Among his select readership, Mors is roundly attested to be the best of Drury’s plays, swiftly paced, admirably constructed, and thoroughly stageworthy. Mors felicitously conjoins the stock characters of Latin comedy and the Commedia dell’Arte with those of the native dramatic tradition. The mixing of traditions permits the characters of the miserly senex (Chrysocancrio), the spendthrift son (Scombrio), the servant (Crancus), and miles gloriosus to confront the medieval dramatic characters of Death and Devil, along with a sorceress thrown in for good measure, producing novel situations unknown in Plautine and Terentian comedy. Pleasingly ambitious is Drury’s duplication of the Faustus motif whereby the dramatist has Scombrio make a pact to sell his body to Death and another to sell his soul to the Devil. By dramatizing both motifs but casting the greater emphasis upon the contract with Death, Drury displays an inventiveness that may be likened to Shakespeare’s doubling of the pairs of identical twins in his Plautine extravaganze The Comedy of Errors.
So opined one enthusiastic reader. NOTE 1 One only wishes he had explained his reference to the Commedia dell’Arte (which has been picked up and repeated by several more recent writers). Without necessarily endorsing the sentiment that Mors is “the best of Drury’s plays” — although it too has been picked up by more recent writers, this accolade might better be reserved for his considerably more original and interesting Reparatus sive Depositum — one can only agree that this is a well written play and all the more deserving of a modern edition because (save for the anonymous authors of the intermedia performed at the English College at Rome) Drury was the only Anglo-Catholic playwrights with a flair for writing comedy, and also one of the very few such authors who wrote, in all probability, under the influence of William Shakespeare.
2. The exact date of Mors’ production is not known. It must have been sometime between October 1618, when Drury was appointed professor of rhetoric and poetry (Douai diary for 8 October 1618) and 1620, when it was first printed (at Douai). It is unlikely that he wrote and produced Mora soon after his arrival: besides the fact that he would needed a little time to find his feet in his new job before becoming involved in dramatics, 1618 was a plague year and play-production was probably suspended to curtail the spread of the infection. Michael Thomas Siconolfi NOTE 2 wanted a Diary entry for January 8, 1619, Comoediam a domino Guilielmo Druraeo compositam scholares privatim in refectorio egerunt, quae spectatoribus adeo placuit ut fama eiusdem per civitatem ab iisdem disseminata aliqui ex praecipuis magistratus, nomine aliorum per alios ad reverendum dominum presidum supplicarunt ut iterum curaret exhiberi [“The students gave a private performance of a comedy written by Dominus William Drury, in the refectory, and this so greatly pleased the spectators that they spoke well of it throughout the town, and some of its leading magistrates, acting as spokesmen for their colleagues, supplicated the Reverend Father President that he would arrange for a repeat performance.”], to attest the first performance of this play rather than Aluredus, as is commonly thought. This is reasonable enough inasmuch as the play in question is described as a comoedia, not a tragicomoedia. He thought this comedy was appropriate fare for the Christmas season, which is undeniable. But he went too far when he questioned the veracity of the words on the title page of the 1620 book, that Aluredus had been ter exhibita in Seminario Anglorum Duaceno ab eiusdem Collegii Iuventute, Anno Domini MDCXIX [“thrice exhibited in the English seminary at Douai by the young men of that same college, =anno domini 1619”], and sought to apply these words to Mors instead, suggesting that this statement was a bit of printer’s “puffery.” But the volume was a local Douai production, plenty of people who had attended the 1619 performance — not to mention Drury himself — were still in town, and the printer could not have gotten away with such a piece of mendacity. More likely, both plays were acted in 1619. Their productions may have been on separate occasions, although on p. 59 Siconolfi quotes the Diary entry for 21 July, 1628, which attests a double-billing consisting of a tragedy about the Emperor Maurice followed by an unnamed comedy, so the possibility that Aluredus and Mors were produced together cannot be ignored. One small detail may in fact support the idea that these two plays were double-billed: at 779 Frangicostonides threatens to hang Grampogna “from this tree” (ab hac arbore), which seems to show that a tree was visible to the audience, and an onstage tree figures prominently in several scenes of Aluredus. One could argue that Drury could use this feature in Mors, because it was handily available from Aluredus.
3. Mors is a farce, i. e., a broad comedy featuring complicated and improbable situations and plenty of slapstick. Putting it differently, in his other plays, Aluredus and Reparatus, Drury employed Shakespeare’s bipolar “two world” formula, most likely learned directly from that playwright, NOTE 3 Comedies written according to this format feature a “big world” inhabited by upper-class characters caught up in serious predicaments and capable of genuine feelings, juxtaposed, and sometimes interacting with, a “little world” of rustics and other lower-class characters whose doings are quite literally inconsequential in that they have no serious consequences, and whose clownish behavior were calculated to appeal to the English taste for broad humor. Acknowledging that Aluredus and Reparatus embraced both these worlds, Drury labeled them tragicomedies. He could call Mors a comedy because it presents us with a self-contained “little world” torn loose from its moorings. Writing a farce such as this allowed Drury to indulge his peculiar gift for writing comedy, for he was never more at home than when he was exploring this comical “little world” and inviting us to share in the fun that could be extracted from it.
4. Goran Proot, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Rare Books at the Folger Shakespeare Library recently issued a blog post in which he drew attention to a pair of programs (one in Latin, the other in Dutch) for a performance of a Septem Fratres Machabaei Tragoedia coupled with a revival of Mors at the Jesuit college at Ypres in September 1726. At first sight, this idea would seem impossible, since Mors contains one female character, Grampogna the witch, and a second one, a devil, who comes onstage disguised as a woman, and this would appear to be in violation of the Jesuit rule (first promulgated in the 1591 version of the Ratio Studiorum, the official Jesuit plan for education) forbidding the appearance of female characters in plays. NOTE 4 But the college at Ypres belonged to the Jesuit Provincia Flandro-Belgica, and as early as 1603 that province had obtained a dispensation exempting it from this particular rule, so that plenty of plays produced at Jesuit institutions within it featured female characters. NOTE 5
5. In his blog post, Dr. Proot stated “On the second and third day of September 1726, the students performed the Biblical story of the Maccabees, and in between the five acts the students played Drury’s Mors Comoedia.” Obviously, this was written according to the assumption that Mors was performed as an intermedium, such as those that are preserved from the English College at Rome (a couple of these, the 1612 Vulpinus and the 1613 Minutum, can be read in The Philological Museum). The difficulty is that the Acts of intermedia were performed interleaved between those of a serious play, with the result that these comical pieces were written in four Acts, whereas Mors has the standard Renaissance five. Acts III and IV of our play are admittedly short and, with some judicious pruning, might be combined into a single one, but nothing in the programs published by Proot suggests that this was done. More likely, the programs attest an instance of simple double-billing, such as the 1628 Douai pairing noticed above.
6. The printing history of Mors has already been indicated: 1620 Douai, 1628 Douai, and 1641 Antwerp. Of these the 1628 Douai is probably the best, and certainly the 1641 Antwerp is the worst, being disfigured by a large number of printing errors, large and small. The reader will therefore be surprised that the present edition is based on the 1641 Antwerp one. The reason for that is that the other volumes are relatively rare and, to varying degrees, difficult to obtain, whereas the 1641 one is ubiquitously available as a Google Books offering here, and so, doubtless, will be the one almost universally consulted. It therefore seems reasonable to present an edition that corrects the mistakes of that text.
7. Siconolfi (p. 90) stated that “Drury uses a flexible Latin meter in his play called trochaic septenarius.” This is untrue. The trochaic septenarius, Plautus’ favorite meter, is a long catalectic line in which trochees can freely be replaced by spondees, dactyls, tribrachs, and even anapests, and the only fixed rule is that the line must end with an iamb. It is true that, like many playwrights of his age, Drury wrote lines that ended with an iamb, but the truth of the matter is that the meters of Roman comedy were not properly understood prior to the essay Schediasma de metris Terentianis appended to Richard Bentley’s 1726 edition of Terence. The kind of line written by Renaissance playwrights had a Roman look on paper, and therefore might best be understood as a writing convention, but cannot be scanned properly. The question, then, is whether a modern editor is obliged to reproduce the lineation encountered in manuscripts and early books. There seems to be no visible advantage in doing so. Indeed, printing such passages as prose reveals the actual truth about them, but retaining the original verse-like lineation entails the risk that an unwary reader might imagine that metrical verse is to be discerned where none exists, and in this sense represents a certain kind of falsification. Albeit no doubt it is a controversial decision, this is the justification for the Philological Museum policy of ignoring the original lineation and writing such texts as prose. It should perhaps be added that this writing convention was routinely observed at Cambridge but not at Oxford, which may be an indication that Drury had read one or more Cambridge comedies in manuscript (none had yet been printed). But this conclusion is not obligatory: this practice was not invented at Cambridge, for some earlier Continental comedies did the same thing. NOTE 6
8. Newberry library ms. Case/MS/5a/7 preserves an English translation of Mors with the title Death, a Comedie, written by a certain Robert Squire. This has been well edited as a 1982 Syracuse doctoral dissertation by Michael Thomas Siconolfi, to whom I am greatly indebted. The editor’s efforts to the contrary (pp. 76 - 83), nothing is known about Squire’s identity or his purpose in making it. As for his identity, all that can be said is that it is reasonably certain that he was a Catholic. Squires, to be sure, toned down Drury’s original insofar as he did not reproduce its explicitly unfriendly remark about Martin Luther at 944. But he retains some material (most notably the witty passage about faith and good works clearly written from a Catholic point of view at 938ff., and the similar passage about Purgatory at 1275ff.). Both passages could easily be eliminated, and surely a Protestant writer, or even a Catholic writing for Protestant consumption and anxious not to offend, would have done so.
9. Closely allied to the question of Squire’s identity is the one about his purpose in making this translation. At least if we assume he did so for any purpose beyond self-amusement, we must wonder why he did so. It is very difficult to imagine he was aiming at production at some Anglo-Catholic educational institution on the Continent: there is no evidence for the production of vernacular plays at any of these, and we have already seen that, outside the Provincia Flandro-Belgica (which contained no English establishments), plays in languages other than Latin were forbidden at Jesuit ones. Squire may have been closer to the mark (p. 77) in suggesting that he was thinking of a production back home in England. Although his name does not appear in the matriculation lists for Grays’ Inn or the Middle Temple, the Inns of Court has a certain ring of plausibility insofar as the Inns harbored many recusants, and also because Squire introduces various items of legal terminology into his translation. Indeed, in one sense this suggestion is more attractive than Siconolfi seems to have realized: my Berkeley colleague Alan H. Nelson, currently working on a volume on the Inns for the Records of Early English Drama series, informs me that there is no evidence for the production of any Latin plays there, so a translation of a popular Latin one would have been welcome. Siconolfi’s alternative suggestion (pp. 82f.) that Squire had in mind production at some one of the English public schools would carry more conviction had he specified some one or more schools that might have been receptive to the play’s Catholic elements. In the absence of such as school, Squire must have realized that he would have far better luck in seeing his translation on the stage if all traces of Drury’s Catholicism were suppressed, and it would have been very easy for him to convert Mors into a theologically neutral play, inoffensive to all parties. The best guess, therefore, is that he may have been writing with an eye to performance, if not actually at the Inns of Court, at least before a select audience of Inn recusants in some private context.
10 . As for the date of Squire’s translation (discussed by Siconolfi, pp. 83 - 88), all that can safely said was that, in all probability, it was written after the appearance of Mors in print, 1n 1620. It would seem to have been done rather soon thereafter. Squire’s handwriting contains plenty of letter-shapes characteristic of the secretary hand rather than the italic ones that came to replace them, and his English has a distinctly early flavor. Certainly, its language and orthography are considerably closer to those of the Elizabethans than those of Robert Knightley’s 1659 translation of Drury’s Aluredus.
11. This brings us to the nature of the manuscript itself. Obviously, one might think, a holograph and a copy manuscript require different editorial approaches, i. e., that an editor should respect what he finds in a holograph, but be alive to the possibility of transcriptional errors in copy mss., and not be hesitant in introducing corrections. Because of its numerous variants and marginalia, Siconolfi regarded the Newberry ms. as a holograph. Nevertheless, there are some points where the mss. readings are clearly wrong, and others where further improvements are at least arguably desirable (these are listed here). The number of such points is not great, but the reader might think that in a holograph there should be none at all. Was Siconolfi therefore wrong in his diagnosis? I think not. When an author copies out his own work, he is functioning as a copyist and enjoys no full immunity to the kind of mistakes that any other copyist makes. I am able to attest to this by personal experience, and I am sure that any writer of my generation will agree. In the early years of my career, I had to produce my work on a typewriter, and in writing a piece for publication it was often necessary to make several drafts before arriving at a finished product. The risk of introducing new mistakes in the course of this process was an ever-present bugaboo. And it is possible to point to at least one illuminating example involving another English academic play. William Gager’s 1583 Oxford tragedy Dido is preserved by two mss., both holographs: British Library Add. ms. 22583, fols. 34v - 44r is an informal copy made for the author’s personal use, containing, the Prologue, Argument, Act II, Act III, and the Epilogue, and Christ Church (Oxford) ms. 486, a fair copy of the entire play, and the latter contains a small number of transcriptional mistakes as well as some variant readings (these are listed here, with the informal one identified as A and the formal one as B). I would respectfully suggest that the same process was at work in Squire’s production of this particular manuscript, so that, without challenging the assumption that it is a holograph, I have taken the liberty of introducing corrections.
12. Siconolfi saw his job as producing a diplomatic transcription of the manuscript, and — although editors of Neo-Latin texts often fail to appreciate the distinction and mislabel what is in fact a transcription as a “critical edition” — a true critical edition is something entirely different, in several ways. “Edit”is a transitive verb, and anybody who has a right to call himself an editor is an activist, concerned with identifying and fixing textual mistakesm with the aspiration of retrieving what the author actually wrote. One need not go so far as seeing an o and printing Constantinopolis, but the ghost of A. E. Housman should always be hovering over the editor of a Neo-Latin text as he works, no less than it does over somebody editing a classical one. Then too, it is not necessary to inflict on the reader of a critical edition a good deal of information properly included in a transcript: he need not be pestered with minutiae such as that some word ending with -um is written as a u with a macron above it, so such unsightly typographical devices as -u[m] should be banished from critical editions (and these devices seriously impede the electronic scanning of texts, a very valuable scholarly tool). Lastly, an editor should present a text easily comprehensible by readers, and, given the wild and woolly nature of Renaissance pointing, this entails the silent imposition of modern punctuation (regularizing orthography, both of English and Latin, is something quite different — it destroys the flavor of the original version and readers can usually figure out the identify of an unfamiliar-looking word by mentally sounding it out). These things are not said with any intention to criticize Siconolfi. In the context of a doctoral dissertation presenting a previously unpublished text, his decision to provide a transcript was right and proper. I merely wish to indicate why he is not imitated here, and why a good deal of the detailed information he provides is ignored. Here, the immediate need is to match Drury’s Latin with a serviceable English translation, both editorially improved and simplified to serve the purpose. The reader who wishes to study Squire’s work more deeply can be directed to Siconolfi’s dissertation.
13. As is frequently the case with plays of this sort, I am indebted to my Shakespeare Institute colleague Dr. Martin Wiggins for supplying valuable information and advice.
NOTE 1 Albert H. Tricomi, Robert Knightley. Alfrede or Right Reinthron’d. A Translation of William Drury’s Aluredus sive Alfredus (New York 1993) pp. 8f.
NOTE 2 Michael Thomas Siconolfi, Robert Squire’s “Death, a Comedie,” a Seventeenth Century Translation of William Drury’s “Mors”: A Critical Edition (diss. Syracuse, 1982) pp. 58ff. It will be understood that, since Douai was a Catholic institution in a Catholic nation (it was then in the Spanish Netherlands, although now in France), the Gregorian calendar was observed, and all the dates about to be mentioned are New Style.
NOTE 3 Drury probably had abundant opportunity to study Shakespearian comedy close up. After a lengthy sojourn at the English College at Rome (but he did not take vows as a Jesuit), he crossed over to England in 1612. He was eventually detected and arrested, but was one of the sixty priests freed from prison thanks to the intervention of the Spanish ambassador, the Count de Gondemar, in the summer of 1618. It is hard to imagine a man of Drury’s proclivities not being drawn to the London theaters. It is barely possible that he learned Shakespeare’s bipolar technique from its earlier imitation in George Ruggle’s 1615 Cambridge comedy Ignoramus, but that play did not appear in print until 1630, and it seems impossible to calculate how far its influence extended beyond Cambridge prior to its publication.
NOTE 4 The wording of the ordinance is Tragoediarum et comoediarum, quas non nisi Latinas ac rarissimas esse oportet, argumentum sacrum sit ac pium, neque quicquam actibus interponatur quod non Latinum est et decorum, nec persona ulla mulieris vel habitus introducitur [“The subjects of tragedies and comedies, which ought to be performed only in Latin, and infrequently, should be holy and pious, and nothing should be included in their performances which is not Latin and seemely, and no female character or woman’s costume should be introduced”]. The final words vel habitus suggest that the authors of this rule were motivated by the same concern that loomed large in contemporary Puritan objections to the theater, a belief that having female parts acted by boys and men violated Scriptural injunctions against transvestitism, and possibly tended to foster homosexuality, and was therefore scandalous. See J. W. Binns, “Women or Transvestites on the Elizabethan Stage?: An Oxford Controversy,” Sixteenth Century Journal 5 no. 2 (1974) 95 - 120; and Stephen Orgel, “Nobody’s Perfect: On Why Did the English Stage Take Boys for Women,” South Atlantic Quarterly 88 (1989) 7 - 29.
Note, incidentally, that when the devil arrives disguised as a woman at Mors II.iii, this would violate the Ratio Studiorum rule no less than the appearance an actor costumed as Grampogna.
NOTE 5 See Proot’s Het Schooltoneel van de Jezuïten in de Provincia Flandro-Belgica tijdens het ancient régime (1575 - 1773) (diss. Antwerp, 2008) p. 54. The wording of the dispensation was Iam alias in ista provincia dispensavimus, ut introducere liceat, dummodo id rarius et parcius fiat, gravesque et modestae sint personae quae producentur [“And we furthermore grant the dispensation that it is permissible to introduce [women], as long as is done infrequently and sparingly, and the characters who are brought onstage are grave and modest.”]. But there is nothing grave and modest about Grampogna! One can gather how frequently women actually did appear in the plays belonging to this province from reading Proot’s huge inventory of the evidence, Spectacula Iesuitica Belgica Antiqua (SIBA) Pars I: Provincia Flandro-Belgica (diss. Antwerp, 2008).
The archival evidence for individual plays upon which Proot’s Het Schooltoneel is based is spelled out in astonishing detail in the same author’s Spectacula Iesuitica. The reader who goes through this material will quickly see that a similar dispensation must have been given regarding the Ratio Studiorum’s injunction that plays should invariably be written in Latin.
It should perhaps be added that the single Belgian Jesuit institution of interest to students of Anglo-Catholic drama, St. Omers, belonged to the Jesuit Provincia Gallo-Belgica and so was unaffected by this dispensation (the English College at Douai, within this same province, was not operated by the Jesuits).
NOTE 6 The Continental plays included in Gary R. Grund (ed.), Humanist Comedies (Cambridge U. S. A., 2005) feature these same pseudo-metrics.