RENAISSANCE AND RESTORATION
Objectives `Renaissance and Restoration' is a Group A Advanced Unit. The Unit is concerned with drama, poetry and prose from the mid- sixteenth century to the late seventeenth century. The subject guide has been designed
i) to help you identify what is characteristic of the literature of the period
ii) to develop your understanding of change and continuity in the literary culture of the period
iii) to help you locate the texts you study in their socio- cultural contexts
iv) to provide a context for the application of a range of critical approaches to the literature of the period
It is important that you refer to these objectives in the planning of your syllabus and when assessing your progress through the syllabus. (Self-assessment procedures are discussed in the Handbook.)
Subject Content You should organise your course of study around both topics and individual authors. The following is a list of the kind of topics which you might choose to investigate:
* the definition and meaning of terms such as `literary Renaissance', `humanist revival', `the Restoration'
* classical and native influences on Renaissance literature
* the theory and use of rhetoric
* love poetry
* Elizabethan prose fiction
* the history play
* poetic theory
* Elizabethan tragedy
* metaphysical poetry
* devotional poetry
* the link between literature and politics
* literature of the commonwealth
* women and writing in the early modern period
* romantic and satirical comedy
* Jacobean tragedy
* epic poetry
* writing and the Civil War
* Restoration comedy
In practice, some of these topics, Elizabethan tragedy and the history play for instance, may well overlap.
The following is a list of authors whose works you may choose to study:
John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester
You need not feel restricted by these lists of topics and authors and you are not expected to know all of them in depth. But you are advised to study the work of some of the Renaissance writers whose work was influenced by continental humanism and to strike a balance between poetry, drama and prose. Those writers marked above with an asterisk are broadly of the earlier part of the period. Their work marked a decisive break with the traditions of the later Middle Ages and is central to our understanding of the term `Renaissance'. Studying the plays, prose and poetry of some of these writers will certainly help with your preparation for Section B and Section C of the examination paper (see below under the next section). It may also help with Section A questions, although passages in this section could be drawn from any early modern text. Similarly, the list of topics includes some of the central themes, genres and approaches to the literature of this period. It is, however, quite acceptable for you to include other topics not referred to here in your syllabus.
Suggested Study Syllabus The following is a sample 20 week subject outline to give you an idea of how a syllabus could be constructed for this unit.
Weeks 1-2: Background reading on sixteenth- and seventeenth- century history. Key terms to understand: `Renaissance'; `Reformation'; `Protestantism'; `Calvinism'; `feudalism'; `capitalism'; `bourgeoisie'; `Tudor'; `Stuart'; `humanism'; `neoclassicism'; `Platonism'; `republic'; `English Civil War'; `commonwealth'; `parliament'; `Restoration'.
Weeks 3-5: Author study: Ben Jonson (Volpone, The Alchemist, Bartholomew Fair). Practice on Section A questions
Weeks 6-7: Topic Study: Revenge Tragedy (Thomas Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy and Shakespeare, Hamlet)
Weeks 8-9: Author Study: Edmund Spenser (The Faerie Queene Book 3)
Weeks 10-12: Topic Study: Love Poetry (Sir Philip Sidney, `Astrophil and Stella'; Shakespeare, `Sonnets'; John Donne, `Poems')
Weeks 13-14: Author Study: John Milton (Paradise Lost Books 1- 5).
Weeks 15-16: Topic Study: Restoration Comedy (William Congreve, The Way of the World and William Wycherley The Country Wife)
Weeks 17-18: A review of terms learnt in Weeks 1-2 and their relation to the literary works. Practice on Section A questions.
Weeks 19-20: Revision.
Using This Subject Guide This subject guide is not designed as an overview of the whole of the literature of the Renaissance and Restoration periods. The content of the course of study you construct for yourself will consist of both the primary texts you choose (which will include plays, poems and prose) and secondary material such as literary criticism, historical and cultural studies, biography and so on.
The guide is intended as a model to show how you might decide to organise and develop your programme of study. The authors and topics which we consider here might not coincide with your own choices, but the critical procedures indicated should be of general application. This guide does not constitute the syllabus itself, but a guide to how an appropriate course of study might be constructed by you and to appropriate ways of studying the material which you will choose. It also indicates the range of material which is the MINIMUM amount necessary for you to face the exam with confidence. Simple regurgitation in the examination of the illustrative material in this subject guide will be regarded as plagiarism and heavily penalised. You must adapt such material in ways appropriate to your own chosen syllabus of study. Examiners will always look unfavourably at examinations which are composed of answers which draw solely on the illustrative material provided in this subject guide.
In this guide we will consider just two extracts in preparation for the Section A question, but you will need to try your skills out on a number of passages in the course of preparation for the exam. We will undertake two author studies for Section B questions and two topic studies for Section C. We would suggest a minimum of two authors and two topics in depth as a goal to aim for in your preparation for the examination. Finally, you may want to develop lines of enquiry which are only alluded to here; indeed, you may want to investigate issues which are not raised at all in the guide.
Symbols Used in This Study Guide When the author or title of a text is given in bold, full bibliographical details of the text in question will be found at the beginning of the subject guide or at the beginning of the relevant chapter of the subject guide.
Italics are used for study strategies (i.e. consider this point, study this chapter, etc.)
General Subject Reading This is a selection of titles which provide useful `background' reading for the whole unit. None of these titles is compulsory and none indispensable. Nor is it intended that you should read all these titles. Especially recommended titles are marked by an asterisk.
Beilin, Elaine Redeeming Eve: Women Writers of the Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1987) [ISBN 0-691-01500- 7]
Burke, Peter The Renaissance (London: Macmillan, 1987) [ISBN 0- 333-37201-8]
*Belsey, Catherine The Subject of Tragedy: Identity and Difference in Renaissance Drama. (London: Methuen, 1985) [ISBN 0-416-32700-1 (hardback) 0-416-32710-9 (paperback)]. An essential work of modern feminist cultural criticism.
*Bevington, David From `Mankind' to Marlowe: Growth of Structure in the Popular Drama of Tudor England (Cambridge MASS.: Harvard University Press, 1962) [No ISBN]
Braunmuller A.R. and Hattaway, Michael (eds) The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) [ISBN 0-521-38662-4]
Clare, Janet Art Made Tongue-tied by Authority: Elizabethan and Jacobean Dramatic Censorship (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990) [ISBN 0-7190-2431-X]
Coward, Barry The Stuart Age (London: Longman, 1980) [ISBN 0- 582-488-338]
*Dollimore, Jonathan Radical Tragedy (Brighton: Harvester, 1984) [ISBN 0-7108-0307-9]
*Girard, René A Theater of Envy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991) [ISBN 0-19-505339-7]
*Greenblatt, Stephen Renaissance Self-Fashioning: More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980) [ISBN 0-226-30-6542]
*Headlam Wells, Robin Shakespeare, Politics and the State (London: Macmillan Educational, l986) [0-333-375-912]
Healy, Thomas and Jonathan Sawday (eds) Literature and the English Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) [ISBN 0-521-370-825]
*Hill, Christopher Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965) [ISBN 0-198- 226-357]
Hill, Christopher A Nation of Change and Novelty: Radical Politics, Religion and Literature in Seventeenth Century England (London: Routledge 1990) [ISBN 0-4150-483-38]
Mahood, Molly Poetry and Humanism (London Baker and Taylor, l950) [ISBN 0-39-30-0533-X]
Margolies, David Novel and Society in Elizabethan England (London: Croom Helm, 1985) [ISBN 0-7099-3500-5]
Parry, Graham Seventeenth-Century Poetry: The Social Context (London: Hutchinson, 1985) [ISBN 0-09-160731-0]
Rivers, Isabel Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry (London: Routledge, l979) [ISBN 0-415-07827- X]
Salingar, Leo Dramatic Form in Shakespeare and the Jacobeans (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986) [ISBN 0-521- 30856-9]
Sharpe, Kevin (ed) Politics of Discourse: The Literature and History of Seventeenth-Century England (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987) [ISBN 0-520-060-709]
Sharpe, Kevin and Peter Lake (eds) Culture and Politics in Early Stuart England (Macmillan, 1994) [ISBN 0-333-57851-1]
Willey, Basil The Seventeenth-Century Background (London: Ark, 1986) [ISBN 0-7448-00412]
*Wrightson, Keith English Society 1580-1680 (London: Hutchinson, 1982) [ISBN 0-0914-5171-X]
* = especially recommended
Methods of Assessment You will be assessed by one 3-hour examination. The examination paper will be in three parts. You will have to answer one question from each section.
Section A will consist of a series of short extracts of poetry, drama, and prose from a range of writers in the Renaissance and Restoration periods. You will be asked to comment on one of these extracts, showing in what ways it is typical of early modern writing.
Section B will contain questions inviting discussion of literary preoccupations and styles in relation to individual texts or individual authors.
Section C will contain questions inviting comparison between at least two texts by different authors in terms of specific themes, forms or critical approaches.
Please note the rubric of the exam appended to this booklet. As well as instructing you to answer three questions, one from each section, it says: `Candidates may NOT discuss the same text in more than one answer, in this examination or any other Advanced Level Unit examination.'
This subject guide will be organised around the structure of the examination paper. You will find examples of the kinds of question you can expect in the exam as you work through the guide and a sample examination paper at the end.
Chapter 1: SECTION A: CONTEXT QUESTIONS
Introduction The compulsory Section A question will typically consist of four to six extracts of poetry, drama, and prose from the period. You will be asked to discuss one of the extracts `showing how it is characteristic of the period in attitude, themes, style, or other ways.'
It should be clear that this part of the paper differs from the kind of `practical criticism' exercise with which you may already be familiar. You will be applying the skills of close textual analysis, but in addition you are expected to place these passages in various related contexts. This means that your critical reading of `the words on the page' should, ideally, be informed by some of the following contexts:
ùan ability to discuss genres, the conventions that govern them, innovatory aspects, and the ways in which the expectations of the genre may be adapted or subverted
ùknowledge of literary forms and their cultural associations: the sonnet, the ode, the epic, the lyric, the elegy; the recognition and understanding of common dramatic verse forms
ùknowledge of the author's life, where relevant
ùknowledge of literary and socio-cultural contexts of the periods of the Renaissance and Restoration
ùknowledge of the social and political history of the periods
In addition, your critical reading may raise ideological and theoretical questions. This might be very consciously and determinedly deployed, because of your own theoretical stance. Or specific critical approaches might seem to be invited by the nature of the extract you are considering.
A significant percentage of the marks available can be awarded to your reading of the free-standing text, but an ability to bring in these wider contexts in relevant ways is equally important. Essentially we will be testing your ability to see how any passage could be seen as representative of the literature of the Renaissance or Restoration periods.
In terms of structuring your responses, you might choose to start with `the words on the page' and build out to these wider contexts. But there are no hard and fast rules about structuring, except that, however your piece is organised, the line of argument must be clear and relevant to the question.
Section A: An Illustration
Here is the first half of Marvell's `An Horation Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland':
The forward Youth that would appear Must now forsake his Muses dear, Nor in the Shadows sing His Numbers languishing. 'Tis time to leave the Books in dust 5 And oyl the unused Armours rust: Removing from the Wall The Corslet of the Hall. So restless Cromwel could not cease In the inglorious arts of Peace, 10 But through adventrous War Urged his active star. And like the three-fork'd Lightning, first Breaking the Clouds where it was nurst Did thorough his own Side 15 His fiery way divide. For 'tis all one to Courage high The Emulous or Enemy; And with such to inclose Is more than to oppose. 20 Then burning through the Air he went And Pallaces and Temples rent: And Caesar's head at last Did through his Laurels blast. 'Tis Madness to resist or blame 25 The force of angry Heavens flame: And if we would speak true, Much to the Man is due. Who from his private Gardens where He liv'd reserved and austere, 30 As if his highest plot To plant the Bergamot Could by industrious Valour climbe To ruine the great work of Time And cast the Kingdome old 35 Into another Mold. Though Justice against Fate complain And plead the antient Rights in vain: But those do hold or break As Men are strong or weak. 40 Nature that hateth emptiness Allows of penetration less: And therefore must make room Where greater Spirits come. What Field of all the Civil Wars 45 Where his were not the deepest Scars? And Hampton shows what part He had of wiser Art. Where twining subtile fears with hope He wove a Net of such a scope 50 That Charles himself might chase To Caresbrooks narrow case, That thence the Royal Actor born The Tragick Scaffold might adorn While round the armed Bands 55 Did clap their bloody hands. He nothing common did or mean Upon that memorable Scene: But with his keener Eye The Axes edge did try: 60 Nor call'd the Gods with vulgar spight To vindicate his helpless Right, But bow'd his comely Head Down as upon a Bed. This was that memorable Hour 65 Which first assur'd the forced Pow'r.
The model for Marvell's poem is the ode relating political events as practised by the Roman poet Horace. As Marvell does here, Horace in Book IV of his Odes meditated upon a moment of transition from anxiety for the safety of the state to peace and security under Augustus. Earlier Renaissance writers had similarly used classical texts and mythology to evoke associations between past and present contexts. By imitating a celebrated classical genre, Marvell may be subscribing to the belief of some humanists that history could be interpreted cyclically, in that one age could be a kind of recurrence of an earlier epoch.
Does the classical antecedent have any further bearing on the poem?
This is most obvious in the imagery of the poem, which is classical pagan rather than Christian. You might add that this is typical of many Renaissance works, which are culturally hybrid in their synchronisation of classical and Christian motifs and images. Cromwell's meteoric rise is detailed through his destruction of `Pallaces and Temples', which suggest both the Roman world and the culture of royalism and High Anglicanism. Furthermore, Cromwell's ascendancy is interpreted as `Fate' rather than as an act of Christian Providence. The epithet of `Caesar' is transferred to Cromwell.
At this point, you should make a list of the imagery employed to represent both Cromwell and Charles I. You should ask what implications are carried by the choice of words. Do the allusion to Charles I as `the Royal actor' and the description of his execution convey anything of the public perception of this disturbing event?
Describing and analysing Marvell's representation of the figures of Cromwell and Charles is likely to be central to your overall analysis of this extract. Marvell contemplates the monarch with sympathy, but suggests a less than noble passivity. He recognizes Cromwell's strength and political skills with admiration, whilst reserving a sense of doubt about the violence of his rise to power. You will need to relate the poem's ambivalence about Cromwell's military achievement and Charles's tragic end to the elusiveness of other poems by Marvell, with particular reference to his reservations about the justification for the Civil War. In his prose work The Rehearsal Transpros'd (1672), Marvell was to comment on the Civil War: `Whether it were a war of religion, or of liberty, is not worth the labour to enquire. Whichsoever was at the top, the other was at the bottom; but, upon considering all, I think the Cause was too good to have been fought for.' Note the poem's opening lines, where the poet registers a reluctance to leave his life of seclusion to enter into the public arena of politics and war.
Consider the metrical form of the poem and how this relates generally to verse form and structure in seventeenth-century poetry.
In general, Marvell's poetry is typical of the technical virtuosity of metaphysical poetry which acts to complement subtle and ambivalent meaning. The metrical patterning of the rhyming couplets, with alternatively iambic tetrameter and trochaic triameter, complements the sense of unease established by the conflicting sentiments. A sense of antithesis is also constructed by the structural organization of the verse as lines 21-24 act as a pivot to divert our sympathies from Cromwell to Charles. The very form of the poem thus conspires to subvert any trite thematic closure.
Marvell's `Horatian Ode' is often regarded as one of the finest political poems of the period. This should lead into a discussion of the relationship between poetry and politics in the seventeenth century. Make a list of several other poems you might refer to in this context.
You may want to confine your discussion to other poems by Marvell which register a response to the political situation, for instance, `Bermudas', `Upon Appleton House: To my Lord Fairfax', and `The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Fawn', or you may wish, for example, to discuss briefly Sir John Denham's `Coopers Hill', which treats the conflicts more symbolically and allegorically.
Your response to this area will be partly dependent on your knowledge of the Civil War context of Marvell's poetry and of his career as an Member of Parliament and as tutor to the daughter of Lord Fairfax. (Be careful, however, not to spend too much time on biographical details at the expense of the text). A brief reference to the poet's life may lead you to generalize about how key writers of the period were engaged directly in government or political affairs. Poetry was the domain of royalists, parliamentarians and republicans and you will find it helpful to explore some of the ideological interrelations of poetry and politics during the period. The secondary texts that would be most useful to you in exploring the connection between writing and politics are Chernaik The Poet's Time: Politics and Religion in the Work of Andrew Marvell and Condren and Cousins The Political Identity of Andrew Marvell.
We would stress again that the above does not constitute an ideal response. It merely suggests strategies that you might follow. Of course, different responses to the extract will develop in different ways and will have different emphases.
SECTION A: A Second Illustration
The following is an extract from the opening scene of The Revenger's Tragedy.
VINDICE Duke: royal lecher: go grey haired Adultery, And though his son as impious steeped as he: And though his bastard true begot in evil: And though his duchess that will do with devil: Four ex'lent characters!--Oh that marrowless age 5 Would stuff the hollow bones with damned desires, And 'stead of heat kindle infernal fires Within the spendthrift veins of a dry duke, A parched and juiceless luxur. Oh God! one That has scarce blood enough to live upon, 10 And he to riot it like a son and heir? Oh, the thought of that Turns my abused heart-strings into fret. Thou sallow picture of my poisoned love, My study's ornament thou shell of Death, 15 Once the bright face of my betrothed lady, When life and beauty naturally filled out These ragged imperfections; When two heaven-pointed diamonds were set In those unsightly rings--then 'twas a face 20 So far beyond the artificial shine Of any woman's bought complexion That the uprightest man--if such there be That sin but seven times a day--broke custom And made up eight with looking after her. 25 Oh, she was able to ha' made a usurer's son Melt all his patrimony in a kiss, And what his father fifty years told To have consumed and yet his suit been cold: But oh, accursed palace! 30 Thee when thou wert apparelled in thy flesh, The old duke poisoned, Because thy purer part would not consent Unto his palsey-lust; for old men lustful Do show like young men angry--eager, violent, 35 Out-bid like their limited performances-- Oh, 'ware an old man hot and vicious: "Age as in gold in lust is covetous." Vengeance, thou Murder's quit-rent, and whereby Thou show'st thyself tenant to Tragedy, 40 Oh keep thy day hour minute I beseech For those thou hast determined. Him who e'er knew Murder unpaid faith give Revenge her due She's kept touch hitherto--be merry, merry, Advance thee, oh thou terror to fat folks 45 To have their costly three-piled flesh worn off As bare as this--for banquets' ease and laughter Can make great men as greatness goes by clay, But wise men little are more great than they. One obvious characteristic of this soliloquy is the feverishness of the language, which is typical of the play as a whole. Language and idiom, above all, convey a torrid obsession with sexual corruption. The blank verse is fractured and words are colloquial and luridly evocative. Yet there is also a sardonic melancholy as Vindici contemplates the skull and the emptiness of love and life. Another stylistic feature is the use of aphorism and moral commonplace, which we find with abstract sententiae in other plays of the period.
Consider the images in the passage. Make a list of their distinguishing features. You should think about how the images employed relate to preoccupations of Jacobean tragedy.
Vindici's darkened vision of `the marrowless age', and the court in particular, is typical of the drama of the early seventeenth century, which focusses with intensity on human depravity and court corruption. The court was represented as a hotbed of vice, intrigue and faction and a place where the strong preyed upon the weak. As a dramatic location, it enabled the Jacobean playwrights to expose the socially corrosive effects of a system of patronage and clientage. In this speech, the driving forces of the court are seen as lust and ambition. But the speech is also sardonic and satirical in nuance; you could link this with other anti-court satire in both drama and poetry (see, for example, Donne, Satire 4).
The imagery of the soliloquy also forges a significant link between sexual and economic relations: `Oh she was able to ha' made a usurer's son / Melt all his patrimony in a kiss'. The meeting point of sexuality and expenditure is prostitution, which, in this play and others of the period, can be seen as a controlling force in human relations.
Consider how Vindici describes the ducal family. Are the characters conceived naturalistically?
The characters are introduced at the level of abstraction. The Duke is personified as Adultery; the Duchess, and his legitimate and illegitimate sons, are similarly embodiments of lust. The names of the characters also suggest a depersonalized identity. In this respect, the dramatic technique of the play resembles that of a morality play, with characters being representative of the seven deadly sins of medieval allegory. This view is supported by the structure of the scene, in which Vindici, satirically and with moral revulsion, presents the characters to the audience as they process over the stage by torchlight.
Turning to the figure of Vindici, he is, as the name suggests, a revenger, but also a malcontent: both were well-established types in the drama by the time The Revenger's Tragedy was performed. You might want to say more about the role of malcontents, who as social observers express not only moral outrage, but a degree of fascination with the vices they witness.
Consider the passage in the context of the tradition of revenge tragedy during the period.
You would not necessarily be expected to discuss Vindici's role as revenger in the rest of the play. But you should refer to the pleasure he gets out of his vengeance which is anticipated in his opening speech: `who e'er knew / Murder unpaid faith give Revenge her due / She's kept touch hitherto--be merry, merry / Advance thee, oh thou terror to fat folks / To have their costly three-piled flesh worn off / As bare as this.' As the play progresses, the symbolism of revenge comes to negate the passions which originally motivated it.
At this point, you could broaden out your answer by referring to other revenge plays or plays with a revenge theme which you have read. The most obvious in the Elizabethan period are The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet. You may want to refer to later examples of revenge as a plot device in such plays as The White Devil by John Webster, The Changeling by Thomas Middleton and William Rowley, and 'Tis Pity She's a Whore by John Ford.
Early Elizabethan tragedy was much concerned with the notion of private individuals taking it upon themselves to avenge an act of injustice. The artifice and the strategems devised to effect revenge make good theatre, which can also teeter on the brink of sensationalism. The question of revenge however was also one of ethical ambivalence, encapsulated in the maxim of Francis Bacon that revenge was a kind of wild justice. If all channels of justice are closed to the individual, as they are in most revenge plays, does the individual have the right to exact retribution? This question is not addressed in the black comedy of The Revenger's Tragedy, where Vindici is increasingly absorbed in devising wittily appropriate and grotesquely cruel deaths for his victims.
Section A: An Exercise
Write a response to one of the passages from Section A of the examination paper at the end of this subject guide. Evaluate your essay on the basis of the criteria and guidelines given at the beginning of this chapter.
Having practiced writing responses to passages for texts of the period, you should be able to
* identify the genre of a piece of writing even if you have not seen it before
* describe the literary characteristics which place the given text into a genre, referring where appropriate to verse characteristics such as metre and rhyme
* identify and describe the literary features and/or ideas which are characteristic of the period or which typify changes in literary style which occurred during the period
* where appropriate, place the piece in the context of the writer's other work
Chapter 2: Section B: Author Study: Christopher Marlowe
For the purposes of this unit, you will not be expected to read all Marlowe's plays. Some choice will be necessary. The following is our choice; yours might be different. You should be aiming to study at least two primary texts in depth. Studying an additional text will increase your understanding of the specific style and quality of Marlovian drama as well as its range of subjects. Remember you will have to do secondary, critical, reading as well. For this example of how to organize your study, we have chosen Marlowe's Tamburlaine Parts One and Two (c.1587). We have chosen this early Renaissance tragedy of the conquering hero as a starting point, partly because it is illustrative of the verse and dramatic form of the Renaissance stage, and partly because it registers an ambivalence of audience/reader response to the heroic figure characteristic of some Renaissance tragedy. Although Tamburlaine comprises two plays for the purposes of the examination, you are advised to treat it as one play and to study an additional play by Marlowe. We will also be looking at Marlowe's Edward 2 (c. 1592) This is Marlowe's only English history play, a genre popularized by Shakespeare who wrote two tetralogies (`4-part stories') based on British history. Below are examples of editions you could use to read these two plays.
Marlowe, Christopher The Complete Works Fredson Bowers (ed) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973) 2 Volumes [ISBN 0-521-20031-8 (vol. 1) 0-521-20032-6 (vol. 2)]. This is a scholarly critical edition which shows the works in their original (i.e. unmodernized) spelling.
Marlowe, Christopher The Complete Plays J. B. Steane (ed) (Harmondsworth: Penguin English Library, 1969) [ISBN 0-14-043- 037-7]. A widely-available and inexpensive paperback edition of all the plays.
*Marlowe, Christopher Tamburlaine J. W. Harper (ed) (London: New Mermaids, 1971) [ISBN 0-510-33846-1 (hardback) 0-510-33851-8 (paperback)]. Excellent scholarly edition which is inexpensive in paperback.
*Marlowe, Christopher Tamburlaine the Great J. S. Cunningham (ed) (Manchester: The Revels Plays, 1981) [ISBN 0-7190-1528-6]. Another scholarly edition, more expensive than the New Mermaids.
*Marlowe, Christopher Edward the Second W. Moelwyn Merchant (ed) (London: New Mermaids, 1967) [ISBN 0-5103-3801-1 (hardback) 0-5103-3806-2 (paperback)]
*Marlowe, Christopher Edward the Second Charles R. Forker (ed) (Manchester: The Revels Plays, 1994) [ISBN 0-7190-1536-7]
Recommended Secondary Reading
*Barber, C.L. Creating Elizabethan Tragedy: The Theater of Marlowe and Kyd (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, l988) [ISBN 0-226-03704-5]
*Greenblatt, Stephen Renaissance Self-fashioning: from More to Marlowe PR (London: University of Chicago Press, 1980) [ISBN 0- 226-30-6542]. Essential for understanding an important development in cultural criticism of the Renaissance called New Historicism. The chapter on Marlowe positions his plays as contemporaneous with the opening-out of the known world. Greenblatt sees in the violent action of Tamburlaine's relentless conquest the compulsive nature of the Elizabethan merchants in their appropriation of colonial territory.
*Hattaway, Michael Elizabethan Popular Theatre: Plays in Performance (London: Routledge, 1982) [ISBN 0-7100-9052-8]
Leech, Clifford and Anne Lancashire (eds), Christopher Marlowe: Poet for the Stage (New York: AMS Press, 1986) [ISBN 0-404-622- 81-X]. This is an important study of the theatrical vitality of Marlowe's plays.
Levin, Harry Christopher Marlowe: The Overreacher (London: Faber, 1961) [No ISBN]. A significant work which categorizes the Marlovian hero as living dangerously between the alternatives of aspiration and sedition.
Shepherd, Simon Marlowe and the Politics of Elizabethan Theatre (Brighton: Harvester, 1986) [ISBN 0-7108-0635-3]
*Sidney, Philip An Apologie for Poetry Geoffrey Shepherd (London: Nelson's Medieval and Renaissance Library, 1965) [No ISBN]. This work is also known as A Defence of Poesie and is available in many editions. Look specifically at the section on English tragedy which illustrates the academic standards for tragedy to which Marlowe and other popular playwrights did not conform.
Tydeman, William M. Christopher Marlowe: A Guide through the Critical Maze (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1989) [ISBN 1- 8539-9011-6]
Approaching Tamburlaine: Genre, poetic language and ideology
Tamburlaine is a tragedy, but the play invites us to ask what kind of tragic hero Tamburlaine is. In the Prologue to Part 1, Marlowe distances himself from earlier moral interludes: `View but his picture in this tragic glass / And then applaud his fortunes as you please'. The audience are invited to view Tamburlaine and judge for itself. Spectators will not see in Tamburlaine a moral exemplum, nor will they discover an empathic figure.
Examine the text closely to see whether it offers any perspective on Tamburlaine and his global conquest. Are Tamburlaine's cruelty, self-idolatry, and tyranny treated non- problematically as part of his heroic designs? You will need to read closely Tamburlaine's speeches of self-definition and the representation of his opponents (see, for instance, Tamburlaine Part 1, 1.1, 2.5, and 5.1) in this connection.
It could be argued that there is a lack of perspective, certainly of a moral perspective, on Tamburlaine's actions. Zenocrate, Marlowe's creation, articulates a frail note of protest against Tamburlaine's outrages, but she remains subservient to his will. Tamburlaine's cruelties in the second part become even more repellent, but there is no textual evidence that Marlowe is treating Tamburlaine ironically. What is subversive about the play is that Marlowe is taking a type-- the rebel, the overreacher, the ambitious tyrant, a figure who in the more academic drama was subject to retribution--and suppressing any effective moral condemnation.
Examine the ending of the play in the light of the last comment. Does the text give any indication that Tamburlaine's death is linked to his burning of the Koran in Part 2, Act 5? Would a Christian audience expect him to be punished for this act?
Tamburlaine's opponents protest vehemently at his cruelties and predict nemesis. Consider the words in Part 2 of the captive King of Jerusalem:
Thy victories are grown so violent, That shortly heaven, filled with meteors Of blood and fire thy tyrannies have made, Will pour down blood and fire on thy head: Whose scalding drops will pierce thy seething brains, As with our bloods revenge our blood on thee. 4.1.140-5
But, despite such protests and the final audacity of his burning of the holy books of Babylon, Tamburlaine dies from natural causes. He is surrounded by his sons, whom he enjoins to further his conquests. You might argue, however, that his refusal to recognize his mortality is not just a check to his audacious ambition, but a proof of its futility.
One of the reasons why we do not merely recoil with horror at the insanity of Tamburlaine's conquests is that at one level his poetic powers are mesmerizing. His vauntings never fall into bombast. His glowing lines and verbal usurpation of divinity draw in the audience and cause it to lose its moral inhibitions. You could employ Freudian theories of group psychology in examining this situation. In Freudian analysis, there is in crowds a loss of moral inhibition as the leader temporarily takes over the role of the superego. We can see this actually happening in the play as opponents such as Theridamus willingly acquiesce in becoming Tamburlaine's vassals.
In its poetic power Marlowe was creating a new kind of theatre, to which he again draws attention in the opening line of the Prologue to Part 1: `From jigging veins of rhyming mother wits / And such conceits as clownage keeps in pay / We'll lead you to the stately tent of war.' Here, there is a disparaging reference to an earlier dramatic style, with the monotonous rhythm of the `fourteener' and the simple buffoonery of clowns.
Note further how the poetry is rooted in stage action. Throughout the play, Marlowe combines the verbal and the visual with startling effectiveness. Look at the scene in which Tamburlaine defeats Cosroe, whom he has helped to the Persian crown (2.7). Cosroe demands of Tamburlaine why he has turned against him to take his crown. In a typically soaring speech, Tamburlaine justifies his action:
Our souls whose faculties can comprehend The wondrous architecture of the world: And measure every wand'ring planet's course, Still climbing after knowledge infinite, And always moving as the restless spheres, Wills us to wear ourselves and never rest, Until we reach the ripest fruit of all, The perfect bliss and sole felicity, The sweet fruition of an earthly crown.
Tamburlaine's allusion to the `earthly crown' is not only metaphorical but actual, as moments later he takes the crown from the dying Cosroe and asks who now is King of Persia.
Collect further examples of the ways in which verbal and visual imagery fuse. You will find, for example, other moments in the drama when the dual aspect of `crown' as material stage property and as verbal symbol works effectively. You should also consider whether the excesses of Tamburlaine's actions undercut the effects of his words.
As we have said, the power of Tamburlaine, conveyed through visual and verbal imagery, lies in its break with the morality tradition. We see an heroic tyrant undaunted by any traditional restraints. An interesting but elusive approach is to ask what kind of response the play would have elicited from an Elizabethan audience. What ideas would have been conveyed by the drama of `a Scythian shepherd by his rare and wonderfull conquests become a most puissant and mightye Monarque' (the title page advertisement)?
Remember that Tamburlaine was a shepherd. How might an audience's expectations of what shepherds do influence reactions to his behaviour?
At some level, Marlowe has built on the cultural heritage of the Renaissance. In the figure of Tamburlaine, you might want to argue that we have an image of the questing Renaissance subject. Here, you will need to consider some of the secondary material mentioned in the Bibliography. We suggest that you read critically the sections on Marlowe in the works by C. L. Barber and Stephen Greenblatt referred to above.
Consider this definition of the early Elizabethan theatre: `The repertory theatre constituted a new place apart, alternative to the church, where human possibilities could be envisaged with a new freedom' (C. L. Barber Creating Elizabethan Tragedy). Barber also describes Tamburlaine as a disruptive play, where theatrical aggression runs out of control. Make a list of the ways in which Tamburlaine challenges orthodox moral thinking and transgresses the boundaries of human action.
New Historicist critics such as Greenblatt have emphasised how the theatre functioned not as a passive reflector of social ideas, but also to construct, to partake in and to endorse current ideologies. From this perspective, Marlowe's plays participate in the Renaissance view of man as restlessly seeking knowledge and present a new vision of human possibilities. Greenblatt positions Tamburlaine as a figure typical of the acquisitive energies of the period:
If we want to understand the historical matrix of Marlowe's achievement, the analogue to Tamburlaine's restlessness, aesthetic sensitivity, appetite, and violence, we might look not at the playwright's literary sources, not even at the relentless power-hunger of Tudor absolutism, but at the acquisitive energies of English merchants, entrepreneurs, and adventurers, promoters alike of trading companies and theatrical companies.
In Greenblatt's reading of Marlowe's plays, the heroes define themselves in self-conscious opposition to the established order. Tamburlaine fashions himself from the forms and materials available, that is, the power and possessions of those whom he has conquered.
Collect further examples of Tamburlaine's language of consumption and how it functions in the play.
As Tamburlaine acquires power and status, there is simply a renewal of desire, so that at the end of the play he is threatening to wage war against the gods. The restless energy of the protagonist and the intoxicating language do help to convey the idea of life lived as a project, which is central to Greenblatt's analysis.
At this point, you should read the Introduction to the Revels edition of Tamburlaine. Consider the details of Marlowe's sources.
Marlowe draws upon a range of historical and mythical figures in his representation of Tamburlaine. One of them was Timur Khan, whose colossal exploits were crowned by his defeat of Bayazid I at Angora in 1402. But the actual prototype of Tamburlaine and an account of his career can be found in George Whetstone's The English Myrror. Some differences between the prose and play texts relate to the nature of the respective genres. Whetstone's prose work enables him to comment in moralistic fashion on Tamburlaine's actions. Such comment is absent in the drama: here Tamburlaine proclaims his own omnipotence and apparent invincibility, thus appearing the more blasphemous and vainglorious.
Does a knowledge of the literary sources of Tamburlaine help you to interpret the play? Does such knowledge help support a New Historicist reading of the play, of the kind made by Greenblatt?
It is important to recognize that most Renaissance drama was derivative, in the sense that playwrights borrowed from a variety of sources for the various narratives and characters of their plays. What is significant for our purposes are the ways in which a play departs from its source. In the case of Tamburlaine, it is clear that the dynamic of the poetic language characterizes Tamburlaine in a style which the prose source does not. In providing no moral framework and choosing to represent Tamburlaine as defiantly triumphant in his refusal to be deterred by threats of retribution, Marlowe disregards the commonly held notion of literature as a mirror for moral behaviour.
The New Historicist critics tend not to pay close attention to material such as literary sources or details of original theatrical production, preferring to emphasise a context of ideology and cultural mentality. Our suggestion is that you consider the multiple aspects of a play written for the stage. You must therefore consider the internal dynamics and formal aspects of a play, as well as conditions of performance and the socio-cultural aspects of the text.
Approaching Edward 2: genre, styles and ideology
Edward 2 is Marlowe's only chronicle history play and as such it belongs to a genre which was very popular during the 1590s. The source for such plays was usually the Chronicles compiled by Raphael Holinshed (published 1577; reprinted and revised 1587).
Consider Edward 2 as a history play. You need to look at the representation of the king and his conflict with the barons. When and how is this opposition articulated in the text? How does Marlowe shape actual events into a coherent dramatic structure?
The antagonism between Edward and the feudal nobility springs from their hatred of the King's favourite, Gaveston. They express their loathing principally by hurling insults at the style and cost of Gaveston's clothes. It is clear that they see their interests and privileges threatened. When they declare that Gaveston `will be the ruin of the realm and us', it is plain that they are more concerned with the defence of their privileges than the state of the realm. Gaveston despises their hereditary rights and their uncouthness: `Base leaden earls that glory in your birth / Go sit at home and eat your tenants' beef.' But he clearly underestimates their military strength.
There is a more clearly defined structure to Edward 2 than there is to the narrative of Tamburlaine's inexorable conquests. Edward 2 is constructed from stories of the careers of individual men who scale the summit of their ambition and are then destroyed by it. Baldock reminds Spenser that `all rise to fall'. Spenser's career replicates the fate of Gaveston.
Consider how other careers are structured in the play and the imagery which is used to describe them.
Here, the role of Mortimer as principal antagonist is central. You should examine both his words to Gurney as he hires him to kill Edward and his soliloquy in Act 5 as he boasts of his new authority. It is interesting that Marlowe finds useful the familiar medieval motif of an arbitrary Wheel of Fortune dictating the individual's rise to and fall from prosperity or power. Mortimer underestimates the power of the young Prince and his fall is sudden. His attempt to rationalize his career as determined by the inevitable movement of Fortune is scarcely likely to represent Marlowe's own belief, but it is useful as an organizing principle in the play.
Consider Edward 2 as a tragedy. Does the play have a hero in the conventional sense? Are any similar methods to Tamburlaine employed in the representation of the protagonist?
The play combines chronicle history and tragedy (here you might want to compare Marlowe's play with Shakespeare's Richard 2). Edward is a weak king who displays little self-awareness. You could say that the play explores the tragic effects of infatuation. In this context, you might want to argue that Edward is typical of the intemperate Marlovian figure consumed by an overwhelmimg passion.
Analyse the text closely to see how Edward represents himself in defeat. Look at 4.6 located at the scene at Neath Abbey and at 5.1 where the king is forced to surrender his crown.
Edward's lament never becomes anything more than that. His self-pity does not lead to any wider reflection or greater knowledge of self. In this respect, Marlowe's preoccupations are quite different from Shakespeare's. Marlowe succeeds in conveying the bewilderment of an unstable, impulsive and irresolute individual. In defeat, the king struggles to find images and words to express his outrage and despair:
the forest deer being struck Runs to an herb that closeth up the wounds; But when the imperial lion's flesh is gored, He rends and tears it with his wrathful paw, and highly scorning that the lowly earth Should drink his blood mounts up into the air. And so it fares with me, whose dauntless mind The ambitious Mortimer would seek to curb. 5.1.9-16
But even here, the passion surges forth only to lose itself in irresolution. Edward employs a Tamburlaine-like image: `Full often am I soaring up to heaven / To plain me to the gods against them both.' But the vaunt is negated by his final words: `But tell me, must I now resign my crown / To make usurping Mortimer King?' In Tamburlaine, the poetry works to make things happen, whereas Edward's emotional outbursts only reveal his impotence against the barons' military strength.
It is clear that the language of Edward 2, in comparison to that of Tamburlaine, is austere, lacking much evocative imagery and sensuousness. Overall, the verse is more prosaic. But consider the speeches of Isabella (in particular, her soliloquy in 1.4). Does Marlowe humanize language, as Shakespeare does, by differentiating idiom and style?
The barons speak an emotionally controlled, starkly brutal language, which we might consider a more `masculinized' form. In contrast, the Queen's language is emotionally affecting. Isabella feels herself `robbed' of Edward and employs the apt mythological image of Juno's frustrated love for Jove, who doted on Ganymede. The poetic outburst is, however, at odds with the dominant masculine language of the play and it only serves to emphasise Isabella's helplessness. Interestingly, her language changes when she aligns herself with Mortimer, who advises her to control the spontaneous expression of her passions. Mortimer's language, in contrast, makes an immediate impression and manipulates the situation.
Does the play give any further evidence of gendering of language? You should for example examine the language employed by Gaveston in the opening scene, which betrays a sensual hedonism.
Edward 2 and Shakespeare's Richard 2 are often compared. Marlowe's play predates Shakespeare's and the verbal echoes of Edward 2 in Richard 2 are sure evidence that Shakespeare knew Marlowe's play. The two histories depict weak and irresponsible rule which leads to the monarch's deposition. You will find it illuminating to read Richard 2. How do the two dramatists depict such a politically risky act as the deposition of a legitimate king?
Both plays are concerned with the difference between theoretical power and de facto power. Richard and Edward are still nominally kings until they finally surrender their crowns, but it is Henry Bolingbroke and Mortimer who possess real power and authority. Unlike Marlowe, Shakespeare in the dramatic build-up to Richard's deposition introduces the doctrine of the King's divinity, which is taken to almost blasphemous lengths by Richard, who compares himself to Christ. Marlowe is not concerned with the mystique of kingship embodied in ritual and ceremony, but in Edward as a man who through his own destructive passions loses his crown.
Consider in the two plays the repercussions of the act of deposition.
The deposition of a king is obviously an act of enormous national significance and represents the fear which haunted monarchs. It was no coincidence that the deposition scene in Richard 2 was censored in print, and probably also on the stage, during the reign of Elizabeth 1. Shakespeare demonstrates the effects on the kingdom of misrule. Richard loses his throne through political mistakes. Nobles and commons unite because he appears to neglect the kingdom by farming it out to his favourites and by surrounding himself with flatterers.
Bolingbroke acquires power with remarkable ease. Yet, as we see in 1 Henry 4 and 2 Henry 4, the effects of deposition are far reaching: Bolingbroke, now Henry 4, is racked with guilt and the memory of Richard is revived by a new rebel force. Marlowe focuses much more intensely on Edward and his love for Gaveston, and he is little concerned with the condition of England or with theories of kingship.
How is Richard's love for his flatterers in Shakespeare's Richard 2 like or unlike Edward's love for Gaveston in Marlowe's Edward 2?
Having read Marlowe's Tamburlaine and Edward 2 and some of the recommended secondary reading you should be able to
* compare and contrast two of Marlowe's works in terms of their dramatic structure, subject matter, and style
* discuss Marlowe's representation of aspiration and social mobility
* discuss extracts from the plays as poetry, commenting on the imagery and the use of rhyme and metre
* relate Marlowe's treatment of political themes (such as good kingship, court life, and the moral responsibility of leaders) to the historical and political context of late sixteenth- century England
Sample examination questions on Marlowe
1. `Everything is in man's own hands.' Discuss, with reference to at least two plays by Marlowe.
2. Explore the relation between the visual and the verbal image in at least two plays by Marlowe.
3. `Marlowe's restricted view of human nature is a limitation of his drama.' Discuss, with reference to at least two plays by Marlowe.
4. `Justice is fled to heaven.' Discuss this statement with reference to at least two plays by Marlowe.
Suggestions for Further Study
At this point, there are a number of ways in which your work on Marlowe might develop. You could choose to read more about the Elizabethan theatre in which Marlowe's plays were produced. With this knowledge you could re-read Tamburlaine and Edward 2 to see how the action might have been represented on the stage. You should consider some of the symbolic or supernatural effects, including, for example, the three men who meet Gaveston at the beginning of the play and the presence of the mower reported in the valley below when Edward is captured at Neath.
You may decide to extend your work, by reading other Marlowe plays, particularly Dr Faustus. You may decide to develop a topic study out of this author study. For instance, you may now feel strongly placed to tackle the subject of Elizabethan tragedy. This would involve some further historical contextualising and a study of contemporaneous drama, such as Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy or Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. It would involve investigating the classical influences, via the Roman playwright Seneca, on Renaissance tragedy, as well as understanding the medieval heritage.
Alternatively, you might decide to use your work on the language of Marlowe's plays to approach his erotic Ovidian poem Hero and Leander. This would be a useful text to study for a topic study on Elizabethan love poetry.
Chapter 3: Section B Single Text Study: Thomas More's Utopia
Many editions of Thomas More's Utopia are available. Because it was written in Latin there will be variations between editions where different translators have made differing decisions about how best to convey the meaning of a particular Latin word. The best editions to read are those which claim to be a `critical edition'; these often provide notes explaining difficult words or obscure ideas as well as giving a critical commentary. A list of critical editions is given below. In this subject guide the Norton Critical Edition by Robert A. Adams will be used and the page-numbers will refer to that edition.
More, Thomas Utopia Robert A. Adams (ed) (New York: Norton Critical Editions, 1991) [ISBN 0-393-96145-1]. A superb edition which includes 120 pages of selected criticism and selections from the influential `background' texts.
More, Thomas Utopia Paul Turner (ed) (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1961) [No ISBN]. Widely available edition which inconsistently translates proper nouns, so Raphael Hythloday becomes Raphael Nonsenso, but Utopia remains Utopia. Inferior to the Adams edition above.
Recommended Secondary Reading
Adams, Robert P. The Better Part of Valor: More, Erasmus, Colet, and Vives, on Humanism, War, and Peace, 1496-1535 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1962) [No ISBN]. Locates More's work within the thinking of the humanist circle on social organization.
*Ames, Russell Citizen Thomas More and his Utopia (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1949) [No ISBN]. A valuable single- volume introduction to the work.
Bacon, Francis New Atlantis. Available in many collections including Brian Vickers (ed) Francis Bacon (Oxford: The Oxford Authors, 1996) [ISBN 0-19-254198-6 (hardback) 0-19-282025-7 (paperback)]
Chambers, R. W. Thomas More (London: Jonathan Cape, 1935) [No ISBN]. The standard biography.
*Greenblatt, Stephen Renaissance Self-Fashioning: More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980) [ISBN O-226-30-6542]
Hexter, J. H. More's Utopia The Biography of an Idea (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965) [No ISBN]. Argues that the first book was written after the second and this order of composition affects our understanding of what More meant by his work.
*Kautksy, Karl Thomas More and His Utopia. (New York: Russell & Russell, 1959) [No ISBN]. Argues that More's meant his work to taken seriously as model for social organization which later generations would call socialism.
Logan, George M. The Meaning of More's `Utopia' (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1983) [No ISBN].
Marius, Richard Thomas More: A Biography (London: Dent, 1985) [ISBN 0-460-04637-3]. A thorough and detailed biography from a scholarly editor of More's works.
*Plato The Republic (Oxford: World's Classics, 1994) [ISBN 0- 19-282909-2] Available in many inexpensive editions and essential reading for gaining an insight into the Classical reading of Renaissance writers.
* = especially recommended
Some of the authors of this period are known to us primarily for just one of their works. This is true of Thomas Kyd, whose Spanish Tragedy is the only surviving example of his work, and of Thomas More who is chiefly remembered for his book Utopia, although many of his other works survive. This section of the subject guide will try to show how study of a single major text, in this case Utopia, could be organized in order to answer an examination question from Section B of the paper. Of course, the material could form part of an answer to a question from Section C of the paper where you are expected to write about at least two texts by different authors. Remember that you cannot use the same material to answer more than one question, so if you do a lot of work on a single text, such as Utopia, you will probably want to use it in Section B rather than Section C.
More's life and times
Thomas More was born in London in 1478 and was beheaded for treason there in 1535. His book Utopia was first published in Latin in the town of Louvain in France in 1516. The first English translation was published in 1551. It might be useful to note that during More's lifetime nobody could read Utopia unless they understood Latin.
What kind of people knew Latin? Can we deduce More's intended readership from his use of Latin?
More began his career as a lawyer but moved into politics. He was involved in international negotations concerning trade and in 1518, after Utopia was completed, he was appointed as a privy councillor to King Henry VIII in 1518. A series of acts of parliament between 1529 and 1536 severed the church of England from Rome and brought it under the control of the state with Henry 8 as its head. More was a Catholic and could not bring himself to accept Henry as the head of the church. He was arrested and eventually executed for his refusal to accept Henry's religious authority. In 1935 he was made a saint of the Roman Catholic church. An understanding of the religious and political conflicts of More's time form part of the context for Utopia. Also important are the terms `humanism', `feudalism', and `capitalism'.
Make sure you understand the terms `Catholic', `protestant', `humanism', `feudalism', and `capitalism'. Find an account of More's life in one of the biographies in the `Recommended Secondary Reading' above, or in the introduction to an edition of Utopia. For each key event in More's life write down which, if any, of these five words might be important to understanding this event.
If you are interested in historical approaches to English studies, it is essential to understand the circles in which More lived and worked. Because you will be reading a translation of More's Latin text it will be difficult to make comments on literary qualities of the language because the translator's choice of English words will vary from edition to edition.
Making sense of the contradictions in More's Utopia
Here is a famous passage from the text:
`You never have war unless you choose it, and peace is always to be more considered than war. Yet this is not the only circumstance that makes thieving necessary. There is another one, peculiar (as I see it) to the English people alone.'
"`What is that?' asked the Cardinal.
"`Your sheep,' I replied, `that used to be so meek and eat so little. Now they are becoming so greedy and wild that they devour men themselves, as I hear. They devastate and pillage fields, houses, and towns. For in whatever parts of the land the sheep yield the softest and most expensive wool, there the nobility and gentry, yes, and even some abbots though otherwise holy men, are not content with the old rents which the land yielded to their predecessors. Living in idleness and luxury, without doing any good to society, no longer satisfies them; they have to do positive evil. For they leave no land free for the plow: they enclose every acre for pasture; they destroy houses and abolish towns, keeping only the churches, and those for sheep-barns. . . .' (Book One, p. 14)
It is important to be clear who is speaking whenever you quote any part of Utopia. In this passage the speaker is Raphael Hythloday and he is describing a conversation he had many years before with Cardinal Morton. Hythloday describes the effect of the transition from arable farming, in which seeds are planted in the ground and a crop is reaped, to pastoral farming in which animals, here sheep, are allowed to graze on large estates and profit is made by removing their fleece to manufacture wool. Historically England was the first country in which large-scale sheep farming was practised. Hythloday's satirical comments about sheep who `devastate and pillage fields, houses, and towns' refer to the practice of `enclosure' in which areas of land previously held `in common' and available for everyone's use were fenced off by powerful landlords who wanted only their sheep to graze on them. Also, many landlords threw their tenants off their estates in order to turn the land from arable use to pastoral use. The reason landlords had not attempted to expand their estates earlier was that the feudal organization of production required the landowner to provide the tools and animal labour used to farm the land and there was no point expanding the estate without extra tools and animals to work the new land. But in pastoral production no tools or animal labour are needed and newly enclosed land could immediately be put into production by putting sheep on it.
Read the account of Cain's murder of Abel in the Bible (Genesis chapter 2). What kind of farming did they engage in? Tamburlaine, you will remember, was a shepherd. Consider Tamburlaine's behaviour towards city dwellers in the light of the achievement of Enoch (Cain's son). Does this throw any light on More's description of `the best state of a commonwealth'?
Hythloday describes the hardships caused by the increased pastoral and decreased arable production in England. As the peasants suffered, so the landowning class became richer. The passage from Utopia concerning sheep was cited by Karl Marx in his Das Kapital and leftwing critics have claimed Utopia as an early call for socialist organization of production. Others have claimed it as a witty joke which mocks the ideal of communal ownership of wealth. It is important that you decide for yourself the degree to which Utopia might be ironic. You must determine how far it is what it claims to be--a description of perfect social organization--and how far it might be mocking such idealism at the same time as mocking the iniquities of More's time.
It is important to be clear about what the book claims to represent. At the literal level it is an account of More's conversations with Raphael Hythloday. One way into the text is to start looking for real historical characters you can identify, and then try to find evidence that the others in the book are fictional.
Make a list of all the historical persons named in the book. The list should begin `Henry VIII; Charles Prince of Castille; Cuthbert Tunstall; Margrave of Bruges'. Does Hythloday's claimed connection with the explorer Amerigo Vespucci make his report seem more believable? Make a list of features (for example the use of precise dates) which enhance the realism of the work.
The early printings of More's Utopia prefaced the work with several `letters' which passed between learned European humanists. In these the book was discussed as if it contained a genuine account of a traveller, as though these humanists really believed in the existence of Utopia. It is clear that this circle of humanist friends, centered on Erasmus, knew the book to be a hoax. By pretending to be taken in, all concerned (including More) could claim that they had been deceived by the clever lies of Raphael Hythloday, who was merely one of those travellers of the period who returned after long voyages to entertain their fellows with tall stories.
The whole of the second book of Utopia is the traveller's tale told by Raphael Hythloday to More. Remember that the book relates this conversation as though it happened, but it is merely More's imaginative work. Critics have argued about the degree to which More actually believed in radical ideas such as the abolition of private property and the communal ownership of all wealth. Since the full historical context for the work, including More's life and career, is beyond the scope of your reading at this stage, a useful starting point is a close examination of the text to see if the world More represents is internally consistent.
In his account of the island, Hythloday describes the distance between cities:
The nearest [to one another] are at least twenty-four miles apart, and the farthest are not so remote that a man cannot go on foot from one to the other in a day. (p. 35)
Twenty-four miles is about the furthest a man could walk in a day, so the minimum and maximum are about the same. Another numerical problem occurs in the description of the Utopian workers' day:
They work three hours before noon, when they go to dinner. After dinner they rest for a couple of hours, then go to work for another three hours. Then they have supper, and at eight o'clock (counting the first hour after noon as one), they go to bed and sleep eight hours. (p. 41)
If they go to bed at eight and sleep for eight hours, they will be rising at four o'clock in the morning. Leaving aside the question of enforcement of this strict pattern (and what happens to those who like more or less sleep), if we take it that Utopians really do have this schedule then there are five hours to be occupied between rising and starting work at nine o'clock. Even the public lectures which occur before daybreak could not fill all of this time every day for every worker. There are another five hours later in the day which must be occupied with eating and leisure. Since nobody over-indulges in eating and all leisure is productive (some even work at their trade), there seems to be just too little to do to pass the time. As with the problem of the distance between the cities, the problem of ten leisire hours being available every day only appears when one looks carefully at the figures. What seems at first to be a well thought-out model of civic order starts to appear problematic.
Look at the account of the way the Polylerites treat thieves (pp. 18-9). Hythloday praises their enlightened view, but make a list of the crimes for which the Polylerites reserve the death penalty? Is the Polylerite system `mild and practical' as Hythloday says?
Like the Polylerites, the Utopians enslave their most dangerous criminals rather than execute them, with two exceptions: rebellion by slaves, and a second conviction for adultery. This might undermine the impression of a liberal enlightened social order since the crime of repeated adultery is more severely punished than murder which only entails slavery, the same punishment as for a first offence of adultery. An alternative explanation is that More's concept of an enlightened liberal society is very different from our own, and that he is unaware of any inconsistencies in the Utopian penal system.
There is a class of Utopians who have immunity from the judicial process and yet are involved in its proceedings. The priests act as `censors of public morality' (p. 84) in addition to their role in rituals. Although their only sanction, if the sinner fails to respond to persuasion, is excommunication, this sentence is swiftly followed by seizure and punishment by the secular authorities unless the individual quickly convinces the priests of his repentance. Hythloday considers the priests to be highly important for the stability of the state:
What is planted in the minds of children lives on in the minds of adults, and is of great value in strengthening the state: the decline of the state can always be traced to vices which arise from wrong attitudes. (p. 84)
It is odd, then, that priests are not more severely punished than the ordinary citizen if they `fall into vice and corruption', since the effects would be so much more dangerous to the state. The Utopians would seem to be very remiss in their failure to punish criminal priests. The reason that Hythloday offers for this leniency entirely contradicts what he has said regarding their responsibilities as educators:
If such a thing [falling into corruption and vice] should happen, human nature being as changeable as it is, no great harm is feared, because the priests are so few and have no power beyond that which derives from their good reputation. (pp. 84-5)
The extremity of punishment for certain crimes (such as adultery) might be justified on utilitarian grounds, and yet just where we might expect severity, in the treatment of criminal priests, there is laxity. If these contradictions are intentional, they might exist to make the reader aware that More is not, despite his claim, presenting an account of `the best of commonwealths'.
The religious freedoms enjoyed by citizens of Utopia are praised by Hythloday and attributed to the enlightened attitude of their founder Utopus:
. . . he decreed that every man might cultivate the religion of his choice, and might proselytize for it, provided that he did so modestly, rationally, and without bitterness toward others. If persuasions failed, no man was allowed to resort to abuse or violence, under penalty of exile or enslavement. (p. 80)
Many critics have seen a contradiction between the tolerance advocated here, and More's own persecution of heretics.
Using an account of More's life, try to find his own explanations of the need for severe treatment of heretics. How does this fit with Hythloday's account of the Utopian attitude towards religious freedom?
The religious beliefs of the Utopians are depicted by Hythloday as being compatible with Christianity, which many of them embrace when it is introduced by the visitors. All Utopians are said to believe in a single deity, but there are differences amongst them about the manifestation of that deity:
Some worship as a god the sun, others the moon, and still others one of the planets. There are some who worship a man of past ages who was conspicuous either for virtue or glory; they consider him not only a god but the supreme god. Most of the Utopians, however, and among those all the wisest, believe nothing of the sort: they believe in a single power, unknown, eternal, infinite, inexplicable, far beyond the grasp of the human mind, and diffused throughout the universe, not physically, but in influence. (p. 78)
There seems to be general monotheism (belief in `one god') amongst the Utopians. The contrast in the above passage is between those who believe that God is immanent in particular observable phenomena (a particular heavenly body, or hero from history), and those who consider God to be, like the Christian God, ineffable.
How compatible with Christianity is the Utopian religion? Could Utopia be More's idealized vision of a commonwealth which has solved all its internal conflicts and only requires Christianity to make it perfect?
Hythloday's comment that some Utopians worship a historical figure whom they consider `not only a god but the supreme god' suggests that some Utopians have polytheistic beliefs (that is, belief in `many gods'). This is contradicted by Hythloday a few lines later when he says `they all agree in this main head, that there is one supreme power, the maker and ruler of the universe, whom they call in their native language Mithra.' The religious practices in Utopian churches are described by Hythloday as being compatible with all the varieties of belief on the island (`nothing is seen or heard in the churches that does not square with all the creeds' p. 86), the differences between them being expressed only in ceremonies in private houses. But when relating the seating arrangements in churches, Hythloday again suggests polytheism:
They take great care that the young are everywhere placed in the company of their elders. For if children were trusted to the care of other children, they might spend in childish foolery the time they should devote to developing a religious fear of the gods, which is the greatest and almost the only incitement to virtue. (p. 86, emphasis added)
In the light of what you have read about religious conflicts in More's time, and his role in them, how likely is it that these contradictions in Utopia were not deliberately placed there by More? Can we expect More's original readers to notice these things?
The relations between Utopia and its neighbouring states are described by Hythloday. The population of Utopia is not stable and the island has a method for dealing with excess population, which had been used in the past:
And if the population of the entire island exceeds the quota, then they enroll citizens out of every city and plant a colony under their own laws on the mainland near them, wherever the natives have plenty of unoccupied and uncultivated land. Those natives who want to live with the Utopian settlers are taken in . . . But if the natives will not join in living under their laws, the Utopians drive them out of the land they claim for themselves, and if they resist they make war on them. (pp. 44- 5)
Obviously such a colonizing could not take place if their neighbours had no spare land. If their neighbours were practising the Utopian model themselves, then war upon them would be unthinkable since it is only `justifiable to make war on people who leave their land idle and waste.' So the method by which Utopia deals with population overflow is dependent upon other states not organizing themselves as efficiently as Utopia is organized. One could imagine that the spread of Utopianism in one geographic location would soon accelerate the process of expansion of the Utopian world outwards, since there would be no land left `unoccupied and uncultivated' within its borders.
The above passage tells us the conditions under which Utopia may feel compelled to wage war on its neighbours. Indeed this is the only eventuality which will cause them to go to war on their own behalf. All the other overseas wars which Hythloday cites are in fact occasions when the Utopians waged war on behalf of their `friends'. In overseas wars the Utopians are reluctant to do the fighting themselves, but prefer to `hire mercenary soldiers from all sides, especially the Zapoletes.' The mercenaries are paid exorbitant wages to ensure their loyalty:
Because the Utopians give higher pay than anyone else, these people are ready to serve them against any enemy whatever. And the Utopians, who seek out the best possible men for proper uses, hire these, the worst possible men, for improper uses. When the situation requires, they thrust the Zapoletes into the positions of greatest danger by offering them immense rewards. Most of these volunteers never come back to collect their pay, but the Utopians faithfully pay off those who do survive, to encourage them to try it again. As for how many Zapoletes get killed, the Utopians never worry about that, for they think they would deserve very well of all mankind if they could exterminate from the face of the earth that entire disgusting and vicious race. (p. 74-5)
If the Zapoletes were to be exterminated the Utopians would of course be more disadvantaged than their enemies, since they tend to monopolize the employment of this mercenary force. That the Utopians rely upon the Zapoletes in war is another example of their dependence upon the `otherness' of their neighbours. Were there no `disgusting and vicious race' to do the fighting, Utopians would have to do it all themselves.
Find the description of the Zapoletes, of whom Hythloday says `the only art they know for earning a living is the art of taking life' (p. 74). What kind of farming do the Zapoletes engage in? Is this related to the `sheep-satire' we saw earlier?
The means by which the Utopians fund their wars raises another problem concerning the worldwide implementation of Utopianism. The gold, silver, and gems which the Utopians have accumulated come from two sources. One is the natural resources of the island: `They find pearls by the seashore, diamonds and rubies in certain cliffs' (p. 51). The other is by trading their surpluses with their neighbours. Such trade would not be possible if all other countries were Utopian, because these too would be trying to offload their surpluses on someone else. In any case, if everyone had the same contempt for gold, silver and gems that the Utopians have (pp. 50-2), then these reserves would not be able to buy foreign mercenaries to fight for Utopia, or practice the bribing of enemy forces (p. 73). Again, it is only by remaining different from their neighbours that the Utopians are able to enjoy domestic peace and prosperity.
The slaves in Utopia
Like the city-state described in Plato's Republic, Utopia depends on slaves to do work which Utopians will never do for themselves:
Slaves do the slaughtering and cleaning in these places [the abattoirs]: citizens are not allowed to do such work. The Utopians feel that slaughtering our fellow-creatures gradually destroys the sense of compassion, which is the finest sentiment of which our human nature is capable. (p. 46)
Does Plato defend the existence of slaves in his idealized state? What differences are there between the slaves in the Republic and those in Utopia?
Hythloday describes where Utopia gets its slaves from:
Most of their slaves are either their own former citizens, enslaved for some heinous offense, or else men of other nations who are condemned to death in their own land. Most are of the latter sort . . . A third class of slaves consists of hardworking penniless drudges from other nations who voluntarily choose to become slaves in Utopia. (p. 64)
The source of this third class of slaves, the foreign `penniless drudges', would disappear if Utopianism were to prevail everywhere since it is an economic system which eliminates poverty. The first class of slaves, the `former citizens enslave for some heinous offense', and the second group, the condemned men of other nations, would cease to be distinct groups if the Utopian penal system prevailed everywhere. Indeed, the practice of buying up the condemned of other nations would have to stop because these men could only have been condemned for offences which were also capital crimes in Utopia. If Utopianism were to spread everywhere, only former citizens turned criminals would become slaves, and since one of the benefits of the Utopian society is its low crime rate, the slave class would diminish in size.
What would be the effect of a reduced slave class on Utopian society? Are the economic surpluses described by Hythloday sufficient to overcome this loss of labour? What about the jobs that Utopians will never do?
The description of the island that Hythloday gives shares with Plato's Foundation Myth the metaphor of mother-land. (Plato's use of the myth is discussed in the section `Suggestions for Further Study' below). The prosperity and security of Utopia can be at least partially attributed to its favourable geography, which was not the work of Nature but of man:
They say (and the appearance of the place confirms it) that their land was not always an island. But Utopus, who conquered the country and gave it his name (it had previously been called Abraxa), brought its rude and uncouth inhabitants to such a high level of culture and humanity that they now excel in that regard almost every other people. After subduing them at his first landing, he cut a channel fifteen miles wide where their land joined the continent, and caused the sea to flow around the country. (p. 35)
Hythloday's description of Utopia's `birth' follows a description of its shape. Does anything in the crescent shape of the island, with its narrow entrance pierced by `one rock that rises above the water', relate to the island's birth?
The Utopians clearly have a very strong sense of national identity, and its corollary: difference from other nations. It is this sense of their difference from other nations that enables the Utopians to maintain estates on the territory of their conquered enemies, and their willingness to wage war upon the natives of land which they wish to colonize.
Is there a double-edged meaning to the statement that `Some time ago the Utopians helped various of their neighbors to throw off the yoke of tyranny' (p. 69)? Is there any evidence that More wants us to think that the Utopians incite rebellion in other lands in order to spread their power?
The Utopians justify their making war on other peoples in order to gain territory for colonies, on the grounds of Reason: they will make better use of the land. In their prayers, however, the Utopians admit the possibility that they are mistaken in their certitude concerning the best way to organize a society:
They thank God for benefits received, and particularly for the divine favor which placed them in the happiest of commonwealths and inspired them with religious ideas which they hope are the truest. If they are wrong in this, and if there is some sort of society or religion more acceptable to God than the present one, they pray that he will, in his goodness, reveal it to them, for they are ready to follow wherever he leads them. But if their form of society is the best and their religion the truest, then they pray that God will keep them steadfast, and bring other mortals to the same way of life and the same religious faith--unless, indeed, there is something in this variety of religions which delights his inscrutable will. (p. 87)
If the Utopians justify their social organization on rational grounds, as they seemed to be doing prior to the above passage, then there is no need for this appeal to God. It may be that More wants us to consider this contradiction.
Religion and the Limits of Human Reason
The Utopians have gone as far as man can go with Reason alone in the task of perfecting human relations, and they have failed. They have eliminated conflict within the state, only to reproduce it at the international level. What they lack is the Grace of God. The visitors who bring Christianity to Utopia do not have a priest with them:
Whatever the reason, no small number of them chose to join our communion, and received the holy water of baptism. By that time, two of our group had died, and among us four survivors there was, I am sorry to say, no priest; so though they received instruction in other matters, they still lack those sacraments which in our religion can be administered only by priests. (p. 79)
In Catholic theology, a lay person can perform some of the functions of a priest if none is available, but the making of new priests is not one of them. The Utopians cannot receive the full benefits of Christianity, and so their application of Reason to all human problems does not solve everything. The Utopians never evade the perennial conflicts of human existence because they can never escape the curse of Adam `to till the ground from whence he was taken' (Genesis 3:23). Postlapsarian humankind cannot hope to achieve any kind of perfection on Earth by its own endeavours, the only hope is the salvation made possible by Christ's Passion.
Check that you know the meaning of `postlapsarian' and `Christ's Passion'.
Christian salvation is unavailable to the Utopians, even after the visitors have brought Christianity, because they have no priest to transform bread and wine into the Eucharist. For More the function of the Church on Earth was all-important for salvation; without it the Utopians--like Protestants--are doomed to endlessly reproduce the miseries which they so strenuously try to avoid.
In this study of a single text the aim has been to show the kind of analysis you can undertake without a great deal of contextual study. By reading Utopia carefully and considering the ideas about social organization which it seems to be advocating, it is possible to say much about the internal coherence of the work. You will, of course, need to extend your reading beyond the text itself and the works suggested here and in the `Recommended Secondary Reading' and `General Subject Reading' will help you to do that. In the first instance, however, a complex prose text like Utopia available only in translation (unless you read Latin) should be read somewhat like a novel. You should attend to the significance of the ideas advanced by characters in the work, to the `plot' (e.g. the first book of Utopia which sets up the meeting of More and Hythloday), to the imagery (e.g. Hythloday's `sheep-metaphor'), and finally (and, because of translation, cautiously) to the use of language.
Having read Utopia and some of the recommended secondary reading you should be able to
* give an outline of More's life and locate the publication of Utopia within it
* locate More in the context of European humanism and describe the range of ideas discussed by the humanists
* identify the explicit satires in Utopia and explain who/what is being satirized
* identify elements of Utopia which might be used as evidence for or against an argument that More meant the Utopian system to be understood as a workable ideal
Sample examination questions on Utopia
1. `More seems . . . to be protecting himself from his own thought, as an oyster protects itself from an irritating grain of sand, with successive overlayers.' Describe More's use of narratorial devices in Utopia and their effect upon our view of what he really believed.
2. Consider the position of women in Utopia.
3. Discuss the proposition that the government of instinct in the individual and government of the state are shown to be intimately connected in More's Utopia.
4. Which elements of Utopia are potentially subversive of political authority?
5. Discuss the use of comic elements in Utopia.
Suggestions for Further Study
There is a considerable body of criticism on Utopia. There are few texts of the period with which Utopia could usefully be compared and so it would be best to extend your study by choosing one of the following areas:
1. More's life and times. There are several biographies of More listed in the recommended secondary reading.
2. The political and religious context. Many of the books in the list of recommended secondary reading would be valuable, but we particularly recommend Stephen Greenblatt Renaissance Self-Fashioning and Robert P. Adams The Better Part of Valor: More, Erasmus, Colet, and Vives, on Humanism, War, and Peace, 1496-1535.
3. Other `utopian' texts of the period. In Section B of the examination you must answer primarily on the single text or author named in the question, but for your preparation for Section C you might like to study `utopian' texts as a genre. To extend your study of More's Utopia into a comparative study you could start with Francis Bacon's New Atlantis, which the publisher's preface describes as an attempt to `compose a frame of Laws, or of the best state or mould of a commonwealth' (p. 36). Plato's Republic is another `utopian' text which, although long, is worth reading in full as background to the literary culture of the Renaissance. You should remember, however, that because it was not written in the period we are concerned with, the Renaissance and Restoration, you could not base an examination answer entirely upon Plato's Republic. It would be useful to compare Plato's Foundation Myth (also called the `Phoenician Tale' and the `royal lie', described in paragraph 3.414 of most editions) with Hythloday's description of the founding of Utopia by Utopus, at the beginning of Book 2 of Utopia. What ideas do the stories have in common?
Myths of the `birth' of states are worth considering for the light they throw on texts about ideal social organization such as Plato's Republic and More's Utopia. The Latin word `uersus' means both `furrow' (a line cut in the ground into which seeds are planted) and `a line of writing', and hence the modern English word `verse'. Throughout the literature of Western civilization you will encounter the idea that `masculinity' is a principle of fertilization (the implanting of seed) of land which is imagined as `feminine'. By analogy with arable farming, and especially the return of the plough at the end of each furrow to begin an adjacent furrow, writing was imagined as an act of masculine mastery.
Consider the representations of animal rearing and arable farming in Utopia. What is the `marvelous method' by which the Utopians breed an enormous number of chickens?
Chapter 4: Section C Topic Study: Love Poetry of the Renaissance and Restoration
There are many editions you could use to sample love poetry of the period. A few are listed below.
Behn, Aphra Selected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 1993) [ISBN 1-85754-017-4]. Although Behn is better known as the first female professional playwright, she also wrote poetry and prose. Her amatory verse is an interesting female response to the libertine ethos which dominated the poetry of her male contemporaries.
Evans, Maurice (ed) Elizabethan Sonnets (London: Dent, 1992) [ISBN 0-460-87113-7]. This anthology contains the whole sequence of `Astrophil and Stella' by Sir Philip Sidney.
Woudhuysen, H. R. (ed) The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse (London: Penguin, 1993) [ISBN 04-2346-X]. Texts collected on an historical basis, with a useful Introduction which distinguishes the poetry according to subject. Part Two, `Images of Love', is the relevant section here. Once you have decided which authors to study in relation to a given topic, however, you may decide to use an edition of the author's complete works, rather than the selections included in the anthology.
Recommended Secondary Reading
*Bates, Catherine The Rhetoric of Courtship in Elizabethan Language and Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) [ISBN 0-5214-1480-6]
Donne, John The Complete English Poems (London: Penguin, 1971) [ISBN 0-14-04-2209-9]
*Ferry, Anne The Inward Language: Sonnets of Wyatt, Sidney, Shakespeare and Donne (University of Chicago Press, 1983) [ISBN 0-2262-4466-0]
Fowler, Alister Triumphal Forms: Structural Patterns in Elizabethan Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) [ISBN 0-5210-7747-8]
Mack, Maynard (ed) Poetic Traditions of the English Renaissance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982) [ISBN 0-3000-2785-0]
*Roche, Thomas P Petrarch and the English Sonnet Sequences (New York: AMS Press 1989) [ISBN 0-4046-2288-7]
Spiller, Michael The Development of the Sonnet (London: Routledge, 1992) [ISBN 0-415-087-414]
*Waller, Gary English Poetry of the Sixteenth Century (London: Longman, 1993) [ISBN 0-582-090-962]
Wilmot, John Earl of Rochester The Complete Poems David M. Vieth (ed) (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968) [ISBN 0- 300-01868-1]
Wroth, Mary The Poems of Lady Mary Wroth Josephine A Roberts (ed) (London: Louisiana State University Press, 1983) [ISBN 0- 8071-1799-4]
Wyatt, Thomas The Complete Poems (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1978) [ISBN 0-14-042-227-7]
* = especially recommended
We have chosen this topic because it allows us to consider a range of texts across the whole period. By focusing upon a particular genre from the late sixteenth to the late seventeenth century, you will be able to measure aspects of change in literary culture. It is unlikely that you will cover such a large cross-section of texts and authors in the examination, but you are advised to combine depth of analysis and breadth of reference.
Petrarch and the English sonnet
All Elizabethan love poetry was influenced directly or indirectly by the work of the Italian humanist and poet Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374), known in the English-speaking world as `Petrarch'. His poems were translated, edited and imitated throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The love expressed by the `voice' of Petrarch's poems for Laura-- who is at once the unobtainable woman and a symbol of divine virtue--became part of European love mythology. In their analysis of his love for Laura as a sin, Petrarch's poems were traditional and Christian. But for the Elizabethans poets, Petrarch's Canzoniere provided them with a host of images and conceits to convey unrequited love.
Following Petrarch, sonnets focused on the sad plight of the rejected or unrequited lover. We will begin by looking at a sonnet by Thomas Wyatt, who translated Petrarch into English and introduced the sonnet form into England.
Who so list to hount I knowe where is an hynde but as for me helas I may no more the vayne travaill hath weried me so sore I am of them that farthest cometh behinde yet may I by no meanes my weried mynde drawe from the Deere but as she fleeth afore faynting I folowe I leve of therefor sethens in a nett I seke to hold the wynde Who list her hount I put him owte of dowbte as well as I may spend his tyme in vain and graven with Diamondes in letters plain There is written her faier neck rounde abowte noli me tangere for Cesars I ame and wylde for to hold though I seme tame
Note that this old spelling version is transcribed from the Woudhuysen (ed) The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse. You may prefer to use the modernized spelling of the Penguin edition of The Complete Poems.
Although this sonnet is a free translation from Petrarch, it is usually felt to reflect on Wyatt's involvement with Anne Boleyn at a time when she was attracting the attention of Henry 8. (`noli me tangere for Cesars I ame'). More generally, Wyatt takes from Petrarch the sense of the sonnet as a moment of psychic instability, as first the male lover renounces the pursuit of the woman, then returns to the chase and finally relinquishes the chase. Note the image of the woman as elusive quarry. The structure of the sonnet (an octave and a sestet) gives a positive form to the lover's expression of fluctuating feelings.
Wyatt's sonnets were occasional (`written for an occasion'), each one having an autonomous situation and characteristic imagery, as here with the developed metaphor of the hunt. An aggregation of sonnets, however, can provide a narrative structure and a greater justification for publication. It is the Petrarchan sonnet sequence which dominated British sonnet writing at the end of the sixteenth century.
Examine either Sidney's `Astrophil and Stella' (in Evans Elizabethan Sonnets) or Shakespeare's Sonnets. Consider the organizing principle of the sequence.
`Astrophil and Stella' is dominated by a powerful subjectivity and dramatization of the self. This is immediately apparent, because the sequence is written in the first person. The sequence of sonnets may have been inspired by Sidney's fascination with Penelope Devereux. As with Petrarch's work, it is important to distinguish between the fictional `I' and the author who creates Astrophil. Sidney and Astrophil have points of contact as courtiers and as politicians, but Sidney views his persona with amused detachment (see Sonnet 54, for example, when Astrophil regards himself as unique in love). The sequence creates the persona of the lover as a subject in a continual state of restless excitement; he is always on the verge of new feelings of hope or frustration. His passion has a theatrical quality in its witty, ironic narrating. In the first sonnet of the sequence, Sidney imagines Astrophil attempting to write, so that `she (the deare she) might take some pleasure of my paine.' The idea of playing or showing woes in order to give pleasure is a theatrical one.
Consider further how the poems create the desiring lover and the desired object.
Sidney creates the `I' of the sonnets in the distinctly courtly mode of an anguished devotion to an unobtainable beauty. He represents with great immediacy all the Petrarchan marks of the lover: his anguish, oscillating feelings, humility, idealism, commitment to serve, cruelty and devotion. But he also adds sensuality: Astrophil's physical desire cannot be suppressed. See Sonnet 71, for example, where for thirteen lines the poet argues the neoplatonic idea that virtue and beauty lodge together; Stella is thus the path to virtue and supreme reason. However, the final line, in which he recognizes that he is unable to practise the lesson he has proved, subverts the neoplatonic doctrine.
In contrast to the male lover speaking of his feelings or experiences, Stella is the silent interlocutor. She is an absent presence. You may find it interesting to read `Pamphilia to Amphilanthus' by Mary Wroth, the only sonnet sequence of this period written by a woman and one in which the voice is that of a female persona.
Another aspect of the sequence you might want to consider is their metafictional quality, that is, that they are poems about the writing and art of poetry itself. Consider Sonnet 70. In the first sonnet, the whole project of writing love poetry is deconstructed by drawing attention to the problems of `loving in truth' while feigning verse. The rejection of rhetoric in the final line is not sustained in the subsequent sequence as Astrophil brilliantly employs familiar rhetorical tropes.
Now turn to the love poetry of John Donne, who began writing in the 1590s, but whose career developed later in the Jacobean period. Try to characterise the differences between his poetry and Elizabethan poetic traditions. Again, you may want to read more poems than are included in the anthology; these can be found in Donne The Complete English Poems.
Elizabethan love poetry, as we have seen, is dominated by the model established by Petrarch, whereas Donne in his poems about sexual experience breaks decisively with the Petrarchan mode. You could argue that he is a poet of sexuality rather than a poet of love, although some of the poems depict a love that has great depth. It is the variety which is remarkable. He presents a range of situations and relationships over a period of time and represents sexual relationships from many perspectives.
At this point, you need to select several love poems by Donne. Examine the persona he creates and the language and idiom of the poem.
The following extract from Elegy 19, `To his Mistress Going To Bed', illustrates one aspect of the love poetry.
Come Madam come all rest my powers defy Until I labour I in labour lie The foe oft-times having the foe in sight Is tired with standing though they never fight Off with that girdle like heaven's zone glistering But a far fairer world encompassing. Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear That th' eyes of busy fools may be stopped there. Unlace yourself for that harmonious chime Tells me from you that now 'tis your bed time. Off with the happy busk which i envy That still can be and still can stand so nigh. Your gown going off such beauteous state reveals As when from flowery meads th'hill's shadow steals. Off with that wiry coronet and show The hairy diadem which on you doth grow; Now off with those shoes and then safely tread In this love's hallowed temple this soft bed In such white robes heaven's angels used to be Received by men; thou angel bring'st with thee A heaven like Mahomet's paradise; and though Ill spirits walk in white we easily know By this these angels from an evil sprite Those set our hairs but these our flesh upright Licence my roving hands and let them go Before behind between above below. O my America my new found land My kingdom safeliest when with one man manned My mine of precious stones my empery How blessed am I in this discovering thee! To enter in these bonds is to be free; Then where my hand is set my seal shall be.
Clearly, Donne challenges the kind of love poetry in which love is a courtly discipline and in which lovemaking does not take place. The poem is a slow titillation as each garment is removed with deliberation and relish. The unnamed mistress is modest, although at the close of the poem the speaker claims that she is not innocent. The verbal undressing of the woman is followed by the speaker's own undressing as he tries to distract her attention by discoursing on geographical exploration and the philosophy of nakedness. Donne's image of a newly discovered land applied to the female body draws its strength from colonial expansion and contemporary voyages to the New World. Similar use of maps and globes as metaphors for the geography of the female body is made in other poems by Donne (see for example Love's Progress), and in Shakespeare's `The Rape of Lucrece'. You might comment on the originality of such images in contrast to the well-worn modes of address in Petrarchan imitation.
Is the woman-as-land trope offensive to modern ideas of sexual equality? Compare this trope with the idea, discussed above in relation to Utopia, that masculinity is a principle of fertilization (the implanting of seed) of land which is imagined as feminine. Could colonial invasion and plunder (`my new found land') be likened to penetrative sex?
Instead of an appeal to a goddess of the Petrarchan tradition, the address to the woman suggests that the couple are on easy terms with each other. She must be coaxed however and this enables Donne to construct a characteristically witty point. The mistress arouses physical desire and therefore she must be amongst the good angels of Paradise. As with the sonnet sequences, it is important to recognize that we have no knowledge of whether this situation actually occurred. The elegy can be read simply as a witty and extravagant literary exercise enacting a male fantasy.
Now consider a different kind of poem by Donne. You may want to look at `A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning', which expresses tenderness within marriage, or `Twicknam Garden', in which the poet/persona is a suffering lover in the Petrarchan mode.
The Restoration: The Earl of Rochester and Aphra Behn
We have chosen to end the examination of love poetry with a discussion of a female poet who wrote within the dominant libertine ethos of the post-Restoration period. First, however, consider this poem by John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, a contemporary of Ahra Behn. What does it tell us about the response to and representation of love in the period?
`Love and Life A Song'
All my past Life is mine no more The flying hours are gone: Like transitory Dreams giv'n o'er Whose Images are kept in store By Memory alone. The Time that is to come is not How can it then be mine? The present Moment's all my Lot And that as fast as it is got Phyllis is only thine. Then talk not of Inconstancy False Hearts and broken Vows; If I by Miracle can be This live-long Minute true to thee 'Tis all that Heav'n allows.
It will be immediately obvious that the substance and tone of the poem reveal a very different cast of mind from any other love poem which you have been considering. In addressing his mistress Rochester is describing the impossibility of remaining faithful for any length of time. Indeed, the materialist philosophy of the Restoration placed an emphasis on the present and investment in the physical and sensational. Yet the poem is also haunted by a tragic sense of the futility of life and personal commitment. Above all it is the brittleness of experience which is communicated. The tragic implications of infidelity are present in only a few of Rochester's poems; others display the urgency of sensual gratification and treat sexual relations with a rude honesty.
Now read Behn's `The Disappointment'. List any familiar conventions of love poetry and also points of connection with the more scurrilous tone of Restoration verse.
Behn evokes conventions of pastoral love poetry. Lysander and Cloris are typically Greek names for Behn's shepherd and shepherdess, reminiscent of the Elizabethan lyric. Descriptions of Cloris's bright eyes and Lysander's vigour conform to type. But here the similarities end. As in the work of Rochester, the poem conveys a frank attitude towards sex. The reader is drawn into a scene of seduction in which Cloris is momentarily torn between desire and saving her honour. Behn wittily combines outdated neoplatonic imagery (`their bodies as their souls are joined') with the language of titillation as Cloris willingly succumbs to Lysander's sexual advances. The poem reaches its comic anticlimax when the distraught Lysander realizes he is impotent. The comedy springs from the mocking treatment of pastoral love; the protagonists harbour no chaste thoughts, but chastity is imposed upon them.
It is clear that Behn shares with her male contemporaries both a witty exposure and sensual representation of love. The poem resembles Rochester's `Imperfect Enjoyment', which is in turn modelled on an Ovidian poem. But in contrast Behn offers no comfort to the disappointed male lover.
Consider whether Behn presents a female perspective on sexual relations. You might also want to think about whether the text offers any indication that it was written by a women.
The poem is remarkable in its positioning of the woman. In the Elizabethan love sonnet and in the poems of Donne, for example, the woman is the object; here Cloris is not only the desired object, but she too feels intense desire. She is depicted as sexually aroused and the disappointment of the poem's title is mutual. However the poem has an additional twist as the female poet identifies with the nymph's disappointment and ironically demonstrates the vulnerability of the male ego as Lysander ascribes the blame to Cloris.
With the cynical and sexually explicit love poetry of the post-Restoration the tradition is virtually at an end. You might say that in its exploration of loss and failure, it cannot go any further. You may now be stimulated to look at the drama of the Restoration which explores similar themes. We would particularly recommend George Etherege The Man of Mode and Behn's The Rover. Both plays represent the Restoration rake and the libertine credo. Interestingly, Behn's heroines issue a challenge to the male libertine by demanding to live life on the same terms. But, like the poetry, the drama exposes the brutalizing effects of the pleasure-seeking way of life and the predatory nature of social and personal relations.
Having read a range of love poems by at least two different authors, and some of the secondary reading, you should be able to
* compare and contrast a range of love poems by different authors, focussing on their form, themes, and concerns
* discuss the representation of different kinds of love, especially distinguishing between physical and idealized love
* identify the effects of the use of poetic conceits in a range of love poems by different authors
* discuss a range of formal characteristics found in love poems by different authors
* identify and discuss gender-biased representations and stereotypes in a range of love poems by different authors
* prepare with some confidence for an examination question using a range of love poems by different authors as examples
Sample examination questions
1. `Renaissance love poetry is characterized primarily by wit and ingenuity of argument.' How far is this the case? Illustrate your answer with reference to a range of poems by any two authors you have studied during the course.
2. `The language of the sixteenth-century sonnet is elaborated out of all proportion to any complexity of thought or feeling. The verbal patterning, the endless antitheses, the over- ingenious conceits seem to exist as objects of attention in themselves.' Do you agree? Refer in your answer to a range of poems by at least two authors
3. With reference to the work of at least two authors you have studied in this unit discuss the use of pastoral conventions in a range of love poetry.
4. Discuss how any two writers of love poetry made use of or were influenced by one of the following: the conceit; conventions of Petrarchan poetry; the libertine credo; the ideology of the feminine.
Suggestions for Further Study
The writers of love poems are often also writers of other kinds of text as well. Once you feel you have sampled sufficient works in the genre you might want to explore other works by the same authors. So, a study of Shakespeare's Sonnets might encourage you to look at love in his plays, with Romeo and Juliet and Much Ado About Nothing being obvious examples to begin with. Philip Sidney's Apology for Poetry (also known as the Defence of Poetry) provides a theoretical prose work by which to measure his `Astrophil and Stella'. Does Sidney achieve in practice what his theoretical work sets out as his aim?. If you have been struck by the gender-bias of much love poetry you might like to explore the representation of women, and especially of female sexuality, in other genres. Aphra Behn's work provides a useful starting point and you should look at her play The Rover. Modern feminist studies, for example Catherine Belsey The Subject of Tragedy, will help to explore the ideas which formed the ideological basis for much of the writing of the period.
Chapter 5. Section C Topic Study: Restoration Comedy
The genre `Restoration comedy' takes its name from the political events of 1660 when the English republic collapsed and the monarchy was restored in the person of King Charles II who was recalled from exile in France. However the genre is usually taken to include texts written between 1660 and 1710, although for the purposes of political and historical study only the period 1660-1670 is referred to as the Restoration. As described in the `Objectives' of this subject guide, this unit is concerned with texts from `the mid-sixteenth century to the late seventeenth century' and you may choose for yourself any late seventeenth-century comic plays without worrying about the strict definition of the historical `Restoration'. Here is a list of plays which are most frequently studied as `Restoration Comedy', and you would be well-advised to gain a familiarity with at least two of these if you intend to answer a question on this topic:
William Wycherly The Country Wife
William Congreve The Way of the World and The Double Dealer
Thomas Otway Venice Preserv'd
George Farquhar The Recruiting Officer and The Beaux Strategem
George Etherege The Man of Mode
John Vanbrugh The Provok'd Wife and The Relapse
All of these plays are frequently printed in anthologies, such as these:
Davidson, Dennis (ed) Restoration Comedies: Etherege She Would If She Could, Sedley The Mulberry Garden, Dryden Marriage … la Mode, Wycherley The Country Wife, Vanbrugh The Relapse (Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks, 1970) [ISBN 0-19-281063-4]
Lawrence, Robert G (ed) Restoration Plays (London: Dent Everyman's Library, 1976) [ISBN 0-460-11604-5]
Salgado, Gamini (ed) Three Restoration Comedies: Etherege The Man of Mode, Wycherley The Country Wife, Congreve Love for Love (Harmondsworth: Penguin English Library, 1968) [No ISBN]
Recommended Secondary Reading
*Bruce, Donald Topics of Restoration Comedy (London: Gollancz, 1974) [ISBN 0-575-0180406]. Very brief introduction to the historical context followed by five themed essays. Ignore the essay titles (eg `I am my Own Fever') and look for the subtitles (eg `Reason and Impulse in Restoration Comedy') for a sense of the themes covered by Bruce.
Holland, Normand N. The First Modern Comedies: The Significance of Etherege, Wycherley and Congreve. (Cambridge, MASS.: Harvard University Press, 1959) [Out of Print]. Gives a reading of each of 11 plays, informed by Freudian psychoanalytical theory. Holland is concerned with characters and plots and uses diagrams to represent, for example, the structure of a dramatic plot. Covers the major works of the genre from a specialized viewpoint.
*Holland, Peter The Ornament of Action: Text and Performance in Restoration Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979) [ISBN 0-521-22048-3]. Takes a stage-centred approach and provides a scholarly account of the staging of the plays and the importance of visual information in the total artistic effect.
Muir, Kenneth The Comedy of Manners. (London: Hutchinson English Literatures, 1970) [ISBN 09-100481-0]. Muir provides a brief account of each of the major dramatists in the genre and their works. Too lightweight on its own, but useful for helping to plan which authors and works you want to investigate further.
Schneider, Ben Ross Jr The Ethos of Restoration Comedy (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971) [ISBN 252-00151- 6]. Restoration comedy is often thought to lack moral concerns, but Schneider argues that there is a consistent didactic purpose: to demonstrate the ethical superiority of aristocratic values. This study is useful for its systematic analysis (using computer punched cards) of characters and their characteristics.
*Styan, J. L. Restoration Comedy in Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986) [ISBN 0-521-25405-1 (hardback); 0 521 27421 4 (paperback)]. The best single-volume guide to the genre. Illuminates the means of staging, the styles of acting, and the theatrical culture with many pictures of plays in performance.
*Weber, Harold M. The Restoration Rake-Hero: Transformations in Sexual Understanding in Seventeenth-century England. (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1986) [ISBN 0-299- 10690-X]. Traces a single character-type (the sexually voracious `rake-hero') through many plays, and argues that the meaning of sexual pleasure changed along with its social expression within, for example, marriage.
* = especially recommended
It is important to have some understanding of the historical events of the Civil War, the 20 year commonwealth (or `republic'), and the restoration of the monarchy. Several important studies are mentioned in the `General Subject Reading' at the beginning of this guide, amongst which Christopher Hill Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution and A Nation of Change and Novelty, and Keith Wrightson English Society contain excellent accounts of the period. You cannot hope to study Restoration comedy without some grasp of the historical context, although the depth of knowledge you will need will be determined by your choice of approach. At the very least you must read the bare outlines given in the studies of the Restoration comedy such as Donald Bruce's Topics of Restoration Comedy. In this sample topic study two plays will be considered with particular emphasis on the representation of people from the town being different from people from the country. This approach is particularly suitable for Restoration comedy, but you might instead choose to do a formal analysis, that is to say, a study concerned with aspects of the drama's `form' such as the dramatic and literary devices, the way the narrative is divided into scenes and acts, or the use of stage language.
Theatrical Conditions Before and After the Commonwealth
At the start of the Civil War the theatres in Britain were closed by order of the state. When the theatres re-opened after the restoration of the monarchy the conditions of performance were considerably different to those that prevailed when the theatres were closed in 1642. Before the closure London contained two kinds of theatre: outdoor playhouses, often circular, in which the audience surrounded the stage on all sides (or at least three sides), and indoor hall theatres which had the stage at one end. Even in the latter the stage extended into the audience so that the players were almost completely surrounded, an arrangement which is now called a `thrust stage'. A spectator's view of a performance depended very much on the location of one's seat, and it was not possible to avoid seeing other audience members at the same time as watching the players. When the theatres re-opened in the Restoration only two London playhouses were licensed: one in Drury Lane under the king's protection and one in Lincoln's Inn under the protection of the Duke of York. Both of these had `proscenium arch' arragements in which the stage is recessed behind an arch. Effectively, the audience were in one room looking into the stage in an adjoining room, the connecting wall having been removed. Another term for this arrangement is the `picture frame' stage, because the proscenium arch forms a kind of frame through which the audience look and within which the actors perform. This `proscenium arch' design prevailed in European and American theatres until the early twentieth century, and the majority of theatres still have this arrangement.
[GIE Somewhere around here place an illustration based on the sketch of a pros-arch and thrust stage I have supplied]
The proscenium arch design imposes certain artistic constraints. On a `thrust stage' the audience could be addressed by characters on stage as though they were present in the scene. When a scene called for an character to address a crowd, the actor could pretend that those standing around the stage were the crowd and so no additional actors were needed to represent the crowd. On a picture frame stage this looks unconvincing, especially if the theatre is indoors and the lighting is dimmed so that the audience members cannot see each other. On a picture frame stage the backdrop (the cloths or boards and furniture which `dress' the scene) is much nearer to the actors who are much more deeply immersed in the scenery than is the case on a thrust stage. In the outdoor theatres of the pre- commonwealth period the lowest priced admission was for a standing position in the yard surrounding the stage, but in the indoor theatres of both the pre-commonwealth period and the Restoration stage there were seats around and in front of the stage. These seats were often highly priced because they provided an excellent view and so the dynamics of the audience/actor spatial relationship were changed: before the commonwealth the poorest spectators were often nearest the stage, but in the Restoration the richest were nearest to the stage. The `picture frame' stage presents more or less the same image to all the spectators, whereas the `thrust stage' can be seen from almost any angle. Flat boards painted with scenery can effectively represent locations on a `picture frame' stage because every member of the audience will see only one side of the board, but on a `thrust stage' half the audience would see the reverse of the board. Only with the development of the `picture frame' stage did London drama gain substantial scenery and furniture.
Another important change in performance conditions concerned the portrayal of female characters. Before the closure of the theatres the parts of women and girl characters were played by boy actors, but in the Restoration period women were allowed to perform in female parts. In the drama of Shakespeare's time there is much comedy made of the fact that women and girls are being played by boys, but under the conditions which prevailed in the Restoration these jokes ceased to make any sense when performed by women. However, because women were allowed to perform on stage, dramatists were able to have as many female parts as they liked without straining the talents of the company as they had in the pre-commonwealth theatres.
Compare the female characters in a play you have studied from the pre-commonwealth period to characters in a Restoration comedy. Is it easy to decide which characters are more `realistic'? What factors do you take into account when deciding whether a character is realistic?
Town rakes versus country innocents: Sex in Wycherley's The Country Wife and Congreve's The Way of the World.
The following is an extract from William Wycherley's The Country Wife:
ALITHEA Sister, what ails you? you are grown melancholy.
MRS PINCHWIFE Would it not make any one melancholy to see you go every day fluttering about abroad, whilst I must stay at home like a poor lonely sullen bird in a cage?
ALITHEA Ay, sister; but you came young, and just from the nest to your cage: so that I thought you liked it, and could be as cheerful in't as others that took their flight themselves early, and are hopping abroad in the open air.
MRS PINCHWIFE Nay, I confess I was quiet enough till my husband told me what pure lives the London ladies live abroad, with their dancing, meetings, and junketings, and dressed every day in their best gowns; and I warrant you, play at nine-pins every day of the week, so they do.
PINCHWIFE Come, what's here to do? you are putting the town- pleasures in her head, and setting her a-longing.
ALITHEA Yes, after nine-pins. You suffer none to give her those longings you mean but yourself.
PINCHWIFE I tell her of the vanities of the town like a confessor.
ALITHEA A confessor? just such a confessor as he that, by forbidding a silly ostler to grease the horse's teeth, taught him to do't.
(Act 3 Scene 1)
Restoration comedies are often concerned with the pursuit of pleasure and the obstacles which lie in the way of achieving it. In this play a middle-aged London man, Pinchwife, marries a young woman from the country because he thinks she will be innocent of the sexual pleasures, and other pleasures, which can be found in the city. Pinchwife knows from first-hand experience that young men will pursue attractive young married women, and indeed he has only recently given up such pursuits himself. In the above extract his wife complains that she is kept confined at home and cannot sample the delights of living in London. Notice that Alithea, her husband's sister, expects that Mrs Pinchwife would not miss pleasures she has never known. Pinchwife too relies upon his wife's ignorance of pleasure and resists `putting the town-pleasures in her head, and setting her a-longing'.
The pursuit of pleasure has always been a matter of concern for religions, but at the time this play was written the subject was particularly vexed. During the commonwealth the state authorities in Britain attempted to outlaw various forms of entertainment because they were in conflict with Puritan principles. The effectiveness of these laws is uncertain and historians argue whether most people would have experienced suppression of the usual social forms of entertainment. However, it is important to realize that Restoration comedy is frequently thought of as one manifestation of a generally more permissive atmosphere that prevailed with the end of the commonwealth and the restoration of the monarchy.
In The Country Wife Pinchwife appears to assume that his wife's girlhood in the country will have isolated her from corrupting `town-pleasures'.
Make a list of all the types of pleasure named in Restoration comedies you have read. Are there any pleasures implied in characters' speech but not named? Does sexual pleasure feature as an explicit pleasure or as an implied pleasure? How does your list of pleasures in these plays compare with pleasures you have noticed in other plays from, say, the Shakesepearian period?
You might want to explore the idea that the plays advocate a particular code of ethics. One of the ways to begin to explore this would be to write a summary of each character in a play, noting details such as their occupation, their background, any pecularities, what they try to achieve during the play, and what happens to them during the play. You will find that the play will not answer all the questions for each character (servants, for example, are usually very sketchily represented), but you should be able to produce a useful table of data. This kind of summary will help you remember the details of a play long after you have finished reading it. For Restoration comedy it is especially useful to note a character's social background since the main characters will often be either aristocratic (usually having a title such as `Sir' or `Lady') or bourgeois (indicated by involvement in commercial activity).
Produce such a table of characters for The Country Wife. Do the aristocratic characters achieve more of their ends than the bourgeois characters? Is it clear that the behaviour of one group of characters is represented as bad in the play and that the behaviour of another group is represented as good?
This kind of analysis is simplistic but is a useful aid to character study. In The Ethos of Restoration Comedy, Ben Ross Schneider uses systematic tabulation of characters to argue that in many Restoration comedies there is a consistent attack upon Puritan characters and that the aristocratic values are held to be superior. Historians identify antagonism between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie as one of the underlying causes of the Civil War. Marxist historians go further and explain all social change in terms of struggle between classes and changes in the means of economic production. You may wish to reconsider here the tension between arable and agrarian modes of production discussed in relation to More's Utopia above. Are the differences between town and country people in Wycherley's play related to issues of social class, economic production, and class war?
There are theoretical problems with a systematic tabulation of the kind performed by Schneider. Can you think of any? Would you expect the decisions about what makes a suitable category (eg `aristocratic or bourgeois') to greatly affect the outcome? Did you find it easy to decide whether characters were bourgeois or aristocratic?
Here is an extract from William Congreve's The Way of the World:
SONG Set by Mr. John Eccles
I Love's but the frailty of the mind, When 'tis not with ambition joined; A sickly flame, which is not fed expires; And feeding, wastes in self-consuming fires.
II 'Tis not to wound a wanton boy Or am'rous youth, that gives the joy; But 'tis the glory to have pierced a swain, For whom inferior beauties sighed in vain.
III Then I alone the conquest prize, When I insult a rival's eyes: If there's delight in love, 'tis when I see That heart which others bleed for, bleed for me.
(Act 3 Scene 12)
The idea expressed here is called `mediated desire': desire for an object generated by someone else valuing that object. In A Theater of Envy, René Girard developed a theory to account for all of Shakespeare's plays in which the primary force is `mimetic desire' making one character imitate another's desire and so become his or her rival for the object of desire. Example of `mimetic desire' in Shakespeare abound. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona Proteus imitates Valentine's love for Julia. In A Midsummer Night's Dream Lysander and Demetrius are (until the final resolution) always in love with the same woman, whether Hermia or Helena. Girard's notion of `mimetic desire' provides a framework for considering the jealousies of lovers in plays which is more complex than a commonsense approach but stops short of the intricacies of Freudian psychoanalytic theory.
The pattern of romantic relationships in Congreve's The Way of the World is extremely complex and confusing. The dramatis personae (a list of `persons of the play') gives some help. It is important to remember that in this context `friend' means lover and that the title `Mrs' does not mean that a woman is married; Mrs Marwood, for example, is unmarried.
Make your own list of `persons of the play' with more detail than the one provided in your playtext. Add the extra detail by re-reading the play and inserting material about relationships as they are revealed and develop. Could Girard's model of `mimetic desire' explain any of the developments?
Here is another extract from The Way of the World:
MRS FAINALL Is it possible? Does thou hate those vipers men?
MRS MARWOOD I have done hating 'em, and am now come to despise 'em; the next thing I have to do, is eternally to forget 'em.
MRS FAINALL There spoke the spirit of an Amazon, a Penthesilea.
MRS MARWOOD And yet I am thinking sometimes to carry my aversion further.
MRS FAINALL How?
MRS MARWOOD Faith by marrying; if I could but find one that loved me very well, and would be thoroughly sensible of ill usage, I think I should do myself the violence of undergoing the ceremony.
MRS FAINALL You would not make him a cuckold?
MRS MARWOOD No; but I'd make him believe I did, and that's as bad.
MRS Why had not you as good do it?
MRS MARWOOD O if he should ever discover it, he would then know the worst, and be out of pain; but I would have him ever to continue upon the rack of fear and jealousy.
(Act 2 Scene 1)
The idea of marriage as a form of punishment inflicted by women upon men is not original to Congreve, but the premeditated use of men's fear of cuckoldry shown by Mrs Marwood is unusual. Amongst all the plotting and deceit in The Way of the World there is only one character fearful of being cuckolded: Fainall fears his wife's relationship with Mirabell. Fainall's own extra-marital lover, Mrs Marwood, advises him that his wife is `no worse than when you had her--I dare swear she had given up the game, before she was married'. When Mrs Marwood asks `Well, how do you stand affected towards your lady?', Fainall replies:
Let me see--I am married already; so that's over--My wife has plaid the jade with me--well, that's over too--I never loved her, or if I had, why that would have been over too by this time--Jealous of her I cannot be, for I am certain; so there's an end of jealousy. Weary of her, I am and shall be--No, there's no end of that; no, no, that were too much to hope. Thus far concerning my repose. Now for my reputation--As to my own, I married not for it; so that's out of the question.--And as to my part in my wife's--why she had parted with hers before; so bringing none to me, she can take none from me; 'tis against all rule of play, that I should lose to one who has not wherewithal to stake.
MRS MARWOOD Besides, you forget, marriage is honourable.
(Act 3 Scene 18)
Compare Mrs Marwood's encouragement of Fainall to overlook his wife's infidelity with her statement in 2.1 (quoted above) to Mrs Fainall about intending to make her husband, when she gets one, suffer fear of cuckoldry. Which, if either, of them is she deceiving?
A comparative study of attitudes towards cuckoldry (or, taking a wider view, extra-marital sex in general) in texts across the period of this unit would make an ideal topic study. One argument often made by critics is that after the end of the Puritan commonwealth there was a general loosening of morals which is reflected in the drama. But does a greater openness about the reality of sexual infidelity indicate a relaxation of morals or merely a healthy lack of hypocrisy? You must decide for yourself whether Restoration comedy is an expression of collective relief at the end of commonwealth restrictions of social behaviour.
During the commonwealth period the theatres were closed so we must acknowledge an interruption in the theatrical tradition, whether or not we wish to characterize what came after it as essentially different or essentially the same as what came before. In Congreve's The Way of the World there are numerous allusions to pre-commonwealth drama and literature. Amongst the texts alluded to are: Jonson's Volpone (2.4); Shakespeare's Hamlet (2.5); Cervantes's Don Quixote (3.3); Jonson's The Devil is an Ass (3.7). These allusions might be a conscious invocation of pre-commonwealth literary art in order to place Congreve's play within a tradition unbroken by the commonwealth. Alternatively, these works might seem so different from Restoration comedy that mentioning them reminds the audience just how much has changed since the pre- commonwealth period.
Find the allusions mentioned above. Does the particular context (i.e. who is saying what to whom, and why) throw any light on the reason for the allusions? Are there any parallels between the works mentioned and Congreve's play?
Restoration comedy comes at the end of the period studied in this unit. You will no doubt have noticed the considerable range of styles and concerns in the works from different parts of the period under consideration. In order to answer examination questions effectively you will need to combine a sense of the large-scale changes across the period with detailed knowledge of particular works. Most importantly, your sense of how an individual work of art functions must be combined with knowledge of its place within the larger social, artistic, and historical context from which it comes. It is not necessary to dismiss the artist's individual creative powers in order to appreciate the importance of context, indeed you should find that as you learn more about the conditions under which certain works were created you come to enjoy them all the more.
Having studied at least two Restoration comedies by different authors, and some of the recommended secondary reading, you should be able to
* identify the major historical events which gave `Restoration comedy' its name, and briefly summarize the features which make up the genre
* compare and contrast at least two plays by different authors in terms of their themes and subject matter
* identify topics which recur in Restoration comedy and describe a range of treatments of those topics in at least two plays by different authors
* relate some of the recurrent themes in Restoration comedy to the wider social, historical, and cultural context of the period
* prepare with confidence for an examination question using your knowledge of Restoration comedy
Sample Examination Questions
1. Discuss the importance of any one of the following in at least two Restoration comedies by different dramatists: i) characteristic speech; ii) characters' names; iii) performance of female parts by women
2. `Restoration comedies show the full range of human types and studiously avoid championing any one type over others.' Discuss in relation to at two least plays by different dramatists.
3. Discuss the comedy of affectation in at least Restoration comedies by different dramatists.
4) Referring to at least two plays by different dramatists, discuss the statement that `Restoration comedies always show the sexual ambitions of the young in a favourable light.'
Suggestions for Further Study
Coming as they do at the end of the period studied in this unit, Restoration comedies can usefully be compared with earlier works. A detailed study of the differences between pre- commonwealth comedy and Restoration comedy could be broadened into an examination of other literary changes, for example in dramatic tragedies before and after the commonwealth. Remember that our division of the periods of literature is somewhat artificial and that although Restoration comedy comes at the end of our period, it was, if anything, perceived as a new start by writers of the period. You must avoid thinking of developments as occurring inevitably as if directed by an unseen force (this is called `teleology') and rather try to consider the material conditions as they were experienced by writers of the period. The `General Subject Reading' includes several works which will help you gain an insight to the cultural conditions of the Restoration and we particularly recommended the books by Christopher Hill for their literary perspectives on the historical causes and after-effects of the Civil War and commonwealth.
By the time you arrive at this component, you will already have had some experience of external examinations. You will have read much advice on exam preparation and technique in the Handbook and in the Foundation Units. We will not repeat that advice except to say that, for this component, you will be examined on the basis of the objectives outlined at the beginning of this subject guide. As in all your examinations, coherency and development of argument will be key factors in assessment. Remember that your argument will need to be illustrated by example. Finally, whether you have followed the author and topic studies suggested here, or developed your own areas of study, we hope that you have enjoyed your work on the literary culture of the Renaissance and Restoration.
Chapter 6: Sample Examination Paper
Answer THREE questions, ONE from EACH section. Candidates may NOT discuss the same text in more than one answer, in this examination or in any other Advanced Level Unit examination.
SECTION A 1. Write on ONE of the following passages, showing how in attitude, themes and style it is characteristic of the period.
It was in that time when all good authors and fine writers being neglected, filthy barbarousness was embraced in all schools and universities. The names and numbers of liberal arts did only remain; the arts themselves were clean lost. Logic was gone out of kind into sophistical trifles. Philosopny, both moral and natural, was miserably defaced with infinite questions and subtleties. The use of tongues and eloquent learning was either small or none at all. Yea, and divinity itself was fallen into the state that, being laden with articles and distinctions, it served rather for the gain of a few than for the edification of many. Unluckily, therefore, so good a wit, falling into these unhappy times, is constrained to spend a great part of his youth (worthy of better instruction) in the peevish questions of Duns, and other masters of the same sort, until he was 20 year old. At the length, after so long darkness of barbarism, the tongues and other good learning began by little and little to spring up again, and the books of Faber and Erasmus began to be much occupied and had in good estimation with a number of good authors beside. In whom the same Cranmer, taking no small pleasure, did daily rub away his old rustiness on them, as upon a whetstone, until at length, when Martin Luther was risen up, the more bright and happy day of God's knowledge did waken men's minds to the clear light of the truth. (JOHN FOXE, Actes and Monuments, 1563)
To be brief, gentlemen, I have seen the world and rounded it, though not with travel yet with experience, and I cry out with Solomon, Omnia sub sole vanitas. I have smiled with the Italian, and worn the viper's head in my hand, and yet stoppedhis venom. I have eaten Spanish Mirabolanes, and yet am nothing the more metamorphosed. France, Germany, Poland, Denmark, I know them all, yet not affected to any in the form of my life; only I am English born, and I have English thoughts; not a devil incarnate because I am Italianate, but hating the pride of Italy, because I know their peevishness. Yet in all these countries where I have travelled I have not seen more excess of vanity than we Englishmen practise through vain glory; for as our wits be as ripe as any, so our wills are more ready than they all to put in effect any of their licentious abuses. Yet amongst the rest, letting ordinary sins pass because custom hath almost made them a law, I will only speak of two such notable abuses, which the practitioners of them shadow with the name of Arts, as never have been heard of in any age before. The first and chief is called the Art of Conny catching; the second, the Art of Crosbiting; two such pestilent and prejudicial practises as of late have been the ruin of infinite persons, and the subversion and overthrow of many merchants, farmers, and honest-minded yeomen. (ROBERT GREENE, from A Notable Discovery of Cozenage, 1591)
An evil spirit, your beauty, haunts me still, Wherewith (alas) I have been long possessed, Which ceaseth not to tempt me to each ill, Nor gives me once but one poor minute's rest. In me it speaks, whether I sleep or wake, 5 And when by means to drive it out I try, With greater torments then it me doth take, And tortures me in most extremity. Before my face it lays down my despairs, And hastes me on unto a sudden death, 10 Now tempting me to drown myself in tears, And then in sighing to give up any breath. Thus am I still provoked to every evil By this good wicked spirit, sweet angel devil. (MICHAEL DRAYTON, from Idea, 1599)
ISABELLA [Aside]: Marry a fool! Can there be greater misery to a woman, That means to keep her days true to her husband And know no other man, so virtue wills it! Why, how can I obey and honour him 5 But I must needs commit idolatry? A fool is but the image of a man, And that but ill made neither. O the heart-breakings Of miserable maids, where love's enforc'd! The best condition is but bad enough: 10 When women have their choices, commonly They do but buy their thraldoms and bring great portions To men to keep 'em in subjection; As if a fearful prisoner should bribe The keeper to be good to him, yet lies in still, 15 And glad of a good usage, a good look Sometimes, by'r Lady; no misery surmounts a woman's. Men buy their slaves but women buy their masters. Yet honesty and love makes all this happy And, next to angels, the most blest estate. 20 That Providence, that has made ev'ry poison Good for some use, and sets four warring elements At peace in man, can make a harmony In things that are most strange to human reason. O but this marriage! [. . .] 25 (THOMAS MIDDLETON, Women Beware Women, c.1621)
Forget this rotten world; And unto thee Let thine owne times as an old storie bee. Be not concern'd: studie not why, nor when; Doe not so much as not beleeve a man. For though to erre, be worst, to try truths forth, 5 Is far more businesse, than this world is worth. The world is but a carkasse; thou art fed By it, but as a worme, that carkasse bred; And why should'st thou, poore worme, consider more, When this world will grow better than before, 10 Than those thy fellow wormes doe thinke upon That carkasses last resurrection. Forget this world, and scarce thinke of it so, As of old clothes, cast off a yeare agoe. To be thus stupid is Alacritie; 15 Men thus Lethargique have best Memory. Look upward; that's towards her, whose happy state We now lament not, but congratulate. Shee, to whom all this world was but a stage, Where all sat harkning how her youthfull age 20 Should be emploi'd, because in all shee did, Some Figure of the Golden times was hid. Who could not lacke, what e'r this world could give, Because shee was the forme, that made it live; Nor could complaine, that this world was unfit 25 To be staid in, then when shee was in it; Shee that first tried indifferent desires By vertue, and vertue by religious fires, Shee to whose person Paradise adher'd, As Courts to Princes, shee whose eyes ensphear'd 30 Star-light enough, t'have made the South controule, (Had shee been there) the Star-full Northerne Pole, Shee, shee is gone; she is gone; when thou knowest this, What fragmentary rubbidge this world is Thou knowest, and that it is not worth a thought; 35 He honors it too much that thinkes it nought. [. . .] (JOHN DONNE, from `The Second Anniversarie of the Progress of the Soule', 1612)
Many there be that complain of Divine Providence for suffering Adam to transgress; foolish tongues! when God gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing; he had been else a mere artificial Adam, such an Adam as he is in the motions. We ourselves esteem not of that obedience, or love, or gift, which is of force: God therefore left him free, set before him a provoking object, ever almost in his eyes; herein consisted his merit, herein the right of his reward, the praise of his abstinence. Wherefore did he create passions within us, pleasures round about us, but that these rightly tempered are the very ingredients of virtue? They are not skillful considerers of human things, who imagine to remove sin by removing the matter of sin; for, besides that it is a huge heap increasing under the very act of diminishing, though some part of it may for a time be withdrawn from some persons, it cannot from all, in such a universal thing as books are; and when this is done, yet the sin remains entire. Though ye take from a covetous man all his treasure, he has yet one jewel left, ye cannot bereave him of his covetousness. Banish all objects of lust, shut up all youth into the severest discipline that can be exercised in any hermitage, ye cannot make them chaste that came not thither so: such great care and wisdom is required to the right managing of this point. (JOHN MILTON, from Areopagitica, 1644)
Then I saw in my dream, that when they were got out of the wilderness, they presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity; and at the town there is a fair kept, called Vanity Fair; it is kept all the year long; it beareth the name of Vanity Fair because the town where it is kept is lighter than vanity; and also because all that is there sold, or that cometh thither, is vanity. As is the saying of the wise, 'All that cometh is vanity' (Ecclesiastes i.2, 14; ii.11, 17; xi.8; Isaiah xl.17).
This fair is no new-erected business, but a thing of ancient standing; I will show you the original of it.
Almost five thousand years agone, there were pilgrims walking to the Celestial City, as these two honest persons are; and Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion, with their companions, perceiving by the path that the pilgrims made, that their way to the city lay through this town of Vanity, they contrived here to set up a fair; a fair wherein should be sold all sorts of vanity, and that it should last all the year long. Therefore at this fair are all such merchandise sold, as houses, lands, trades, places, honors, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts, as whores, bawds, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not. (JOHN BUNYAN, from The Pilgrim's Progress, 1678)
2. `Absence is pain'. Discuss one poet's treatment in the sonnet or other lyric forms of the pleasure or pain of erotic love.
3. Discuss the response to court life in the work of either one poet or one dramatist.
4. Discuss Spenser's use of disguise in The Faerie Queene.
5. With close reference to two or three sonnets by any one poet, discuss the tension between public and private worlds.
6. Explain how the work of any one metaphysical poet may be considered dramatic.
7. Describe and analyse Milton's treatment of paradoxes of obedience and freedom in one or more of his works.
8. What does Milton adapt, absorb or contradict from the English Renaissance literary heritage? You may confine your discussion to one work.
9. Discuss the treatment of social order in either two plays by Marlowe or Kyd's Spanish Tragedy.
10. Explain how either Shakespeare or one other Jacobean dramatist establishes notions of corruption or vice in one or two plays.
11. Write on the treatment of money in Jonson's drama or poetry or both.
12. How important is plot in the work of any one prose fiction writer of the period?
13. How biting is the work of any one Restoration satirist?
Answers in this section should refer to AT LEAST TWO different authors.
14. Compare the use of hyperbole or exaggeration by two or more writers of the period. You need not restrict your discussion to a single genre.
15. Discuss the importance of spectacle or the role of violence in Jacobean tragedy.
16. Are there significant differences between Elizabethan and Jacobean literature?
17. Is the equality of women a significant issue in literature of the period?
18. Discuss the treatment of honour in a range of works of the period.
19. Write on attitudes to the natural world or to the countryside expressed in the literature of the period.
20. Compare the emphasis placed on novelty or tradition by two or more writers of the period.