CHAPMAN, GEORGE (? 1559-1634), English poet and dramatist, was born near Hitchin. The inscription on the portrait which forms the frontispiece of The Whole Works of Homer states that he was then (1616) fifty-seven years of age. Anthony à Wood (Athen. Oxon. ii. 575) says that about 1574 he was sent to the university, "but whether first to this of Oxon, or that of Cambridge, is to me unknown; sure I am that he spent some time in Oxon, where he was observed to be most excellent in the Latin and Greek tongues, but not in logic or philosophy." Chapman's first extant play, The Blind Beggar of Alexandria, was produced in 1596, and two years later Francis Meres mentions him in Palladis Tamia among the "best for tragedie" and the "best for comedie." Of his life between leaving the university and settling in London there is no account. It has been suggested, from the detailed knowledge displayed in The Shadow of Night of an incident in Sir Francis Vere's campaign, that he saw service in the Netherlands. There are frequent entries with regard to Chapman in Henslowe's diary for the years 1598-1599, but his dramatic activity slackened during the following years, when his attention was chiefly occupied by his Homer. In 1604 he was imprisoned with John Marston for his share in Eastward Ho, in which offence was given to the Scottish party at court. Ben Jonson voluntarily joined the two, who were soon released. Chapman seems to have enjoyed favour at court, where he had a patron in Prince Henry, but in 1605 Jonson and he were for a short time in prison again for "a play." Beaumont, the French ambassador in London, in a dispatch of the 5th of April 1608, writes that he had obtained the prohibition of a performance of Biron in which the Queen of France was represented as giving Mademoiselle de Verneuil a box on the ears. He adds that three of the actors were imprisoned, but that the chief culprit, the author, had escaped. Among Chapman's patrons was Robert Carr, earl of Somerset, to whom he remained faithful after his disgrace. Chapman enjoyed the friendship and admiration of his great contemporaries. John Webster in the preface to The White Devil praised "his full and heightened style," and Ben Jonson told Drummond of Hawthornden that Fletcher and Chapman "were loved of him." These friendly relations appear to have been interrupted later, for there is extant in the Ashmole MSS. an "Invective written by Mr. George Chapman against Mr. Ben Jonson." Chapman died in the parish of St. Giles in the Fields, and was buried on the 12th of May 1634 in the churchyard. A monument to his memory was erected by Inigo Jones.
The most notable examples of his tragic work are comprised in the series of plays taken, and adapted sometimes with singular licence, from the records of such part of French history as lies between the reign of Francis I and the reign of Henry IV, ranging in date of subject from the trial and death of Admiral Chabot to the treason and execution of Marshal Biron. The two plays bearing as epigraph the name of that famous soldier and conspirator are a storehouse of lofty thought and splendid verse, with scarcely a flash or sparkle of dramatic action. The one play of Chapman's whose popularity on the stage survived the Restoration is Bussy d'Ambois--a tragedy not lacking in violence of action or emotion, and abounding even more in sweet and sublime interludes than in crabbed and bombastic passages. His rarest jewels of thought and verse detachable from the context lie embedded in the tragedy of Caesar and Pompey, whence the finest of them were first extracted by the unerring and unequalled critical genius of Charles Lamb. In most of his tragedies the lofty and labouring spirit of Chapman may be said rather to shine fitfully through parts than steadily to pervade the whole; they show nobly altogether as they stand, but even better by help of excerpts and selections. But the excellence of his best comedies can only be appreciated by a student who reads them fairly and fearlessly through, and, having made some small deductions on the score of occasional pedantry and occasional indecency, finds in All Fools, Monsieur d'Olive, The Gentleman Usher, and The Widow's Tears a wealth and vigour of humorous invention, a tender and earnest grace of romantic poetry, which may atone alike for these passing blemishes and for the lack of such clear-cut perfection of character and such dramatic progression of interest as we may find only in the yet higher poets of the English heroic age.
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