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Greene, Sidney, Donne and the evolution of posthumous fame

English literary afterlives covers the Renaissance treatment of the posthumous literary life. It argues for the emergence of biographical reading practices during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as early readers attempted to link the literary output of dead authors to their personal lives. Early modern authors’ complex attitudes to print, and their attempts to ‘fashion’ their own careers through their writings, have been well documented. This study, by contrast, explores how authors and their literary reputations after their deaths were fashioned (and sometimes appropriated) by early modern readers, publishers and printers. It examines the use of biographical prefaces in early modern editions, the fictional presentation of historical poets, pseudo-biography, as well as more conventional modes such as elegy and the exemplary life. By analysing responses to a series of major literary figures after their deaths – Geoffrey Chaucer, Philip Sidney, Robert Greene, Edmund Spenser, John Donne and George Herbert – English literary afterlives charts the pre-history of literary biography in the period and presents a counternarrative to established ideas of authorial emergence through self-fashioning. The book is aimed at scholars and students of the individual authors covered (Sidney, Spenser, Greene, Donne and Herbert), as well as readers interested in book history, reception history, authorship and life-writing.

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Elisabeth Chaghafi

The introduction begins by outlining trends in studies of authorial careers and authorship, which, owing to the influence of New Historicism, have mostly focused on the ways in which early modern authors created themselves during their own lifetime. It then provides an overview of milestone publishing events in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (including Tottel’s Miscellany, Jonson’s Workes and the Shakespeare folios) and moves on to argue that authorial careers did not always end with their deaths, as both readers and publishers would retrospectively seek to evaluate an author’s complete works and produce definitive editions. This retrospective view on the works was often accompanied by a desire to put them in a logical-seeming sequence that mirrored the author’s life and to supplement the text with a prefatory life of the author and/or a portrait.

in English literary afterlives
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Elisabeth Chaghafi

Chapter 1 is an overview of written lives of poets during the early modern period and the shapes they take (prefatory lives, compilations of lives etc.). It proposes that the dominance of the idea of vita activa (public service) in Renaissance humanism in existing models of lives posed problems for writing lives of poets as poets. The early modern written lives of Chaucer and Sir Thomas More are used to illustrate this problem. Both were recognised as important English poets during the sixteenth century, yet the biographies of both are almost exclusively concerned with their public lives. The chapter also contrasts two lives that illustrate the developments traced by this book: Thomas Speght’s ‘Life of Chaucer’ (1598) and Gerard Langbaine’s ‘Life of Cowley’ (1691). The former is a carefully structured text that unites typical features of the exemplary life and the prefatory life and demonstrates the dominance of the humanist idea of a vita activa within early modern life narratives. The latter considers Cowley primarily through his works, indirectly revealing the impact of Izaak Walton’s Lives (discussed in Chapter 4).

in English literary afterlives
Elisabeth Chaghafi

Chapter 2 examines the professionalisation of the publishing industry and the first generation of ‘professional’ poets. It focuses on a peculiar phenomenon of the 1590s, Robert Greene’s death in 1592 and his textual afterlife as a semi-fictionalised professional poet character and cause of the Harvey–Nashe quarrel. Due to his reputation as a ‘hack’ writer, much Greene criticism has focused on literary quality (as well as the apparent insult to Shakespeare in Greenes Groats-worth of Witte), although recently there have been more varied approaches to Greene. This chapter, however, is primarily interested in Greene’s afterlife as a biographical phenomenon. It argues that Greene’s notoriety as a prodigal scholar and a professional – if negatively perceived – poet figure is for the most part a posthumous construct through his appearances as a ghostly character figuring in other people’s works. This involved a gradual fashioning of Greene’s body of works into a suitable life narrative by other figures involved in the professionalisation of the English publishing industry during the 1590s. Vitally, however, this fashioned identity established the possibility of newly close relation between the nature of literary output and personal life.

in English literary afterlives
Sidney’s literary rebirth
Elisabeth Chaghafi

Chapter 3 is concerned with the problems involved in reconciling a poet’s life-narrative with the vita activa model and examines the potential causes for the ‘gap’ between Sir Philip Sidney’s public life and his works, which continues to pose a challenge for modern biographers. It considers the two ‘waves’ of responses to Sidney’s death: the elegies published in the immediate aftermath of his death and funeral, which seek to establish him as an exemplary soldier and courtier, and the first portrayals of Sidney as an exemplary poet figure (often referred to as ‘Astrophil’ or ‘Philisides’), following the printing of his works during the 1590s. For the most part, these two categories of life-narrative provided for Sidney remained distinct from each other, and there were few attempts to read his works biographically, beyond an ‘identification’ of Stella as Penelope Rich. Nevertheless, there is one remarkable exception: Edmund Spenser’s ‘Astrophel’, which should be read not as an unsuccessful belated elegy for Sidney but as a response to his rebirth in print and an innovative attempt to bridge the gap between the dead knight and the poet ‘borne in Arcady’.

in English literary afterlives
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‘After I am dead and rotten’ – Spenser’s missing afterlife
Elisabeth Chaghafi

The interlude on Edmund Spenser’s (lack of) afterlife in print forms a ‘bridge’ between Chapters 3 and 4. Surprisingly, considering the fact that his status as one of the most eminent poets of his time was undisputed, Spenser’s death in 1599 did not prompt many reactions in print, perhaps as a result of his long absence in Ireland. It begins by examining the few known commemorative poems for Spenser by John Weever, Nicholas Breton and Francis Thynne, and then proceeds to chart the emergence of a ‘Life’ of Spenser in the biographical compilations of the seventeenth century, culminating in a prefatory life published with the 1679 edition of his Works (the earlier Lownes editions, which contained the ‘Mutability Cantos’ had lacked a similar preface). Rather than merely checking them for factual errors, however (of which there are plenty), it focuses on the ways in which the different accounts use and adapt anecdotes about Spenser. The interlude argues that while they are very unlikely to be true, those anecdotes have a narrative and structural function within the lives and thus reveal the biographical compilers’ attempts retrospectively to make sense of the life of a poet who had died several decades before.

in English literary afterlives
From Donne to Herbert
Elisabeth Chaghafi

This chapter focuses on Izaak Walton and his discovery of a biographical technique that anticipates literary biography, through his uncommon educational background, his experience of the Civil War and his interest in the concept of a ‘private’ life. The chapter examines how in his different versions of the Life of Donne, written over the course of thirty-five years, Walton grew increasingly interested in Donne’s works (especially his poetic works) and attempted to use them in his Life to recover the poet’s own voice or ventriloquise it through paraphrases. Over the course of his revisions to the Life of Donne, Walton developed a new model for writing a Life, which, unlike the vita activa model, was suitable for writing the life of a poet and culminated in Walton’s Life of Herbert, the first life of an English poet as a poet. The chapter argues that Walton’s biographical technique was substantially shaped by his use of literary quotation, which differs from the aphoristic style of quotation more commonly used by his contemporaries. It also proposes that Walton’s innovative approach played an important role in the success of his Lives and proved highly influential for the development of literary biography.

in English literary afterlives
Derricke’s rebel poems
Elisabeth Chaghafi

The final sections of John Derricke's Image of Irelande, containing the contrasting tales of Rory Oge O’More and O’Neale, contain a shift of focus, metre and rhyme scheme. When the narrative perspective changes to that of Rory, Derricke drops into a ballad form of sorts. Both this form and the format of the condemned criminal lamenting his wicked life echo a popular early modern genre: criminal biography. Yet while there are similarities of format, there are also important differences between ‘biographical’ pamphlets and broadsheets and Derricke's rebel biographies – most notably that he contrasts the tale of an unrepentant rebel with that of a repentant one. This chapter compares the final section of The Image of Irelande to early modern criminal biography and proposes that Derricke adapted the popular genre to serve his main purpose of glorifying Sir Henry Sidney, who is a central character in the accounts of both rebels’ lives.

in John Derricke’s The Image of Irelande: with a Discoverie of Woodkarne
Gabriel Harvey’s sonnet therapy
Elisabeth Chaghafi

This chapter focuses on Gabriel Harvey’s ‘Greenes Memoriall’, a sonnet sequence that forms part of his pamphlet Foure Letters and Certaine Sonnets (1592). Harvey’s pamphlet, a response to Robert Greene’s slandering him and his brothers, is commonly regarded as vengeful, but the sonnets in the volume display a conscious effort on Harvey’s part to conquer his anger. The chapter argues that Harvey intends to show his journey from initial anger towards greater emotional detachment and a balance of temper. His surprising choice to express himself through sonnets (a format he was not very familiar with and perhaps not very good at) may be explained as a strategy within his struggle to regain his temper: the trope of sonnet as a form that exemplifies the ‘sweetness’ of poetry serves to illustrate the idea of restoring a healthy balance of temper, because the sonnet serves to neutralise the ‘bitter gall’ of his anger. Thus Harvey was effectively self-medicating through poetry, and grappling with the constraints of metre and rhyme in an unfamiliar poetic form forced him to detach himself from his anger and to consider more carefully how to express his points than he might have done in prose.

in The early modern English sonnet
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Speght’s Chaucer and Speght’s Spenser
Elisabeth Chaghafi

Thomas Speght was the first Chaucer editor to present readers with a ‘medieval’ Chaucer firmly situated in the past. By providing a substantial apparatus of supplementary materials aiming to facilitate access to Chaucer’s works, Speght was implicitly highlighting Chaucer’s datedness. At the same time, Speght also used his ‘additions’ to present Chaucer as a true English classic and national poet still worthy of being read, and to insist that Chaucer’s works continued to be relevant to his sixteenth-century readers. This chapter traces the evolution of the front and back matter of Speght’s editions (of 1598 and 1602) and analyses how they serve Speght’s double agenda to present Chaucer as a poet both ancient and ‘modern’. In particular, it examines how Speght pursued his double strategy by stressing links between Chaucer and Edmund Spenser and by fashioning a ‘friendship’ between the two major English poets of the past and present.

in Rereading Chaucer and Spenser