spacer1. Zeno was clearly Joseph Simons’ chef d’oeuvre (which is, no doubt, why he assigned it pride of place in Tragoediae Quinque). It was produced all over Catholic Europe, originally at the Jesuit college at St. Omers, and subsequently at Rome (twice), Lucerne, Naples, Bologna, Parma, and Seville. Manuscripts and printed evidence allow us to observe Simons repeatedly polishing it over twenty-five years, and it alone of his works served as the prototype for two vernacular plays, Sir William Killigrew’s 1669 The Imperial Tragedy, and an anonymous Zeno play produced on Crete in 1682 - 83. NOTE 1 Zeno is a highly representative Simons play, as it fully embodies both what his plays are and are not typically about. Father William H. McCabe’s lengthy appraisal of his work is quite misleading. NOTE 2 Very understandably, McCabe was writing from a Catholic, and more specifically, a Jesuit, perspective, and so was ill-attuned to those elements of Simons’ art that are not liable to a interpretation congruent with his viewpoint He therefore exerted himself mightily to represent Simons as at all times a Catholic playwright, and failed to place adequate weight on those features of his work that did not agree with this portrait. A far more accurate appraisal is that of James A. Parente, NOTE 3 who pointed out that Simons’ characteristic subject was courtly intrigue. His plays are populated with Machiavellian intriguers and revengers, and were designed to feed an English enthusiasm for this kind of drama that can be traced back to the Elizabethan revenge play (and indeed, if you will, to that quintessential revenge play, Seneca’s Thyestes). Some of his plays, Sanctus Pelagius Martyr, Mercia and Vitus, are indeed written on religious subjects The latter two of these deal with Christianity’s advent and its clash with preexisting paganism, but, even if these plays feature martyrs and so can be regarded as specimens of the traditional Jesuit martyr play. Yet even in these two plays the real center of interest is that the arrival of Christianity sets in motion a power struggle within a royal court and gives ambitious men-on-the-make new scope for advancing their fortunes. In other Simons plays, including Simons’ unprinted Sanctus Damianus, the religious component is distinctly secondary. Leo Armenus, Theoctistus, and Zeno are all set at the Byzantine court because it is, well, Byzantine, and Constantinople was a proverbial laboratory for the study of courtly intrigue.
spacer2. Simons was so devoted to this subject that he passed up good chances to give his plays a religious dimension. In Sanctus Damianus, the evil revenge-bent Aldo is based on a historical character out of the pages of Paul the Deacon, Alahis, an inveterate enemy of Christianity. Simons does not retain this feature in Aldo, and limits his motivations to the realm of the secular. In Theoctistus he avoids making any equation between Iconoclasts and Protestants, although this would have been an easy and obvious way to give the play contemporary relevance, and in Leo Armenus Balbus, who assassinates a cruel and lawless emperor, is himself portrayed as a bad man, so there is no glorification of tyrannicide such as one might expect to find on the Jesuit stage. A similar observation deserves to be made about Zeno, for Simons resolutely avoids introducing into his play any important religious dimension. This would not have been difficult to do. One of the Emperor Zeno’s most memorable acts in office was the promulgation of the Henotikon (“Act if Unity”) in 482, an attempt to resolve the quarrels between the opposing Chalcedonian and Miaphysite views about the nature of Christ, an unsuccessful device that managed to please nobody. It would have been easy to write a Zeno play at the very least insinuating a comparison between Zeno and modern sovereigns, such as Henry VIII and James I, who likewise intermeddled in religious affairs in a way that Catholics regarded as a tyrannical intrusion. But Simons portrays Zeno’s tyranny as entirely secular. Then too, the story of a tyrant’s downfall can often be represented as an act of divine justice. But when the man who engineers Zeno’s destruction and replaces him on the throne, Anastasius, is portrayed as a thoroughly bad man himself — we are given no reason to anticipate that his reign is going to be any better than Zeno’s — such a theological interpretation of this historical event becomes impossible.
spacer3. Parente explained this discrepancy between the militant sectarian polemicism one would expect in Jesuit drama and what we do find in Simons’ plays with reference to changing attitudes within the Order. This may well be the case, but surely it is also true that these tragedies were designed to cater for an English enthusiasm for plays featuring revengers and intriguers, that can be traced back to the Elizabethan revenge play of the Spanish Tragedy type and even, if you will, to that all-time archetypal revenge play, Seneca’s Thyestes. This is also true of another element conspicuously present in Zeno and scarcely absent from Simons’ other plays, the intrusion of ghosts. NOTE 4 For Zeno is extremely well-populated with ghosts (it also features a sinister astrologer), and this too is designed to appeal to an English relish for the supernatural which can be traced back to Elizabethan times and ultimately to Seneca. These plays may have been written on the Continent for consumption by a highly specialized audience, but au fond both their author and their intended audience were Englishmen possessed of the same theatrical tastes as their fellow countrymen back home, and this is why these Jesuit plays deserve to be recognized as part of the national cultural heritage.
spacer4. Although this is an edition of the final printed version, it would be well to give the reader a brief sketch of Zeno’s somewhat complex production history. The evidence is as follows:

Manuscript texts of the original four-act version

A London: British Library, MS Harley 5024, fols. 1 - 67a..

B Cambridge: St John's College, MS Aa.3, fols. 1 - 58.

C Cambridge: University Library MS. Ii.6.35, fols. 1 - 41v.. Date of production specified as 1631 on the title page.

D Stonyhurst, MS B vi. 25, fols. 25 - 70.

(B and C are very formal copies, clearly written by the same copyist. MS. D appears to be written in a more relaxed version of the same hand.)

Evidence for an earlier five-act version

a.) Rappresentatione tragic del Zenone Imperatore da farsi nel Collegio Inglese di Roma (Rome, 1634), perioche of a lost version performed at the English College at Rome, in 1634.

b.) Wol-Bewärte Tugend Pelagii (Lucerne, 1642), perioche of a lost version performed at the Jesuit school in Lucerne, Switzerland, in 1642. This document has been reprinted by E. M. Szarota, Das Jesuiten-drama in deutschen Sprachgebiet: eine Periochen-Edition (Munich, 1980) II:1, pp. 491 - 502.

Printed texts

Zeno Tragoedia Iosephi Simonis Angli,. e Societate Iesu (Rome, 1648), printed together with Simons’ Mercia Tragoedia (separate title pages for the two plays, but with continuous pagination), pp. 1 - 104.

Josephi Simonis Angli e Societatis Iesu Tragoediae Quinque (Liège, 1656), pp. 5 - 102.

spacer5. According to the title page of C, the original Zeno was produced at St. Omers in June, 1631. NOTE 5 In this version, Simons employed a four-Act organizational scheme that differed from the three-Act one normally favored at St. Omers (his scheme was imitated in the anonymous 1651 tragedy Fortunae Ludibrium sive Bellisarius). His Acts are labeled Protasis, Epitasis, Catastasis, and Catastrophe (i. e., the introductory part, the main action, the development of the intrigue or action initiated in the epitasis, and the final resolution), and in this version Acts III and IV of the printed text are combined as the Catastasis. Three of these terms are taken from Aelius Donatus' On Comedy and Tragedy, in which it is stated that all dramatic plots can be analyzed into four parts, the Prologue, Protasis, Epitasis, and Catastrophe. (Simons also identified the Prologue of his three-act Sanctus Damianus as its Protasis).
spacer 6. All four MSS pertain to this St. Omers production, and all lack III.5 of the printed text. Missing from A’s version is the exhibition of military drill at the end of Act II (912ff.). Likewise, BCD lack the song at the end of II.i (all four manuscripts also appear to lack the dumb show immediately following this long, although this is possibly an optical illusion created by their paucity of stage directions). A possible reason for the omission of 912ff. is this was Simons’ response to a new guideline for dramatic productions issued in 1631 by Richard Blount, Provincial of the English Jesuits: NOTE 6 Comoedia vel tragoedia duas horas et mediam vel ad summum tres horas non excedat {“A comedy or a tragedy should not exceed two and a half hours, or at most three.”] St. Omers wrote for clarification, and in a response Blount wrote: NOTE 7 Tres horas abunde sufficere nec oportere ultra produci, proinde servetur quod praescriptum est. Contraria praxis semper a me aliisque superioribus reprehensa est: quibus etiam displicuit tripudiorum frequentia ac interludiorum prolixitas [“Three hours are quite sufficient and should not be extended further, so what I have written must be observed. The contrary practise has always been disliked by myself and other Superiors, who are also displeased by the frequency of ballets and the prolixity of interludes.”] The remark about interludes (which were not used at St. Omers) seems aimed specifically at the English College at Rome, where it was the practice to present the four Acts of a comic intermedium interleaved between the five Acts of a tragedy, and, indeed, the resulting entertainment package must have been quite long. But the observation about ballets indeed was pertinent to St. Omers, where mimetic ballets (tripudia) and similar play-within-play entertainments were sometimes included in plays (such as Act III of Simon’s own Leo Armenus, date unknown but very likely produced at St. Omers prior to Zeno.) So Simons may have thought it prudent to cut down his original text to ensure conformity with Blount’s instructions. Certainly, the marching-display is magnificently irrelevant to the play’s plot, and is just the sort of thing that would have annoyed Father Blount. Or, perhaps, A more faithfully records what was actually produced, after it had been discovered that St. Omers could not muster thirty extras capable of distinguishing their right feet from their left. But, I hasten to add, these suggestions are entirely speculative.
spacer7. Additionally, all four mss. contain a couple of sets of lines not present in the printed version, but only in A are these lines marked for deletion. This consideration, too, may suggest that A comes closer to representing the play in the form it was actually produced, These are:

After 832:

Hi te lacerti, sanguis hic venis calens,
Hic membris ardor, cuspis haec pulsum throno
Humi iacentem, perditum, rerum indigum,
Spe devolutum, rurus in solido stetit
Altoque vectum sortis antiquae gradu
Ultro locavit. Hanc tamen reddis vicem.
URB. Astraea, cernis? etc.

After 1724:

Diadema gravibus implet aerumnis caput,
Sceptrum timorem pariter atque odium ciet.
Purpura cruentam praecinit regum necem.
Solium cacumen inde perpraeceps ruas.
Regia venustis carcer obiicibus premit.
Procere, tot hostes, regna non reges amant.

Also, BCD add an extra pair of lines at the end of Basiliscus’ epilogue that are missing from A and the book text:

Hinc disce tellus pessimum auctori est scelus,
Ut aestuantem Caesarum expleret sitim.

spacer8. A distinctive feature of BCD is their idiosyncratic identification and numeration of scenes. Renaissance plays are usually divided into Acts and subdivided into scenes, each of which (as a scene was then defined) is precipitated either by a change in the grouping of characters or when the stage is momentarily cleared. As such, these scene-divisions often serve as a rather imperfect means of indicating entrances and exits, and no discontinuity of time or place is necessarily implied. A adheres to this convention, but BCD contain a radically different articulation whereby scene-changes are often acknowledged only at points where there is a palpable break in place or time, with a corresponding reduction in the number of scenes. If the diagnosis that all three of these manuscripts are written in the same hand is correct, then it is extremely likely that all are copies of a single exemplar in which this new scheme already existed. It seems, therefore, that someone chose to disregard Simons’ own articulation, represented by A, and superimposed his own, based on a more modern definition of a scene. But it seems dangerous to place very much weight on this issue: the difference exists only on paper, and a textual difference that might impress a scholar in his study would be quite invisible to spectators in a theater. Also, a certain ambiguity often hovers over the Renaissance system, since there are plenty of plays of the period where a new character enters midway through a scene and yet a new scene is not considered to start at that point. One has the impression that in practice the application of this system was not a matter of great concern. When the issue of scenic articulation is ignored, the difference between the A text and the BCD one is considerably less than appears at first sight.
spacer 9. As early as 1634, Simons had recast Zeno in a five-Act form. NOTE 8 At this time, one presumes, III.5 was added because, when he broke his original third Act into two new ones, the resultant third Act struck him as too skimpy. We have a perioche of the play pertaining to a performance at the English College at Rome in that year (a similar summary of a 1642 Lucerne performance appears to describe the play in the same form). At that time, Simons was teaching theology at Liège and we do not know why a play by him was performed at Rome. Perhaps there was a temporary dearth of playwriting talent at the English College so that the work of an outsider needed to be borrowed, to permit dramatic performances to continue as usual, or maybe Simons’ reputation as a dramatist had already spread beyond St. Omers and had spurred interest in his plays elsewhere. In any event, III.5 was now present, and in comparing these thumbnail descriptions with the printed text we again notice some discrepancies in the articulation and numeration of scenes, which exist for the same reason as in the BCD text. Again, the differences may look significant on paper, but a theater audience would be unaware of them. Comparison of both the mss. and the two printed versions shows that Simons was constantly tinkering with the text of his play, making minor adjustments in his texts. These 1634 discrepancies in scenic articulation probably signify nothing more than that Simons made occasional changes in his scenic divisions as well.
spacer10. Finally, we have the book versions. We have no direct evidence for the date of the English College performance which generated the 1648 printed text, but it would seem likely that this occurred soon after Simons’ appointment as Rector of that College in 1647. Simons’ minor revisions continued: comparison of the 1648 and 1656 book texts reveal word-substitutions and similar alterations of detail showing him subjecting his play to further polishing. Nonetheless, from first to last Simons never revised his overall conception of the play, and much of its verbiage remained intact.
spacer11. I should like to thank Dr. Martin Wiggins for his encouragement, for supplying me with photographic reproductions of the manuscripts and a helpful chart in which the scenic articulation of the various textual sources is graphically represented, and for sharing his views about the history of the text. I am also grateful to Prof. Karl Maurer for helping me understand the construction of Fortune’s wheel in Act II. An English translation of Leo Armenus has been published by Marcus A. Haworth S. J. in Louis J. Oldani S. J. and Philip C. Fischer S. J. (edd.), Jesuit Theater Englished (St. Louis, 1989) pp. 3 - 77. The translation provided here is original, although Haworth’s has been consulted at various points and a few of his felicities have been appropriated. Since I am a complete stranger to the parade ground, I find myself unable to comprehend the string of commands issued by centurion Castor at 912ff. and have used Father Haworth’s translation for that passage.


spacerNOTE 1 For the former play, see J. P. Vander Motten, Sir William Killigrew’s The Imperial Tragedy as a Transitional Play (Studia Germanica Gandensia xv, 1974). Joseph S. Johnston Jr., “Sir William Killigrew’s Revised Copy of his ‘Four New Plays’: Confirmation of his Claim to ‘The Imperial Tragedy,’”Modern Philology 74 (1976) 72 - 74, J. P. Vander Motten, “Another Annotated Copy of Sir William Killigrew’s Four New Playes,” 6th Ser. 8.1 (1986) 53 - 58, and John Horden and J. P. Vander Motten, “Five New Playes: Sir William Killigrew's Two Annotated Copies,” The Library 6th Ser 11.3 (September 1989) pp. 253 - 271. For the latter, cf. Bruce Merry, Encyclopedia of Modern Greek Literature (Westport, Conn., 2004), p. 419 and Stefanos Kaklamanis, “Σημειώσεις για τον Ζήνωνα,” Hellenika 62 (2021) pp. 43 - 104.

spacerNOTE 2 William H. McCabe S. J., An Introduction to the Jesuit Theater (St. Louis, 1983). McCabe's entire Part III is devoted to a study of Simons as the quintessential Jesuit playwright.

spacerNOTE 3 James A. Parente, Jr., “Tyranny and Revolution on the Baroque Stage: The Dramas of Joseph Simons,” Humanistica Lovaniensia 32 (1983) 309 - 324. Another useful modern study of Simons as a dramatist is Alison Shell, “Autodidacticism in English Jesuit Drama: the Writings and Career of Joseph Simons,”Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 13 (2001) 34 - 56.

spacerNOTE 4 This aspect of Simons’ art is discussed by McCabe in a chapter significantly entitled “Senecan Influence” (pp. 238 - 253). Admittedly, this is preceded by a chapter entitled “Miracle and Marvel” which discusses counterbalancing intrusions from the Upper World such as the appearance of the angels in Zeno IV.iv (pp. 222 - 237), and such celestial penetration into our world is a characteristic of Jesuit drama that lacks any important Elizabethan precedent.

spacerNOTE 5 McCabe p. 89.

spacerNOTE 6 Ib. p.104.

spacerNOTE 7 Ib. p. 105.

spacerNOTE 8 For the date of this performance, see also Suzanne Gossett, “Drama in the English College, Rome, 1591 - 1660,” English Literary Renaissance 3 (1973) p. 92.