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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

V. Early English Comedy

§ 21. Supposes

It is not a little singular that Gascoigne, who perverted a type of drama imported from northern Europe by exaggerating its didactic element, should, nine years before, have been the first to present in English dress a characteristic Italian comedy of intrigue. His supposes, acted at Gray’s inn in 1566 (and at Trinity college, Oxford, in 1582), is a version of Ariosto’s Gli suppositi, written first in prose, and performed at Ferrara in 1509, and afterwards rewritten in verse. Ariosto’s play is a masterly adaptation of the form and types of Roman drama to the conditions of sixteenth century Italy, and it is one of the earliest regular comedies in a European vernacular. Gascoigne appears to have utilised both the prose and the verse editions; but his translation is throughout in prose. His use of this medium for dramatic purposes makes supposes, translation though it be, a landmark in the history of English comedy. And, though his version, judged by Elizabethan canons, is, in the main, an exceptionally close one, he does not hesitate to substitute a familiar native phrase or allusion, where a literal rendering would be obscure, or to add a pithy proverb or quip to round off a speech. supposes has thus a curiously deceptive air of being an original work, and its dialogue has a polish and lucidity which anticipate the kindred qualities of Lyly’s dramatic prose. Its enduring reputation is attested not only by the revival at Oxford in 1582, but by its adaptation about 1590, with considerable changes and in verse form, as the underplot of the anonymous Taming of a Shrew. When Shakespeare remodelled the anonymous play, he gave the underplot a closer resemblance to its earlier shape in supposes, though he clung to verse instead of reverting to prose.