The Shadow of Night

"The Shadow of Night" is a long poem written by George Chapman; it was first published in 1594, in an edition printed by Richard Field for William Ponsonby, the prestigious publisher of Edmund Spenser and Sir Philip Sidney.

The poem was Chapman's first significant literary work; it is furnished with abundant notes and references to classical Greek and Roman authors (41 in total, drawn from the "Mythologiae" of Niccolo Conti). The title page of the first edition gives the title in both English and Greek (Σκία νυκτός, "Skia nyktos"). The poem's reception as an important development in English verse established Chapman's initial literary reputation, which he would later expand and deepen with his subsequent poems, plays, and translations.

Chapman dedicated the work, which he calls a "poor and strange trifle," to fellow poet Matthew Roydon. The dedication contrasts superficial readers, who read verse to "curtail a tedious hour," with those few who "entertained learning in themselves, to the vital warmth of freezing science...." He names three prominent noblemen of the day, "ingenious Darby, deep-searching Northumberland, and skill-embracing heir of Hunsdon...." These were Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby, well-known as the patron of the acting company Lord Strange's Men; Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, the so-called "Wizard Earl;" and George Carey, who succeeded his father as Lord Hunsdon in 1596 and as Lord Chamberlain of England in 1597. Carey served as the patron of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the acting company of William Shakespeare.

The three noblemen and their associates, like Sir Walter Raleigh, John Dee and Thomas Harriot among others, have been interpreted as members of a clique of advanced thinkers called The School of Night, who were interested in promoting new ideas like the Copernican and Galilean view of a heliocentric solar system, and the spirit of open inquiry that underlay it. [Bradbrook, Muriel C. "The School of Night: A Study in the Literary Relationships of Sir Walter Raleigh." Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1936.] Chapman has been seen by some as the Rival Poet of Shakespeare's sonnets. [Acheson, Arthur. "Shakespeare and the Rival Poet: Displaying Shakespeare as a Satirist and Proving the Identity of the Patron and the Rival of the Sonnets." London, John Lane, 1903.]

The work as a whole treats the theme of inspired melancholy, the concept that "melecholia" is not merely a negative state, but rather allows for deep and searching thought, self-examination, and study of the world. While humans often devote their daylight hours to trivail distractions, the night allows serious contemplation. Critics have linked the poem to a strain of abstruse and esoteric Renaissance thought on "Saturnian" melancholy. [Yates, France A. "The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age." London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979; pp. 135-46.] "No pen can anything eternal write, / That is not steep'd in humor of the night" (lines 376-7).

The poem is divided into two parts, the "Hymnus in Noctem" and the "Hymnus in Cynthiam". The first section of the poem appeals to Night as a primordial goddess, in the spirit of the hymns of Orpheus. In the poem's second half, the portrait of the moon goddess Cynthia represents Queen Elizabeth I, and comprises the type of hagiographic personification that was common in the later Elizabethan era. [Yates, Frances A. "Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century." London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975; pp. 29, 76-80.]

Algernon Swinburne noted that though it is his first published poem, "The Shadow of Night" already expresses Chapman's sense of rejection; Swinburne described the poem as "full of loud and angry complaints of neglect and slight, endured at the hands of an unthankful and besotted generation." The poem appears to contain an autobiographical reference, indicating that Chapman served in a military campaign in The Netherlands under Sir Francis Vere, in the 1591-2 period.

The modern composer Harrison Birtwistle composed an orchestral piece (2001) which he titled "The Shadow of the Night" after Chapman's poem.

External links

* [http://www.aseweb.org/Papers/Chapman.htm Guy, Kimberly. "Agrippan and Christian Cabbalistic Influences in the Poetics of George Chapman."]
* [http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2220/is_n2_v39/ai_20017497/pg_1 Huntington, John. "Virtues Obscured: George Chapman's social strategy."]

References


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