The first half of this chapter surveys the period’s funeral elegies on women, the circumstances of composition and circulation, the influential norms established by John Donne, the outrageous elegies on women by Francis Beaumont, the use of funeral elegies on women for satiric detraction, and the general patterns of elegiac commemoration of female virtue. The second half turns to the elegies on two particular elite women of the 1630s: Venetia Digby and Elizabeth, Countess of Huntingdon. As sexual virtue was central to many elegies on women, some cases, like that of Venetia Digby, required a defensive posture to challenge persistent rumours about the deceased. Lady Huntingdon, renowned as a patron, was commemorated by a number of elegists, of whom the most significant were Lucius Cary, Viscount Falkland, and Thomas Pestell. Explicitly acknowledging the influence of Donne and Beaumont, Pestell is notable for the way in which his patronage-seeking poems go beyond the celebration of female virtue to the satirizing of a range of vices and follies. They are also marked by a strong sense of elegiac inheritance descending from John Donne and Francis Beaumont.
Funeral elegies of the early Stuart period are often marked by moments of ‘distraction’ prompted by sorrow, and they venture into the realm of detraction as the poet turns against all that which lies beyond the dead figure who is at the heart of the elegy. While the funeral elegy in general was a copious and digressive form, exceptional deaths pressed elegists to stretch the usual rhetoric of grief and commemoration. The significance of these elements emerges through a wide reading of the period’s funeral elegies, in both manuscript and print, and by poets ranging from the canonical to the anonymous. The book also stands apart from earlier studies in its greater focus upon the subjects of funeral elegies (rather than the poets), and how the particular circumstances of death and the immediate contexts (political, religious, and social) affected the poetic response. Individual deaths are understood in relation to each other and other prominent events of the time. While the book covers the period 1603 to 1640, the 1620s stand out as a tumultuous decade in which the genre most fully engaged in matters of political controversy and satire. Many genres engage in such contentious matters, but the funeral elegy is exceptional because of the exactness with which it can be dated: nearly all were written within a few weeks of the death.
This chapter explores funeral elegies on English military figures who died in the 1620s, a decade of significant military failures, in conflicts with Spain and France (the Isle of Rhé, 1627), and in the struggle against Imperial forces in the Thirty Years War. The chapter recalls the elegies that marked the death of Sir Philip Sidney a generation earlier, which served as a touchstone for how the genre developed in subsequent decades. While praising the heroic dead, the 1620s funeral elegies reflect deep unhappiness with British foreign policy in general and with specific military and political leadership, especially that of the Duke of Buckingham. The deceased stand as models against which the living can be criticized, and these funeral elegies constitute a probing consideration of the conduct of the war effort. The chapter considers a manuscript sequence of poems on the death of the Earl of Southampton in late 1624 that culminates in a harsh diatribe against the failures of England’s Dutch allies, as do elegies on the death of the Earl of Oxford the next year, and an elegy on the preacher Thomas Scott, who in 1626 was mysteriously assassinated in Utrecht by an English soldier.
The death of Prince Henry in 1612 elicited the greatest number of funeral elegies for a single death in the period 1603 to 1640, and this chapter considers a limited group of these that presented a note of discord or doubt in the midst of general public sorrow. In some cases, this discord reflected the potentially competitive nature of commemoration, whether competition among poets or with other memorial forms. In particular, the chapter focuses on Arthur Gorges’ use of a dialogic form to question the certainty of those elegists who saw Prince Henry’s death as the loss of future national greatness, and on how John Davies of Hereford’s The Muses Teares boldly raises troubling questions about the relationship between King James and his dead son. Finally, the chapter considers how these elegies on the Prince continued to influence the genre in general, and how his death remained a touchstone for later notable deaths.
Chapter 3 explores how poets read royal deaths in relation to surrounding phenomena, both astronomical and political: the coincidence of the death of Queen Anne (d. 1619) with a prominent comet prompted commentary on the significance of such events for the nation. King James’s death was met by an elegiac response that struggled to mourn in the face of the nearly immediate royal wedding of King Charles and Henrietta Maria. These elegies situate the royal deaths in the context of national, international, and cosmic events and show a tendency to understand one royal death in relationship to another through echoes of theme, language, and metaphor. While many of the printed elegies on Anne and James maintained a careful and limited focus of lament, manuscript elegies ranged more widely, including into matters of detraction and critique. The latter part of the chapter considers the poetic response to the 1629 deaths of Prince Frederick Henry of the Palatinate and the infant Prince Charles. Overall, these funeral elegies manifest a developing elegiac rhetoric for mourning royal figures.
This chapter considers how the deep unpopularity of the royal favourite George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, led to an exceptional number of poems on his 1628 death. Some of these can be described as ‘mock elegies’, which celebrated the assassination or at least were sympathetic to John Felton, the assassin. However, there were also many sincere elegies that, in commemorating the Duke, were compelled to adopt new rhetorical strategies of a primarily defensive nature to counter both general public perception and particular instances of satiric attack upon him. These elegies are far more combative than any other examples of the genre, and frequently they attack the ‘detraction’ of poems against Buckingham and ironically invoke norms of commemoration and elegy to do so. The chapter focuses on a number of individual poems, including the widely circulating ‘Yet were Bidentalls sacred’ and a series of poems unique to a single Edinburgh manuscript.
When Thomas Heywood reflects on the theatre, his thoughts turn to the classical tradition, and especially to its Greek roots. In keeping with his practice of transplanting elite classical literary material into popular playhouses, he focuses his theatre history on the ephemeral realm of performance rather than the more familiar textual record. In An Apology for Actors (1612) Heywood looks to Greece for the origins of acting, which he locates especially in the charged figure of Hercules. By turning his attention to embodied performance, Heywood alters a familiar account of theatre’s Greek origins into a strange and unsettling model of imitation and its consequences.
Homer and Ausonius in Thomas Heywood’s Various History Concerninge Women
This chapter explores the innovative vernacular classicism of Heywood’s 1624 Gynaikeion. This miscellany of paradigmatic women from history and myth models itself on late antique historical compendia. It also mines diverse other ancient historians for material and intersperses its historical prose with short poetic inventions and translations. They include renditions of Ausonius, a late Roman virtuoso of concise poetics. Heywood pays attention to an unusual range of works by this popular poet, including his epitomes of Homer’s epics. He translates many of these, but is also prompted to include in Gynaikeion testimonies from ancient history that offer his readers a distinctive and haunting perspective on the legendary poet. Heywood’s reception of Homer in Gynaikeion, dismissed by older critics for its indirectness, affords an insight into the author’s very considerable, quirky scholarship, and into the fascinating moral aesthetic of this radically understudied work, which is dependent on juxtaposition, mixed messages and discursive remainders.
This chapter investigates Thomas Heywood’s ambivalent approach to the mythical figure of Hercules, from his admiring eye-witness encounters with this definitive exemplar of martial prowess in plays staged at the Rose playhouse in the 1590s, to his flippant references to the hero in his poetry of the 1630s. In particular, this chapter explores Heywood’s most sustained portrayal of Hercules, in his Jacobean play for the Red Bull Theatre, The Brazen Age (1613). It traces how, for this play, as so often, Heywood lifts material from a formidable array of sources (Ovid, the Punica of Silius Italicus, the pseudo-Senecan Hercules Oetaeus) and yet abandons fidelity to all of them when it comes to depicting the female victims of Hercules’ sexual violence and challenging, through the depiction of rape, his character’s masculinity. The chapter also suggests that Heywood’s knowledge of Sophocles, and especially The Trachiniae, may have been more extensive than previously imagined.
The Ages plays are remarkable for their dramatisation of classical myth and lavish use of spectacle. However, Thomas Heywood did not consider that they should be reduced to a show. From his peculiar combination of William Caxton and the classics, myth and mythography, he meant to draw a coherent poetic design. Of the five plays, The Silver Age seems the most heterogeneously assembled and provides a field to test the plausibility of some unifying design based on Heywood’s understanding of classical myth. This chapter looks at the play from the perspective of Heywood’s interest in mythographic compendia such as Natale Conti’s Mythologia, and traces how he interwove their multiple versions of individual myths (Hercules, Proserpina) with material from Ovid, Claudian and other classical authors. It shows how a seemingly episodic assembling of diversified material harbours a mesh of echoes, ironic associations and startling collisions that bear evidence of a polyphonic imaginative pattern.