Forgotten Poem of a Forgotten Endeavor

The poet John Waneham Newman, born in 1579, had intended to create English versions of Plautus' plays not to be read, as classical texts normally were, but to be staged in popular performance. His hope was to freely adapt Plautus to the English stage, as Plautus had adapted Greek comedy for Roman audiences. His ambitions were never realized. He died during a plague outbreak in London in 1604.

On the Englishing of Plautus
By John Newman
Click to hear me recite the original in 16th century London English pronunciation

Now doth my toungue with Tyraunt Tyme debate
In bloudie sport upon a ruin'd stage,
To second thy tir'd tongue, and lash the State
Whose centuries do beseige the famin'd page.
As ancient blades worne blunt in shocke with ages,
Thy lines which vaunted deathlesse at decay
Do fall with lesser moment in the pages
Turn'd by the powres which turne the world to-daye,

Unlesse thy voyce unto my tongue repaire
And, steeld afresh, match Time with force which flows
In change unchanging, as this yeares fresh heire
Of last yeares rose still bears the name of Rose.
To keepe my word to thee, I breake thy word
That tho the tounge bee mine, thy voyce bee heard.


Usage Notes:

Debate — had a wider sense in Elizabethan usage and could mean "battle, duel with"
(Spenser: with him in bloody arms they rashly did debate)

Sport — The Elizabethan semantic range included senses of "amorous dalliance, tryst" (Shakespeare: And, being intercepted in your sport) as well as "mockery, taunt" (Shakespeare: Then make sport at me; then let me be your jest) and "hobby, pastime" (Shakespeare: Think it but a minute spent in sport).

Tired — Perhaps meant also to echo the sense of "seized, rent apart" (Shakespeare: Even as an empty eagle, sharp by fast, / Tires with her beak on feathers, flesh, and bone) or of "equipped, outfitted"

State — polysemy here too. "State" could mean not just circumstance or state of mind or political unit but also "nobleman, dignitary."

Centuries — possible wordplay. "Century" may also be meant in the sense of a military unit (Roman centuria) composed of a hundred centurions. (Shakespeare: If I do send, dispatch / Those centuries to our aid.) The figurative "state" is deploying epochal armies to destroy the text.

Ages — wordplay. This word /ɛ:dʒǝz/ was a near-homophone of "edges" /ɛdʒǝz/. Thus the swords are blunted against the "edges" (i.e. opposing swords) of time. 

Lines — wordplay. Senses of "lineaments" (Shakespeare: those lines of favor which then he wore), of "borders" and of "soldiers in formation" as well as "lines of verse."  

Vaunt — when used intransitively meant "to speak boastfully"

Moment — wordplay. This was not only the term for a brief instant, but also the sense "weight, importance, thrust." The context makes me wonder if the sense "momentum" is meant as well. (Of great pitch and moment)

Powers — the sense "military forces" is to the point. (Shakespeare: Whose powers are these?)

Steeled — the senses "armed with steel" and "fortified" are to the point. Possible pun on "stealed", a now-defunct participle replaced by "stolen."

Match — also had the sense "to marry (one person with another), to unite in wedlock"

Force — the context makes me wonder if the sense "body of armed men" is also to the point.

Heir — obviously punning on "(fresh) air." Note "fresh air" meant something different at the time. One did not "get some fresh air" outside. It referred to coming spring in fact. Synonym of "breath of spring" and even "breath of heaven." The "fresh"ness echoing with the earlier "afresh."

Fresh — in addition to the more familiar senses, this word at the time could mean "holding good, unchanging, constant" as well as "lively."

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