Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

Sir Giles Goosecap, Knight: George Chapman; Poetaster; and the Children of the Chapel

Academic journal article Medieval & Renaissance Drama in England

Sir Giles Goosecap, Knight: George Chapman; Poetaster; and the Children of the Chapel

Article excerpt

A.T the start of the seventeenth century two poet-playwrights each depicted a learned wordsmith who was dignified by his patron, and both creations appeared on the Blackfriars stage for the Children of the Chapel. In each case critics detect an authorial self-portrait. Jonson's self-staging as Horace in his Poetaster of 1601 now appears as a significant event, an assertive literary act that lies at the center of a late-Elizabethan debate over the proper function and bearing of the playwright.1 The implications of this Jonsonian act, though contested, are of great concern to scholars who seek to examine the nature of early modern dramatic authorship and the workings of early modern theatrical patronage.2 The Clarence of George Chapman's Sir Giles Goosecap, Knight, on the other hand, barely impinges on the academe. I shall contend that this play and this portrait - fascinating in their own right - may help us to understand the aims and the impact of Poetaster and to appreciate the tenor of the Chapel Children's repertoire.

It is now over a hundred years since T. M. Parrott published his essay "The Authorship of Sir Giles Goosecap, Knight" in Modern Philology.3 Parrott' s article - though principally addressing, as its title makes clear, a matter of attribution - sets out three scholarly claims about the inception of Sir Giles Goosecap. These were refined and supplemented by a fourth when, six years later, Parrott' s own edition of Chapman's comedies appeared.4 These claims flesh out the minimal information furnished in 1606 by the title page of the play's first quarto, that it was a "Comedie presented by the Chil: of the Chapell," and the further observation offered in the publisher's epistle for the second quarto of 1636, that the play's author was (by that time) dead.5

The four contentions are these. First, the play was first written between 1601 and 1603.6 Second, its composer was the poet and playwright George Chapman.7 Third, the play underwent a revision, the purpose of which was to excise the presentation of Lady Furnifall's drunkenness (a dependent claim is that this aspect of the play was satirical in intent, was aimed at a living person, and subsequently formed the basis for the depiction of Corteza in The Gentleman Usher).8 The fourth claim - the development of an idea first advanced by Frederick Fleay - is that the lovelorn and high-thinking character of Clarence was Chapman's own self-portrait.9

And with Parrott, scholarly enquiry largely came to an end. In this essay I will revisit his claims and explore their implications. In doing so, I will attempt three things. First, I shall look again at these longstanding assumptions about the play's inception, reviewing their interdependence and assessing the nature of the arguments that support them. Second, I shall argue that the contexts of the play's genesis may illuminate for us the purposes of its composition and may suggest something of the meanings that the play was likely to hold for its first readers and spectators. And third, I shall claim that by reflecting on Sir Giles Goosecap we may be in a better position to appreciate the intentions of Jonson as he drew Poetaster's Horace at around the same time and for the same company.

The first of the four scholarly claims concerns the play's date. Sir Giles Goosecap unmistakably alludes to Queen Elizabeth as a living person, for Lady Eugenia is described as "the best scholar of any woman, but one, in England."10 And "the reference to the late presence at Court of the 'greatest gallants in France'" (3.1.48) "seems to be an allusion to the famous embassy headed by Biron, September 5-14, 1601. "u On this assessment, the play's first staging must have occurred in the nineteen months from September 1601 to March 1603. Albert H. Tricomi, in reviewing the dates of Chapman's plays, accepts these limits, but suggests that Sir Giles Goosecap was "performed September 18, 1602, and thus, by inference, composed in the spring or summer ofthat year. …

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