Dedicatory epistle Sir Ralph Freeman [floruit 1610 - 55], civilian and author of the tragedy Imperiale (1635): life in D. N. B. Alabaster supplied gratulatory epigrams prefacing his translations of Seneca’s Consolatio ad Martiam (1632) and de Brevitate Vitae (no copy of the first edition survives, second edition 1663); these are registered as Alabaster’s poems XXXV and XXXVI.
this stillborn abortion of two weeks’ growth Throughout this letter Alabaster playfully writes of Roxana as if the play were his daughter. The conceit is suggested by the similar one in Luigi Grotto’s Prologue to La Dalida (114 - 6) in which he writes of this play as a daughter born from his brain, as Minerva was from that of Jove.
which bears my name, if not on its front, at least on its back? I do not understand this remark. Crook’s volume, to be sure, contains a printer’s identifying page at the back, but at least in the copy selected for microfilming in the Early English Books series, Alabaster’s name does not appear there.
You are admonished to recite this stuff in a frothy tone I have seen this sentence quoted out of context, as if it were Alabaster’s injunction to reciters or even actors on how the lines ought to be delivered. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He is saying that bad playwrights read their work in mock-impressive tones in order to make it sound better than it is, whereas Freeman, a good playwright, has no need for such tricks. One of the epic similes in the Elisais (661f.) begins “Thus when a noble tragedy thunders with its grandiloquent voice…”
First gratulatory epigram Hugh Holland was a lifelong friend of Alabaster’s and the probable addressee of Alabaster’s Conversion. He is best known for contributing gratulatory verses for the First Folio and Sejanus His Fall. For a biographical sketch cf. Guiney, Recusant Poets 361 - 7. The present poem is something of a tour de force, a Latin poem with the rhyme-scheme of an English sonnet.
5 pear-shaped tones Obviously both Holland and Farnaby had seen Alabaster’s dedicatory epistle; Alabaster, like Freeman, is a good poet who need not recite his work in a forced, mock-impressive manner. Perhaps Holland also recollected Elisaeis 661, just quoted.
10 Thetfield’s elderly minister Clearly Alabaster is meant. Most likely the allusion of the Lat. Clarii…vetus minister is to the Roman place-name of Therfield, Herts., where Alabaster was rector of the local church, although so far I have not been able to verify that this is so. (The reference is not to Clare Hall, Cantab., the present Clare College, which which, as far as I am aware, Alabaster never enjoyed any association.)
12 this amazing construction The present volume.
Second gratulatory epigram Thomas Farnaby was a distinguished schoolmaster and classicist (although he led an abnormally colorful life for a man of that calling — he accompanied Drake and Hawkins on their last expedition). There is a life in the Dictionary of National Biography. The contributors of these gratulatory verses are not without interest for a student of Alabaster’s biography. Hugh Holland was converted to Catho
icism at about the same time as Alabaster, and they turned up at Rome together. Holland was converted by Father John Wright, who conspired with Alabaster to make a Catholic of Essex in exchange for Spanish support for the crown. Wright also converted Ben Jonson (for whom, as we have seen, Holland wrote a dedicatory poem, and it seems likely that his one for the First Folio was elicted by Jonson’s efforts in connection with that project). Farnaby was a Jesuit-educated Catholic, and the D. N. B. article presents evidence for his links to Jonson. There is a certain interest in the fact that Alabaster maintained (and did not bother to disguise) his association with this Anglo-Catholic circle long after his return to the Anglican fold.
Argument 10 Lingring ms.
I.1 In academic Seneca-imitating tragedy, it was all but obligatory to begin with the apparition of a ghost, personified abstraction, or an infernal being. The monologues of the Ghost of Moleon and his interviews with Death and Suspicion comprise an elaborated counterpart to the dialogue of the equally revenge-hungry Ghost of Tantalus and the Fury at Seneca, Thyestes 1 - 121. More immediately, the first two scenes are based on Act I, scene i of Grotto’s La Dalida.
25 The Oxford Latin Dictionary lists no definition of “strait” employed as a substantive which satisfactorily explains the present usage. Evidently it is to be considered an extension of O. E. D. def. B 1, “A narrow confined place or space or way generally,” so that “mans straight” means “human limitations.”
Rather more comprehensibly, in La Dalida Pluto has authorized Moleonte’s revenge ordered Death and Jealousy to serve him (23 - 8). In the Latin (30) it is the Fate rather than Pluto who permits the revenge; Pluto is restored in the English translation, a possible sign that the translator was familar with La Dalida (hence further evidence that Alabaster was the translator).
I.2 Alabaster’s “scenes” are not scene divisions in the modern sense of the word; they do not necessarily indicate any discontinuity of time or location, or any other kind of break in the action. Rather, according to the standard system employed by academic drama, derived from the manuscripts of Terence, each scene indicates a new grouping of speaking characters currently on the stage. Very often the identification of such scenes functions as a somewhat crude way of marking entrances and exits.
42 seek’st to Furies ms.
49The revised version substitutes for this line a passage (53 - 61) “Indeed, a great troop of physicians is at my service, the industry of the Schools tickles my fancy, and I profess myself a student of Machaeon [a physician in Greek mythology]. I should walk a simpler path, if the medicos did not offer me their canny advice, so that life itself is an antidote to life: I am more pleasantly swallowed in that elixir. The rest of death’s rigamarole is unwelcome, but medicine tempers perdition with its pleasures.”
51 That is to dye ms.
69The translation omits Latin vv. 80 - 85: “I was not minded to break my faith or muddy the straight line of succession out of a crooked greed for power. Rather, this concern was steadfast in my actions, that in his comportment the boy be worthy of his father’s rule, and come of age.”
I.iii This scene is based on La Dalida I.ii.
146 The Latin adds (167) “(a sweet and friendly little hope)”.
I.iv This scene is based on La Dalida I.iii.
189 This statement makes no sense and on the basis of line 208 of the Latin text it would appear a line has dropped out, in which Suspicion states that she has a neck turned backward like the blade of Death’s scythe (she is always looking over her shoulder).
201 In Alabaster’s printed text the following passage is added (221 - 6): “DEATH He is a king, a king may have no witnesses. SUSP. But for royal advantage kings do much that does not befit them. DEATH Why do you spring from your home? SUSP. I am a-tremble lest gunpowder be under it. DEATH Why look at a building from which nothing evil will come? SUSP. Raining Jupiter has entered through its roof.” These lines obviously contain a humorously irreverent allusion to the Gunpowder Plot.
203 After “Hid’st a worse hell within thee” the translation omits the statement “Abandon these light excursions of a clever, suspicious mind. Why rage against yourself?” (229f.)
A more accurate translation of line 233 of the Latin would be “A scorned Queen, unaware that she’s been scorned.”
213. The Latin text (240) makes it clear that “the Greek queen” is the daughter of Leda, i. e., Helen. She ran away from her husband Menelaus; the Belides (the daughters of Danaus) murdered their husbands on their wedding night. Rather more plausibly, however, at La Dalida 104 the murderously vengeful Procne is mentioned in place of Leda.
218. After this the English version fails to translate Latin line 245, “Or against myself, as long as I rage against an enemy.”
A more accurate translation of Latin line 258 is “Which could impede this wicked enterprise.”
Act I chorus For some reason, the Latin text specifies that this chorus is to be performed by three choristers, although others in the play require four. It cannot be demonstrated that the chorus is continually onstage during Acts I - III, in the manner of a Greek (although not necessarily a Senecan) one, although it remains onstage and engages in dialogue with actors in the course of Acts IV and V. The onstage presence of the chorus in Roxana is probably suggested by Grotto’s La Dalida, in which the chorus is frequently present during acted portions of the play.
II.i This scene is based on La Dalida II.i - ii.
to much ms.
More accurately, the Latin (351f.) has “That which you tell a blabbermouth becomes common knowledge, but loyalty locks it up as a secret.”
A more accurate translation of Latin line 357 is “Loquacious boldness rarely keeps its trust concealed.”
346f. The Latin description (367 - 70) is more detailed: “Just now she seemed so fretful and anxious, speaking ambiguous words, nor was her anger articulated in her broken words; this vexation is characteristic of Atossa, characteristic of her jealousy.”
This simplifies the Latin (374f.): “Fortune, agreeable to the man in misery, fickle for the man in prosperity, heavy on them an calamity, you who always seizes the things we have seized.”
375f. The Latin provides a better match to the invocation of Fortune at the beginning of the scene (399f.): “Desire, nothing to the man in misery, light for the man of moderate means, heavy on the man who flows with prosperity.”
After “to trifle thus” the Latin adds (425) “I’ve need of shrewd counsel.”
II.iii This scene is based on La Dalida II.iii - v.
475. of his owne ms.
= “flirt.”
The English version fails to translate lines 517f. of the Latin, “If I were not despised and worthless in the eyes of my husband, Bessus would not have had these thoughts.”
lives ms.
In classical mythology, Encleladus was one of the giants who waged war against the Olympian gods. Laid low by Minerva, his corpse was transformed in to Sicily.
In mythology, Vulcan’s smithy was located on the island of Lemnos.
rupture ms.
hindreth ms.
crowne of Scepter ms. | I have for thee ms.
now though I be barren ms.; the Latin is (594) “When some malign god brought it about that I was complained to be barren.”
594 - 96. This list of physical impossibilities in the natural world (adunata ) is a stock feature of Senecan rhetoric.
Hercules fought the Hydra as his second labor.
The ms. has Of drunken Iuno, but cf. Latin line 611. Alabaster was wrong: Agave was Pentheus’ mother and rent him apart in a bacchic frenzy, whereas his aunt Ino and her husband Athamas had reared Bacchus in his infancy.
III.1 This scene is ultimately based on the dialogue between Atreus and the Satelles at Seneca, Thyestes 204 - 335, and is immediately based on La Dalida III.i.
641 not for ms.
644 And boldly dare ms.
686 Roxana contains several references to the Thyestes myth (including references to the sun turning back in its course in horrified reaction to his involuntary cannibalism, as described by Seneca, Thyestes 789 - 821), which, in view of the play’s dénouement, have a decidedly proleptic value. The other allusion is of course to the Oedipus myth.
The Latin (705f.) adds “and the people, a censor of princes, and the iron might that goes with the scepter.”
III.ii This scene is based on La Dalida III.iii.
the fresh bosome ms.
winds ms.
This tasteless image recalls the English version of Alabaster’s poem *LXVII.6f. in the Huntington collection:

These are not Homers Vomit, nor the smoake
Proceeding from distracted braines that doate.

III.iii This scene is based on La Dalida III.iv.
Welcome Roxana, come you have liv’d to long unknowne ms.
III.iv This scene is based on La Dalida III.v.
859. The Latin (858) adds at the end of this sentence, “and as befits your husband.”
862 - 64 The Latin (862 - 5) is somewhat different “…to attempt new courses, and entrust your limbs to Fortune’s wheel for the turning, just as Ixion suffered punishment by the gods’ just vote. Foolish judgment has produced this grave error” (in classical mythology Ixion was one of the famous sufferers in the Underworld, punished on his spinning wheel for having attempted to rape Juno).
After this line the Latin text adds (868) “Not the friendly ocean wave, when the North wind’s sleeping.”
The Latin text adds (873) “A greater whirlwind overturns royal houses.”
The Latin text adds (876f.) “As if here there stood an altar safe from dangers.”
We have seen that the Ghost of Moleon is suggested by the Ghost of Tantalus in Seneca’s Thyestes ( note on I.1) and that the play has a number of proleptic allusions to Thyestes’ horrible fate (note on 686). The present line further underscores the resemblances: the sin, guilt, and murder with which the House of Atreus was accursed has passed over into the royal household of Bactria. Compare all the mentions of the Bactrian domus regia with all that is said about the House of Atreus in the Thyestes (23, 33, etc.).
The Latin text adds (905) “Whatever the Fates may spin, they will establish nothing new.”
945 - 58
This passage has no equivalent in the Latin text.
IV.1 This scene is closely modeled on the similar one between the Messenger and the Chorus at Seneca, Thyestes 622 - 788; it is also based on La Dalida IV.i - ii.
Burnes ms.
977 - 92 In the Latin text the equivalent lines (967 - 73) are attributed to the Chorus.
996ff. This lengthy description of the sinister, secluded wing of the palace in which the murders occur is suggested by the similar one at Seneca, Thyestes 641ff.
brances ms.
horour ms.
Phylisthenes ms. (corrected on the basis of the Latin text, line 1020). Plisthenes was one of the two sons of Thyestes, unwittingly devoured by their farther.
Tisiphone was one of the three Furies.
For the Belides cf. the note on 213.
weeping both for grace ms.
Hyrcania is the ancient name for the Caucasus region. For the exceptionally fierce Hyrcanian tiger cf. Vergil, Aeneid IV.367 etc.
Marpesia is a craggy mountain on the island of Paros.
The last word in this line was transcribed as band by Kaplan. The first three letters are clearly ban or bon, but the last one does not look like the copyist’s normal d and may have been corrected by overwriting. “Bane” is of course my conjecture.
The translation omits lines 1139 - 45 of the Latin; in the ms. desunt non nulla is wrongly written after 1171 rather than 1170.
throug ms.
Written as two lines in the ms.
This nurse, who pops up out of nowhere, is more properly introduced at La Dalida 2367ff.
eyes ms.
Corrupt: groan their complainte would translate the Latin Nubes gemit (1257).
thy battered sydes ms.
1316. humame ms.
The translation of Latin lines 1278 - 1281 has dropped out of the text.
V.i This scene is based on La Dalida IV.iii.
Vespasia ms.: corrected from the Latin text (1285). Here Hesperia can scarcely mean Italy. More likely it designates the western Isles of the Blessed, where Medea is imagined to have gone after death.
The ms. has I have not I.
Thessaly was noted for its witches.
In the Latin she mentions Thyestes as well as Tantalus (1327).
The English contains no equivalent of the extra passage added to the 1632 Latin text (1329 - 35): “CHO. A fair thing is it go give an example by virtue’s light, not sin’s. ATO. Revenge of sin’s no sin. CHO. If done by law, and only against the guilty. ATO. What else do wars accomplish, when they plunge whole towns of innocent men in ruin for the sake of their ruler? And this is called royal glory, a private man’s wrongdoings are sin.”
The English inadvertently gives a wrong impression of the Latin sentiment (1343) that he who would punish sin must be free of sin himself.
The translation does not accurately render the Latin (1350), “But every woman loathes an unknown rival.”
Line 1358 of the Latin text is not translated: “CHO. What do women have to do with Mars? ATO. What do men have to do with Venus?“
V.ii - iv Alabaster has reengineered Act V of La Dalida to produce a more effective climax: Roxana concludes with the climactic ghastly banquet, whereas Grotto only provided an eyewitness description of the death of Queen Berenice; Grotto’s lengthy dialogue between the Consigliere and the dying Candaule, which diffuses the tragic effect, is greatly compressed in the dialogue between Arsaces and Oromasdes.
with all my fears ms.; the Latin text (1367f.) has “to make an end of boredom, wearisome delays, and fears.”
1479 - 91
The Latin equivalent (1381 - 86) is shorter and simpler: “In its course the wandering year has brought back the sacred birthday of our bounteous queen. The light of dawn has hid her rising beauty in cloud, Atossa, frightened of yours. But to you may a happy year always come and come again.” For some reason, banquet scenes are very common in English academic drama. In some cases (such as William Gager’s tragedy Dido II.i and George Ruggle’s comedy Ignoramus II.ii) textual evidence suggests that the foodstuffs brought onstage in these scenes were afterwards shared out among honored guests at the performance. It seems exceedingly unlikley that this was done in the present instance.
This defective line is restored on the basis of Latin line 1395.
of mount of Caucasus ms.
Kish ms.
1584ff. This speech is a lurid elaboration on the one at Seneca, Thyestes 1035 - 51, possibly with
further inspiration taken from Jasper Haywood’s tasteless embroideries on the theme in the extra scene he wrote (in ballad meter!) for his translation of the Thyestes printed in Seneca his Tenne Tragedies (1585).
Betweene Roxana ms.
1639ff. This speech is suggested by the similar one at Seneca, Thyestes 1052 - 78.
1644 - 6
There is no real equivalent of these lines in the Latin (this statement would come after 1476).
Then might’st the best ms.
A more accurate translation of the Latin text (1491f.) would be “And am grateful to you, since because of you I shall soon depart an innocent man.”
The sentiment expressed in this speech is very much like that of Medea at Seneca, Medea 426 - 28.
This defective line is restored on the basis of Latin line 1502.
the ms
1714 - 17 This roster of these famous malefactors in the Underworld is another stock feature of Senecan tragedy. In 1714 Thou’st ms.
Thou’st ms.
1719 - 25 The English translation renders the original Latin text
which was replaced by lines 1526 - 28 of the later version, in which the speech begins: “Resist, my soul, and stretch ot your life, while I feast my eyes on my dire wife’s sufferings. Let this be the balm for my pain, death is nothing.” The mss. assigns these lines to the Chorus, presumably the result of copying error.
1727f. These lines find no equivalent in Crook’s printed text, and in his revised version, Alabaster ended the speech with two extra lines (1537f.), the second of which is incompletely printed. A conjectural restoration of these line might be “Come forth, Roxana, and you, my dear children, and learn the fulfillment of your revenging.”
1729f. Atossa has a vision of riding in a vehicle very much like the chariot on which Medea makes her escape at Seneca, Medea 1022 - 26.
1737 - 56
The remainder of Atossa’s speech bears no resemblance to the Latin text, either as printed by Crook or by Alabaster (1546 - 60): “Sun, who in your chariot circles the snaky year, stop your flying wheels and turn your golden torch, this is not the face of Medusa the Gorgon. Jupiter, why brandish your thundering hand? He shakes it at me, I’m struck by lightning: I fall, I fall. This all is mine, from it Bessus will gain no prize. I alone will bear the suffering for such great sins. Or take a way a portion. You refuse? I shall withstand it, begin. Let the vulture rend me, the wheel whirl me, the urn exhaust me, the apples refuse me, the rock elude me, let death oppress me, by myself I shall endure it all. Flee, lttle Ariaspe and childish Sisimithres. Forgive me, Roxana, husband, Minos summons. Depart, you evil birds. I shall follow, I shall follow.”
pilogue In its preserved forms the Latin text of Roxana lacks both a Prologue and Epilogue, which is remarkable insofar these were standard fare in English academic drama. One cannot help wondering, therefore, whether the text enacted at Trinity College was outfitted with a Prologue and Epilogue. If so, does the present Epilogue preserve the contents of the original one? A possible indication that it does is the wee of line 1761, which appears to refer to the grex of actors who have just performed the play.