INTRODUCTION

1. The anonymous Jesuit comedy Psyche et Filii Eius (a title bestowed by modern scholarship, since the ms. supplies none) is preserved in the Bodleian Library ms. Rawl. Poet. 171, fols. 60 - 82. The most striking peculiarity of this play is that, appended to the text of the play itself, on fols. 80r - 82r of the ms., are so-called “choruses” written to be performed at the end of each of the five acts (they are not really choruses, but rather meditations on the preceding action written in the same pseudo-verse as the play itself). The existence of such passages in a play that can more or less be classified as a comedy is not unparalleled (they also exist, for example, in some of the plays of the 1607 - 1608 , “Christmas Prince” cycle performed at St. John’s College, Oxford: the tragedy Philomela, and the comedies Philomathes and Ira seu Tumulus Fortunae). But it is remarkable that these choruses are included as a kind of appendix at the end of the manuscript rather than inserted in their proper places (this appears to have caught the copyist unawares — on fol. 80r he first wrote Epilogus, then crossed it out replaced it with Chorus primus ad actum primum. Conceivable explanations occur: for example that that they were written by the play’s author as an afterthought, perhaps for a revival performance, or that they were written by him as an original part of the play, but cut from the text for performance.
2. But I prefer to think that they were written by somebody else, intent on placing a very different construction on Psyche et Filii Eius than its original author had in mind (it may not be entirely impossible that this is a play of an entirely different provenance, adapted for local Jesuit needs). For these choruses recommend a highly politicized allegorical reading of the play: Psyche is England, Eros (Love) represents the Catholic Church in England, Misos and Orge (Hatred and Wrath) respectively stand for heresy and the English people, and Elpis (Hope) for English Catholics in exile (for this last cf. 1669). Psyche is distraught because of her exile from England, and the play somehow has to do with mitigating her miserable condition. Although this interpretation has been accepted by the two authorities who have written on this play, C. G. Moore Smith and Alison Shell, NOTE 1 it is in fact highly problematic. In the first place, having read the play one comes to the choruses and is surprised to the point of astonishment, for little if anything in the play itself seems calculated to support or encourage any such interpretation. Then too, this political reading leaves far too much unexplained because it accounts for only some of the characters in the play, but not all of them. Smith hazarded the guess that “Thelima, the too-indulgent pedagogue, is Free-will, [and] Philosophus, I suppose, the Pope, or the Church.” But Thelema is scarcely included in the play as a symbol of Protestant perversity: Protestant theology typically believed in predestination, and there is nothing noticeably Christian, let alone specifically Catholic, in what Philosophus has to say. And it is even less self-evident how Euphrosyne and Lype (Happiness and Sorrow) are supposed to fit into this picture. Therefore, if the play is supposed to be some sort of allegory about the present condition of religion in England, it seems remarkably ill-meditated and murky.
3. It is very much to be doubted whether, in the absence of these explanatory choruses, any reader would discern any such intention in the play itself; certainly, no hints are placed in the text that encourage this understanding; the slight seeming exceptions to this generalization are given a different explanation below. Psyche et Filii Eius is indeed a comedy that needs to be read as an allegory, but the allegory is patently of a very different kind, being psychagogical rather than political. It has to do with mastery of the passions in order to produce an integrated personality (symbolized by the rose of Paestum, which Psyche is told in a dream is necessary for her happiness). The passions are represented as a set of egotistic adolescents, constantly bickering and at best forming temporary but unstable alliances (their squabbling generates the play’s comedy), and managing to make their mother miserable. Thelema, who represents wilfulness and not free will, is originally put in charge of them, but it quickly becomes evident that he is hopelessly unfit for the task, which can only be achieved by philosophy.
4. In writing of Thomas Tomkis’ Cambridge comedy Lingua, or The Combat of the Tongue and the five Senses for Superiority (first printed in 1607) in vol. VI.2 of the The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, F. S. Boas wrote that Lingua “falls in with the contemporary fashion of personifying or allegorizing the parts and faculties of man, which finds its chief expression in Phineas Fletcher’s Purple Island.” Psyche et Filii Eius deserves to be recognized as another play in this same tradition, and indeed it bears a particularly striking resemblance to another Cambridge comedy, the anonymous Stoicus Vapulans produced at St. John’s College in late 1618. In introducing this play, I wrote:

As the play begins, Stoicus and Peripateticus are debating the value of the passions, which subsequently appear onstage as personified abstractions. The play is based on competing ideas set forth by Cicero in Book Four of the Tusculan Disputations. Stoicus shares the view of the Stoics Chrysippus and Zeno (T. D. IV.iv.9ff.): the ideal psychic condition of the philosopher is apatheia, complete freedom from the perturbations caused by the various passions (the four principle passions are lust and delight, fear and distress, but these have such nuanced subdivisions as joy, excessive delight, fear, envy, rivalry, jealousy, compassion, anxiety, sadness, trouble, lamenting, depression, vexation, pining, despondency, sluggishness, fright, timidity, consternation, confusion, faintheartedness, rapture, ostentation, rage, hate, and intemperance). All of these are to the soul as sicknesses are to the body (T. D. IV.x.23ff.), and the psychic health of the rational philosopher is to be maintained by their complete exclusion. Stoicus therefore wants to have the passions banished from the realm of Microcosmus. Contrasted with this is is the Peripatetic view (T. D. IV.xvii.38ff.) that the passions are natural, wholesome, and even useful, as long as they are kept in balanced check by the Golden Mean. This is the view of Peripateticus in the play, a view wholeheartedly endorsed by the author, who uses the play to demonstrate that the passions are good things as long as they remain under the government of Reason. Indeed, from a philosophical point of view, the most important line of the play is spoken about the passions by Peripateticus (1135), dominos agnosco pessimos, at servos optimos (“I acknowledge that they’re the worst of masters, but they’re the best of servants.”).

The idea of Psyche et Filii Eius is not exactly the same, but the resemblance is close enough to suggest that its author was a former Cambridge man who had been in the audience when Stoicus Vapulans was performed, particularly as both plays feature the same idea of representing the psychological rather than physical parts of Man in an allegorical manner, and of presenting the passions onstage as personifications that need to be controlled by philosophy (in this sense, the critical turning-point in the play is V.iii, in which Thelema acknowledges that he must submit to Philosophus’ guidance in order to save Psyche from her wasting disease). Characters in Stoicus Vapulans include Laetita, Audacio, Timido, Dolor, Tristitia, Amor, Ira, Odium, and Desperatio, i. e., Happiness, Boldness, Timidity, Pain, Sadness, Love, Wrath, Hatred, and Despair, and the reader can see that their is a considerable duplication with the dramatis personae of Psyche et Filii Eius, only slightly disguised by the fact that in the latter play they are given Greek rather than Latin names.
5. Indeed, considering that Psyche et Filii Eius is a Jesuit play written for performance in a seminary context, it is striking how little it is concerned with the Christian message, let alone with the current predicament of English Catholics, either at home or in exile abroad. The rose, to be sure, is commonly employed as a Christian symbol, but in this play, as we are explicitly told at 1841f., the rose stands for wisdom. And Philosophus’s speeches have nothing specifically to do with Christianity. Rather, they are little more than a compilation of traditional philosophical bromides, and, to the extent that he can be identified with any particular brand of philosophy, Philosophus would seem to be a Cynic rather than a Christian: like Diogenes, he lives in a barrel, and over the course of the play he repeatedly alludes to that philosopher and he is specifically called a Cynic at 845. Only a couple of features of the play might seem to contradict this view. First, there is a sentence in the Prologue: Lugentis Angliae faciem dum poeta pingeret lugentis animae pegmate tabellaslevit†. Animam affectus trahunt in varia studia, Angliam religio dissonans, et mores improbi. {“While the poet was painting his representation of grieving England, on the stage he represented portraits of a grieving soul. The affections draw the soul into differing pursuits, as England is drawn apart by squabbling religion and bad morals.”} Unfortunately, the verb of the first sentence is corrupt (the author may have written dedit), but in any event the natural interpretation of this passage is, to put it periphrastically, “you have just seen a play which represented England in distress, torn apart by dissensions and bad morals. Now you shall see a play showing Psyche in a similar sad condition.” In other words, Psyche was performed on the same occasion as some such dramatic fare as a Jesuit martyr play with an English setting, and the author is doing no more than drawing a comparison between that preceding play and his own. He is not encouraging any interpretation of Psyche such as the choruses propose. Then too, when Psyche commands Elpis to hurry to Lype and command him to free Eros and his companions, she adds that he should take certain keys with him as tokens (1654). It is likely that a Catholic audience would understand these as the keys of St. Peter, i. e., as a symbol of papal authority. But it seems dangerous to hang an interpretation of the whole play on a single detail (which might have been inserted by the author of the choruses).
6. To complete this theory, it is only necessary to suggest that somebody else at whatever seminary this play was produced, scandalized by the fact that Christianity and the specific English Jesuit programme are given such short shrift in the play, wrote a set of choruses providing it with an entirely different meaning, albeit a highly dissatisfactory one, for the reasons indicated above. The fact that the copyist segregated these passages from the body of the play, rather than presenting them as integral parts, probably can be taken to indicate that even he (or at least whoever was responsible for his exemplar) entertained doubts about the legitimacy of this tactic.
7. Beyond the strong suspicion that Psyche’s author was a former Cambridge man who had seen and learned from the 1618 Stoicus Vapulans, nothing can be said about the play’s provenance or date. The Act III chorus contains the passage Elpis evasit manus cruenti Mysi, sic haeresis rabiem pauci qui Baetim modo, Tyberim aut Pysuergam bibunt. {“Elpis eluded the clutches of bloody Misos, and thus escape heresy those few men who drink the waters of the Guadalquivir, the Tiber, and the Pisuerga.”} This refers to the three English Jesuit colleges at Seville, Rome, and Valladolid, and one might suppose that the play could have been written and produced at any one one of these three places (the exclamation at 1550 o signior cannot be used as differentiating evidence, since it could equally well represent Sp. o señor or It. o signore). But one point would seem to tell against Roman provenance: the fact that it contains a female character, Psyche, although the use of female parts in drama had been forbidden by Rule 13 of the 1591 Jesuit Ratio Studiorum. NOTE 2 On the showing of the preserved plays definitely written and performed at the English College, which are wholly devoid of female parts, it would seem that this rule was rigorously enforced there. If this impression is correct, then it would seem preferable surmise that Psyche et Filii Eius was produced at some other institution where more relaxed standards obtained.
8. The single ms. that preserves this play is obviously a copy text, and, although it probably stands at no great remove from the original, the copyist is at times capable of getting things quite wrong (perhaps most notably at III.iv, where they copying job has been considerably botched, to the extent that I am scarcely confident I that have managed to put things aright). The characters all have Greek names, but it is probably safe to conjecture that this copyist was ignorant of that language: otherwise he would probably not have vacillated so freely between Greek and Latinized spellings of their names (he writes, for example, Misos, Misus, and even Mysus), and he certainly would not have uniformly written Thelima for Thelema. Rather than imitate him, or even weary the reader with a detailed record of my corrections of his many malfeasances, I have silently imposed the correct Greek forms, and also employed them in my translation. Nor was this copyist especially concerned with punctuation: very frequently questions are written as declarative sentences, and these too have silently been fixed. Finally, the entire play (including the appended choruses) are written in lines as if they were poetry, but are in fact little if anything more than prose. (It may be true that each line ends with an iamb, a common Renaissance practice, but one seriously doubts these would be heard and recognized as such by an audience). Elsewhere I have explained that this practice, common in Elizabethan and Jacobean academic comedy, appears to have been no more than a writing convention designed to give plays the physical appearance of those of Plautus and Terence (which were understood to have been written in prose until Bentley demonstrated otherwise in the eighteenth century). I see no reason for perpetuating this feature, which would only lead the unwary to look for verse where none exists.
9. As always with these Jesuit plays, I wish to record my gratitude to Dr. Martin Wiggins for supplying me with a photo
copy of the manuscript, and for his valuable advice and encouragement while I was working on this project.

 

NOTES TO THE INTRODUCTION

NOTE 1 C . G. Moore Smith, “Notes on some English University Plays,” Modern Language Review III.2 (1908) 143 - 6. Alison Shell, Catholicism, Controversy and the English Literary Imagination, 1558 - 1660 (Cambridge, 1999) 187f., 191 - 5, 200f., 210. Smith was responsible for giving the play its modern title.

NOTE 2 Cf. William H. McCabe, S. J., An Introduction to the Jesuit Theater (published posthumously as edited by Louis J. Oldani, S. J., St. Louis, 1983), Chapter 15 (particularly pp. 178f.).