George Chapman’s hilarious comedy, The Blind Beggar of Alexandria, never before produced professionally in the United States, is the final production of the 2009 Actors’ Renaissance Season.
- When was the play first performed?
12 February 1596.
- Where was the play first performed?
At the Rose theatre by the Admiral’s Men.
- Who wrote it?
George Chapman (1559 – 1634), was one of the most “literary” of the playwrights of the time and is famous for his translations of Homer’s Iliad and The Odyssey, work that 200 years later inspired a sonnet by John Keats. He wrote a number of successful masques for the court and several popular plays, the most famous of which is Bussy D’Ambois (1607), a revenge tragedy.
- How is this playwright like Shakespeare?
Chapman is like Shakespeare in his interest in the interior thoughts of his characters and in his adoption of classical materials into his plays. Like Shakespeare he finds theatrical delight in disguise.
- How is this playwright unlike Shakespeare?
Chapman doesn’t mix genres to the degree that Shakespeare does. His comedies are fairly consistently comic, and his tragedies tragic. Blind Beggar, though a comedy, has different kinds of comedy from farce to slapstick.
- What do scholars think about this play?
Scholars know that the play was popular in its day, and they see in it early evidence of Chapman’s interest in the classics. They recognize in the play the strong influence of the Italian commedia dell’ arte. On the whole, because it has had so few revivals – ours is the only professional one I know of since the 17th century – they have not valued enough how it works on stage.
- Is there any controversy surrounding the work?
Not much, but some think that someone else besides Chapman wrote the farcical scenes. I see no reason for this view beyond a kind of snobbery about low comedy and a reluctance to associate it with the man who translated Homer into English.
- What characters should I especially look for?
Cleanthes is a one-man show. He’s a con-man who has pretended to be a duke, who disguises himself as a blind beggar, but who also plays a number of other roles. In short, the role of Cleanthes is a, big, fat theatrical part like Scapino, and our revival is likely to make it a role that many actors will want to play.
- What scene should I especially look for?
All of Cleanthes’s scams are fun to watch, but it’s hard to top his trying to seduce into adultery the two sisters he himself is married to in two of his disguises. (You kind of have to be there).
- What is the language like?
Although Chapman’s language in his tragedies can be a bit convoluted, the language in Blind Beggar, an early play, is pretty straightforward.
Dr. Ralph Alan Cohen, ASC Director of Mission