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a comedy, a translation of Gulielmus Fullonius's Latin original , by John Palsgrave

first published 1540

About the Play

Palsgrave was an English schoolmaster most famous for this translation, for a well-known early French grammar, and for acting as tutor to Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VII, sister to Henry VIII, wife of Louis XII of France and grandmother of Lady Jane Grey. Palsgrave’s translation of this wildly popular Latin student drama is an important and influential early English dramatic work, despite the fact that it was written as a teaching tool for Latin scholars rather than for professional performance.

The original Latin play was written to be performed by schoolboys, by Dutch schoolmaster Wilhelm Gnapheus, better known by his Latinized name, Gulielmus Fullonius. First printed in Latin in Antwerp in 1529, it dramatizes the Biblical parable of the Prodigal Son in the style of the comedies of Terence. Fullonius’ goal was to demonstrate the intricacies of classical Latin poetry for schoolchildren, but with a more moral and wholesome story than could be found in Terence or Plautus; to this end, the play includes a large variety of Latin verse forms and meters.

Known Editions

  • Ioannis Palsgraui Londoniensis, ecphrasis Anglica in comoediam Acolasti. The comedye of Acolastus translated into oure englysshe tongue, after suche maner as chylderne are taught in the grammer schole, fyrst worde for worde, as the latyne lyeth, and afterwarde accordynge to the sence and meanyng of the latin sentences. Interpreted by Iohn Palsgraue. Lond.: In √¶dibus Tho. Berthel, Anno. M.D.XL. 1540

    The only known early printing.

  • The Comedy of Acolastus. Translated from the Latin of Fullonius by John Palsgrave. Edited, with an introduction and notes by P.L. Carver. Early English Text Society. London 1937. 1937

    The first new edition of Palsgrave’s translation.

References from Secondary Sources

  • Walter Wilson Gregg, A List of English Plays (1900)

    PALSGRAVE, John. (?-I554.)

    Ioannis Palsgravi Londoniensis, ecphrasis Anglica in comoediam Acolasti. ¶ The Comedye of Acolastus translated into oure englysshe tongue, [&c.] Interpreted by John Palsgraue. Anno. M.D.XL.

    Colophon: Impress. Lond. in aedibus Tho. Berthel. regii impressoris, Cum priuilegio ad imprimendum solum.

    Translated from the Latin of Gulielmus Fullonius. B.M. (C. 34. f. 2.)

  • James O. Halliwell, A Dictionary of Old English Plays (1860)

    ACOLASTUS. This play is no more than a translation, for the use of children, of a Latin play of the same name, written by Fullonius, on the story of the Prodigal Son. It is printed in black-letter, 4to., and dedicated to the King,—“Joannis Palsgravii Londoniensis Ecphrasis Anglica in Comediam Acolasti.—The comedye of Acolastus, translated into oure englyshe tongue, after such maner as chylderne are taught in the grammar-schole; fyrst, worde for worde, as the Latyne lyeth; and afterwarde, accordynge to the sense and meanyng of the Latin sentences; by shewing what they do value and countervayle in our tongue, with admonitions set forth in the margyn, so often as any such phrase, that is to say, kynde of spekyng used of the Latyns, which we use not in our tonge, but by other wordes expresse the said Latyn maners of speakinge, and also adages, metaphores, sentences, or other fygures, poeticall or rhetoricall do require, for the more perfyte instructynge of the lerners, and to leade theym more easilye to see howe the exposition gothe; and afore the seconde sceane of the fyrst acte, is a brefe introductory to have some general knowledge of the dyvers sortes of meters used of our auctour in this comedy. And afore Acolastus balade is shewed of what kyndes of meters his balade is made of. And afore the syxte sceane of the fourthe acte, is a monition of the rhetorycall composytion used in that sceane, and certayne other after it ensuyinge. Interpreted by John Palsgrave, anno M. D. XL. Wylliam Fullonius, the maker of this presente comedy, did set it forthe before the bourgeses of Hagen in Holand, anno M. D. XXIX.”

  • William Carew Hazlitt, The Play-Collector's Manual (1892)

    Acolastus: A translation or ecphrasis by John Palsgrave, for the use of children, of a Latin play of the same name, written by Fullonius, on the story of the Prodigal Son, and originally performed at the Hague in 1529. 4to, 1540.

    The dedication to Henry VIII. is reprinted entire in Hazlitt’s Book of Prefaces, 1874, pp. 1-12.