INTRODUCTION

1. The Jesuit tragedy Roffensis is preserved by English College (Rome) Archives Ms. Lib. 321, fols. 179r - 217r; a photographic copy has been furnished me by the kindness of Dr. Martin Wiggins of the Shakespeare Institute. This same stout volume binds together, in the following order, manuscripts of other plays produced at the English College: the tragedy Thomas Morus with its intermedium (set of interludes) Vulpinus, produced in 1612; the tragedy-intermedium pairing Thomas Cantuariensis and Minutum, produced in 1613; and the tragicomedy Captiva Religio, produced in 1614. Likewise, Roffensis is accompanied by an intermedium (which I believe to have been called Somnium after the only character to appear in all of its extant Acts). Unfortunately the text of this latter work breaks off partway through Act III, as fol. 232 is the last one in the ms. The other plays are included in the volume in their chronological order, so it would seem plausible to assume that Roffensis was produced after 1614. In her article on dramatic conditions at the English College, NOTE 1 Suzanne Gossett furnishes a schedule of the known performances during Carnival season. The plays produced for other years are known, but for 1618 Gossett can only record that a tragedy was performed, and it is highly tempting to think that Roffensis was the tragedy in question.
2. Gossett and others have assumed that during the period covered by Ms. 321 there was one playwright at the English College responsible for all these works. NOTE 2 In introducing that play, I have shown that a number of shared idiosyncracies establish that the same author wrote Thomas Morus and Thomas Cantuariensis, and indeed in an Appendix to Thomas Morus, an overview of the physical particulars of Ms. 321, I have given reason for concluding that during the time-span covered by the manuscript no less than four auathors can be identified, two who specialized in tragedy and two who wrote comic fare. It is true that Roffensis displays one stylistic feature found in the earlier tragedies, a propensity for minting neologisms (probably 31 incomes, 210 videt (= audet in the sense “have a reputation”), 1012 metanoea (“repentence,” a Greek loanword), and 1613 urbis (nominative). But none of the other idiosyncracies of content or style that show the two earlier plays to be the work of the same author are also visible in Roffensis.
3. Furthermore, Roffensis is in all probability too much like Thomas Morus to be the work of the same author. Both plays go over the same historical ground, since the martyrdom of Bishop John Fisher is an episode in Thomas Morus, and both plays feature a number of the same characters (Fisher, More, Henry VIII, Audley, Cromwell, and Cranmer). If we assume a period of six years between their performances, this great similarity is not in itself disturbing: a sufficient proportion of the 1612 audience would have been replaced by 1618 that, at least for them, this would be new dramatic fare, and Thomas Morus would have faded somewhat in the memory of the old hands. But it seems inherently implausible that one author would write two plays that so closely duplicated each other. The principal similarities between them are that in both plays, one or more supernatural figures from Hell drive the action and inspire King Henry and his supporters to do his worst. In both, Henry has a terrifing vision and is soothed by his supporters, being told that this merely the figment of an overworked brain. Both plays contain a trial scene, at the end of which a formal death sentence is pronounced by a prosecutor. And in both, Henry suffers a tempory nerve-storm after the execution of his chief victim, and has to be bucked up by his followers. Even some of the details of Roffensis seem taken from Thomas Morus, for example the absurd allegation that Anne Boleyn was Henry VIII’s daughter so that their marriage was incestuous (see the note on 193f.), and a misunderstanding of the Roman lustrum (note on 1461). Although there is no reason to think that one man wrote both plays, there are abundant grounds for thinking that the author of Roffensis has read and learned from Thomas Morus.
4. Plenty of errors show that Roffensis manuscript is a copy text, and our copyist clearly had difficulty deciphering his exemplar. At a number of points (lines 350, 489, 520, 565, 1193, 1203, 1270, 1813, 1828, 1831) he has left blank spaces or incomplete lines where he could not read the copy in front of him, and he left a blank to indicate one or more lines missing after 267. These are represented by angled brackets in the present text. In addition, he used extremely large and heavy letters for his act headings, and the ink has come through the page and partially obliterated what was written on the other side, at least on a photographic copy. Where the text is illegible and cannot be restored with reasonable certainty, these lacunae are represented by square brackets.

 

NOTES

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

NOTE 2 Gossett, ib. 66. Cf. also Cardinal Francis Aidan Gasquet, History of the Venerable English College (London, 1903) 190, and 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.