Robert Squire's "Death, a Comedie," A Seventeenth Century Translation Of William Drury's "Mors": A Critical Edition

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




John Elliott


Anthony G. Petti, Devil, Death, English exiles, Roman comedy, Italian Comedy

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


William Drury (1584-c.1641), was an English Roman Catholic Priest educated in London, St. Omer's in Belgium, and at the English College in Rome. He was a missionary to England until his exile in 1618 when he became a member of the faculty at the English College at Douai. During his brief teaching career there, he wrote several Neo-Latin plays which were produced by the students. Among these was the comedy Mors, first performed in January of 1619. It was published along with other material in editions of 1620, 1628, and 1641.

One Robert Squire, who may have been a private tutor or schoolmaster, made a translation of the play in a fair manuscript copy, most likely in the 1630's; he probably used Drury's Latin edition of 1620. Squire's manuscript is now located at the Newberry Library in Chicago. This dissertation offers a critical edition of that play with an introduction, commentary and a semi-diplomatic transcription of the manuscript according to the principles set down by Anthony G. Petti in his English Literary Hands from Chaucer to Dryden (Harvard University Press, 1977). The introduction to the play provides the reader with background material on Drury's life, the religious and political situation regarding English exiles, an examination of the first Latin production at Douai, possible influences on Drury's plot, and an analysis of Robert Squire's hand.

The play is a cleverly constructed and fast-paced burlesque of the Faust story in which a young man makes bargains not only with a devil but with Death himself. Unlike Dr. Faustus, however, he cleverly outwits both Death and devil.

Many of the stock characters from Roman and Italian comedy are employed along with some typically English characters. This comedy preserves unities of time, place, and action. It demands a simple set with a trap door. The manuscript runs to over 2,000 lines, but the play never flags in its witty dialog and low comic antics.


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