Introduction


spacer1. A familiar genre of Catholic Neo-Latin drama in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries was the so-called martyr play, and one martyr whose fate was repeatedly dramatized in such plays was Sir Thomas More. There were at least three such plays about More, the anonymous Thomas Morus, produced at the English College at Rome in 1612, the 1624 Henricus Octavus seu Schisma Anglicanum by the Louvain professor Nicolaus Vernulaeus [de Vernulz, 1583 - 1649], NOTE 1 and the present play, an anonymous Morus written and presumably performed at the Jesuit College at St. Omers, and preserved in the ms. Stonyhurst A.VII.50 (1), fols. 85v - 99v. The statement in the Argument that More’s martyrdom occurred “in the thirty-fifth year of the previous century” establishes that it was written in the seventeenth century; nothing further can be ascertained about its authorship or date, and the modern scholarship that has been devoted to it is minimal. NOTE 2
spacer2. St. Omers plays tend to be short. Morus is not even articulated into the three Acts normal for such plays, but is simply written in six scenes. But it does not suffer for its brevity: it is an effective play written with admirable economy and concision, and its character delineations are fine. Indeed, the author of the present play has done a conspicuously better job of capturing More’s personality than did his counterpart at Rome. Also of interest is our author’s comparison of More to Thomas à Becket in scene v: by drawing this comparison and pointing out that both men, who shared the same Christian name, were martyred at the hands of kings named Henry ob eiusdem pene nobilissimae causae propugnationem (“for defending pretty much the same noble cause”), he seems to be deliberately making a case for More’s sainthood, a canonization that finally came to pass in 1935. (The author of Thomas Morus draws no such explicit comparison, but managed to make the same point in his own way, since in the next year he followed Thomas Morus with a sequel, Thomas Cantuariensis, so that the two tragedies stand as a matched pair of plays.)
spacer3. There is no visible reason to think that our author was familiar with Thomas Morus. The relation between this Morus and Vernulaeus’ Henricus Octavus looks more interesting, since both plays end with the appearance of an angel come to announce that an angry God intends to wreak vengeance on Henry and on England for More’s execution (cf. H. O. V.vii), and Vernulaeus’ play features a scene (V.x) in which the dying Henry agonizes over the memories of his sins and dreads his impending damnation, a deathbed scene that resembles the one predicted by the angel in his final speech in Morus, scene vi. The likeliest explanation for these resemblances is that Morus was written after the publication of the volume containing Henricus Octavus and that our author borrowed some ideas from Vernulaeus about how to end his play.
spacer4. I wish to thank Dr. Martin Wiggins of The Shakespeare Institute for drawing my attention to this play, supplying me with a photographic reproduction of the manuscript, and offering various useful suggestions for the improvement of the finished product.

 

Notes

spacerNOTE 1 Printed in his Tragoediae Decem (Louvain, 1631) and edited by Louis A. Shuster, Henry VIII: a Neo-Latin Drama by Nicolaus Vernulaeus (Austin, Texas, 1964).

spacerNOTE 2 The only notices I can find of this play in modern scholarship are the advertisements of its existence by Alfred Harbage, “A Census of Anglo-Latin Plays,” P. M. L. A. 53:2 (1938) 628, and Annals of English Drama 975 - 1700 (third ed., London, 1989) 209.