Thomas Goffe (c.1619)

Historical Records

Thomas Plume's notes on Ben Jonson

Archdeacon Thomas Plume records a conversation with Ben Jonson, in which Jonson, who had elsewhere noted Shakespeare's mistaken suggestion of a Bohemian coastline (Informations 157, CWBJ), appears to have noted a comparable error made by Thomas Goffe:

So Tom Goff brings in Etiocles & Polynices

discng of K Rich. 2d.

Plume MS 25 B cropped.jpg Plume MS 25 B.jpg
Plume MS 25 B, p 71 (detail) Plume MS 25 B, p 71 (full page)

Plume MS 25 B (Standard No. MA0119), p 71 (detail and full page); reproduced by kind permission of the Trustees of Thomas Plume’s Library.

Theatrical Provenance

Christ Church, Oxford (?) (Harbage)

Probable Genre(s)

Tragedy (Harbage).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

Seneca's Phoenissae.

References to the Play

This title is known only through the reference by Plumes.

Critical Commentary

For Norbert F. O'Donnell, Jonson's comment about Oedipus' sons suggests that Goffe adapted Seneca's Phoenissae. O'Donnell notes that there are clues in Goffe's other works that he was familiar with Seneca's Phoenissae:

His [Goffe's] Tragedy of Orestes (1633) and Courageous Turk (1632) both contain speeches translated from Seneca's play. More impresive, in The Courageous Turk, the speeches of a Turkish princess intervening in a quarrel between her sultan-father and her husband are liberally adapted throughout an entire scene (sig. G3r) from Jocasta's outcries as she comes between her warring sons. (163)

Because Goffe's plays were written whilst he was a student at Christ Church, but were published posthumously from manuscript, O'Donnell implies that there is a possibility that not everything that Goffe wrote was published. It would be convenient if a lost play based on Seneca's Phoenissae, which would have to be from c.1619, could make sense of the Jonson quip recorded by Plume.

See Wiggins #1861 for a succinct summary of the likely subject matter. Wiggins also settles on a best guess dating of 1618.

In the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson (electronic edition), Ian Donaldson refers to Plume's comments in an Introduction to Hester Lees-Jeffries' transcription:

Plume’s comment ‘So Tom Goff brings in Etiocles and Polynices discng of K. Rich. 2d.’ seemingly refers to a criticism made by Jonson of an anachronistic conversation in a now-lost play, based on Seneca’s Phoenissae, by his friend the Christ Church dramatist Thomas Goffe, that was in some way comparable to the solecism he had detected in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (O’Donnell, 1954b; Discoveries, 479-81).

Plume’s notes on Ben Jonson cannot be dated precisely, but may well have been written in the late 1650s, as conjectured by Bentley, 1965, 1.99.

("LR95a (Early lives) - Archdeacon Plume’s Notes on Ben Jonson", CWBJ electronic edition)

For What It's Worth

Eteocles and Polynices were apparently ready to grace the stage in the 1560s, which is much too early for Goff. Thomas Cooper, then Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, noted in a letter to Robert Earl of Leicester, that "We have also in readinesse a playe or shew of the destruction of Thebes, and the contention between Eteocles and Polynices for the gouernement thereof" (Chambers, "Four Letters", 146). The play was planned for a 15 May 1569 performance but it is unclear whether that performance ever took place.

Works Cited

Jonson, Ben. "Informations to William Drummond of Hawthornden". ed. Ian Donaldson. CWBJ. Cambridge: CUP, 2012. 5.359-91.

Chambers, E. K., ed. "Four Letters on Theatrical Affairs" in Malone Society Collections 2, Part 2 (1923), 145-49. (Internet Archive)

O'Donnell, Norbert F. "A Lost Jacobean Phoenissae?" Modern Language Notes 69.3 (1954): 163-64.

Site created and maintained by David McInnis, University of Melbourne; 22 June 2017.