Reference > Cambridge History > The Drama to 1642, Part One > Early English Tragedy > The relations between Locrine and Selimus
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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume V. The Drama to 1642, Part One.

IV. Early English Tragedy.

§ 19. The relations between Locrine and Selimus.

The Lamentable Tragedie of Locrine (Newly set foorth, overseene and corrected. By W. S. 1595) is a play of unusual interest, not only because of the questions of authorship it raises, but because of its combination of the diverse streams of influence to which the drama was by this time subject. It adopts the dumb-shows of academic tragedy, with Até as chorus; it has two ghosts and a duplicated revenge motive; the opening scene is imitated from Gorboduc; and there are numerous transcripts from Seneca. 27  But it has also a large and lively comic element and a good deal of stage fighting, and it borrows freely from Kyd, Marlowe, Greene, Peele and Lodge, and from Spenser’s Complaints (entered in the Stationers’ register 29 December, 1590, and containing, in The Ruines of Time, a reference to the death of Sir Francis Walsingham, 6 April, 1590). The dramatist has been accused of borrowing from another play, very similar in style, The First part of the Tragicall raigne of Selimus (printed 1594); but, in this case, the obligation seems to be the other way. The contributions to this interesting controversy have been numerous and varied. Tieck marked a number of parallels between Locrine and Spenser’s Complaints in his copy of the fourth folio of Shakespeare; but these were first published, with a few additions by R. Brotanek, in 1900. 28  P. A. Daniel 29  had already drawn attention to the almost identical passages in Locrine and Selimus. Charles Crawford, who had undertaken the same investigation at the instigation of Grosart, charged the author of Locrine with wholesale “cribbing” from Selimus, supporting the accusation with an elaborate array of parallel passages. 30  Emil Koeppel’s attention was called to Crawford’s articles by a summary of them published in the Shakespeare Jahrbuch; and, after an examination of the text, he arrived at an exactly opposite conclusion, viz. that Selimus borrowed from Locrine. 31  The same conclusion had been reached independently by F. G. Hubbard of the university of Wisconsin, and has since been supported by him with further evidence in a paper to which he kindly gave the present writer access before its publication. It is pointed out that the comic scene in Locrine, 32  which is paralleled in Selimus, stands alone in the latter play, while, in Locrine, there is much other low humour of the same kind in connection with the same characters. Hubbard adds to this argument in favour of the priority of Locrine some important considerations with reference to the lines in both plays taken from Spenser’s Complaints. Locrine has many such lines not found in Selimus, but (with the possible exception of a single line) Selimus has nothing from the Complaints not found in Locrine. Moreover, one of these borrowed lines in Selimus is followed by five other lines not found in the Complaints, but found in Locrine. A consideration of the whole passage in Locrine and its relation to the parallel lines in Selimus and the Complaints bears out the contention that the borrowings from the Complaints in Selimus were made through Locrine. 33  The following parallels in the two plays show that the author of the later drama outheroded Herod in the current practice of plagiarism: Locrine, 1303–6:
Where I may damne, condemne and ban my fill,
The heavens, the hell, the earth, the aire, the fire,
And utter curses to the concave skie,
Which may infect the aiery regions.
  Selimus, 1803–5:
Now Bajazet will ban another while,
And utter curses to the concave skie,
Which may infect the regions of the ayre.
  Locrine, 793–6:
And but thou better use thy bragging blade,
Then thou doest rule thy overflowing toong,
Superbious Brittaine, thou shalt know too soone
The force of Humber and his Scithians.
  Selimus, 2457–60:
But thou canst better use thy bragging blade,
Then thou canst rule thy overflowing tongue,
Soone shalt thou know that Selims mightie arme
Is able to overthrow poore Tonombey.
  All this does not help us much as to the authorship of the two plays, except negatively. It seems fairly certain that they were not written by the same man, for it is unlikely that even an Elizabethan dramatist would repeat himself to the extent indicated above, and, as Crawford pointed out, Selimus has numerous borrowings from The Faerie Queene, while Locrine has none. The light thrown on the respective dates of the two plays is more significant. Locrine, in its present shape, cannot have been completed before 1591, when Spenser’s Complaints was published. Subsidiary proof of this is found by Hubbard in the line near the end of act V, “One mischief follows on another’s neck,” apparently copied from Tancred and Gismund (pub. 1591, with prefatory letter dated 8 August, 1591)—“One mischief brings another on his neck”—a line not given in the earlier MS. version of the play. Selimus was later than Locrine, from which it copied, and, as Greene died on 3 September, 1592, this brings the issue of his authorship of the play within narrow limits. The dates also disprove Crawford’s theory that Selimus was Marlowe’s first play.   31

Note 27. Cf. the passage in the second scene beginning (ll. 68–9)
But what so ere the fates determined have,
It lieth not in us to disannull,

with Oedipus 1001–16: Fatis agimur: cedite fatis. [ back ]

Note 28Beiblatt zur Anglia, vol. XI, pp. 202–7. [ back ]
Note 29. In a letter to The Athenæum of 16 April, 1898, p. 512. [ back ]
Note 30. In a series of papers contributed to Notes and Queries in 1901 (Ser. IX, vol. VII). [ back ]
Note 31. Koeppel’s paper was published in Jahrbuch for 1905 (vol XLI, pp. 193–200). See, also, Churton Collins, J., The Plays and Poems of Robert Greene, vol. I, pp. 61–67; Tucker Brooke C. F., The Shakespeare Apocrypha, pp. xvi–xx; Malone Society Collections (1908), part II, pp. 108–110. As to Locrine, cf. post, Chap. X, and as to Selimus, Chap. VI. [ back ]
Note 32. Act IV, sc. 2. [ back ]
Note 33The Ruines of Rome, 149–160:
Then gan that Nation, th’ earths new giant brood,
*To dart abroad the thunder bolts of warre,
*And, beating downe these walls with furious mood
Into her mothers bosome, all did marre;
To th’ end that none, all were it Jove his sire,
Should boast himselfe of the Romane Empire.
Like as whilome the children of the earth
*Heapt hils on hils to scale the starrie skie,
And fight against the gods of heavenly berth,
Whiles Jove at them his thunderbolts let flie;
All suddenly with lightning overthrowne,
*The furious squadrons downe to ground did fall.

(The lines copied are marked with an asterisk.)

Locrine, 800–811:
How bravely this yoong Brittain Albanact
†Darteth abroad the thunderbolts of warre,
Beating downe millions with his furious moode;
And in his glorie triumphs over all,
†Mo[w]ing the massive squadrants of the ground;
†Heape hills on hills, to scale the starrie skie,
†When Briareus armed with an hundreth hands
†Floong forth an hundreth mountains at great Jove,
†And when the monstrous giant Monichus
†Hurld mount Olimpus at great Mars his targe,
†And shot huge cædars at Minervas shield.

(The lines copied in Selimus are marked with a dagger.)

Selimus, 415, 416:
Ide dart abroad the thunderbolts of warre,
And mow their hartlesse squadrons to the ground.

Selimus, 2423–9:
As those old earth-bred brethren, which once
Heape hill on hill to scale the starrie skie,
When Briareus arm’d with a hundreth hands,
Flung forth a hundreth mountaines at great Jove,
And when the monstrous giant Monichus
Hurld mount Olimpus at great Mars his targe,
And darted cedars at Minervas shield.
[ back ]

  The True Chronicle History of King Leir Diminishing attention paid to classical models and increasing appeal to popular sentiment and national tradition; the legacy of the Classics in Tragedy  
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