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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

§ 9. Perfidus Hetruscus

Not long after the production of Richardus Tertius, a number of Senecan plays dealing with more remote and exotic historical subjects were performed. Solymannidae, an anonymous tragedy, was acted, at one of the universities, in March, 1581/2. It treats of the murder of Mustapha, son of Sultan Solyman II, at the instigation of his ambitious step-mother Rhode, who wishes the throne for her own son Selymus. Another Senecan tragedy on an oriental historical theme Tomumbeius, by George Salterne of Bristol, deals with the tragic fate of Tuman-bey, who became sultan of Egypt in 1516. Its dedication of Elizabeth proves that it was written during her reign; but, otherwise, its date and place of performance are unknown. Even more uncertain is the Provenance of the pseudo-historical Senecan tragedy Perfidus Hetruscus, the plot of which has points of contact with Hamlet. On the death of Sorastanus, duke of Tuscany, his brother Pandolphus seeks to gain the throne by conspiring against his nephews Columbus and Lampranus. His chief agent, at first, is a Jesuit Grimalfi (an indication that the author was a strong protestant), who, however, is slain by the ghost of Sorastanus. Through the further machinations of Pandolphus, Columbus is banished by Lampranus; but the ghost of Sorastanus appears to him in exile, and bids him return to kill his uncle. He obeys the command and fights a duel with Pandolphus, who sends for a poisoned cup of wine. The traitor himself drinks by mistake from the poisoned cup, but recovers, and afterwards strangles Columbus, and poisons Lampranus during his sleep. He succeeds to the vacant dukedom, but dies after donning the crown which he himself had poisoned. Preserved in a single manuscript, and never printed, this play has not attracted the attention to which its plot entitles it. It is of greater interest than the much better known Roxana, by William Alabaster, of Trinity college, Cambridge, acted about 1592. This is a close version, with most of the names altered, and with no indication of its source, of an Italian play, La Dalida, by Luigi Groto, published in 1567. Alabaster lays the scene in Bactira; and the plot, which centres round Roxana, a princess of the imaginary royal house, exceeds even the usual measure of horrors in a Senecan tragedy. Doubtless, this characteristic (in consequence of which “a gentlewoman fell distracted” at the performance), together with the elegant Latinity of the play, gained for it the popularity of which an echo remains in Dr. Johnson’s laudatory allusion to it in his Life of Milton.