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Chapman, George


Subject Literature » Renaissance Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405194495.2012.x


George Chapman (1559/60–1634) may almost literally have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but the defining humour of his life must have been anxious and uncertain poverty. A prolific playwright, an innovative poet, an autodidactic translator, and a mercenary soldier, Chapman pieced together a tenuous existence on the edge of destitution. Despite his many brushes with misfortune, Chapman did find a few loyal patrons whose support allowed him to complete the work for which he is probably best known, the first English translation of Homer. Chapman, whose maternal grandfather served Henry VIII, was the second son of a Hertfordshire yeoman of declining fortunes. As a young man, Chapman spent some time at Oxford without taking a degree. He briefly entered the service of Sir Ralph Sadler, who rose to prominence in the reign of Henry VIII and was reputedly the wealthiest commoner in the land when he died in 1587. Bereft of that avenue of advancement and in debt to an unscrupulous moneylender, Chapman joined the English forces fighting the Habsburg armies in the Low Countries. He returned to England a few years later and, scorning the ‘prophane multitude’, began to write learned, metaphysical poetry while searching for patronage. As a younger son, he did not inherit his family's property; in fact, his father left him only a silver spoon and a small monetary bequest. Perhaps the ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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