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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.

IV. Early English Tragedy

§ 4. Early English Tragicomedies

The first stage of evolution, as stated above, represented in Italy by the drammi mescidati, has its counterpart in England in tragicomedies such as Richard Edwardes’s Damon and Pithias (printed 1571, licensed 1566, and probably acted at Christmas, 1564), John Pickeryng’s Horestes (printed 1567), R. B.’s Apius and Virginia (printed 1575) and Thomas Preston’s Cambises (licensed 1569–70). The first makes a rude attempt to copy Seneca’s stichomythia and borrows a passage from Octavia; the last mentions Seneca’s name in the prologue, but all alike have nothing classical about them beyond the subject. Damon and Pithias and Apius and Virginia are described on the title-pages of the early editions as “tragical comedies,” Cambises as “a lamentable tragedy”; but none of them has any real tragic interest—not even Horestes, which is, perhaps, the dullest of the series. Damon and Pithias shows a certain advance in its lack of abstract characters; but the work of Edwardes, if we may judge of it by what is extant, was overrated by his contemporaries. The other three plays are closely connected with moralities. In Apius and Virginia, if we include Haphazard the Vice, half the characters are abstractions. About the same proportion holds in Cambises, where the Vice Ambidexter enters “with an old capcase on his head, an old pail about his hips for harness, a scummer and a potlid by his side, and a rake on his shoulder”; he is seconded in the usual stage business of singing, jesting and fighting by three ruffians, Huff, Ruff and Snuff. In Horestes, too, the abstract characters are numerous; the play opens with the conventional “flouting” and “thwacking” of Rusticus and Hodge by the Vice, and closes with the conventional moralising by Truth and Duty. Though the literary value of these plays is slight, their obvious appeal to popular favour gives them a certain interest. Horestes and Cambises were evidently intended for performance by small companies, the “players names” (31 in number) of the former being “devided for VI to playe,” and the 38 parts of the latter for eight; Damon and Pithias has been convincingly identified by W. Y. Durand with the “tragedy” performed before the queen at Whitehall by the Children of the Chapel at Christmas, 1564, and the edition of 1571 is provided with a prologue “somewhat altered for the proper use of them that hereafter shall have occasion to plaie it, either in Private, or open Audience”; the stage direction in Apius and Virginia, “Here let Virginius go about the scaffold,” shows that the author had the public presentation of his play in mind.