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SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900
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Humphrey Tonkin
Abstract: The episode of the Cave of Mammon has produced a number of very different interpretations, varying from Kermode's suggestion that it parallels Christ's temptation in the wilderness, to Berger's that it represents Guyon's succumbing to the sin of curiositas. Alpers finds little evidence for Kermode's reading and doubts the basis for Berger's judgments, since they imply a completeness of characterization which Alpers does not find in Spenser. But Berger seems right to ask what Guyon's separation from the Palmer means. As with the Red Cross Knight's separation from Una it suggests that Guyon is weaker and more vulnerable to sin. Mammon's strategy is two-pronged. If Guyon is attracted by wealth, he will fall; if he resists, he will exhaust himself. The Garden of Proserpina is primarily intended for this second eventuality; hence Tantalus and Pilate, who both followed the line of least resistance, and who both denied their gods and hence, by implication, chose Mammon. Socrates, Tantalus, and Pilate also present a parody of the Tripartite Life. Guyon is not a Christ figure, and his faint represents weakness of the flesh.
Alice Fox Blitch
Abstract: Spenser places Calidore in Arcadia because of the allegorical relationship between courtesy and pastoral. The key to the allegory is Pastorella's resemblance to Proserpina. Spenser's imagery and narrative reflect the components of the myth: the colorful Pastorella, taken from Arcadia to the underground den of the brigands, enacts a ritual death in the company of the Pluto-like captain. Calidore, like Ceres, restores the girl to life and reestablishes the pastoral community. Such names as Pastorella, Rose, and Melissa are directly related to the story of Proserpina. Calidore's Arcadian adventure should thus be read in terms of Renaissance conceptions of the meaning of this myth. Such readings suggest that far from condemning the pastoral world, Spenser would have viewed it sympathetically. His descriptive passages are indeed positive. Spenser is drawn to both court and country while recognizing that neither is self-sufficient. Their joining at a time of crisis for each is mutually-productive: not only does the pastoral world begin anew, but the knight is also renewed: now perfected in courtesy, he can achieve his quest. The ultimate union of Calidore and Pastorella will lead to the rebirth of the Golden Age, predicted in Spenser's use of the Proserpina myth.
Heather Asals
Abstract: The Venus of Shakespeare's erotic narrative poem has been subject to amused unflattering dismissal as the embodiment of demeaning aggressive female Lust. However, by monitoring her responses to Adonis in terms of the Neoplatonic hierarchy of the senses, one can detect that Venus progresses from the lowest desire to touch an ennobled appreciation of what she sees; and one can legitimately conclude that what she feels begins as Lust but is fulfilled in Love. As Love she is inevitably attracted to the Beauty represented by Adonis. Her claim that the death of Adonis brings Chaos and her digression about her affair with Mars support the allegorical interpretation of Adonis as Beauty. But the Venus and Mars myth is also the locus classicus for other concerns in the poem: the Renaissance confusion of amare and armare, the relationship between Love and Death, and, hence, the poem's identification of the predatory Venus and the amatory boar who kills Adonis. As Love is a kind of Death, Venus is not unlike the boar. What matters, finally, are the ways in which she separates herself from and sets herself at war with the boar: whereas she "sees" the Beauty of Adonis, the boar is "blind"; and whereas the boar is uncomplicated Lust and Death, Venus as Love is a "life in death" which provides the opportunity for rebirth in another.
Terry G. Sherwood
Abstract: Donne's Prince Henry elegy is significant primarily for two reasons: 1) it reveals much about coterie elements in Donne's poetry and 2) it reveals further his deep debt to Augustine, here to The City of God, in refuting rational skepticism. Though a public poem, the elegy is also addressed specifically to Edward Herbert's and Henry Goodyere's elegies on Prince Henry. Donne is offering Augustinian answers to mortal questions resulting from Henry's death. Donne adapts Herbert's epistemological and ironic mode, only to complicate its philosophical argument with broader theological considerations. Likewise, he expands Goodyere's narrower Augustinian discussion of lament and suffering. The City of God provides the broad foundation to which Donne refers Herbert and Goodyere. Donne's central Augustinian assertion is that the rational mind can begin to reconstruct value, which is threatened by mortal catastrophe, through reasoning itself. After affirming its own existence, reason leads outward for confirmation from other rational beings, ending finally in love and faith. In sum, the poem deliberately invokes Augustine to refute skepticism and reconstruct values momentarily shaken by Henry's death.
Anthony Mortimer, Ben Jonson
Abstract: Jonson (in Timber) defines the poet as one who feigns a commonwealth and creates a "proper embattling" of vice and virtue. This illuminates the epigrams and commendatory poems where shades of moral grey are replaced by black and white. The vicious are nameless because vice is a vizard, destroying personality. The virtuous are named for recognition and imitation. The commendatory poems express Jonson's aristocratic social ethic. In "To Penshurst" the ideal estate is portrayed in vivid detail. The link between real and feigned commonwealth is provided by Jonson's memories of personal humiliation elsewhere. The ideal is framed, but not threatened by the world outside. The structure suggests a cricle and in many other poems Jonson uses circle-imagery to suggest both the real perfection and the practical limits of his ethical ideal. In "To Sir Robert Wroth" the estate lacks definition, but corrupt society is near and menacing. The framing device of "To Penshurst" is replaced by juxtaposition, by the sharp alternation of real and ideal. The only secure center for the ideal circle lies in the virtues of Wroth himself. In both "Penshurst" and "Wroth" we see how the feigned commonwealth is made effective by "proper embattling" and by a constant awareness of its actual limits.
Wayne A. Rebhorn
Abstract: Satan's fallen mentality conceives the universe in political terms, where Fate is supreme and God, a tyrant who removes the devils in an act of divine nepotism. When Satan rebels, he justifies himself on paradoxically "conservative" grounds: he would restore an order God disturbed. While Satan clearly misconceives the universal order, deriving merit simply from hierarchical position, his conservatism clashes directly with the beliefs of Christian Humanism which lie behind Milton's revolutionary attitudes. For Christian Humanists, one's position depended entirely on merit which was identified with moral and spiritual achievement. In this perspective, only the best could rule, and Satan's conservative derivation of merit from position would be rejected, while his rebellion, implemented by treachery and force, would be considered a parody of true revolution, based on spiritual achievement. Thus, while Paradise Lost is incompatible with Satan's false notions of merit and revolution, it is perfectly compatible with the revolutionary notion Milton developed out of Christian Humanism, the notion of an order based on spiritual achievement, which is exactly the order of God's heaven.
Thomas Kranidas
Abstract: Manoa's opening speeches harshly emphasize Samson's present condition. He expresses considerable care for his son, but it is mixed throughout with a care for his own family pride, and with a need to concentrate on the hero-son cut down to size. By the end of the first scene, Manoa has presented a number of possibilities for Samson's future. Manoa has made the reader aware of what Samson's role must be, and he has stimulated Samson to a deeper, more intense examination of himself and his future. But Manoa himself leaves his first scene in a benevolent paternal muddle.
Jon S. Lawry
Abstract: The despair with which the speaker in Lycidas begins the elegy suggests that he has failed in his "faithful Herdman's art." Similarly, the past tense in which the last eight lines are cast suggests that the song is finished, over and done with. If the doubting speaker is to avoid being an apostate or a blind mouth to his sheep, he must be virtually "resurrected" by the three divine herdmen—Apollo, Peter, and Michael. It is they who break the hold of past-ness in the poem, converting it into a general retrospective present that is also prospective of the future. It is also they who end the isolation of the speaker. With each appearance of a divine herdman, the personages of the poem increase in number and spiritual energy. In the three internal sections of the poem, each divine herdman in turn rebukes and then heals the speaker's spiritual blindness in having feared the blind Fury, blind mouths, and his own false surmise. Each then wipes away the tear of mortal doubt. In their serviceable reassurance, the woods, pastures, and herdmen of the beginning are redemptively restored by those of the close, and both Lycidas and the speaker reappear as human shepherds perfectly practicing "the faithful Herdman's art."
S. Viswanathan
Abstract: Milton's portrayal in Paradise Lost of the prelapsarian Paradise as a land of eternal spring, in the tradition of the classical Paradise myth and of the topos of the Garden, and his emphasis on the advent of the changes and rigors of seasons as part of God's curse on fallen man are both departures from the Biblical account of Genesis. With this in view, it strikes one to note an inconsistency, hitherto unnoticed, by way of Milton's references to 'seasons' in Paradise before the Fall. Behind this self-contradiction are Milton's prolonged cogitations of the problem of the inherent goodness or corruption of nature. The stress on the corruption of nature, in evidence in Milton's Christian Doctrine, belongs with the later stages in the compositional evolution of PL, the last books where the doctrinal gets the better of the poetic communication. Of interest in this connection are Milton's idiosyncratic notions about the effect of the seasons on his poetic faculties, his use of the imagery of the seasons in his early poems, and the crux, in Shakespeare's As You Like It, 'then penalty of Adam, the seasons' difference' (II.i.5-6).
Mary S. Weinkauf
Abstract: Although Dalila in Milton's Samson Agonistes is important structurally, she cannot be seen as a heroine, William Empson, E. M. W. Tillyard, and M. E. Grenander notwithstanding, because she is the antithesis of what a Renaissance wife should be. In De Doctrina Christiana, the divorce tracts, courtesy, conduct, and sermon literature, Milton and his contemporaries explicitly described the ideal wife, and measuring Dalila against these standards reveal her faults. Even her previously noted "good" qualities are bad in this context. Her love is physical and selfish; her attempt to be nursemaid is motivated by pride; her beauty and sex appeal are a prostitute's; her curiosity leads her to betray and torment when she should obey and comfort; dabbling in power politics is not the wife's business; her patriotism makes her place her country's above Samson's welfare, the worst sin of a wife whose first allegiance should be to her husband. Appealing or not, Dalila is a perfectly bad Renaissance wife; but she gives Samson dignity and goads him to regeneration.
Charles Molesworth
Abstract: Marvell's persona in "Upon Appleton House" combines three integrated roles—historian, philosopher, and priest—which make the central action of the poem clear. By enacting the lessons he wishes to display, the persona dramatizes all the virtues of Appleton House and its owner. Such a dramatization is an act of praise, but more importantly it commits the poet to historically and philosophically important virtues, which are best vindicated by Maria Fairfax, the patron's daughter. Acting as her priest, the persona shows how Maria vitrifies Nature, and by being seen as the fruit of the Fairfax estate, she illustrates the results and possibilities of the historical values that fostered her. The persona's final act is to mythologize Maria and thus vindicate his patron and the virtues which his estate embodies. With Maria, as with the famous "rational amphibia" who conclude the poem, environment and virtue become synonymous.
John T. Shawcross
Abstract: This review surveys books devoted to nondramatic literature of the English Renaissance published in 1972 and a few in 1971. While some needs are filled and new approaches are offered, certain other needs of literary scholarship remain and many volumes are clearly "standard" or given over to expected subjects. While a number of fine editions, critical studies, and biographical volumes are included, too many publications this year are inadequate.

©William Marsh Rice University 1973