Comus exists in two quite different early states: the performing text that John Milton initially provided his employers with, and the revised and greatly elaborated version that he subsequently prepared for publication. Most discussions of Comus focus on its political or religious implications, and its status as a precursor to Milton's ethical and revolutionary thinking in his prose pamphlets and major poems. Leah Marcus has made a persuasive case for explicitly anti-Laudian elements in the masque, though these may have more to do with Milton's interests at the time than with the Earl's. William Shakespeare's version of Milton's masque is Venus and Adonis. Adonis denounces Venus as the Lady denounces Comus, as the embodiment not of love but of "sweating lust," and Venus is certainly represented as gross and unattractive.
Hamlet is probably the most famous play in literature, thoroughly international in its appeal, admired and imitated in Asian cultures as well as in the west. Reservations about Hamlet impugn William Shakespeare's knowledge of himself, and Coleridge the advocate speaks with the authority of Shakespeare. In 1769 Jean-François Ducis produced a French Hamlet, the first theatrical version of a Shakespeare play in France. Count Harry Kessler's Cranach Press Hamlet was published in a German edition in 1929 and in an English edition in 1930. Both Voltaire and Johnson intentionally trivialized Hamlet by reducing it to its plot, but there are more ways than one of approaching the plot, some less reductive than others. The real problem, since it is a Shakespeare tragedy we are dealing with, is that no version of the action seems sufficiently heroic to fulfil our expectations of the genre.
This chapter refers to Roger Ascham's famous aphorism that Italians are wicked, but the Italianate Englishman is the devil incarnate. It begins with two obviously Italianate Englishmen, Inigo Jones and Ben Jonson. To a generation of Britons, Prince Charles himself was the devil incarnate, John Milton compared him with the diabolical Richard III, and Milton's Satan, with his ardent patronage of Mammon, shared Charles's aesthetic tastes. The visual arts provide Jonson with a touchstone for the taste that he craves as much as the diabolical Iniquo. Jones's sketch book from the Arundel trip survives a fascinating record of an English artist teaching himself to be Italianate. Jones's Italian classicism included a great deal of hybridization, the Italian grafted onto the English, sometimes perforce, as in the new west façade he erected on old St Paul's cathedral.
The Ganymede story is directly predicated on the death of Eurydice, and it says something about mankind in general, not about Orpheus alone. Despite his own distinctive sexual tastes after the death of Eurydice, Orpheus's grief, expressed through his songs, encompasses all of human eroticism, whether chaste, promiscuous, polymorphous, heterosexual, homosexual, bestial, incestuous, gentle, or savage. The earliest version of the Ganymede emblem in the first edition of the Emblemata, 1531 shows the youth as a putto riding on an eagle. The ambivalent iconography of the myth for the Renaissance has been admirably and courageously, discussed by James Saslow in a genuinely pioneering book, Ganymede in the Renaissance. For the Renaissance, the stories in the cosmic group most often depicted by artists are those of Orpheus himself, the love of Venus and Adonis, and the story of Ganymede.
This chapter alludes to William Lambarde's well-known account of his interview with Queen Elizabeth in August, 1601, seven months after the Essex rebellion and Essex's execution for treason. Lambarde was the royal archivist, and had brought Elizabeth a summary of the historical documents stored in the Tower of London. The chapter focuses on Elizabeth's portrait of Richard II. In comparison with the individualized and assertive Holbein and Hornebolte portraits of her father, or the domesticated portraits of her sister by Antonio Mor, the painting is strikingly iconic. It employs a pictorial formula used occasionally on royal documents, but it is most strikingly similar to the Westminster portrait of Richard II. The painting iconographically abolishes a century and a half of both English history and royal iconography, and returns us to the last moment when the legitimacy of the monarchy was not a problem.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book examines the development of the concept of the author-portrait in early modern England. It begins with a reconsideration of Elizabeth's famous characterization of herself as her tragic ancestor. The book offers a radically unorthodox reading of John Milton's Maske, and focuses on both the nominal villain and the place of women in the society for which the work was composed. It takes a broad view of the question of performance through disguise. The book also focuses on the growing influence of women on literature and drama in the English Renaissance. It proposes that forgetting, or the suppression or subversion of memory, is an essential creative principle. The book discusses the history of attitudes toward plagiarism, and its relation to concepts of literary creativity.
The first explicitly heroic masque created for the Jacobean monarchy was Ben Jonson's and Inigo Jones's Masque of Queens, performed at Whitehall in 1609. The masque, for all its spectacle and martial imagery, celebrates the sovereign word. For all the military chic of Jones's costumes, there is no suggestion in The Masque of Queens that the power of Bel-Anna and her Amazons derives in any way from their erotic attractions. Jonson's reformulation of the chivalric myth is, in its way, far more radically disarming than Queens Elizabeth's had been. An important component of personal style was the chivalric mythology with which she surrounded herself. The popular adulation accorded to Sir Philip Sidney for the most meager of military careers, the exaggerated hopes invested in the disastrous Earl of Essex, are indices to how badly the realm yearned for glory as Elizabeth's rule came to end.
Memory has been recognized since ancient times as a basic element of artistic creativity. The chapter argues that forgetting, or the suppression or subversion of memory, is an equally essential creative principle. Forgetting is crucial within the play's action, too: it is a radical act of forgetting that precipitates William Shakespeare's catastrophe. The chapter explores the case of King Lear, and begins with a famous emendation, which is particularly germane, because it depends on a case of memorial reconstruction. Shakespeare sets up a powerful tragic momentum reminiscent of Lear in the opening three acts, only to disarm it at the conclusion with fantasy and magic. In every version of the Lear story, both in the chronicles of early British history and in the The True Chronicle History of King Leir and his Three Daughters, Cordelia's forces are victorious, and Lear's throne is restored to him.
Philip Sidney's and John Donne's portraits, or at least the iconographic assumptions embodied in them, are an essential part of their literary history. The iconographic tradition in England, even in providing a frontispiece for his imaginative writing, largely ignored the Sidney of poetry and romance. The version of the Abraham Blyenberch portrait engraved by Robert Vaughan, faced the title page of the second edition of his folio Workes published in 1640. Ironically, the William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson folios, despite Jonson's best efforts, made the authors' portraits inescapable for large, expensive and, especially, posthumous dramatic collections. There were four such folios in the remainder of the century, devoted to the works of Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, Thomas Killigrew and Sir William Davenant. In fact, Jonson's resistance for being identified with his picture, rather than his book, was, even during his lifetime, outmoded.
This chapter begins with some bits of household advice from the sixteenth century. The first group comes from A Thousand Notable things, of sundry sortes. Whereof some are wonderfull, some straunge, some pleasant, divers necessary, a great sort profitable and many very precious, collected by Thomas Lupton, published in London in 1579. There are no love potions in Secrets of Alexis or A Thousand Notable Things, though they imply a relationship between men and women that certainly render a nostrum credible, given what constitutes evidence of success in toothache and earache cures. Remedies are given for impotence, including the impotence caused by witchcraft, a sufficiently attested condition to qualify as one of the very few legally acceptable grounds for divorce in the case of the Earl and Countess of Essex in 1613.