Updated: Aug 14, 2021
In order to arouse comments, criticism began in the Elizabethan period. One such pamphlet of Stephen Gosson’s School of Abuse (1579) prompted Thomas Lodge to prepare the first formal defense of plays, poetry, and entertainment in general. In order to understand Lodge’s Reply to Gosson, one should know Stephen Gosson and his tract, for the argument was as personal as it was critical of contemporary entertainments in London.
Stephen Gosson was a man of generally unsavory fame who was Lodge’s contemporary at Oxford. He wrote plays in London and then turned against plays and playwrights as a vehement spokesman for the Puritans, and he ended his career as an Anglican Clergyman. His School of Abuse is divided into two parts, the historical and the moral evidence against plays and similar entertainments. For the historical argument, he turned to the Greek and Roman writers for assistance. He lists the many ancients who banished poets, concluding that Homer is worth reading, but few others. The moral argument of the School is more contemporary than the first. His attack is directed much more against what goes in the audience than against what is projected from the stage. He blames the theater for being a marketplace for vice. He admits that some plays are worthy, names a few, and among them is one that represents “the greedinesse of worldly chusers, and the bloody minds of usurer” and criticizes his own play by acknowledging it as “a pig of mine owne Sowe.” And so on. He even dedicates this work to Sir. Philip Sidney without his permission which eventually gave rise to the work, An Apology for Poetry.
The school of Abuse must have created quite a stir among the law students of the Inns of Court, who were the supporters of the new theater. Young Lodge’s try to the defense of their position resulted in the work, Reply to Gosson. It was published privately, without a license from the London authorities, and was almost immediately withdrawn from circulation, apparently by Puritan city officials. Lodge begins his argument with a general defense to poets and poetry: then he discusses specifically music, plays, and though briefly, “Carders, Dicers, fencers, Bowlers, Daunsers, and Tomblers.”
After his release from prison in 1582, he was greeted by Gosson in his Plays Confuted. Not only was he attacked personally, but attacked in his home court. It must have been somewhat embarrassing for Thomas to return from prison only to find his reputation at stake.
Thomas Lodge- Rae, Wesley D., author