- CHAPMAN, George
- (c. 1559-1634)
A complex poet and innovative playwright, George Chapman was also a respected scholar, a supporter of writers and artists, and, most famously, a translator of Homer. Chapman was the second son in a well-connected and prosperous family, but his fate was marked by a lifelong struggle against poverty. He studied for a while at Oxford and perhaps Cambridge, but never obtained a degree. Instead, he spent time in the service of Sir Ralph Sadler's household and took part in military campaigns in the Netherlands.His first published work, the allegorical poem The Shadow of the Night, dates from 1594. At that time, Chapman belonged to Sir Walter Raleigh's* circle of young erudites, whose interest in the occult earned them the nickname "the School of Night." His poem sparked a parodic literary war with William Shakespeare* and, later, Thomas Nashe.* Another tribute to Raleigh was Chapman's prefatory poem to an account of the explorer's Guiana expedition. Chapman also published a continuation of Christopher Marlowe's* unfinished Hero and Leander (1598)—a testimony to his friendship to the deceased poet, closely associated with Raleigh's group.By the time of this publication, Chapman was already respected as a dramatist. He wrote a number of comedies for the public stage, among them comedies of "humors," so called after the dominant passions that distorted human personality in a particular direction. Although the genre was first theorized by Ben Jonson,* it was Chapman's A Humorous Day's Mirth (1597) that inaugurated this comic fashion.During Chapman's later theater career, he found his talents more suited to the satirical tastes of the select audiences of the private theaters. With The Gentleman Usher (c. 1602) and Monsieur d'Olive (c. 1604), he introduced another new genre to the English stage, the romantic tragicomedy. He also wrote realistic urban comedies, like Eastward Ho! (1605), in collaboration with John Marston and Jonson, and bitter satires, like The Widow's Tears (c. 1605). The rest of his stage career was devoted to tragedies, based on his experience of the world of politics and knowledge of contemporaneous French history.Though they were extremely popular, Chapman's works got him into trouble. Some mocking allusions toward the Scots and the recent Virginia expeditions in Eastward Ho! landed him in jail. The Conspiracy and Tragedy of Charles, Duke of Byron (1608) roused the ire of the French ambassador, and Chapman barely escaped imprisonment. His poem Andromeda Liberata (1614), celebrating the marriage of his patron Robert Carr to Frances Howard, brought upon him accusations of slander against the earl of Essex. Even his monumental translation of Homer's works never earned him the financial reward promised to the poet by Prince Henry at his deathbed, but it did earn him a monument in his honor, fashioned by the famous architect Inigo Jones.BibliographyC. Spivack, George Chapman, 1967.Kirilka Stavreva
Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. Jo Eldridge Carney. 2001.