APPENDIX: OVERVIEW OF ENGLISH COLLEGE MS. 321

1. Since Ms. 321 is the most important source for our knowledge of drama at the English College in Rome during the early seventeenth century, it will prove useful to take a brief synoptic look at the manuscript. It contains texts of seven plays: the 1612 tragedy - intermedium pairing Thomas Morus and Vulpinus, the 1613 pairing Thomas Cantuariensis and Minutum, the 1614 tragicomedy Captiva Religio, and an undated tragedy - intermedium pairing Roffensis and Somnium (such I believe the title of this last to have been, since Somnium is the only character who appears in every extant Act of the work). Somnium is incomplete, since the manuscript breaks off after fol. 232, in the course of Act III. On the basis of College archival records, Suzanne Gossett has provided a schedule of the known performances during Carnival season, the principal (and, during this period, perhaps the only) time for College dramatic activity. NOTE 1 The plays produced for other years are known, but for 1618 she could only note that that a nameless tragedy was performed, and one is therefore tempted to think that Roffensis was the tragedy in question. It therefore looks like the plays contained in Ms. 321 are presented in their proper chronological order.
2. The manuscript is written in two distinct and very different handwritings, call them A and B. Vulpinus, Thomas Cantuariensis, Minutum, and the Act V of Roffensis are written by A, the remainder by B, and B has supplied all the stage directions for the texts copied by A. This latter fact may support one or both of two conclusions, first, that B had some overall responsibility for dramatic productions at the College during the period covered by the manuscript (as has been suggested by E. K. Chambers, who described him as a “producer”), NOTE 2 and that he was responsible for the assembly of the manuscript as a whole.
3. If we adopt the principle that a copied text free of errors, or at most containing only a few slips of the pen, is an author’s holograph, whereas a text with plenty of errors or other transcriptional problems is a copy text, then it is possible to say that copyist A was the author of the intermedia Vulpinus and Minutum, and that copyist B was responsible for Captiva Religio and Somnium. Our texts of the tragedies, however, are clearly copy texts of works by individuals other than A and B (as pointed out in the Introduction to Thomas Morus, that tragedy and Thomas Cantuariensis are the work of one individual, but, as pointed out in the Introduction to Roffensis, it seems highly unlikely that that tragedy can be ascribed to the same author). All of this appears to point to the conclusion that during the period covered by the manuscript, there were four playwrights working in the College: two specialists in comedy (our two copyists), and two authors of tragedy.
4. There exists a second text of Captiva Religio (English College Ms. C17 (iv)). Although this is partially disguised by the fact that this latter ms. is rapidly scrawled in a much less formal style, it is written in the same hand as the Ms. 321 one: i. e., it is a second author’s holograph. The striking fact about Ms. C17 is that, subsequent to its original creation, it suffered a fate very similar to that of our Thomas Morus copy. After the text was written first, it was subject to a multiple rewriting process. First, some words and phrases have been altered, and a few extra lines added, by a kind of tinkering process. Then a considerable number of lines have been marginally marked for excision, evidently in the interest of eliminating excess rhetoric and shortening the play. As with Thomas Morus, the fact that these were two different processes is shown by the fact that there are passages that have both been rewritten and marked for deletion. In the case of Captiva Religio these changes have been made by the play’s author, but the number of obvious copying errors in our copy of Thomas Morus seem to exclude the possibility that this same individual (copyist B) wrote that play. Furthermore, in my Introduction to that play, I pointed out ways in which our text of Thomas Cantuariensis appears to be the product of a shortening process similar to that to which Thomas Morus has been subjected. One of the hallmarks of this reviser is a willingness to abbreviate passages in such a way that some lines are left in a partial condition, with no attempt being made to complete them, and Thomas Cantuariensis has a number of such lines, no less than does Thomas Morus. It therefore looks very much as if our text of Thomas Cantuariensis is a fair copy made by A of a text that has been doctored by B. Chambers, therefore, was right in his suggestion that the individual identified here as copyist B functioned as some kind of general producer of dramatics at the College and therefore felt entitled to introduce changes into the work of his colleagues no less than into his own. His motive for doing so is unclear. A revival of Thomas Cantuariensis is attested, but the are no recorded revivals of Thomas Morus or Captiva Religio. Evidently these revisions were made for revival performances that never transpired: even if Carnival may not have been the only occasion on which English College dramatics occurred, it would seem that Ms. 321 was compiled specifically in relation to Carnival drama, since the last item in the manuscript (now lost) listed in the table of contents on fol. 1v was entitled “A method How Carnival Tuesday-night is to be spent.”

 

NOTES

NOTE 1 Suzanne, Gossett, “Drama in the English College, Rome, 1591 - 1660,” English Literary Renaissance 3 (1973) 91.

NOTE 2 Edmund K. Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage (Oxford, 1967) II.206. Previous discussions of the manuscript also include Cardinal Francis Aidan Gasquet, History of the Venerable English College (London, 1903) 190, Brian Foley, “Thomas Morus Tragoedia,The Venerabile 7 (1935) 105, and Alfred Harbage, Annals of English Drama, 975-1700 (revised by Samuel Schoenbaum, London, 1964), pp. 100-1 and 320.