1. According to the Constitutiones of the English College of St. Omers, (§ A.3), plays produced in the college should be written by the Professor of Humanities: Professor Humanitatis (etsi Ratio Studiorum nihil praescribat) praeter comoediam vel tragoediam sub finem studiorum ad praemiorum distributionem, habeat etiam in aula mense februario declamatoriam actionem, ad quam invitari poterunt externi). NOTE 1 The best known of the these Professors was the well-regarded Jesuit playwright Joseph Simons (actually the alias of Emmanuel Lobb [1594 - 1671]). Simons’ Vitus was performed in May 1623, and his Zeno in August 1631, so his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Thomas Cooper erred in stating that Simons occupied that position for five years (he did not specify which): he must have been Professor of Humanities for at least the eight years delimited by these two productions. This raises the distinct possibility that all St. Omers plays known to have been produced in that time-frame were written by Simons: not only the five plays he subsequently printed in his Tragoediae Quinque (first published at Liège in 1656, with reprints in 1657, 1680, and 1697, containing his Vitus, Mercia, Theoctistus, Leo Armenus, and Zeno), NOTE 2 but also some or all of the others known to have been produced during the period he held office: Sanctus Pelagius Martyr (1623, preserved by Stonyhurst MS. B.VI..10, nr. 3), the present work, Sanctus Damianus Episcopus Tricinensis (acted in February 1626), and the following lost plays: Henricus Sextus (1623), NOTE 2 Trebellius, Paulus Iaponensis, and Ovo Frisius (all 1624), Plantagenetarum Angliae Regum Tragicum Exitium (1629, perhaps a revival of Henricus Sextus), and Syrigiannes (1630), to which might perhaps be added Guido Varvicensis (if Simons had already entered office by February 1623), and also the entertainments performed in connection with the 1625 visitation of Princess Elizabeth of Belgium. NOTE 3 This line of argument might not necessarily guarantee that Simons wrote all the items listed above in this paragraph. But it does mean that there is a prima facie case for attribution to him, and in the case of each item, the proper conclusion is it should be regarded as his unless proven otherwise.
2. Regarding Sanctus Damianus (and, for that matter, Sanctus Pelagius Martyr) someone might attempt to do precisely that, with an argument on the consideration that these plays are shorter and simpler than Simon’s printed plays, which are written in the normal five Acts. But in its shorter length and three-Act structure, Sanctus Damianus is well in accord with the normal dimensions and structure of St, Omers dramas. And the assumption that the texts of the five plays he eventually chose to print accurately represents the condition in which they existed at the time of their original St. Omers performances is insupportable. The five plays printed in the his 1656 Tragoediae Quinque and elsewhere were rewritten and, in some cases, signficantly expanded for production, actual or in some cases at least anticipated, at the English College at Rome during the period (1647 - 1650) when Simons served as Rector there. This is demonstrably true in the cases of Leo Armenus and Zeno, since the earlier versions are still extant, NOTE 4 and can be taken for granted in those of the other three (one can sometimes identify passages and entire scenes that do nothing to advance the plot, and were likely added to lengthen plays). St. Omers had a tradition of short plays which did not prevail at other Jesuit institutions, and it is useful to bear in mind that, as originally written, Simons’ works were school plays, whereas in the final form they were university plays, being rewritten for more sophisticated performers and audiences.
3. An argument that might be raised against attribution to Simons is that Sanctus Damianus contains compositional problems. Above all, the audience is given insufficient information about the identity of the characters or the background of the play’s action. When, for example, we meet Aldo at the beginning of Act I, we are bound to ask two questions: who is this man, and why is he angry at Chunibert? And we have the same difficulty when Aripert and other characters are introduced. No help is given the reader in the form of an initial plot-summarizing Argument or list of Dramatis Personae. Our understanding and enjoyment of the play is severely hampered by such mystification. Unless the members of the original St. Omers audience were all familiar with the works of Paulus Diaconus or some later writer dependent on him, a thing I for one find difficult to imagine, it is easy to suppose that the reaction of the 1626 audience was substantially the same as our own. So the play desperately stands in need of an informative Prologue to provide proper orientation. NOTE 5 But it is by no means a cogent argument to compare the craftsmanship of this play, written when Simons was more of a beginner, with that of the mature works he published thirty years later. On the other hand, there are powerful reasons that favor of attribution to Simons. Both manuscripts that preserve it also contain texts of Zeno and Leo Armenus in their earliest forms, which strongly suggests that their copyist believed it was by Simons. The copyist was presumably a member of the St. Omers community, and if it seems strange that he did not name the author of these plays, it should be pointed out that St. Omers play manuscripts rarely record authors’ names. Sanctus Damianus contains at least one flash of brilliance which suggests that its author was a man of formidable talent. Luitpert’s’ beautifully-written speech about the hourglass, delivered just before his execution, at 754ff. displays striking power and originality, in a context where a lesser playwright would have served up the standard Neo-classical twaddle about the dying song of a swan on the banks of the Cayster, or some equally trite rhetorical topos. This passage finds an interesting parallel in a similar death-speech at Simons’ Theoctistus 2200ff.:
Currit fugaci tempus elapsu fluens.
Premit annus annum, mensibus mensis praeit,
Noctes diebus, noctibus cedunt dies,
Horamque trudit hora. Quas inter vices
Properantis aevi, vita furtivo perit
Absumpta lapsu, seque momentis necat.
Felix honestam quisquis ad metam venit.
[“Time flows swiftly along Year presses on year, month goes before months, nights yield to days and days to nights, and hour crowds upon hour. Among the changes of one’s hastening existence, his life perishes with its stealthy passage, murdering itself minute by minute. Happy the man who attains an honorable ending.”]
And the way its author managed to carve a satisfactory play out of his unpromising source, and give it a compelling central character, certainly shows a good deal of dramatic talent. Then too, there is the consideration that this is a history play, Simons’ favorite genre.
4. This play dramatizes part of a long and complicated story told by Paul the Deacon in his Historia Langobardorum NOTE 6 about an ongoing blood-feud between King Cunincpert of the Langobards and the family of his predecessor Alahis, waged in the seventh century. After Cunincpert had defeated and killed Alahis in battle, the feud was taken up by his kinsmen, the brothers Aldo and Grauso of Brescia. I quote the more relevant passages of Paul’s account (from the 1907 translation by William Dudley Foulke):
While king Cunincpert, indeed, after these things was taking counsel in the city...in what way he might deprive Aldo and Grauso of life, suddenly in the window near which they were standing sat a fly of the largest kind which when Cunincpert attempted to strike with his knife to kill it, he only cut off its foot. While Aldo and Grauso indeed, in ignorance of the evil design, were coming to the palace, when they had drawn near the church of the holy martyr Romanus which is situated near the palace, suddenly a certain lame man with one foot cut off came in their way who said to them that Cunincpert was going to kill them if they should go on to him. When they heard this they were seized with great fear and fled behind the altar of that church. Presently it was announced to king Cunincpert that Aldo and Grauso had taken refuge in the church of the blessed martyr Romanus...Then the king sent to Aldo and Grauso, asking them why they had taken refuge in the holy place. And they answering said: “Because it was reported to us that our lord the king wished to kill us.” Again the king sent to them, seeking to know who he was who had given them the report, and he sent them word that unless they would report to him who had told them, they could not find favor with him. Then they sent word to the king as it had occurred, saying that a lame man had met them upon the way who had one foot cut off and used a wooden leg up to the knee, and that this man had been the one who told them they would be killed. Then the king understood that the fly whose foot he had cut off had been a bad spirit and that it had betrayed his secret designs. And straightway he took Aldo and Grauso on his word of honor from that church, pardoned their fault and afterwards held them as faithful subjects. [VI.6].
During these occurrences Cunincpert, a ruler most beloved by all, after he had held for twelve years alone, succeeding his father, the kingdom of the Langobards, was finally withdrawn from this life...And he left the kingdom of the Langobards to his son Liutpert who was yet of the age of boyhood. When eight months had elapsed from this time, Raginpert, duke of Turin, whom formerly king Godepert had left as a little boy when he was killed by Grimuald, of which we have also spoken above, came with a strong force and fought against Ansprand and Rotharit, duke of the Bergamascans at Novariae (Novara), and defeating them in the open field took possession of the kingdom of the Langobards. But he died the same year...Then his son Aripert, again making ready for war, fought at Ticinum with king Liutpert and with Ansprand and Ato and Tatzo and also Rotharit and Farao; but overcoming all these in battle he took the child Liutpert alive as a prisoner of war. Ansprand also fled and fortified himself in the island of Commacina. [VI.17 - 19].
Then king Aripert when he was confirmed in his sovereignty, tore out the eyes of Sigiprand, the son of Ansprand, and afflicted in various ways all who had been connected with the latter by the tie of blood. He also kept Liutprand the younger son of Ansprand, in custody, but because he regarded him as a person of no importance and as yet a mere youth, he not only inflicted no punishment at all upon his body, but let him depart so that he could go to his father. There is no doubt that this was done by the command of God Almighty who was preparing him for the management of the kingdom. [VI.22].
5. Simons managed to transform this material into a recognizable dramatic genre, a revenge play, containing plenty of the kind of courtly intrigue and violence which contemporary audiences so greatly liked. His pivotal decision was to make Aldo his central character: an evil and manipulative revenger who stops at nothing to retaliate for having been insulted and mistreated by King Chunibert (gaining revenge for the death of Alahis, who is never mentioned, is not part of his agenda). For a play written by a Jesuit for the consumption of a religious community, it is perhaps remarkable that this play’s outlook is so unrelentingly bleak. The title character, St. Damianus, plays only a minor role, when he appears at the beginning and at III.ii to make an entirely ineffectual attempt to plead for Luitpert’s life. He then disappears from the play, having exerted no influence on the course of its action. As the title suggests, his function is simply to bear witness to Italy’s misfortunes, but not to intervene and put a stop to them. Paul the Deacon provides plenty of hints how religion could have been given a more central place in this play, for he repeatedly portrays Alahis was an inveterate enemy of the Christian Church, and Simons could have easily transferred this trait to Aldo, giving his evil a religious dimension. But he resolutely declined to capitalize on these cues, which had the effect of keeping Sanctus Damianus from reading like a specifically Catholic play.
6. And this returns us to the question of the play’s authorship, for here is a possible argument against ascription to Simons at first sight more cogent and convincing than those discussed above, based on the fact that is not a Christian drama (indeed, if it had been preserved by itself in a manuscript owned by a secular library, we would have no idea of its Catholic provenance). The dedicatory page of his volume contains the inscription:
Trino et Uni
[“To GOD Almighty,
Three in One,
The Avenger of Crimes,
The Rewarder of Virtues”]
and the alternate title of Leo Armenus was Ludit in humanis divina potentia rebus [“Heaven makes sport of human affairs” — this is Ovid, Epistulae ex Ponto IV.iii.49]. In a chapter entitled “The Jesuit Tragic Principle” (pp. 144 - 156), Father McCabe contrived to ignore the Ovidian meaning of this statement (in context, if is followed by the line Et certam praesens vix habet hora fidem [“and the present hour gives no sure promise of the next”]) and fixes on it as if it were Simon’s guiding slogan for writing plays, and had to with divine intervention in the Judaeo-Christian sense. He then performs an analysis of the five printed plays designed to show how they are informed by a Christian, and more specifically a Catholic, outlook. At the play’s conclusion, to be sure, Aldo and Aripert are destroyed by the ghosts of their victims at its conclusion, one can read this as an act of divine retribution, and the play ends by looking forward to the reign of the great Langobard king, Luitprand, which can be regarded as a restoration of the moral order of the universe. Sanctus Damianus, to be sure, is a Christian play in about the same sense that, say, Macbeth and Richard III are (I cite these plays because they two feature ghost-apparitions by the protagonist’s victims), but the contrast between Shakespearian and Catholic tragic outlooks drawn by McCabe in this chapter has no application to the present play.
7. This returns us to the question of the play’s authorship. Somebody familiar with McCabe’s reading of Simons might conceivably contend that the fact that Sanctus Damianus does not conform to this Catholic tragic programme tells against ascription to Simons. The easiest way to address such an objection might be to reply that it is no more remarkable for Simons to ignore such a specifically Catholic program than for any other St. Omers playwright to do the same. For, although in his above=mentioned chapter McCabe attributed a Catholic world-view specifically to Simons, for no better reason than that Simons was the focus of his study, the kind of philosophy he detailed was, by definition, shared by all Jesuit playwrights. And yet other St. Omers playwrights (perhaps most notably the author of the masterful Montezuma, if he was not Simons himself, as I strongly suspect he was), could equally ignore the Catholic message when it suited them. Then too, at least to the extent that it is based on a misreading of a line from Ovid which was rather questionably any kind of personal slogan of Simons’, one might care to wonder if McCabe’s discovery of a specifically Catholic tragic outlook was exaggerated and rooted in his own religious profession. Not all of Simons’ printed plays adhere to the Christian programme indicated by McCabe (Theoctistus most certainly does not), and even his martyr plays such as Mercia and Vitus are just as concerned with dramatizing tales of court intrigue and the strivings of revengers and men-on-the-make as they are with their ostensibly Christian content. Court intrigue, in fact, was Simons’ favorite subject, to which he kept returning. And so, if there are any grounds at all for problematizing the fact that Sanctus Damianus has little expressly Catholic content, it is far from clear that this has any bearing on the authorship question. One suspects, in fact, that this is a non-issue created by McCabe’s fundamentally biased reading of Simons’ intentions (in the same way, McCabe’s attempts to show that Simons was trying to make his plays conform to Aristotles’ tragic formulae fails to convince, I see no persuasive evidence that Simons had ever heard of those.)
8. Sanctus Damianus is preserved in two manuscripts:
a Stonyhurst MS. B.VI.25 (numbered pages 1 - 41).
b St. John’s College (Cambridge) MS. Aa.3, fols. 82 - 114 (James 504).
Both of these manuscripts follow Sanctus Damianus with the texts of Zeno and Leo Armenus. Their similarity is explained by the fact that they are both the work of a single copyist. In the case of Sanctus Damianus, both are copies of the same exemplar. This is, above all, shown by the fact that the same lines are missing or mutilated in both copies: 130, 188, 524f, and 920. Both also share a number of more or less obviously bad readings (as recorded in the Textual Notes included as part of this edition). It is therefore clear that this exemplar must have been a copy text standing at one or more removes from Simons’ holograph, and also that it was not an exceptionally good one. The situation is further vitiated by the fact that the copyist responsible for our two extant manuscripts was rather egregiously careless. Both mss. contain a number of idiosyncratic omissions and errors. This latter layer of mistakes is easily put right, because the errors of each can be corrected with the help of the other. The former layer, inherited from their common exemplar, requires a more active form of editorial intervention, of necessity involving an element of conjecture. These are also identified in the Textual Notes. Such intervention is obligatory at points where the received text is nonsensical. An additional characteristic of both mss. is that punctuation is often wrong or even nonexistent. It would be tedious in the extreme, both for the editor and the reader, to record each place where pointing has had to be changed or added. I shall therefore content myself with the blanket statement that the pointing in this text is my own responsibility.
9. I should like to thank Dr. Martin Wiggins of The Shakespeare Institute for drawing this play to my attention, supplying me with a photocopy of the manuscript, and offering highly valuable advice.
NOTE 1 Quoted by William McCabe S. J., An Introduction to the English Jesuit Theatre (St. Louis, 1983) p. 104.
NOTE 2 These plays have been translated by Richard E. Arnold et al., Jesuit theater Englished: five tragedies of Joseph Simons (ed. Louis J. Oldani S. J., St Louis, 1989).
NOTE 3 These are the plays performed during this period listed by McCabe, pp. 84 - 89. McCabe identified the 1626 Henricus Sextus with the extant St. Omers play Innocentia Purpurata seu Rosa Candida et Rubicunda, but it has subsequently been demonstrated that this is the work of a later Professor, a certain Father Clarke who occupied the position in the 1650’s and was also responsible for the 1655 Duello inter Corpus et Animum: cf. Martin Wiggins, “Shakespeare Jesuited: The Plagiarisms of Pater Clarcus,” The Seventeenth Century XX (2005) 2f.
NOTE 4 McCabe lists the mss. evidence for these plays on pp. 137f.
NOTE 5 These remarks presume that our manuscripts accurately represent the text as performed. This is in all likelihood true, but it will be shown below that a.) both of them are the work of the same copyist, who was inordinately careless in going about his job; b.) these mss. are demonstrably based on a copy ms. containing errors and omissions of its own. Therefore one cannot quite exclude the possibility that our text abridges what Simons actually wrote. On the other hand, Simons was not given to writing such explanatory Prologues.
NOTE 6 This story was repeated by more recent writers, for example by Carlo Sigonio, Historiarum de Regno Italiae Libri Quindecim (Frankfurt a. M., 1575), pp. 51 - 54.