Opera

William Shakespeare, ‘The First Folio’

This Treasure is paired with: William Shakespeare, ‘The First Folio’ (Preserving plays)

  • Hrotsvitha
  • 1501
  • Nuremburg
  • Printed book

Print revived the voice of a medieval female dramatist and brought it to a new audience. This first edition of the 10th-century writer Hrotsvitha follows the rediscovery of a manuscript of her works in a German monastery in the 1490s. Hrotsvitha introduces her Latin dramas as Christian counterparts to – or playful corrections of – the comedies of Terence (second century BC). In this illustration the chaste wife Drusiana and her unwanted suitor Calimachus are resurrected by John the Apostle.

 

Extract from Scene II

CALLIMACHUS. I love –
FRIENDS. What do you love?
CALLIMACHUS. A thing of beauty, a thing of grace!
FRIENDS. That is too vague! How can we tell from this what is the object of your love?
CALLIMACHUS. Woman.
FRIENDS. Ah, now you say “woman” we all understand!
CALLIMACHUS. By woman, I mean a woman.
FRIENDS. Clearer still! But it is impossible to give an opinion on a subject until the subject is defined. So name the woman.
CALLIMACHUS. Drusiana.
FRIENDS. What? The wife of Prince Andronicus?
CALLIMACHUS. Yes. FRIENDS. Nothing can come of that. She has been baptized.
CALLIMACHUS. What do I care, if I can win her love?
FRIENDS. You cannot.
CALLIMACHUS. What makes you say so?
FRIENDS. You are crying for the moon.
CALLIMACHUS. Am I the first to do so? Have I not the example of many others to encourage me?
FRIENDS. Now listen. This woman you sigh for is a follower of the holy Apostle John, and has devoted herself entirely to God. They say she will not even go to the bed of Andronicus although he is a devout Christian. Is it likely that she will listen to you?

(The plays of Roswitha, trans. Christopher St John [i.e. Christabel Marshall]; London: Chatto & Windus, 1923; pp. 52-3)