Julian the Apostate

Anon. (1596)

Historical Records

Performance Records

Playlists in Philip Henslowe's diary

Fol. 15v (Greg 1.30):
ye 29 of aprell 1596
. . . ne ——
Res at Julian the apostata . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
ye 1[9]0 of maye 159[5]6 . . . mr pd Res at Julian apostata . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xxvjs
ye 20 of maye 1596 Res at Julyan apostata . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiiijs

Theatrical Provenance

Performed as a new play by the Admiral's men at the Rose playhouse on 29 April 1596 and twice more thereafter.

Probable Genre(s)

Classical history (Harbage)

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Robert Albott reports that "Iulian the Apostate, at his death cast vp his blood into the ayre, crying Vicisti Galilaee" (3), and that he "tooke away all beneuolences and contributions to schooles of learning, to the end the chyldren might not be instructed in the liberal Arts, but brought vp in ignorance" (56). This reluctant acknowledgement that Christianity was to become the dominant religion of the Roman empire is a point frequently related in references to Julian. Henry Burton notes: "And as Iulian the Apostate, pulling the mortall dart out of his bowels, though therein he saw and felt the hand of Divine revenge, yet he vttered his confession thereof with the voyce of blasphemy, Vicisti Galilaee: and so breathed out his blasphemous spirit in a desperat impenitency" (74). Stephen Jerome similarly observes how "as you haue heard the godly praying, or praysing and blessing GOD, speaking graciously, sending out their spirits ioyfully, and dying comfortably: so prophane men dye eyther carelesly and blockishly," and relates that Julian the Apostate "in his last act of life, from his infected lungs sent out venome against Christ, calling him in dirision, victorious Galilean" (67-68). He also provides some early modern context for how Julian was perceived, citing "the examples of Pharaoh, Herod, Nebuchadnezzar, Holoferns, of Iulian the Apostate, Ualerian, Antiochus, Nero, Domitian, Decitis, Dioclesian, Baiazt, with infinite others," as evidence that "sinne alwayes brought shame, and that Gods dishonour brought Gods disfauour, death to the body, damnation to the soule" (244). (It may be of interest that the Admiral's men also had a Nebuchadnezzar play in the 1596 season).

Julian is also compared with Herod, as wise men whose behaviour is not particularly wise: "Yet is it not all kinde of learning or wisedome which is availeable for the true happinesse of a King or Kingdome (as may appeare in the miserable ends of Herod, and Iulian the Apostate, both in their kindes wise and learned) but wise behavior in a perfect way, that is, Wisdom mixed with Piety, guided by Religion, and sanctified with Grace" (Hakewill 50).

At the time of writing this entry, EEBO-TCP yields no substantial pre-1596 accounts of Julian's life.
UPDATE (personal correspondence from William Poole, New College, Oxford; 11 Dec 2015):

The major (hostile) sources for the life of Julian were the church historians, specifically Socrates Scholasticus (book 3), Sozomen (books 5-6), and Theodoret (book 3). Theodoret was not available in English until 1612; Sozomen not until much later. But Socrates in the vernacular was fairly common, as he formed part of the popular English translation of the church historians Eusebius, Socrates, Evagrius, and Dorotheus, by the historian and clergyman Meredith Hanmer (1543-1604), who completed the work between taking his MA and BD; there were seven editions of his group translation between 1577 and 1663 (ESTC). It is almost certainly so that the lost play was based on Socrates's account in the text of Hanmer in either his 1577 or his 1586 editions. If other sources were required, then the pagan historian Zosimus was central on Julian (there had just been a famous edition by Leunclavius: Basel, 1576), as was Ammianus Marcellinus (books 20-25), a common author. These were however not available in English until 1684 and 1609 respectively, although Ammianus would have been an easy read for anyone with schoolboy Latin. In sum, I would guess that the play was based on Socrates, with details thrown in from other sources, possibly even Julian's own writings, which had been partially published in parallel Greek-Latin texts in Paris in 1566 and 1583, spurring new interest in the last pagan emperor. (Poole, email)

Alexander Ross's 1652 continuation of Raleigh's history of the world provides a concise narrative for the Roman emperor:

FLavius Claudius, Iulianus the sonne of Censtantius Constantine the Greats brother, whose mother was Basilina a Noble Lady. In his youth he was bred a Christian under the bishop of Nicomedia, and for his pregnant wit and eloquence was made reader in the church. He was studious and expert in the Greek tongue. But being too familiar with Libanius the Sophister, with Iamblicus, Maximus, and other Philosophers, hee became a heathen, a magician, a persecutor of Christians, and a right Apostate. He used to diffame great Constantine, calling him an innovator and disturber of the ancient lawes. He put none to death for religion, but pretended other causes: hee shut up all schools of learning among Christians, knowing that learning was an enemy to Gentilism. He opened the Idolatrous Temples, and commanded sacrifices there to be offered. He stampt upon his coin Iupiter, setting the crown on his head; Pallas putting on his cloak, and Mercury giving him the scepter. He robbed the church of her revenues, telling the Clergy that they should be the fitter for heaven, because it is written, Blessed be the poore. He suffered no military honours to be conferred on Christians. He writ invectives against Christian Religion, which Nazianzen and Cyrill refuted. He would not permit Christian children to learn Rhetorick, fearing lest they might wound the Gentiles with their own quils. He incouraged the Jewes in hatred of Christianity, to set up again their owne State and religion, promising them great immunities and priviledges. Upon this the Jews began to rebuild the Temple, but they were faine to give off by reason of thunder, hail, fire, and earthquakes which destroyed many thousands of them. Where ever they cast their eyes they saw crosses on their garments and tables; the Delphic Temple also, was much about this time overthrown with thunder and earthquakes, as Iulian was sending thitherto know by the Oracle what successe he should have against the Persians. It had been overthrown before and spoiled 4 times, namely by the Phlegians. 2. by Xerxes his souldiers. 3. by the Phocenses 4. by Brennus; but still it was rebuilt again; by the overthrow of these two Temples, Judaism, and Gentilism were deadly wounded.

It's recorded of Iulian (whom Athanasius called a cloud soon vanishing) that in private he put divers Christians to death for their religion: among the rest Artemius Governour of Egypt, which made the Alexandrians fall furiously upon George their Arian Bishop, and murther him. This George had used to inveigh bitterly against them, to make sport with the skuls of the murthered Catholicks; tricks fitter for a Turkish turbant, then a Bishops miter. Iulian threatned to revenge this murther of George, but was taken off with fair words, and the Persian war: which he was preparing for. Understanding that Apollo could utter no Oracle, because the christians had buryed some of their Martyrs neere to him, he caused their bodies and reliques to be removed, the people in the interim singing that of the Psalmist: Confounded bee all they that worship graven Images. At which Iulian was vexed inwardly, but could not helpe it, but vowed to sacrifice the bloud of christians to his Gods, if he prevailed against the Persians. About this time also Apollo's Temple at Rome was burned down.

Sapores who was made King before he was born, 24 years of age, made irruptions upon the Empire. Iulian with 65000 souldiers tooke divers Forts and Towns from the Persian, and wasted all Assyria. Having crossed the river Tigris, he burnt his boats, as if he had conquered all: but being brought into an ambush by a fugitive, where he was beset with famine and Persian armies, was shot in the liver, by an unknown hand; he in a rage flinging the bloud of his wound in the air, cries out, Thou hast overcome mee O Galilean, and so dyed the 31 year of age, having reigned alone 1 year, 8 months, and 10 yeares with Constantius. His wife was Helena great Constantins daughter, of whom hee had no children, her Matrix being poysoned by Eusebia the Empresse, so hee dyed childlesse. (84-85)

Key moments in the Julian narratives, which may have provided material for dramatic adaptation, include:

• His military success against the Germans, and subsequent demand to be Emperor.
• His attempt to have the Jewish temple at Jerusalem rebuilt. His plans were said to be foiled by the wrath of God, who sent natural disasters (earthquakes, fire, tempests) to prevent construction.
• His continued attempts to restore heathen idolatry, which included such devices as "set[ting] vp his own Image, with the Effigies of the gods of the Heathen pictured round about it: to the ende, that whosoeuer should doe ciuil reuerence to the Emperours Image, might also seeme to worship the gods of the Gentiles: And by the contrarie, they who would not bow to the gods of the Gentiles, might seem also to refuse all due reuerence to the Emperour" (Simson 67). It was also said that "[w]hen he distributed gold to his Captaines and Warriours (as the custome was) he vsed a forme of distributing not accustomed before, to haue an altar neere vnto his Princely throne, and coales burning vpon it, and incense vpon a table neere vnto the altar whereby it came to passe, that no man receiued gold, before he cast incense vpon the coales of the altar: by this subtile artifice circumuenting many, who knew not, that it was Iulians purpose to intangle them with the rites of idolatrous seruice" (Simson 67).
• Simson relates that amongst the many punishments inflicted on Christians, "Marcus Arthusius had his body ouerlaid with hony, and it was hung vp in hot summer weather, to be molested with wasps, and flies" (68).
• Julian is said to have inquired the Oracle of Apollo in Delphos about his potential for success in battle against the Persians (Simson 69).
• His defeat at the hands of the Persians, including his brazen burning of his own ships prevented victuals being brought to the army (Simson 70), his death by spear or dart and his famous (though probably apocryphal) last words.

References to the Play

Information welcome.

Critical Commentary

Malone (p. 298) and Collier (p. 68) do not comment on the narrative material of this play, nor does Fleay, BCED (2.305 #305). Greg II observes merely that Hazlitt does not provide evidence for the assertion that the play was performed near Shrewsbury in the seventeenth century (p. 180 # 89).

Hazlitt asserts that "[a] drama so called was acted in the seventeenth century at the Quarry, near Shrewsbury" (123). He does not give a source for this information, which has not been corroborated by other scholars. Perhaps Hazlitt mistakenly gave "seventeenth" for "sixteenth," and was referring to another lost play by the same name, Julian the Apostate, of 1556, which was written by Thomas Ashton and performed at Shrewsbury, most probably at The Quarry.

Gurr lists "Julian the Apostate" with the biblical plays introduced by the Admiral's men in the mid-1590s despite its being "a post-biblical story" (p. 41).

See also Wiggins, Catalogue #1035

For What It's Worth

Information welcome.

Works Cited

Albott, Robert. VVits theater of the little world. 1599.
Gurr, Andrew. Shakespeare's Opposites: The Admiral's Company 1594-1625. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009.
Hakewill, George. King Dauids vow for reformation of himselfe. his family. his kingdome Deliuered in twelue sermons before the Prince his Highnesse vpon Psalm 101. By George Hakewill Dr. in Diuinity. 1621.
Jerome, Stephen. Seauen helpes to Heauen Shewing 1. How to auoid the curse. 2. How to beare the crosse. 3. How to build the conscience. 4. How with Moses to see Canaan. 5. Simeons dying song, directing to liue holily and dye happily. 6. Comforts for Christians against distresses in life, and feare of death. 7. Feruent prayers, to beare sicknesse patiently, and dye preparedly. The second edition: much enlarged by Steuen Ierome, late preacher at S. Brides. Seene and allowed. 1614.
Poole, William. Personal Correspondence. 11 Dec 2015. Email.
Ross, Alexander. The history of the world the second part in six books, being a continuation of famous history of Sir Walter Raleigh, Knight : beginning where he left viz at the end of the Macedonian kingdom, and deduced to these later-times : that is from the year of the world 3806, or 160 years before Christ till the end of the year 1640 after Christ / by Alexander Ross ; wherein the most remarkable passages of those times both ecclesiasticall and civill, in the greatest states, empires, and kingdomes, are represented ; together with a chronologie of those times and an alphabeticall-table by the author. 1652.
Simson, Patrick. The historie of the Church since the dayes of our Saviour Iesus Christ, vntill this present age. Devided into foure bookes. 1. The first containeth the whole proceedings and practises of the emperours ... 2. The second containeth a breefe catalogue of the beginnings, and proceedings; of all the bishops, popes, patriarchs, doctors, pastors, and other learned men ... 3. The third containeth a short summe of all the heretiques ... 4. The fourth containeth a short compend of all the councels generall, nationall, and provinciall ... Devided into 16. centuries. ... Collected out of sundry authors both ancient and moderne; by the famous and worthy preacher of Gods word, Master Patrick Symson, late minister at Striueling in Scotland. 1624.

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; updated 11 Dec 2015.