The book A Mirror for Magistrates is not a single work of verse from a single hand. It is a collection of a number of verse-narratives, written by different poets with cautionary objectives. This is a voluminous work, a monument of industry, and contains more than fourteen hundred closely printed pages, rehearsing the tales of misfortune and wickedness in high places from the very remote past of Albanact (B.C. 1085) to the time of Queen Elizabeth.
This book is a composite didactic work, almost of the medieval type, intended originally as a continuation of John Lydgate‘s Falls of Princess, under the inspiration of Boccaccio’s De Casibus Virorum Illustrium. The collection contained initially seven verse stories, and it was published as a supplement to an edition of the Falls of Princess. Later on, the stories were enlarged to nineteen and the volume was published separately in 1559. The new edition was extended to include the tragic fate of different famous and unfortunate Englishmen. The subsequent editions of the work, however, included some other stories and effected some changes. Thomas Sackville’s “Complaint of Henry, Duke of Buckingham” and “Induction” were included in the edition of 1563. The poets, included in the volume, have not all been identified till now. Besides Sackville, the other poets, contributing to the work, include Baldwin, Churchyard, George Ferrers, Thomas Chaloner, Thomas Phaer, John Dolman, and Fracis Seager.
A Mirror for Magistrates contains monologues from different personalities, written in rhyme. The central theme is the just and unavoidable punishment of all vices and this serves as an implied caution, and is meant for edification. The authors of the work are found concerned to demonstrate the nature of order and justice and the divine retribution that overtakes human crimes and follies. They moralise on the proper behaviour of the princess and on the proper relation between the ruler and the ruled. The poems represent different characters from English history and the tragedy of English kingship and thereby project the moral and educational meaning of history.
This volume remains particularly important as the curiosities of Renaissance literature, representing diverse matters and diverse types of poetical composition. It may also be taken as the pioneer of chronicle poetry, and such works, as Samuel Daniel’s Civil War and Micheal Drayton’s Barons’ War, are in the direct line of its descent. Chronicle poetry is found to have inspired the chronicle play, and a good many Elizabethan historical plays are found based on the very subjects, treated first in the Mirror.