Reference > Cambridge History > The Drama to 1642, Part One > Early English Comedy > English adaptations of Textor’s Neo-classic Plays
  Jacke Jugeler Prodigal son plays  

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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.

V. Early English Comedy.

§ 16. English adaptations of Textor’s Neo-classic Plays.


But it was less in the classical than in the neo-classical drama that the earlier Tudor writers of comedy found their chief stimulus. Probably, the first of continental humanist playwrights (as recent research has shown  22 ) to influence the English stage was Ravisius Textor. His dialogue Thersites, written in Latin hexameters, was adapted into English in a version which must have been acted (as a reference to the birth of prince Edward proves) in October, 1537.  23  Thersites is an even more burlesque type of miles gloriosus than is Roister Doister. Arrayed by Vulcan in full armour, he boasts to the god and afterwards to his own mother of the mighty deeds that he will do. But at the sight of a snail  24  he is terror stricken, and calls upon his servants for help, though he plucks up courage enough, at last, to use club and sword, and to make the snail draw in his horns. While he is exulting over this feat, he is challenged by a soldier; whereupon, he first takes shelter behind his mother’s back, and afterwards runs away dropping his club and sword. The author of the English version shows remarkable dramatic instinct in his handling of this grotesquely farcical plot. The medley of metres that he uses is more appropriate to the bizarre incidents of the story than are the stately hexameters of Textor. He considerably expands the original text, vivifying the dialogue by the addition of many details that would appeal to an English audience. Thus, Mulciber tells Thersites not to fear “Bevis of Hampton, Colburne and Guy,” and the braggart challenges to combat “King Arthur and the Knightes of the Rounde Table,” and afterwards “Robin John and Little Hode”! These and similarly deft touches give a curious plausibility to the piece in its English guise. But there is loss rather than gain in the long irrelevant episode added towards the close, wherein Telemachus brings a letter from Ulysses, and is charmed “from the worms wild” by Thersites’s mother. Some of the relics that she invokes have a family likeness to those owned by Heywood’s two Pardoners. Heywood, indeed, may plausibly be regarded as the author of the adaptation, which, in its verve, raciness and, it must be added, indecency, is akin to his own work. In any case, the adapter of Thersites, whoever he be, is almost certainly responsible for the version of another of Textor’s dialogues, Juvenis, Pater, Uxor, of which a black letter fragment has recently been discovered and reprinted with the title The Prodigal Son.  25  The fragment contains the episode, greatly expanded from the original, in which the son, after his marriage against his father’s wish, tries to support himself and his wife by selling wood. In its metrical and verbal characteristics, and in its introduction of English allusions, as to “Oxynby” and “Cambrydge,” it bears the same impress, mutilated though it be, as the spirited version of Thersites.   29

Note 22. See, especially, Holthausen, F., “Studien zum älteren englischen Drama,” in Englische Studien, vol. XXXI, pp. 77–103. [ back ]
Note 23. G. C. Moore-Smith has recently shown (Fasciculus Joanni Willis Clark dicatus, p. 268) from an entry in the accounts of Queens’ college, Cambridge, that a dialogus of Textor was acted at the college in 1543. A later entry, pro picto clipeo quo miles generosus usus est in comoedia, suggests that the dialogue was Thersites, probably performed in the original Latin. [ back ]
Note 24. Called testudo by Textor, but apparently a snail (as in the English version), since it has horns. [ back ]
Note 25. See The Malone Society Collections, part I, pp. 27–30, and part II, pp. 106–7. [ back ]

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  Jacke Jugeler Prodigal son plays  
 
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