Burnell, Henry (DNB00)

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BURNELL, HENRY (fl. 1641), dramatist, belongs to the Anglo-Irish family of Burnell, which acquired considerable estates in Leinster; members of it held offices at Dublin as judges and legal officials in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Henry Burnell appears to have been the son and heir of Christopher Burnell of Castleknock, near Dublin, and to have married Frances, daughter of Sir James Dillon, earl of Roscommon. The only known production of Burnell is that printed at Dublin in 1641 under the following title: ‘Landgartha, a tragi-comedy, as it was presented in the new theater in Dublin, with good applause, being an ancient story. Written by H.B.’ ‘Landgartha’ is stated to have been first acted, ‘with the allowance of the master of the Revels,’ on St. Patrick's day, 1639, at the theatre then recently established at Dublin by John Ogilby, and with which James Shirley, the dramatist, had been for a time connected. Among ‘the persons of the play’ were ‘Frollo king of Sweland and conqueror of Norway; Landgartha, a Norwegian lady; Scania, sister to Landgartha; Fatyma, cousin to Landgartha and Scania; Marfisa, a humorous gentlewoman, cousin to Fatyma; Reyner, of Denmarke; and Hubba, an humorous mery Danish captaine.’ The prologue to ‘Landgartha’ was ‘delivered by an Amazon, with a battle-axe in her hand.’ The epilogue to ‘Landgartha’ was also spoken by the Amazon ‘with her sword and belt in her hand.’ From the prologue it seems that Burnell had previously produced a play which was unfavourably received, but the name of it is not mentioned. The epilogue contains a statement that the tragi-comedy of ‘Landgartha’ was composed by Burnell ‘with the expense of less than two months’ time,’ with the commendatory verses in Latin prefixed to ‘Landgartha’ some were by Burnell’s son. Lines were also addressed in English by an anonymous author, in which the writer mentions that although Burnell had never been in England, he was ‘far more like’ to Ben Jonson than they ‘that laid claim as heirs’ to that author. In reply to critics of ‘Landgartha,’ Burnell wrote that ‘a tragi-comedy should neither end comically or tragically, but betwixt both.’ ‘To the rest of babblers,’ he added, ‘I despise any answer.' Burnell was a member of the Irish confederation established in 1642, but the dates of his birth and death do not appear to have been recorded.

[Gifford's Works of Ben Jonson, 1816; Hist. of Dublin, 1854; Hist. of Irish Confederation, 1641-3. Dublin, 1882; manuscripts in office of Ulster King of Arms, Dublin Castle.]

J. T. G.