From the collection of Comedies and Tragedies edited by Nicholas Brylinger, Basle, 1540

Translation (C) C. C. Love, Toronto 1992


Thanks should be given to Leicester Bradner for his "Check List of Original Neo-Latin Dramas" (1943) which was revised and incorporated into his article "The Latin Drama of the Renaissance," Studies in the Renaissance, IV, 31-70 (1957), which names scores of Latin plays still extant and where they may be found. Many of his predecessors and contemporaries should also be mentioned for their pioneer work: C. E. Herford, F. S. Boas, G. C. Moore-Smith, T. W. Baldwin, A. B. Harbage and others listed in the extensive bibliography of The English Drama: 1485-1585, written by F. P. Wilson and after his death revised with a bibliography by G. K. Hunter, in the Oxford History of English Literature IV. Part I (Oxford, 1969). Kenneth Charlton's Education in Renaissance England (Routledge and Kegan Paul and University of Toronto Press, 1965) is particularly useful and illuminating for an overview of education in the schools. F. S. Boas, University Drama in the Tudor Age, is equally outstanding and is still "the standard work in this field," though it should be noted that the long quotations of Latin are not translated.

There were three main collections of Renaissance Latin drama made: by Brylinger in 1540 (10); Oporinus in 1547 (16); and Schonaeus in 1602-4 (17); the latter called himself "The Christian Terence." The five plays presented here are from Nicholas Brylinger, Comedies and Tragedies (Basle, 1540). Eight of the ten plays in his collection are based on scriptural stories; the last two, says Brylinger, are "very pleasant comedies painting the mores of this very corrupt century." Perhaps he was thinking of the satyr-plays the Greek dramatists used at the end of their festival days.

One of the best of the plays on the popular Prodigal Son theme is Acolastus (1529) by Ghapheus, a Dutchman, educated at Louvain and Cologne, and twice imprisoned by the Inquisition. It is in the Brylinger collection, and there were over thirty editions before 1584. It was recently well translated into English by W. E. D. Atkinson (London, Ontario, 1964). It is mentioned here particularly because it shows that Continental plays were well known in England and because it was immensely influential there. It was published in England (text and translation) by the well known English educator John Palsgrave (1485- 1554), one of Henry VIII's tutors. He used it to show and inculcate the "construe" method of teaching translation, which continued for centuries, in which the literal translation for each phrase and sentence is given first and then a more finished idiomatic version and often a lively third version follow.

The four playwrights I have chosen were all Continental writers, but other plays by them had been acted at Oxford/Cambridge (see Boas' list). Brylinger's sympathies were clearly with Luther (1483-1546), as is illustrated by Pammachius, one of the plays in this collection, which was put on at Christ's College, Cambridge, and dedicated to Archbishop Cranmer. It is violently "anti-papist" and caused a university investigation, which brought the masters and presidents of the college with the doctors of the university "to assist in the tryall of the truth." The details of this investigation and its arguments were recently printed in English in the REED volume on Cambridge; Alan Nelson kindly gave his permission for the inclusion of his version of the investigation at the end of this translation.

When I gave my graduate course I discovered that most of the texts of the Renaissance Latin plays are not now easily available, though many of the plays printed in the sixteenth century are still extant. Even if the Latin texts were available, many of today's readers have not been trained in Latin and could not read them easily. It seemed evident that a useful contribution to the subject would be translation into English of typical plays to give the scholars and the general public the flavour of the Renaissance Latin drama. The titles and subject matter of those I have chosen:

  1. Betulius, Susanna: The legal battle to prove Susanna innocent.

  2. Naogeorgus, Pammachius: A polemic against "the Papists," dedicated to Archbishop Cranmer.

  3. Bartolomaeus, Christus Xilonicus: An abbreviated miracle play: Christ on the Cross.

  4. Macropedius, Hecastus: A morality play on the Everyman theme.

  5. Macropedius, Andrisca: A farcical folk comedy.

These plays speak for themselves. They could with some effort be shortened and adapted for today's theatre.

It is interesting to read alongside these Latin plays some of the English plays of the same era: Fulgens and Lucres; Johan Johan; King Johan; Royster Doyster; Gammer Gurtons Needle; Gorboduc, put on for Queen Elizabeth in 1561 at the Inner Temple; Cambises. All may be found in Edward Creeth's Tudor Plays (Anchor Books, New York, 1966).


Information about these authors is scarce. I have used gratefully:

Nicolaus Bartholomaeus was born in 1478 at Loches, a small town in Touraine. He is usually called Bartholomaeus Lochiensis or Barthélemy de Loches. He joined the Benedictine order and became in succession prior of Fréteral, near Vendome, then of Notre Dame de Bonne Nouvelles at Orléans, where he took his doctorate of common and civil law. He was in touch with Brulé and other leading scholars of France and Italy. He produced twelve books on different subjects: gardening, idylls, epigrams, satires, odes, history, meditations. He is remembered for his Christus Xilonicus, which went into eight editions from 1529 to 1544.

Betulius (Sixt Birk or Birck), 1501-54, was born at Augsburg in West Germany. After his B.A. from Tübingen in 1523 he went to Basel and matriculated there on 31 December 1523. He stayed at Basel until 1536 and worked as a corrector for the Basel printers, taught at various schools, lodged and supervised students. He left Basel with his M.A. in 1536 and settled at Augsburg as the head of St. Anne's school. He wrote didactic dramas in German and Latin, in which his aim, he said, was to train good citizens. "He delights above all in pictures of public procedures of city life: debates in council, banquets in the hall, trials in court--always with a marked preference for formal speeches over dialogue." He also produced commentaries on Cicero and Lactantius and a concordance of the Greek New Testament. He was married twice. In 1527 he was a witness to Erasmus' first will.

Macropedius (Van Lancvelt), 1486-1558, was born in Gemert and died in Hertogenbosh; he seems to have spent all his life in the Netherlands except for one visit to Rome. "He joined the Brethren of the Common Life in 1502, became a priest and functioned as a teacher, without having studied at any university." The Brethren lived a communal life. He was a school rector in Hertogenbosh, Liège, and Utrecht, where he stayed from 1530 till 1556 as Rector of St. Jerome School and was also in charge of a house for poor boys. He remained a Catholic. He wrote twelve plays and was concerned with teaching morality, though in some early plays entertainment prevailed; criticized for this he curbed his comic skills. T. W. Best has carefully synopsized and analysed the plays.

Naogeorgus (Kirchmeyer), 1511-63, was born at Straubingen, Germany. Irrational and violent hatred seems to have ruled most of his life and work. He studied at Tübingen and in 1536 took the pastorate of Sulza in Thüringen. He was a strong Lutheran at first, as is seen in Pammachius, but latter quarrelled with Luther and Melanchthon over the doctrine of election. In 1544 he became an adviser to Johan Friedrich, Elector of Saxony. When an inquiry opened in 1544 about his alleged heresy, he moved around and by 1549 was in Switzerland. He wrote the Boke of Spiritual Husbandry, afterwards famous in England. It was a theological interpretation of Virgil's Georgics: hence Naogeorgus. Other works followed: plays and the massive Papal Realm, which attacked with hatred the ceremonials and life of "the Roman Babylon." He returned to Germany and again was forced to move around.

Copyright 1996 C.C. Love.
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