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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VI. The Drama to 1642, Part Two.

XII. University Plays

§ 18. Narcissus

The last decade of Elizabeth’s reign, which was very fruitful in Cambridge plays, has left few memorials of dramatic activity at Oxford, which seems to have been more dependent on the external stimulus of royal visits. But, at St. John’s college, which, from the beginning of the seventeenth century, rivals Christ Church as a centre of academic stagecraft, there was produced in 1602/3 the “twelfe night merriment,” Narcissus. The prologue declares that “the play wee play is Ovid’s own Narcissus,” and it is true that the plot is taken from book III of the Metamorphoses. But the story is considerably expanded and treated throughout in a burlesque vein. Thus, Tiresias, “the not seeing prophet,” adorned “in byshoppes rochett,” is introduced to tell the fortune of the beautiful youth from the “table” of his hand; and the trickery of the mischievous nymph Echo leads to mock tragedy. Throughout, the author shows a remarkable command of out-of-the-way phrases and grotesque rimes, and, in its farcical treatment of a classical legend, Narcissus is curiously akin to the interlude of Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.