Caesar and Pompey

Anon. (1580)

Historical Records

Stephen Gosson, Plays Confuted in Five Actions (1582), D4v-[D5v] (EEBO-TCP, open access):

if a true Historie be taken in hand, it is made like our shadows, longest at the rising and falling of the Sunne, shortest of all at hie noone. For the Poets driue it most commonly vnto such pointes, as may best showe the maiestie of their pen, in Tragicall speaches; or set the hearers a gogge, with discourses of love; or painte a fewe antickes, to fitt their owne humors, with scoffes & tauntes; or wring in a shewe, to furnish the Stage, when it is to bare; when the matter of it selfe comes shorte of this, they followe the practise of the cobler, and set their teeth to the leather to pull it out.
So was the history of Caesar and Pompey, and the Playe of the Fabii at the Theater, both amplified there, where the Drummes might walke, or the pen ruffle, when the history swelled, and ran to hye for the number of ye persons, that shoulde playe it, the Poet with Proteus cut the same fit to his owne measure; when it afoorded no pompe at al, he brought it to the racke, to make it serue. Which inuinciblie proueth on my side, that Plays are no Images of trueth, because sometime they hādle such thinges as neuer were, sometime they runne vpon truethes, but make them séeme longer, or shorter, or greater, or lesse then they were, according as the Poet blowes them vp with his quill, for aspiring heades; or minceth them smaller, for weaker stomakes.

Theatrical Provenance

Performed c. 1581 at the Theatre, possibly by Warwick's Men, as suggested by Wiggins (entry 685).

Probable Genre(s)

Classical history (Harbage).

Possible Narrative and Dramatic Sources or Analogues

The conflict between Caesar and Pompey was available to English playwrights through a wide range of sorces, notably Plutarch's Lives, Appian's Civil Wars, Lucan's Civil War, Suetonius's Lives of the Caesars.
It is impossible to establish which source was used but it is possible briefly to summarise the main events of the conflict.

References to the Play

Anthony Munday (?), A Second and Third Blast of Retreat from Plays and Theatres (1580), 104-106 (EEBO-TCP, open access) probably written by Anthony Munday, we read:

The writers of our time are so led awaie with vaineglorie,* that their onlie endeuor is to pleasure the humor of men; & rather with vanitie to content their mindes, than to profit them with good ensample. The notablest lier is become the best Poet; he that can make the most notorious lie, and disguise falshood in such sort, that he maie passe vnperceaued, is held the best writer. For the strangest Comedie brings greatest delectation, and pleasure. Our nature is led awaie with vanitie, which the auctor perceauing frames himself with nouelties and strange trifles to content the vaine humors of his rude auditors, faining countries neuer heard of; monsters and prodigious creatures that are not: as of the Arimaspie, of the Grips, the Pigmeies, the Cranes, & other such notorious lies. And if they write of histories that are knowen, as the life of Pompeie; the martial affaires of Caesar, and other worthies, they giue them a newe face, and turne them out like counterfeites to showe themselues on the stage. It was therefore aptlie applied of him,* who likened the writers of our daies vnto Tailors, who hauing their sheers in their hand, can alter the facion of anie thing into another forme, & with a new face make that seeme new which is old. The shreds of whose curiositie our Historians haue now stolen from them, being by practise become as cunning as the Tailor to set a new vpper bodie to an old coate; and a patch of their owne to a peece of anothers.

* Against Auctors of plaies.

* The best thing at plaies is starke naught.

Although there cannot be any certainty, it seems feasible to posit that the author is here referring to the Caesar and Pompey performed at the Theatre that Gosson would attack two years later, especially because the accusations are quite similar. In both cases, the distortion of history for the sake of spectale is disapproved of. It is true that the reference to "the life of Pompeie" might also be an allusion to the lost "Pompey" by the Children of Paul's. However, Wigginsseems to be right when he argues that since the author's "point his that plays often distort history, it is perhaps marginally more likely that he was thinking of a less elite repertory. We cannot, of course, rule out that there may have been a third play on the subject to which Munday refers, but it does not seem especially likely".

Critical Commentary

(Under Construction).

For What It's Worth

(Under Construction).

Works Cited

Gosson, Stephen. Plays Confuted in Five Actions. London: Imprinted for Thomas Gosson dwelling in Pater noster row at the signe of the Sunne, 1582.
Munday, Anthony (?). A Second and Third Blast of Retreat from Plays and Theatres. Imprinted at London: By Henrie Denham, dwelling in Pater noster Row, at the signe of the Starre, being the assigne of William Seres, 1580.

Site created and maintained by Domenico Lovascio, University of Genoa; updated 22 July 2015.