‘Armed winter, and inverted day’
The politics of cold in Dryden and Purcell’s King Arthur
in Texts and readers in the Age of Marvell
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The association of wicked magic and cold in Osmond's masque was understandable to an early modern audience familiar with the traditional Christian alignment of cold and the far north with Satan, of severe weather with witchery and the demonic. Beyond the early modern period, King Arthur has been enjoyed for Henry Purcell's music but little understood. John Dryden's King Arthur is locked in a war with pagan Saxon Oswald, King of Kent, who aspires to enlarge Saxon power in England and win for himself Arthur's beloved Emmeline, heiress of Cornwall. Turning cold as a physical response to evil is the moral touchstone Dryden evokes connecting winter cold, William III's wars, and England's fallen world, a lost spring. The masque brilliantly crystallises the moral and political implications of the violence of northern cold for England, which is fondly imagined as a temperate garden enjoying spring's melting, fertile warmth.


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