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JOHN STILL (c. 1543-1608)

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Originally appearing in Volume V25, Page 920 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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JOHN STILL (c. 1543-1608), bishop of Bath and Wells, formerly reputed to be the author of Gammer Gurton's Needle, was born about 1543 at Grantham, Lincolnshire. He became a student of Christ's College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1562, M.A. in 1565, and D.D. in 1575. In 1561 he became a fellow of his college and took holy orders. He was appointed in 1570 Lady Margaret professor of divinity, subsequently held livings in Suffolk and Yorkshire, and was master successively of St John's College (1574) and of Trinity College (1577). Still was vice-chancellor of his university in 1575-1576 and again in 1592-1593, and was raised to the bishopric of Bath and Wells in 1593. He died on the 26th of February 1608, leaving a large fortune from lead mines discovered in the Mendip Hills. Gammer Gurton's Needle is the second extant English comedy, properly so called. Still, whose reputation as a serious church-man cannot be easily reconciled with the buffoonery of A Ryght Pithy, Pleasaunt and merie Comedie: Intytuled Gammer Gurtons Nedle, was first credited with its authorship by Isaac Reed in his edition (1782) of Baker's Biographia dramatica. The title-page of the piece, which was printed by Thomas Colwell in 1575, states that it was played not long ago at Christ's College, Cambridge, and was " made by Mr S. Mr of Art." A play was acted at Christmas 1567, and Still was chosen as being the only M.A. on the register at that time whose name began with S. There are reasons to suppose however that the play had been in Colwell's hands some time before it was printed, and it may well be identical with the Dyccon of Bedlam for which he took out a licence in 1562-1563, " Diccon the Bedlem " being the first of the dramatis personae of Gammer Gurton. In the accounts of Christ's College for 1559-1560 is the entry, " Spent at Mr Stevenson's plaie, 5s." William Stevenson was born at Hunwick, Durham, matriculated in 1546, took his M.A. degree in 1553, and became B.D. in 156o. Stevenson was a fellow of Christ's College from 1559 to 1561, and is perhaps to be identified with a William Stevenson who was a fellow from 1551 to 1554. If such is the case, there is reason to think that the composition of Gammer Gurton's Needle should be referred to the earlier period. He was made prebendary of Durham in 156o-1561, and died in 1575. Contemporary Puritan writers in the Marprelate tracts allude to Dr John Bridges, dean of Salisbury, author of A Defence of the Government of the Church of England, as the reputed author of Gammer Gurton's Needle, but he obviously could not be properly described as Mr S." Dr Bridges took his M.A. degree at Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1560, and the witty and sometimes coarse character of his acknowledged work makes it reasonable to suppose that he may have been a coadjutor of the author. For the argument on behalf of William Stevenson's authorship, see Henry Bradley's essay prefixed to his edition of the play in Representative English Comedies (1903). The piece is also reprinted in Dodsley's Old Plays (vol. i., 1744; vol. ii., 1780); in Ancient British Drama (181o), vol. i.; and in J. M. Manly's Specimens of the Pre-Shakspearean Drama (Boston, U.S.A., 1897).
End of Article: JOHN STILL (c. 1543-1608)
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