52. An Original Poem by North & Turning Juliet’s Wedding into a Funeral

As detailed in earlier posts, North would often write original passages in his translations. That is, he would veer from the language of his source-text, at times preferring to craft his own speeches and descriptions as opposed to closely transcribing the work in front of him. One extraordinary example is North’s original, 110-line poetic complaint of Camma in his The Dial of Princes (1557), a poem that is eerily reminiscent in language, style, and storyline to various Juliet-related passages in Romeo and Juliet (and to The Rape of Lucrece too). And while we have seen hundreds of borrowings from North in the Shakespeare canon, this one is particularly informative. For, as the next few posts will show, it will help prove that North wrote the original play on Romeo and Juliet in ~1560, four years before Shakespeare was born, and that this was the very same tragedy mentioned by Arthur Brooke in 1562. In fact, it will be made clear that Brooke also often turned to North’s play when writing his poem on the star-crossed lovers.

An Original Poem

The background to North’s poem is as follows: Camma, renowned for her beauty and virtue, had been happily married when Sinoris murdered her husband hoping to take her for his wife. The devastated widow seems to acquiesce to Sinoris’s proposal, only to poison the cup of wine from which they both drank on their wedding day. Before she sips, however, Camma recites a final prayer to Dian, the Goddess of chastity and protector of women’s honor, in which she expresses her extreme grief over her slain husband and her plan for both revenge and suicide.

In the French text from which North worked, the prayer is fairly straightforward and in prose. But North transforms this prayer into a long poem comprising 28 quatrains of iambic pentameter and a final couplet. In the last couplet, which is entirely North’s invention, Camma compares herself with Lucrece. This is peculiarly prescient as the two poems on Camma and Lucrece, North’s and Shakespeare’s, do share a number of features. As with The Rape of Lucrece, North’s poem on Camma is a “complaint,” that is, a dramatic first-person monologue from a virtuous female protagonist who describes the agonizing and tragic circumstances inflicted on her by an evil male. As Tarquin lusts for Lucrece, who is the wife of his friend, so Sinoris lusts after Camma, who is the wife of his cousin. Both Camma and Lucrece express love for their husbands, are renowned for their beauty and virtue, and intend to commit suicide to maintain their honor. And interestingly, between 1568-1570, ballads on Lucrece and Camma were entered into the Stationers’ Register, though none are extant.[i]

Camma and Juliet

Camma’s story should also seem familiar to fans of Romeo and Juliet. Both tales include a deadly rivalry for the young woman’s hand, a suicide by a cup of poison,[ii] the grieving bride’s apparent choice of death on her wedding day, her desire to be buried with her husband, and the claim that it is the most lamentable tale in the history of the region. The last three quatrains and final couplet of North’s poem on Camma comprise a sonnet, and there are no fewer than three such sonnets in Romeo and Juliet, including its famous 14-line prologue. Even North’s summary of the tragic ending is reminiscent of the star-crossed lovers: “And when the prayer was ended, that this fair and virtuous Camma made, she drank and gave to drink to Sinoris of this cup of poison… And truly, her death of all Greece with…great sorrow was lamented.”

But perhaps the most conspicuous resemblance involves Camma’s description of turning her wedding into a funeral—all the elements of which are repeated in Shakespeare’s tragedy, in which Juliet’s wedding is similarly transformed into a funeral. This includes that the wedding bed will become the grave; the light music will become a funeral dirge, etc.

Of course, Juliet is not really dead in this scene (4.5.); she has simply taken a potion to create the illusion in order to avoid marriage to Paris, but the ideas and language are the same. Indeed, the playwright foreshadows this scene in the first act when Juliet echoes Camma, stating that “my grave is like to be my wedding bed” (the playwright also repeats Camma’s language in Timon of Athens):

Camma’s Poem:  The DialRomeo and Juliet and Timon of Athens
O bright Dian….
In place of Hymen’s high unfiled bed,
They lay thee up in closure of thy grave (191-2)      



Bright, Dian, thy grave, Hymen’s-unfiled bed
Juliet: My grave is like to be my wedding bed (1.5. 134)  

Then, Timon, presently prepare thy grave… thou bright defiler/ Of Hymen’s purest bed! … Whose blush doth thaw the consecrated snow That lies on Dian’s lap! (4.3.380-9)

Bright, Dian, thy grave, defiler-Hymen’s- bed

Even the title of North’s chapter (and its second line) on Camma clearly inspired the following exchange between the nurse and Juliet:

Camma Title: Of the revenge a woman of Greece took of him that had killed her husband….
Sinatus and Sinorus which were by blood cousins (189)

Romeo and Juliet: Will you speak well of him that killed your cousin?
Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband? (3.2.96-7)


An EEBO analysis of just this last parallel leaves little doubt about the connection between the works.[iii] And when we come to the apparent death of Juliet (4.5), the borrowings become more obvious still. What is remarkable is the playwright’s continuous juxtaposition of the same word-groupings that also appear together in Camma’s poem (189-93):

Camma’s Death on Her Wedding DayJuliet’s “Death” on Her Wedding Day
O since him their kindled spite hath slain,
With tender love whom I have weighed so dear.
Since he by fate is wrest from fortune’s reign,
For whose decay I dreadless perish here.  
Since him by whom my only life I led,
Through wretched hands the gaping earth now have…   The first black day my husband slept in grave
By cruel sword my life I thought to spend…
Instead of song and music’s tuned sound,,
They wait on thee, with loud lamenting voice,
In change of joyful life, and high renown,
Thy cruel death may spread with wretched noise 

[words/phrases appear in same 2 or 3 lines]
spite hath slainlove
my only life wretched;(ll.13-18)
black dayby cruellife;  (ll.33-34)
lamenting joyful …
cruel deathwretched noise …. (ll.94-6)]
Lady Capulet: What noise is here?
Nurse: O lamentable day!…
Lady Capulet. O me, O me! My child, my only life Paris: Beguiled, divorced, wronged, spited, slain!
Most detestable death, by thee beguil’d,
By cruel cruel thee quite overthrown!
O love! O life! not life, but love in death
Lady Capulet. Accursed, unhappy, wretched, hateful day! … But one thing to rejoice and solace in,
And cruel death hath catch’d it from my sight!…
Nurse: Never was seen so black a day as this. (4.5.44-6, 70-9)

[Words/phrases appearing in brief passage:
spited slain…love
my only life…. wretched
black a day…by cruel…life
lamentable… rejoice
cruel death… noise …wretched] (4.5.44-6, 70-9)

To press my corpse to feed thy liking lust,
The rout of Homer’s gods, thee grant to have,
Instead of royal feast, a throne of dust.
In change of costly robes and rich array,
A simple winding sheet they deign thee give,
And eke instead of honest wedlock’s stay,
They sing thy dirge, and not vouchsafe thee live…   Instead of song and music’s tuned sound,
They wait on thee, with loud lamenting voice,
In change of joyful life, and high renown      



[corpse … rich array… feast …
wedlock’s…lamenting
change…dirge,
music’s tuned sound…lamenting voice (ll. 82-95)]
Friar Laurence: On this fair corpse; and, as the custom is,
In all her best array bear her to church:
For though fond nature bids us all lament,
Yet nature’s tears are reason’s merriment.
Capulet: All things that we ordained festival,
Turn from their office to black funeral;
Our instruments to melancholy bells,
Our wedding cheer to a sad burial feast,
Our solemn hymns to sullen dirges change,
Our bridal flowers serve for a buried corpse,
And all things change them to the contrary.    
griping grief… /Then music with her silver sound  (4.5. 107-117, 151-3)  

[corpse… best array … feast…
lament… wedding…
dirges change (4.5.107-17)
griping grief …. music with her silver sound (4.5.151-3)

            Both passages repeatedly use the same terminology to describe the same peculiar event: a young bride’s wedding that will be turned into a funeral, with every joyous celebration of nuptials changed into the dark traditions of a wake.  Both refer to corpse, rich/best array, cruel death, black (a) day, feast, lament(ing), by cruel, my only life, spite(d)-slain, wretched, noise, and sound of happy music contrasted with a dirge. All the other borrowed phrases and language also confirm the obligation. Just checking EEBO for all works that place spite NEAR slain and include “my only life”[iv] results only in The Dial and Romeo and Juliet.

            But this scene in the tragedy is so overwhelmingly Northern that it also includes rare verbal connections to another chapter of The Dial and North’s Plutarch’s Live:

Plutarch and DialRomeo and Juliet
  Alas the day that ever I was born!
Plutarch 525      
O woeful world! O miserable world!  
O subtle world! O world unstable and unconstant! —Dial 493-4
  Nurse: Alas, alas! Help, help! my lady’s dead!
O, well a day, that ever I was born! (4.5.41-2)
Lady Capulet: Most miserable hour that e’er time saw…
Nurse: O woe! O woeful, woeful, woeful day! Most lamentable day, most woeful day….
O woeful day, O woeful day! (4.5.75-85)  

Below is the full and original poem of Camma, published by North in 1557, the year he turned 22.

North’s Complaint of Camma

  • To thee Dian, whose endless reign doth stretch,
  • Above the bonds of all the heavenly rout:
  • And eke whose aid with royal hand to reach,
  • Chief of all Gods, is most proclaimed out.
  • I swear, and with unspotted faith protest,
  • That though till now I have reserved my breath:
  • For no intent it was, but thus distressed,
  • With wailful end to wreak Sinatus death.
  • And if in mind I had not thus decreed,
  • Whereto should I my pensive days have spent
  • With longer deuil*: for that forepassed deed,
  • Whose oft record new sorrows still hath bent.
  • But O since him their kindled spite hath slain,
  • With tender love whom I have weighed so dear:
  • Since he by fate is wrest from fortunes reign,
  • For whose decay I dreadless perish here.
  • Since him by whom my only life I led,
  • Through wretched hands the gaping earth now have:
  • Ought I by wish to live in any stead,
  • But closed with him together in the grave.
  • O bright Dian, since senseless him I see,
  • And makeless, I, here, to remain alone:
  • Since he is graved where greedy worms now be,
  • And I survive surmounted with my foe’n. [foe’n: foes]
  • Since he is pressed with lumps of wretched soil,
  • And I thus charged with flame of frozen care:
  • Thou knowest Dian, how hard with restless toil
  • Of hot abhorring mind my life I spare.
  • For how can this unquiet breast reserve,
  • The fainting breath that strives to draw his last:
  • Since that even then, my dying heart did starve,
  • When my dead fere in swallowing earth was cast.
  • The first black day my husband slept in grave,
  • By cruel sword my life I thought to spend:
  • And since a thousand times I thought to have,
  • A stretched cord my sorrows wrath to end.
  • And if till now to waste my pining days,
  • I have deferred by slaughter of my hand:
  • It was but, lo, a fitter cause to raise,
  • Whereon his sharp revenge might justly stand.
  • Now since I may in full sufficing wise,
  • Redeem his breath (if wayward will would let)
  • More deep offence by not revenge might rise,
  • Then Sinoris erst by guiltless blood did get.
  • Thee therefore mighty Jove I justly crave,
  • And eke thy daughter chaste in thankful sort:
  • That lo the offering which of myself ye have.
  • Ye will vouchsafe into your heavenly fort.
  • Since Sinatus with soon enflamed eyes,
  • Amongst the Achaian routs, me chiefly viewed,
  • And eke amidst the prease* of Greeks likewise,
  • Chose for his fere, when sweetly he had sewed.
  • Since at my will the froth of wasting wealth,
  • With gladsome mind he trained was to spend,
  • Since that his youth, which slippeth lo by stealth,
  • To wait on me he freely did commend.
  • Since he such heaps of lingering harms did waste,
  • Ay to content my wanton youthful will,
  • And that his breath to fade did pass so fast,
  • To glut their thirst, that thus his blood did spill.
  • Though great the duty be, which that I owe
  • Unto his graved ghost and cindered mould:
  • Yet lo me seems, my duty well I show,
  • Performing that, my feeble power could.
  • For since for me untwined was his thread
  • Of guiltless life, that ought to purchase breath:
  • Can reasons doom conclude, I ought to dread,
  • For his decay to climb the steps of death.
  • In wretched earth my father graved lies,
  • My dear mother hath run her race of life,
  • The pride of love no more can daunt mine eyes,
  • My wasted goods are shrunk by fortunes strife.
  • My honour soon eclipsed is by fate,
  • My young delight is lo for done by chance,
  • My broken life these passed haps so hate,
  • As can my grieved heart no more advance.
  • And now remains to duty with my fere,
  • No more but refuse lo, my irksome life
  • With willing mind, followed eke with drear,
  • Which I resign, as fitteth for a wife.
  • And thou Sinoris, which Juno’s yoke dost crave,
  • To press my corps, to feed thy liking lust,
  • The rout of Homers gods, thee grant to have,
  • Instead of royal seats, a throne of dust.
  • In change of costly robes and rich array,
  • A simple winding sheet they deign thee give,
  • And eke instead of honest wedlock’s stay,
  • They sing thy dirge, and not vouchsafe thee live.
  • In place of Hymen’s high unfiled bed,
  • They lay thee up in closure of thy grave:
  • Instead with precious meats for to be fed,
  • They make the Worms, for fitter prey thee have.
  • Instead of song, and Music’s tuned sound,
  • They wait on thee, with loud lamenting voice,
  • In change of joyful life, and high renown,
  • Thy cruel death may spread with wretched noise.
  • For you, great Gods, that stalled be on high,
  • Should not be just, ne yet such titles claim,
  • Unless this wretch, ye ruthless cause to die,
  • That lives now, to slander of your name.
  • And thou Dian, that haunted Courts dost shun,
  • Knowest with what great delight this life I leave:
  • And when the race of spending breath is done,
  • Will pierce the soil that did my fere receive.
  • And if perchance the paled ghosts despise
  • Such fatal fine, with grudge of thankless mind:
  • Yet at the least, the shamefast living eyes
  • Shall have a Glass, rare wisely gifts to find,
  • Wherein I will that Lucrece‘ sect shall gaze,
  • But none that live, like Helen’s line in blaze.

*deuil: French for mourning; *prease: press tightly packed group


[i] Hyder E. Rollins, “An analytical to the Ballad-Entries (1557-1709) in the Registers of the Company of  Stationers of London,” Studies in Philology, Volume 21, ed. Edwin Greenlaw(Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1924), 49, 94, 197, 212-13. Quoting Rollins on 197: “Revenge yat a Woman of Grece toke of hym that slewe hyr husbounde, the” (1569-70, I, 416, Jno. Arnold). Summarized from Bk. II, Ch. V, of Sir Thomas North’s Dial of Princes (1557, fols. 85v-87): ‘Of the reuenge- ment that a vvoman of Gretia toke of him, that had killed her husband, in hope to haue her in marriage.” Sinoris (Synorix) slew Sinatus, the husband of Camma. The latter married Sinoris but at the marriage feast poisoned him and herself.” Rollins claims 2284 was a re-issue of 2452, which was titled, Sinorex Cania et Cinatus, (Sinorex, Camma, et Sinatus). Rollins also lists two ballads on Lucrece from this same time period: The Death of Lucryssia (1569-70); The Grievous Complaynt of Lucrece (1568-9) on pages 49, 94 respectively.

[ii] In the tragedy, Juliet takes a pseudo-poison that brings an artificial death, Romeo drinks a cup of poison, and Juliet then stabs herself. But even here we find a resemblance to the story of Camma –as she first considers stabbing herself before finally deciding on poison.

[iii] An EEBO search for “{of him that}” PRE/5 killed PRE/20 husband results only in The Dial of Princes and Romeo and Juliet.

[iv] Specifically, the EEBO search is for (spite NEAR slain) AND “{my only life}”

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