1. No Tudor University drama exerted greater influence than Dr. Thomas Legge’s Richardus Tertius, performed at St. John’s College, Cambridge, in 1579. NOTE 1 This ambitious trilogy was the first Tudor dramatic adaptation, English or Latin, of a Chronicle subject, and served to show how the exciting stuff of history books could successfully be translated to the stage. Various university men of the time who later became successful London playwrights were not slow to imitate Legge’s work by dramatizing episodes of national history, quarrying their material out of the colorful and rather novelistic Chronicles. Soon the Chronicle play came to stand as a recognized dramatic form.
2. But Legge probably deserves broader credit as a pioneer of the Tudor history play, for prior to 1579 there is little evidence for historical drama of any kind. NOTE 2 The dearth of history plays at the Universities is remarkable; for there, one would think, interest in Greek and Roman history would have exerted greater influence on the direction taken by academic drama. Legge appears deserves a good deal of credit for developing the idea of translating to the stage episodes taken from historical writers generally. NOTE 3
3. Although not printed until the nineteenth century, Richardus Tertius was both influential and popular. A number of contemporaries speak of it with warmth. If we may judge by the number of extant copies, it circulated widely in manuscript. There are reasons for thinking it was known and used by Shakespeare when he wrote Richard III. It was also imitated, echoed, and parodied by at least two later University writers of considerable stature, William Gager and Robert Burton. Further research may establish that it also exerted influence on Continental literature as well. NOTE 4
4. In view of the success of Richardus Tertius and its tremendous impact on the course of vernacular drama, and of the interest of academicians in Graeco-Roman history, it is surprising how few subsequent University playwrights tried their hand at historical drama. Prior to the turn of the century, the single major example was Richard Eedes’ Caesar Interfectus, probably produced at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1582. NOTE 5 This work is lost save for an unrevealing epilogue, and no safe pronouncement can be made about its nature or possible influence on Shakespeare. NOTE 6
5. Matthew Gwinne’s NOTE 7 Nero was the only University history play to rival Richardus Tertius in scope and ambition. It is not self-evident that Gwinne knowingly and deliberately set out to copy Legge. There are no undeniable signs of direct imitation, NOTE 8 and it is easy to compile a list of important differences between the two playwrights. Legge found that the Aeschylean trilogy could be converted into a suitable vehicle for handling large-scale historical subjects, NOTE 9 whereas Nero was originally conceived as a single play. Legge produced a dramatized version of one writer’s account, but Gwinne manufactured a synthesis of several sources. Legge abandoned Senecan choruses altogether, while Gwinne retained them in the rather attenuated guise of solo lyric pronouncements. Legge was a bold experimentalist in devising stunning visual stage effects and writing short vignette-scenes. Gwinne was much less interested in spectacle or dramaturgic innovation. At least in Richardus Tertius Legge studiously shunned sensational atrocitas, but Gwinne reveled in this element
6. This list of contrasts could be expanded. But in the crucial aspect of ambition Gwinne was quite similar to his Cambridge predecessor. Legge’s imagination worked on an almost pathologically grandiose scale. For this reason, and because of its important elements of stage spectacle, the production of Richardus Tertius was quite expensive, and that of the even more ambitious Solymitana Clades would probably have been impossibly so. Nero was conceived as a play of similarly titanic dimensions. Although Gwinne subsequently modified his conception and proposed transforming it into a dilogy, he originally wrote it as a single massive play of almost exactly 5000 lines, requiring about eighty speaking parts. One wonders how he imagined that St. John’s College, to which he offered the work, could have found the human or economic resources to mount Nero.
7. But it is probably unfair to Legge to attribute his predilection for working on a heroic scale to nothing more than grandiose aspirations. Most likely it equally unjust to berate him for following his source as literally as he did, and for doing so at the expense of dramatic compactness or coherence. And these are interrelated issues, for his trilogies’ huge dimensions are primarily attributable to a compulsion to include everything, to omit no significant detail contained in his source. Thus, sometimes in defiance of sensible dramaturgic practice, and certainly in contradiction to all that ancient or contemporary theorists wrote about sound dramatic structure, his trilogies respectively cover Richard’s rise to power and entire reign, and the Jewish rebellion from initial outbreak to bitter end. While Legge has left us with no apologia for his method of conducting business, it is not difficult to imagine that he did so out of a conviction that this is how historical drama ought to be written. He may have been well aware that he was inventing a new dramatic form, one to which such things as the Unities and the three-actor rule recommended by Horace did not apply, but a genre with a rulebook of its own, in which the most important rule was fidelity to the historical record. In his view, one imagines, the purpose of a history play was to bring alive, fully and accurately, the work of a morally instructive historian.
8. This provides the theoretical basis for a practice for which both Legge and Gwinne have been criticized: deficient originality. NOTE 10 But the truth of the matter is that many Elizabethan history plays, vernacular as well as Latin, followed literary sources more or less closely, with the result that the playwright’s job was largely one of selection and arrangement, so the criticism of any one writer for following this method is virtually meaningless. In a preface ad Criticum printed before his Ulysses Redux of 1592 William Gager defined his job in dramatizing the Odyssey, and what he wrote applies to many another Elizabethan play:
In qua minus ingenio laborandum fuit, in cuius locum dimidiae paene Odysseae argumentum succedit; quo in digerendo, non tam acumine, quam delectu, nec tam copia, quam modo opus habui.
[“In this effort my ingenuity was less taxed because virtually half of the Odyssey’s plot substituted for my own invention. And in arranging this material I had less need of cleverness than of an ability to pick and choose; I did not have to worry about finding a supply of ideas but about the method.”]
Such works are meant to purvey to the spectator something of the same pleasure in seeing a notable literary work brought to the stage that a modern counterpart gains from seeing the dramatization of a best-seller on stage or film.
9. Within the sphere of extant University drama, Gwinne is Legge’s one surviving heir, who inherited that playwright’s method and at least something of his purpose. Nero is massive, in terms of length and number of speaking parts, for a precisely Legge-like reason, because Gwinne chose to dramatize Nero’s whole career rather than some selected episode. From a purely dramatic standpoint, it would doubtless have been better if he had singled out some single highlight of Nero’s career, as Ben Jonson brought to the stage the downfall of Sejanus rather than Tiberius’ entire reign. But of course, this desire to include everything was not limited to Legge and Gwinne: such vernacular works as the plays of the Henry VI cycle embody the same impulse and raise similar problems of unity and coherence.
10. Gwinne professed to write out of motives not unlike those that had impelled Legge. In one passage from the dedicatory epistle to King James that stands at the front of the second 1603 edition, NOTE 11 he claims that history is the proper education for princes. Or as he put it more pithily in the Prologue (76 - 9):
sed nec in scena silet
Xiphilinus ista, nec tacet Tacitus, nec est
Tranquillus hic tranquillus. historicos putes
[“But Xiphilinus is not silent on this stage, nor does Tacitus remain tacit, or Tranquillus tranquil: you would think that historians are become poets.”]
Such a rationale for the writing of history plays is exactly congruent with Elizabethan notions of historiography, best enunciated by Thomas Blundeville in his The True Order and Methode of Wryting and Reading Hystories (1574). In his preface, addressed to Leicester, he states that he knew the Earl:
…to delyte moste in reading of Hystories, the true Image and portrature of Mans lyfe, and that not as many doe, to passe away the tyme, but to gather thereof such iudgement and knowledge as you may thereby be the more able, as well to direct your priuate actions, as to giue Counsell lyke a most prudent Counseller in publyke causes, be it matters of warre, or peace.
The purpose of both history and history play, therefore, is the provision of instructive examples, practical and probably moral as well. NOTE 12 This theory of historiography may be thought to present at least a partial parallel to Sir Philip Sidney’s theory of moral didacticism in poetry. A similar enunciation (which sounds suspiciously imitated of Sidney) is Digory Wheare’s De Ratione et Methodo Legendi Historias (1623). Legge appears to have applies this theory of historiography to the writing of historical drama. Thus Richardus Tertius taught the age-old lesson of the morally corruptive influence of power, and his Solymitana Clades seems to have been written as a kind of acted sermon on the disastrous effects of religious fanaticism, the most salubrious of messages for Englishmen of his time.
11. Nero is not a well known play, primarily because the author of the standard English-language survey of academic drama, Frederick S. Boas, limited his scope to plays of the Tudor age and chose to omit it, although it was written just prior to the death of Elizabeth. NOTE 13 For a long time, the only available discussions were in German: a plot summary in G. B. Churchill and Wolfgang Keller’s survey Die lateinischen Universitäts-Dramen Englands in der Zeit der Königin Elisabeth, NOTE 14 and a brief notice by Egon Mühlbach in a Leipzig dissertation on two English vernacular Nero plays of the seventeenth century. NOTE 15 Save for a couple of passing remarks, NOTE 16 Nero languished in obscurity until rescued by the indefatigable J. W. Binns in 1974. NOTE 17 More recently, this work was made accessible to the Latin-reading public by a reprint of the 1603 first edition, with introductory observations and a prefatory plot summary by Heinz-Dieter Leidig. NOTE 18
12. Before turning to the play, something should be said about its author. Matthew Gwinne was the son of Edward Gwinne, a London greengrocer of Welsh descent. NOTE 19 Born in about 1558, he entered Merchant Taylor’s School in 1570, and matriculated from St. John’s College, Oxford, in 1574. He supplicated for the B. A. on May 14, 1578, at which time he was selected as a perpetual Fellow of his College. He was elected junior Proctor of the University in 1588. Ward has described the direction of his academic career: NOTE 20
It was the custom at that time in Oxford for the convocation to appoint a certain number of regent masters, to read each of them upon some one of the liberal arts for two years, for which they received a small stipend, that was levied upon the younger scholars. This provision was made, before the public professorships were settled and supported by fixed salaries. Agreeably to this practice Mr. Gwinne, being made regent master in July 1582, was appointed to read upon music. And there is extant a manuscript oration of his upon that subject, spoken the 15 of October that year, in which he calls himself praelector musicae publicus. When he had taken his degrees in arts, he entered upon the physic line, and practiced as a physician in and about Oxford for several years. As the result of his medical studies, according to the custom of his time, Gwinne simultaneously received the degrees of B. Med. and D. Med. on 17 July, 1593.
13. In 1595, armed with his medical degree and possibly looking for adventure or preferment, he obtained permission to take a leave from the University in order to accompany the soldier-diplomatist Sir Henry Unton on a mission to France, where he had the misfortune of losing his distinguished patient to a fever. NOTE 21 He did not remain unoccupied long. Upon the foundation of Gresham College, London, the two Universities were asked to nominate the seven necessary Professors. For the chair of Physic Oxford put up two names, those of Gwinne and Henry Bust, and Gwinne was selected for the post in March 1596. He occupied the chair until his resignation in September 1607, “very probably upon marriage.” NOTE 22 According to Ward, he fathered a single son, John, who matriculated from Christ Church in 1621, at which time he described himself as doctoris fil. nat. max. Fowler suggested that the Matthew Gwinne who also matriculated from Christ Church in 1621, describing himself as “of Middlesex, pleb.” was another son, an idea that finds support in the word max. in John’s assertion. While holding his professorship, Gwinne collaterally enjoyed other positions and honors. He always retained his Oxford fellowship, and in 1605 he was made a Fellow of the College of Physicians and was also appointed physician of the Tower.
14. After he demitted the Gresham professorship, he continued his London practice and, according to Ward, “was much esteemed both in the city and court.” Wood records that he died in his house in Old Fish Street, in the parish of St. Mary Magdalen, London, in 1627, and that letters of administration were granted to his widow on November 12 of that year. NOTE 23
15. Gwinne made his mark at Oxford as a writer of Latin occasional verse, forming one of a bevy of talented Oxonian poets including Richard Latewar of St. John’s, John Sanford of Magdalene, Richard Eedes of Christ Church, and above all Eedes’ fellow Christ Church student William Gager. He contributed gratulatory epigrams for other men’s books so frequently that, according to à Wood, he was the most prolific writer of such verses in his time. NOTE 24 Besides such liminary verse, epigrammaticists found an outlet for their talent in University commemorative anthologies. Gwinne was a contributor to the first and best of the Oxford specimens of this genre, Exequiae Illustrissimi Equitis D. Philippi Sidnaei, Gratissimae Memoriae ac Nomini Impensae, edited by Gager in 1587. He himself co-edited a similar volume with Henry Price, Epicedium in Obitum Illustrissimi Herois, Henrici Comitis Derbiensis, printed in 1593.
16. In 1590 Gwinne performed a far greater service to literature when, together with Fulke Greville, he co-edited Sir Philip Sidney’s New Arcadia, which was printed under the title The Countesse of Pembroke’s Arcadia at London by William Ponsonby. NOTE 25 He also helped his friend John Florio with his translation of Montaigne, and may have supplied the translations of Montaigne’s copious quotations. NOTE 26
17. A number of talented University poets also tried their hand at writing plays. Although no record exists of his participation in University dramatics as playwright, actor, or producer, circumstantial grounds exist for suspecting that Gwinne did acquire some such experience. When hurried preparations were being made for the Queen’s visit to Oxford in September 1592 (anxious to avoid the plague raging in London, she descended on Oxford with small advance warning), a committee was appointed “to oversee and provide for the plays in Christ-Church.” This consisted of the Christ Church Dean and Sub-dean, various Canons and students of that college, the Vice-Chancellor and the two Proctors of the University, and Gwinne. It is not immediately obvious what he was supposed to contribute to the committee’s work, the actual object of which was to oversee the revival production of comedies by two of its other members, William Gager and Leonard Hutten. NOTE 27 We must evidently suppose Gwinne had acquired some kind of expertise that made him a useful committee man. Hence his appearance as a playwright after the turn of the century may not have been a completely new departure.
18. A second play, the comedy Vertumnus, sive Annus Recurrens was produced at St. John’s College for a royal visitation on August 29, 1607. It is recorded that King James fell asleep during the performance. NOTE 28 Another piece written by Gwinne for the same occasion proved vastly more fateful for English literature, for our poet may have been inadvertently responsible for the writing of Macbeth. Besides Vertumnus he contributed a short dramatic piece entitled Tres Sibyllae, in which the three witches who had predicted the throne for Banquo, founder of the Stuart dynasty, now prophecize great things for his descendant James. The suggestion has been made that the king was so pleased by this device that he may have wished to see the subject treated again, and Macbeth is commonly thought to have been written in the next year. NOTE 29
19. In his biographical notice à Wood itemized Gwinne’s printed works. Besides those already mentioned here, these are 1.) an Oxford oration in praise of music, delivered 22 October, 1582, which was printed by Ward as part of his Appendix XIV (pp. 81 - 7); 2.) Orationes Duae, Londinae Habitae in Aedibus Greshamiis, ann. Dom. 1598, printed at London in 1605. This publication was reproduced in its entirety by Ward in his Appendix XIV (pp. 87 - 120); 3.) Aurum non Aurum, sive Adversaria in Assertorem Chymiae, sed Verae Medicinae Sesertorum, Franciscum Anthonium (1611), in which he unmasked the quackery of a cashiered doctor who was promoting a nostrum called aurum potabile. Anthony à Wood also listed “a book of travels” and “letters conserning chymical and magical secrets,” but admitted that he had never seen either of them. Nor, it would seem, has anyone else, and there appears to be no corroborative evidence that Gwinne was a dabbler in alchemy or magic.
20. Now for the play itself. Legge’s narrative strategy was straightforward: choose a single source and follow it faithfully, though exercising a playwright’s prerogative to select and arrange, and to invent scenes and minor characters. Thus his Richardus Tertius dramatizes the Chronicle of John Hall, forerunner of Holinshed, and his Solymitana Clades handles Josephus’ History of the Jewish War. In this respect Nero is more complex. Gwinne’s basic source is Tacitus’ account of the end of the reign of Claudius (the subject of Act I) and the career of Nero after he was created emperor. But this is not a single-source play; nor could it have been, for Tacitus’ Annales break off in the middle of Book XVI (during Thrasea Paetus’ suicide), so Gwinne was forced to rely on other accounts for his final scenes, which had previously served as secondary sources: principally Suetonius’ Life of Nero and Dio Cassius’ Roman history as epitomized by the Byzantine Xiphilinus, NOTE 30 and also the pseudo-Senecan play Octavia, and a few details taken from such other writers as Juvenal. The result is interesting, and may help explain why Nero was popular enough to merit multiple reprintings. Nero’s sources do not seriously contradict each other, either factually or in the interpretation they place on Nero and the events of his reign and so, at least if you allow for a dramatist’s necessary selection, rearrangement and compression, Gwinne has in effect integrated this mass of source-material so as to provide a useful historical synthesis. But of course, when available, Tacitus was the main source, with the kind of juicy gossip and circumstantial anecdote supplied by Suetonius and Dio furnishing useful details.
21. Although these three historians were very different in aims and methods, au fond they take an identical interpretational line. All three were senatorial historians, who identified as bad emperors those whose policies and actions were inimical to libertas, for them a code-word for the welfare of the senatorial order. Hence a bad emperor was one who was hard on that class. Especially during the blood purge that followed the exposure of the Pisonian conspiracy against his life, Nero exerted a murderously ill effect on this sector of society, so the senatorial historians put him down as a monster and were always ready to accept and report scandalous gossip as gospel truth. The true facts of his reign were rather more complex. The historians’ portrait fails to explain why the several false Neros who sprang up after his death found considerable support, especially in the provinces. Clearly, Nero was a popular emperor in many quarters, and this was probably for solider reasons than his willingness to provide bread and circuses. One thinks, for example, of the far greater upward social mobility possible under the Empire. The upper-crust Petronius might sneer at the arriviste Trimalchio and his set; men like these, do doubt, had their own views, and gratitude towards an emperor who made possible their rise may well have been one of them.
22. In any event, Gwinne adopted the view of his historical sources without qualification - where could he have found a rival one, had he wished? And indeed, his judgment of Nero was a couple of shades harsher than that of his sources, on two scores. First, as a Christian he presumably would have found especial reason for deeming Nero a monster because of two things he mentions, the persecution of the Christians at Rome and the outbreak of the Jewish rebellion, and one thing he does not, the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul. Also, Nero was written in an age when Englishmen were beginning to take seriously their real or imaginary history, and in the course of the play Gwinne reminds us that the revolt of Boudicea occurred under Nero: this emperor was therefore a religious prosecutor and a national enemy.
23. Gwinne’s method of assembling his play on the basis of multiple sources seems to contain an important clue about his intentions. Tacitus was primarily known to the English reading public thanks to the partial translation of Sir Henry Savile, The Ende of Nero and Beginning of Galba. Fower Bookes of the Histories (1591). NOTE 31 Savile filled in the historical lacuna created by the loss of the latter portion of the Annales by combining the accounts of Plutarch, Suetonius and Dio, and it is striking that Nero is composed according to this same synthetic method (citation of Savile in several sidenotes show Gwinne’s use of this work as a source). One suspects that he wrote Nero in conscious imitation of this approach to historiography, NOTE 32 a method described by Womersley as “archaeological restoration,” perhaps in the hope of capitalizing on Savile’s success (The Ende of Nero was sufficiently popular to warrant four eventual reprintings, in 1598, 1604, 1612, and even as late as 1639).
24. In one sense, it is a Good Thing when Tacitus runs out on Gwinne. Until then, he had been following, more or less, the chronology of historical reality. For the remainder of the play he was at liberty to adopt the more compelling sequence of dramatic logic. Thus, most strikingly, the sequence of events that leads to Nero’s downfall commences directly after the suicide of Thrasea Paetus, and the reader is encouraged to regard his downfall as the result of Thrasea’s dying curse. Had he Tacitus to follow, this dramatically powerful linkage would less likely have occurred to him. Gwinne sketches the latter part of Nero’s reign deft strokes, incorporating a number of isolated elements chiefly selected from Suetonius but weaving them together into a sequence largely of his own invention. This shows him exercising dramatic talents that were largely held in abeyance as long as he depended on Tacitus in a literal, Legge-like way.
25. Like his Cambridge predecessor, Gwinne got into trouble by creating a work upon which it was difficult to impose anything resembling dramatic shape or unity save in the very generalized sense that both Richardus Tertius and Nero are dominated by a single central character, and both works trace the classic parabola of a tyrant’s rise and fall. He nevertheless wrote Nero more than twenty years after the production of Richardus Tertius, and considerable progress had been made in solving the structural problems posed by the history play. So he addressed the issue in a way that Legge had not. At first glance, Nero looks dangerously overloaded with the supernatural. His Chorus consists of Nemesis and the Furies: the appearance of Nemesis as the prologue and epilogue frames the whole, the three individual Furies and Nemesis individually supply the choruses that end the first four Acts, and the Furies combine to end Act V. This, one might think, is already quite enough supernatural machinery, but Nero also contains enough ghosts to populate a small graveyard (and so inevitably reminds the reader of Lodge’s mot about stage ghosts crying for revenge like so many oyster-wives). The organizing idea is that each of the first four Acts dramatizes a conspiracy that leads up to a murder, and the ghost of the victim in question introduces the following Act. NOTE 33 Act I is about Agrippina’s conspiracy to kill Claudius and procure the throne for Nero. The ghost of Claudius introduces Act II, which treats the killing of Nero’s potential rival Britannicus. In Act II, scene 4, the stage clears save for Agrippina and Pallas, and there is an obvious attempt to achieve a parallel between this sequence and that of Act I, scene 4, in which a large group likewise dissolves leaving an insulted Agrippina behind to plot a crime with Pallas. Britannicus’ ghost turns up at the beginning of Act III, in which Nero contrives a scheme for eliminating his meddlesome mother Agrippina. Her ghost introduces Act IV, in which Nero’s principal victim is his consort Octavia. But, although Octavia duly appears at the beginning of Act V, it is the ghost of Agrippina who presides over Nero’s downfall as his evil genius. Presumably the reason for this is that matricide is such an unspeakable crime that her shade has special power, and especially powerful need for revenge (and also, perhaps, because of recollections of the role played by the ghost of Agrippina in the Octavia). No matter how one cares to evaluate the success of the effort, Gwinne has at least made a recognizable attempt to impose a sense of rhythmic architectonics on the first four acts of his material.
26. This leaves outstanding the problem of the colossal Act V, just under 2000 lines long. In his original dedicatory epistle, Gwinne displays awareness that the size and cumbersomeness of the whole play is one reason why his college may have refused to produce it, and shows awareness that Act V creates the most trouble (149f., et personarum multitudo, et longitudo inaequalis actuum, et modus tractandi non plausibilis ). Elsewhere in the same epistle he acknowledges that this act is as long as a normal play (145, qui per se compleat non absonam tragaediam). This remark helps us understand a peculiar feature of the book. Beginning with Act V, scene ii, paired numbers are printed against scene-divisions, and also marginally at some other points. Each such combination consists of two digits, the first digit rising progressively from 1 to 5. The second number of the pair begins with 1 and rises, but each time the first number rises, the second number reverts to 1 and then rises again: i.e. we find 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, and so forth, then 2.1, 2.2, 2.3 &c. These numbers indicate a plan for dividing Act V into a separate five-act play, with each resulting act in turn divided into scenes. Thus the two resulting plays could be performed on successive days as a dilogy, or the second play could perhaps stand on its own as an independent work.
27. Nero repeatedly displays another kind of compositional defect: many scenes convey a weak, confused, or nonexistent sense of location. Often the author himself provides no information, and one can only identify the setting by consulting Tacitus some other source. In at least one case, the final and climactic scene of Act V, Gwinne’s indifference to location would have caused severe problems if the play been brought to the stage. But any reservations about the adroitness of Nero’s composition or what strikes us as its excessive length NOTE 34 must be balanced against the undeniable fact that it is a highly exciting work that grips the reader and would most likely have made a strongly favorable impression on an audience.
28. Leidig complained that Gwinne’s Nero is not a proper tragic hero, “neither does the reversal in his fortune evoke compassion.” NOTE 35 But Nero is a history play, not a tragedy, and need not be judged in terms of the expectations we would have for that genre. The various Richard III plays of the period provide good precedent for a work in which the central character is unsympathetic but nonetheless fascinating. Like Richard Crookback, Gwinne’s Nero is a role that any talented actor would crave. Acting out variously out of fear, hatred, and lust for revenge, alternately cruel, charming, witty, brutal, craven, bathetic, sometimes merely eccentric, occasionally downright lunatic, this outrageous monster is a compelling character and would make a tour de force role. To Gwinne belongs the credit of being the first of a long line of dramatists to realize Nero’s potential for the stage. NOTE 36 It may not be entirely fanciful to think that the example of Richard III taught him that a play could be built around a villain. Since his strategy was to bring Tacitus, that master delineator of character, to the stage faithfully, Nero and also many supporting characters are well drawn and memorable. If his portrayal of Nero is liable to any criticism, it is that the transition from the agreeable and moderate boy newly installed as emperor to the murderously unstable adult may strike the reader as implausibly abrupt. But this is not Gwinne’s fault so much as that of his principal source. NOTE 37
29. The events covered by Gwinne’s narrative are highly dramatic, and he is scarcely behindhand in exploiting their possibilities. Leidig dismissed the play as “an academic exercise,” merely a vehicle for the display of the author’s erudition and rhetorical verbosity. NOTE 38 Rarely has a play been so misdiagnosed. In his introductory epistle Gwinne admits that Nero is a bit drowsy in Act I but adds that things subsequently liven up (143f., dormivi forsitan in primis actibus: at non defeci in extremo ). This is a play full of seductions, betrayals, conspiracies, suicides, and murders, often ingeniously contrived. Nero’s deplorable sexual proclivities are dealt with frankly. Gwinne caters to tastes for the lurid and the macabre. I have already alluded to the play’s large population of spectral apparitions and supernatural beings. It is equally well stocked with corpses, many killed onstage by such means as strangulation, poisoning, stabbing, stomping, vein-opening and burning, not without death rattles. Spectators with an enthusiasm for picturesque violence would have appreciated a scene set in a torture chamber, and another in which Nero dances on the severed head of one of his victims. In fact, if Nero is to be subjected to any criticism, far from deprecating it for being an academic exercise, one would be more accurate to censure Gwinne for erring in the opposite direction. Nero is so excessive in its violence that it sometimes seems (to paraphrase the novelist Thomas Pynchon) like a Road Runner cartoon written in iambic senarii, NOTE 39 and its central figure goes so lavishly “over the top” in his wretched excess that he comes dangerously close to being a kind of homicidal zany. This is especially so because Gwinne goes out of his way to appropriate extra details from the rather gossipy and salacious accounts of Suetonius and Dio in order to embellish on Tacitus’ already lurid portrait. And at several points he transfers to Nero nefarious traits and memorably wicked sayings of other evil emperors. The Nero of the 1624 vernacular play described below is considerably tamer.
30. The play is preceded by a masque, and its action is occasionally interrupted by musical interludes. Stichomythia is unusually frequent, with lines often divided between several speakers, and Gwinne seems to be striving for an unusual degree of fluidity and realism in his dialogue. All of these features are ways in which the austerity of academic drama is tempered by elements appropriated from the popular stage. Further popularizing touches are that one line (1225, nunc fluite, lacrymae, nubibus ut imbres fluunt ) seems calculated to recall a popular song by John Dowland and another (1788, semper perire qui timet, semper perit ) echoes a memorable adage from the recently-produced Julius Caesar. And, for that matter, with its contest between the three women trying to best each other in professing their love for Claudius, the first scene of the play looks strikingly like the beginning of Lear.
31. For all these reasons, if its protagonist were played by a sufficiently gifted actor — the difficulty of finding such an actor may have been another reason the play was never performed —Nero would have guaranteed the spectator an exciting afternoon. At least if broken up into a dilogy and subjected to some ruthless cutting, one imagines, this is a work that would play well on the stage. When read, it retains plenty of excitement and entertainment value. Surely it is one that deserves more respect, more publicity, and closer study than Leidig’s assessment implies.
32. One characteristic makes Nero memorable and sets it apart from other academic drama: its extraordinary Latin. In the eighteenth century the abnormality of Gwinne’s style already drew the adverse notice of his biographer, John Ward:
[Gwinne] was a man of quick parts, a lively fancy, and poetic genius, had read much, was well versed in all sorts of polite literature, accurately skilled in the modern languages, and much valued for his knowledge and success in the practice of physic. But his Latin stile was formed upon a wrong taste, which led him from the natural and beautiful simplicity of the antients, into points of wit, affected jingle, and scraps of sentences detached from old authors; a custom which at that time began too much to prevail both here, and abroad. And he seems to have contracted this humour gradually, as it grew more in vogue…
Ward, who collected and reprinted his orations, seems to have been thinking at least predominantly of Gwinne’s prose, but Leidig made much the same observation about the poetic texture of the play, when he complained that:
“[Gwinne] freely indulges his preference for a style that is often verbose and marred by its rhetorical straining after effects. Lines such as Opus ope et opera quae necem matri ferat  or Non nisi dolenti filio mater perit: / perit volenti, perdere immeritum volens [2689 - 90] occur frequently in the play, particularly in soliloquies, and are not only to be found in Nero’s speeches. Gwinne hardly uses language as a means of characterization.
Such observations may be accurate, but they are also unsympathetic and unilluminating. It is more helpful to observe that the extravagant rhetorical devices these writers find objectionable closely correspond to the bag of tricks that go to make up the Euphuistic style, as Ward seems to have appreciated: Gwinne was attempting to develop a novel poetics by importing Euphuism into Latin.
33. The fundamental principle of Euphuism has been summarized as “transverse alliteration in conjunction with parisonic antithesis,” a formula which succinctly describes Gwinne’s idiosyncrasies. First and foremost he delights in balanced antitheses. A few examples taken from the prologue are 28f. siquis insequitur scelus, / insector Adrasteia; 43 fortuna miseris redeat, a tumidis eat; 52 - 4 prodiga pudoris, hactenus tandem pudens; ardet, nec audet: audet, o facinus; and 68 mox fremit, sed mox tremit. Fondness for this type of construction is so great that one sometimes encounters such feeble and forced antitheses as 89 quid sede ab ima, sed tamen sede excitas?
34. Gwinne had long been addicted to balance. We find it in such relatively early specimens as a gratulatory poem written for William Gager’s Ulysses Redux (1592), that begins:
Ulyssi Homerus praeco prudenti optimus,
Homero Ulysses optima canenti seges:
Penelope Homeri versibus formam dedit,
Penelopae Homerus versibus famam dedit.
But we do not have authentic Euphuism unless such constructions are highlighted by various rhetorical and acoustical devices, NOTE 40 as in redeat…eat, pudoris…pudens, ardet …audet, fremit…tremit, laeta…laeta, prodiga pudor… pudens. One finds use of this trick on almost every page. Here is a more detailed catalogue of such effects.
35. The first is the balanced repetition of words in antithetical constructions: sometimes the simple repetition of a word, sometimes the use of the same noun in different cases, the same verb in different persons or tenses, etc. A few instances are 160 - 2 vinci quod volo, victum dabo. / vicisse iuvat; at esse vincendum nihil / (da patria veniam) dispudet, 455 flamma exeduntur ligna, quae flammas alunt, 1602f. vis posse nimium? non poteris id quod potes: / perdisque quod habes, quia petis quod non habes, 638 non ausa scelus, est passa; non passa, audeo, 1176 dolor abeat, abeat timor, 2754 queri iuvaret, si queri quicquam iuvet, 3050 vidimus utrique, utrique miscuimus dolos, 4345 invicte Caesar, Caesarem invictum advoca.
36. A protracted example of word-repetition in balanced clauses is contained in the description of a storm at sea at 1885ff.:
impellat Eurum Zephyrus, et Boream Notus:
Zephyrum repellat Eurus, et Boreas Notum.
ventum aestus, aestum ventus exagitet trucem.
montes aquarum ad sydera elatam vehant:
valles aquarum ad Tartara revectam trahant.
undam unda superet, fluctus in fluctum ruat.
mare fundat imbres, augeant imbres mare.
mare turbo volvat, turbinem glomeret mare.
ut maria caeli, maria quasi caeli intonent.
ratim scopulis elidat, et scopulum ratis.
vomat onerantem puppis, et pontus voret.
pontumque puppis, pontus et puppim voret.
A rarer form of balanced word-repetition involves the balanced or at least closely juxtaposed repetition of the same word with different lexical meanings. An example is 88f. quem non secundo numine, secundum mihi / urbs tota vidit.
37. Closely allied to word-repetition is the balanced pairing of closely cognate words derived from the same root. Samples are 130 meque innocentem faciat egregie nocens, 173 genium et ingenium, 218 huc flectit oculos, hucque reflectit suos, 472 nihil nimis confide, nil nimium time, NOTE 41 490 dilecte Pallas, electe prae reliquis amor, 588 faveo vomenti Claudio; vitam evomat, 739 voto obtinentur sceptra, retinentur metu, 1124 vix odia reprimo: sed magis ut obsint, premam, 1675 et consulenti consilia damnum creent, 3899 dicta negat; acta abnegat. Sometimes this device is combined with simple word-repetition, as at 730f. rebus in gravibus leves, / gravesque levibus, sceptra sic leviter damus?
38. A further extension of the idea of using diction to point up antithetical constructions is the balanced use of words that sound more or less alike, NOTE 42 as at 395 et urbem, et orbem vix Atlas solus ferat, 628f. peracta fata: Claudius letho occubat, / expleta vota: Iuliam laeta occupant, 718f. maleficus abeo iam pater, coniux, socer: / mala passus abeo iam socer, coniux, pater, 751 sunt saepe iuvenes, mente, non mento senes, 1113f. age in cubiculo decoquas virus meo: / haedo experire Pollio vires mali, 1119f. odium saluti tectus: at tutus venit / illis comitibus tectus: et totus venit, 1959 lucem, locumque Caesaris demens dedi, 1990 nec scio, dolore seu dolo potius tacet, 1994 nec enatat quin laesa, quin caesa est prope, and 2039f. libertus author muneris tanti mihi: / libertus author funeris matri meae.
39. This last example is an instance of another form of iteration frequent in Gwinne’s poetry: repetition of the same phrase at the beginning or end of successive lines, or the near-repetition of lines with slight modifications of syntax or idea. Here are a few specimens of these devices:
quid sede ab ima, sed tamen sede excitas?
quid ora facibus, anguibus pectus petis?
quid uris, urges, trudis, exagitas, furis (?)
(89 - 91)
a me tu tamen paenam petis?
ne metue, dabitur magna: vindictam petis?
confide, dabitur horrida: tyrannum petis?
(96 - 8)
hic esse crede fulgur et fulmen Iovis.
ira et potestas fulgur et fulmen Iovis,
satis est superque vita; vivamus licet.
satis est superque vita: mors culpa vacet.
unam esse lunam, liceant stellae licet,
solem esse solem, luna licet orbem impleat,
unum esse superis, inferis, mediis Iovem,
unum esse Romae, monstra nisi gignat, caput.
(787 - 90)
40. In the light of its use in many examples already quoted, there is no need for further documentation to show that alliteration is often used to point up antitheses. Alliteration is a fundamental principle of Euphuism. Closely allied to alliteration is jingling: alliteration involves the beginnings of words, jingling involves their endings, as at 86 quem Iuno thalamo, fata iunxerunt rogo?, 183f., aptus videtur coniugis iudex bonae, / qui verus index, non malus vindex malae, 1296 consortem impatiens despuit, obruit, 1601 armant gerentem sceptra, quaerentem premunt, 2079f. nunc nulla nobis via regrediendi patet: / nunc nulla mora consilia capiendi nova. Jingling is especially emphasized when it occurs at line-endings, producing an effect not entirely unlike that of rhymed couplets, as at 1866f.:
figam labellis oscula: o quantum placent?
et his ocellis oscula: o quam me iuvant?
in urbe, in illa civium spoliis domo
exstructa, in alta luce, vel in ipso foro,
Jingling at line-ends can be combined with other devices, such as word-repetition, as at 1307f.:
suspectum domini nil famuli serant;
suspectam domini ne segetem premant.
Alliteration and jingling can be combined to build up more complex patterns, as at 1288 - 90:
regni sacra fames quid vetitum putat?
quae non sacra fero polluit impetu.
quae non iura malo proterit ambitu?
41. When all of these devices are employed together the result is meant to be an iridescent, ever-shifting and constantly fascinating verbal kaleidoscope. This style can be found on virtually every page, not just in set speeches, soliloquies, or “purple passages.” Most modern readers will doubtless agree with Ward and Leidig that this Latinate Euphuism, like its vernacular counterpart, is a grossly excessive rhetorical mannerism that quickly palls. One may also ask how well suited this style is to the Nero’s subject-matter, and observe, as did Leidig, that this manner of writing is applied uniformly throughout the play, with little thought given to matching the style to the personalities, circumstances, or moods of the individual speakers, or to differing dramatic contexts. The only situation in which Gwinne abandons or at least moderates this style is when he is closely following a classical source, for example by converting a reported speech in Tacitus into a stage-speech. But surely the contemporary fashion for Euphuism helps us understand Nero’s popularity with the reading public NOTE 43 evidenced by the play’s reprintings. The idea of imitating this contemporary English style in Latin is not as strange as it might seem, both because these rhetorical and sound effects were learnt from such classical authors as Gorgias, Isocrates, and Seneca, and because the origins of Euphuism are evidently to be located in the Latin prose of the great Oxford polymath and biblical scholar Dr. John Rainolds. NOTE 44
42. It is tempting to think that Gwinne cultivated this highly mannered style as a poetic equivalent of the contemporary “anti-Ciceronian” movement in English prose, which aimed to imitate the pointed, epigrammatic, and asymmetrical effects of Silver Age writers, and it is worth remembering that the champion of this new style was Justus Lipsius, the great student of Tacitus. Cornelius Tacitus’ eccentric and sometimes torturous prose is peculiarly suitable to his lurid chronicles of deadly palace intrigues, reflecting the tense and oppressive atmosphere of the times, when true facts and motives were often not visible on the surface of events. To the extent that Gwinne was attempting to capture something of the same effects in verse, one cannot accuse him of unconcern about matching style to subject (although we are still free to question the success of his choice). NOTE 45 Also his Latinate Euphuism may well have been an attempt to devise a Latin analogue to the elaborate punning, word-plays, and verbal pyrotechnics of the popular English theater. At the same time, one hastens to add that this Euphusism ia laid atop another and far more familiar style, based on the imitation of the poetics and rhetoric of Senecan tragedy and containing a large number of phrases borrowed from or modeled upon ones found in Seneca and a number of other classical authors.
43. A stylistic feature of a very different sort marches in the same direction. In imitation of Graeco-Roman drama, many academic tragedies feature stichomythia in which characters swap single lines, frequently in argumentative contexts and often building on each other’s words. This technique can be carried a step farther with antilabe in which single lines are broken up between two or more speakers. Gwinne uses these devices with unprecedented frequency. He also uses a trick already found in Legge and other academic dramatists, but far more often than they do, in which a speaker does not deliver a complete syntactical unit, either because he breaks off in mid-sentence or because he is cut short by another character, although the punctuation of the printed text never acknowledges this. Another means of introducing fluidity is to avoid always having speeches commence at the beginnings of lines. Combined, these techniques create a sense of realism and urgency. Thus we find numerous passages like 513ff., in which Agrippina and Pallas plot a crime:
PAL. potestas tibi
est in Neronem?
AGRIP. nempe quam dederat Nero.
Burrhus cohortes, Seneca concilium regit.
PAL. virtute utrumque nobilem, sceleri advocas?
AGRIP. sed uterque, cuius creverit studio, memor,
adiunget alter milites, alter patres.
PAL. pretio merendi milites, pretio patres.
AGRIP. subsidia regno pretia quaesivi, et dabo.
PAL. sed quis Neronem...
AGRIP. Caesarem cedant mihi. .
PAL. quo genere mortis . . .
PAL. lento, an cito? .
AGRIP. praecipite facinus proditur, lento dolus.
inde odia nobis, hinc amor nati redit. .
quod turbet animum, differat mortem volo. .
PAL. quaenam artifex? .
AGRIP. Locusta, iam sceleris rea.
PAL. et quis minister?
AGRIP. ipse Ganymedes spado
Exchanges like this, which are numerous, represent another kind of attempt to substitute the exciting naturalness of the contemporary vernacular theater for the stiffness of neoclassicism.
44. Next, the question of the play’s literary influence. A. H. Bullen began his multi-volume series A Collection of Old English Plays with an anonymous The Tragedy of Nero, Newly Written printed in London in 1624. NOTE 46 This fine play has been implausibly attributed to Jonson and Massinger, but with greater probability to Thomas May (1595 - 1650), the translator of Lucan. Space forbids detailed consideration of this work, but it is worth pointing out echoes of Gwinne’s Nero in it. NOTE 47 First, at the very beginning of the play Antonius exclaims on the grandeur of Nero’s empire (I.i, p. 13 Bullen):
Great are thy fortunes Nero, great thy power,
Thy Empyre lymited with natures bounds;
Upon thy ground the Sunne doth set and ryse;
The day and night are thine,
Nor can the Planets, wander where they will,
See that proud earth that feares not Caesars name.
We may compare these lines with Claudius’ self-satisfied boast in Gwinne (150ff.):
nos Phaebus oriens, per polos currens, cadens,
nos Syria Nino, Persis ex Cyro potens,
Graecia Macedone; nos Capro terra addita,
nos Asia Cancro, Vrsae Scythia, Librae Africa,
ultra columnas Herculis , Solis vias,
nos terra novit omnis, et novit duces.
caelo statuimus gloriam, imperium salo:
caelo capita locamus, ingredimur solo.
[“Phoebus has come to know us at his rising, as he runs across the skies, and at his setting; we are known by Syria, powerful in the time of Ninus, Persia in the day of Cyrus, and Greece in that of the Macedonian; the land assigned to the Goat, Asia, belonging to the Crab, the Bear’s Scythia, Africa of the Scales, and the land beyond the border of Bacchus and the year’s turning, beyond the pillars of Hercules and the pathways of the sun, every land has come to know us, to know our generals. To heaven we extend our glory, our rule to the sea. To heaven we raise our heads, we bestride the earth.”]
In the same speech Antonius goes on to praise Poppaea, with whom he is enamored:
Yet nothing of all this I envy thee;
But her, to whom the world unforst obayes,
Whose eye’s more worth then all it lookes upon;
In whom all beautyes Nature hath enclos’d
That through the wide Earth or Heaven are dispos’d.
Compare love-smitten Nero’s speech at 1411ff.:
Poppaea, pompa amoris, animorum dea,
iubar oculorum, coelicum terrae decus,
quae luce solem, voce Pieridas refers,
quae laude laudes omnium vincis tua,
divinitate foeminas, forma deas;
amore digna Caesaris, lecto Iovis.
mirabar illa, fama quae de te tulit,
(o parca fama) te magis miror videns,
(nam mira video).
[“Poppaea, my love’s pomp, goddess of my spirits, light of my eyes, splendor of earthly goddesses, you who reflect the sun with your light, the Muses with your voice; in your glories you surpass the glories of all, you surpass all women in divinity, all goddesses in beauty, worthy of the love of a Caesar, of the bed of Jove. I used to marvel at those things reputation said of you - oh grudging reputation! - but when I see you I marvel the more, for I am seeing miracles.”]
Both plays include the burning of Rome. In the English play this catastrophe occurs offstage as distraught characters scurry about the stage, in a passage that begins (III.iii, p. 52 Bullen):
A ROMAN Fire, fire! helpe, we burne!
2 ROM. Fire, water, fire, helpe, fire!
SENECA Fire, where?
PETRONIUS Where? What fire?
ROMAN O round about, here, there, on every side
The girdling flame doth with unkind embraces
Compasse the Citie.
PETRONIUS. How came this fire? by whom?
PETRONIUS Wast chance or purpose?
PETRONIUS. Why is’t not quencht?
The fire is handled in a Nero in a remarkably similar way, in a scene that begins with four anonymous citizens (3265ff., with stage directions omitted here):
CIV. 1 o subvenite civibus, cives: domos
ignis pererrat: ignis, en ignis furit,
populatur, ingrassatur hac, illac.
CIV. 2 ubi?
CIV. 1 ecce, ecce ad Austrum.
CIV. 2 curro.
CIV. 3 quo curris? tua
CIV. 2 heu me: quomodo auxiliam feram?
CIV. 3 auxilia velox facile praecurrit malum.
CIV. 4 o subvenite civicis flammis.
CIV. 3 ubi?
CIV. 4 septentrionem versus en flammae volant.
CIV. 1 quomodo exortas putes?
[“CITIZEN 1 Citizens, help your neighbors! fire is ranging through our houses! fire! Lo, fire rages, devastates, spreading hither and thither.
CIT. 2 Where?
CIT. 1 Look, look to the south.
CIT. 2 I’m running.
CIT. 3 Where are you running? Your house is afire.
CIT. 2 Where can I find help, alas?
CIT. 3 Speedy help will readily outstrip this catastrophe.
CIT. 4 Oh help against our fellow citizens’ fires!
CIT. 3 Where?
CIT. 4 Look, the sparks are flying southwards. They are consuming, spreading.
CIT. 1 How do you think they arisen? Whence have they been aroused?”]
The resemblance of these parallel passages is striking and suggests that the author of the 1624 play has read and remembered Gwinne’s Latin play.
45. Nero of course commends itself to the attention of literary historians for another reason, although it would carry us considerably beyond the scope of the present work to consider this here. In all probability it is no accident that it was printed in the same year that Ben Jonson’s Sejanus His Fall was first produced. It would be well worth while calculating the impact of Tacitus, especially as publicized in England by Sir Henry Savile and internationally by Justus Lipsius, on contemporary literature. This in turn must be read against a background of the “anti-Ciceronian” movement and the new enthusiasm for Silver Age authors visible in English and Anglo-Latin literature at the end of the sixteenth century (that produced such achievements as, say, two Books of epigrams included in Thomas Campion’s 1595 Thomae Campiani Poemata). Both Nero and Sejanus his Fall were written against this background.
46. So much for the play itself. It remains to discuss the dedicatory epistle of the original 1603 edition. The bulk of the original letter consists of a reply to some unnamed individual described as “this carper against everything, this captious critic, who would (I suspect) gnaw at the body of our Lord,” (49, πάντων ἐπιλήπτωρ, vitilitigator, qui rodat (puto) corpus Domini), a representative of a tribe made up of “these absent Momuses” (128, absentes Momos) who do not attend the theater and hence are free to let their morbid imaginations conjure up scenes of infamy and degradation. Gwinne does not call his anonymous antagonist a Puritan, but drops sufficient hints when he writes that men of this stripe “will form conclusions on the basis of their conjectures, and preach their conclusions from the pulpit” (89f., ex coniectura iudicabunt, ex iudicio pro rostris praedicabunt). “This under the guise of spiritual zeal? And this at doctrinal prompting? And this when it is more suitable to pray in charity than to prophecize with malice?” (132 - 4, idque sub zeli spiritu? idque e suggesto theologico? idque bene precari cum magis deceat quam male ominari?) Appended to a rather lengthy apologia for drama and acting is a second and shorter defense, this time against those would criticize his play for failure to adhere to the strict canons of the classical theater.
47. This letter raises a series of problems. Who is Gwinne’s antagonist? Are his two defenses as disjunct as they seem? What motivated Gwinne to devote the bulk of his letter to these subjects? These questions cannot be wholly answered, but certain things are worth saying on the subject.
48. Evidently Binns is the only writer who has remarked on the striking similarity of Gwinne’s nameless opponent to William Gager’s Momus. The story of the controversy between Drs. William Gager and John Rainolds of Oxford is familiar: Gager brought onstage a captious enemy of play production in an epilogue entitled Momus tacked onto the end of his Panniculus Hippolyto Senecae Tragaediae Assutus (1592); Rainolds interpreted this as a personal attack, thus beginning a three-cornered pamphleteering war between himself, Gager, and Alberico Gentili, Oxford’s Regius Professor of Civil Law and an ardent champion of the theater. This quarrel came to involve the queen upon her Oxford visit of September 1592, continued to simmer throughout the decade, and at its end erupted into print in a pampleteering war. NOTE 48
49. The resemblances between Gager’s Momus and Gwinne’s anonymous opponent are striking. Both are captious carpers. I have already quoted Gwinne’s words on the subject, and they find a close match in a remark of Gager’s letter to Rainolds, “for what is the disciplyne of Momus, but the schoole of carpinge, nippinge, depravinge, and reprehendinge, of evrye good thinge?” Both consider the theater a hotbed of degradation and acting infamous, even when done by amateur gentlemen, although both deem the simple recitation of plays to be harmless. NOTE 49 In support of their hostility towards acting, both place considerable emphasis on the consideration that Roman jurists allegedly thought likewise. NOTE 50 Both are adherents to the Puritanical position about the theater.
50. Generic resemblances such as these are underscored by a couple of verbal similarities. Gwinne writes of “our gentlemen-Rosciuses may have more sincerity than technique” (60, in scena Roscii, at viri meliores plus veritatis possideant, quam disciplinae). The Epilogue to Gager’s Panniculus says (367 - 71):
non histrionam didicimus, Roscii
nescimus artem. ludii nos nec sumus,
nec esse cupimus.
[“We have not studied acting, we are ignorant of Roscius’ art. We are not professional players, nor do we care to be.”]
When Momus makes his appearance a couple of moments later, he picks up on this (402 - 5):
“non histrioniam didicimus, Roscii
nescimus artem.” scilicet. nam quis gregem
vestrum coegit agere?
[“‘We have not studied Roscius’ art, we are ignorant of acting.’ To be sure, but who compelled your troupe to act?”]
51. Likewise, Gwinne writes of his critic, “Nor indeed will he slander Livy’s Aristo with his reeking mouth” (58, sic asperget os impurum et putidum), which recalls a line from Momus (496), quis huius oris spiritum effugiat gravem? (“But who can escape the heavy blast of his mouth?”) This looks like the closest thing to an ad hominem attack in Gager’s lampoon: a portrait of Rainolds shows an overintense man with deeply sunken cheeks possibly suggestive of dentition problems. NOTE 51 Was he a martyr to halitosis?
52. Rainolds saw himself in Gager’s Momus and took deep offense; ostensibly, at least, the purpose of Gager’s long letter was to soothe him. But an unprejudiced reading of Momus shows several strands of parody, with very different kinds of individual subjected to comic handling. First, Gager’s disclaimer to the contrary, lampoon of Rainold’s position, and quite likely of the man himself. Linked to this is parody of the kind of critic who pounced on violations of the rules of classical drama, as expounded by Horace in the Ars Poetica. Rainolds did not criticize Gager on the score of canon-violation: in view of his hatred of acting and also, evidently, of drama in general, NOTE 52 he would presumably have regarded this order of offense as immaterial to the subject at hand. But if Rainolds did not link these two kinds of criticism, Gager’s Momus-Rainolds did. Thus the otherwise inexplicable juxtaposition of Gwinne’s defense against two very different and seemingly incompatible forms of attack becomes understandable when we realize that his unnamed antagonist is supposed to be Gager’s burlesque critic.
53. We may note that Gwinne had played a peripheral role in the original dispute. C. F. Tucker Brooke wrote: NOTE 53
I assume that Gager was called upon to return to dramatic composition by the state of Oxford opinion on the theater, for it is hard to believe that this expensive and unusual festival at Christ Church at Shrovetide, 1592, was purely spontaneous; and yet it was not occasioned…by the presence of any eminent visitor or other external cause…It looks as if the authorities of Christ Church went to the expense of a three-day dramatic festival at Shrovetide 1592 in the spirit in which the four Inns of Court commissioned Shirley’s Masque of Peace forty-two years later — as an open challenge to their adversaries and critics. Extant letters show that they took special pains to solicit Dr. Rainolds’ presence NOTE 54 …The Oxford University Press published Ulysses Redux with extraordinary speed…The purpose of printing was evidently more controversial than literary. NOTE 55
This observation about the printing of Ulysses Redux applies with equal force to the ostensibly innocuous issuance of another Gager play, Meleager (which had been performed in 1582 and again in 1584) early in 1593, for Gager took advantage of this latter publication to include the offending Momus as well as the following Epilogus Responsivus as a kind of appendix. One might even suspect that he printed this old play as an excuse for putting these documents on the public record. In the context of these editions, therefore, the gratulatory verses which prefece them acquire unusual importance. The publication of these volumes provided a highly visible forum in which prominent Oxford men could declare their support of academic drama. Certainly this true of Alberico Gentili and the prominent Aristotelian John Case, both of whom had already crossed swords with Rainolds on this issue, NOTE 56 and was probably also true of Thomas Holland, Regius Professor of Divinity (Rainolds must have found this last particularly galling). It therefore looks significant that Gwinne also contributed an epigram to the Meleager volume.
54. But the Momus episode was eleven years in the past. Why rake up old bones? After Gager fired off his lengthy defensive letter of July 31, 1592, the controversy died down. Gager left Oxford not long afterward, leaving Gentili to conduct a wrangling and ultimately pointless exchange of correspondence with Rainolds. But the controversy continued to smolder. Although Gager’s letter is extant only in one manuscript, NOTE 57 from a remark in the preface to Heywood’s Apologie for Actors (sig. A 3r - v) we can infer that it must have been widely known:
…instancing my selfe by famous Scalliger, learned Doctor Gager, Doctor Gentiles, and others, whose opinions and approved arguments on our part, I have in my briefe discourse altogether omitted; because I am loath to bee taxed in borrowing from others: and besides, their workes being extant to the world, offer themselves freely to euery mans perusall.
Echoes of Gager’s letter elsewhere in his Apologie leave no room for doubt that Heywood was familiar with the document. Presumably it circulated widely in manuscript, and the possibility that it was printed cannot quite be excluded. Widespread knowledge of Gager’s letter serves to explain Rainolds’ failure to include it in Th’ Overthrow, although he did reproduce some of Gentili’s correspondence. We may probably surmise it was the consideration that Gager’s letter was becoming well known, in manuscript or otherwise, that induced Rainolds to break into print with his Th’ Overthrow. This publication immediately elicited a printed response by Gentili, as described above.
55. So the Momus controversy had recently resurfaced. This alone would be make it sufficiently newsworthy to justify Gwinne in joining the fray. But he may have had more immediate provocation. The reasons he enumerates for his college’s rejection of his play are certainly valid: Nero is a mammoth work and its staging would have driven the human and financial resources of St. John’s College to the breaking point. But perhaps he nursed suspicions that its production had been blackballed by some enemy of acting. Rainolds himself was President of Corpus Christi and it is difficult to imagine that he could have influenced St. John’s decision. We might better suppose that Gwinne placed the blame on some follower of Rainolds who belonged to his own college. A clue to his identity is possibly supplied by Gwinne’s remark (50f.) nisi sit magis Taciti, qui apud illum maximi, quam meum, qui minimi [“unless perchance he spare it because it contains more of Tacitus, whom he values highly, than of myself, whom he values not at all.”] Knowing or suspecting that this person had blocked Nero’s production, Gwinne attributed to him the Rainolds-like characteristics of Gager’s Momus and then wrote a rebuttal similar to that of Gager’s own Epilogus Responsivus and open letter.
56. There remains the question of the relation of this play to Shakespeare, for it is impossible to read I.ii, in which three competitors for Claudius’ hand take turns in protesting their love, without thinking of the similar beginning of King Lear. Some (although not very many) Shakespearians date Lear as early as 1603, which would seem to allow the conclusion that Gwinne was imitating Shakespeare. But this in fact seems highly problematic. Nero was originally printed in “1603” with a dedication to the Egertons and Francis Leigh and with an epilogue praising Elizabeth, then still living. But of course, going by the contemporary calendar Elizabeth was not alive during any part of 1603: she died on the day we identify as March 24, 1603, but by Old Style reckoning this was two days prior to the beginning of the 1603 calendar year. In some extant copies, this book exists with a new dedication to King James. Although some bibliographers register two different 1603 editions, in every other respect all volumes are identical, and it would seem likelier that the printing job was underway during the third week of March, and that the date 1603 had been placed on the title page because the printer anticipated the issuance of the book would onliy occur somet ime after the 25th. Then news of the queen's death arrived, and work was halted until the volume could be retooled to fit the new political situation. If the printing job was being conducted in March 1603 (New Style), it is impossible to imagine that such a lengthy and linguistically difficult composition could have been written in its entirety between January 1 of that year and the date the printers started their operations, and we are obliged to think that Gwinne wrote his play in 1602, if not earlier (Gwinne would not have printed his play until he was certain that his college had declined to produce it, and this decision may have taken collegiate authorities some time). This especially applies to the play’s first scene, in which we are now interested. Even if one could bring himself to ignore James Shapiro’s recent discovery of Gunpowder Plot allusions in Lear, which evidently nail down the date of writing to 1605/6, NOTE 58 nobody has ever proposed an earlier date for Lear than 1603, and as Nero’s date gets pushed back, the possibility that Gwinne was writing in imitation of Shakespeare swiftly dwindles to the vanishing-point. And yet the strong similarity of these two scenes is undeniable and requires explanation. The possibility of any Shakespearian influence on Gwinne seems absolutely excluded: the influence would have to be that of Gwinne upon Shakespeare. The idea of an academic play serving as a source for Shakespeare is not without precedent. Shakespeare almost certainy read and learned from Thomas Legge’s 1579 Cambridge trilogy Richardus Tertius in writing Richard III, and it is not impossible that Twelfth Night was indebted to the anonymous 1595 Cambridge comedy Laelia. Just as Shakespeare exerted his influence on university plays, so university plays occasionally exerted their influence on him.
57. Nero was again printed twice at London by M. Flesher, in 1637 and 1639. NOTE 59 The present edition is based on the editio princeps. Editorial changes and improvements include correction of a number of typographical errors and alteration of troublesome or incorrect punctuation. The majority of such changes in pointing involve the substitution of exclamation points for question marks. The two signs are frequently confused in printed texts and manuscripts, partially because in many contemporary handwritings they look so similar. But there is a more important cause of the confusion. In the Renaissance a punctus percontativus or reversed question mark was sometimes used to indicate a percontatio or “question employed not to elicit information, but instead of a positive statement for purposes of rhetorical effect.” NOTE 60 Put somewhat differently, the distinction between what we would regard as exclamations and rhetorical questions was not fully made. (this is equally true in many contemporary manuscripts). If the question mark were to be retained for percontationes, significant confusion would be created for a modern reader, and so I have substituted exclamation points. Likewise, commas are retained when they represent relatively light stops and semicolons when they represent heavier ones. When they are assigned appreciably diferent values that would confuse a modern reader, they are changed. This policy might not be quite scholarly, but it does much much to aid reader comprehension. Distinction of u and v is introduced, ligatures and abbreviations are spelled out, and capital letters are employed for proper nouns only.
58. I wish to thank Jennifer MacDonald of the University of Illinois, Urbana, for her invaluable help in tracking down some of Gwinne’s obscurer sidenote allusions in works unavailable to me here in California. I am indebted to my Irvine colleague Patrick Sinclair for pointing me to studies of anti-Ciceronianism (although I must say that, at least in the English-speaking world, these studies are very dissatisfactory since they deal with the single issue of style, whereas the movement was a far more all-encompassing literary fashion also involving what authors where adopted as models for imitation, sources for plays, and objects for scholarly study), to my Shakespeare Institute colleague Dr. Martin Wiggins for his advice on Nero and Lear, and to my former Santa Barbara colleague, the late J. P. Sullivan for directing me to The Tragedy of Nero, which he greatly admired. I suspect the fact that Petronius appears in it prejudiced him in its favor, and I like to think he would have found Gwinne’s play equally interesting.