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SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 40.1 (2000) 1-20

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Thomas Drant's Rewriting of Horace

Neel Mukherjee

This essay will look at a little-known figure in the English Renaissance and attempt to situate his most important literary production in the religious politics of the early years of Queen Elizabeth's reign, focusing on ideological strategies that are brought to bear on the translation of a classical text. The figure in question is Thomas Drant, and the text, A Medicinable Morall, the first English translation of Horace's satires, published in 1566. Literary history has not been kind to Drant: with the possible exceptions of A Medicinable Morall and another translation of Horace the very next year--in 1567--entitled Horace his arte of Poetrie, pistles, and Satyrs Englished, which are mentioned cursorily in studies of English receptions of Horace (if at all), almost all his other published works--a poetic paraphrase of Ecclesiastes, three sermons, a book of Latin epigrams by Richard Shacklock with Drant's commentary in Latin and English, and a collection of Latin and (some) Greek verse dedicated to Archbishop Edmund Grindal--have made the slide to oblivion. 1 It is not my job to write an extended apologia for Drant but to read the first English translation of Horace's satires in greater detail than has been done so far. I hope to offer insights into the politics of reading methods which also become the politics of writing and how understandings of genre both condition and limit such strategies; this creates room for appropriation and the intriguing afterlives of a classical text.


Thomas Drant's dates are, tentatively, 1540 to 1578; he took his B.A. from St. John's College, Cambridge, around 1560-61, commenced M.A. in 1564 and was elected fellow of his college on 21 March 1561. He is described [End Page 1] by the DNB as a "poet and divine." He has also gone down in literary history as the person who formulated the rules for the writing of quantitative verse. Although this work is not extant, we learn of it from Gabriel Harvey's contemptuous reference to the "Dranting of Verses," and Spenser's well-known reference to him in the Three Proper, and Wittie, Familiar Letters published in 1580. Under the name Immerito, he writes to Harvey: "I would hartily wish, you would either send me the Rules and Precepts of Arte, which you obserue in Quantities, or else followe mine, that M. Philip Sidney gaue me, being the very same which M. Drant deuised, but enlarged with M. Sidneys own iudgement, and augmented with my Obseruations." 2 The most important point to note about Drant's life is the fact that he was domestic chaplain to Archbishop Grindal when the latter was the bishop of London; after Grindal was appointed archbishop of Canterbury he wrote Praesul 3 and dedicated it to Grindal. The book is a collection of blatantly flattering poems of varying lengths and reads almost like a roll call of the politically powerful and influential figures of early Elizabethan England--besides praising Grindal, Drant singles out for flattery the queen, William Cecil, Lord Burghley, Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, Archbishop Matthew Parker, Thomas Sackville, Lord Buckhurst, Christopher Hatton, Thomas Heneage, Charles Howard, baron of Effingham, Francis Knollys, Henry Sidney, and other public figures. The point that Grindal was Drant's patron needs to be stressed, for Grindal plays a central role in the narrative which follows.

The text I will first focus on is A Medicinable Morall, and to understand how embedded it is in the politics of the time we will have to turn to the religious controversy which erupted in the 1560s with the retention of the surplice for ministers--the vestiarian controversy. The specific poem involved in this controversy is Drant's original poem, which replaces Horace's fifth satire of the first book, the "Iter Brundisium." I shall have occasion to talk about the poem in greater detail in the last section of this essay and...


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