Topics so far –
The Renaissance in England: Part - II
In 1597 a young man by name Joseph Hall who had just left the university wrote a collection of satires. In the past, Piers the Plowman and Steel Glass flourished as satires and Spenser had produced the harshest and most successful satire of the century - Mother Hubberds Tale.
Thomas Lodge, a year before Hall, published A Fig for Momus. Hall became a Bishop, and it is remarkable that the other satirists of the period also ended as clergy.
John Marston was the most cynical of all the Elizabethan authors. His licentious poem Pigmalion was attacked for its immorality. At the same time as Hall and Marston, John Donne, as early as 1593 composed his first satires. With Marston and Hall, Donne represents classical Elizabethan satire.
At the end of Elizabeth’s reign, several poets flourished who are variously interesting, some who were influenced by their predecessors, and some who adventured in new paths.
George Wither, William Browne and two brothers Giles and Phineas Fletcher and Drummond of Hawthornden may be cited as in the succession of Spenser.
George Wither & William Browne
George Wither, the Puritan satirist, satirized the court in his Abuses Stript and Whipt (1613). The satire is general, without personal attacks, but it caused such displeasure that Wither was imprisoned in the Marshalsea. He was there for several months, and there he wrote one of his most charming poems, The Shepherd’s Hunting published in 1615. It is a sort of pastoral in the form of a dialogue between Willy, who represents the poet William Browne, and Philarete, the friend of virtue, which is Wither himself.
William Browne, the close friend of Wither, wrote only pastorals. His Brittania’s Pastorals has made him the classical representative of pastoral poetry in his country. He was greatly inspired by Spenser’s Calendar, especially in his Shepherd’s Pipe (1614), which is a series of eclogues. Browne was capable of seeing Nature as she is, and sometimes he painted her successfully. He could make English birds sing in concert, and he could bring a hunt to life or depict an effect of dawn in a village.
Ben Jonson & John Donne
In contrast to the poets of this period who followed beaten tracks, we have two pioneers, Ben Jonson and John Donne. Their influence was felt by the greatest number of their own countrymen down to the Restoration.
Ben Jonson: The spirit of satire looms large in his Epigrammes and The Forrest published together in 1616. Ben Jonson also wrote moral satires which were more nobler in tone and more sincere in expression than those of Hall and Marston. His Epistle to Sir Edward Sackville is a heavy attack against patrons who grant their favours generally to the undeserving.
John Donne: John Donne, who after a libertine youth took orders at the age of 43, in 1615, is perhaps the most singular poet. His verses offer examples of everything condemned by the classical writers as bad taste and eccentricity. Although Donne’s love is always profoundly sensuous, it in revolt against the poetic canons of the age. He is at his best in his short pieces.
Poetry dominates the whole of the renaissance to such a point that it often invades he sphere of prose.
Greene, Lodge & Nashe
Robert Greene was Lyly’s disciple and successor, who imitated the prettiness of euphuism.
|The Winter's Tale|
He wrote Arbasto and Pandosto. Pandosto’s romantic character supplied the plot to The Winter’s Tale. Worn out by debauchery and poverty, he brought out a series of pamphlets filled with sorrowful self accusation, titled Confessions.
Thomas Lodge, a well-known doctor, he left behind him one euphuistic romance Rosalinde (1590) which was the source of As You Like It. Shakespeare read it with delight and he adapted it not only for the plot, but also for the character of his heroine.
Thomas Nashe: Nashe was the real successor of Greene. He was called the young Juvenal. He was the creator of a new genre – the initiators of the grotesque satirical style. In 1589 he used it against Greene’s dramatic rivals, Kyd & Marlowe. He wrote the preface to Greene’s Menaphon in which he poses as a defender of the classical tradition, against the recent authors of popular tragedies.
Deloney & Dekker
Thomas Deloney is famous for his series of short stories. The Gentle Craft is a survey of shoemakers from legendary times.
Thomas Dekker succeeded Greene & Nashe as a prose-writer, inspired by Deloney. He did not write novels but social studies and pictures of London life. His tract ‘Wonderful Year’ had for its subject the year 1603 in which Elizabethan died, James I succeeded and the Great Plague of London occurred.
Criticism of literature figured considerably in the prose of the English Renaissance. Criticism had a double aim; it wished both to glorify literature and to proclaim its laws. When the Italians undertook this task, they chose the ancients for the guides. The turned to Aristotle’s Poetics or Horace’s Ars Poetica, or Plato. Scaliger with his Poetics of 1561 represents Aristotlean criticism, as Minturno with his Ars Poetica of 1564 stands for Platonic criticism.
In England, criticism took the moral turn, with Ascham’s Scholemaster, as early as 1568. Stephen Gosson, a man of the letters who converted to Puritanism, directed his attach against all secular literature in his School of Abuse (1579), where he makes no distinction between poets, pipers, plaiens, jesters and such like caterpillars of a commonwealth. His principal animosity was against the theatre, and from the theatre, he extended his condemnation to poets, whom he calls the father of lies, and therefore considers poetry bad in essence destructive of energy and that which effeminates a nation.
This invective has survived because of the retort it provoked. Gosson dedicated it to Sidney, who was known for his nobility and purity of soul. While Thomas Lodge the playwright replied immediately with a pedantic Defence of Poetry, Sidney replied at leisure with his Defence of Poetrie in 1595. His plea for poetry constitutes one of the most eloquent and most pleasing prose works of the period. In fact, no other critical English work as broad and as much alive was written in this period.
The moment a writer turned a critic, he adheres to the school of antiquity. This applies even to Ben Jonson, the playwright who discussed his art most. He poses arrogantly and defiantly as the disciple of the ancients. William Webbe, in a Discourse of English Poetry (1586) shows himself the champion of measured verse. George Puttenham wrote the most voluminous treatise of the period.
The controversy between the Puritans and the Anglicans:-
The Religious literature of the Elizabethan period was constituted by a series of violently controversial writings. The most famous of the disputes which occupied authors was the Martin Marprelate controversy by which the Calvinists confronted the Anglican Church. It began in 1588 and lasted for five years. The Marprelates used the secret priority presses, to bring out a multitude of anonymous pamphlets, in which they denounced the Bishops as swine, Canterbury Beelzebubs, antichrists, foxes, dogs. Thomas Nashe is the best known among them.
The glorious task of defending Anglicanism fell to Richard Hooker who published his magisterial work The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity in 1593, which is one of the first masterpieces of English prose. According to Hooker papistry supports the authority of the Church against reason. Puritanism appeals to the authority of The Bible against the Church and against reason also. Church of England effects reconciliation, for it admits both authority and The Bible. His work owes its construction to the Summa of Thomas Aquinas.
The Bible of 1611: Nothing else in the religious prose of the Renaissance is equal in literary beauty and importance to the 1611 Authorized Version of The Bible. Mr.A.S Cooker gives the characteristics of the Bible which lends itself to translation better than any other poem.
a) Universality of interest.
b) The concreteness and picturesqueness of its language, appealing alike to the child and the poet, which suggests abundant reflection to the philosopher.
c) The simplicity of its structure, with one brief clause at a time.
d) A rhythm largely independent of the features, of any individual languages.
The translators great difficulty is to find language at once simple, homely and bold, and yet not coarse. Here the 1611 translators were helped by the earlier translations. Their basic material was a real Biblical dialect which had been shaped by Wyclif, Tyndale & Coverdale. It is a religious language at the heart of other English language.
The Authorized Version of 1611 was the work of 47 scholars, nominated by James I over whom Bishop Lancelot Andrews presided.
Philosophical Prose: Bacon & Burton
Side by side with the religious literature, a secular literature, was coming into existence and was concerned with philosophy and morals. Francis Bacon never speaks of religious except with respect and seems to have been religious for he wrote several very beautiful prayers for his own use and professed the Anglican faith. The contrast between his great intellect and his mediocre character is one of the commonplaces of history. His character was summed up by pope as ‘the wisest, brightest, meanest of mankind.’’ He ranks among the best English prose-writers by virtue of his essays, his Advancement of Learning, and his unfinished novel, the New Atlantis.
His English works include his Essays. His other English works were The Advancement of Learning (1605), containing the substance of his philosophy; The History of Henry Vll (1622); Apophthegms (1625), a kind of jest-book; and The New Atlantis, left unfinished at his death, a philosophical romance modelled upon More's Utopia.
Apart from Bacon, Burton was known for his The Anatomy of Melancholy which contained all the pedantry of the Renaissance.
The translators worked in many varied fields. Of the classics, Virgil was translated by Phaer (1558) and Stanyhurst (1562); Plutarch's Lives (a work that had much influence on Shakespeare and other dramatists) by North (1579); Ovid by Golding (1565 and 1567), Turberville (1567), and Chapman (1595); Homer by Chapman (1598). All Seneca was in English by 1581, and Suetonius, Pliny, and Plutarch's Morals were translated by Holland. Among the translations of Italian works were Machiavelli's Arte of Wane (1560) --his more famous and influential The Prince was not translated until 1640 - Castiglione's The Courtyer, translated by Hoby (1561); the Palace of Pleasure by Painter (1566) a work which was used by Shakespeare, Marston, Webster, and Massinger, and accounted for much of the horror of later Elizabethan tragedy; and Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, translated by Harrington (1591). From France were drawn Florio's translation of the Essays of Montaigne (1603) and Dannett's Commines (1596), while Spain provided North with The Diall of Princes (1557).
The Pamphleteers: All through this period there is a flood of short tracts on religion, politics, and literature. It was the work of a host of literary hacks who earned a precarious existence in London. These men represented a new class of writer. The Reformation had closed the Church to them; the growth of the universities and of learning continually increased their numbers. In later times journalism and its kindred careers supplied them with a livelihood; but at this time they eked out their existence by writing plays and squabbling among themselves in the pages of broadsheets.
In its buoyancy and vigour, its quaint mixture of truculence and petulance, Elizabethan pamphleteering is refreshingly boyish and alive. It is usually keenly satirical, and in style it is unformed and uncouth. The most notorious of the pamphleteers were Thomas Nash (or Nashe) (1567-1601), Robert Greene (1560 (?)-92), and Thomas Lodge (1558 (?) -1625). We quote a well-known passage from a pamphlet of Greene, in which he contrives to mingle praise of his friends with sly gibes at one who is probably Shakespeare. The style is typical of the pamphlets. "And thou, no less deserving than the other two,2 in some things rarer, in nothing inferior; driven (as myself) to extreme shifts, a little have I to say to thee;”
The Fertility of the Drama
The highest glory and the most direct and original expression of the national genius are dramatic. The theatre was open to all. The whole town was attracted by it and enthusiastic for it. It was truly national. For many it took the place of the church they neglected.
PEELE & LYLY
From the time of Elizabethan’s accession, seven plays were, on an average given before her every year, and about 150 had been performed before Lyly’s advent. His first known play Campaspe (1581) is the work of a humanist. In Endymion (1586) Lyly stages one of the most poetic of ancient myths. His last plays are pastorals like his Love’s Metamorphosis. In The Woman in the Moone his only play in verse, Lyly satirizes woman unreservedly.
George Peele: Like Lyly, the prose-writer, George Peele, the poet began his career as a courtier. Like Lyly, he had a taste for ornament and cared for fine language. His first work was a mythological pastoral, The Arraignment of Paris which was played before the queen in 1580. His play David and Bethsabe acts as a link with the old religious plays.
KYD AND MARLOWE
Neither Peele, nor Lyly had achieved striking success on the stage when suddenly, at some months’ distance, the playhouses rang with the verse of Kyd and Marlowe. In swift succession, Kyd in 1586 produced his Spanish Tragedie, Marlowe in 1587 produced Tamburlaine.
The majority of the Elizabethan audience desired romantic melodrama, and the first writer who supplied them was Thomas Kyd with his Spanish Tragedie, which foreshadows Hamlet.
Marlowe, a young man of twenty-three, who had just left Cambridge, was entirely without experience of the stage. He had read a translation of Tamerlaine’s life by the Spaniard Pedro Mexia. Similarly, the Tragical History of Dr. Faustus (1588) drew on one of the most fruitful of legends, the German legend of Faust. In the Jew of Malta, (1599) he reveals his lyrical power. His Jew Barabas is unjustly deprived of his goods by Christians. His Edward the Second (1592), is better constructed than Marlowe’s other plays, and preceded Shakespeare’s.
GREENE AND LODGE
Robert Greene and Lodge together, in the old didactic manner, wrote a miracle play called A Looking Glass for London and England. As an effect of the great success of MARLOWE AND KYD, Lodge bade a sad farewell in 1589, resolving “to write no more”. But Greene persisted, and was obliged to conform to the altered taste. His Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay is another Faustus, which was staged based on the success of that play.
Shakespeare – the crowning glory of the Age
Nashe and his friends, the company of young humanists known as the University Wits had hardly recovered from Marlowe’s sudden triumph, when they were faced with another rand more dangerous rival who sprang from a different world. Greene, who was near his end, filled with jealousy, in 1592 pointed out to his fellows, that ‘there is an upstart crowe beautified with our feathers’. So great was the danger that Greene advised his colleagues, Marlowe among them, to abandon the playwright’s profession.
He studied the triumph of Kyd and Marlowe, and found out that, the applause of audiences could be won by means of innovations. He wrote Titus Andronicus, a tragedy of atrocious vengeance, which is far better than The Spanish Tragedie and The Jew of Malta.
Lyly’s witty dialogues inspired him, and he then wrote Love’s Labour’s Lost, with a vigour which far excelled Lyly. His first romantic play was The Two Gentlemen of Verona. After Greene’s attack, he published Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece in quick succession. He was moreover honoured by the friendship of one of the greatest peers of the realm, the Earl of Southampton. Chance, death, and his own genius made him the undisputed and only master of English drama for seven long years. Greene died in 1592, almost immediately after attacking him. Marlowe, the greatest of his enemies, met with a sudden end the next year. Kyd’s death occurred in 1594. Lodge abandoned playwrighting for medicine. Lyly withdrew from the court; Peele plunged deeper and deeper into dissipation and wrote no more. Nashe had found his right means of expression in satirical pamphlets and novels.
Man in his infinite variety is thus focus of Elizabethan literature. The abundant nautical metaphors which abound in Elizabethan literature reflect the great maritime expeditions which flourished and also made England a superpower in its own right.
Hence it would not be an exaggeration to sum up the Elizabethan Age in the words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel” would expressly sum up the glory of the Elizabethan Age.
Shakespeare’s Contemporaries & Successors
English Literature by Edward Albert [Revised by J. A. Stone]
History of English Literature, by Legouis and Cazamian
The Routledge History of Literature in English: Britain and Ireland, by Ronald Carter and John McRae
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