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SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900
Rice University MS-46
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Robert C. Jones
Abstract: Statements about the importance of Italian settings in Elizabethan tragedy usually stress the Elizabethan conception of Italy as "the sporting place of murther," but there has been little examination of the actual use of the Italian scene in the plays themselves. Such an examination shows that in plays commonly praised for their lurid use of Italian settings—those of Marston and Tourneur, for example—direct allusions to Italy are sparse. These plays abound in the sort of action Elizabethans associated with Italians, but there is little use of the Italian scene itself as a setting for the action. In fact, the most vivid "settings" of these plays are created in large part through patterns of imagery that enter the dialogue via similes or metaphors with no direct reference to the scene at all. Webster's tragedies illustrate the relationship between the nominal use of the Italian scene and the development of a play's world through metaphoric imagery and allusions that are not confined to one locale. Italian settings function as one of the allusions through which the world of each play is created, but Italy is not the world of these plays.
David M. Bergeron
Abstract: The Elizabethan mayoralty entertainments anticipate the basic thematic concerns and artistic problems of later Lord Mayor's Shows while themselves revealing a profound development. Reflecting the growth of these civic pageants are the increasing expenditures for preparing the shows, ranging from £151 in 1561 to £747 in 1602. The days of the simple processional pass as the shows begin to acquire complexity and sophistication in dramatic action and speech. The indebtedness to the religious heritage, such as in the 1568 show, gives way to a concentration on three basic areas of subject matter: history, mythology, and moral allegory. Of singular importance is the pageant of 1585 written by George Peele, for it marks the beginning of a long and fruitful association of well-known dramatists with the mayoralty shows, and it is the first Lord Mayor's Show for which there is an extant text. In the 1590 pageant Nelson establishes the pattern of using historical characters as he explores the theme of peace in both abstract and concrete terms. By the end of the era these shows have prepared the way for the Lord Mayor's Show to become the dominant form of civic pageantry in the Stuart period.
E. Rubinstein
Abstract: One of the principal verbal patterns of Shakespeare's 1 Henry IV is the repeated reference to financial liability. Sometimes simple and apparently literal, sometimes far more complex and obviously metaphorical, talk of indebtedness informs the play and serves to guide the reader's responses to the moral nature of all the main characters, not only Hal (who always pays up) and Falstaff (who never does) but Henry IV, Hotspur, and the rebellious nobles as well. Moreover, this motif, in connection with other related ones—the prominent metaphors of money and of coinage, the repeated use of words drawn from commerce—helps fix the world of the play as one in which practical cunning is paramount. Finally, since financial liability is normally governed by limits of time, the language of indebtedness serves to express the play's pervasive sense of time closing in.
Elias Schwartz
Abstract: Contradictory impressions of character and of intention in Othello stem from a peculiar feature of its style. The play utilizes two distinct styles or dramatic modes: the naturalistic and the stylized. Once we grasp the function of this stylistic impurity, the contradictions disappear; we can then see how this duality of mode enables the play to "move" on two levels more or less simultaneously. These levels are 1) the natural and 2) the super-natural or quasi-theological. The natural level involves the destruction of a noble, but simple-souled Othello by an envious and loveless rationalist. The super-natural level involves the "damnation" of Othello (who on this level takes on the status of Everyman) which is figured in his loss of Desdemona. The cause of his damnation remains obscure, because it is figured in the diabolic and causeless malignity of Iago—who is also, in part, a projection of Othello's egotism. An analysis of the play in these terms shows that Othello is the most darkly pessimistic of Shakespeare's tragedies.
Michael Manheim
Abstract: Dekker's The Shoemakers' Holiday is constructed about the irony implicit in Simon Eyre's middle-class attack on courtiers in III.3. The irony lies in the fact that Hammon, the pretentious citizen in the play, embodies the attributes of Eyre's despised courtier, and Lacy, the courtier disguised as a shoemaker, embodies the virtues of the shop. In other words, a man's "inner linings" determine his worth, not his birth or rank. The play seems to be telling its predominantly middle-class audience that humble origins are no greater assurance of true manhood than noble origins. But the attributes the play condemns are those associated with the court, and the attributes the play celebrates are those associated with the shop. First we hear pretense and arrogance, then candor and good will, and so on back and forth until the concluding scenes. The play's three story-lines are practically subsumed in an antiphonal movement frequently found in Elizabethan plays. The play culminates with the arrival of the hero-King, probably Henry V, who despite his noble birth is himself evidence of the triumph of humility and good will over pride and intransigence.
Thomas M. Greene
Abstract: The dual image of circle and center is an organizing principle of all Ben Jonson's work. The circle (suggesting perfection, harmony, equilibrium in cosmos, society, household, soul) is doubled by the center (suggesting governor, king, house, inner self). Both images are represented as achieved ideals in the masques; in most of Jonson's other works, the circle appears to be broken, and the center, if there is one, is associated with solitary and upright independence. Dwelling symbolically at home emerges as an important value in the poems, but the home in the plays generally figures as an inadequate fortress open to invasion and adultery. The poems and comedies contrast the self-reliant centered self with characters who are or seek to be metaphysically volatile, who would shift, disguise, transform, and multiply themselves. This will to multiply the Protean self is the basic subject of Volpone, almost all of whose characters seek their own metamorphosis, and whose villains are finally punished with confinement. The rogues and gulls of The Alchemist share a common desire to be "sublimed." But Bartholomew Fair reveals a greater tolerance of the world's changeful variety.
Mark A. Anderson
Abstract: The two metamorphoses of Epicoene, the personification of the self-interested manipulation and the potentially dangerous deceptions of appearances, reveal the two stages of the unified plot in Jonson's Epicoene. The action of the play is incited by Dauphine to expose and discredit Morose, first by showing his error in judging a woman, and second by revealing his general folly and his total inability to perceive reality correctly. The Otters aid in showing Morose's error in his judgment of Epicoene, while Daw and La Foole illuminate the opposite extreme of folly in Morose and parallel his exposure with theirs. Truewit, motivated by his desire to redeem his tarnished reputation, displays his wit by organizing the deceptions and exposures in the second part of the play and serves as the spokesman for the means to a successful existence in a society where reality lies beneath the surface and deception is an accepted norm.
Ejner J. Jensen
Abstract: Marston's best play reveals the hand of a dramatic craftsman of conscious purpose and considerable skill. Imagery in The Malcontent is the playwright's means of defining characters and unifying the play's design. Malevole, the deposed Altofronto now disguised as court malcontent, must sustain his role despite extreme pressures; thus language becomes for him both a safety valve and a vivid conveyor of his vision of the world's corruption. Altofronto's world is the court, and the whole play provides through its imagery a view of the court system which is emphasized by the addition of several passages to the 1604 edition, "Augmented by John Marston." Many of these passages reinforce a pattern of images of rising and falling which runs throughout the play. At the pattern's center is the fable of the tortoise and the eagle, which has as its target simony. Undeserved preferment in any system leads to the sort of world described by the court bawd Maquerelle, who tells of playing the role of the goddess Fortune to her dogs. Marston communicates his vision of the irrational, bestial court world in a work in which imagery plays a central ordering role.
Robert I. Williams
Abstract: It has not been generally recognized that Thomas Middleton drew upon Machiavelli's Mandragola, or a version of it, for the Touchwood Senior plot of A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, particularly for the device of the "fertility potion." Close comparison of Machiavelli's and Middleton's handling of this device points up the English playwright's unique sense of the comic, for the Touchwood Senior plot is at the heart of both his play's humor and his conception of middle-class London society. Fertility and sterility, virtue and unscrupulousness, which had been little more than elements of erotic intrigue in Machiavelli's work, become in Middleton's serious points of examination. The seriousness of his examination tends to make A Chaste Maid a comedy of anguish, a complex expression of conflicting romance and cynicism whose impact depends upon our recognizing, rather than explaining away, the playwright's irreconcilable sympathies. This dimension of A Chaste Maid is clearer when one sees the play in relation to the Mandragola than when he sees it in the setting of traditional genres of Elizabethan-Jacobean drama.
Roger T. Burbridge
Abstract: The Broken Heart presents a world in which meaningful action is impossible, since the evil it contains is so elusive. The major characters behave increasingly like automatons, unable to sustain belief in the moral values which they at first espouse and finding release only in pointless torture and self-destruction. Their suppression of normal human emotion is neither affirmative nor Stoical: we are numbed by their ritualistic dance of death and their indifference to their own fates. The play's total effect, however, is tragic, for it impresses us with the pitiful waste involved in mindless submission to arbitrary and dehumanizing codes of conduct.
Annette C. Flower
Abstract: Milton's Preface to Samson Agonistes rests firmly in the tradition of English neoclassical theory. The justification of tragedy (the first ten sentences of the Preface) is developed similarly to Sidney's justification in the Defence of Poesie; the introduction to Samson (the last seven sentences of the Preface) raises issues familiar in the Dryden-Howard controversy. The difficulty of the Preface stems from the high degree of compression: traditional Aristotelian, Horatian, and Renaissance dicta are affirmed or modified without detailed explanation. Thus the first sentence goes beyond the conventional explanation of the moral purpose of tragedy as instructive or exemplary (as in Sidney and Dryden) to affirm that tragedy is moral because it produces catharsis, which Milton defines precisely as the tempering and reduction of the passions to a mean. So, too, he deplores the mixture of genres not simply on aesthetic grounds but as a violation of the moral justification of tragedy. In his references to ancient precedents, too, Milton fixes himself in the neoclassical tradition, and his highly compressed discussion includes all the major precepts of Aristotle's Poetics. Whether affirming or re-interpreting accepted precepts, the Preface, terse and compressed as it is, considers all the paramount issues of English neoclassical dramatic theory.
Douglas Cole

©William Marsh Rice University 1970