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Nahum Tate

Nahum Tate

Tate, Nahum, 1652-1715, English poet and dramatist, b. Dublin. He wrote several popular adaptations of Shakespeare, the most famous being his King Lear (1681), in which he omitted the part of the fool and had Cordelia survive to marry Edgar. With Dryden he wrote the second part of Absalom and Achitophel (1682). In 1692 he became poet laureate. His metrical version of the Psalms (1696), written with Nicholas Brady, is generally regarded as tedious and verbose. He was the target of an attack by Pope in The Dunciad.

See study by C. Spencer (1972).

Nahum Tate (1652–July 30, 1715) was an Irish poet, hymnist, and lyricist, who became England's poet laureate in 1692.


Nahum Tate was born in Dublin in 1652, the son of Faithful Teate, an Irish clergyman, who had written a quaint poem on the Trinity entitled Ter Tria. He graduated from Trinity College, Dublin with a BA in 1672, and by 1676 he had moved to London and was writing for a living. The following year he had adopted the spelling Tate, which would remain until his death, in 1715, in South­wark, Lon­don, England.


Tate published a volume of poems in London in 1677, and became a regular writer for the stage. "Brutus of Alba, or The Enchanted Lovers" (1678), a tragedy dealing with Dido and Aeneas, later adapted to the libretto for Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas (1689?), and The Loyal General (1680), were followed by a series of adaptations from Elizabethan dramas.

In William Shakespeare's Richard II he altered the names of the characters, and changed the text so that every scene, to use his own words, was "full of respect to Majesty and the dignity of courts"; but in spite of these precautions The Sicilian Usurper (1681), as his rewrite was called, was suppressed on the third representation on account of a possible political interpretation.

King Lear (1687) was fitted with a happy ending in a marriage between Cordelia and Edgar; and Coriolanus became the Ingratitude of a Commonwealth (1682). From John Fletcher he adapted The Island Princess (1687); from Chapman and Marston's Eastward Ho he derived The Cuckold's Haven (1685); in 1707 he rewrote John Webster's White Devil; and Sir Aston Cockayne's Trappolin suppos'd a Prince he imitated in Duke and no Duke (1685).

Tate's name is chiefly connected with these plays and with the famous New Version of the Psalms of David (1696), in which he collaborated with Nicholas Brady. A supplement was licensed in 1703. Some of these hymns, notably "While Shepherds watched", and "As pants the hart,, rise above the general level, and are said to be Tate's work.

Tate wrote the words to a number of hymns, of which the most famous is the Christmas carol "Song of the Angels at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour", more famously known by its opening line "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks". Tate wrote the libretto for Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas in 1689. He also wrote the text for Purcell's Ode "Come ye Sons of Art" in 1694. In 1682 Tate collaborated with John Dryden to complete the second half of his epic poem Absalom and Achitophel.

Tate also translated Syphilis sive Morbus Gallicus, Girolamo Fracastoro's Latin pastoral poem on the subject of the disease of syphilis into English heroic couplets.

Tate was named as poet laureate in 1692. His poems were sharply criticized by Alexander Pope in The Dunciad.

Of his numerous poems the most original is Panacea, a poem on Tea (1700). In spite of his consistent Toryism, he succeeded Shadwell as poet laureate in 1692. He died within the precincts of the Mint, Southwark, where he had taken refuge from his creditors, in 1715.

Contemporary stagings of Tate's works

In addition to the well known production by the Royal Shakespeare Company of Nicholas Nickleby in England and New York, directed by Trevor Nunn, in 1981, which included the concluding scene of Tate's version of Romeo and Juliet, with its happy ending, there has been at least one other production of Tate's work in New York.

In 1985, the Riverside Shakespeare Company of New York City staged Tate's The History of King Lear in its original form, "happy ending" and all, directed by W. Stuart McDowell at The Shakespeare Center. This included removing the Fool altogether, adding a confidante for Cordelia, named Arante, as well as an "abduction" scene of Cordelia on the heath. The play concluded with multiple happy endings: for Lear and Kent, and Cordelia and Edgar, who presumably wed after the play's conclusion. Musical interludes were sung by cast members during the act breaks, accompanied by a harpsichord in the orchestra pit. (For more information about this, see Riverside Shakespeare Company, and King Lear.)


  • Selected Writings of the Laureate Dunces, Nahum Tate (Laureate 1692-1715), Laurence Eusden (1718-1730), and Colley Cibber (1730-1757) (Studies in British Literature, V. 40): Peter Heaney, editor.
  • Lynch, Jack (2007). Becoming Shakespeare: The Strange Afterlife That Turned a Provincial Playwright into the Bard. New York: Walker & Co.

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