Gorboduc was a play co-written by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville. It was performed during the royal Christmas celebrations of 1561 and before Queen Elizabeth I during the Christmas celebration on the 18th of January 1562. It was later published without the authors’ permission in 1565. An authorized quarto was published in 1570 with the title The Tragedie of Ferrex and Porrex. A third edition was printed in 1590.
The play is in 5 Acts, along the Roman model. Like Greek plays it recounts the actions of famous historical figures. Similar to many Greek dramas before it, it is a revenge tragedy. The play makes use of unrhymed free verse. At the end of each Act is a rhymed Chorus. The play itself has alot that would make it very similar to classical Greek and Roman plays. At the same time, it is illustrates both a wholly British story and a universal one.
The plot begins similar to that of King Lear, with a kingdom being split by King into two parts for each of his to sons to rule. Several of his Councilors recount the story of Brute, the first king of Britain, who split his kingdom into three parts for his three sons to rule with disastrous results, as a warning to King Gorboduc.
Against the advice of his Councilors, Gorboduc splits his kingdom, feeling that the love his two sons have for each other, along with councilors he will appoint to advice each of them, will be safeguard enough against any enmity, envy, disdain, or hate that may arise between the two. Porrex ends up killing Ferrex after being misled by the parasite Tyndar into believing Ferrex was preparing to attack Porrex’s realm.
Gorboduc banishes Porrex. His mother, Viden slays him as revenge for killing her beloved son Ferrex. Her revenge is retold by her Lady Marcella to the king in his court, to the sorrow of all who hear it. This recounting of events, instead of showing them onstage, is taken from the Greeks. After hearing of the deaths of both children, the people of Britain begin a rebellion and kill both King and Queen.
The various Dukes of the land conspire to restore order and rule a united Britain. Fergus, Duke of Albany, instead believes it's the right time for him to “gain a kingdom.” In the next scene, the Dukes speak of how things have been going. The offer of pardons have brought some of the people to renounce their rebellion, although some doubt whether so heinous a crime could be truly pardoned. The messenger Nuntius comes onto the scene to tell of how Fergus is leading 20,000 men to take control of the Throne. The Dukes talk of having to take the field to defeat the Duke of Albany. They then lament the innocent deaths that ensuing civil wars will inevitably bring.
This is the type of story that Shakespeare enjoyed producing, one that showed some basic traits of human nature and the dynamics of human personalities and emotions during some of life's more extreme events (wars, deaths of family, rivalries for power, the evil influences of villlians, and even the influence of the supernatural.) The two main characters, Ferrex and Porrex show normal human emotions under extraordinary circumstances. Neither of them are villians, and neither are their mother or father.
The complexity of The Tragedie of Ferrex and Porrex proved that England could produce any drama of equal or greater quantity than that of Greece and Rome. England had previously proved her greatness in poetry with Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and epic poem Troilus and Criseyde and in literature with Thomas Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur. Norton and Sackville proved that England also could produce great drama with their Historical tragedy of 1561.