Puttenham1 in his Arte of English Poesie 1589 attempted to catalogue the grammatical usages or ‘figures’ as they might be used in in the writing of poetry or drama in English. With these ‘figures’ he gives examples to show their usages in verse, and also in dramatic poetry. With dramatic poetry, the first point to be considered is that writing for the stage was considered beyond the social pale for any aristocrat; no names of dramatists are included as authors of any of the excerpts or references employed by Puttenham. For Latin he introduces and versifies his own free translations. Thus he purloins without acknowledgement the Medea of the pioneer Latin dramatist Ennius and puts the nurse’s opening speech into the mouth of Medea herself: Woe the mountain that the mast bare Which was the first causer of my care.3,17 This displays a faint recollection of the speech, as accurately translated: Would that the firwood timbers had not fallen to earth hewn by axes in a Pelian grove [on mount Pelion]; and that thereupon no prelude have been made to begin the ship. . . . For thus never would my misled mistress sick at heart, smitten by savage love, have set foot outside her home.2 In the same way he treats Gager’s Latin Dido 1583: Hie thee, and by the wild waves and wind Seek Italy and realms for thee to reign. If piteous gods have power amidst the main On ragged rocks thy penance thou may find3,20 Puttenham is clearly writing from memory, as an accurate translation3 reads: Go follow the winds, seek your kingdom by crossing the waves, an ocean to the land promised to you by the fates. If prayers and entreaties have any power, I am confident you will pay the penalty for this outrage, grounded on shoals and reefs, or bobbing your head among your smashed hulls crying for me . . . The first couplet is reasonably accurate but the second is sketchy indeed. While Puttenham mentions Lord Buckhurst for Tragedy and Oxford for ‘comedy and interlude’, he affixes neither to any examples. The only exception he makes is for himself where he quotes (or purports to quote) from his own plays. These quotations are the only bits from the plays which survive, and a cynic might think that the plays might not otherwise exist: From Ginecocrantia a comedy, four lines; from Lusty London an ‘Interlude’, two quotations of four lines each; and from The Wooer, another ‘interlude’, two quotations, one of two lines and one of four lines. Apart from his long poem to the Queen Partheniades, there are perhaps a dozen more quotations and references from other works, all otherwise totally lost. In addition to illustrate his tropes and figures he writes snippets of self-identifying poetry and some others without any self-identifying label. These passages are left anonymous, but the way they are used may well make us suspect that they are Puttenham’s self-produced examples. The most important point is that all these references must be from works that existed in 1589: Puttenham is the taker and the exemplar, save that Shakespeare is generally considered to begin writing after the publication of Arte, yet there is a quantity of references in Puttenham that are suspiciously Shakespearean. The only conclusion must be that, for instance, Saintsbury must be seriously misled when he writes: When a man writes . . . A good piece of prose [I add let alone dramatic verse], he does not say to himself, ‘Now I shall throw in some hyperbaton; now we shall exhibit a little anadiplosis; this is the occasion, surely for a passage of zeugma’. He writes as the spirit moves him and the way art leads.4 Some will naturally suggest that it follows that Shakespeare might well have consulted Arte as he wrote and revised the plays. Footnotes 1 Puttenham: I am not concerned with questions of the authorship of Puttenham. My references to Arte are from Frank Whigham and Wayne A. Rebhorn (eds), The Art of English Poesy by George Puttenham: A Critical Edition (Ithaca, NY, 2007). Citations are given by Book and Chapter, e.g. 3,17. 2 Ennius as translated by E. H. Warmington, Remains of Old Latin (Cambridge, MA, 1935). 3 Gager: HYPERTEXT Edition by Dana F. Sutton (University of California, Irvine). 4 George Saintsbury: A History of English Criticism (London, 1922), 33–4. © The Author(s) (2018). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes and Queries – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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