The Mystification of George Chapman

The Mystification of George Chapman

Book Pages: 188 Illustrations: Published: September 1989

Author: Gerald Snare

Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

George Chapman (1559–1634) continues to cut a significant figure as a dramatist and translator of Homer, but his reputation as a poet has fared poorly. The common critical view has made him notorious as a writer of “difficult” poetry, to the point of being considered guilty of deliberate and wanton obscurity. Gerald Snare argues that the fact of the matter is quite the reverse: his supposed difficulty as well as the moral and philosophical imperatives that are assumed to dominate his work are in fact the construction of critics.
The Mystification of George Chapman is an argument against the accepted view of Chapman’s art. Snare examines Hero and Leander to determine the nature of its poetics and its relation to Mousaios and Marlowe; he reports on the imitative strategies of Ovid’s Banquet of Sense and declares that it deserves a reputation quite different from that of the most difficult poem in the English language; and he refers to Chapman’s own criticism found in the prefaces and notes often attached to his poems. The author finds Chapman’s poems were responses to the critical pressures inherent in adapting Greek, Latin, and contemporaneous English authors to his art, and he disputes the modern critical tendency to assume that doctrine, and not poetic practice, was the primary source of poetic energy in the Renaissance.


The Mystification of George Chapman is gracefully written and firmly argued. Snare carefully dismantles a prevailing critical tradition that has confused Chapman’s learning—which is real enough—with moral preoccupations and philosophical complexity. We are left instead with a portrait of the poet as a playful Ovidian writer, whose verse reveals unsuspected verbal density and elaboration. Snare illuminates the poems and restores them and Chapman to their proper tradition.” — David Quint


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