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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

§ 20. Daniel’s The Queenes Arcadia

The success of the performances seems, however, to have been scarcely on a level with the magnitude of the preparations. On the first evening, a pastoral play Alba was presented. “In the acting thereof they brought in five or six men almost naked which were much disliked by the Queen and Ladies.” It needed the entreaties of the chancellors of both universities to prevent the king leaving “before half the comedy had been ended.” On the following night, James saw Ajax Flagellifer. James would have done well to imitate his predecessor in countermanding, as he “was very weary before he came thither, but much more wearied by it, and spoke many words of dislike.” Nor did matters fare much better on the third evening, when Vertumnus sive Annus Recurrens, by Matthew Gwinne of St. John’s, was performed on the Christ Church stage. Though it was well acted by a company consisting chiefly of St. John’s men, the king fell asleep in the middle. But the play produced on the following evening “made amends for all.” It was The Queenes Arcadia of Samuel Daniel, memorable as the first English pastoral drama written for the academic stage. Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido had been acted a short time previously at King’s college, Cambridge, in a Latin version, Pastor Fidus. Parthenia, a similar version of Luigi Groto’s Pentimento Amoroso, preserved in manuscript at Emmanuel college, Cambridge, is of uncertain date. Daniel, as was natural, followed the general lines of Italian pastoral drama; but the statement of a contemporary Cambridge visitor to Oxford, that “it was drawn out of Pastor Fidus,” is misleading. So far as Daniel’s play owes a direct debt to a foreign original, it is to Tasso’s Aminta rather than to Guarini’s work, while the conception of the plot, though not of a number of episodes, must be put down to the English poet’s own credit. It deals with the entanglements and evils produced in Arcadia by the machinations of sophisticated representatives of the outer world. Chief among these are Colax, “a corrupted traveller,” and Techne, “a subtle wench of Corinth,” who, by their nefarious schemes, delude the shepherd Amyntas into the belief that Cloris, whom he wooes in vain, is a wanton. In despair, he tries to take his own life, but, in an episode imitated from Aminta, is rescued by Cloris, whose heart has, at last, been touched by love. The arch evil-doers, after plotting not only against the hero and heroine but against other Arcadian lovers, are banished for ever. Subordinate, but more amusing, mischief-makers are Lincus, a pettifogging lawyer, and Alcon, a quack doctor, into whose mouth is put a description of tobacco as

  • a certaine herbe wrapt up in rowles
  • From th’ Island of Nicosia where it growes:
  • ·······
  • And this he said a wondrous vertue had,
  • To purge the head, and cure the great catarre.
  • This, of course, was intended to tickle the ears of the author of A Counterblaste to Tobacco. But the permanent attraction of Daniel’s play lies not in its topical references or even in its plot and characterisation, but in the lyrical sweetness of its verse and the limpid grace of its diction and imagery. Its production at Christ Church is amongst the most memorable records of the Oxford stage. Probably, however, none of the Christ Church plays gratified the king so much as a more informal open-air interlude which took place in front of St. John’s college on the day of his entry into Oxford. Three young scholars, dressed as nymphs, suddenly appeared in his path. They announced that they were the sibyls who had formerly foretold to Banquo the rule of his descendants, and that they had come again to prophesy all happiness to James and the perpetuity of Banquo’s stock upon the British throne. They then saluted the king in turn with a triple salve, and greeted similarly the queen and prince Henry. James “did very much applaude” the “conceipt,” which was devised by Matthew Gwinne, and it is possible that some account of it reached the ears of Shakespeare and suggested the writing of Macbeth in the following year.