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George Chapman

(1559—1634) poet and playwright


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(?1559–1634),

born near Hitchin, in Hertfordshire. After more than a decade as a professional playwright he turned to his major work of translating Homer, completed in 1616. Chapman's earliest published works include non‐dramatic poems: The Shadow of Night (1594); a pair of complex Neoplatonic poems; and his completion of Marlowe's Hero and Leander (1598). Seven comedies are extant: The Blind Beggar of Alexandria (1598), An Humorous Day's Mirth (1599), All Fools (1605), The Gentleman Usher and Monsieur D'Olive (1606), May‐Day (1611), and The Widow's Tears (1612). He collaborated with Jonson and John Marston (1576–1634) on a further comedy, Eastward Hoe, in 1605, which led to a short period of imprisonment for Jonson and Chapman because of its anti‐Scottish satire. The tragedies consist of two two‐part plays, Bussy D'Ambois (1607) and The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois (1613), The Conspiracy of Charles, Duke of Byron and The Tragedy of Byron (1608), and one single play, Caesar and Pompey (1631). The Tragedy of Chabot (1639) appears to be a Chapman tragedy revised by James Shirley. Chapman also collaborated with Fletcher, Jonson, and Massinger in writing The Bloody Brother (c.1616, pub. 1639). The hasty publication of the first of his Homeric translations, Sevaen Bookes of the Iliades of Homere (1598), marked the earl of Essex's embarkation for Ireland; 12 books of the Iliad and Odyssey were published together as The Whole Works of Homer; Prince of Poetts (1616). Jonson praised Chapman as second only to himself as a writer of masques. Chapman was long the favourite candidate for the ‘rival poet’ referred to in Shakespeare's Sonnets. In more recent times Chapman has been seen as a crucial figure in a secret society of freethinkers called the School of Night, of which Marlowe, Harriot, and Matthew Roydon were also members. Though there are links between Chapman and all these figures, it is not now thought that they took such a formal shape. As poet and dramatist, Chapman is most often seen as a genius manqué, whose learning and energy were never sufficently disciplined. Perhaps the only lines of Chapman's poetry that are still well known are these from Bussy D'Ambois:

Man is a torch borne in the wind; a dream But of a shadow, summ'd with all his substance.


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