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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.

II. Chapman, Marston, Dekker

§ 3. Didactic nature of Chapman’s Poetry

We are told that Chapman was a student of the classics who made little progress in philosophy; but his earliest works exhibit him rather as a metaphysician in verse than as a disciple of the canons of ancient art. Passages in The Shadow of Night (1594) and in Ovid’s Banquet of Sauce containing A coronet for his Mistress Philosophy, The amorous Zodiac and other poems (1595), may be praised with justice; but they will never be widely read. In the dedication of the second volume he disclaims all ambition to please the vulgar—“The profane multitude I hate, and only consecrate my strange poems to those searching spirits, whom learning hath made noble and nobility sacred.” Yet, even among “searching spirits,” some reluctance to return to poems in the main so warped and obscure as these may well be found. Better work was to come. In his continuation of Marlowe’s Hero and Leander (1598), Chapman not unworthily completed an incomparable fragment, and, in The Tears of Peace (1609), dedicated to his young patron, prince Henry, he reaches his happiest moods as an original poet. By Andromache Liberata (1614), he added nothing to his reputation. The subject was an unfortunate one—the marriage of the earl of Somerset and Frances Howard, the divorced lady Essex—and was treated in so enigmatic a manner as to make necessary a subsequent prose justification of its aims and intentions. Distinction of mind and intellectual vigour are apparent in all Chapman’s work; but, though he may occasionally soar, he never sings, and his finest verses possess gnomic and didactic, rather than lyric, quality. When it emerges from the entanglements amid which the current of his reflections is usually split, his poetry can be as limpid as it is stately. But not often do we hear such music as when he tells us that Fletcher’s Faithfull Shepheardesse

  • Renews the golden world and holds through all
  • The holy laws of homely Pastoral,
  • Where flowers and founts and nymphs and semi-gods
  • And all the Graces find their old abodes.