Valentinian: a Tragedy. As ’tis alter’d by the late Earl of Rochester, and acted at the Theatre-Royal. Together with a Preface concerning the Author and his Writings. By one of his Friends.

London: Printed for Timothy Goodwin … 1685.

Small 4to., pp. [32], 82, [2, epilogue]; some uniform pale foxing, stab-holes to inner margin; a very good copy in modern quarter morocco and cloth boards.


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First edition, as altered by Rochester from John Fletcher’s revenge tragedy, based loosely on events in the reign of the weak and dissolute Roman emperor Valentinian III, and his murder (written c.1610-14, printed 1647). Rochester’s intended title was Lucina’s Rape, the central incident on which the action turns, but the play was brought to the stage and printed (after Rochester’s death) under Fletcher’s original title. It was written in the 1670s but Harold Love suggests that it was not staged then for political reasons; the implications of a play about a ‘lust-besotted autocrat’ could scarcely be disguised. One passage caused considerable offence in the nineteenth century: ‘Whoever reads the speech with which the first scene of the second act of this piece concludes [II, ii in Love’s edition] will find no difficulty in conceiving that Sodom (an infamous play) might be the work of Rochester’ (Isaac Reed).

The long preface, by the friendly hand of Robert Wolseley, defends Rochester against Mulgrave’s attack on him in An Essay upon Poetry, and, more generally, urges that the value of a work of art should not be affected by moral considerations. The first prologue is by Aphra Behn.

Wing F 1354; Woodward & McManaway 1299; Macdonald 233; The Works of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, ed. Harold Love, pp. 448-51, 618-33.

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