Happy 410th birthday Shackerley Marmion!

January 21, 2013

Authored by: Hannah Charters, Marketing Assistant for Oxford Scholarly Editions Online, Oxford University Press

You may be forgiven for not having heard of Shackerley Marmion–nor had members of the Oxford Scholarly Editions Online (OSEO) editorial team, until the development of OSEO.  Marmion was a poet and playwright born on 21st January 1603, whose work, The Legend of Cupid and Psyche, was published in 1906 in an Oxford scholarly edition with the snappy title of:

Minor Poets of the Caroline Period, Vol. 2: Marmion's Cupid and Psyche, Kynaston's Leonine and Sydanis, and Cynthiades, Poems of John Hall, Sidney Godolphin and Philip Ayres, Chalkhill's Thealma and Clearchus, Poems of Patrick Carey and William Hammond, Bosworth's Arcadius and Sepha, &c.

This edition has been out of print for decades, and it wasn’t until the development of OSEO that Marmion re-surfaced, appearing between Christopher Marlowe and Philip Massinger in the alphabetically sorted “Browse by Author” list.  The development of OSEO helped Marmion to reappear because it deconstructs each edition’s constituent parts and re-presents them in a more accessible and searchable way, allowing Marmion to escape the edition and his work to be made visible again. Furthermore, the original print edition has now been brought back into print-on-demand, and you can now purchase it directly from the OUP website.

Marmion wrote three plays in his short lifetime (Hollands Leaguer, A Fine Companion, and The Antiquary), was associated with a fourth play (The Sodder'd Citizen, now thought to be written by John Clavell), and wrote occasional and memorial poems, as well as a long allegorical poem, The Legend of Cupid and Psyche, which is available on OSEO.  In 1639 he fell ill on Sir John Suckling's expedition against the Scots, returned to London and died later the same month at the age of 36.

The re-emergence of Marmion is a great example of how OSEO helps to make historical texts more accessible than was ever possible before, making these works much easier for any student or researcher to find. George Saintsbury, editor of Marmion’s edition, The Minor Poets of the Caroline Period, had the same vision over 100 years ago in his General Introduction:

“To collect the texts which we here propose to give would cost anything from twenty to fifty1  pounds in money, and I really do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that it might cost from twenty to fifty weeks, if not months, in time … It is, therefore, by no means an unimportant thing … that the documents of this period of unbridled overlapping should be put completely within the reach of the student and reader:—first, that he may understand and appreciate them in themselves; secondly, that he may understand and appreciate the reaction against them; thirdly, that he may understand and appreciate the new reaction to something like them more than a century later.”

The same is true today; scholarly editions are necessarily a scarce resource in any library, with print editions sometimes costing hundreds of pounds (to buy a single copy of all the 171 editions available on OSEO at launch would cost over £15,000 or US$24,000). So, over a century later, it is our hope that OSEO realises Saintsbury’s belief, that by making these authoritatively edited works more accessible and easy to use students and scholars will not only appreciate and understand them, but create new reactions and ideas towards them.

View an extract from The Legend of Cupid and Psyche below:

"Thus Psyche on a grassy bed did lie,
Adorn'd with Flora's richest tapestry,
Where all her senses with soft slumber bound;—
At last awak'd, and rising from a swound
She spies a wood, with fair trees beautify'd,
And a pure crystal fountain by the side;
A kingly palace stood not far apart,
Built not with human hands, but divine art;
For by the structure men might guess it be
The habitation of some deity"

Subscribers to OSEO can access the full text.

 To find out more about the life of Shackerley Marmion visit his page on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.


1That’s nearly £2000 to £5000 or US$3,000 to US$8,000 today!


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