1. In my edition of the works of the Oxford poet-playwright William Gager, NOTE 1 I have described Gager’s role in the establishment of what was destined to evolve into the Oxford University Press. Beginning at the time of Henry VIII’s break from Rome, printing presses had been forbidden at the universities, until 1584, when Oxford’s Congregation petitioned the university’s Chancellor, the Earl of Leicester, for permission to establish a press. Permission being rapidly granted, the university advanced £100 to a local wine merchant, Joseph Barnes, to set up a press, and authorize him to identify himself as Printer to the University, and employ its seal on the title pages of at least some of the volumes he produced. NOTE 2 The first substantial work to issue from the press was John Case’s Speculum Moralium Quaestionum in Universam Ethicen Aristoteles, in 1585. If one wonders why, after a half century of censorship, the government reversed a long-standing policy, the likely answer is to be found in some of the other early volumes issuing from Barnes’ press: these include three volumes of Latin poetry by Gager on William Parry’s attempt to assassinate Elizabeth and the Babington Conspiracy, an anonymous volume of Latin poetry about the Parry attempt, probably written by Gager’s friend George Peele, an anthology of verse by university men on the occasion of the death of Sir Philip Sidney edited by Gager, and a cycle of verse by John Sanford written (very much in the style of Gager) on the occasion of the 1592 royal visitation.
2. On the basis of these volumes, two conclusions appear warranted: that the establishment of a press at Oxford originated in an agreement that the press would issue a certain amount of more or less frankly propagandistic poetry intended to influence the opinion of England’s educated, Latin-reading classes on issues of the day (and simultaneously to demonstrate the university’s institutional loyalty), and that William Gager was very much involved in the implementation of this arrangement, both as a major contributor himself and as a kind of impresario arranging similar contributions by others. This agreement created the conditions where the press could also issue academic publications, sparing Oxonians the trouble of working with London printers, guaranteeing a press with the availability of Greek, Hebrew and other exotic fonts, and generally enhancing the stature of the university. The 1588 Sphaera Civitatis by the Oxford philosopher John Case (a man, as we shall see, with firm ties to Gager and other members of Gager’s literary circle) shows that the academic works themselves were capable of contributing to the same program, employing both the press and the Latin language for highly politicized purposes.
3. John Case [d. 1600] was one of Elizabethan Oxford’s leading intellectual figures. A sometime Fellow of St. John’s College, he had attained such a remarkable stature as a tutor, and such a reputation for probity, that in 1583 the university took the extraordinary and evidently unique step of allowing students to board at his house as a satisfactory substitute for matriculating from a college. This concession was particularly remarkable since both universities had recently adopted a policy of only granting degrees to men who matriculated from established colleges (and were willing to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England as part of the matriculation process), thereby putting an end to the old medieval Halls. Soon thereafter, Case did more to enhance his prestige and visibility by publishing two major works on Aristotle, the aforementioned commentary on the Ethics and Summa Veterum Interpretum in Universam Dialecticam Aristotelis (1584). The fact that his book was the first to emanate from Barnes’ new press can probably be taken as a sign of the esteem in which he was held.
4. His next work was Sphaera Civitatis, and his account of the original stimulus that provoked its writing (in his dedicatory epistle to Lord Chancellor Christopher Hatton) looks highly significant for diagnosing his intention:
Ipsum authorem, nomen philosophi, auctoris hoc opus lumen patriae et miraculum sapientiae in hac aetate dominus Thesaurarius mihi commendavit: doctus author, doctus opus, sapiens iudex utriusque.
[“The Lord Treasurer commended the author, the Philosopher’s name, and this work of that author as a light for our nation and a miracle of wisdom in this age: a learned author, a learned work, a wise judge of them both.”]
We may compare the similar statement at the beginning of the author’s address To the Reader prefacing William Camden’s Annales Rerum Gestarum Angliae et Hiberniae Regnante Elizabetha (first part printed 1615):
Ante annos octodecim, Guilielmus Cecilius baro Burghleius, summus Angliae thesaurius, mihi ne cogitanti quidem, primum sua, deinde regia tabularia aperuit, atque inde primordia regni Elizabethae filo historico contexere iussit.
[“Above eighteene yeeres since William Cecyll, Baron of Burghley, Lord high Treasurer of England (when full little I thought of it), set open unto me first his owne, and then the Queenes Roles, Memorials, Records and thereout willed me to compile in an Historicall stile the first beginnings of the Raigne of Queene Elizabeth.”]
The suggestion is worth making that Burleigh’s motives in urging subjects on these two writers was essentially the same. Wishing to see the tremendous events of Elizabeth’s reign (which he probably assumed would conclude considerably earlier than it actually did) memorialized, he sought to enlist England’s foremost antiquarian in such a project. For a long time, Camden refused to take the bait, but in the end wrote his tremendous Annales of Elizabeth’s reign.
4. If Burleigh wanted to see a history of the reign, it is easy to imagine him also desiring a kind of companion-piece setting forth the ideals and aspirations of Elizabeth and her advisors, and the political theory according to which the queen and her Privy Council governed England for nearly forty years. Of course, in suggesting that this is what Burleigh had in mind I may well be guilty of fallacious post hoc propter hoc reasoning. But, whether or not this is exactly what Burleigh was angling for, it is what he got. Taken together, Case’s Sphaera Civitatis and Camden’s Annales may be read as a massively comprehensive apologia for the theory and practice of Elizabeth’s reign, written in Latin for the consumption of educated Englishmen as well as readers throughout Europe, and to memorialize these ideals and accomplishments for posterity.
5. A painstakingly detailed chapter-by-chapter exegesis of Aristotle’s Poetics may seem a strange and unlikely vehicle for the expression of a contemporary Elizabethan theory of government, although it of course had the obvious advantage of enlisting Aristotle’s enormous prestige and validating authority in support of this theory. It is probably unnecessary to lodge any claim that Case was an especially original political thinker. Most of his work had been done for him by previous medieval and Renaissance interpreters of the Politics. St. Thomas Aquinas had fused the Politics with St. Augustine’s vision of a Godly society on earth set forth in The City of God. In consequence, Aristotle’s notions of virtues had been blended with Christian ideas on the subject. No doubt a number of Medieval and Renaissance commentators had already converted Aristotle into a monarchist, by interpreting him to be saying in Book III, not just that monarchy is one of the three “correct” forms of government, but that it is the best, and inserting the idea that the monarch is God’s earthly viceroy. Other commentators laid under contribution by Case also provided interpretations convenient for constructing contemporary political theory that seemed to enjoy the support of Aristotle’s authority. Sepulvéda, for example, laid particular stress on the Greek philosopher’s ideas about natural slaves and the waging of just wars against barbarians in such a way as to justify hard-handed Spanish colonial policy in America. Any reader of Case who so desired was of course free to apply this same theory to England’s Irish policy.
6. Hence Elizabeth’s monarchical rule could be intellectually justified by appeal to Book III of the Politics, thus interpreted. Indeed, a loyalist reader would not require much encouragement to look at sovereign, peerage and Parliament and believe he was seeing a mixed polity, the constitutional form composed of all three “correct” constitutional forms (monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy), and Aristotle had pronounced this mixed polity the best constitution of them all. Most important of all, the Politics as interpreted by Case and his contemporaries provided a justifying raison d’ etre for the paternalistic authoritarianism of Tudor government. Throughout the Sphaera Civitatis Case rails against that arch-villain, Machiavelli, whose ideal prince governs according to considerations of pure expediency, and therefore acts with unprincipled cynicism. NOTE 3 irtue (which may be defined in Case’s system as an amalgam of the characteristics that go to make up Aristotle’s arete with the Christian virtues) is the hallmark of the excellent commonwealth.
7. At this point obtrudes an old idea of such Greek intellectuals as Plato, Xenophon, Aristotle, and Plutarch, who had looked at Sparta (no matter how naively and unreasonably, for intellectuals are notoriously easy to fool) and imagined they were seeing what might be called a virtue machine: a state that both encourages and compelled its citizens to be virtuous. Therefore, in ancient political theory we repeatedly encounter the notion that such compulsion is a fundamental and entirely legitimate purpose of government. It is not enough that there be virtuous people at the top: it is both the right and the duty of those who govern to employ both their vested powers of reward and punishment, and their authority to supervise education, so as to encourage the governed to be as virtuous as possible. Such a theory could of course be alleged to justify any government that pursued authoritarian policies. But, obviously, it is a theory with a particular cogency and appeal to a nation with a state church. The blend of Christianity and Aristotelianism in this revamped reading of the Politics provides an intellectual justification for the peculiar relationship of the Church of England to the English government. Very often when Case mentions Machiavelli he associates him with atheism. In his mind, therefore, the choice is between a cynically pragmatic secularism that smacks of atheism. and principled Christian government, exercised by a virtuous sovereign and magistrates, who are prepared to employ their powers to foster virtue and morality. And, as is especially visible in his introductory Ad Christianum Lectorem and concluding Peroratio, Case was above all else a moralist: his ideal state was not just Aristotle’s mixed polity, it was something like an Anglican City of God. Even if Case does not make a practice of continually reminding the reader of the specifically English relevance of his enunciated doctrines (although occasionally he does, perhaps most explicitly at III.vii.1), the reader is invited to make this connection for himself. This is particularly true regarding the leitmotif-like metaphor of the “sphere of the commonwealth” itself (of which the object correlative is the old Ptolematic model of the universe), which represents Case’s personal political vision, no matter how incongruous a match with genuine Aristotelianism it might strike a modern reader. In his poem standing at the beginning of the book, and in the remarkable diagram that accompanies it, Richard Latewar makes the specific application of this guiding metaphor to Elizabeth and her government as explicit as could be wished.
8. Like his guiding metaphor (Case’s single reference to Copernicus, at V.xii.2, betrays a thorough failure to comprehend what the new astronomy was about), Case’s enterprise might strike a modern reader as curiously old-fashioned. Is not his manner of exposition, which proceeds by systematically breaking down Aristotle into a series of quaestiones and distinctiones, precisely the sort of Scotistic approach against which Erasmus had long ago expostulated when he encountered it at Cambridge? NOTE 4 Is this not the kind of dryasdust Aristotelianism at which students poked unfriendly fun in academic comedies, for example as personified by the loathsome Aristotelian Dromodotus in Edward Forsett’s 1581 Cambridge comedy Pedantius? The truth of the matter is a good deal more complicated, and Case’s obviously hostile, albeit incomprehensible, joke at Duns Scotus’ expense at VIII.ii.6 is worth bearing in mind (see the note on this passage). The first impression that there is something regressive about Case’s Aristotelianism does not survive a reading of Charles Schmitt’s study John Case and Aristotelianism in Renaissance England. NOTE 5 Academic Aristotelianism did not perish along with the Middle Ages, but rather remained a staple of Renaissance higher education, and the disputatio remained central to the lecture hall and the examination room. Rather, Renaissance Aristotelianism was a capacious and hospitable tent, that could accommodate a wide variety of approaches and viewpoints. As Schmitt put it (p. 218)
…one has every reason to believe that many other Aristotelians are still to be discovered as players with important roles in the unfolding of early modern history. Concealed beneath the umbrella of “Aristotelianism” are a very large number of thinkers of very diverse orientation. Each of the men just mentioned used the corpus Aristotelicum in varying ways, emphasizing different works of the master and blending genuine Aristotelian doctrine with a vast range of of interpretative and corroborative material from many other sources…The stereotype “Scholastic” in no way describes the range of possibilities — and actualities — present in the historical development of events.
A skilled practitioner of Aristotelian argumentation, adept at argumentation within the framework of divisiones and quaestiones developed by the Schoolmen, could arrive at any of a wide variety of conclusions, and then could put the claim that the conclusions he came to were supported by the authority of the Philosopher himself.
9. What Case creates at least looks like a massively well-reasoned defense of what a later age would call English High Toryism (how well-reasoned it actually is of course depends on your evaluation of the quality of his argumentation). NOTE 6 His working procedure was to organize the Sphaera Civitatis into Books and chapters exactly matching those of the Politics, so that the contents of any chapter in the Politics is treated in a corresponding chapter in the Sphaera. For each chapter, the contents are first described in an expositio. Then Case extracts from the material in the expositio one or more quaestiones for more detailed consideration. After arguing his position on the quaestiones, he summarizes what has been accomplished in the chapter in a tabular distinctio (a Ramist invention). NOTE 7 Then follow one or more oppositiones to the conclusions drawn in connection with the quaestiones. Each such oppositio is immediately followed by a responsio, in which Case meets the objection. Most but not all chapters then contain a dubium, which is another quaestio concerning a more wide-ranging or tangental subject. According to Case in his initial address Ad Christianum Lectorem (29) the purpose of these dubia is to introduce a moment of relaxing intellectual diversion. Then, if a chapter has a dubium, there follows another tabular distinctio and further oppositiones and responsiones.
10. Case’s freedom to extract quaestiones from his expositio and to frame dubia as he liked gave him the ability to argue questions (and therefore to editorialize) on a wide variety of subjects. Therefore the format of the Sphaera Civitatis is a remarkably flexible forum for discourse. The subjects of some quaestiones and dubia will amuse the reader because they address social problems which are still red-hot today: for example, questions concerning abortion (VII.xvi.6), women in the military (II.iv.7) and the right of the citizen to bear arms (IV.xiii.6). Others have a bearing on a wide variety of contemporary issues. Some of these may be enumerated. The discussion of the fitness of women to govern (I.iii.5) has an obvious pertinence to Elizabeth, as does the conclusion that only an unmarried woman should rule (I.viii, it is striking that William Gager came to the same conclusion in the Epilogue of his 1583 Dido). When Case raises the question whether it should be permitted sovereigns and nobles to make overseas marriages and answers his question in the negative (V.vii.5), clearly he is registering his opinion about the possibility of Elizabeth making such a marriage. The dislike of resident aliens visible in V.iii.6 reveals a contemporary Englishman’s prejudice, the cause of several contemporary London riots. V.xi is an expostulation against governmental closing of schools and universities. What exactly exercised Case may not be exactly self-evident, but he felt strongly enough on the subject of defending education against its detractors to have written a separate, unpublished treatise on the subject. NOTE 8 VIII.vi.1 contains an energetic outburst against Puritans.
11. On occasion, although he does not explicitly acknowledge the fact, Case employs quaestiones and dubia to enter into polemics against contemporary individuals. In his 1579 De Iure Regni Apud Scotos Dialogus George Buchanan had argued that a people has the right to rebel against and depose a sovereign who behaves tyrannically and contrary to law. Surely IV.x.2 is designed to refute Buchanan’s argument. As a loyal subject of Elizabeth, Case felt obliged to rail at John Knox for claiming that women are unfit to rule in The Monstrous Regiment of Women can be found at I.iii.5 and I.viii.3. Students of Elizabethan literature will take particular interest in V.viii.10 (cf. also VI.viii.9). The story of the controversy about the propriety of university drama between William Gager and Dr. John Rainolds is well known. When invited to attend the 1592 Shrovetide dramatic productions, Rainolds not only refused but wrote a lengthy open letter denouncing the impropriety of stage productions. His objections have been summarized by J. W. Binns: NOTE 9
(i) That it is wrong for men to dress in women’s clothes, (ii) that plays are a waste of time and money, (iii) that plays are a bad moral influence, (iv) that actors were considered infamous even by the Romans, (v) that it is a profanation of the Sabbath to act plays on Sunday.
Although Rainold’s outburst subsequently provoked a pamphleteering war, the immediate reaction to this blast was that Gager came forth as the spokesman for the pro-theater faction. One of the Shrovetide plays that year was a production of Seneca’s Phaedra fleshed out with extra scenes written by Gager, subsequently published under the title Panniculus Hippolyto Senecae Tragoediae Assutus (“A Patch Sewn on Seneca’s Tragedy Hippolytus”), and Gager appended to this play two special extra Epilogues, the first delivered by Momus, the ancient god of captious criticism, a satirically unfriendly caricature of Rainolds, and Gager’s own humorous rebuttal. In May 1592 these Epilogues, together with the Panniculus, together with another play written by Gager for the same occasion, were printed at Oxford in a volume containing initial gratulatory epigrams by several individuals, one of whom was Case. The interesting point is that the oppositiones raised against drama in V.viii.12 are precisely the same as Rainolds’ talking-points, and the replies given by Case in his responsiones are strikingly similar to those of Gager’s Momus. It therefore looks as if this debate had been simmering for some time prior to 1592, and as if Gager was in fact merely repeating responses that had already been developed by Case, a point worth bearing in mind in future discussions of the controversy.
12. Other quaestiones reveal Case’s attitudes on social questions of a broader nature, no doubt with a bearing on his own time and place. I.vi displays a marked hostility towards capitalism and profiteering by middlemen (I.vii.9), and I.vii.2 condemns moneylending. In this latter chapter Case obviously has some “just price” theory, but (as pointed out in a note) it is not quite clear whether he extends this theory to include a “just price” on interest. His contention (II.v.4) that conversion of landed wealth into liquid cash, achieved by the sale of family inheritances, is a social evil that should be forbidden, is very visibly linked to an opposition of a population shift from country to city, a contemporary English phenomenon. One also sees throughout the work (perhaps especially in II.vi.7 and the first chapters of Book V) an ultraconservative’s particular hatred of sedition and suspicion of innovation. V.iv.6 shows that Case shared the contemporary obsession with witchcraft. Then too, speaking grosso modo, throughout the work there is a pervasive prejudice in favor of the well-to-do and against the lower classes, so that Aristotle is enlisted in support of the British Class System.
13. The aforementioned comedy Pedantius goes to show that Aristotelianism could all too easily earn dislike and derision. All of these commentaries on contemporary issues (and, quite likely, others as well, that I have failed to detect) must have had the effect of adding interest and spice to an exposition which, as Case was well aware, could have been deadly dull. One cannot end even as brief an introduction as the present one without acknowledging another way in which he strove to relieve the potential tedium of his detailed exposition. If his argumentative method is grounded in Medieval Scholasticism, his manner of writing is thoroughly Humanistic, and he is a masterful Latin stylist. There is something kaleidoscopic about the Sphaera, for the tedium of exposition and argumentation is frequently relieved by passages of comedy satire, periodic Ciceronian eloquence, effusions of ecstatic rapture, punning and other forms of verbal pyrotechnics, and impromptu dialogues with imaginary readers or even with Aristotle himself, and further variety is introduced by rather frequent allusions to, or quotations from, Classical and more recent literature. Hence, for all its length and the nature of its subject, Case manages to make Sphaera Civitatis unexpectedly entertaining.
14. As already stated, Sphaera Civitatis was originally printed in 1588 by Joseph Barnes, Printer to the University of Oxford (Short Title Catalogue 4761, Early English Books reel 189:2). My text is founded on this first edition. NOTE 10 It is obvious that Barnes and his staff regarded Sphaera Civitatis as an important project and lavished particular care on it, for the number of printing mistakes is remarkably small. Most of these errors are transparent and more or less easily put right, but there are a very few places where the text cannot be repaired save with an intolerable amount of conjecture.
15. The project of preparing a text and translation of Sphaera Civitatis was suggested to me by Professor J. W. Binns. I must express my considerable gratitude to Professor Binns steering me to such a rewarding author.
NOTE 1 In the General Introduction to his poetry.
NOTE 2 Some of his title pages bear the seal, some do not. I do not know if anybody has every established the principle involved.
NOTE 3 For Case’s attitude towards Machiavelli (he regarded him as a quack political scientist in precisely the same way Paracelsus was a quack doctor), cf. Schmitt, pp. 181 - 186.
NOTE 4 See Erasmus’ 1516 letter to Henry Bullock, edited by D. F.. S. Thompson and H. C. Porter, Erasmus and Cambridge (Toronto, 1963), Letter 52.
NOTE 5 Charles B. Schmitt, John Case and Aristotelianism in Renaissance England (Kingston - Montreal, 1983). See also Schmitt’s Aristotle and the Renaissance (Cambridge, Mass., 1983) and The Aristotelian Tradition and Renaissance Universities (London, 1984). Besides Schmitt’s book on Case, the most important available study is J. W. Binns, Intellectual Culture in Elizabethan and Jacobean England: The Latin Writings of the Age (Leeds, 1990), Chapter 19.
NOTE 6 A modern philosopher would probably have trouble with the fact that Case’s arguments so very frequently work by way of drawing analogies, so that they fail if the analogy is shown to be faulty, or if one refuses to accept the analogy’s validity in the first place. But then, Socrates frequently worked in the same way.
NOTE 7 Schmitt, p. 145.
NOTE 8 The Apologia Academiarum, which exists only in manuscript (Corpus Christi College ms. 321): see Schmitt, Appendix IV.
NOTE 9 In his (unpaginated) introductory notes to the photographic reproduction of Rainolds’ 1599 Th’ Overthrow of Stage-Players (New York - London, 1972). The controversy is discussed here.
NOTE 10 According to Schmitt (p. 3) it went through eleven reprintings in England and Germany.