George Chapman bigraphy, stories - Translators

George Chapman : biography

- 1634

George Chapman (c. 1559 – 12 May 1634) was an English dramatist, translator, and poet. He was a classical scholar whose work shows the influence of Stoicism. Chapman has been identified as the Rival Poet of Shakespeare's sonnets by William Minto, and as an anticipator of the Metaphysical Poets of the 17th century. Chapman is best remembered for his translations of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, and the Homeric Batrachomyomachia.


Life and work

Chapman was born at Hitchin in Hertfordshire. There is conjecture that he studied at Oxford but did not take a degree, though no reliable evidence affirms this. We know very little about Chapman's early life, but Mark Eccles uncovered records that reveal much about Chapman's difficulties and expectations.Mark Eccles, "Chapman's Early Years", Studies in Philology 43.:2 (April 1946):176-93). In 1585 Chapman was approached in a friendly fashion by John Wolfall, Sr., who offered to supply a bond of surety for a loan to furnish Chapman money "for his proper use in Attendance upon the then Right Honorable Sir Rafe Sadler Knight." Chapman's courtly ambitions led him into a trap. He apparently never received any money, but he would be plagued for many years by the papers he had signed. Wolfall had the poet arrested for debt in 1600, and when in 1608 Wolfall's son, having inherited his father's papers, sued yet again, Chapman's only resort was to petition the Court of Chancery for equity.For the text of Chapman's petition for relief, see A. R. Braunmuller, A Seventeenth Century Letter-Book: A Facsimile Edition of Folger MS. V. A. 321 (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1983), 395. As Sadler died in 1587 this gives Chapman little time to have trained under him, it seems more likely that he was in Sadler's household from 1577-83 as he dedicates all his Homerical translations to Sadler. He spent the early 1590s abroad, seeing military action in the Low Countries. His earliest published works were the obscure philosophical poems The Shadow of Night (1594) and Ovid's Banquet of Sense (1595). The latter has been taken as a response to the erotic poems of the age such as Phillip Sydney's Astrophel and Stella and Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis. Chapman's life was troubled by debt and his inability to find a patron whose fortunes did not decline. Chapman's erstwhile patrons Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex and the Prince of Wales, Prince Henry, each met their ends prematurely; the former was executed for treason by Elizabeth I in 1601, and the latter died of typhoid fever at the age of eighteen in 1612. Chapman's resultant poverty did not diminish his ability or his standing among his fellow Elizabethan poets and dramatists.

Chapman died in London, having lived his latter years in poverty and debt.


In Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem The Revolt of Islam, Shelley quotes a verse of Chapman's as homage within his dedication "to Mary__ __", presumably his wife Mary Shelley:

There is no danger to a man, that knows What life and death is: there's not any law Exceeds his knowledge; neither is it lawful That he should stoop to any other law.Hutchinson, Thomas (undated). The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley: Including Materials Never Before Printed in any Edition of the Poems & Edited with Textural Notes. E. W. Cole: Commonwealth of Australia; Book Arcade, Melbourne. p. 38. (NB: Hardcover, clothbound, embossed.) Published prior to issuing of ISBN.

The Irish playwright Oscar Wilde quoted the same verse in his part fiction, part literary criticism, "The Portrait of Mr. W.H.".Wilde, Oscar (2003). "The Portrait of Mr. W.H.". Hesperus Press Limited 4 Rickett Street, London SW6 1RU. P.46. First published 1921.

The English poet John Keats wrote "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" for his friend Charles Cowden Clarke in October 1816. The poem begins "Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold" and is much quoted. For example, P. G. Wodehouse in his review of the first Flashman novel that came to his attention: "Now I understand what that ‘when a new planet swims into his ken’ excitement is all about."Quoted on current UK imprint of Flashman novels as cover blurb. Arthur Ransome uses two references from it in his children's books, the Swallows and Amazons series.]'s review in The Telegraph 15 August 2005]

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