GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO THE PLAYS
1. The performance of classical plays and also of original works, mostly in Latin, was favored by Humanistic educators, and plays could be employed as vehicles for salubrious moral lessons. NOTE 1 But something else was equally, although perhaps less officially, at stake. The Tudor educational curriculum was undeniably dreary and still somewhat medieval in contents and method. Especially as both students and faculty tended to be appreciably younger than their modern counterparts, schools and universities were largely populated by young men who had few legitimate outlets for high spirits, and few opportunities for wholesome recreation or entertainment. The production of plays was one sanctioned such opportunity, NOTE 2 and had the added advantage that plays could serve institutional purposes, for example by serving as entertainment on important occasions.
2. Hence as early as ca. 1540 NOTE 3 a flourishing theatrical tradition grew up, not only at Oxford and Cambridge, but also at the leading public schools, and also the Inns of Court. There was a good reason for this quickening of academic theatrical life long before the rise of popular and vernacular drama. Academic drama was imitative of classical models. Therefore there was ready at hand a prefabricated set of understandings about how high drama was supposed to work, and also a preexisting poetics to employ in writing plays. Academic playwrights, performers, and audiences were not obliged to confront problems involved in building a sophisticated theatrical tradition from scratch. Hence, although in the early 1580’s, when Gager began to write, Sidney could bleakly survey the vernacular theater of the nation, and not much later Marlowe could mordantly disdain the jigging veins of rhyming mother wits / and such conceits as clownage keeps in pay, a lively tradition of academic drama had been thriving for more than a generation. And so it is no accident that those milestones in the development of the English national theater, Gammer Gurtons Nedle, Ralph Roister Doister, and Gorboduc, were created in school or university environments. Nor is it an accident that the schools and universities served as incubators from which many a future London playwright would emerge.
3. One unfamiliar with Tudor university drama might easily entertain some misapprehensions. NOTE 4 The generic title “university drama” might strike the reader as a monstrous and repelling oxymoron; he might anticipate that academic plays were exercises in frigid neo-classicism, and that the academics who wrote and performed them were not practical men of the theater; he might also assume that this title implies these plays were produced in such a rarified intellectual atmosphere that there existed some kind of impermeable barrier between university drama and the popular theater of the nation. An excellent corrective to any such possible misunderstandings is a reading of the plays of William Gager of Christ Church, Oxford [1555 - 1622]. Since academic playwrights wrote as an avocation, none of them was especially prolific, but Gager wrote more than any other, and he was unique in working in the three different dramatic genres of tragedy, comedy, and tragicomedy. With the arguable exception of his Cambridge contemporary Thomas Legge [1525 - 1607], the inventor of the Chronicle play, Gager was the outstanding playwright of the university theater.
4. Gager and Legge wrote with very different aims, but some of the qualities that elevate them above the common run of academic dramatists are the same. Although both indeed are capable at times of frigid rhetoric, and also, perhaps, of excessive dependence on classical models, the undeniable faults associated with this dramatic tradition, these tendencies are more than slightly counterbalanced by others: intense verve and energy, considerable gifts for characterization, a genuine sense of theater and of what can and should be done on the stage (the number and detail of Legge’s stage directions are astonishing), and a willingness to cater to popular taste by importing elements from the vernacular theater including the inclusion of musical interludes, NOTE 5 by providing plenty of visual spectacle, and by appealing to patriotic sentiment. Gager was also equipped with something evidently denied to Legge, a lively sense of humor. In the address Ad Criticum prefacing the printed version of Ulysses Redux, he declares his aim in writing that play:
Nam ut vivendi, sic etiam scribendi ratio mihi imprimis probatur ea, quae est paulo liberior ac pene dissolutior, quaeque non tam doctissimis, quam imperitis placeat. Quid enim putidius quam quod tu facere soles, <scilicet dicere nos> in eo peccare, quia nihil peccare discrutiamur? Equidem ego hanc sive tragaediam, sive fabulam, sive narrationem historicam, sive quicquid eam dici ius fasque est, non ad exquisitam Artis Poeticae tanquam aurificis stateram, sed ad popularis iudicii trutinam exigendam proposui, et effudi potius quam scripsi.
[“For, just as in living, so in writing my method is somewhat free and relaxed, of a sort which pleases the learned less than the unskilled. What more rotten than what you are wont to do, to accuse us of erring in a matter in which we are not troubled if we should err? For my part, I have produced this tragedy, or play, or historical narrative, or whatever it is right and proper to call it, not according to the exacting standards of the Art of Poetry employed as some sort of goldsmith’s balance, but rather measured according to the exacting standards of popular taste, and I have poured it forth rather than composed it.”]
5. Although here he is defending his decision to write a tragicomedy, in disregard of Horace’s canons of strict literary propriety, in a larger sense these words may be taken as a declaration of the artistic intent that permeates all his plays. Gager was well aware of the popular theater and its attractions (in the preface to Panniculus, lines 32f., he begs his audience to pay as much attention to his play as they would to a vernacular one), NOTE 6 and cut his cloth accordingly. Another sign of disinterest in neoclassical strictness is that in each of his plays the canonical Unities are somehow violated: Gager even managed to introduce a violation of the Unity of Place into his expanded version of Seneca’s Hippolytus. There is also abundant reason for thinking that he employed his plays as a means of working out a deep-seated psychological conflict, and his use of plays to grapple with a gnawing personal issue infuses them with extra energy and intensity that helps elevate them beyond the ordinary. Gager, in sum, deserves recognition and appreciation as a significant figure in the history of the English national theater.
6. William Gager was born in July 24, 1555, at Long Melford, Suffolk, the son of Gilbert Gager and Thomasina Cordell Gager. NOTE 7 Thomasina was the sister of Long Melford’s leading citizen, Sir William Cordell of Melford Hall. Cordell was one of those Tudor thrusters, a yeoman’s son who did well under Henry VIII, and there is rich symbolism in the fact that Melford Hall was erected on the foundations of a hunting lodge of the Abbots of Bury St. Edmunds, confiscated and ceded to him by royal grant. NOTE 8 Gager’s maternal grandfather, John Cordell, had been a servant of Long Melford’s squire, Sir William Clopton. A sign of Sir William Cordell’s upward mobility was that he married Clopton’s granddaughter, Mary. In his life he held an impressive number of titles: Member of Parliament, Solicitor-General, Speaker of the House of Commons, member of the Privy Council (under Mary), and Master of the Rolls under both Mary and Elizabeth. NOTE 9 He also served as steward the Earl of Oxford’s manor in the adjacent village of Lavenham. NOTE 10 Although at least reputedly Cambridge-educated, Cordell had Oxford connections. He is supposed to have drafted the statutes of St. John’s College, and was Visitor of that College. A mark of his standing is that in August of 1578 he played host to the Queen at Melford Hall, after she had been entertained by academic disputations and a play by Cambridge men at Audley End. NOTE 11 Cordell’s siblings rode the social escalator in his wake: sister Jane married well and brother Edward also made his fortune, of which we shall hear more below.
7. There are strong indications that Thomasina and her sons were regarded as poor relations by the Cordells. Brooke (p. 403) speculated this was because Gilbert was something of a wastrel, but Thomasina possibly annoyed her brother by marrying for love rather than advancement. NOTE 12 We have records of Cordell doling out money for Gager’s education, but, as Brooke wrote after examining various family wills, “nothing is more remarkable in the testamentary acts of the Cordells than their unanimity in passing over the Gagers.” In connection with Gager’s plays, there is no need to investigate his family life, with one conspicuous exception to which we shall presently come.
8. Gager received his first education, including the rudiments of Latin, at the local Melford school. Thence he passed on to the Westminster School. There is no record of his entry there, but Brooke (p. 404) assumed that, if he was twelve at the time, this would have been in about 1567. He also noted (p. 405) also noted that the Westminster School had a lively tradition of Latin theatrics and speculated that Gager took part, but such participation is undocumented (and there is no evidence that Gager ever acted in plays). From Westminster he went up to Oxford in 1574 as a Queen’s Scholar, where he matriculated from Christ Church. He then ascended the academic ladder at the fastest pace statutably possible: admitted to the B. A. in 1577, incepted M. A. in 1580, created Doctor of Civil Law in 1589. Gager attained the status of theologus (a title which did not imply any special interest in divinity) as a student of Christ Church, and remained in residence until 1593. After that, Christ Church records indicate he was present only rarely. How he passed the next few years is obscure. In 1601 he became surrogate to the Chancellor of the diocese of Ely. NOTE 13 Upon the death of the incumbent, Gager was appointed to the Chancellorship pro termino vitae. He owned a house in Chesterton, a suburb of Cambridge, which he shared with his wife, the former Mistress Mary Tovey, a widow with two sons by a prior marriage, who he married at some unknown date, where they lived until his death in August, 1622. NOTE 14 He is buried in All Saints’ Church, Cambridge.
9. We know no details of Gager’s existence at the Westminster School, and only one thing can be taken for granted, and it was fateful for shaping his literary future. Leicester Bradner has written: NOTE 15
The great public schools generally took their pupils through Vergil, Ovid, Horace, parts of Catullus and Martial, and a few modern poets such as Baptista Mantuan. The study of these authors included detailed attention to their striking phrases and poetical ornaments, which the students were required to note carefully. The more ambitious boys kept commonplace books in which these things were put down for future borrowing or imitation.
Closely linked to this program of reading was a rather ferocious regimen of Latin verse composition, beginning in the fourth form. To be sure, a certain amount of this versification consisted of pasting together tags taken from classical authors or lifted out of dictionaries of synonyms and epithets. At its worst, this system of verse composition must have led to little more than the manufacture of centos. But a talented boy could develop a genuine facility as the result of such training. I shall return to this system of versification below. Gager maintained a personal notebook in which he preserved his unpublished work written at Oxford, British Library Additional Ms. 22583 (because of the frequency with which this manuscript must be cited throughout this edition, it is henceforth designated A, and it will be described in detail in the General Introduction to Gager’s poetry). The first and therefore presumably earliest item in this is a Latin translation of the pseudo-Homeric Batrachomyomachia with an appended note haec lusi scholaris, showing that it was done during his undergraduate years. Other early work includes a hexameter version of the Biblical story of Susanna, and one of Isocrates’ Precepts to Demonicus in elegiacs. It was probably soon after coming to Oxford that Gager’s enthusiasm for Latin versification tried the patience of his masters and earned him a whipping, doubtless for neglecting other responsibilities (poem LIX).
10. When he came up to Oxford, Gager found himself in what was increasingly becoming a hotbed of literary activity, some of national significance. Present in his Christ Church were other talented writers, such as the future London playwright George Peele and the Anglo-Latin poet- Richard Eedes. Then there was Richard Hakluyt, whose The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation was a milestone in the development of English prose. College authorities looked favorably on literary efforts. Christ Church took the lead in Oxford dramatic performances. The Dean, Tobie Mathew, and Harbert Westfaling, one of the Canons, were two of the most celebrated preachers of the day in an age when preaching was regarded as a form of epideictic rhetoric. So Gager had found an ideal environment for exercising his abilities as a poet, and for discovering his talents as a dramatist. In this fostering atmosphere he made rapid progress. The major product of his Bachelor years was a translation of Musaeus’ Hero and Leander.
11. Only a few years later Gager produced his Meleager of 1582. If it is compared with the parts he evidently wrote for a collaborative Oedipus and poems CIII - CVII, exercises in the writing of iambic scenarii, the rapidity of Gager’s growth is astonishing. Meleager’s plotting, characterizations, and overall conception are executed with mature assurance, and in all ways the author is firmly in control of his material. It would be hard to point to any features that are palpably the marks of a maiden performance. Indeed, in this play Gager attained a level of originality and excellence arguably unequaled in his later works. Meleager is no mechanical replica of Seneca. Although the play’s poetics are predictably Senecan, as is the conception of some of its characters and scenes, Gager made a concerted effort to bypass Seneca and go back to the austerer and more elevated moral grandeur of Attic tragedy, presenting the authentic Greek narrative pattern of a hubristic tragic hero rebelling against the gods and suffering a consequent downfall. Tragedy of this type demands a suitably grand, and suitably wrongheaded, hero at its center, and Gager managed to create such a hero in Oeneus. This god-hating, heaven-storming ranter is one of the genuinely memorable characters of the Elizabethan stage, and several writers have justly compared him with the kind of tragic hero Marlowe was presently to develop. There is room for plenty of debate whether Seneca’s plays (and, in consequence, much Renaissance Seneca-based drama) constitute genuine tragedies. Gager leaves no room for doubt that Meleager is a real tragedy by any standards you care to apply.
12. Meleager is his most uncompromisingly tragic work. His next extant play, Dido, is a tragedy too, but its tone is lightened by a greater admixture of non-tragic elements designed to provide entertainment. But it is a feature of Gager’s overall art that even Meleager contains popularizing features redolent of the popular stage. The tone of its first Act is light and witty, and some characterizations look a little less than entirely serious. And the play contains elements of masquing and song that would be quite out of place in a strictly neoclassical tragedy. Indeed, in each of his surviving plays the gravity and potential tedium of neoclassicism are lightened by features that are winsome, graceful, and witty.
13. Meleager was put on again three years later as entertainment for a visitation by the Earl of Leicester, Chancellor of the University of Oxford, accompanied by his nephew Sir Philip Sidney. NOTE 16 More immediately, in 1583 the University was apprised at very short notice of the impending visit of a foreign dignitary, to be escorted by Leicester, and there was something of a scramble to devise suitable entertainment, since the University was only given twenty-six days’notice of the impending visit.. The University turned to Gager fore two plays, and supported him with generous resources. One of the works performed on this occasion, the comedy Rivales, has not been preserved, but it must have been quite successful since it provoked Francis Mere’s enthusiastic view of Gager’s statue as a comic playwright. It was revived in 1592 in connection with the great Shrovetide dramatic exercises, and again in September of the same year for the first royal visitation since 1566. The other play written for this occasion, Dido, is commonly disdained by modern critics who say that it was hastily cobbled together and amounts to little more than a mechanical adaptation of Vergil’s story of Dido and Aeneas. It could also be claimed that Dido’s considerable elements of entertainment and pageantry do not sit very well with the play’s essentially tragic story. And, as will be shown in the Introduction to that play, internal evidence tends to establish that Gager farmed out some scenes to a less talented collaborator. All in all, in view of the circumstances under which it was written, Dido is a remarkably well-crafted play, and there is much that can be said in its defense. This not a play that should greatly detract from its author’s reputation.
14. The occasion of the Polish Pfalzgraf’s visit to Oxford in 1583 had produced a notable efflorescence of Gager’s dramatic talents. There followed a nine-year hiatus in his theatrical activities. Part of the reason (if what he writes is not merely rhetorical) NOTE 17 may have been a certain lack of self-confidence, for if Meleager made a favorable impression on Oxford, its author did not quite share this view. When it was finally printed in 1592, he prefaced the text with a dedicatory epistle to Essex in which he expresses a coolness for his own work:
Atque ille quidem diu spretus, ac pene pro exposititio habitus, vix nomen, nedum charitatem filii, apud me obtinebat. Erga quem, nescio quo pacto, iniquiore semper animo fui, atque alieniore. Sed cum primogenitus meus esset Meleager, multique saepe suaderent, enutriendum potius puerum, quam tineis blattisque escam relinquendum, atque ipsi etiam clam me, sed mendose ac perperam educarent, puerique indolem apud me laudare non desisterent, misertus sum, fateor, tandem prolis meae, caepique paulatim eius non pudere, quemadmodum adolescens genui.
[“He was long spurned by me, all but sentenced to exposure: I scarcely acknowledged him, let alone gave him the affection due a son. For some reason I do not understand, I always maintained a somewhat cold and unfriendly attitude toward him. But since Meleager was my firstborn, and many people urged that this child ought to be nurtured and not be abandoned as food for the bookworms and the moths, and they themselves, unbeknownst to me, falsely and wrongly brought him up, and did not cease praising his character to me, I confess that at length I took pity on my child, and little by little I ceased to be ashamed for him, since I had sired him in my youth.”]
15. Besides diffidence, other factors were at work. The war years involved a general cessation of dramatic activities, and Gager’s literary endeavors did not cease, but rather shifted into a different direction as he concentrated on his poetry. He was also faced with the responsibility of seeing several pamphlets of propagandistic poetry, as well as an important University anthology, through the press. But in February 1592 he returned to the theater with a vengeance. In that year Christ Church put on an extraordinary three-day dramatic festival. NOTE 18 This was not done to entertain any distinguished visitor, and in a later context the reason for these special performances will be suggested. Gager took advantage of this opportunity to put all his wares in the shop window, for over the course of these three days he displayed the full range of his talents as a writer of different dramatic genres. On the first night, February 6, he put on a new play, the tragicomic Ulysses Redux (“Ulysses Returned ”). The second night saw a revival performance of his comedy Rivales. The third evening’s entertainment consisted of a performance of Seneca’s tragedy Hippolytus with a Prologue, Epilogue, and extra scenes contributed by Gager. These were subsequently printed under the self-mocking NOTE 19 title Panniculus Hippolyto Senecae Tragoediae Assutus (“A Patch Sewn on Seneca’s Tragedy Hippolytus.”)
16. Ulysses Redux is a dramatization of the events of the second half of the Odyssey. It is tragicomic both in the sense that it ends happily and that some of its episodes, such as the boxing match between Ulysses and Irus the beggar, are less than completely serious. In a preface Ad Criticum Gager defends himself from any possible criticism that he is violating canons of literary propriety. In doing so, he is defending the enthusiasm of his age for mixed drama. We have seen that his tragedies Meleager and Dido are not free of humor. Ulysses Redux is only a further step in a direction already marked out.
17. The idea of sewing a patch on something might seem to imply some element of repair or improvement (unless, of course, in making his disparaging remark Momus had in mind Matthew 9:16, No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse), and in one sense it is possible that Gager felt he was introducing an improvement into Seneca’s Hippolytus. When he adapted Euripides’ play, Seneca eliminated all machinery of the gods, so as to render it an essentially human tale (save that, as always, his blind Fates hover in the background). By beginning the play with the appearance of the Fury Megaera seeking vengeance for a slight, Gager restores something of the divine element missing from Seneca. Now the spectator is invited to regard the catastrophe in Theseus’ household as the result of Megaera’s behind-the-scenes machinations, just as the original Greek spectator had been invited to see Aphrodite’s hidden hand in the downfall of Euripides’ Hippolytus. Gager also adds a significant popularizing touch by inserting a scene calculated to remind the spectator of the tale of Troilus and Cressida, an Elizabethan favorite. But his primary intention lay in a different direction. Although these three works were in different genres, it is arguable that Gager made a deliberate effort to weave them into a kind of thematically interrelated trilogy. He adds a lengthy scene to intensify the importance of this theme in the Hippolytus and thus to further his scheme of creating a linked trilogy.
18. The reader will doubtless be surprised and skeptical at the suggestion that Gager’s three Shrovetide plays formed a trilogy. How can a tragicomedy, a comedy, and a tragedy, written on disparate subjects, merit this designation? Nevertheless, the description is warranted. In the heyday of Attic tragedy, poets participated in the tragedy competition of the Dionysia with sets of three plays. In the earlier decades of the fifth century B. C., when dominated the stage, they usually competed with three tragedies that told a connected story (Aeschylus’ Oresteia is the single surviving example of such a trilogy). Then, in the second half of the century, Sophocles, Euripides, and their rivals produced sets of three at least ostensibly unrelated plays written on different mythological subjects. Unfortunately, in English we do not have separate words to differentiate a through-composed trilogy such as the Oresteia (the Germans call it an Inhaltstrilogie) from a group of three plays which were written on different subjects but performed on the same occasion. The use of a single term to designate two distinctly different things always has a potential for introducing confusion. Naturally, in calling Gager’s Shrovetide plays a trilogy, I am suggesting a comparison only with the latter kind.
19. In the case of the latter type of trilogy, an obvious artistic problem may arise. In the absence of an overarching plot to link the three plays, should one be concerned with presenting the spectator with something more than a collection of three disjunct dramatic experiences? How might a degree of integration be achieved, so as to offer him some kind of unified aesthetic experience? In the absence of any complete post-Aeschylean trilogy, we do not know how (or whether) the Attic tragedians dealt with this problem, but at least the possibility must be acknowledged that three different plays presented on the same occasion might be interrelated in some way the spectator could perceive, so as to present him with a more integrated aesthetic package.
20. Over the three nights of the Baccalaureate celebration of March 1579, at St. Johns College, Cambridge, Thomas Legge had presented a cycle of three plays collectively entitled Richardus Tertius (he wrote a second such trilogy, Solymitana Clades, but it was never produced). Although there is much about the poetics and substance of this work that is self-evidently Senecan, in another sense its inspiring genius is not Seneca so much as Aeschylus, for Richardus Tertius represents a genuine attempt to write an Inhaltstrilogie. The three plays collectively trace the rise and fall of a tyrannical monster, and, very much in the Aeschylean manner, Legge seems to have tried to link them together by a series of recurrent images, such as disease and insanity. It is likely that Gager got from Legge the idea of exploring the possibilities of the trilogic form, of working on a larger scale than the unit of the individual play. But Gager, unlike Legge, constructed a trilogy of ostensibly disparate plays linked by common denominators of theme rather than plot.
20. For it is striking that all three plays handle the theme of wooing and courtship. Ulysses Redux is of course about the Suitors’ unsuccessful and disastrously misguided attempt to gain the hand of Penelope. One of the scenes in that play which has no basis in Gager’s Homeric model is found in Act III, in which Amphinomus presses his suit on Ulysses’ prudently reluctant wife. In the same way, at least one important reason why Gager decided to add extra scenes to the Hippolytus was to modify the play so that its resonance with Ulysses Redux and Rivales might be emphasized and reinforced. The expanded Hippolytus contains not only Phaedra’s morbid courtship of her step-son, but also the Naiad’s unsuccessful (but entirely wholesome) wooing of Hippolytus. Why make the girl attempting to win Hippolytus’ hand a Naiad? Naiads are inhabitants of the same countryside which constituted the world of Rivales, for the comedy’s plot somehow had to do with “the fonde behaviour of cuntrye wooinge” (5). Naiads are also invoked twice in the course of Ulysses Redux (151ff., 457ff.). If Dr. John Rainolds (who knew the play only by hearsay) is to be trusted, Rivales even contained a character named Phoedra or Phaedra (7). In the same manner, one purpose of the interview between Hippolytus and Pandarus is to point up Hippolytus’ Telemachus-like situation, as his father wanders far from home and his position as heir-apparent is challenged.
21. Gager has a trick of interlarding his Prologues and Epilogues with allusions to, or quotations from, his other works. This has the effect of creating an interesting network of intertextuality between his plays. Such a habit cannot be accounted a trilogy-building strategy, insofar as he sometimes brings Dido into the network (and even, once, Meleager insofar as a conceit from its Epilogue is reproduced in the Epilogue written for the September 1592 revival of Rivales (2.8f.). Nonetheless, some cross-references deserve to be mentioned. In the Prologue written for the Shrovetide revival of Rivales (1.12f.) he speaks of how the play has returned after ten years, Ulysses-like. The Prologue to the expanded Hippolytus speaks of the Ulysses Redux the spectators saw two nights ago, and draws a contrast with it (1ff.). And of course the Epilogue spoken by Momus at the end of the third night presents the spectator with a thoroughly unfavorable review of all three plays (433ff.), and at various points Gager refers to the grex, the company of performers for them all. So to an appreciable extent these Prologues and Epilogues collectively serve as a framing device, and we are reminded that what is contained within the frame is not a congeries of single plays, but rather a triad.
22. In the course of the Epilogue to Panniculus (376ff.) Gager bids farewell to theatrics and proclaims that his career as a playwright is now through. This was because, having received his D. C. L. some time ago, he was on the verge of going down from Oxford. But, as matters turned out, he was not quite through after all. In September 1592 the Queen and Privy Council made an unanticipated visit to Oxford. There was no time to prepare new plays, so revivals of old ones had to suffice. The plays in question were Rivales and Leonard Hutten’s Bellum Grammaticale, and Gager was called upon to write a new Prologue for the former and also a Prologue and Epilogue for the latter. And then his dramatic career truly did come to an end.
23. The suggestion has already been made that Gager’s plays gain extra intensity and energy because he employed them as a forum for working out a psychological conflict, or perhaps for conducting an interior debate. For the common denominator linking all of his plays is a virtual obsession with the subject of chastity. From first to last, he ceaselessly worries at this topic. Sometimes chastity is presented in a wholly favorable light. Penelope is shown to be a paragon of virtue in Ulysses Redux, and we are given three negative examples of unchastity, and of the disaster to which it leads, in the protagonist of Dido, Phaedra in Panniculus, and Melantho in Ulysses Redux. We are likewise treated to the impassioned defenses of celibacy by Atalanta in Meleager and by Hippolytus in Panniculus. On the basis of these elements, one might be tempted to construct a picture of Gager as a misogynist or somebody deeply frightened of female sexuality. Until modern times, after all, the Universities were intensely masculine societies and for this reason doubtless tended to attract men of both types.
24. If you wanted to make this case, you could point to certain biographical facts. Following the suggestion of the anonymous “I. C.” (no doubt John Case) who contributed an epigram prefacing Meleager, you could argue that the trouble caused by an allegedly predatory female within his own family, who did Gager out of an expected inheritance, left a deep emotional scar, and jaundiced his attitude towards women. Gager’s uncle Edward Cordell remarried in late life and then expired in 1590. As often happens in such cases, Gager was bitterly resentful of the loss of an anticipated inheritance, and he may have blamed his uncle’s young bride for poisoning his mind. In his notebook poetry there is an item (CLXXI) beginning:
o fortuna meis semper contraria votis!
o mors! o peius faemina morte malum!
[“O Fortune, always contrary to my desires! O death! O woman, more evil than death!”]
This poem is prefaced by the following outburst: In obitu avunculi mei Eduardi Cordelli quo sua domina Digbye biennio ante ducta, et sola haerede instituta, tot promissis suis, iureque civili et naturali violatis, testamento praeteritus sum [“On the death of my uncle Edward Cordell, by whom I was passed over in his will in violation of all his promises and of law both civil and natural, after he had married Mistress Digby two years previously and made her his only heir.”] “I. C.” appears to have thought that Meleager’s murderous Althaea was modeled on the hateful Mistress Abigail Digby.
25. It could also be pointed out that some of his nondramatic poems dwell on the theme of chastity and its loss (such as LXXI - LXXIII). Most notably, the youthful Susanna anticipates Ulysses Redux in telling a story of chastity besieged by unworthy and rapacious suitors. Likewise, since selection of metaphor can be psychologically revealing, one might remark that in his 1592 letter to Dr. John Rainolds Gager defined his task:
Wherein I ame affected as if I weare advocate to a fayre mayden suspected and accused of incontinencye…evne so I fare in this cause, whearin not one, but two fayre maidens, Tragoedia and Comoedia are not only greevusly suspected, but vehemently and eloquently accused…
Although this is a topic more properly addressed in the Introduction to Gager’s poetry, our understanding of his psychological makeup is complicated by the fact that some of his notebook poetry attests Platonic homosexual attachments. One might allege this as further evidence for a misogynistic streak in the man. To round out the picture, it could be pointed out that in a 1608 Comitia debate he seems to to have upheld the thesis that wife-beating was legally sanctioned.
26. The trouble with this picture, however, is that as soon as you examine it more closely, it tends to dissolve. Attributing any such Meleager of Althaea’s characterization to “I. C.” would be merely silly, for Meleager was written many years prior to Uncle Edward’s death (a passage at Panniculus 245ff. may or may not reflect hostility towards Mistress Digby on Gager’s part). In the notebook poem Mistress Digby comes in for some harsh words, but Uncle Edward quite properly bears the brunt of the poet’s frustration (it is probably for this reason that Gager ripped a page out of his notebook, which began with a vernacular poem addressed to him, CLXIII), and in any event the poem cited above and some following ones serve to show that the episode did not produce embitterment, but rather triggered a Christian conversion experience.
27. Two of the plays, Meleager and Panniculus, contain debates about chastity’s value, and in both debates those arguing the anti-chastity position give as well as they get. In these debates the representatives of that side unquestionably emerge as the more attractive characters and more convincing debaters. In Meleager the chaste Atalanta strikes one as more than a little uncouth. Meleager himself himself may be headstrong and, in his infatuation, a mooncalf. But his friend Philemon is portrayed as a polished and intelligent courtier. In the Panniculus debate, Hippolytus is represented as boorish and more than slightly hysterical, while the Naiad who woos him strikes the reader as wholesome, sensible, and thoroughly attractive. NOTE 20 When she suggests that his life-philosophy is based on nothing more than fear and avoidance, adding more than a hint that there is something pathological involved (273ff.), the spectator cannot help but agree. Seneca’s Hippolytus is already characterized as misguided, hysterical, and downright pathological, and Gager’s additions do nothing to undercut this representation, and much to reinforce it. And he undermines the black-and-white moral scheme that has prevailed throughout Ulysses Redux in a final chorus which concludes with the cynically worldly sentiment that, when all is said and done, bad women are to be counted among life’s amenities. NOTE 21 Furthermore, the notebook poem entitled Licet Sapienti Uxorem Ducere (LXXXI) appears among a series of poems arguing one side of disputational questions, and it is perhaps significant that in the context of a private notebook in which he often opened his heart Gager chose to argue in the affirmative. NOTE 22 Certainly it begins with striking vehemence:
qui dura taedas sapienti lege iugales
deneget, aut puer est, aut sine mente senex.
[“Whoever denies a wise man the wedding torches by a harsh law is either a child or an old fool.”]
28. In 1609 Joseph Barnes, Printer to the University, issued a tract entitle An Apologie for Women, or An Opposition to Mr. Dr. G. his Assertion, Who held in the Act at Oxforde, Anno 1608, That it was lawfull for husbands to beat their wives, by “W. H. of Ex. in Ox.” The author is identified by Anthony à Wood as William Heale of Exeter College, who added that “Dr. G.” was Gager. NOTE 23 This finds support in the fact that Gager’s name is also written in ink in the Bodleian copy of Heale’s tract. To be sure, Tucker Brooke NOTE 24 pointed out that Convocation granted a dispensation for Thomas Gwin of All Souls to act as respondent at the 1608 Comitia because no Doctor could be found for the purpose, but the chances that Gager did participate in this debate are increased by some lines of his Pyramis, written in the same year (1198ff.):
uxori pulsare virum natove parentem
nulla lege licet. contra, natumque parenti
uxoremque viro fas est quandoque. vir est rex,
Et pater est populi: populo inviolabilis ergo.
[“No law allows a wife to strike her husband, or a son his father. But on the contrary, from time to time a parent may beat his son, a husband his wife. A king is the husband, and the father of his subjects, and so is inviolable to his people.”]
But arguing that wife-beating is legal is not the same thing as recommending it. Heale’s treatise is no careful point-by-point refutation of “Dr. G.’s” case, and does not permit the reconstruction of the argument, but in one place (p. 7) he says that this proponent of wife-beating adduced as evidence the case of Publius Sempronius, who divorced his wife for having attended the performance of a play (the story comes from Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights X.2). If Gager was the debater, this allusion suggests a bit of clowning, which would scarcely be out of keeping with the spirit of an occasion that encouraged plenty of comedy. NOTE 25 Heale may have taken Gager rather more seriously than the situation warranted. All in all, it would be highly dangerous to see in this episode any evidence for misogyny.
29. And the argument that Gager’s homosexuality necessarily implies some kind of aversion towards women may well be a naive psychological non sequitur. In fact, one suspects that an important reason for the Platonic pairings at Oxford was not homosexuality in any sense a modern would understand by that word, but rather a fashionable attempt to imitate the beau ideal of every young Oxford man of the time, Sir Philip Sidney, who had had a similar relationship with Fulke Greville. The final and definitive refutation of any possible charge that he was a simple misogynist is of course the fact that after leaving Oxford he married. One might argue that many of the facts considered here support the opposite interpretation just as well if not better. It could be claimed that Gager’s obsessive harping on the subject of chastity and courtship, and also his homosexual pashes, reveal a man chafing under the burden of academic enforced celibacy. In his debates about chastity he allows his debaters to score important points both by discoursing on celibacy’s sterility (Meleager 365ff.) and demonstrating that chastity can exist within marriage (Panniculus 287ff.). There is little doubt that he found this attitude attractive, since in the same notebook poem on marriage he writes:
nam miseram ducit quisquis sine coniuge vitam
ducit, nec Veneris pignora chara videt.
adde quod indigne telluris inutile pondus
nascitur, ex quo non ortus et alter erit.
[“For he who lacks a wife leads a miserable life, nor knows Venus’ dear pledges. Then too, he is born an unworthy burden on the earth, from whom no other is born.”]
30. But even this reading of his character courts oversimplification. Because of the way Gager recurrently plays off the images of good hardness (representing chastity and virtue) versus bad softness (standing for unchastity, degeneracy, and vice) in a number of his plays, one is obliged to confess that his attitude does not seem unequivocally anti-chastity and pro-marriage. All and all, it seems fairer to conclude that Gager’s plays, and to a lesser extent his other writings, reveal deeply divided feelings. It is likely that the debates he writes on the subject reflect a genuine personal conflict. Just as he used his private poetry to express his frustrations and resentments on a wide range of matters, so he employed his plays to create personified projections of his own conflict. His inner situation is perhaps best summarized by a lapidary two-line notebook poem starkly contrasting the claims of two opposing goddesses (CXXII):
non bene conveniunt nec eodem more coluntur
Iuno culta toris, culta Diana choris.
[“These goddesses do not agree with each other, nor are they worshipped in the same way: Juno is worshipped in marriage beds, Diana in choirs.”]
31. In order to argue for Gager’s high stature as a playwright and poet, it is necessary to face squarely the problem of his frequently imitative method of composition. In two of his three complete plays, Dido and Ulysses Redux, he follows a single literary source more or less closely. When his sources contain speeches that could be adapted to the stage, or descriptive passages that could be converted into speeches or even choral passages, he borrowed without hesitation. Even those passages if Meleager where he could adapt a speech or descriptive passage out of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, he did so. In passages where he could not follow a model, he would whenever possible pattern a scene after some Senecan prototype. Thus, for example, both Althaea’s burning of the brand in Meleager and Dido’s pretended sacrifice are patterned after Medea’s magical rite in Seneca’s Medea. In the former case, more precisely and more notably, one side of the stage Althaea momentarily “becomes” Medea, while on the other side Meleager simultaneously “becomes” the tormented protagonist of the Hercules Oetaeus. Senecan type-scenes, such as apparitions of furies and ghosts, domina-nutrix and dominus-satelles dialogues, sacrifices, triumphal processions, ritual lamentations, messenger speeches, and the plotting of crimes are common.
32. These generalizations may raise some questions in the reader’s mind about originality and quality. A full discussion would take us too far afield, but the main lines of such a possible defense may be sketched. The description of Gager’ working method given above simultaneously describes that of most other University dramatists. Many another Tudor academic play also depends more or less closely on literary models (certainly, this generalization is true for Gager’s most distinguished academic contemporary, Thomas Legge — a lot of his characterization of Richard III is patterned after that Senecan wicked uncle, Thyestes). So this technique might better be accounted a recognized method for University playwrights than a sign of defective invention. Plays (and nowadays films too) based on literary models constitute a special dramatic genre, where part of the spectator’s pleasure lies in the recognition of the original work being enacted. In this special genre, the important thing is the fidelity and adroitness of the author’s adaptation, and judiciousness in selection and arrangement counts for more than originality. The use of generic type-scenes and, to an extent, stereotyped characters, is endemic to University tragedy. But if course it is rooted in the practice of classical tragedy itself, and therefore we have no business coming down on Gager for employing well-established dramaturgic practices. Rather, we ought to admire him for exercising the level of independence that he did, while operating within the framework of this tradition.
33. In his otherwise highly favorable appraisal of Meleager, Boas (p. 175) wrote that “Where the play is weakest is in its poetic quality. The rhythm of the verse is lacking in melody, and even the lyrical passages are not fired by the glowing imagination which lends Grimald’s Archipropheta its peculiar romantic charm.” Presumably, if pressed, he would have extended this verdict to all of Gager’s dramatic poetry, which is stylistically of a piece. The nature of Gager’s poetry, like that of most other academic dramatists, is explicable by the fact that he always adhered to the method of composition he had been taught at school, described above. Thus all his plays are liberally interlarded with classical borrowings and imitations. This imitative approach inculcated by the educational system undoubtedly tended to produce poetry that was more serviceable than original or memorable, although Gager’s ability to put borrowed or closely imitated material to new and unexpected uses occasionally has the power to astonish.
34. Imitatio on the level of dramaturgy only served to reinforce this inculcated proclivity to use imitatio on the level of poetics. Principally, as one would only expect in the context of serious drama, imitatio means imitation of words, phrases, and even larger poetic units taken from the Senecan corpus. but Seneca is not the only classical author laid under contribution: Gager goes to such other poets as Ovid, Horace, Catullus, Terence, Lucan, Persius, Juvenal, and Statius. Since Meleager is the play least dependent on a single classical model, and so displays the greatest originality of conception, one might expect to find that in writing it Gager employed the greatest amount of imitatio-free composition. But a look at the borrowings indicated in the commentary notes to Act I shows otherwise. While not exactly a cento, to a considerable extent the poetry of Meleager is something like a mosaic partially assembled out of the bits and pieces of Seneca and other classical authors.
35. Or, perhaps a modern reader might prefer to think, more like a nest made by some thieving magpie out of filched twigs and bits of string. For this method of composition might strike one as seriously at odds with how we tend to understand the operations of the creative process. This problem will become all the more urgent in the case of the nondramatic poetry, in which Gager very frequently writes of his Muse and of the poetic inspiration he receives, not always willingly. Of course, he could have said the same thing in his defense that a Christ Church student of the next generation wrote about a similar method of constructing prose: NOTE 26
For my part I am one of the number, nos numerus sumus: I do not deny it, I have only this of Macrobius to say for myself, Omne meum, nihil meum, ’tis all mine, and none mine. As a good housewife out of divers fleeces weaves one piece of cloth, a bee gathers wax and honey out of many flowers, and makes a new bundle of all, Floriferis ut apes in saltibus omnia libant, I have laboriously collected this cento out of divers writers, and that sine iniuria…which nature doth with the aliment of our bodies incorporate, digest, assimilate, I do concoquere quod hausi, dispose of what I take. I make them pay tribute to set out this Macaronicon, the method only is mine own; I must usurp that of Wecker e Ter., nihil dictum quod non dictum prius, methodus sola artificem ostendit, we can say nothing but what hath been said, the composition and method is ours only, and shows a scholar.
But something more needs to be said. In the case of a poet of Gager’s obvious standing, the first possibility to come to mind may be dismissed out of hand. He did not write this way because he was incapable of doing otherwise. the considerable swatches of his poetry where no imitatio is visible demonstrates this abundantly. And in his nondramatic poetry it is his most formal, polished, and carefully written piece that we encounter the greatest frequency of borrowing. It is much more likely that his heavy reliance on imitatio is to be attributed to the manner of his training and to the poetic tradition in which he was working, and consequently to the expectations of his audience and readers. This generalization receives support from the fact that, if one examines the work of any other English Latin poet of the age, he will find the same compositional method being employed (the reader, for example, may care to study the way in which Milton wrote his In Quintum Novembris, as well as nearly all other poetry included in The Philological Museum).
36. And this, ultimately, is the important point to be made. Imitatio, both on the levels of dramaturgy and of versification or lack of skill. The artistic challenge confronting the poet was to display originality while working within this system, so that his educated audience could appreciate both his borrowings and the appositeness and originality with which they are employed. This style of writing represents a strategy of discourse that is, in its way, no less stylized and specialized than that of a Homeric bard. For the questions about poetic originality for someone working in this imitative manner are not entirely dissimilar to those that are raised about the individual bard working within the framework of the Greek tradition of epic composition, obliged to construct his verses out of a fund of traditional formulae. NOTE 27 This is not the place to pursue the question of this method, but at some point we must ask why it was devised. At first glance it might seem to have been invented as a pedagogical technique, a way of helping the average students “get through” and serving their more talented companions rather like training wheels on a bicycle. But this theory fails to explain why even the most advanced poets persisted in its use. Rather, one suspects that Renaissance Humanists believed that this method of versification imitated what the Roman poets themselves did, and in this they were not wrong. Often one sees a given Roman poet employing the same tag repeatedly, often at the same point in the line, and also one frequently sees a given tag used by two or more poets. So the use of such tags (adopted, perhaps, in imitation of Homeric formulae) appears to have been part of the techne of Roman versification.
37. To illustrate in detail how a first-rate Humanistic poet trained in this system of composition went about his job, I have tried to identify all his borrowings from the principal classical poets in Act I of Meleager. A similar analysis could have been performed on all of Gager;s plays and poetry, but is not done here because most readers would doubtless regard one as tedious. Save for this act of Meleager, Gager’s classical borrowings are only noted selectively, when some point of special literary interest is at stake. Detailed observations of imitatio go a long way towards delineating the nature of Gager’s craft, and may pave the way for an eventual understanding of his artistry. Certainly, one might observe that this method of composition permits both more or or less playful allusiveness and the display of cleverness, qualities scarcely foreign to classical Latin poetry.
38. Gager’s play and poetry are also characterized by a quite different kind of borrowing. As can be seen from the running textual notes on his play, and even more so from the notes on his nondramatic poems, he was an inveterate autoplagiarist. Self-borrowing is a feature of his working method second only to imitatio of the ancients, and it adheres to a very distinctive pattern. Besides his plays and printed poetry, Gager maintained a private notebook into which he copied a rather large mass of nondramatic poetry. In the General Introduction to his poetry I shall argue that he kept this notebook so as to have a repository of unprinted material he could reemploy in the future. For his experience with Dido and Rivales, when he was obliged to produce two plays on extremely short notice, had taught him an important lesson. As something like the unofficial laureate of Christ Church, if not of the University as a whole, he might be placed in a similar position again, and it as important to have a repository of material that could be reworked as necessary. Therefore Gager felt free to appropriate notebook poetry for plays or printed poems. He felt equally free to employ the same passage, or a reworked version of the same poem, in another unpublished poem. But once the material in question had been appropriated for a play or had been printed, it was henceforth out of bounds for further use. Gager’s self-borrowing rarely involves material that had been made public in any form. The notebook, in other words, deserves to be regarded as one of Gager’s tools. Apparently we have no idea of its history prior to the nineteenth century, and may assume it was preserved by accident. Probably many other poets have employed similar devices, if not always in such a systematic way, but have been more successful in covering their tracks. So Gager’s visible self-borrowings ought in no way to lessen our estimation of him as a poet. Demonstration of his reuse of previous notes in this edition is not meant to diminish his standing in the eyes of the reader. Rather, we should feel privileged to have this unusual glance into a writer’s workshop.
39. One of the most striking features of Gager’s poetry, dramatic and otherwise, is his ability as a metrician. In the lyric portions of his plays, which encompass not only act-ending choruses—unlike Seneca, he wrote full-length choruses at the conclusion of his plays—but also interspersed songs, the distinctive feature is a metrical adventurousness which also marks his nondramatic poetry. He imitates the lyric meters of Senecan tragedy as follows:
Anapaestic dimeters with interspersed, or at least concluding, Adonics (more accurately, a single anapaestic foot resolved as an Adonic): Meleager, Act I chorus, lyric passage at V.1783ff.; Dido, song at III.576ff., Act III chorus, Act IV chorus.
Sapphic hendecasyllables: Meleager, Act IV Chorus.
So-called “greater Alcaics”: hendecasyllables such are found in the first two lines of an Alcaic stanza, employed independently: Ulysses Redux, song at III.774ff.
Iambic dimeters: Meleager, Act V chorus.
40. An equally prominent feature of Gager’s Latin style is found in his occasional poetry more than in his plays, but is worth mentioning here since we are attempting to take his overall measure as a poet. His generally neoclassical style is tempered by a habit that stamps him as product of his own age; delight in punning and similar word play. Verbal pyrotechnics abound. To chose an example nearly at random, consider a New Year’s poem addressed to two Christ Church friends (CLIV):
anni Iane parens, unum mihi perﬁce votum
quod mea cum dederis, strena duobus erit.
quam bene Pollucem memoratur Castor amasse,
quam bene magnanimum Thesea Perithous,
quam Patroclus erat Pelidi charus, Orestes
quam Piladi, Niso quam fuit Eurialus,
tam Gualterus amet Thomam, Thomasque vicissim
Gualterum, et casta ﬂagret uterque face.
cumque nec ortu illis nec sint in amando minores,
non minus istorum nobilitetur amor.
nobile par iuvenum, annuerit si Ianus, ab ullo
haud maior vobis strena venire potest.
The jingle anni Iane parens at the beginning sets up the subsequent pun annuerit si Ianus. Verbal tomfoolery is more luxuriant in the persistent punning in par in the first lines of a later New Year’s poem (CLXXXIV) written to accompany the gift of a pair of gloves: NOTE 28
par cherothecarum, donum impar, accipe, praesul,
nec meritove tuo par animove meo,
nec manibus fortasse tuis par, omnia dispar,
nec tu quale decet, parque erat accipere
quale tamen fortuna potest tibi mittere nostra.
sola facultati par mea strena meae est.
nam meritis quae digna tuis, quae gratia par sit,
quaeve voluntanti strena sit apta meae?
A very similar set of puns in an unsigned printed poem (*VI) eliminates any doubt that these lines are Gager’s: as often happens, our poet takes pleasure in manufacturing Latin puns and word-plays based on English proper names:
Parry, parem ingenio cum non agnosceret unum;
non unum voluit crimine ferre parem.
Parry, parem meritis cum vix agnosceret orbem;
orbi reginam nollet in orbe parem.
Parry, parem sceleri cum non offenderet horam;
horam habuit sceleri discutiendo parem.
Parry, parem legi cum nollet ducere vitam;
accepit mortem legibus ille parem,
ante pares sine Parry pari cum pendeat omnes;
succedant omnes quos habet ille pares.
It would be easy to multiply these examples indefinitely, but better to let the reader have the fun of discovering them for himself. Suffice it to say that in amusing himself, and providing entertainment for the recipients and readers of his poems, Gager shows himself to be a very Elizabethan writer indeed.