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
Steven Moore(Steven Moore)
Author's note: while at Rutgers earning my Ph.D. in the mid-1980s, I took a seminar with Dr. Poirier on Frost and Stevens. What he impressed upon us was the importance of close reading, the notion of literature as a performance, and the need to write literary criticism in ordinary language, not in the arcane jargon that was infecting academia at that time. I like to think the essay below, taken from a work in progress on the history of the novel—this is the opening of volume 2; volume 1 will be published in April 2010 as The Novel: An Alternative History, Beginnings to 1600 (Continuum)—exhibits these qualities that Dr. Poirier insisted on.
By the year 1601, the novel was an old, old genre. A well-read writer like Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), for example, was familiar with at least a few of the ancient Greek novels—he would model his last novel, Persiles and Sigismunda, on the greatest of them, Heliodorus's Ethiopian Story—and knew of the low-brow Milesian tales and racy Roman novels like Petronius's Satyricon and Apuleius' Golden Ass. He read Italian and was familiar with Boccaccio's frame-tale novel Decameron and the hundreds of novellas cranked out by later Italian writers. He had read novels produced by other nationalities on the Iberian Peninsula such as the Moors and Catalans, and he spent enough time among Muslims to hear some of their adventure novels and frame-tale narratives. (He made a Muslim the "author" of his most famous novel.) He had read a huge number of novels churned out by his countrymen: pastorals, picaresques, and of course the wildly popular novels of chivalry, based on earlier Arthurian models. He admired a few of these, such as the Catalan Tirant lo Blanc, and was jealous of the financial success of Mateo Alemán's Guzman of Alfarche, a long picaresque novel that appeared in 1599.
Cervantes' own writing career hadn't amounted to much. His first novel, Galatea (1585), was an attempt to cash in on the fad for pastoral novels; his is one of the most complex examples of the genre, a nonlinear narrative containing many embedded stories, reams of poetry, and forays into other genres such as the adventure tale and court intrigue, along with more violence than in most pastorals. Galatea was popular in its time, but a promised sequel never appeared, the fad faded, and nowadays it is read only by specialists. The very heterogeneity of its material suggests Cervantes found the pastoral genre too confining, or at least unsuited to his real talents. He had better luck with novellas, which he began writing in the 1590s, though they wouldn't be published until the next century. But these lean works would have to compete in the marketplace with fat novels of chivalry, which were fading but still popular at the end of the sixteenth century thanks to endless sequels recycling a few brand-name knights like Amadis and Palmerin. In 1601, the beginning of a new century, Cervantes felt it was high time to revive his failing career and to redirect faltering Spanish fiction, and perhaps even redefine Spanish culture in general. Plus he needed the money.
Don Quixote is such a richly suggestive text that it has understandably inspired countless, often contradictory interpretations, ranging from esoteric readings "demonstrating," for example, that it is a cabalistic Jewish text or an allegory of Spanish politics, to sappy notions that Don Quixote is just an idealist who believes in himself and follows his heart. But esoteric readings are usually private obsessions imposed on a text, not logically deduced from it, and to regard the knight as an unflappable optimist is a road that leads straight to a claims-adjuster braying "The Impossible Dream" in an amateur dinner-theater production of Man of La Mancha. No character in literature has been more misunderstood than Don Quixote, usually because readers latch on to one aspect of his character and ignore Cervantes' multiple ironies, stripping the benighted knight of his sixteenth-century context and dressing him in their own ideals and aspirations. Thus he was merely a comic character until the Romantics turned him into a tragic hero, orthodox Christians proclaimed him an unorthdox Christ figure (and Sancho too!), and the dinner-theater crowd applauded him as a lovable eccentric with a good heart. In a novel that is primarily about the dangers of self-delusion, it's best to begin with the basics to avoid deluding ourselves about the nature of this wily text.
First, Don Quixote is not one long novel but two separate works. 1El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha was published in January 1605, and though it enjoyed considerable success, Cervantes turned to other writing projects for the next decade. He persued the novella form and in 1613 published a dozen of them under the title Exemplary Stories (Novelas ejemplares); in 1614 he published a long narrative poem called The Voyage to Parnassus (El Viaje del Parnaso), and the following year brought out a big volume of his plays and theatrical interludes. Only after a spurious sequel to DQ1 appeared in 1614 did Cervantes complete his own, which was published late in 1615, about six months before he died.
Whatever else it may be, DQ1 is unquestionably about the art of fiction, both writing it and (mis)reading it. It contains more discussions of books, literary theory, and advice on writing than any novel I know. It is not merely an attack on novels of chivalry, but an attack on bad writing, in any genre, as is apparent from two key chapters that nearly bookend the novel: the sixth chapter, and the sixth chapter from the end (1.47). Chapter 6 contains the famous "inquisition" of the novels that drove a country squire named Alonso Quijana loco—crazy enough to rename himself Don Quixote of La Mancha and to spend two days in July 1589 terrorizing the neighborhood.2 (He knocks one innocent muleteer unconscious, splits the skull of a second, causes a boy to be beaten almost to death, then attempts to murder a merchant before earning a well-deserved beat-down himself.) After a neighbor drags the raving madman home, Quijana's niece and housekeeper blame his beloved novels of chivalry for driving him insane and convince the town barber and priest to burn them all. But they consign to the flames only the bad ones, the ones written in "perverse and complicated language," the ones that are foolishly unrealistic and/or "silly and arrogant." The ignorant women want to burn them all, but the discriminating men set aside those that are unique (rather than derivative), those whose adventures "are excellent and very artful," written in language that "is courtly and clear," and especially those that are realistic. It's worth repeating that Cervantes had nothing against novels of chivalry, only bad ones, and bad literature in general, as chapter 6 indicates when the barber and priest move on to examine Quijana's collection of pastoral novels and poetry anthologies. (His books of epic poetry wind up in the bonfire by accident.)
This distinction is amplified near the end in chapter 47, when a cathedral canon from Toledo—whom Nabokov pegs as "Cervantes himself in disguise"3—joins the group transporting the lunatic home in a cage after a month's mayhem. After the canon learns the source of Quijana's insanity, he agrees that most novels of chivalry are foolish, unoriginal, unrealistic, and make no claim to art:
"I have seen no book of chivalry that creates a complete tale, a body with all its members intact, so that the middle corresponds to the beginning, and the end to the beginning and the middle; instead, they are composed with so many members that the intention seems to be to shape a chimera or monster rather than to create a well-proportioned figure. Furthermore, the style is fatiguing, the action incredible, the love lascivious, the courtesies clumsy, the battles long, the language foolish, the journeys nonsensical, and, finally, since they are totally lacking in intelligent artifice, they deserve to be banished, like unproductive people, from Christian nations."
His objections are more esthetic than ethical, and he goes on to say that, in the hands of a great writer more concerned with art and "intelligent artifice" than shock and awe, even novels of chivalry can be high art: first, because their traditional subject matter is an "opportunity for display" for "a good mind, providing a broad and spacious field where one's pen could write unhindered" and unfurl everything a writer knows:
"The writer can show his conversance with astrology, his excellence as a cosmographer, his knowledge of music, his intelligence in matters of state, and perhaps he will have the opportunity to demonstrate his talents as a necromancer, if he should wish to. He can display the guile of Ulysses, the piety of Æneas, the valor of Achilles, the misfortunes of Hector, the treachery of Sinon, the friendship of Euryalus, the liberality of Alexander, the valor of Caesar, the clemency and truthfulness of Trajan, the fidelity of Zopyrus, the prudence of Cato, in short, all of those characteristics that make a noble man perfect, sometimes placing them all in one individual, sometimes dividing them among several.
"And if this is done in a pleasing style and with ingenious invention, and is drawn as close as possible to the truth, it no doubt will weave a cloth composed of many different and beautiful threads, and when it is finished, it will display such perfection and beauty that it will achieve the greatest goal of writing, which, as I have said, is to teach and delight at the same time. Because the free writing style of these books allows the author to show his skills as an epic, lyric, tragic, and comic writer, with all the characteristics contained in the sweet and pleasing sciences and rhetoric; for the epic can be written in prose as well as verse."
This rousing defense of the novel—elevating it to the status of the classical epic, and the novelist to the stature of an epic hero—is worth quoting at length to reinforce the point DQ1 is not "an invective against books of chivalry," as Cervantes' friend says in the prologue and which has been repeated ever since; it's an invective against books that lack "a pleasing style and . . . ingenious invention"; the canon goes on to apply the same standards to the plays of his day, condemning them for their artlessness, not because they belong to one genre or another. By this point in the novel, of course, the canon is preaching to the choir, for any reader who has reached chapter 47 has ample evidence that even an old dog like the chivalric novel can be taught new tricks by a trainer as talented as Cervantes.
Along with the two bookend discussions of chivalric fiction (and a plug for them as popular entertainment in 1.32), DQ1 includes a cynical guide to slapping together a conventional novel (offered by Cervantes' glib friend in the prologue), discussions of the art of literary translation, the importance of mimesis in writing, the relatively new picaresque novel (1.22), the damning compromises commercial writers make (1.53), and numerous instances of the paradox that fiction is a lie that tells the truth. In addition, there are many metafictional moments when Cervantes refers to himself (or his other writings) in the third person and comments on the fictionality of his fiction, which is one reason why he is the don of postmodernists like Jorge Luis Borges, John Barth, Robert Coover, and Julián Ríos. All of this makes DQ1 a veritable primer on creative writing.
Teaching by example, Cervantes includes several models of what he considers fine writing within DQ1, which creates one of the many cognitive dissonances in this brilliant but problematic novel. Five times Cervantes interrupts the "ingenious invention" of Don Quixote's misadventures to insert a tale that has little more than "a pleasing style" to recommend it. There is the modern pastoral of Marcela and her suitors (1.12-14), Cardenio's tale (scattered throughout chapters 23-36), the freestanding Novel of the Man Who Was Recklessly Curious (32-34), the autobiographical captive's tale (39-41), and the cautionary tale of Leandra (51).4 A few of them are followed by self-congratulatory remarks—one auditor tells the former captive "the manner in which you have recounted this remarkable tale has been equal to the unusual and marvelous events themselves" (1.42)—but these interpolated tales are the most traditional and tedious sections of the novel. They are the first to go in any abridged edition of Don Quixote, and I'm guessing even those who love the novel enough to read it frequently—Faulkner claimed to read it once a year, Barth once a decade—probably skip these sections. They are well-made tales by the standards Cervantes' surrogates lay out above, but the plots and sentiments are familiar from dozens of Renaissance novellas, and the heroines especially (with the exception of Marcela) are walking clichés, each praised as a peerless PGOAT until the next one comes along.5 This reaches a ludicrous point in chapter 42 when there is a four-girl pile-up at the same inn, somewhat to the narrator's embarrassment. (Lately arrived Clara de Viedma "was so elegant, beautiful, and charming that everyone marveled at the sight of her, and if they had not already seen Dorotea and Luscinda and Zoraida at the inn, they would have thought that beauty comparable to hers would be difficult to find".)
Don Quixote is irritated by Pedro's clumsy narration of Marcela's tale (1.12) and Sancho's even clumsier attempt at storytelling (1.20)—clear models of how not to tell a story—but in a novel that seeks to rescue the distressed maiden of Spanish fiction from the evil giants of bad writing, it is puzzling why Cervantes would offer up such conventional tales as models of good literature. Although the interpolated tales do have some thematic relationship to the rest of the novel, there is the suspicion these are unpublished novellas Cervantes had written earlier and decided to salvage by sticking them in here (as is the case with many of the poems in the novel). Or it could be, as Borges suggests, "The Quixote is less an anecdote for those fictions than it is a secret, nostalgic farewell."6 The same kind of esthetic schizophrenia can be found in his Exemplary Stories, which are intended to be exemplary models of writing as well as moral tales: several of them are indeed innovative and even esthetically subversive, but most modern editors drop at least four of the novellas for the reasons Lesley Lipson politely gives: "Since they reflect the more traditional format of love and adventure, they are stylistically less adventurous than the rest. This also makes them less representative of Cervantes as an innovator."7 Making matters worse, DQ1 is filled with minor errors and inconsistencies regarding names, chronology, events like the loss of Sancho's donkey, and misplaced chapter headings—all of which Cervantes apparently pleads guilty to in DQ2 (2.3), blaming some errors on typesetters. Even the last line of the novel is a botched quotation. Such sloppy craftsmanship further compromises the novel's alleged pedagogic value, and makes us question what he is really trying to teach us about writing.
While a full quarter of DQ1ostensibly preaches an orthodox approach to fiction and provides several models of such, the rest of it consists of highly unorthodox fiction and scenes of such stupendous, iconic power—Don Quixote tilting at windmills!—that they seem to belong to the timeless realm of myth. This formal contradiction, along with the tonal dissonance between the tragic interpolated stories and the comic main story, warns us the novel may be at cross-purposes with itself, even suggesting orthodox forms and beliefs are inferior to heterodox ones.
Second, we have to accept that Don Quixote is literally insane; he is not an idealist, an individualist marching to the beat of his own drum, a Walter Mittyesque daydreamer, a nostalgic conservative longing for the good old days, but loco, a victim of locura (madness). These are the Spanish words Cervantes repeats insistently, and while Alonso Quijana's condition might more accurately be diagnosed as monomania, any interpretation of his speeches, acts, or beliefs must start from the realization he is a madman, and a dangerous one at that. He suffers from hallucinations and violent explosions of rage, which cause him to attack innocent people without warning, several times nearly killing them (including two attempts on Sancho's life). Like the clinically insane, he can't distinguish between fantasy and reality, the result of overdosing on novels of chivalry and convincing himself they are accurate historical chronicles, rather than escapist fiction. We should remember that in Cervantes's day madmen were often objects of cruel fun, and in those scenes where other characters play along with (and even encourage) Don Quixote's madness, we should picture some heartless kids today taunting a retarded boy. I laugh as loudly as anyone at some of Don Quixote's antics, but I'm not proud of it.
The key indicator of his madness, of course, is his assumption that books of fiction are literally true. (In Spanish, historia can mean both "history" and "story," a fuzziness Cervantes exploits.) But not only are the chivalry novels he reads wildly unrealistic, they contradict the historical record: knights in the Middle Ages were merely elite soldiers, and "chivalry" was just a poetic ideal--"indeed, an ideal that may have been only infrequently attained, and perhaps never in actual warfare," as one authority informs us.8 Put bluntly, Don Quixote's late-life career change is based on a compound lie: the heroes who inspire him never existed, their values are poetic inventions, and the texts that enshrine these heroes and ideals are falsehoods. Though deluded in almost everything he sees, he self-righteously insists that he alone sees clearly and that everyone else walks in darkness. DQ1 is not about the power of the imagination to transform mundane reality, as some suggest, but about deluding yourself, getting your facts wrong, and then endangering others with your delusions. (Think of Don Quixote as a Christian Scientist parent who allows his sick child to die rather than seek medical assistance, confident in the power of prayer and the will of his god. Or think of him as a born-again Christian president willing to drag his country into a ruinous, unnecessary war in pursuit of a delusional political agenda.) As Guy Davenport notes, the adjective quixotic—a hopelessly idealistic notion or project—"should mean something like hallucinated, self-hypnotized, or play in collision with reality."9 How then can any reader admire the actions of a lunatic so deeply lost in error and delusion, so alienated from the reality-based world? Perhaps because all readers live in cultures that tolerate, even admire such deludenoids.
Most people aren't literally driven crazy by books and then inspired to act them out in the real world, with one obvious exception: religious nuts. Like Don Quixote, they immerse themselves in fanciful texts that they regard as factually true (the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, what have you), then sally forth into the world and try to impose the dictates of those fictions on others, resorting to violence when necessary in the belief they are doing their god's work.10 Don Quixote is of course a devout Catholic and regards knight-errantry as a spiritual calling: "we are ministers of God on earth, the arms by which His justice is put into effect on earth" (1.13). But instead of being labeled crazy, such people are esteemed as moral guardians, pillars of the community, spiritual leaders, and in extreme cases martyrs in a righteous cause, even though the books they base their beliefs on are as unhistorical and contrived as The Exploits of Esplandián, Felixmarte of Hyrcania, The Knight Platir, and other foolish fictions in Don Quixote's library.
As usual, we can count on Sancho Panza to point out the obvious: "What demons in your heart incite you to attack our Catholic faith?" he asks his master in DQ1's final chapter, by which point a pattern should be clear. In dozens of instances Cervantes slyly associates chivalric novels with the Bible, beginning in the prologue when his friend advises him "if you name some giant in your book, make him the giant Goliath, and just by doing that, which is almost no trouble at all, you have a nice long annotation, because you can then write: The giant Goliath, or Goliat, was a Philistine whom the shepherd David slew with a stone in the valley of Terebint, as recounted in the Book of Kings." In the book-burning chapter (1.6), the priest uses religious imagery to judge Don Quixote's chivalry novels, as though he were Irenaeus of Lyon separating orthodox gospels from heretical apocrypha. The canon likewise compares the authors of such novels to "the founders of new sects and new ways of life, . . . giving the ignorant rabble a reason to believe and consider as true all the absurdities they contain" (1.49); he goes on tell Don Quixote that if he still wishes "to read books about great chivalric deeds, read Judges in Holy Scripture, and there you will find magnificent truths and deeds both remarkable and real" (my italics).11 How sneaky of Cervantes to express these views wearing the camouflage of the priest and canon; verily, "as the saying goes, 'The devil can hide behind the cross'" (1.6, repeated in 2.47). Throughout the novel, Don Quixote defends the discrepancies and contradictions in novels of chivalry with all the ingenuousness of a fundamentalist defending the inerrancy of the Bible. While it would be too reductive (but not wrong) to say Cervantes equates knight errantry with religious belief, he does seem to insinuate a syllogism that goes: Chivalric novels are false; the Bible resembles those novels; therefore, the Bible is false. But Cervantes gleefully complicates matters by insisting repeatedly that Don Quixote is true, which he and everyone who reads it knows is untrue.
In the land of the Spanish Inquisition, Cervantes couldn't come straight out and call the Bible untrue, and probably wouldn't have gone that far even if he could. Like many people then and now, he probably felt its "spiritual truths" were independent of the Bible's historical veracity; that is, the Bible is "true" if treated like a novel, offering ethical lessons and insights in fiction form. And in fact that's what Cervantes means when he claims his novel, unlike unrealistic novels of chivalry, is "true": it's true to life and to human nature, though not literally true. But if you insist on the Bible's veracity, you are as mad as Don Quixote, and potentially as dangerous. It's difficult not to develop affection for the old coot, but we must not forget his rap sheet: numerous vicious assaults on innocent citizens, several attempted murders, animal cruelty (he kills more than seven sheep, not to mention the hardships he imposes upon long-suffering Rocinante), aiding and abetting the escape of a chain-gang of criminals, extensive property damage, and much emotional distress for his niece and housekeeper. He considers himself above the law, hallucinates like a tripping hippie, and is the worst kind of meddling, holier-than-thou do-gooder. Don Quixote's counterparts today range from self-appointed moral watchdogs who boycott theaters, television companies, and museums showing unorthodox art, to concerned but naive parents who try to remove Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the Harry Potter novels from school library shelves, to those who take such faith-based initiatives as assassinating abortion doctors and committing acts of terrorism. Anyone who reads DQ1 carefully must regard Don Quixote as a madman, not a madcap, much less a model. I keep harping on this point because Cervantes does; even in the concluding chapter of DQ1, Don Quixote tries to stab a goatherd, attacks a procession of penitents carrying a statue of the Catholic goddess Mary (under the assumption it is a gang of villains abducting a noble lady), and is once more designated by Cervantes an hombre loco. The author wants us to admire Don Quixote, not Don Quixote.
The Knight of the Sorrowful Face is such an extraordinary character that he seems capable of symbolizing a variety of things, but I would insist, contra much current critical theory, that only those grounded in the text are valid.12 For example, one can say he represents the man of faith in the process of being rendered ridiculous in the late 16th-century by the man of science, who relies on testing and empirical evidence to understand the world, not on venerable texts of dubious origin. This conflict is dramatized in a minor incident at the beginning of the novel: realizing he will need a sallet helmet for his adventures, Quijana makes a pasteboard visor to add to an old headpiece to make a complete helmet. He tests it with his sword and easily smashes it to pieces. So "he made another one, placing strips of iron on the inside so that he was satisfied with its strength; and not wanting to put it to the test again, he designated and accepted it as an extremely fine sallet" (1.1). "Not wanting to make any further experiments" (as Raffel translates the key phrase), he retreats from the new world of science to the old world of faith, choosing to believe (rather than know) something because it allows him to retain control over his world. This is the moment Alonso Quijana becomes Don Quixote of La Mancha. Once he puts the homemade helmet on, he is trapped in it and can't get it off, "and so he spent all night wearing the helmet and was the most comical and curious figure anyone could imagine" (1.3), a brilliant metaphor for a solipsist trapped in his own private fantasy world, or for a true believer within the armor of his faith. Needless to say, the visor shatters the first time it is put to the test.
How many of DQ1's earliest readers noticed these subversive subtleties is difficult to say; most seem to have regarded the novel merely as an entertaining farce—which it certainly is—along the lines of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. In the sequel, Cervantes decided to give the crowd more of what they wanted, but he also pumped up the paradoxes, heterodoxies, and metafictional wizardry—something to make the cognoscenti think.
Segunda parte del ingenioso caballero don Quijote de la Mancha appeared at the end of 1615 and begins a month after the concluding events of the first part. During that impossibly brief time, we are to believe DQ1 was typeset, printed, and distributed throughout Spain. Even Don Quixote, who will believe anything, "could not persuade himself that such a history existed, for the blood of the enemies he had slain was not yet dry on the blade of his sword and his chivalric exploits were already in print" (2.3). Not only that, DQ2 is set in the summer of 1614, meaning the events of DQ1 took place nine years after it was published, and which makes a mockery of the narrator's earlier contention the story came from an old Arabic manuscript (1.9). This is further evidence either of Cervantes' carelessness or his carefree attitude toward the conventions of novel-writing.
DQ2 finds Cervantes still in his self-appointed role as grand inquisitor of bad Spanish art (it's disingenuous to insist on a strict distinction between Cervantes and his narrator): ridiculous novels of chivalry are still under fire, but he also discusses plays (2.12), poetry (2.16, 70), commercial writing (2.22), translations (2.62), and painting (2.71), as well as the ancillary fields of criticism and publishing. The art of the novel remains Cervantes' principal concern, and the two novels that receive the most commentary are DQ1—Cervantes takes this opportunity to explain discrepancies and defend his artistic choices—and the unauthorized sequel the anonymous Alonso de Avellaneda published in 1614. Cervantes was outraged when the latter's Segunda parte del ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha appeared, but he recognized it as a godsend that would allow him to complicate his metafiction further. Don Quixote begins running in to people who have read the false Quixote, which causes him to rail against it as yet another example of bad fiction and to act as though someone were out there imitating him as badly (unbeknownst to him) as he imitates the heroes of chivalric fiction. It's worth noting that he never comes across a copy of DQ1, but he does read some of the false Quixote in Barcelona near the end of the novel (2.72)—"the first scene in literature in which a literary character visits a bookstore," Mancing remarks (586). By this point, Don Quixote has become a Möbius strip of fiction imitating fiction imitating life imitating fiction imitating. . . .
Although one can find metafictional gestures in earlier novels, instances of a writer self-consciously commenting on his work within the work, Cervantes' decision to have his characters comment on a novel in which they appear is a stunning innovation. Of course, he had deployed some metafictional devices in DQ1: the novel begins with poems from characters in chivalric literature addressed to characters in Cervantes' novel (a section left out of most English translations), followed by a metafictional prologue about the writing of prologues. The novel proper features a sardonic first-person narrator who claims to be telling a story adapted from earlier "authors of this absolutely true history" (1.1), until he runs out of text mid-incident at the end of chapter 8. In chapter 9 the narrator searches for more of the novel until he discovers an Arabic version of Don Quixote's story by a Muslim historian named Cide Hamete Benengeli, which he acquires for a song and then pays to have translated into Castilian. This is much more elaborate and playful than the older convention of discovering and publishing an old manuscript, and as a result we have Cervantes pretending to be an editor commenting (after chapter 9) on a translation—in which the translator occasionally departs from the original—from an Arabic recension of a Spanish story available in several versions, introduced by literary characters who "existed" long ago, all concerning a fictional character who is convinced other fictional characters are real. And if that were not enough to make the head spin, Cervantes ups the ante in DQ2 when he brings the published DQ1 into the game. This brilliant ploy generates a mindbending expansion of the main theme of the first part, namely, the uses and misuses of fiction. Silly novels of chivalry inspired Don Quixote to act them out in the real world, and in part 2, DQ1 inspires several characters to act it out; for Don Quixote, part 1 is a tragedy, but for them, it's a farce.
Sansón Carrasco, a mischievous student, is the first to tell the knight and his squire about the novel they're in, and then dresses up as the Knight of the Mirrors to cut short Don Quixote's third sally in search of adventures; unexpectedly defeated, he recuperates and returns at the end as the Knight of the White Moon and defeats him, forcing Don Quixote to abandon knighthood for a year. Between the time of those two jousts, a number of readers of DQ1 and even the false Quixote encounter the knight and play along with his madnessó"People know Don Quixote like a book," quips critic Walter L. Reed13ónone more so than the fun-loving duke and duchess whose elaborately staged deceptions occupy much of DQ2. Even Sancho deceives him about his lady-love Dulcinea (and is deceived in turn when made governor of an island). If part 1 is about the dangers of deceiving oneself, part 2 is about the dangers of being deceived by others, especially by those in positions of authority. "Cide Hamete goes on to say that in his opinion the deceivers are as mad as the deceived, and that the duke and duchess came very close to seeing like fools since they went to such lengths to deceive two fools," says the narrator (or the translator) near the end of the novel (2.70), long after he exposed the duke and duchess as corrupt people (2.47) not averse to using weapons of mass deception to further their own designs.
Don Quixote is easily deceived because his condition is unchanged from DQ1; he is still loco, still armed and dangerous. (He almost kills both the "Knight of the Mirrors" and a puppeteer; tries to kill several cats; threatens to kill a man on hearsay evidence; attempts to whip Sancho; and again causes miscellaneous property damage.) Chapter 9 opens with the warning "the madness of Don Quixote here reached the limit and boundaries of the greatest madnesses that can be imagined, and even passed two crossbow shots beyond them." Making matters worse is his willingness to be deceived; first, he allows Sancho to convince him that an ugly, smelly peasant girl is his beloved Dulcinea, maliciously transformed by enchanters (2.10). He is heartbroken he can't see the beautiful princess Sancho describes, and wants so desperately to believe in her perfection that he ignores the evidence before his eyes (and the garlic smell in his nose). His yearning for her, which displaces his abstract desire for fame in DQ1, is so strong that he blames himself for her transformation and devotes himself to her disenchantment for the rest of the novel. Then it gets sadder: after his strange, beautiful dream in the Cave of Montesinos, and after Sancho lies about what he saw while pretending to ride the magic horse Clavileño through the skies, Don Quixote whispers to his squire: "Sancho, just as you want people to believe what you have seen in the sky, I want you to believe what I saw in the Cave of Montesinos. And that is all I have to say" (2.41). That is one of the most extraordinary moments in the entire novel, and I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. When I hear religious people today call for ecumenical tolerance and respect for the religions of others, I hear the pathetic pact made by these two fools: I'll believe in your fantasy if you'll believe in mine.
Enabled by all the pranksters around him, Don Quixote still believes in the veracity of chivalric literature, and Cervantes continues to expose the not-so-deceptive similarities between the imaginary realms of chivalry and Catholicism. Don Quixote defends his belief in giants by citing Goliath in "Holy Scripture, which cannot deviate an iota from the truth" (2.1), insists "chivalry is a religion, and there are sainted knights in Glory" (2.8), mistakes a church for "the palace of Dulcinea," his Virgin Mary (2.9), and consistently uses religious terminology to explain his acts of chivalry. When Don Quixote comes across "approximately a dozen men dressed as farmers"—note that the narrator doesn't call them farmers, but "men dressed as farmers," wary of appearances in a way Don Quixote is not—who are transporting wooden images intended for an altarpiece, he regards them as fellow knights:
"This was one of the best knights errant the divine militia ever had: his name was Don St. George, and he was also a protector of damsels. Let us see this one. . . . This knight ["it seemed to be St. Martin" (my italics)] was another Christian seeker of adventures, and I believe he was more generous than brave, . . . This one certainly is a knight, a member of the squadrons of Christ; his name is St. James the Moorkiller, one of the most valiant saints and knights the world has ever had, and that heaven has now. . . . This [St. Paul] was the greatest enemy of the Church of God Our Lord had at the time, and the greatest defender it will ever have; a knight errant in life, and a steadfast saint in death, . . . [T]he difference, however, between me and them [Don Quixote says of the wooden idols] is that they were saints and fought in the divine manner, and I am a sinner and fight in the human manner. They conquered heaven by force of arms, for 'the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence' [Matt. 11:12], and so far I do not know what I am conquering by the force of my labors. . . ." (2.58)
Although he doesn't know it, valiant Don Quixote is conquering irrationality, superstition, and uncritical belief in the inerrancy of texts, whether chivalric or biblical. Though the censors let this passage stand (they insisted on changes in other arguably blasphemous ones), it's hard to imagine a harsher condemnation of Catholicism. It highlights the religion's tendency to resort to violence to enforce its doctrines, and equates some of its most famous saints with the imaginary heroes of third-rate novels, suggesting only a madman would hold them in esteem and believe in their legends. (The farmers "did not understand half of what he said.") This isn't routine anti-clericism; as fabulist Robert Coover explains, Cervantes "uses familiar mythic or historical forms to combat the content of those forms and to conduct the reader (lector amantísimo!) to the real, away from mystification to clarification, away from magic to maturity, away from mystery to revelation."14
As DQ2 progresses, Don Quixote experiences fewer hallucinations and enjoys more moments of lucidity, conveniently so when Cervantes wants him to express one of his own opinions on a subject. He strikes one character as "a sane man gone mad and a madman edging toward sanity" (2.17), though he still has trouble distinguishing between fiction and reality, as in the hilarious scene where he gets so caught up in a puppet show that he attacks its villains (2.26). A medieval man, he still believes in the Ptolemaic view of the universe and prefers prayer to perception. When confronted with the resemblance between "Countess Trifaldi" and the steward who impersonated her, Don Quixote advises Sancho "it would imply a very serious contradiction, and this is not the time to make such inquiries, for that would lead us into intricate labyrinths. Believe me, my friend, it is necessary to pray to Our Lord very sincerely to save both of us from evil wizards and wicked enchanters" (2.44). Sancho, a modern man blessed with the spirit of scientific inquiry, responds, "All right: I'll be quiet, but I'll stay on the alert from now on to see if I can find anything else that will prove or disprove what I suspect."15 Nor does the knight embrace deductive reasoning: coming across a boat, he announces with what can only be called religious conviction, "You must know, Sancho, that this boat clearly and beyond any doubt is calling and inviting me to get in it and sail to assist a knight . . ." whereas Sancho relies on empirical evidence and reasoning: "it seems to me it belongs to some fishermen, because the best shad in the world swim this river" (2.29)—which turns out to be true. But Don Quixote insists, and nearly gets them both drowned. (The narrator makes it clear which side he's on—the religious or the scientific—by observing "the boat glided gently along in midstream, moved not by any secret intelligence or hidden enchanter, but by the current of the water itself. . . .")
Worn down by disappointment and melancholy, and perhaps educated by Sancho's rational approach to things (just as Sancho adopts some of his master's fanciful notions), the former Alonso Quixano (Quixana in DQ1) eventually regains his senses after returning home, announcing, "My judgment is restored, free and clear of the dark shadows of ignorance imposed on it by my grievous and constant reading of detestable books of chivalry" (2.74), echoing a line he had uttered on a dark night of the soul a few weeks earlier: "Post tenebras spero lucem" (2.68): "after the darkness, I hope for the light," the motto (derived from Job 17:12) of Cervantes' publisher and printed on the original title pages of both volumes of Don Quixote. Quixano has left behind the darkness of madness, superstition, irrationality, subjectivity, and duplicitous writing (both secular and sacred) for the light of reason, objectivity, and sanity, and dies a good death. The transition is quietly noted in the final chapter when the narrator describes Quixano's moment of death: he "gave up the ghost. I mean to say, he died"—rejecting Catholic superstition ("dio su espíritu") for scientific fact ("el muerto").
It's a tribute to Cervantes' artistic cunning that this sensible ending feels like a crushing defeat, for the harshest critic of the mad and dangerous Don Quixote must admit Alonso Quixano had the time of his life during that final summer vacation, living the dream. When Don Quixote confronts a fellow fifty-year-old in 2.16, he sees in Don Diego de Miranda what he might have become had he led a saner life: a conventional man, married with children, hospitable, and utterly boring. Instead, Quixano spent a lifetime filling his head with books—his erudition indicates he read wider than novels of chivalry—and the only romantic feelings we're told about resulted from a few glimpses over the last dozen years of a peasant girl named Aldonza Lorenza, "although she, apparently, never knew or noticed" (1.1). His devotion to his dreamgirl is moving, especially in DQ2 where it matures from a joke to a heartbreaking case of unrequited love. (And how brilliant of Cervantes to abstain from letting her appear in his pages, allowing us to wonder what he saw in the crude wench Sancho describes.) Never married, Quixano is a "virgin" to the real world, which is significant: most novels are about a young person's transition from innocence to experience; it's inherently comical for a fifty-year-old man to undergo this transition (cf. the 2005 film The 40-Year-Old Virgin), but it's also sad, which makes this loveless bookworm's end-of-life blowout all the more endearing.
For Cervantes, writing Don Quixote was a similar late-life adventure, an occasional vacation from what he considered serious work (which we'll get to next). That explains his flippant lack of concern for consistency and narrative logic, for the novel's contradictions, discrepancies, and broken chronology, Sancho's uncharacteristic elocution at times, and other esthetic faults. (Don Quixote explains them all away as the work of malevolent magicians.) It also explains the ludic nature of the text: it is filled with snatches of songs and other pop-cultural references of the day, childish wordplay such as: "Don Quixote settled down at the foot of an elm, and Sancho at the foot of a beech, for these trees, and others like them, always have feet but not hands" (2.28), bursts of purple prose, parodies, and chapter titles that grow increasingly silly. (2.66: "Which recounts what will be seen by whoever reads it, or heard by whoever listens to it being read"; 2.70: "Which follows chapter LXIX, and deals with matters necessary to the clarity of this history.") Having heard complaints from readers, Cervantes resisted inserting any previously written novellas into DQ2 as he had in DQ1, but he indulged his sweet tooth for old-fashion tales with brief interludes like the story of Basilio and Quiteria (2.19-22) and that of the cross-dressing woman who kills her lover under the mistaken assumption he has dumped her for another (2.60), another quixotic exemplum about acting violently under the delusion one is in the right. And throughout, Cervantes uses the novel's broad platform to express his opinions on a variety of topics, usually via his knight, whose feats of rhetoric grow more impressive than his feats of chivalry. Cervantes wasn't the first to regard the novel as a carnival, where you can get away with anything (bearded ladies! fearsome lions! a puppet show for the kiddies!) as long as you keep your readers entertained, but his example expanded the possibilities for the genre as it entered the modern age.
Exaggerated claims have been made for Don Quixote over the centuries. Some call it the first novel, which it certainly is not, or the greatest novel ever written, though its many errors and inconsistencies disqualify it from that honor. (Is it too much to ask that the greatest novel be as technically accomplished as the greatest painting, the greatest symphony, etc.?) It can be considered the first modern novel, however; not in a chronological sense—novels were pouring off the presses all around the world at the beginning of the seventeenth century, or wherever you want to place the beginning of the early modern era—but in the sense that it marks the transition from the medieval worldview (unscientific, faith-based, Ptolemaic, tradition-bound, authoritarian, certain, static) to the modern. Cervantes was one of the brave few willing to enter the "intricate labyrinths" Don Quixote refused to enter, the modern age of uncertainty, relativism, and the deceptiveness of appearances (the novel's nominal theme). It was published at a time when the master narrative that had sustained Christian Europe for over a millennium was unraveling like Don Quixote's cheap stockings (2.44, the saddest chapter in the novel), and started to sound as contrived and unreliable as a novel of chivalry. Braving the wrath of the reactionary Church, a few strove to replace the old faith-based world with a fact-based one developed from scientific inquiry, and Don Quixote gleefully shows the indignities and mockery appropriate to those who didn't get with the new program. It's a less comforting world, a humbling one where one has to accept the fact the earth is not the center of the universe but one of many planets, "no larger than a mustard seed, and the men walking on it not much bigger than hazel nuts," as the Copernican Sancho Panza puts it (2.41, lying through his teeth, but no matter). Cervantes evinces a lingering nostalgia for that comfortable old world, but he was wise and disillusioned enough to know it was time for it to be tossed into the flames, laughed out of existence, desacralized, demythologized, disenchanted, desengaño—the Spanish word means "disillusioned" but also "disabused" of wrongful notions, freed from misconceptions.
Not everyone agreed, of course—even today there are billions of people who still exhibit essentially a medieval worldview—and for many Don Quixote was and remains merely a comic novel about an Abbott-and-Costello act working the country-inn circuit of old Andalusia. Other medieval-minded people have regarded Don Quixote as a Christ figure; he is one all right, but not in a positive way. He's a parody of Christ, a mockery of him; his delusions imply that Christ was a similar madman, crazed by Old Testament prophecies into regarding himself as the messiah just as Quixana was duped by novels of chivalry into regarding himself as a glorious knight errant. Only by ignoring all the ironic deflations in Cervantes' text—as religious people ignore the inconvenient errors, prejudices, and barbarisms of their sacred texts—can one associate the loon of Spain with the Light of the World.16
More interesting than readers' responses are those of the novelists who followed Cervantes. First, they took from him a tone and attitude (which Cervantes inherited from Petronius, Boccaccio, and Rabelais) more suitable for the skeptical modern age, which would later be praised by Nietzsche: "Objections, digressions, gay mistrust, the delight in mockery are signs of health: everything unconditional belongs in pathology."17 We'll hear that tone again in Scarron, Swift, Fielding, Sterne, Stendahl, Melville, Flaubert, Twain, Wilde, Joyce, and most modernists and postmodernists. Second, they learned that a comic novel can deal with serious philosophical issues, that farce is not necessarily incompatible with profundity. And third, they saw the role of the novelist change from near-anonymous chronicler to center-stage performer, and the novel become an "opportunity for display" for "a good mind, providing a broad and spacious field where one's pen could write unhindered," as Cervantes' canon says, "allow[ing] the author to show his skills. . . ." (1.47). Significantly, the closing scene of DQ2 is given not to Don Quixote but to his putative author, Cide Hamete Berenjena (Benengeli in DQ1), who hangs up his pen on a rack as though it were a knight's lance. The author is the true hero of this double-decker novel, the "ingenious gentleman" of the title page. Not all novelists would don the barber's basin and sally forth into the expanded field of fiction Cervantes opened up, but the modern novel is unthinkable without this revolutionary masterpiece.
|1||I'll use DQ1 and DQ2 henceforth to distinguish between the two, and reserve Don Quixote only for the combined work. All quotations are from Edith Grossman's smooth translation (unless otherwise noted), and refer to volume/chapter.|
|2||This is derived from datable events in the captive's tale (1.39-41), though Cervantes paid little attention to chronology and makes an irreconcilable mess of it. See the article "Chronology in Cervantes' Works" in Mancing's Cervantes Encyclopedia (145-46), a worthy squire for any scholarly knight.|
|3||Lectures on Don Quixote, 55.|
|4||This sixteen-year-old beauty falls for and runs away with a flashy ex-soldier who robs her and abandons her in a cave. He is characterized by an obstreperous fashion sense, "decked out in a thousand colors and wearing a thousand glass trinkets and thin metal chains." For an illuminating sociological treatise on this phenomenon, see Jay Louis's Hot Chicks with Douchebags (NY: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2008).|
|5||"Prettiest Girl of All Time," an acronym from Wallace's Infinite Jest.|
|6||"Partial Magic in the Quixote," in Labyrinths, 194.|
|7||Page xxx in her edition of Exemplary Stories.|
|8||Norris J. Lacey, The New Arthurian Encyclopedia (NY: Garland, 1996), 87.|
|9||"Foreword" to Nabokov's Lectures on Don Quixote, xiv.|
|10||In his exemplary story Rinconete and Cortadillo—which is mentioned in 1.47—Cervantes describes a Seville crime syndicate modeled on a religious fraternity; its members are practicing Catholics, and its newest member, Rinconete, is "astounded at how certain and confident they were that they would go to heaven as long as they did not neglect their devotions, while their lives were dedicated to robbery, murder, and crimes against God" (p. 105 in Lipson's edition). Lurking behind this story and probably behind Don Quixote as well is Erasmus's Manual of a Christian Knight (Enchiridion militis christiani , translated into Spanish in 1526), which urges Catholics to practice their religion's ethics and not to limit themselves to its rites and observances. The scholarly consensus is that Cervantes' religious views were influenced by those of the Dutch humanist.|
|11||While "the book of Judges presents an extraordinarily rich collection of thrilling war stories and tales of individual heroism in the battles between the Israelites and their neighbors . . . [it] has very little to do with what really happened in the hill country of Canaan in the Early Iron Age"--Finkelstein and Silberman, The Bible Unearthed, 99, 122—their italics.|
|12||This should go without saying, but some get so carried away with the idea of Don Quixote that they neglect the text that contains him. (He's a literary character, not a Rorschach test.) Davenport says he knew a professor who taught the novel without ever having read it (xiv).|
|13||An Exemplary History of the Novel, 84.|
|14||Pricksongs & Descants, 79. This is from the prologue to his "Seven Exemplary Fictions."|
|15||But rationality isn't everything, and Sancho is hardly an admirable character. He abandons his family without informing them to accompany Don Quixote, he is greedy, a liar (especially regarding Dulcinea), an eager supporter of the African slave trade (1.29), "a mortal enemy of the Jews" (2.8), illiterate, and a vulgar materialist: "You're worth what you have, and what you have is what you're worth" (2.20). As governor of his "island," he speaks like a fervent reactionary: "I intend to favor those who labor, maintain the privileges of the gentry, reward the virtuous, and, above all, respect religion and the honor of the clergy" (2.69). Cervantes knew he would have been banished from Sancho's plutocracy.|
|16||Of almost no value—except as a cautionary example of how religion can erode a fine mind—are the essays of the Spanish Catholic philosopher Miguel de Unamuno gathered under the title Our Lord Don Quixote (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1967). For example, he passes over the key book-burning chapter (1.6) because "It is a matter of books and not of life" (52), blind to the fact Don Quixote is all about the influence of books on life and the crucial importance, therefore, of choosing wisely among them.|
|17||Beyond Good and Evil, section 154, in Kaufmann's Basic Writings, 280. What did Nietzsche think of Cervantes' novel? "Today we read Don Quixote with a bitter taste in our mouths, almost with a feeling of torment, and would thus seem very strange and reprehensible to its author and his contemporaries: they read it with the clearest conscience in the world as the most cheerful of books, they laughed themselves almost to death over it"—On the Genealogy of Morals (2.6), Basic Writings 502-3.|
Borges, Jorge Luis. Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings. Ed. Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby. NY: New Directions, 1964.
Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel de. Don Quijote de la Mancha. Ed. Martín de Riquer. Barcelona: Planeta, 1995.
. Don Quixote. Trans. Edith Grossman. NY: Ecco, 2003.
. Exemplary Stories. Trans. Lesley Lipson. NY: Oxord UP, 1998.
Coover, Robert. Pricksongs & Descants: Fictions. NY: Dutton, 1969.
Finkelstein, Israel, and Neil Asher Silberman. The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2001.
Mancing, Howard. The Cervantes Encyclopedia. 2 vols. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004.
Nabokov, Vladimir. Lectures on Don Quixote. Ed. Fredson Bowers. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich/Bruccoli Clark, 1983.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. Basic Writings of Nietzsche. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. NY: Modern Library, 2000.
Reed, Walter L. An Exemplary History of the Novel: The Quixotic versus the Picaresque. Chicago: U Chicago P, 1981.
After graduating from Rutgers, Steven Moore joined the staff of Dalkey Archive Press/The Review of Contemporary Fiction, where he served as Managing Editor until 1996. He is the author of several books and essays on modern literature, particularly on William Gaddis—the subject of his dissertation, which Richard Poirier directed.