1. “Drury’s historical subject in Aluredus is also notable since it is one of only two Neo-Latin plays by an Englishman on an English topic; Thoms Legges’ three part Ricardus Tertius is the other play.” NOTE 1 Despite the fact that, to judge by the number of surviving manuscripts, Legge’s trilogy was extremely popular and its influence on the London public theater was enormous (it is was first dramatization of a Chronicle subject), it is both true and surprising that no further plays on English historical subjects were acted at Oxford or Cambridge. But if one expands one’s horizons to include such Latin plays produced at English Catholic schools and colleges on the Continent — and why not do so? — one sees that this statement is almost unbelievably ill-informed. Extant plays on English subjects produced at the English College at Rome include Thomas Morus (1612), Thomas Cantuarensis (1613), and Roffensis (1618?). From St. Omers we have an undated Morus, Innocentia Purpurata, a 1623 play about the War of the Roses by a certain Father Clarke, NOTE 2 and an early version of Mercia, sive Pietas Coronata by Joseph Simons S. J. Titles of several other St. Omers plays of this kind, now lost, can be retrieved from Father William H. McCabe’s archival research. NOTE 3 From Douai we have Thomas Compton Carleton S. J.’s 1619 Fatum Vortigerni (Carleton also wrote two other history plays that are now lost, Emma Angliae Regina ac Mater Hardicanuti Regis 1620, and Henricus Octavus, 1623), as well as a play not written by an Englishman but produced at the English College there, Adrien de Rouler’s 1589 Stuarta Tragoedia. And then we have the subject of the present edition, William Drury’s 1617 Aluredus, about the adventures of King Alfred. This is an impressively large list. The contrast between the pervasive neglect of English historical subjects in English university drama and the obvious enthusiasm for such plays among Anglo-Catholics seems both remarkable and inexplicable.
2. The play presented here, the tragicomedy Aluredus sive Alfredus by the Catholic playwright William Drury, NOTE 4 was performed at the English College at Douai in 1619, at a time when Drury was professor of rhetoric there. It dramatizes the events of the year 878, when Alfred the Great suffered a major defeat at the hands of Danish forces under the command of Guthrum. He and a small band of survivors retreated to the island of Athelney in the Somerset marshland, where, at least according to popular legend, he was sheltered by friendly locals. Eventually he launched a successful counterattack and soundly defeated the Danes in the Battle of Eddington. This led to a pact between Alfred and Guthrum, whereby England was divided into two portions, one ruled by Alfred and the other (the so-called Danelaw, consisting primarily of East Anglia) by Guthrum. To seal the bargain, Guthrum converted to Christianity under the baptismal name of Aethelstan, with Alfred serving as his godfather.
3. Edward Albert Hall, who edited Aluredus as his doctoral dissertation, argued (pp. 27 - 36) that Drury’s source was mainly Holinshed, with additional information about Neots (his Neothus) drawn from hagiographic sources. But Albert H. Tricomi (pp. 31 - 39 subsequently took a more nuanced approach in his quellenforschung, and pointed out that Drury drew on a wider variety of sources, including Asser’s Vita Alfredi (which had been printed twice, once as edited by Bishop Matthew Parker in 1574 and once by William Camden in 1602), William of Malmesbury’s De Gestis Regum Anglorum (edited by Sir Henry Savile in 1596), and Simeon of Durham’s De Miraculis and Historia de Sancto Cuthberto. A different kind of source claimed by Hall (pp. 50 - 75) is contemporary drama. His most compelling argument concerns anonymous Locrine (printed in 1595) once attributed to Shakespeare but more likely by Peele or Greene, which contains a clownish, food-providing character named Strumbo and one in which soldiers capture the widow of the slain King Humber, argue over her possession, and then offer her to King Locrine as booty. Less convincingly, he detected the influence of Peele’s The Old Wives Tale, Fletcher’s The Mad Lover, and Shakespeare’s The Winters Tale. NOTE 5777
4. Neither Hall nor Tricomi observed another source used by Drury, a source of a very different kind which went far towards determining the nature of his play. This is William Shakespeare (it should be borne in mind that Drury spent some years living in London, where he had plenty of opportunity to attend the public theaters and familiarize himself with Shakespeare’s dramatic techniques). An essential feature of Shakespeare’s comic formula is what has been called its “two world” nature. On the one hand, we have the “big world” of upper-class characters, and also the “little world” inhabited by clowns, stooges, rustics, and similar low-class ones who supply the broad humor in his plays. In Shakespearian comedies these two worlds coexist and sometimes interact. The most obvious distinction between the denizens of these two worlds is of course their different social standings, but a second and equally important one is ontological. The “big world“ characters are confronted with serious predicaments, to which they react with genuine feelings, and they have a capacity for real suffering. On the other hand, we are not invited to take the predicaments, feelings, and pain of the denizens of the “little world” with equal seriousness. The “little world” characters are not quite so real, insofar as their doings and sufferings are, by comparison, inconsequential in the literal sense that they have no serious consequences. It is almost as if Shakespeare’s two-world comedies were written according to some notion that the upper classes had more exquisite sensibilities and the lower classes were less capable of experiencing pain. I am not claiming that Shakespeare (or any of his contemporaries I have ever heard of) seriously entertained any such theory, (and I am entirely ignorant of contemporary medical literature, which may or may not contain such an idea), but it does seem as if Shakespeare wrote his comedies according to this assumption. If there is any truth in this observation, surely the reason was not any kind of elitism on Shakespeare’s part (he created his “little world“ characters with great insight and affection), but rather because this bipolarity helped his plays produce their comic effect. We in the audience are encouraged to empathize with the “big world” characters and suffer along with them, but are allowed to remain detached about the vicissitudes of the “little world” ones, which leaves us free to react to their doings with uncomplicated laughter. NOTE 6 Empathy would only get in the way of the fun. It is, by the way interesting that this same bipolarity is visible in Friedrich Hermann Flayder’s 1625 Tübingen comedy Imma Portratrix — does this mean that the formula was more widespread in Renaissance comedy or that Shakespeare’s influence was reaching into Germany? Only further investigation will supply the answer.
5. Be this as it may, by the end of Shakespeare’s career his “two world” comedic technique was attracting imitators among writers of academic drama. A notable one was George Ruggle, author of the immensely popular 1615 Cambridge comedy Ignoramus. Drury was another. Both Aluredus and his subsequent Reparatus feature this same bipolar organization, with “little world” characters markedly similar to Shakespeare’s. Tricomi (p. 36) summarized Aluredus as “a pietistic, nationalistic play infused with hagiographical lore.” It is also a a play loaded with Christian homiletics — it seems as if every time the hermit Neothus (i. e., St. Neots) makes an appearance we are treated to another lengthy sermon, but the religious elements are not well integrated with the historical ones. Tricomi (p. 43) writes of a “contradiction inherent in promoting both a personal ethics of indifference to fortune and an engaged political ideology,” the latter element being supplied by the play’s “celebration of the re-establishment of England’s royalty and faithful nobility” (we shall see below the different contemporary meanings were placed on this theme of re-establishment a king in power, both religious and secular). A further difficulty is that the theme of Alfred’s moral reform lacks plausibility and does not sit well with the other elements of the play. Alfred, the recipient of Neothus’ most important homily, is supposedly improved by his instruction, but (as discussed below) the nature of the improvement in question is highly problematic. Taken together, these ingredients have the capacity to produce a monumentally stultifying play: a waxworks reenactment of historical events from the remote past not very convincingly married to an attempt to write a preachy, “morally instructive“ Christian drama, the kind of thing that theater historians are beginning to call “exemplary drama.” What rescues Aluredus and makes it at least intermittently delightful to read is the fact that Drury was gifted with a great talent for writing comedy. The many “little world” scenes in Aluredus show him at is best, and give his play a vitality and interest it would otherwise sadly lack. It is Drury’s gift for comedy which lifted him above the ordinary run of Anglo-Catholic playwrights and brings his plays alive.
6. In our play there are quite a few “little world” characters: Denevulphe the swineherd and fisherman of Athelney, his wife Crabila and son Strumbo, Gothrunnus’ pert pages Pipero and Titmus, one of those comic boastful soldiers whom Drury only introduces under the name Miles Gloriosus, and his servant Pimpo. These characters are easily identified by their language habits, in two ways. First, whereas the serious characters in the play speak in a highfalutin rhetoric imitative of Senecan tragedy, they speak the racy and colloquial idiom of Roman comedy. Moreover, the serious characters talk in verse, namely in the iambic senarii likewise characteristic of Seneca. But the “little world“ ones speakl prose. More precisely, in the printed text their speeches are written in a kind of bogus verse. Although the meters of Roman comedy were not properly understood prior to their explanation by Richard Bentley in the eighteenth century (in an appendix to his 1726 edition of Terence), in order to give their plays a properly Roman look on paper, the authors of some Renaissance comedies wrote out their texts chopped up into lines as if they were poetry. This was particularly common in comedies written at Cambridge, and it is not unlikely that Drury learned to do this by reading one or more examples produced at that university, but this cannot be claimed with full confidence because some Continental comic playwrights did it too. NOTE 7 In this edition, such passages are simply written out as prose, in order not to mislead readers into looking for verse where none actually exists.
7. I have said that the homiletic element in Aluredus is problematic. By this I mean that there is a startling difference between the Alfred we see on the stage and the bill of particulars alleged against him by Neothus at 1528 - 1540. According to the saintly hermit, Alfred was negligent of his Christian duties, self-centered, overly devoted to his own pleasures, and altogether a tyrant. He was, in short, a ruler not entirely different than our play’s Gothrunnus. And yet in the portion of the play prior to his receipt of Neothus’ admonitions (which ought to be pivotal for the development of his character), we have seen Alfred sharing a meal with St. Cuthbert disguised as a beggar, volunteering to reimburse Strumbo for his lost food, seeking to break up a quarrel between Strumbo and his mother Crabila, humbling himself to the point of adopting the guise of a common soldier, and meekly (and at least unconsciously Odysseus-like) entering into the household of an Athelney swineherd in order to gain protection These are two forms of self-abasement it is impossible to imagine a prideful king of the Gothurnus type endurin). In short, despite Neothus’ characterization of Alfred’s former comportment, we see him at all times comporting himselfas a good Christian man. At most, he might be a trifle obsessed with his former kingly estate and he makes occasional rueful observations about how far he has come down in the world, which are, if you will, marks of an imperfect spiritual development. Nevertheless, by no stretch of the imagination can he be described as a bad man, and it is difficult to imagine that he would command the affection and loyalty of his family and followers if he had been the kind of tyrant described by Neothus. So, to the extent that the play is about Alfred’s redemption, it is far from self–evident what he is supposed to be being redeemed from and this makes his supposed moral reform unconvincing. It is likely that Drury was himself aware of this defect and decided to improve upon it, for he subsequently wrote another tragicomedy, the 1621 Reparatus sive Depositum, which likewise dramatizes the moral redemption of a sinner thanks to the intervention of a saint, only this time its protagonist is a genuinely bad man, in fact a robber. (Readers familiar with that play may care to object that Reparatus’ reform is palpably incomplete at play’s end, but it is identified as prima pars: either Drury never wrote a sequel in which this theme was brought to a successful conclusion, or did not deem it fit to print.)
8. What motivated Drury to choose “historical events from the remote past” as the subject for what Tricomi (p. 40) called “a homiletic drama for English Catholic audiences”? This a king-in-exile play (although there is nothing Lear-like about Alfred, who never suffers complete isolation), and in their critical analyses Hall (pp. 12 - 26) and Tricomi (pp. 40 - 49) are doubtless right in thinking that the appeal of the story lay in the fact that Alfred’s situation could be pressed into service to stand for the predicament of Drury’s contemporary Catholics, likewise dislodged from their proper places by an invasion of what they regarded as barbaric outsiders, obliged to live a humiliating existence of concealment or exile, and aspiring to right the situation and restore the True Faith in Britain. If so, it is significant that the Alfred story shows that the proper solution is one of amicable compromise, not an act of revanchist violence. Hall pointed out that Aluredus was written against a background of contention between Jesuit and Benedictine factions at Douai, with the former favoring a militant, hard-line posture against Protestant England and the latter a more accommodating policy that conceded the legitimacy of James’ rule and strove for the kind accommodation that would lead to religious tolerance back home. The conclusion of this play makes it clear where Drury stood on this question.
9. Both the Douai English College diary and the title page of Aluredus’ editio princeps inform us that it was first acted at the College in 1621. NOTE 9 The Diary also informs us that it was so well received that two repeat performances were needed (Hall pp 5f.). The play was first printed at Douai, together with Drury’s comedy Mors, in 1619. These two playwere printed at Douai in 1620 under the title Dramatica Poemata, reprinted there in 1628, and agains, now supplemented by Reparatus, at Antwerp in 1641. Edward Albert Hall has produced a modern edition of the play as an undated University of Chicago dissertation. He sensibly founded his text on the 1628 version, noting that the 1641 Antwerp one is marred by “numerous and gross misprints” (p. 10), even if the title page, with obvious mendacity, describes the book as ab ipso authore recognita et multo quam prima auctior reddita. The present edition is nevertheless based on the 1641 one, because that volume is ubiquitously available here as a Google Books offering. Since the 1628 one is somewhat difficult to obtain, doubtless this is the one that most scholars will consult. Hence it seems sensible to edit the 1641 version, correcting its mistakes and supplying its missing lines 1365 - 1376 (the printer omitted an entire page) from the 1628 one. Be it noted, incidentally, that Robert Knightley’s 1659 translation discussed in all probability follows the 1628 text, since Knightley managed to include a translation of these missing lines.
10. Bodleian ms. Rawlinson poet. 80 preserves a translation of Aluredus by Robert Knightley, with the title Alfrede or Right Reinthron’d and dated 1659. This has been edited by Albert H. Tricomi, NOTE 8 whose biographical research established that Knightly belonged to a staunchly royalist family. For him and his like-minded contemporaries, the king-in-exile theme meant something very different. Knightly realized that, without a word being changed. Drury’s play had the capacity to acquire an entirely new meaning for a different audience in much altered historical circumstances. Alfred now stood for the exiled Charles II, the loyal followers who share his exile and work for his restoration for faithful royalists, the Danes for “barbaric” Puritans, and Alfred’s looked-for restoration took on a political rather than a religious significance. Knightly’s translation is remarkably accurate. The only changes he introduced were that he could not resist the temptation to elaborate on Strumbo’s satiric description of life at court in V.v, and the Epilogue spoken by St. Cuthbert is curtailed so as to remove some material appropriate only for a Catholic audience. Otherwise he followed Drury’s original with full fidelity, even to the point of imitating his shifts between verse and prose composition. Then too, if Drury had a flair for comedy, Knightly had a sufficient comic gift to be able to put the language of the “little world” characters into equally lively English. His translation therefore makes a highly appropriate companion-piece for Drury’s original. In using it, I have largely availed myself of Tricomi’s edition. But it does suffer from one shortcoming: on p. 3 he acknowledged that the Bodleian manuscript is “almost certainly scribal,” and yet he was insufficiently alive to the possibility that it could contain copying mistakes. Therefore he was too ready to accept questionable readings that would better have been corrected (“edit,” after all, is a transitive verb, a fundamental fact which far too many modern scholars who deal with Neo-Latin literature sadly fail to realize). I have therefore intervened with corrections where they appear advisable, written out abbreviations, and have also, in keeping with standard Philological Museum policy, silently imposed modern punctuation. But, when all is said and done, I must record my indebtedness to Tricomi’s ground-breaking edition.
NOTE 1 Michael Thomas Siconofli, Robert Squire’s “Death, a Comedie,” A Seventeenth Century Translation of William Drury’s “Mors”: A Critical Edition (diss. Syracuse, 1982) p. 63.
NOTE 2 For this play see Martin Wiggins, “Shakespeare Jesuited: The Plagiarisms of ‘Pater Clarcus,’” Seventeenth Century 20 (2005), 1 - 21.
NOTE 3 Information that can be extracted from William McCabe S. J., An Introduction to the English Jesuit Theatre (St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1983) pp. 81 - 115.
NOTE 4 For biographical information about Drury, in addition to Thomas Cooper’s O. D. N. B. article, se Siconolfi pp. 9 - 57.
NOTE 5 Siconolfi, pp. 69f., wrote:
Autolycus’ picking of the gullible but charitable Clown’s pocket in Shakespeare’s play (IV.iii) is represented almost exactly in Aluredus by the character Strumbo’s similar activity (IV. viii). The only difficulty posed by Hall’s case is that there is no surviving record of a public performance of The Winter’s Tale between November 5, 1611 and January 18, 1623. There was a performance at court on April 7, 1618, but it would seem impossible for Drury to have seen it, since he was in jail.
He could have added that The Winter’s Tale did not appear in print prior to the publication of the First Folio in 1623.
NOTE 6 One is reminded of Aristotle’s dictum in the Poetics (1449a32) that comedy deals with “some defect or ugliness which is not painful.”
NOTE 7 The Continental plays included in Gary R. Grund (ed.), Humanist Comedies (Cambridge U. S. A., 2005) feature these same pseudo-metrics. At most, in some of them each “line“ lends with an iamb. But how audible would they have been in performance?
NOTE 8 Albert H. Tricomi, Robert Knightley, Alfrede or Right Reinthron’d, A Translation of William Drury’s Aluredus sive Alfredus (Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, Binghamton N. Y., 1993).
NOTE 9 Siconolfi pp. 58 - 62 may have been right in arguing that the Diary entry actually pertains to Drury’s comedy Mors. But surely he goes to far in attempting to impugn the evidence of the title page.