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Gorboduc


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A: Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville Pf: 1561–2, London Pb: 1565 G: Trag. in 5 acts with dumbshows and choruses; blank verse S: Ancient Britain C: 15m, 2f, chorus (4m)While still King of Britain, Gorboduc divides his realm between his two sons, Ferrex and Porrex. Urged on by the flattery of young parasites at court, the brothers turn against each other, and Porrex kills his elder brother. Videna, the Queen, is so outraged by this that she kills Porrex. Incensed by this act, the people rise in rebellion and slay Gorboduc and his Queen. The nobles now wreak terrible revenge on the rebels, and because there is no heir to the throne, fall to civil war and lay waste the country for a further 50 years.

A: Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville Pf: 1561–2, London Pb: 1565 G: Trag. in 5 acts with dumbshows and choruses; blank verse S: Ancient Britain C: 15m, 2f, chorus (4m)

Regarded as the earliest extant ‘regular’ (i.e. five-act) tragedy, Gorboduc has echoes of the sibling conflicts of Greek myth (Eteocles and Polyneices, Thyestes and Atreus), but was based on the chronicles of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Geoffrey also described the consequences of Lear dividing his kingdom, which Shakespeare was to dramatize some 40 years later. This theme and the dangers inherent in having no legitimate heir would have been of particular interest to the audience, whose Queen, Elizabeth I, remained childless. While in some respects following the model of ancient classical drama – the five acts, the use of a chorus to comment on the action, all violent action taking place offstage and being merely reported – the authors also introduced important innovations – the dumbshows prefacing each act, the disregard for the unities of time and place, and the first extant use of blank verse, the wonderfully flexible unrhymed iambic pentameter, which was to be so successfully exploited by Shakespeare. An ‘academic tragedy’, it was written by two politicians and performed by students at the Inns of Court, not by professionals.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Authors

Thomas Norton (1532—1584) lawyer and writer


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