Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

Gismond of Salerne: An Elizabethan and Cupidean Tragedy

Academic journal article Yearbook of English Studies

Gismond of Salerne: An Elizabethan and Cupidean Tragedy

Article excerpt

Gismond of Salerne, written by five gentlemen of the Inner Temple and performed before Elizabeth I at Greenwich in 1566-67, has received very little critical attention. This chapter argues for the play's engagement with the Elizabethan succession, maintaining that its Cupidean revenge plot warns against a monarch's mistreatment of his/her heirs. Moreover, its anatomization of the lovesick, female body potentially alludes to that of Elizabeth herself. Finally, Gismond will be seen to have invented 'Cupidean tragedy', a dramatic form that would exert a powerful influence upon the more familiar love tragedy.

**********

CUPID   But now the world, not seing in these dayes
        Such present proues of myne almighty power,
        Disdaines my name, and seketh sondry wayes
        To conquer and deface me everie houre.
        My name supprest to raise againe therfore,
        And in this age myne honor and renome
        By mighty act intending to restore,
        Down to the earth in spite now am I come

        (Gismond of Salerne, i. 1. 49-56) (1)

The neglect that motivated Cupid to fashion the tragic events dramatized in Gismond of Salerne has subsequently been extended to the play itself. A Senecanstyle love tragedy, written by five gentlemen of the Inner Temple and performed before Elizabeth I at Greenwich in 1566-67, (2) Gismond of Salerne has been reduced to the status of a dramatic precedent (and this largely by default). In the absence of the Romeo and Juliet that Arthur Broke referred to in 1562, it is the first English love tragedy. (3) In the absence of this Ur-Romeo, it is also the first English play based on an Italian novella. Yet there has been very little consideration of Gismond's theatrical and literary interest in its own right. (4) There is no question about the popularity of its source. The Gismond narrative, retold as the first novella of Day 4 of Boccaccio's Decameron, inspired five tragedies in Italy between 1508 and 1614, including the first vernacular tragedy by Antonio Cammelli, Filostrato e Panfila (Ferrara, 1499). (5) In England, between 1532 and 1623, it produced another five tragedies, as well as verse and prose versions, detailed below:

1532 Guystarde and Sygysmonde by William Walter (narrative poem)

1566 'Tancredi Prince of Salerne', no. 39 in William Painter's The Palace of Pleasure, vol. 1 (prose narrative)

1566-67 Gismond of Salerne (play), performed at Greenwich, also MSS

1586-87 Tancred by Henry Wotton (play, now lost), performed at Queen's College, Oxford

1591 Tancred and Gismund by Robert Wilmot (play), printed, re-performed?

1597 The statly tragedie of Guistard and Sismond (narrative poem) in Certaine Worthye Manuscript Poems of great Antiquitie published by J.S.

1602 A Country Tragaedye in Vacunium or Cupid's Sacrifice by William Percy (play), MSS, performed privately? (6)

1623 Ghismonda (anonymous play, lost) (7)

That Gismond of Salerne was a particular success is suggested not only by the fact that one of the original authors, Robert Wilmot, chose to revise and publish the play approximately twenty-four years after its original performance (as Tancred and Gismund), but also by the testimony of William Webbe that, after its initial success, 'by the rare and bewtifull perfections appearing in him, hitherto [he has] never wanted great favorers, and loving preservers'. (8) Nevertheless, for modern critics Gismond of Salerne remains a 'pre-Shakespearean' embarrassment: 'It seems almost sacrilege to suggest such a pitiful predecessor as this for Romeo and Juliet.' (9)

This discussion will argue that Gismond of Salerne deserves more sustained critical attention, and for three reasons. First, it is distinctly Elizabethan, by which I mean that it required the presence of Elizabeth I (literal or imagined) to attain its full political and theatrical meaning. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.