George Chapman

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This article is about George Chapman the English literary figure; see George Chapman (murderer) for the Victorian poisoner of the same name.
George Chapman
George Chapman

George Chapman (ca. 1559 – May 12, 1634) was an English dramatist, translator, and poet. He was a classical scholar, and his work shows the influence of Stoicism. He has been identified as the Rival Poet of Shakespeare's Sonnets by William Minto, and as an anticipator of the Metaphysical Poets. He is perhaps best remembered for his translations of Homer's Iliad, Odyssey, and Batrachomyomachia.


  • 1 Life and Work
  • 2 Plays
  • 3 Poet and Translator
  • 4 Notes
  • 6 See also
  • 7 External links

Life and Work

Chapman was born at Hitchin in Hertfordshire. There is conjecture that he studied at Oxford but did not take a degree, though no reliable evidence affirms this. His earliest published works were the obscure philosophical poems The Shadow of Night (1593) and Ovid's Banquet of Sense (1595). The latter has been taken as a response to the erotic poems of the age such as Phillip Sydney's Astrophel and Stella and Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis. Chapman's life was troubled by debt and his inability to find a patron whose fortunes didn't decline. Chapman's erstwhile patrons Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex and the Prince of Wales, Prince Henry, each met their ends prematurely; the former was executed for treason by Elizabeth I, and the latter died of typhoid fever at the age of eighteen. Chapman's resultant poverty did not diminish his ability or his standing among his fellow Elizabethan poets and dramatists.


By the end of the 1590s he had become a successful playwright, working for Philip Henslowe and later for the Children of the Chapel. Among his comedies are An Humorous Day's Mirth (1597), All Fools (1599), Monsieur d'Olive (1606), The Gentleman Usher (1606) May Day (1611) and The Widow's Tears (1612). Chapman's comedies made use of Roman models; yet despite their grounding in New Comedy they were remarkably popular.

Grave of George Chapman in the Church of St. Giles, London. The tombstone is said to have been designed by Inigo Jones
Grave of George Chapman in the Church of St. Giles, London. The tombstone is said to have been designed by Inigo Jones

He also wrote one noteworthy play in collaboration. Eastward Ho (1605), written with Ben Jonson and John Marston, contained satirical references to the Scots which landed the authors in jail. Rollo Duke of Normandy (date uncertain), was written with Jonson, John Fletcher, and Philip Massinger.

Chapman's imprisonment as a result of the offence taken to Eastward Ho saw him volunatrily joined in prison by Jonson as a sign of solidarity. Both men renounced the offending line, denying authorship, implying that Marston was responsible for the injurious remark.

His friendship with Jonson, however, broke down, and some satiric, scathing lines, written sometime after the burning of Jonson's desk and papers, provide evidence of the rift. The poem lampooning Jonson's aggressive behaviour and self-believed superiority remained unpublished during Chapman's lifetime, and exists only in documents collected after his death.

His greatest tragedies took their subject matter from recent French history, the French ambassador taking offence on at least one occasion. These include Bussy D'Ambois (1607), The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron (1608), The Revenge of Bussy D'Ambois (1613) and The Tragedy of Chabot, Admiral of France (published 1639). The two Byron plays were banned from the stage—though when the Court left London the plays were performed in their original and unexpurgated forms by the Children of the Chapel.[1] His only work of classical tragedy, Caesar and Pompey (ca. 1613?) is generally regarded as his most modest achievement in the genre.

Other Plays
Chapman wrote one of the most successful masques of the Jacobean era, The Memorable Masque of the Middle Temple and Lincoln's Inn, performed on Feb. 15, 1613.

Chapman's authorship has been argued in connection with a number of anonymous plays of his era.[2] F. G. Fleay propsed that his first play was The Disguises. He has been put forward as the author, in whole or in part, of Sir Giles Goosecap, Fatal Love, A Yorkshire Gentlewoman And Her Son, Two Wise Men And All The Rest Fools, The Fountain Of New Fashions, and The Second Maiden's Tragedy.

Poet and Translator

Other poems by Chapman include: De Guiana, Carmen Epicum (1596), on the exploits of Sir Walter Raleigh; a continuation of Christopher Marlowe's unfinished Hero and Leander (1598); and Euthymiae Raptus; or the Tears of Peace (1609). Some have considered Chapman to be the "rival poet" of Shakespeare's Sonnets.

From 1598 he published his translation of the Iliad in installments. In 1616 the complete Iliad and Odyssey appeared in The Whole Works of Homer, the first complete English translation. The endeavour was to have been profitable: his patron, Prince Henry, to whom he was chief sewer (food taster, waiter), had promised him £300 on its completion plus a pension. However, Henry died in 1612 and his household neglected the commitment, leaving Chapman without either a patron or an income. In an extant letter Chapman petitions for the money owed him; his petition was ineffective. Chapman's translation of the Odyssey is written in iambic pentameter, whereas his Iliad is written in iambic heptameter. (The Greek original is in dactylic hexameter.) Chapman's translation of Homer was much admired by John Keats, notably in his famous poem On First Looking into Chapman's Homer, and also drew attention from Samuel Taylor Coleridge and T. S. Eliot.

Chapman also translated the Homeric Hymns, the Georgics Of Virgil, Hesiod's Works and Days, The Hero and Leander of Musaeus, and The Fifth Satire Of Juvenal.

Chapman died in London, having lived his latter years in poverty and debt.


  1. ^ Grace Ioppolo, Dramatists and Their Manuscripts in the Age of Shakespeare, Jonson, Middleton and Heywood, London, Routledge, 2006; p. 129.
  2. ^ Terence P. Logan and Denzell S. Smith, eds., The New Intellectuals: A Survey and Bibliography of Recent Studies in English Renaissance Drama, Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1977; pp. 155-60.


From All Fooles, II.1.170-178, by George Chapman:

I could have written as good prose and verse
As the most beggarly poet of 'em all,
Either Accrostique, Exordion,
Epithalamions, Satyres, Epigrams,
Sonnets in Doozens, or your Quatorzanies,
In any rhyme, Masculine, Feminine,
Or Sdrucciola, or cooplets, Blancke Verse:
Y'are but bench-whistlers now a dayes to them
That were in our times....

See also

  • The School of Night
  • Hero and Leander Online text
  • Five Chapman Plays Online.
  • .
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