Gager, William (DNB00)

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GAGER, WILLIAM (fl. 1580–1619), Latin dramatist, was a nephew of Sir William Cordell, master of the rolls [q. v.] He became a scholar of Westminster School, whence he was elected to Christ Church, Oxford, in 1574. He proceeded B.A. 4 Dec. 1577, M.A. 5 June 1580, and B.C.L. and D.C.L. 30 June 1589 (Oxford Univ. Reg., Oxford Hist. Soc., ii. iii. 70). Gager soon proved a facile Latin verse writer, and wrote a series of Latin plays, which were performed in the university with great success. In 1581 a Latin tragedy, ‘Meleager,’ was produced in the presence of the Earl of Leicester, Sir Philip Sidney, and other distinguished persons. In June 1583, when Albert Alasco, prince palatine of Poland, was entertained by the university, two plays by Gager were acted at Christ Church, and the distinguished visitor expressed much satisfaction with them. The first was ‘a pleasant comedie intituled “Rivales,”’ the second ‘a verie statelie tragedie named “Dido,” wherein the Queenes banket (with Eneas narrative of the destruction of Troie) was livelie described in a marchpaine pattern,’ and the scenic effects were ‘all strange, marvellous, and abundant’ (Holinshed, iii. 1355). The second and third acts of the ‘Dido,’ with prologue, argument, and epilogue, are extant in the Brit. Mus. MS. Addit. 22583, ff. 34–44. Early in February 1591–2 a fourth piece, ‘Ulysses Redux,’ was acted at Christ Church. In the manuscript volume already mentioned, which was formerly in Dr. Bliss's library, are extracts from a fifth play by Gager on the subject of ‘Œdipus.’ When Queen Elizabeth visited Oxford in September 1592, Gager wrote the prologue and epilogue for the comedy ‘Bellum Grammaticale,’ which was performed in the royal presence at Christ Church. Joseph Hunter suggested that Gager was identical with William Wager, the author of some morality-plays, but Wager's pieces were written before Gager left school: the theory is altogether untenable. Meres mentions ‘Dr. Gager of Oxford’ among ‘the best poets for comedy’—not a very apt description, since Gager's chief works were tragedies—in his ‘Palladis Tamia,’ 1598.

Printed copies of only two of Gager's plays are now known—the ‘Ulysses Redux’ and ‘Meleager’—both printed at Oxford by Joseph Barnes in 1592. The former, ‘Ulysses Re- dux, tragœdia publice Academicis recitata octavo Idus Februarii 1591,’ is dedicated to Lord Buckhurst. Copies are in the Douce collection at Oxford and at Bridgewater House. Commendatory verse by Alberico Gentili, Matthew Gwinne, Thomas Holland, and others is prefixed. The ‘Meleager, tragœdia noua bis publice acta in Æde Christi Oxoniæ,’ copies of which are in the British Museum and Bodleian libraries, is dedicated (1 Jan. 1592) to Robert, earl of Essex. Verses by Richard Edes [q. v.], Alberico Gentili [q. v.], and J. C. are prefixed. There is an epilogue addressed to the Earls of Pembroke and Leicester, and at the close of the volume is ‘Panniculus Hippolyto Senecæ Tragœdiæ assutus, 1591;’ an address to Elizabeth, dated 1592, with the prologue and epilogue to the ‘Bellum Grammaticale.’

Gager sent a copy of the ‘Meleager’ to Dr. John Rainolds, then of Queen's College, afterwards president of Corpus Christi College, and with it he forwarded a letter defending the performance of plays at Oxford. Rainolds replied by denouncing the practice and by condemning the excess to which it had lately been carried at Christ Church. A letter of protest from Gager, dated 31 July 1592, is in Corpus Christi College Library (MS. ccclii. 6), and copies of other parts of Gager's share in the correspondence are in University College Library (MS.J. 18). Finally Rainolds wrote a detailed and spirited answer to Gager (preface, dated 30 May 1593), which was published in 1599 under the title of ‘Th' overthrow of Stage-Playes by the way of controversie betwixt D. Gager and D. Rainolds, wherein all the reasons that can be made for them are notably refuted.’ Rainolds attacked with especial vigour the appearance on the stage of youths in women's clothes. A Latin defence of Gager by Alberico Gentili, and a final reply by Rainolds, are appended to Rainolds's volume. A reprint of this volume and the manuscripts dealing with the controversy has long been promised by the New Shakspere Society.

Gager was a voluminous writer of Latin verse. He probably edited the ‘Exequiæ D. Philippi Sidnæi,’ Oxford, 1587, to which he largely contributed. He also wrote in the university collection issued on the deaths of Sir Henry Unton in 1596 and of the queen in 1603. The volume in the British Museum (Addit. MS. 22583) which contains parts of Gager's tragedies of ‘Dido’ and ‘Œdipus,’ includes Latin-verse translations by him of Homer's ‘Batrachomuomachia,’ ‘Susanna,’ ‘Præecepta quædam Isocratis ad Demonicum,’ Musæus's ‘Hero et Leander,’ together with numerous verses and epigrams addressed to friends, patrons, and relatives, like George Peele, Martin Heton, Richard Edes, Toby Matthew, the Earl of Leicester, Sir William Cordwell, Nicholas Breton, and Richard Hakluyt. Two long pieces, ‘Musa Australis’ and ‘Ægloga,’ are both addressed to Toby Matthew. Congratulatory odes on the queen's escape from the Babington plot, a few trifling English verses, and a prose ‘Encomium Eloquentiæ,’ conclude the volume. A Latin heroic poem, ‘Piramus,’ dated 5 Nov. 1605, is in MS. Royal, 12 A. lix. Latin verses by Gager appear before Breton's ‘Pilgrimage to Paradise’ (1592). In 1608 Gager seems to have publicly defended the thesis at Oxford ‘that it was lawful for husbands to beat their wives.’ William Heale of Exeter College replied in ‘An Apologie for Women,’ Oxford, 1609. On the death of Martin Heton, bishop of Ely, 14 July 1609, Gager wrote a Latin elegy, which was engraved on the bishop's tomb in Ely cathedral (Bentham, Ely, p. 197).

In 1590 Gager seems to have been disappointed of a fortune which he expected from an uncle, Edward Cordell, who died in that year. He attributed his disappointment to the action of his uncle's wife. In 1601 he became surrogate to Dr. Swale, vicar-general of Ely. On 29 May 1606, when his friend, Martin Heton, was bishop of Ely, Gager was appointed chancellor of the diocese of Ely. He was delegate and commissary to Archbishop Bancroft for the diocese of Ely in 1608, and custos of the spiritualities on the vacancy of the see in 1609. He was also vicar-general and official principal to Bishop Andrewes in 1613, 1616, and 1618.

[Wood's Athenæ Oxon., ed. Bliss, ii. 87–9; Halliwell's Dictionary of Plays; Stevenson's Supplement to Bentham's History of Ely (1817), 10, 20, 28, 33; Wood's Annals of Oxford, vol. ii. pt. i. pp. 216, 256; Hunter's MS. Chorus Vatum in Addit. MS. 24491, f. 90; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.]

S. L. L.