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Fraunce, Abraham (c. 1558–1593/1633) - BIOGRAPHY, MAJOR WORKS AND THEMES, CRITICAL RECEPTION

literary logike fraunce’s sidney

Abraham Fraunce was born in Shrewsbury and educated first at the famous Shrewsbury School (1571/72), which Sir Philip Sidney* and Fulke Greville* attended, and later went on to St. John’s College, Cambridge, matriculating in 1576, and, supported by Sidney, himself, Fraunce received from there a B.A. in 1579–80 and M.A. in 1583. While at Cambridge he acted in the anonymous Hymenaeus (1578/79) and again in the college’s 1579 production of Ricardus Tertius . Writing of his Cambridge days, Fraunce noted in his preface to The Lawiers Logike that, though he experienced in full the “perpetuall vexation of Spirite, and continuall consumption of body, incident to euery scholler,” such pain of study was offset by the “delicate and pleasant a kinde of learning,” and “I do not repent that I was a Vniuersitie man.” Fraunce thereafter became a student at Gray’s Inn until he was admitted to the bar in 1588, and he went on to practice law in the court of the marches of Wales. After the death of Sir Philip Sidney in 1586, Mary, Countess of Pembroke,* became his patroness, and Fraunce dedicated nearly all of his literary productions to her. After failing to obtain the office of queen’s solicitor in 1590, Fraunce soon after entered the service of Sir John Egerton, first earl of Bridgewater, with whom, it is assumed, he remained until his own death. Fraunce’s death has conventionally been set in the year 1633; but recently this has been challenged. Victor Skretkowicz, in a piece of literary detective work, has convincingly argued that nothing definitive is known of Fraunce’s life after 1592 and that the evidence for the traditional dating of Fraunce’s death was an error made by the nineteenth-century antiquarian Joseph Hunter, who confused Abraham Fraunce and Abraham Darcie. The case, however, is not closed.

MAJOR WORKS AND THEMES

During years spanning roughly 1585 through 1592, virtually everything literary for which Fraunce is known was published: The Lamentations of Amyntas   for the Death of Phillis (1587), The Arcadian Rhetorike (1588), The Lawiers Logike (1588), The Countess of Pembroke’s Emanuel (1591), and The Countess of Pembroke’s Ivychurch (1591), which was republished and expanded in 1592 with the inclusion of Amyntas Dale . Other works by Fraunce consist of his unpublished Cambridge-days compositions, including three treatises on Ramistic rhetoric (one of which, The Shepheardes Logike , was published in 1969) and an insufferable Latin drama, Victoria , which will probably never be translated and, if so, scarcely ever read and certainly never acted. Finally, in many ways standing apart from his poetic and rhetorical works, there is his Insignium, Armorum, Emblematum, Hieroglyphicorum et Symbolorm Explicatio (1588), a treatise in Latin prose on the nature of symbolism.

CRITICAL RECEPTION

Though Fraunce is seen today as a minor literary figure at best, he was well received by the literati of his day. In his “Honour of the Garter,” George Peele* described Fraunce as “the peerless sweet translator of our times”; Francis Meres named Fraunce with Sidney and Spenser* for “the best for pastoral”; Thomas Lodge,* Thomas Nashe,* Gabriel Harvey,* and Spenser all wrote highly of him; and his connections with Sir Philip Sidney and the Sidney circle endured throughout his life.

Though Fraunce was, like many of his contemporaries, versatile in his literary endeavors, both in his rhetorical work and in his poetry, he is best described as a translator rather than an innovator. His Amyntas is a translation of Thomas Watson’s poem, itself a translation from Tasso,* and Fraunce offered nary a word in acknowledgment to his source until Watson gently (though publicly) objected. Fraunce’s principal contribution as poet/translator was his most egregious failure: all of his poetical works in English are in hexameters, rendering him (and Thomas Campion) virtually the lone versifiers of the period to write quantitative English verse. Fraunce’s poetic shortcomings did not go unnoticed by Ben Jonson,* whose harsh assessment of Fraunce’s verse offers at once the only negative contemporary comment made regarding Fraunce and the prevailing view of Fraunce’s place in English poetry today. “Abram Francis in his English Hexameters was a Foole.”

In the realm of rhetoric, Fraunce has enjoyed a more favorable view from posterity. Fraunce was a Ramist, and most of his rhetorical treatises echo ideas found in Ramus—( The Lawiers Logike is largely a paraphrase of Ramus’ Dialectique )—or Ramus’ principal disciple, Talaeus ( The Arcadian Rhetorike being a virtual translation of the 1567 version of Talaeus’ Rhétorique ). The title The Arcadian Rhetorike is illustrative regarding what renders it, at least from a literary standpoint, unique: The Arcadian Rhetorike (or, the Praecepts of Rhetorike Made Plaine by examples ). Though fellow Ramist Dudley Fenner had used examples to illustrate Ramistic rhetorical principles, rather than drawing illustrative extracts from Scripture as did Fenner, Fraunce turned to secular literary sources, drawing passages from an array of languages, ancient and modern, featuring Homer, Virgil, Tasso, Du Bartas, Boscan, Garcilaso, and Sidney. The result is a veritable anthology of literary passages gleaned to illustrate Ramist precepts—prompting Richard Schoeck to dub Fraunce “that most romantic of Ramists.” Furthermore, in the inclusion of Sidney—and, though to a lesser extent, Spenser—Fraunce offers what can be accurately termed a vernacular poetic, with English authors taking the place of honor after Homer and Virgil. The Lawiers Logike , on the other hand, is, as Wilbur Howell points out, “the first systematic attempt in English to adapt logical theory to legal learning and to interpret Ramism to lawyers” (223). In his preface, Fraunce both defends Ramus and objects to detractors who seek “to locke vp Logike in secreate corners”; The Lawiers Logike was an attempt to remedy that neglect by making logic accessible even to carters and cobblers. Despite Fraunce’s avowed hope of disseminating logic and rhetoric to a wider, nonprofessional audience, his rhetorical works never reached beyond a small coterie, both The Arcadian Rhetorike and The Lawiers Logike being published only once.

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