In the minor tradition of lament for a fellow poet which springs from the influential yet neglected Lament for Bion, the theme of literary immortality is closely bound up with the self-conscious, and self-reflexively foregrounded, practice of poetic imitation. Beginning with the Lament for Bion itself, we trace an intricate pattern of allusion to Bion’s Lament for Adonis and Theocritus’ fifteenth idyll, which infuses the grief-laden poem with an underlying optimism by evoking the resurrection of Adonis, celebrated annually in the Adonia festival, and implying that Bion will enjoy a similar immortality. The Lament presents its own imitative poetics as the channel of this ongoing life. Later poets working in this tradition not only imitate the Lament for Bion and follow the conventions it sets, but also understand the significance of its intertextual methods, and use similar means to the same end. This is shown through close readings of three examples: Statius’ Silvae 2.7 (celebrating the birthday of the dead Lucan); Spenser’s ‘Astrophel’ (on the death of Sir Philip Sidney); and Shelley’s ‘Adonais’ (on the death of John Keats). The subtextual presence of the Adonia in ‘Astrophel’ forges a link to the Garden of Adonis in The Faerie Queene, perhaps reflecting that episode’s relation to Mary Sidney’s mourning for her brother. In ‘Adonais’, meanwhile, Adonis’ resurrection is a fundamental subtext throughout, functioning as a symbol of nature’s seasonal renewal and of poetic immortality conferred through imitation, and necessitating reconsideration of Shelley’s supposed ‘Platonic turn’ at the end of the poem.
Shakespeare’s Roman plays, republicanism and identity in Samson Agonistes
This chapter analyses Milton’s ‘Samson Agonistes’ as a conversation with Shakespeare’s Roman plays, tracing a pattern of allusion to the Shakespearean suicides Antony, Cleopatra and Brutus to deepen our understanding of Samson’s final act. This writerly conversation is a political one: the chapter builds on the argument of Milton and the Politics of Public Speech, comprehending the seventeenth-century public sphere in Arendtian terms, as a revival of the Greek polis or Roman republic, centred on public speech as political action. For Milton, poetry is a form of oratory, and drama, the art-form of democratic Athens, both represents and embodies public speech. Pointing out that groups disenfranchised in the classical state became metaphors for political disempowerment in early modern polemic (whether terms of abuse to delegitimise opponents or protesting political oppression), the chapter uncovers a strong republican undertow in ideas of effeminacy in Shakespeare and Milton, and brings a newly political perspective to their treatments of gender and sexuality. Yet Samson’s defining act, while fulfilling the republican ideal of selfless public service, and recalling the Senecan view of suicide as the ultimate assertion of individual liberty, goes beyond the masculinist terms of classical republicanism. For Milton draws on Shakespeare’s figuration of Antony’s and Cleopatra’s joint suicide as a ‘transcendent marriage’ to depict the regenerate Samson as androgyne in his union with God. The chapter at once reveals the availability to early modern readers of distinctively republican subcurrents in Shakespeare and illuminates the ways Milton justifies Samson’s suicide in a Christian framework.
For educated poets and readers in the Renaissance, classical literature was as familiar and accessible as the work of their compatriots and contemporaries – often more so. Their creative response to it was not a matter of dry scholarship or inert imitation, but rather of engagement in an ancient and lively conversation which was still unfolding, both in the modern languages and in new Latin verse. This volume seeks to recapture that sense of intimacy and immediacy, as scholars from both sides of the modern disciplinary divide come together to eavesdrop on the conversations conducted through allusion and intertextual play in works from Petrarch to Milton and beyond, and offer their perspectives on the intermingling of ancient and modern strains in the reception of the classical past and its poetry. The essays include illuminating discussions of Ariosto, Du Bellay, Spenser, Marlowe, the anonymous drama Caesars Revenge, Shakespeare and Marvell, and look forward to the grand retrospect of Shelley’s ‘Adonais’. Together, they help us to understand how poets across the ages have thought about their relation to their predecessors, and about their own contributions to what Shelley would call ‘that great poem, which all poets… have built up since the beginning of the world’.
Reaching for the sky in classical and Renaissance poetics
Poets take flight for an immortality of fame in the heavens, whether experienced in fancy by their own living selves, posthumously in the praises of other writers, or by proxy in the fictional flights of characters in their works. Ovid’s flight of fame in the epilogue to the Metamorphoses is a summation of previous poetic tradition, including Horace’s aspirations to undying fame, imagined in Odes 2.20 as flight in the form of a swan, and Ennius’ posthumous flight on the lips of men. Aspirations to flight are experienced as risky. In Odes 4.2 Horace warns against attempting Pindaric flights. Mythological high-fliers who come crashing down, Daedalus and Phaethon, are figures for poets’ anxieties about the chances of immortalizing themselves in flights of sublimity. The classical sources inform Spenser’s celebration of the deceased Sir Philip Sidney in ‘The Ruines of Time’, combining classical and Christian themes of ascent. The chapter closes with readings of Astolfo’s journey to the moon in cantos 34 and 35 of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, and Milton’s reworking of Ariosto’s Valley of Lost Things on the moon in the Paradise of Fools in Paradise Lost 3, a place of failed Satanic ascents in counterpoint with the poet Milton’s own aspirations to poetic and spiritual flight. Comparative attention is also given to a visual depiction of the apotheosis of poetry, Ingres’ ‘Apotheosis of Homer’.
Diptych and virtual diptych in Marvell, Milton, Du Bellay and others
This chapter offers access to the kinds of conversation with antiquity made possible by instances of parallel Latin and vernacular composition in certain early modern poets. A substantial subset of Marvell’s poetry is in Latin; and of particular interest are instances in which the poet writes Latin and English versions of the same poem. Ros and Hortus now ask to be considered alongside ‘On a Drop of Dew’ and ‘The Garden’ as parallel and cross-referential compositions in which Marvell plays with, and thematises, his dual literary competence in English and in Latin. These are special cases; but the idea of ‘diptych’ composition offers a distinctive way of getting a purchase on literary bilingualism at large. In Marvell’s time, the matter is rendered most fully tangible in Milton’s double book of Poems English and Latin. However, the chapter’s midsection takes the idea of the cross-linguistic diptych in a different and hypothetical direction: what if one were to imagine a Latin ‘twin’ for every vernacular poem in the classical tradition, even in the 99% of cases in which no such twin exists? Such a thought-experiment finds traction in the case of the famously Latinate English of Paradise Lost; with an added twist in that translators were not lacking who took it upon themselves to do what Milton did not do, and to render the epic’s Latinate and Virgilian verse into post-virgilian Latin. The final pages briefly extend the conversation to the poetry of Ronsard and Du Bellay a century earlier in France.
The disciplinary divide between classics and modern literary studies sets up an artificial boundary, which can obscure our view both of what poets are doing and of how they perceive their role. Such compartmentalisation is alien to the bilingual cultures of Renaissance Europe, where Latin was still a medium for prolific literary composition, and where ancient texts rediscovered and edited by humanist scholars appeared in print with the shock of the new. Though acutely aware of the historical distance between themselves and the ancients, educated readers and writers also experienced a sense of paradoxical contemporaneity with classical authors, often expressed through the common trope whereby an ancient poet is imagined as raised from the dead through imitation or translation, or present as friend and teacher in the pages of their books. The trope may seem naively ahistoricist, but the ‘revival’ of Anacreon in the verse of Herrick and Stanley’s royalist coterie during the English Civil War illustrates how central it can be to the poet’s engagement with contemporary politics, and thus to a fully responsive historicist reading. Petrarch, with his letters to the ancients, is often seen as the origin of the period’s uncanny sense of intimacy with classical ghosts, but he was joining a conversation consciously begun by Seneca. Senecan intertextuality also pervades the ‘Ascent of Mont Ventoux’ more deeply than has been recognised, suggesting that the extent even of Petrarch’s engagement with classical writers has been underestimated.
This chapter examines the revivification of the figure of Julius Caesar in three early modern responses to Lucan’s Bellum Ciuile, avoiding an overtly political reading of Lucan to trace instead an intimate conversation between classical poet, early modern translators and imitators. Starting with Lucans First Booke – a translation that presents as blood-transfusion – I show how Marlowe’s reanimation of Caesar as a Roman Tamburlaine enables the anti-hero to escape the bounds of Lucan’s censoriously moralising and fractured poem. Turning next to the anonymously authored academic drama The Tragedie of Caesar and Pompey, or Caesar’s Revenge, we find the full articulation of a Caesar who fulfils and exceeds this Marlovian potential, and an author who runs the attractions to negative repetition in Lucan’s Bellum Ciuile to their natural endpoint: dissolution of the cosmos and the complete confusion of its moral eschatology. The chapter concludes by analysing the destabilising effects of such a revivification of Caesar for both poem and author, via close reading of Thomas May’s 1627 Pharsalia; and in the same author’s attempts both to kill Caesar and ‘end’ Lucan in his 1630 Continuation. The multiple iterations of May’s translation and supplement enact the struggle to resist the super-charged early modern Caesar and Lucan’s unresolved, repetitive poetics alike: and May can accomplish his task in the end only by succumbing to Lucan’s regressive poetics of repetition, adopting early modern tragedy's politics of personal vengeance, and appropriating for his own authorial self the blood-transfusion metaphor of Lucans First Booke.
This chapter offers a critical exploration of Cixous’s Dream I Tell You, alongside Jacques Derrida’s ‘Fichus’, in order to clarify an understanding of ‘dream’ in Cixous’s writings. Dream I Tell You is not a work of fiction, but rather a kind of twilight book of ‘limbo things’ – a seemingly haphazard collection of ‘innocent’ dream-transcriptions, accompanied by a densely poetic and suggestive critical foreword (‘Avertissements’). The chapter shifts from a discussion of Freud (described by Cixous as ‘the Shakespeare of the night’), to her conception of literature as the ‘daughter of Dream’, and finally to Shakespeare’s own work. Particular attention is given to the importance of Antony and Cleopatra (especially Cleopatra’s dream of Antony back from the dead) in Cixous’s writing and poetic thinking. This is illustrated through a reading of the early text ‘Sorties’ (1975) and more recent writings on the subject of ‘Los’, such as Abstracts and Brief Chronicles of the Time (2013) and the companion volume Death Shall Be Dethroned (2014). Dreams bring ‘joys the diurnal world never gives’, above all when they restore to us, alive again, loved ones who have died: the chapter foregrounds the strange and powerful effects of revenance and resurrection in Cixous’s work.
How does one finish a book about Hélène Cixous, a writer who is endlessly concerned with open ends, with what she calls ‘the book I don’t write’, and with the conviction that, quite apart from the living, ‘no dead person has ever said their last word’? ‘All wards’ is a neologistic formulation suggested by Cixous as a way of thinking about both writing and life. Exploration of the phrase leads to a discussion of ‘lingophobia’ (‘fear of language’ as well as ‘fear of the tongue’) and the ‘unidentifiable literary object’ (ULO), a term that, it is suggested, describes as well as any other the kind of texts she writes. At stake here is a distinction between realism and what Cixous calls ‘realistizing’. This chapter focuses on the concept of character (the subject of her remarkable early essay ‘The Character of “Character”’) and also explores the figure of the ULO in the context of Nicholas Royle’s An English Guide to Birdwatching and Agatha Christie’s Peril at End House, as well as Shakespeare.
This chapter is an extended meditation on the beauty and polyphonic possibilities of the English word ‘away’, specifically in terms of how it enables a critical reading and appreciation of Cixous’s writing as escaping, in flight, going ‘away’, as text – but also as sound or music. This involves a detailed reading of Cixous’s ‘Writing Blind’ and Kafka’s ‘The Departure’, as well as extended discussion of how ‘away’ works in Shakespeare (especially Antony and Cleopatra), Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Stevens’s The Man with the Blue Guitar. A critical close reading of Paul de Man on Keats’s ode discloses a new emphasis on the haunting inscription of ‘away’ in the poem. This leads back to a further encounter with ‘dream in literature’, wherein the writings of Cixous, Shakespeare and Keats sound together in the figure of the nightingale.