwrights seeking to attract paying audiences to England’s emerging commercial playhouses, the oral performativity intrinsically linked with the newly visible Greek texts offered a compelling model for popular outreach. This aspect of the Greek tradition found its epicentre in Homer and the tragedians, the authors most conspicuously linked with a tradition of popular oral performance.
This special issue
The essays that follow pursue early modern responses to Greek by examining intersections between English commercial playwrights and Greek authors, with a shared focus on the influence of Homer and the tragedians. Our contributors take up a wide range of questions, methods, and topics, but they all attend to the processes of material transmission that introduced Greek texts to these writers, and the unpredictable interactions that shaped access and responses to these texts. By doing so, they underscore the ways that multiple coexisting voices worked together both to represent and to respond to these Greek authors.
The essays in the first section consider the intertwined presence of Homer and the Homeric tradition across a range of English stages, challenging notions of textual purity by exploring creative interactions between Greek originals and Latin and vernacular responses to the Iliad and the Odyssey. In ‘Homeric Voices in Antony and Cleopatra’, Yves Peyré moves beyond the play’s acknowledged debts to North’s Plutarch and Virgil’s Aeneid to trace the ways that Homeric verbal patterns, filtered through Latin translations and imitations, came to offer Shakespeare particular possibilities for imagining a male hero’s surrender to irresistibly tempting female beauty. While Peyré traces a single playwright’s response to a range of indirectly mediated Homeric images, Charlotte Coffin explores two playwrights who appear at first glance to represent diametrically opposed models of engagement with Homer. In ‘Heywood’s Ages and Chapman’s Homer: Nothing in Common?’, Coffin shows that although Thomas Heywood’s apparently profligate and vulgar recreations of classical myths at the lowbrow Red Bull Theatre have come to represent the period’s failed attempts at Greek access, while George Chapman’s translations of Homer earned him a reputation as an elite scholar, the two playwrights offer intriguing intersections in their uses of classical precursors for their own self-fashioning purposes. Expanding her scope to an even larger set of early modern Homers, Claire Kenward explores moments in which real, remembered, imagined, or symbolically embodied copies of the Iliad interact with early modern stages. Her essay, ‘Reading Homer on the Early Modern Stage’, juxtaposes plays including Thomas Goffe’s university drama Couragious Turke (1619) and Thomas Heywood’s popular Ages plays to explore metatheatrical and intertextual moments in which playwrights mix Homer and later Homeric material. Together, the essays in this section suggest that recognising the many layers of early modern Homerica requires radically complicating our notions of the ‘source’ and a perceived ‘original’.
The essays in the volume’s second section discuss both direct and indirect forms of engagement with Greek tragedies in English plays by Pickering, Heywood, Goffe, and Shakespeare. Transmitted in Greek, Latin, and vernacular translations, and through staged performances as well as written texts, Greek plays raise new sets of questions about processes of reception. In ‘Classical Greek Drama and the English Renaissance Stage’, Gordon Braden opens this conversation by surveying scholarly approaches to connecting these two famous dramatic moments, attending especially to promising recent developments, and going on to pursue Plutarch’s rich store of direct quotations from Greek tragedy as an especially dense node of contact between Greek and early modern playwrights. Leah Whittington turns to the same intermediary towards different methodological ends; in ‘Plutarch in Performance: Greek Tragedy and Shakespeare’s Coriolanus’, she examines Plutarch’s emphasis on dramatic gesture and movement as a source of Shakespeare’s interest in bodily gesture, investigating the climactic encounter between Coriolanus and Volumnia as a revisitation of classical suppliant dramas mediated through Plutarch. In ‘Orestes in Early Modern English Drama’, Robert Miola examines both direct and indirect responses to classical stagings of Orestes’ revenge in four plays representing substantially different moments, settings, and approaches: John Pickering’s 1567 Horestes, Thomas Heywood’s 1632 The Second Part of the Iron Age, Thomas Goffe’s The Tragedy of Orestes (perf. 1609-19), and Christopher Wase’s 1649 translation of Sophocles Electra.
Each of these essays, then, contributes in different ways to the project of re-examining the distinctive, eclectic, and multiple forms through which Homer and the Greek tragedians made their way into the imaginations and textual productions of early modern commercial playwrights. The volume ends with an Afterword by Charles Martindale, who reflects on the essays in the context of the broader question of how early modern responses to Greek might alter our understanding of classical reception in the period.
Tania Demetriou is Lecturer in Early Modern Literature at the University of York. She works on classical reception in the early modern period, especially on literary responses to Homer. She has published on topics including Spenser, Chapman, the Elizabethan epyllion, and the Homeric Question and co-edited The Culture of Translation in Early Modern England and France, 1500-1660 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) with Rowan Tomlinson, and Milton, Drama, and Greek Texts (The Seventeenth Century, 31:2 (2016)), with Tanya Pollard.
Tanya Pollard is Professor of English at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Centre. Her books include Shakespeare’s Theater: A Sourcebook (Blackwell, 2003); Drugs and Theater in Early Modern England (Oxford, 2005); and Shakespearean Sensations: Experiencing Literature in Early Modern England, co-edited with Katharine Craik (Cambridge, 2013). She is currently completing Greek Tragic Women on Shakespearean Stages, forthcoming with Oxford University Press.
We are grateful to Charles Martindale, Matthew Reynolds, William Stenhouse, and the anonymous reader for this special issue for comments on this essay, and to all the contributors of this collection for many stimulating conversations over this project. Unless otherwise specified all translations are ours.