The Tragedies, gathered by Jhon Bochas, of all such Princes as fell from theyr estates throughe the mutability of Fortune since the creation of Adam, vntil his time
The Wheel of Fortune—accounting for the rise and fall of great men and women—is an image of the transitory nature of life that pervades John Lydgate’s over 700,000 lines of poetry and his greatest work, Fall of Princes. It is a translation and extension of Boccaccio’s De Casibus Virorum Illustrium. This fatalistic view of the mutability of fortune was widely shared in Lydgate’s time, the war-torn 15th century, and it contributed to the popularity of his work among English audiences.
Lydgate’s combination of medieval pessimism, authoritarian attitudes (in support of the Lancastrian kings) rather than modern democratic sensibilities, and his insistent emphasis on the moral lessons to be learned from history put the author out of favor with post-Renaissance readers. Also, there is a modern distaste for Lydgate’s metrical style and his excessive use of rhetorical flourishes—“aureate” (ornate) words, alliteration, anaphora, and archaic syntax—to provide emphasis. Lydgate’s merits as a poet should be viewed from a historical perspective.
Well into the 16th century, the premier poets of England were considered to be Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and Lydgate. Several of Caxton’s earliest books were works by Lydgate, and the Fall of Princes appeared in four editions: Richard Pynson (1494, which is in the present collection, and 1527), Richard Tottel (1554), and John Wayland (ca. 1558). The present copy of the Wayland edition highlights the continuing influence of Lydgate. It retains as its last page the rare title leaf for the work A Memorial of Such Princes, as since the Tyme of King Richard the Seconde, Haue Been Unfortunate in the Realme of England. This title was apparently intended for a work to be issued with Fall of Princes: a first edition of what was retitled Mirrour for the Magistrates. The book was suppressed by Queen Mary for religious and political reasons.
First published in 1559 after Elizabeth took the throne, Mirrour of the Magistrates included a series of 19 tragedies drawn from English history. By its fifth Elizabethan edition in 1587, this famous compilation had expanded to include histories of noble Romans and accounts in praise of legendary early Britons. The book exerted enormous influence on Elizabethan historical drama. Many of Shakespeare’s histories are dramatic interpretations of the theme of Fall of Princes and its successor.
Chrzanowski 1555b *