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SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900
Rice University MS-46
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Franklin E. Court
Abstract: Spenser's Muiopotmos is a well defined, tightly structured poem that can stand strictly on its own merits without the allegorical crutch provided by most of its critics. Central to the poem's unity is its general mood of disillusionment and futile struggle in an ordered universe where gods rule and men obey. Structurally, this sense of disillusionment forms a conceptual matrix that is literally at the center of the poem's stanzaic progression. The theme of futility, of man's position as a helpless, inconsequential "fraile fleshly wight" living in a world that subjects him to the mere whim and "auengement" of the tyrannical gods, is supported furthermore by a) the poem's plot, b) its allusions, c) its dominant symbols and images, and d) the character development of Clarion as a tragic figure, Arachne as a god-abused figure, and Aragnoll as a satanic doom-peddler, a lackey for the avenging gods. Overall, the poem reflects a melancholic strain that is rare to Spenser's work. But more important is that it reveals the artistic growth of Spenser who by 1590, the date of Muiopotmos, had already completed the first three books of The Faerie Queene.
Judith H. Anderson
Abstract: The critical term "perspective" has ambiguous connotations. Distinguishing between Spenser's use of shifting points of view in different contexts—one natural and one supernatural—clarifies issues implicit in the use of this term. Both The Shepheardes Calender and Book I of The Faerie Queene employ "perspective," but in the Calender there is no real synthesis of opposing points of view; Book I, on the other hand, moves to structure and to reconcile opposing views.
Michael D. Bristol
Abstract: The structure of Edmund Spenser's The Shepheardes Calender and of Michael Drayton's The Shepheards Garland is based on the scheme of reciprocal pairing used by Virgil in his Bucolics. In this scheme the vision of each individual poem is offset by a contrasting or complementary poem of the same type. These offsetting or matching pairs are arranged in a symmetrical pattern receding from a central point. The concentric plan disrupts the calendar scheme of The Shepheardes Calender and prevents the reader from reading the sequence as a celebration of cosmic designs. The sequence moves from arrogance or frustration in the first three poems to a vision of a wasteland in the closing eclogues. At the center (June) we find the agony of Colin, suggesting that the possibilities for concord or discord in the world are directly related to the commitments made by poets. The Shepheards Garland presents two clearly contrasted worlds at the beginning and the end of the sequence. The conflicting worlds are resolved in a central cluster of poems devoted to acts of praise. In the eulogy of Idea, at the center of the sequence, the unity of experience is affirmed. Spenser's sequence dwells on the consequences of artistic failure; Drayton's explores the possibilities of artistic achievement. Both sequences use a symmetrical scheme in which alternative visions take form with a fixity implied at the center.
Virginia Riley Hyman
Abstract: Before arriving at his own definition of poetry as "that feigning notable images of virtues, vices, or what else," Sidney summarizes many other theories of the nature and function of poetry. Contrary to previous critical assumptions, these theories are not simply rhetorical embellishments, but are an integral part of his own definition. Ranging over the whole corpus of literary theory, he continually selects those elements necessary for his own position and rejects or ignores the rest. His definition is, therefore, not only a description, but, corresponding to the older meaning of the term, "a setting of boundaries," "a delimiting." Just as, in the exordium, he makes his aim seem modest and rational by contrasting it with Pugliano's exaggerated praise of horses, so in the narration he cites other theories of the nature and function of poetry to indicate his own more rational and modest claim. By using what is necessary for his definition and avoiding the pitfalls implicit in the more ambitious claims for poetry, Sidney proceeds in an ever-narrowing arc until he arrives at the single point of his own definition. The poet, he believes, creates "images of virtues and vices" to stimulate men to "right action." By tracing the series of steps by which he arrives at this conclusion, we can see that his "definition" is the sum of the other theories reduced to their ethical and rational level.
Myron Turner
Abstract: In his treatment of Pyrocles and Musidorus, Sidney works with Renaissance notions of a godlike hero capable of awesome deeds of mind and arms. One source of this conception is the pagan virtue of magnanimity, with its attitude of justifiable pride and its sense of virtuous self-sufficiency. In the Arcadia Sidney seeks to reconcile the pride and self-sufficiency of the hero with Christian humility and dependence upon God. The emphasis thus shifted from deeds of arms to deeds of mind, Pamela becomes Sidney's most complete study in this reconciliation. She withstands captivity and torment with an achieved internal poise that derives from Neoplatonic ideas of temperance as balance and harmony, holding in graceful balance self-sufficiency and creaturely dependence, pride and humility, patience and anger. Sidney's treatment of Pamela derives as well from the lady of the Petrarchan-Platonic sonnet who proves "that fiercenes can with a white dove abide." In Pyrocles and Musidorus, then, the godlike hero of the active ideal is identified with the abject Petrarchan lover, again signifying the need for internal balance. Godlike, through love they learn that they are indeed human.
Elizabeth Dipple
Abstract: By examining event, narrator's voice, and accumulation of data given to the reader in Books IV and V of the Old Arcadia, the ironies of injustice can be perceived, although Evarchus attempts to enunciate absolute justice in badly misrepresented cases, and although Basilius's resurrection leads to life and forgiveness. This article is a study of complexities that lead the reader of Sidney's first version of Arcadia away from reductive certainties towards an understanding of the realistic uncertainties that occur when flawed characters confront absolute moral abstractions.
Raymond A. Anselment
Abstract: Although traditionally associated with the stage, the dramatic satire of Martin Marprelate is actually a unique adaptation of traditional rhetoric. The standard Elizabethan authorities on rhetoric—Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian, and Wilson—all justify Marprelate's decision to answer serious religious arguments facetiously, but the complex dramatic manner in which he assumes the classical posture of the eiron and forces his opponent John Bridges into the role of the alazon reveals an original satiric genius. Consciously manipulating a variety of ironic postures, Martin extends his personae of the vociferous clown, country simpleton, and dissembling auditor into the posture of an antirhetorician. A series of imaginatively fictionalized contexts, derived in part from rhetorical techniques and designed to simulate actual confrontations, further transforms sterile polemic into an elaborate parody of serious disputation. Egregiously misusing rhetoric and flauntingly acknowledging the calculated sophistry, the satires effectively undercut the dignity of Bridges's position and dispel the seriousness of his arguments. In the process, traditional rhetoric is turned against itself as Martin Marprelate, moving beyond specific and now dated religious issues, recognizes both the strength and danger inherent in facile rhetoric.
John T. Irwin
Abstract: Presuming that, like most songs divested of their melodies, the "ayres" of Thomas Campion show little of the complex meaning which makes for explication, critics have tended to base the poet's reputation on general qualities of energetic syntax, purity of diction, grace, and strength. The present study uses Campion's lyric "Now winter nights enlarge" as the focus of a combined phonemic and critical analysis to create an approach more suited to Campion's special talent. Beginning with a short examination of the musical patterning of phonemes in the poem, the study shows by an explication of the text the harmonic formal structure of the poem's themes and the use of music as the principal symbol both in this lyric and in the best of Campion's other work. The conclusion reached is that Campion ceases to be a poetic stepchild when viewed not simply as a writer of words for music but as a poet of the musical emblem, a writer whose characteristic mode is the creation of literary equivalents for musical structures and techniques to produce the most appropriate form for poems whose major continuing symbol is music.
C. C. Brown
Abstract: This article challenges the bland assumption of one "numerological" critic, M-S Røstvig, that Henry More was "the English professional numerologist" of the seventeenth century. Like Milton, professing a cautious, rational attitude to symbolic numbers themselves, More attributed no inherent efficacy to them. This his controversy with the occultist Thomas Vaughan shows. More himself applied Pythagorean numbers to the days of Creation in Conjectura Cabbalistica; but, under Copernican and Cartesian influence, and determined to avoid superstition, More redefined the significance of the Pythagorean "cabbala." For him the authentic Pythagorean lore gained its special significance merely from the Mosaic lore hidden within it; only later Pythagoreans super-added magic. Numbers are "dry," not vital, symbols. They provide a suitable mnemonic and rational system in which the tradition could be embodied. So too Theophilus Gale reports that the "New Philosophers," Pythagorean-wise, began their teaching with mathematics "as a method most proper for the fixing the Volatile vagrant spirits of YOUNG STUDENTS." Unenthusiastical arithmetic evidently prefigures contemplation. Finally and briefly, More's part is traced in the exacting controversy surrounding the tetractys. His stand on symbolic number provides an important instance of the breakdown of a magical assumption of the Renaissance.
Margaret Ann Carpenter
Abstract: The complex view of nature presented in Marvell's "The Garden" evolves from a dramatically particularized representation of the imperfect progress of a speaker through a series of variably contradictory attitudes towards man, nature, and supernature. This series of attitudes culminates in the final stanza. Here, through the use of the concrete notion of a gardening art which depends upon and directs an art of nature and which is at once related to the natural and to the supernatural, Marvell catches up the speaker's earlier beliefs in order to correct them, without, however, denying their essential validity. This progress and its culmination can be illuminated by reference to the Genesis tradition together with the commentaries on the first chapter of Romans and the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century gardening manuals. Particularly central are the notions of the Fall and Eve's role in regard to it, of nature as fecund and as possessing inherent desires or inclinations, and of Adam as gardener.
Anthony Low
Abstract: Like Satan's Pandemonium, the Tower of Babel in Paradise Lost, with its upward striving, symbolizes man's pride and marks his attempt to equal God and recreate reality. The Church Fathers assigned it this meaning, and also pointed out the resemblance of the episode to the classical myth of the Titans' revolt against the gods. The Tower is an archetypal image; it has traditionally embodied man's aspirations, his glory, and his ultimate transience. Milton uses the Tower on several levels in the poem: the heavenly towers are unfallen originals, the earthly and hellish are derivative perversions. The Tower is closely connected with the temple, the city, and the court. It is often linked to Satan, and suggests his pride, his overweening ambition, and his final downfall. Often it has a proleptic force, ominously forboding disaster. As an image it implies an arc of motion, physical and moral, first up and then down—the opposite of the death-rebirth motif or pattern of humiliation and conquest that is centered in the Son, which moves first down, then up. The many individual tower images in Paradise Lost subtly interact; finally, the Tower becomes the most important compact symbol of rising and falling in the poem.
J. Hillis Miller
Richard J. Schoeck
©William Marsh Rice University 1970