William Chamberlayne gained his reputation as a Caroline poet, although his vocation was the practice of medicine. His works included Pharonnida (1659), an epic romance in heroic couplets at a length of 14,000 lines that occupied five books when published. Also a dramatist, he published the play Love's Victory, titled at one time Wits led by the Nose, in 1658. Because of his heavy style he is considered a minor poet, but he imbued his verse with occasional flashes of beauty, influencing the later major romantic poet John Keats. Critics note his importance lies in the fact that as a bridge between Elizabethan poetry and later styles represented by Charles Dryden, he helps promote understanding of art much greater than his own. Percy Bysshe Shelley joked that Chamberlayne never intended anyone to reach the end of Pharonnida, but it represented a popular style of his era. Some excuse what may be considered incoherence with the fact that its composition was interrupted when Chamberlayne left his work to fight with the Royalists at the Second Battle of Newbury (1644).
In verse that at times seemed disorganized and unfocused, Chamberlayne remained inconsistent about the simplest of details, such as the setting for the romance featuring the damsel Pharonnida and her knights errant; one moment the characters are in Sicily, and at another in Morea. He also altered his characters' names at will. The work's excesses and lack of form disgusted Dryden, becoming one of several forces that caused him to choose a different stylistic tack; therefore, as George Saintsbury writes, Pharonnida must be considered influential, if ineffectual. A prose version, Eromena, or the Noble Stranger, was published in 1658 by an unknown author. The poem appeared in full in George Saints-bury's Minor Poets of the Caroline Period (1905), in which Saintsbury guardedly praises Chamberlayne as deserving of his minor, but not unimportant, status.
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