1. In the Renaissance the enterprise of English school and University education was conducted in Latin, NOTE 1 to educated England was a bilingual society, and there are two distinct, although mutually influential, literatures of the Tudor and early Stuart periods. The second, Anglo-Latin, one remains imperfectly known. NOTE 2 Writers who wrote in Latin because of their situation or our of personal inclination, NOTE 3 tend to remain comparatively obscure. Surely one of the causes of this situation is the dearth of readily available critical editions, translations, and commentaries.
2. An excellent case in point is Dr. William Gager of Christ Church, Oxford, at least arguably the best Latin playwright of the Tudor period. He was counted in the same breath with a group of writers including Shakespeare as “our best for comedy” by the judicious Francis Meres; NOTE 4 absurdly rated above anybody else, Shakespeare included, by the seventeenth-century antiquarian Anthony à Wood; NOTE 5 no less foolishly ranked ahead of Horace by William Vaughan; NOTE 6 identified, with Richard Hakluyt, as one of the two literary hopes of the nation by Gabriel Harvey. NOTE 7 Another contemporary appraisal is saner but nonetheless flattering. A dedicatory poem prefacing Matthew Gwinne’s Nero (printed 1603) by John Sandsbury of St. John’s College, Oxford, is addressed to the great Flemish Humanist Justus Lipsius:
Lipsi, Neronem nunc habe, votis tuis
Oculisque dignum: quique puerilem putas
Octaviam illam, quam rudis mundus iubet
Senecae imputari, Iuste, praestentem loco
Substitue: Seneca sic enim iratus iubet.
Μετεμψύχωσιν ille millenam miser
Sensit, querelas antequam posset suas
Lingua referre propria; tandem tamen.
Ex ore Gwinni pristinum servat decus.
Gagere, Buchanane, nec Beza invide.
Videte; talis Seneca qui Gwinnus fuit.
Qui iudicas, fatere; qui nescis, tace.
[“Lipsius, now you have a Nero worthy of your desires and your reading. Since you think that Octavia which the unlearned world bids us ascribe to Seneca to be puerile stuff, you can substitute the present work in its place. Thus commands angry Seneca. The poor man has experienced his thousandth soul-migration before being able to give his own tongue to his complaints. But at length let him retrieve his former glory through Gwinne’s mouth. Gager, Buchanan, Beza, be not envious. Observe: Gwinne is as Seneca was. You who have judgment, confess it. You who are ignorant, keep still.”]
The casual assumption that Gager is on a par with Buchanan and Beza is more eloquent than any amount of bombastic praise.
3. In the eyes of modern writers on Renaissance drama and literature, Gager’s reputation has not greatly deteriorated. In the single important survey of English University drama, that by Boas, two of the thirteen chapters are devoted, wholly or in large part, to describing his plays and to praising their quality. Another chapter in the same study is chiefly devoted to an account of his celebrated dispute with Dr. John Rainolds about the propriety of acting, required reading for any student of contemporary Puritan opposition to the stage. Gager figures no less prominently, and is handled with equal respect, in Bradner’s handbook on Anglo-Latin poetry. And with good reason. As his contemporaries were not slow to grasp, Gager was an extraordinarily gifted playwright. His plays tended to be performed as official entertainment for distinguished University visitors. His printed plays and poetry played an important role in the nascent history of the Oxford University Press. He was selected to edit the University’s anthology of poetry commemorating the death of Sir Philip Sidney, the first Oxford volume of its kind. As intimated above, he came forth as an outspoken champion of the propriety of the theater. In what he has to say about literature both in this work and elsewhere, in his prologues and prose prefatory material, and in his oration Eloquentiae Encomium, he displays a lively intellect. He also left behind a considerable body of private poetry, much of it remarkably passionate and self-revealing. Another mark of a writer’s stature is his influence on others. This is a subject that cannot be pursued in the present work, but I believe a canvass would show that Gager exerted considerable influence on his contemporaries (such as Richard Eedes, Matthew Gwinne, Richard Latewar, George Peele, and John Sanford), and that Gager did much to elevate the general tone of Oxonian literature.
4. In the course of his “Life of Milton” Dr. Johnson rather absurdly opined that William Alabaster, author of the sanguine revenge play Roxana, as the Latin poet England had produced prior to Milton. Gager (together, perhaps, with Thomas Watson and Thomas Campion) is one of a small handful of poets who might better warrant this accolade. But, though his name may be frequently encountered, he is little read. Take, for example,t he plays. The one that is usually disparaged as hasty hackwork because of the peculiar conditions under which it had to be written, Dido, has been edited and translated repeatedly, thrice in the past generation. the two that are praised as his masterpieces, Meleager and Ulysses Redux, remain completely untouched. Some of Gager’s poetry has been presented in various scholarly journals and organs of learned societies, but the bulk of the available material consists of verse printed in his own lifetime. Save for a few individual items, his large body of unpublished work has never seen the light of day. The late Professor C. F. Tucker Brooke of Yale University had published a fraction of Gager’s work, and was working on an edition of the complete works at the time of his death in 1943. Brooke’s intended biographical Introduction was given independent publication posthumously. NOTE 8 A nearly complete set of texts and translations was left behind, but in too inchoate a state to merit printing. Thanks to the cooperation of The American Philosophical Society, who owns the manuscript of this unpublished edition, I have been able to benefit from Brooke’s work. Subsequently, some individual items have been published, chiefly by Professor J. W. Binns of the University of York. But a great deal remains entirely unedited, and of course a prolific writer’s life work looks considerably different (and considerably more intelligible) when collected in one place. For all these reasons, a complete critical edition of Gager’s works seems a worthwhile project.
5. Gager was prolific, and so the result has proved alarmingly large, considerably more so than I had at first anticipated. Together with introductory material, facing English translation, and appended commentaries, four volumes are required: two of plays, one of occasional poetry, and one serving as a repository for miscellaneous stuff (juvenilia, an epyllion on the Gunpowder Plot, various prose works in Latin and English). But in view of Gager’s stature, I do not think any serious apologies for this length are in order.
6. In doing this work, I have managed to run up a number of important debts, and it would be well to acknowledge them at the outset. First and foremost, I am under great obligation to previous students of Gager: Professors Frederick S. Boas of the Queen’s University, Belfast, and Karl Smith of the University of Wisconsin, as well as Brooke and Binns. Although I occasionally diverge from these men on points of detail or of interpretation, any reader familiar with their publications will agree, I am sure, that the present edition would have been difficult, or more likely impossible, in the absence of their groundbreaking work. Only the last of these is still alive to receive my thanks, and so I take this opportunity to thank Professor Binns personally for his advice and friendly encouragement. I am also indebted to various individuals and institutions for supplying materials, information, and advice: the Library of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia; the British Library, London; Peter Cane, Fellow Librarian of Corpus Christi College, Oxford; Mark Curthoys, Archivist of Christ Church, Oxford; Melissa Dalziel, Senior Library Assistant, the Bodleian Library, Oxford; J. M. Farrar, County Archivist, Cambridgeshire; Mrs. C. M. Heald, Chapter Clerk of Ely Cathedral; the Huntington Library, San Marino, California; the National Library of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Dr. Mark Nicholls, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, the Cambridge University Library; D. A. Rees, Archivist of Jesus College, Oxford; Christine N. Ritchie, Librarian of University College, Oxford; Mr. George Rombach (a descendant of Edwin and Cicely Sandys); the Reverend C. J. Sansbury, Vicar of Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford, Suffolk; and the Suffolk County Records Office, Bury St. Edmunds.
7. Such is what I wrote in the original Preface to William Gager: The Complete Works (four vols., New York, 1994), dated August 5, 1993. There are several reason why a second, electronic edition is advisable. First, it of course affords me the opportunity to correct the mistakes of the original edition, large and small (the most egregious being that I managed to send him to the wrong school, at Winchester rather than Westminster). Second, in the intervening twelve years I have learned a lot more, both because of further reading and because of the appearance of new scholarship. To mention a some of the highlights, new research on the dramatic productions of 1582 have led me to rethink the purpose of the Oedipus fragments preserved in Gager’s private notebook; I now understand the dependence of the points made by Gager’s fictional dramatic critic “Momus” on a passage in John Case’s 1588 Sphaera Civitatis, a discovery that seems to make it seem less likely than ever that “Momus” was conceived as any kind of personal attack on Dr. John Rainolds; I have learned more about the reason for Elizabeth’s Oxford visit in 1592 and the haste with which her entertainment needed to be arranged. The welcome appearance of the Records of Early English Drama series volumes for Oxford, edited by John R. Elliot, Alan H. Nelson and others, in 2004, provides a great deal of archival information on the performances of several of the plays. And there is another reason for presenting Gager’s works in electronic form. He made a intertextual game of interlarding his works with allusions to, and quotations from, his other writings. I therefore suspect that he would have taken especial delight in hypertext and the possibilities it affords. Certainly, hypertext is the best possible tool for revealing this intertextuality, so that an electronic edition of Gager is particularly appropriate.