1. In his Introduction to the photographic reproduction of the manuscript containing this play, on the basis of the dedicatory epistle to William Juxon, President of St. John’s College, Oxon., NOTE 1 suggested “If we trust the dedication, the play was a set task, expected to manifest Juxon’s obliging patronage of such productions.” But there exist several St. John’s plays, all more or less short, nearly all of them with subjects drawn from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, preserved in presentation manuscripts and each preceded by an epistle to the current President of the College: Christopher Wren Sr.’s Physiponomachia (ca. 1610), Philip Parson’s Atalanta (1612), Thomas Atkinson’s Homo (1615 - 21), NOTE 2 and Henry Bellamy’s Iphis (ca. 1623), and the existence of this series of very kindred plays suggests that in the second and third decades of the seventeenth century the set task of writing such Ovid-based drama was a collegiate tradition rather than Juxon’s personal innovation. The purpose of the exercise was far more likely pedagogical than to bolster presidential egos (it was also, no doubt, a device for producing collegiate entertainments).
2. The present one is based on the episode of Cephalus and Procris, told at length in Book VII of the Metamorphoses (672 - 865). Given the tragic outcome of this Ovidian legend, it comes as a considerable surprise to see it given comic treatment, as no doubt Crowther was aware, since he indulges in a bit of deceptive genre-bending. Especially as it starts with a monologue by an aggrieved goddess planning vengeance, precisely in the manner of Euripides, Act I could just as well represent a tragedy, and it is not until Act II, in which Cephalus makes his entry disguised as a comic miles gloriosus with the absurd name Polemoceraunus, and receives the contents of a chamber pot emptied over his head (540) that we realize we that we have been swindled in our expectations.
3. Dramatization of the story as a comedy required a couple of major alterations. First, in Ovid we are simply told that, in order to test Procris’ fidelity, Cephalus arrived at the palace in disguise and plied her with gifts (Met. VII.723ff.). The Roman poet does not dwell on the mechanics of this trickery, but Crowther elaborates on it by inventing the “Polemoceraunus” deception and equipping Cephalus with a couple of confederates, Phorus the bogus “merchant” and the elderly Eumetis (some readers may care to think that he seems suspiciously Pandar-like), and likewise by outfitting Procris with a household of her own, consisting of a pair of pert and witty handmaids, Charinda and Damalis, and a loyal but somewhat grumpy duenna identified only as “the ward”. Having assembled this new and quite un-Ovidian cast of characters, the playwright grants himself plenty of scope for writing comic scenes. Second, Crowther ends his story at the point in Ovid (Met. VII.756) where Cephalus is relieved of his suspicions about Procris’ fidelity, Procris agrees to come back from the forest and return to her erstwhile married life, and the reunited couple lives in harmony. At least for theatergoers and readers who are willing to forget what they know from Ovid, that things will eventually go tragically wrong (since Cephalus is destined to kill Procris inadvertently with the magically unerring spear she has given him) this reconciliation can serve as a satisfactorily happy ending. NOTE 3 What motivated Crowther to put such an unexpected twist on this time-honored tale is unclear. In so doing, he certainly manages to call attention to his not inconsiderable talents as a playwright, and this may well have been his ambition. And, being an unusually young author of a university drama, he might have still possessed a streak of perverse schoolboy rebelliousness that led him to take a subversive attitude towards the assignment of writing an Ovid-based play (such may be hinted by the dedicatory epistle, in which, behind a facade of the requisite obsequiousness, he distinctly lodges a complaint about the short time he was given to write his play).
4. For Crowther certainly was an unusually young man at the time he wrote Cephalus et Procris. The play is dedicated to the current President of St. Johns College, William Juxon, who held office from July 1626 to July 1628. Crowther was not admitted to the B. A. until 1629, and so wrote this play while still and undergraduate, possibly even in his freshman year. NOTE 4 It was standard practice for university plays to be written by upperclassmen or M. A. students, and the reason why this responsibility was assigned to somebody so young is unknown. One wonders whether Crowther, like Abraham Crowley, came up to Oxford with a reputation for precocity because he had already written a successful play at his secondary school.
5. Born in or about 1610, Joseph Crowther has not been the subject of any real biographical research. NOTE 5 Suffice it to say that in 1660 he was elected Master of St. Mary’s Hall, Oxford (subsequently absorbed into Oriel College) and also a Prebend of Brownswood (from 1642) and a Precentor of St. Paul’s (from 1660). Crowther died in 1689.
5. Some of the presentation manuscripts preserving these St. John’s Ovid plays were clearly the work of professional scriveners, and sometimes it is equally clear that these scriveners were quite ignorant of Latin. Neither of these generalizations quite so obviously applies to the manuscript of Cephalus and Procris (St. Johns College ms. 217). But at least it is sufficiently neat to be handed in to Juxon (or at least it originally was — it has suffered a fair amount of presumably subsequent blotting). The ms. contains a sufficient number of transcriptional blunders that nobody can entertain the possibility that it is the author’s own holograph: the most conspicuous blunders are omitted words in the dedicatory epistle, a dropped line after 312, the seeming misplacement of line 350, and a badly garbled passage at 698ff., as well as a number of lesser problems, recorded in the textual notes.
NOTE 1 Henry Bellamy, Iphis (? acted 1621 - 1633), Joseph Crowther, Cephalus et Procris (acted 1626 - 28), Prepared with an Introduction by Bernfried Nugel) (Renaissance Latin Drama in England series I.10, Hildesheim - New York, 1982); pp. 17 - 23 of Nugel’s Introduction are relevant. See also Frederick S. Boas, “Recently Recovered Manuscripts at St. John’s College, Oxford,” Modern Language Review 11 (1916) 298 - 301, and Gerald E. Bentley, The Jacobean and Caroline Stage (Oxford, 1956) III.183 - 5.
NOTE 2 For these two plays see William E. Mahaney and Walter K. Sherwin, with English translations by Walter K. Sherwin, Jay Freyman, and Even Parrish, Two University Latin Plays: Philip Parson’s Atalanta and Thomas Atkinson’s Homo (Salzburg Studies in English Literature vol. 16, Salzburg, 1973). Homo is the only one of these plays not based on Ovid, but its at least partial resemblance to the other plays mentioned here is disguised by the fact the editors have inexplicably omitted both the dedicatory epistle to William Laud, the current President of St John’s, and the Prologue.
NOTE 3 The only intimation that things are ultimately destined to go tragically awry is the last line of Aurora’s initial monologue (74), summe nocebunt quas genuit iras Amor [“Love-engendered anger will work the greatest harm.”]
NOTE 4 So argued by Boas.
NOTE 5 Bentley III.183 rehearsed Crowther’s Oxford career: matriculated October 1626 (age sixteen), elected Fellow 1628, B. A. 1629, M. A. 1633, B. D. 1639, and D. D. 1660 (this last doubtless in connection with is installation of Master of St. Mary’s Hall). Archival material pertinent to his later life, doubtless of interest to a future biographer, may be found here, here, here, and here).