William Alabaster (1567-1640). Engraving after Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638). Courtesy

Rev. William Alabaster or Arblastier (1567-1640) was an English poet and scholar who wrote mainly in Latin.[1]


Alabaster was born at Hadleigh, Suffolk, in 1567.[1] He was, so Fuller states, a nephew by marriage of Dr John Still, bishop of Bath and Wells. His surname, sometimes written Arblastier, is one of the many variants of arbalester, a cross-bowman.[2]

Alabaster was educated at Westminster School, and entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1583. He became a Fellow, and in 1592 was incorporated of the University of Oxford.[2]

About 1592 he produced at Trinity College his Latin tragedy of Roxana.[3] It is modelled on the tragedies of Seneca, and is a stiff and spiritless work. Fuller and Anthony a Wood bestowed exaggerated praise on it, while Samuel Johnson regarded it as the only Latin verse worthy of notice produced in England before Milton's elegies. Roxana is founded on the La Dalida (Venice, 1567) of Luigi Groto, known as Cieco di Hadria, and Hallam asserts that it is a plagiarism.[4] A surreptitious edition in 1632 was followed by an authorized version a plagiarii unguibus vindicata, aucta et agnita ab Authore, Gulielmo Alabastro.[2]

A single book of an epic poem in Latin hexameters, in honour of Queen Elizabeth, is preserved in MS. in the library of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. This poem, Elisaeis, Apotheosis poetica, Spenser highly esteemed. "Who lives that can match that heroick song?" he says in Colin Clout's Come Home Againe, and begs "Cynthia" to withdraw the poet from his obscurity.[2]

In June 1596 Alabaster sailed with Robert Devereux, earl of Essex, on the expedition to Cadiz in the capacity of chaplain, and, while he was in Spain, he became a Roman Catholic. An account of his change of faith is given in an obscurely worded sonnet contained in a MS. copy of Divine Meditations, by Mr Alabaster.[5] He defended his conversion in a pamphlet, Seven Motives, of which no copy is extant. The proof of its publication only remains in two tracts, A Booke of the Seuen Planets, or Seuen wandring motives of William Alablaster's (sic) wit. .. , by John Racster (1598), and An Answer to William Alabaster, his Motives, by Roger Fenton (1599). From these it appears that Alabaster was imprisoned for his change of faith in the Tower of London during 1598 and 1599.[2]

In 1607 he published at Antwerp Apparatus in Revelationem Jesu Christi, in which his study of the Kabbalah was turned to account in a mystical interpretation of scripture which drew down the censure alike of Protestants and Catholics. The book was placed on the Index librorum prohibitorum at Rome early in 1610. Alabaster says in the preface to his Ecce sponsus venit (1633), a treatise on the time of the second advent of Christ, that he went to Rome and was there imprisoned by the Inquisition, but succeeded in escaping to England and again embraced the Protestant faith. He received a prebend in St Paul's Cathedral, London, and the living of Therfield, Hertfordshire.[2]

He died at Little Shelford, Cambridgeshire, in 1640.[1]

Writing Edit

Alabaster's other cabalistic writings are Commentarius de Bestia Apocalyptica (1621) and Spiraculum tubarum,(1633), a mystical interpretation of the Pentateuch. It was by these theological writings that he won the praise of Robert Herrick, who calls him "the triumph of the day" and the "one only glory of a million".[6]. He also published Lexicon Pentaglotton, Hebraicum, Chaldaicum, Syriacum, Talmudico-Rabbinicon et Arabicum in 1637.[2]




Collected editionsEdit

  • Unpublished Works (edited by Dana Ferrin Sutton). Salzburg, Austria: University of Salzburg (Salzburg Studies in English Literature), 1997.




  • Roxana: Tragoedia. London: A. Crook, 1632


  • Lexicon pentaglotton, Hebraicum, Chaldaicum, Syriacum, Talmudico-Rabbinicum, & Arabicum. Frankfurt, 1653.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[7]

See alsoEdit

Two Sonnets by William Alabaster Upon the Crucifix

Two Sonnets by William Alabaster Upon the Crucifix

References Edit

12px Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). "Alabaster, William". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 466. . Wikisource, Web, Apr. 16, 2016.

  • T. Fuller, Worthies of England (ii. 343)
  • J.P. Collier, Bibl. and Crit. Account of the Rarest Books in the English Language (vol. i. 1865)
  • Pierre Bayle, Dictionary, Historical and Critical (ed. London, 1734);
  • The Athenaeum (December 26, 1903), where Mr Bertram Dobell describes a MS. in his possession containing forty-three sonnets by Alabaster.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 William Alabaster, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Web, Apr. 16, 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Encyclopædia Britannica 1911, I, 466.
  3. For an analysis of the play see an article on the Latin university plays in the Jahrbuch der Deutschen Shakespeare Gesellschaft (Weimar, 1898).
  4. Literature of Europe, iii. 54
  5. see J.P. Collier, Hist. of Eng. Dram. Poetry, ii. 341
  6. "To Doctor Alabaster" Hesperides, 1648
  7. Search results = au:William Alabaster, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Apr. 16, 2016.

External linksEdit


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the 1911 Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Original article was at "Alabaster, William."

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