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He was baptized at St George's church, Canterbury, on 17 April 1554. He entered Corpus Christi College, Oxford, 1572, and on leaving the university in 1576 he went to London. In 1598 Francis Meres in his Palladis Tamia mentions him with Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, Abraham Fraunce and others as the "best for pastorall", but no pastorals of Gosson's are extant. He is said to have been an actor, and by his own confession he wrote plays, for he speaks of Catiline's Conspiracies as a "Pig of mine own Sowe." Because of their moral standpoint, he excludes such plays as these from the general condemnation of stage plays in his Schoole of Abuse, containing a pleasant invective against Poets, Pipers, Plaiers, Jesters and such like Caterpillars of the Commonwealth (1579).
The euphuistic style of this pamphlet and its ostentatious display of learning were in the taste of the time, and do not necessarily imply insincerity. Gosson justified his attack on the grounds of the disorder which the love of melodrama and of vulgar comedy was introducing into the social life of London. It was not only by extremists like Gosson that these abuses were recognized. Spenser, in his Teares of the Muses (1591), laments the same evils, although only in general terms. The tract was dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney, who seems not unnaturally to have resented being connected with a pamphlet which opened with a comprehensive denunciation of poets, for Spenser, writing to Gabriel Harvey (16 October 1579) of the dedication, says the author "was for hys labor scorned." He dedicated, however, a second tract, The Ephemerides of Phialo ... and A Short Apologie of the Schoole of Abuse, to Sidney on 28 October 1579.
Gosson's abuse of poets seems to have had a large share in inducing Sidney to write his Apologie for Poetrie, which probably dates from 1581. After the publication of the Schoole of Abuse Gosson retired into the country, where he acted as tutor to the sons of a gentleman (Plays Confuted. "To the Reader," 1582). Anthony à Wood places this earlier and assigns the termination of his tutorship indirectly to his animosity against the stage, which apparently wearied his patron of his company. The publication of his polemic provoked many retorts, the most formidable of which was Thomas Lodge's Defence of Playes (1580). The players themselves retaliated by reviving Gosson's own plays. Gosson replied to his various opponents in 1582 by his Playes Confuted in Five Actions, dedicated to Sir Francis Walsingham. Meanwhile he had taken orders, was made lecturer of the parish church at Stepney (1585), and was presented by the queen to the rectory of Great Wigborough, Essex, which he exchanged in 1600 for St Botolph's, Bishopsgate. Pleasant Quippes for Upstart New-fangled Gentlewomen (1595), a coarse satiric poem, is also ascribed to Gosson.
The Schoole of Abuse and Apologie were edited (1868) by Edward Arber in his English Reprints. Two poems of Gosson's are included.
- The Schoole of Abuse by Stephen Gosson
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Gosson, Stephen". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press