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A History of English Literature by Robert Huntington Fletcher

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the coming generations. In a word, Chaucer is an artist of broad artistic
vision to whom art is its own excuse for being. And when everything is said
few readers would have it otherwise with him; for in his art he has
accomplished what no one else in his place could have done, and he has left
besides the picture of himself, very real and human across the gulf of half
a thousand years. Religion, we should add, was for him, as for so many men
of the world, a somewhat secondary and formal thing. In his early works
there is much conventional piety, no doubt sincere so far as it goes; and
he always took a strong intellectual interest in the problems of medieval
theology; but he became steadily and quietly independent in his philosophic
outlook and indeed rather skeptical of all definite dogmas.

Even in his art Chaucer's lack of the highest will-power produced one
rather conspicuous formal weakness; of his numerous long poems he really
finished scarcely one. For this, however, it is perhaps sufficient excuse
that he could write only in intervals hardly snatched from business and
sleep. In 'The Canterbury Tales' indeed, the plan is almost impossibly
ambitious; the more than twenty stories actually finished, with their
eighteen thousand lines, are only a fifth part of the intended number. Even
so, several of them do not really belong to the series; composed in stanza
forms, they are selected from his earlier poems and here pressed into
service, and on the average they are less excellent than those which he
wrote for their present places (in the rimed pentameter couplet that he
adopted from the French).

2. _His Humor_. In nothing are Chaucer's personality and his poetry
more pleasing than in the rich humor which pervades them through and
through. Sometimes, as in his treatment of the popular medieval beast-epic
material in the Nun's Priest's Tale of the Fox and the Cock, the humor
takes the form of boisterous farce; but much more often it is of the finer
intellectual sort, the sort which a careless reader may not catch, but
which touches with perfect sureness and charming lightness on all the
incongruities of life, always, too, in kindly spirit. No foible is too
trifling for Chaucer's quiet observation; while if he does not choose to
denounce the hypocrisy of the Pardoner and the worldliness of the Monk, he
has made their weaknesses sources of amusement (and indeed object-lessons
as well) for all the coming generations.

3. _He is one of the greatest of all narrative poets_. Chaucer is an
exquisite lyric poet, but only a few of his lyrics have come down to us,
and his fame must always rest largely on his narratives. Here, first, he
possesses unfailing fluency. It was with rapidity, evidently with ease, and
with masterful certainty, that he poured out his long series of vivid and
delightful tales. It is true that in his early, imitative, work he shares
the medieval faults of wordiness, digression, and abstract symbolism; and,
like most medieval writers, he chose rather to reshape material from the
great contemporary store than to invent stories of his own. But these are
really very minor matters. He has great variety, also, of narrative forms:
elaborate allegories; love stories of many kinds; romances, both religious
and secular; tales of chivalrous exploit, like that related by the Knight;
humorous extravaganzas; and jocose renderings of coarse popular
material--something, at least, in virtually every medieval type.

4. _The thorough knowledge and sure portrayal of men and women which,
belong to his mature work extend through, many various types of
character._ It is a commonplace to say that the Prolog to 'The
Canterbury Tales' presents in its twenty portraits virtually every
contemporary English class except the very lowest, made to live forever in
the finest series of character sketches preserved anywhere in literature;
and in his other work the same power appears in only less conspicuous
degree.

5. _His poetry is also essentially and thoroughly dramatic_, dealing
very vividly with life in genuine and varied action. To be sure, Chaucer
possesses all the medieval love for logical reasoning, and he takes a keen
delight in psychological analysis; but when he introduces these things
(except for the tendency to medieval diffuseness) they are true to the
situation and really serve to enhance the suspense. There is much interest
in the question often raised whether, if he had lived in an age like the
Elizabethan, when the drama was the dominant literary form, he too would
have been a dramatist.

6. _As a descriptive poet (of things as well as persons) he displays
equal skill._ Whatever his scenes or objects, he sees them with perfect
clearness and brings them in full life-likeness before the reader's eyes,
sometimes even with the minuteness of a nineteenth century novelist. And no
one understands more thoroughly the art of conveying the general impression
with perfect sureness, with a foreground where a few characteristic details
stand out in picturesque and telling clearness.

7. _Chaucer is an unerring master of poetic form._ His stanza
combinations reproduce all the well-proportioned grace of his French
models, and to the pentameter riming couplet of his later work he gives the
perfect ease and metrical variety which match the fluent thought. In all
his poetry there is probably not a single faulty line. And yet within a
hundred years after his death, such was the irony of circumstances, English
pronunciation had so greatly altered that his meter was held to be rude and
barbarous, and not until the nineteenth century were its principles again
fully understood. His language, we should add, is modern, according to the
technical classification, and is really as much like the form of our own
day as like that of a century before his time; but it is still only
_early_ modern English, and a little definitely directed study is
necessary for any present-day reader before its beauty can be adequately
recognized.

The main principles for the pronunciation of Chaucer's language, so far as
it differs from ours, are these: Every letter should be sounded, especially
the final _e_ (except when it is to be suppressed before another
vowel). A large proportion of the rimes are therefore feminine. The
following vowel sounds should be observed: Stressed _a_ like modern
_a_ in father. Stressed _e_ and _ee_ like _e_ in
_fete_ or _ea_ in breath. Stressed _i_ as in _machine_,
_oo_ like _o_ in _open_. _u_ commonly as in _push_
or like _oo_ in _spoon_, _y_ like _i_ in _machine_
or _pin_ according as it is stressed or not. _ai_, _ay_,
_ei_, and _ey_ like _ay_ in _day_. _au_ commonly
like _ou_ in _pound_, _ou_ like _oo_ in _spoon_.
_-ye_ (final) is a diphthong. _g_ (not in _ng_ and not initial)
before _e_ or _i_is like _j_.

Lowell has named in a suggestive summary the chief quality of each of the
great English poets, with Chaucer standing first in order: 'Actual life is
represented by Chaucer; imaginative life by Spenser; ideal life by
Shakspere; interior life by Milton; conventional life by Pope.' We might
add: the life of spiritual mysticism and simplicity by Wordsworth; the
completely balanced life by Tennyson; and the life of moral issues and
dramatic moments by Robert Browning.

JOHN GOWER. The three other chief writers contemporary with Chaucer
contrast strikingly both with him and with each other. Least important is
John Gower (pronounced either Go-er or Gow-er), a wealthy landowner whose
tomb, with his effigy, may still be seen in St. Savior's, Southwark, the
church of a priory to whose rebuilding he contributed and where he spent
his latter days. Gower was a confirmed conservative, and time has left him
stranded far in the rear of the forces that move and live. Unlike
Chaucer's, the bulk of his voluminous poems reflect the past and scarcely
hint of the future. The earlier and larger part of them are written in
French and Latin, and in 'Vox Clamantis' (The Voice of One Crying in the
Wilderness) he exhausts the vocabulary of exaggerated bitterness in
denouncing the common people for the insurrection in which they threatened
the privileges and authority of his own class. Later on, perhaps through
Chaucer's example, he turned to English, and in 'Confessio Amantis' (A
Lover's Confession) produced a series of renderings of traditional stories
parallel in general nature to 'The Canterbury Tales.' He is generally a
smooth and fluent versifier, but his fluency is his undoing; he wraps up
his material in too great a mass of verbiage.

THE VISION CONCERNING PIERS THE PLOWMAN. The active moral impulse which
Chaucer and Gower lacked, and a consequent direct confronting of the evils
of the age, appear vigorously in the group of poems written during the last
forty years of the century and known from the title in some of the
manuscripts as 'The Vision of William Concerning Piers the Plowman.' From
the sixteenth century, at least, until very lately this work, the various
versions of which differ greatly, has been supposed to be the single poem
of a single author, repeatedly enlarged and revised by him; and ingenious
inference has constructed for this supposed author a brief but picturesque
biography under the name of William Langland. Recent investigation,
however, has made it seem at least probable that the work grew, to its
final form through additions by several successive writers who have not
left their names and whose points of view were not altogether identical.

Like the slightly earlier poet of 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,' the
authors belonged to the region of the Northwest Midland, near the Malvern
Hills, and like him, they wrote in the Anglo-Saxon verse form,
alliterative, unrimed, and in this case without stanza divisions. Their
language, too, the regular dialect of this region, differs very greatly, as
we have already implied, from that of Chaucer, with much less infusion from
the French; to the modern reader, except in translation, it seems uncouth
and unintelligible. But the poem, though in its final state prolix and
structurally formless, exhibits great power not only of moral conviction
and emotion, but also of expression--vivid, often homely, but not seldom
eloquent.

The 'first passus' begins with the sleeping author's vision of 'a field
full of folk' (the world), bounded on one side by a cliff with the tower of
Truth, and on the other by a deep vale wherein frowns the dungeon of Wrong.
Society in all its various classes and occupations is very dramatically
presented in the brief description of the 'field of folk,' with incisive
passing satire of the sins and vices of each class. 'Gluttonous wasters'
are there, lazy beggars, lying pilgrims, corrupt friars and pardoners,
venal lawyers, and, with a lively touch of realistic humour, cooks and
their 'knaves' crying, 'Hot pies!' But a sane balance is preserved--there
are also worthy people, faithful laborers, honest merchants, and sincere
priests and monks. Soon the allegory deepens. Holy Church, appearing,
instructs the author about Truth and the religion which consists in loving
God and giving help to the poor. A long portrayal of the evil done by Lady
Meed (love of money and worldly rewards) prepares for the appearance of the
hero, the sturdy plowman Piers, who later on is even identified in a hazy
way with Christ himself. Through Piers and his search for Truth is
developed the great central teaching of the poem, the Gospel of Work--the
doctrine, namely, that society is to be saved by honest labor, or in
general by the faithful service of every class in its own sphere. The Seven
Deadly Sins and their fatal fruits are emphasized, and in the later forms
of the poem the corruptions of wealth and the Church are indignantly
denounced, with earnest pleading for the religion of practical social love
to all mankind.

In its own age the influence of 'Piers the Plowman' was very great. Despite
its intended impartiality, it was inevitably adopted as a partisan document
by the poor and oppressed, and together with the revolutionary songs of
John Ball it became a powerful incentive to the Peasant's Insurrection.
Piers himself became and continued an ideal for men who longed for a less
selfish and brutal world, and a century and a half later the poem was still
cherished by the Protestants for its exposure of the vices of the Church.
Its medieval form and setting remove it hopelessly beyond the horizon of
general readers of the present time, yet it furnishes the most detailed
remaining picture of the actual social and economic conditions of its age,
and as a great landmark in the progress of moral and social thought it can
never lose its significance.

THE WICLIFITE BIBLE. A product of the same general forces which inspired
'Piers the Plowman' is the earliest in the great succession of the modern
English versions of the Bible, the one connected with the name of John
Wiclif, himself the first important English precursor of the Reformation.
Wiclif was born about 1320, a Yorkshireman of very vigorous intellect as
well as will, but in all his nature and instincts a direct representative
of the common people. During the greater part of his life he was connected
with Oxford University, as student, teacher (and therefore priest), and
college head. Early known as one of the ablest English thinkers and
philosophers, he was already opposing certain doctrines and practices of
the Church when he was led to become a chief spokesman for King Edward and
the nation in their refusal to pay the tribute which King John, a century
and a half before, had promised to the Papacy and which was now actually
demanded. As the controversies proceeded, Wiclif was brought at last to
formulate the principle, later to be basal in the whole Protestant
movement, that the final source of religious authority is not the Church,
but the Bible. One by one he was led to attack also other fundamental
doctrines and institutions of the Church--transubstantiation, the temporal
possessions of the Church, the Papacy, and at last, for their corruption,
the four orders of friars. In the outcome the Church proved too strong for
even Wiclif, and Oxford, against its will, was compelled to abandon him;
yet he could be driven no farther than to his parish of Lutterworth, where
he died undisturbed in 1384.

His connection with literature was an unforeseen but natural outgrowth of
his activities. Some years before his death, with characteristic energy and
zeal, he had begun to spread his doctrines by sending out 'poor priests'
and laymen who, practicing the self-denying life of the friars of earlier
days, founded the Lollard sect. [Footnote: The name, given by their
enemies, perhaps means 'tares.'] It was inevitable not only that he and his
associates should compose many tracts and sermons for the furtherance of
their views, but, considering their attitude toward the Bible, that they
should wish to put it into the hands of all the people in a form which they
would be able to understand, that is in their own vernacular English. Hence
sprang the Wiclifite translation. The usual supposition that from the
outset, before the time of Wiclif, the Church had prohibited translations
of the Bible from the Latin into the common tongues is a mistake; that
policy was a direct result of Wiclif's work. In England from Anglo-Saxon
times, as must be clear from what has here already been said, partial
English translations, literal or free, in prose or verse, had been in
circulation among the few persons who could read and wished to have them.
But Wiclif proposed to popularize the entire book, in order to make the
conscience of every man the final authority in every question of belief and
religious practice, and this the Church would not allow. It is altogether
probable that Wiclif personally directed the translation which has ever
since borne his name; but no record of the facts has come down to us, and
there is no proof that he himself was the actual author of any part of
it--that work may all have been done by others. The basis of the
translation was necessarily the Latin 'Vulgate' (Common) version, made nine
hundred years before from the original Hebrew and Greek by St. Jerome,
which still remains to-day, as in Wiclif's time, the official version of
the Roman church. The first Wiclifite translation was hasty and rather
rough, and it was soon revised and bettered by a certain John Purvey, one
of the 'Lollard' priests.

Wiclif and the men associated with him, however, were always reformers
first and writers only to that end. Their religious tracts are formless and
crude in style, and even their final version of the Bible aims chiefly at
fidelity of rendering. In general it is not elegant, the more so because
the authors usually follow the Latin idioms and sentence divisions instead
of reshaping them into the native English style. Their text, again, is
often interrupted by the insertion of brief phrases explanatory of unusual
words. The vocabulary, adapted to the unlearned readers, is more largely
Saxon than in our later versions, and the older inflected forms appear
oftener than in Chaucer; so that it is only through our knowledge of the
later versions that we to-day can read the work without frequent stumbling.
Nevertheless this version has served as the starting point for almost all
those that have come after it in English, as even a hasty reader of this
one must be conscious; and no reader can fail to admire in it the sturdy
Saxon vigor which has helped to make our own version one of the great
masterpieces of English literature.

THE FIFTEENTH CENTURY. With Chaucer's death in 1400 the half century of
original creative literature in which he is the main figure comes to an
end, and for a hundred and fifty years thereafter there is only a single
author of the highest rank. For this decline political confusion is the
chief cause; first, in the renewal of the Hundred Years' War, with its
sordid effort to deprive another nation of its liberty, and then in the
brutal and meaningless War of the Roses, a mere cut-throat civil butchery
of rival factions with no real principle at stake. Throughout the fifteenth
century the leading poets (of prose we will speak later) were avowed
imitators of Chaucer, and therefore at best only second-rate writers. Most
of them were Scots, and best known is the Scottish king, James I. For
tradition seems correct in naming this monarch as the author of a pretty
poem, 'The King's Quair' ('The King's Quire,' that is Book), which relates
in a medieval dream allegory of fourteen hundred lines how the captive
author sees and falls in love with a lady whom in the end Fortune promises
to bestow upon him. This may well be the poetic record of King James'
eighteen-year captivity in England and his actual marriage to a noble
English wife. In compliment to him Chaucer's stanza of seven lines (riming
_ababbcc_), which King James employs, has received the name of 'rime
royal.'

THE 'POPULAR' BALLADS. Largely to the fifteenth century, however, belong
those of the English and Scottish 'popular' ballads which the accidents of
time have not succeeded in destroying. We have already considered the
theory of the communal origin of this kind of poetry in the remote
pre-historic past, and have seen that the ballads continue to flourish
vigorously down to the later periods of civilization. The still existing
English and Scottish ballads are mostly, no doubt, the work of individual
authors of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but none the less they
express the little-changing mind and emotions of the great body of the
common people who had been singing and repeating ballads for so many
thousand years. Really essentially 'popular,' too, in spirit are the more
pretentious poems of the wandering professional minstrels, which have been
handed down along with the others, just as the minstrels were accustomed to
recite both sorts indiscriminately. Such minstrel ballads are the famous
ones on the battle of Chevy Chase, or Otterburn. The production of genuine
popular ballads began to wane in the fifteenth century when the printing
press gave circulation to the output of cheap London writers and
substituted reading for the verbal memory by which the ballads had been
transmitted, portions, as it were, of a half mysterious and almost sacred
tradition. Yet the existing ballads yielded slowly, lingering on in the
remote regions, and those which have been preserved were recovered during
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by collectors from simple men and
women living apart from the main currents of life, to whose hearts and lips
they were still dear. Indeed even now the ballads and ballad-making are not
altogether dead, but may still be found nourishing in such outskirts of
civilization as the cowboy plains of Texas, Rocky Mountain mining camps, or
the nooks and corners of the Southern Alleghenies.

The true 'popular' ballads have a quality peculiarly their own, which
renders them far superior to the sixteenth century imitations and which no
conscious literary artist has ever successfully reproduced. Longfellow's
'Skeleton in Armor' and Tennyson's 'Revenge' are stirring artistic ballads,
but they are altogether different in tone and effect from the authentic
'popular' ones. Some of the elements which go to make this peculiar
'popular' quality can be definitely stated.

1. The 'popular' ballads are the simple and spontaneous expression of the
elemental emotion of the people, emotion often crude but absolutely genuine
and unaffected. Phrases are often repeated in the ballads, just as in the
talk of the common man, for the sake of emphasis, but there is neither
complexity of plot or characterization nor attempt at decorative literary
adornment--the story and the emotion which it calls forth are all in all.
It is this simple, direct fervor of feeling, the straightforward outpouring
of the authors' hearts, that gives the ballads their power and entitles
them to consideration among the far more finished works of conscious
literature. Both the emotion and the morals of the ballads, also, are
pagan, or at least pre-Christian; vengeance on one's enemies is as much a
virtue as loyalty to one's friends; the most shameful sins are cowardice
and treachery in war or love; and the love is often lawless.

2. From first to last the treatment of the themes is objective, dramatic,
and picturesque. Everything is action, simple feeling, or vivid scenes,
with no merely abstract moralizing (except in a few unusual cases); and
often much of the story or sentiment is implied rather than directly
stated. This too, of course, is the natural manner of the common man, a
manner perfectly effective either in animated conversation or in the chant
of a minstrel, where expression and gesture can do so much of the work
which the restraints of civilized society have transferred to words.

3. To this spirit and treatment correspond the subjects of the ballads.
They are such as make appeal to the underlying human instincts--brave
exploits in individual fighting or in organized war, and the romance and
pathos and tragedy of love and of the other moving situations of simple
life. From the 'popular' nature of the ballads it has resulted that many of
them are confined within no boundaries of race or nation, but, originating
one here, one there, are spread in very varying versions throughout the
whole, almost, of the world. Purely English, however, are those which deal
with Robin Hood and his 'merry men,' idealized imaginary heroes of the
Saxon common people in the dogged struggle which they maintained for
centuries against their oppressive feudal lords.

4. The characters and 'properties' of the ballads of all classes are
generally typical or traditional. There are the brave champion, whether
noble or common man, who conquers or falls against overwhelming odds; the
faithful lover of either sex; the woman whose constancy, proving stronger
than man's fickleness, wins back her lover to her side at last; the
traitorous old woman (victim of the blind and cruel prejudice which after a
century or two was often to send her to the stake as a witch); the loyal
little child; and some few others.

5. The verbal style of the ballads, like their spirit, is vigorous and
simple, generally unpolished and sometimes rough, but often powerful with
its terse dramatic suggestiveness. The usual, though not the only, poetic
form is the four-lined stanza in lines alternately of four and three
stresses and riming only in the second and fourth lines. Besides the
refrains which are perhaps a relic of communal composition and the
conventional epithets which the ballads share with epic poetry there are
numerous traditional ballad expressions--rather meaningless formulas and
line-tags used only to complete the rime or meter, the common useful
scrap-bag reserve of these unpretentious poets. The license of Anglo-Saxon
poetry in the number of the unstressed syllables still remains. But it is
evident that the existing versions of the ballads are generally more
imperfect than the original forms; they have suffered from the corruptions
of generations of oral repetition, which the scholars who have recovered
them have preserved with necessary accuracy, but which for appreciative
reading editors should so far as possible revise away.

Among the best or most representative single ballads are: The Hunting of
the Cheviot (otherwise called The Ancient Ballad of Chevy Chase--clearly of
minstrel authorship); Sir Patrick Spens; Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne;
Adam Bell, Clym of the Clough, and William of Cloudeslee; Captain Car, or
Edom o' Gordon; King Estmere (though this has been somewhat altered by
Bishop Percy, who had and destroyed the only surviving copy of it); Edward,
Edward; Young Waters; Sweet William's Ghost; Lord Thomas and Fair Annet.
Kinmont Willie is very fine, but seems to be largely the work of Sir Walter
Scott and therefore not truly 'popular.'

SIR THOMAS MALORY AND HIS 'MORTE DARTHUR.' The one fifteenth century author
of the first rank, above referred to, is Sir Thomas Malory (the _a_ is
pronounced as in _tally_). He is probably to be identified with the
Sir Thomas Malory who during the wars in France and the civil strife of the
Roses that followed was an adherent of the Earls of Warwick and who died in
1471 under sentence of outlawry by the victorious Edward IV. And some
passing observations, at least, in his book seem to indicate that if he
knew and had shared all the splendor and inspiration of the last years of
medieval chivalry, he had experienced also the disappointment and
bitterness of defeat and prolonged captivity. Further than this we know of
him only that he wrote 'Le Morte Darthur' and had finished it by 1467.

Malory's purpose was to collect in a single work the great body of
important Arthurian romance and to arrange it in the form of a continuous
history of King Arthur and his knights. He called his book 'Le Morte
Darthur,' The Death of Arthur, from the title of several popular Arthurian
romances to which, since they dealt only with Arthur's later years and
death, it was properly enough applied, and from which it seems to have
passed into general currency as a name for the entire story of Arthur's
life. [Footnote: Since the French word 'Morte' is feminine, the preceding
article was originally 'La,' but the whole name had come to be thought of
as a compound phrase and hence as masculine or neuter in gender.] Actually
to get together all the Arthurian romances was not possible for any man in
Malory's day, or in any other, but he gathered up a goodly number, most of
them, at least, written in French, and combined them, on the whole with
unusual skill, into a work of about one-tenth their original bulk, which
still ranks, with all qualifications, as one of the masterpieces of English
literature. Dealing with such miscellaneous material, he could not wholly
avoid inconsistencies, so that, for example, he sometimes introduces in
full health in a later book a knight whom a hundred pages earlier he had
killed and regularly buried; but this need not cause the reader anything
worse than mild amusement. Not Malory but his age, also, is to blame for
his sometimes hazy and puzzled treatment of the supernatural element in his
material. In the remote earliest form of the stories, as Celtic myths, this
supernatural element was no doubt frank and very large, but Malory's
authorities, the more skeptical French romancers, adapting it to their own
age, had often more or less fully rationalized it; transforming, for
instance, the black river of Death which the original heroes often had to
cross on journeys to the Celtic Other World into a rude and forbidding moat
about the hostile castle into which the romancers degraded the Other World
itself. Countless magic details, however, still remained recalcitrant to
such treatment; and they evidently troubled Malory, whose devotion to his
story was earnest and sincere. Some of them he omits, doubtless as
incredible, but others he retains, often in a form where the impossible is
merely garbled into the unintelligible. For a single instance, in his
seventh book he does not satisfactorily explain why the valiant Gareth on
his arrival at Arthur's court asks at first only for a year's food and
drink. In the original story, we can see to-day, Gareth must have been
under a witch's spell which compelled him to a season of distasteful
servitude; but this motivating bit of superstition Malory discards, or
rather, in this case, it had been lost from the story at a much earlier
stage. It results, therefore, that Malory's supernatural incidents are
often far from clear and satisfactory; yet the reader is little troubled by
this difficulty either in so thoroughly romantic a work.

Other technical faults may easily be pointed out in Malory's book. Thorough
unity, either in the whole or in the separate stories so loosely woven
together, could not be expected; in continual reading the long succession
of similar combat after combat and the constant repetition of stereotyped
phrases become monotonous for a present-day reader; and it must be
confessed that Malory has little of the modern literary craftsman's power
of close-knit style or proportion and emphasis in details. But these faults
also may be overlooked, and the work is truly great, partly because it is
an idealist's dream of chivalry, as chivalry might have been, a chivalry of
faithful knights who went about redressing human wrongs and were loyal
lovers and zealous servants of Holy Church; great also because Malory's
heart is in his stories, so that he tells them in the main well, and
invests them with a delightful atmosphere of romance which can never lose
its fascination.

The style, also, in the narrower sense, is strong and good, and does its
part to make the book, except for the Wiclif Bible, unquestionably the
greatest monument of English prose of the entire period before the
sixteenth century. There is no affectation of elegance, but rather knightly
straightforwardness which has power without lack of ease. The sentences are
often long, but always 'loose' and clear; and short ones are often used
with the instinctive skill of sincerity. Everything is picturesque and
dramatic and everywhere there is chivalrous feeling and genuine human
sympathy.

WILLIAM CAXTON AND THE INTRODUCTION OF PRINTING TO ENGLAND, 1476. Malory's
book is the first great English classic which was given to the world in
print instead of written manuscript; for it was shortly after Malory's
death that the printing press was brought to England by William Caxton. The
invention of printing, perhaps the most important event of modern times,
took place in Germany not long after the middle of the fifteenth century,
and the development of the art was rapid. Caxton, a shrewd and enterprising
Kentishman, was by first profession a cloth merchant, and having taken up
his residence across the Channel, was appointed by the king to the
important post of Governor of the English Merchants in Flanders. Employed
later in the service of the Duchess of Burgundy (sister of Edward IV), his
ardent delight in romances led him to translate into English a French
'Recueil des Histoires de Troye' (Collection of the Troy Stories). To
supply the large demand for copies he investigated and mastered the new art
by which they might be so wonderfully multiplied and about 1475, at fifty
years of age, set up a press at Bruges in the modern Belgium, where he
issued his 'Recueil,' which was thus the first English book ever put into
print. During the next year, 1476, just a century before the first theater
was to be built in London, Caxton returned to England and established his
shop in Westminster, then a London suburb. During the fifteen remaining
years of his life he labored diligently, printing an aggregate of more than
a hundred books, which together comprised over fourteen thousand pages.
Aside from Malory's romance, which he put out in 1485, the most important
of his publications was an edition of Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales.' While
laboring as a publisher Caxton himself continued to make translations, and
in spite of many difficulties he, together with his assistants, turned into
English from French no fewer than twenty-one distinct works. From every
point of view Caxton's services were great. As translator and editor his
style is careless and uncertain, but like Malory's it is sincere and manly,
and vital with energy and enthusiasm. As printer, in a time of rapid
changes in the language, when through the wars in France and her growing
influence the second great infusion of Latin-French words was coming into
the English language, he did what could be done for consistency in forms
and spelling. Partly medieval and partly modern in spirit, he may fittingly
stand at the close, or nearly at the close, of our study of the medieval
period.

CHAPTER IV

THE MEDIEVAL DRAMA

For the sake of clearness we have reserved for a separate chapter the
discussion of the drama of the whole medieval period, which, though it did
not reach a very high literary level, was one of the most characteristic
expressions of the age. It should be emphasized that to no other form does
what we have said of the similarity of medieval literature throughout
Western Europe apply more closely, so that what we find true of the drama
in England would for the most part hold good for the other countries as
well.

JUGGLERS, FOLK-PLAYS, PAGEANTS. At the fall of the Roman Empire, which
marks the beginning of the Middle Ages, the corrupt Roman drama, proscribed
by the Church, had come to an unhonored end, and the actors had been merged
into the great body of disreputable jugglers and inferior minstrels who
wandered over all Christendom. The performances of these social outcasts,
crude and immoral as they were, continued for centuries unsuppressed,
because they responded to the demand for dramatic spectacle which is one of
the deepest though not least troublesome instincts in human nature. The
same demand was partly satisfied also by the rude country folk-plays,
survivals of primitive heathen ceremonials, performed at such festival
occasions as the harvest season, which in all lands continue to flourish
among the country people long after their original meaning has been
forgotten. In England the folk-plays, throughout the Middle Ages and in
remote spots down almost to the present time, sometimes took the form of
energetic dances (Morris dances, they came to be called, through confusion
with Moorish performances of the same general nature). Others of them,
however, exhibited in the midst of much rough-and-tumble fighting and
buffoonery, a slight thread of dramatic action. Their characters gradually
came to be a conventional set, partly famous figures of popular tradition,
such as St. George, Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and the Green Dragon. Other
offshoots of the folk-play were the 'mummings' and 'disguisings,'
collective names for many forms of processions, shows, and other
entertainments, such as, among the upper classes, that precursor of the
Elizabethan Mask in which a group of persons in disguise, invited or
uninvited, attended a formal dancing party. In the later part of the Middle
Ages, also, there were the secular pageants, spectacular displays (rather
different from those of the twentieth century) given on such occasions as
when a king or other person of high rank made formal entry into a town.
They consisted of an elaborate scenic background set up near the city gate
or on the street, with figures from allegorical or traditional history who
engaged in some pantomime or declamation, but with very little dramatic
dialog, or none.

TROPES, LITURGICAL PLAYS, AND MYSTERY PLAYS. But all these forms, though
they were not altogether without later influence, were very minor affairs,
and the real drama of the Middle Ages grew up, without design and by the
mere nature of things, from the regular services of the Church.

We must try in the first place to realize clearly the conditions under
which the church service, the mass, was conducted during all the medieval
centuries. We should picture to ourselves congregations of persons for the
most part grossly ignorant, of unquestioning though very superficial faith,
and of emotions easily aroused to fever heat. Of the Latin words of the
service they understood nothing; and of the Bible story they had only a
very general impression. It was necessary, therefore, that the service
should be given a strongly spectacular and emotional character, and to this
end no effort was spared. The great cathedrals and churches were much the
finest buildings of the time, spacious with lofty pillars and shadowy
recesses, rich in sculptured stone and in painted windows that cast on the
walls and pavements soft and glowing patterns of many colors and shifting
forms. The service itself was in great part musical, the confident notes of
the full choir joining with the resonant organ-tones; and after all the
rest the richly robed priests and ministrants passed along the aisles in
stately processions enveloped in fragrant clouds of incense. That the eye
if not the ear of the spectator, also, might catch some definite knowledge,
the priests as they read the Bible stories sometimes displayed painted
rolls which vividly pictured the principal events of the day's lesson.

Still, however, a lack was strongly felt, and at last, accidentally and
slowly, began the process of dramatizing the services. First, inevitably,
to be so treated was the central incident of Christian faith, the story of
Christ's resurrection. The earliest steps were very simple. First, during
the ceremonies on Good Friday, the day when Christ was crucified, the cross
which stood all the year above the altar, bearing the Savior's figure, was
taken down and laid beneath the altar, a dramatic symbol of the Death and
Burial; and two days later, on 'the third day' of the Bible phraseology,
that is on Easter Sunday, as the story of the Resurrection was chanted by
the choir, the cross was uncovered and replaced, amid the rejoicings of the
congregation. Next, and before the Norman Conquest, the Gospel dialog
between the angel and the three Marys at the tomb of Christ came sometimes
to be chanted by the choir in those responses which are called 'tropes':
'Whom seek ye in the sepulcher, O Christians ?' 'Jesus of Nazareth the
crucified, O angel.' 'He is not here; he has arisen as he said. Go,
announce that he has risen from the sepulcher.' After this a little
dramatic action was introduced almost as a matter of course. One priest
dressed in white robes sat, to represent the angel, by one of the
square-built tombs near the junction of nave and transept, and three
others, personating the Marys, advanced slowly toward him while they
chanted their portion of the same dialog. As the last momentous words of
the angel died away a jubilant 'Te Deum' burst from, organ and choir, and
every member of the congregation exulted, often with sobs, in the great
triumph which brought salvation to every Christian soul.

Little by little, probably, as time passed, this Easter scene was further
enlarged, in part by additions from the closing incidents of the Savior's
life. A similar treatment, too, was being given to the Christmas scene,
still more humanly beautiful, of his birth in the manger, and occasionally
the two scenes might be taken from their regular places in the service,
combined, and presented at any season of the year. Other Biblical scenes,
as well, came to be enacted, and, further, there were added stories from
Christian tradition, such as that of Antichrist, and, on their particular
days, the lives of Christian saints. Thus far these compositions are called
Liturgical Plays, because they formed, in general, a part of the church
service (liturgy). But as some of them were united into extended groups and
as the interest of the congregation deepened, the churches began to seem
too small and inconvenient, the excited audiences forgot the proper
reverence, and the performances were transferred to the churchyard, and
then, when the gravestones proved troublesome, to the market place, the
village-green, or any convenient field. By this time the people had ceased
to be patient with the unintelligible Latin, and it was replaced at first,
perhaps, and in part, by French, but finally by English; though probably
verse was always retained as more appropriate than prose to the sacred
subjects. Then, the religious spirit yielding inevitably in part to that of
merrymaking, minstrels and mountebanks began to flock to the celebrations;
and regular fairs, even, grew up about them. Gradually, too, the priests
lost their hold even on the plays themselves; skilful actors from among the
laymen began to take many of the parts; and at last in some towns the
trade-guilds, or unions of the various handicrafts, which had secured
control of the town governments, assumed entire charge.

These changes, very slowly creeping in, one by one, had come about in most
places by the beginning of the fourteenth century. In 1311 a new impetus
was given to the whole ceremony by the establishment of the late spring
festival of Corpus Christi, a celebration of the doctrine of
transubstantiation. On this occasion, or sometimes on some other festival,
it became customary for the guilds to present an extended series of the
plays, a series which together contained the essential substance of the
Christian story, and therefore of the Christian faith. The Church generally
still encouraged attendance, and not only did all the townspeople join
wholeheartedly, but from all the country round the peasants flocked in. On
one occasion the Pope promised the remission of a thousand days of
purgatory to all persons who should be present at the Chester plays, and to
this exemption the bishop of Chester added sixty days more.

The list of plays thus presented commonly included: The Fall of Lucifer;
the Creation of the World and the Fall of Adam; Noah and the Flood; Abraham
and Isaac and the promise of Christ's coming; a Procession of the Prophets,
also foretelling Christ; the main events of the Gospel story, with some
additions from Christian tradition; and the Day of Judgment. The longest
cycle now known, that at York, contained, when fully developed, fifty
plays, or perhaps even more. Generally each play was presented by a single
guild (though sometimes two or three guilds or two or three plays might be
combined), and sometimes, though not always, there was a special fitness in
the assignment, as when the watermen gave the play of Noah's Ark or the
bakers that of the Last Supper. In this connected form the plays are called
the Mystery or Miracle Cycles. [Footnote: 'Miracle' was the medieval word
in England; 'Mystery' has been taken by recent scholars from the medieval
French usage. It is not connected with our usual word 'mystery,' but
possibly is derived from the Latin 'ministerium,' 'function,' which was the
name applied to the trade-guild as an organization and from which our title
'Mr.' also comes.] In many places, however, detached plays, or groups of
plays smaller than the full cycles, continued to be presented at one season
or another.

Each cycle as a whole, it will be seen, has a natural epic unity, centering
about the majestic theme of the spiritual history and the final judgment of
all Mankind. But unity both of material and of atmosphere suffers not only
from the diversity among the separate plays but also from the violent
intrusion of the comedy and the farce which the coarse taste of the
audience demanded. Sometimes, in the later period, altogether original and
very realistic scenes from actual English life were added, like the very
clever but very coarse parody on the Nativity play in the 'Towneley' cycle.
More often comic treatment was given to the Bible scenes and characters
themselves. Noah's wife, for example, came regularly to be presented as a
shrew, who would not enter the ark until she had been beaten into
submission; and Herod always appears as a blustering tyrant, whose fame
still survives in a proverb of Shakspere's coinage--'to out-Herod Herod.'

The manner of presentation of the cycles varied much in different towns.
Sometimes the entire cycle was still given, like the detached plays, at a
single spot, the market-place or some other central square; but often, to
accommodate the great crowds, there were several 'stations' at convenient
intervals. In the latter case each play might remain all day at a
particular station and be continuously repeated as the crowd moved slowly
by; but more often it was the, spectators who remained, and the plays,
mounted on movable stages, the 'pageant'-wagons, were drawn in turn by the
guild-apprentices from one station to another. When the audience was
stationary, the common people stood in the square on all sides of the
stage, while persons of higher rank or greater means were seated on
temporary wooden scaffolds or looked down from the windows of the adjacent
houses. In the construction of the 'pageant' all the little that was
possible was done to meet the needs of the presentation. Below the main
floor, or stage, was the curtained dressing-room of the actors; and when
the play required, on one side was attached 'Hell-Mouth,' a great and
horrible human head, whence issued flames and fiendish cries, often the
fiends themselves, and into which lost sinners were violently hurled. On
the stage the scenery was necessarily very simple. A small raised platform
or pyramid might represent Heaven, where God the Father was seated, and
from which as the action required the angels came down; a single tree might
indicate the Garden of Eden; and a doorway an entire house. In partial
compensation the costumes were often elaborate, with all the finery of the
church wardrobe and much of those of the wealthy citizens. The expense
accounts of the guilds, sometimes luckily preserved, furnish many
picturesque and amusing items, such as these: 'Four pair of angels' wings,
2 shillings and 8 pence.' 'For mending of hell head, 6 pence.' 'Item, link
for setting the world on fire.' Apparently women never acted; men and boys
took the women's parts. All the plays of the cycle were commonly performed
in a single day, beginning, at the first station, perhaps as early as five
o'clock in the morning; but sometimes three days or even more were
employed. To the guilds the giving of the plays was a very serious matter.
Often each guild had a 'pageant-house' where it stored its 'properties,'
and a pageant-master who trained the actors and imposed substantial fines
on members remiss in cooperation.

We have said that the plays were always composed in verse. The stanza forms
employed differ widely even within the same cycle, since the single plays
were very diverse in both authorship and dates. The quality of the verse,
generally mediocre at the outset, has often suffered much in transmission
from generation to generation. In other respects also there are great
contrasts; sometimes the feeling and power of a scene are admirable,
revealing an author of real ability, sometimes there is only crude and
wooden amateurishness. The medieval lack of historic sense gives to all the
plays the setting of the authors' own times; Roman officers appear as
feudal knights; and all the heathens (including the Jews) are Saracens,
worshippers of 'Mahound' and 'Termagaunt'; while the good characters,
however long they may really have lived before the Christian era, swear
stoutly by St. John and St. Paul and the other medieval Christian
divinities. The frank coarseness of the plays is often merely disgusting,
and suggests how superficial, in most cases, was the medieval religious
sense. With no thought of incongruity, too, these writers brought God the
Father onto the stage in bodily form, and then, attempting in all sincerity
to show him reverence, gilded his face and put into his mouth long speeches
of exceedingly tedious declamation. The whole emphasis, as generally in the
religion of the times, was on the fear of hell rather than on the love of
righteousness. Yet in spite of everything grotesque and inconsistent, the
plays no doubt largely fulfilled their religious purpose and exercised on
the whole an elevating influence. The humble submission of the boy Isaac to
the will of God and of his earthly father, the yearning devotion of Mary
the mother of Jesus, and the infinite love and pity of the tortured Christ
himself, must have struck into even callous hearts for at least a little
time some genuine consciousness of the beauty and power of the finer and
higher life. A literary form which supplied much of the religious and
artistic nourishment of half a continent for half a thousand years cannot
be lightly regarded or dismissed.

THE MORALITY PLAYS. The Mystery Plays seem to have reached their greatest
popularity in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. In the dawning light
of the Renaissance and the modern spirit they gradually waned, though in
exceptional places and in special revivals they did not altogether cease to
be given until the seventeenth century. On the Continent of Europe, indeed,
they still survive, after a fashion, in a single somewhat modernized form,
the celebrated Passion Play of Oberammergau. In England by the end of the
fifteenth century they had been for the most part replaced by a kindred
species which had long been growing up beside them, namely the Morality
Plays.

The Morality Play probably arose in part from the desire of religious
writers to teach the principles of Christian living in a more direct and
compact fashion than was possible through the Bible stories of the
Mysteries. In its strict form the Morality Play was a dramatized moral
allegory. It was in part an offshoot from the Mysteries, in some of which
there had appeared among the actors abstract allegorical figures, either
good or bad, such as The Seven Deadly Sins, Contemplation, and
Raise-Slander. In the Moralities the majority of the characters are of this
sort--though not to the exclusion of supernatural persons such as God and
the Devil--and the hero is generally a type-figure standing for all
Mankind. For the control of the hero the two definitely opposing groups of
Virtues and Vices contend; the commonest type of Morality presents in brief
glimpses the entire story of the hero's life, that is of the life of every
man. It shows how he yields to temptation and lives for the most part in
reckless sin, but at last in spite of all his flippancy and folly is saved
by Perseverance and Repentance, pardoned through God's mercy, and assured
of salvation. As compared with the usual type of Mystery plays the
Moralities had for the writers this advantage, that they allowed some
independence in the invention of the story; and how powerful they might be
made in the hands of a really gifted author has been finely demonstrated in
our own time by the stage-revival of the best of them, 'Everyman' (which is
probably a translation from a Dutch original). In most cases, however, the
spirit of medieval allegory proved fatal, the genuinely abstract characters
are mostly shadowy and unreal, and the speeches of the Virtues are extreme
examples of intolerable sanctimonious declamation. Against this tendency,
on the other hand, the persistent instinct for realism provided a partial
antidote; the Vices are often very lifelike rascals, abstract only in name.
In these cases the whole plays become vivid studies in contemporary low
life, largely human and interesting except for their prolixity and the
coarseness which they inherited from the Mysteries and multiplied on their
own account. During the Reformation period, in the early sixteenth century,
the character of the Moralities, more strictly so called, underwent
something of a change, and they were--sometimes made the vehicle for
religious argument, especially by Protestants.

THE INTERLUDES. Early in the sixteenth century, the Morality in its turn
was largely superseded by another sort of play called the Interlude. But
just as in the case of the Mystery and the Morality, the Interlude
developed out of the Morality, and the two cannot always be distinguished,
some single plays being distinctly described by the authors as 'Moral
Interludes.' In the Interludes the realism of the Moralities became still
more pronounced, so that the typical Interlude is nothing more than a
coarse farce, with no pretense at religious or ethical meaning. The name
Interlude denotes literally 'a play between,' but the meaning intended
(between whom or what) is uncertain. The plays were given sometimes in the
halls of nobles and gentlemen, either when banquets were in progress or on
other festival occasions; sometimes before less select audiences in the
town halls or on village greens. The actors were sometimes strolling
companies of players, who might be minstrels 'or rustics, and were
sometimes also retainers of the great nobles, allowed to practice their
dramatic ability on tours about the country when they were not needed for
their masters' entertainment. In the Interlude-Moralities and Interludes
first appears _The_ Vice, a rogue who sums up in himself all the Vices
of the older Moralities and serves as the buffoon. One of his most popular
exploits was to belabor the Devil about the stage with a wooden dagger, a
habit which took a great hold on the popular imagination, as numerous
references in later literature testify. Transformed by time, the Vice
appears in the Elizabethan drama, and thereafter, as the clown.

THE LATER INFLUENCE OF THE MEDIEVAL DRAMA. The various dramatic forms from
the tenth century to the middle of the sixteenth at which we have thus
hastily glanced--folk-plays, mummings and disguisings, secular pageants,
Mystery plays, Moralities, and Interludes--have little but a historical
importance. But besides demonstrating the persistence of the popular demand
for drama, they exerted a permanent influence in that they formed certain
stage traditions which were to modify or largely control the great drama of
the Elizabethan period and to some extent of later times. Among these
traditions were the disregard for unity, partly of action, but especially
of time and place; the mingling of comedy with even the intensest scenes of
tragedy; the nearly complete lack of stage scenery, with a resultant
willingness in the audience to make the largest possible imaginative
assumptions; the presence of certain stock figures, such as the clown; and
the presentation of women's parts by men and boys. The plays, therefore,
must be reckoned with in dramatic history.

CHAPTER V

PERIOD IV. THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY. THE RENAISSANCE AND THE REIGN OF
ELIZABETH [Footnote: George Eliot's 'Romola' gives one of the best pictures
of the spirit of the Renaissance in Italy. Tennyson's 'Queen Mary,' though
it is weak as a drama, presents clearly some of the conditions of the
Reformation period in England.]

THE RENAISSANCE. The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are the period of
the European Renaissance or New Birth, one of the three or four great
transforming movements of European history. This impulse by which the
medieval society of scholasticism, feudalism, and chivalry was to be made
over into what we call the modern world came first from Italy. Italy, like
the rest of the Roman Empire, had been overrun and conquered in the fifth
century by the barbarian Teutonic tribes, but the devastation had been less
complete there than in the more northern lands, and there, even more,
perhaps, than in France, the bulk of the people remained Latin in blood and
in character. Hence it resulted that though the Middle Ages were in Italy a
period of terrible political anarchy, yet Italian culture recovered far
more rapidly than that of the northern nations, whom the Italians continued
down to the modern period to regard contemptuously as still mere
barbarians. By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, further, the
Italians had become intellectually one of the keenest races whom the world
has ever known, though in morals they were sinking to almost incredible
corruption. Already in fourteenth century Italy, therefore, the movement
for a much fuller and freer intellectual life had begun, and we have seen
that by Petrarch and Boccaccio something of this spirit was transmitted to
Chaucer. In England Chaucer was followed by the medievalizing fifteenth
century, but in Italy there was no such interruption.

The Renaissance movement first received definite direction from the
rediscovery and study of Greek literature, which clearly revealed the
unbounded possibilities of life to men who had been groping dissatisfied
within the now narrow limits of medieval thought. Before Chaucer was dead
the study of Greek, almost forgotten in Western Europe during the Middle
Ages, had been renewed in Italy, and it received a still further impulse
when at the taking of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453 Greek scholars
and manuscripts were scattered to the West. It is hard for us to-day to
realize the meaning for the men of the fifteenth century of this revived
knowledge of the life and thought of the Greek race. The medieval Church,
at first merely from the brutal necessities of a period of anarchy, had for
the most part frowned on the joy and beauty of life, permitting pleasure,
indeed, to the laity, but as a thing half dangerous, and declaring that
there was perfect safety only within the walls of the nominally ascetic
Church itself. The intellectual life, also, nearly restricted to priests
and monks, had been formalized and conventionalized, until in spite of the
keenness of its methods and the brilliancy of many of its scholars, it had
become largely barren and unprofitable. The whole sphere of knowledge had
been subjected to the mere authority of the Bible and of a few great minds
of the past, such as Aristotle. All questions were argued and decided on
the basis of their assertions, which had often become wholly inadequate and
were often warped into grotesquely impossible interpretations and
applications. Scientific investigation was almost entirely stifled, and
progress was impossible. The whole field of religion and knowledge had
become largely stagnant under an arbitrary despotism.

To the minds which were being paralyzed under this system, Greek literature
brought the inspiration for which they longed. For it was the literature of
a great and brilliant people who, far from attempting to make a divorce
within man's nature, had aimed to 'see life steadily and see it whole,'
who, giving free play to all their powers, had found in pleasure and beauty
some of the most essential constructive forces, and had embodied beauty in
works of literature and art where the significance of the whole spiritual
life was more splendidly suggested than in the achievements of any, or
almost any, other period. The enthusiasm, therefore, with which the
Italians turned to the study of Greek literature and Greek life was
boundless, and it constantly found fresh nourishment. Every year restored
from forgotten recesses of libraries or from the ruins of Roman villas
another Greek author or volume or work of art, and those which had never
been lost were reinterpreted with much deeper insight. Aristotle was again
vitalized, and Plato's noble idealistic philosophy was once more
appreciatively studied and understood. In the light of this new revelation
Latin literature, also, which had never ceased to be almost superstitiously
studied, took on a far greater human significance. Vergil and Cicero were
regarded no longer as mysterious prophets from a dimly imagined past, but
as real men of flesh and blood, speaking out of experiences remote in time
from the present but no less humanly real. The word 'human,' indeed, became
the chosen motto of the Renaissance scholars; 'humanists' was the title
which they applied to themselves as to men for whom 'nothing human was
without appeal.' New creative enthusiasm, also, and magnificent actual new
creation, followed the discovery of the old treasures, creation in
literature and all the arts; culminating particularly in the early
sixteenth century in the greatest group of painters whom any country has
ever seen, Lionardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo. In Italy, to be
sure, the light of the Renaissance had its palpable shadow; in breaking
away from the medieval bondage into the unhesitating enjoyment of all
pleasure, the humanists too often overleaped all restraints and plunged
into wild excess, often into mere sensuality. Hence the Italian Renaissance
is commonly called Pagan, and hence when young English nobles began to
travel to Italy to drink at the fountain head of the new inspiration
moralists at home protested with much reason against the ideas and habits
which many of them brought back with their new clothes and flaunted as
evidences of intellectual emancipation. History, however, shows no great
progressive movement unaccompanied by exaggerations and extravagances.

The Renaissance, penetrating northward, past first from Italy to France,
but as early as the middle of the fifteenth century English students were
frequenting the Italian universities. Soon the study of Greek was
introduced into England, also, first at Oxford; and it was cultivated with
such good results that when, early in the sixteenth century, the great
Dutch student and reformer, Erasmus, unable through poverty to reach Italy,
came to Oxford instead, he found there a group of accomplished scholars and
gentlemen whose instruction and hospitable companionship aroused his
unbounded delight. One member of this group was the fine-spirited John
Colet, later Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, who was to bring new
life into the secondary education of English boys by the establishment of
St. Paul's Grammar School, based on the principle of kindness in place of
the merciless severity of the traditional English system.

Great as was the stimulus of literary culture, it was only one of several
influences that made up the Renaissance. While Greek was speaking so
powerfully to the cultivated class, other forces were contributing to
revolutionize life as a whole and all men's outlook upon it. The invention
of printing, multiplying books in unlimited quantities where before there
had been only a few manuscripts laboriously copied page by page, absolutely
transformed all the processes of knowledge and almost of thought. Not much
later began the vast expansion of the physical world through geographical
exploration. Toward the end of the fifteenth century the Portuguese sailor,
Vasco da Gama, finishing the work of Diaz, discovered the sea route to
India around the Cape of Good Hope. A few years earlier Columbus had
revealed the New World and virtually proved that the earth is round, a
proof scientifically completed a generation after him when Magellan's ship
actually circled the globe. Following close after Columbus, the Cabots,
Italian-born, but naturalized Englishmen, discovered North America, and for
a hundred years the rival ships of Spain, England, and Portugal filled the
waters of the new West and the new East. In America handfuls of Spanish
adventurers conquered great empires and despatched home annual treasure
fleets of gold and silver, which the audacious English sea-captains, half
explorers and half pirates, soon learned to intercept and plunder. The
marvels which were constantly being revealed as actual facts seemed no less
wonderful than the extravagances of medieval romance; and it was scarcely
more than a matter of course that men should search in the new strange
lands for the fountain of perpetual youth and the philosopher's stone. The
supernatural beings and events of Spenser's 'Faerie Queene' could scarcely
seem incredible to an age where incredulity was almost unknown because it
was impossible to set a bound how far any one might reasonably believe. But
the horizon of man's expanded knowledge was not to be limited even to his
own earth. About the year 1540, the Polish Copernicus opened a still
grander realm of speculation (not to be adequately possessed for several
centuries) by the announcement that our world is not the center of the
universe, but merely one of the satellites of its far-superior sun.

The whole of England was profoundly stirred by the Renaissance to a new and
most energetic life, but not least was this true of the Court, where for a
time literature was very largely to center. Since the old nobility had
mostly perished in the wars, both Henry VII, the founder of the Tudor line,
and his son, Henry VIII, adopted the policy of replacing it with able and
wealthy men of the middle class, who would be strongly devoted to
themselves. The court therefore became a brilliant and crowded circle of
unscrupulous but unusually adroit statesmen, and a center of lavish
entertainments and display. Under this new aristocracy the rigidity of the
feudal system was relaxed, and life became somewhat easier for all the
dependent classes. Modern comforts, too, were largely introduced, and with
them the Italian arts; Tudor architecture, in particular, exhibited the
originality and splendor of an energetic and self-confident age. Further,
both Henries, though perhaps as essentially selfish and tyrannical as
almost any of their predecessors, were politic and far-sighted, and they
took a genuine pride in the prosperity of their kingdom. They encouraged
trade; and in the peace which was their best gift the well-being of the
nation as a whole increased by leaps and bounds.

THE REFORMATION. Lastly, the literature of the sixteenth century and later
was profoundly influenced by that religious result of the Renaissance which
we know as the Reformation. While in Italy the new impulses were chiefly
turned into secular and often corrupt channels, in the Teutonic lands they
deeply stirred the Teutonic conscience. In 1517 Martin Luther, protesting
against the unprincipled and flippant practices that were disgracing
religion, began the breach between Catholicism, with its insistence on the
supremacy of the Church, and Protestantism, asserting the independence of
the individual judgment. In England Luther's action revived the spirit of
Lollardism, which had nearly been crushed out, and in spite of a minority
devoted to the older system, the nation as a whole began to move rapidly
toward change. Advocates of radical revolution thrust themselves forward in
large numbers, while cultured and thoughtful men, including the Oxford
group, indulged the too ideal hope of a gradual and peaceful reform.

The actual course of the religious movement was determined largely by the
personal and political projects of Henry VIII. Conservative at the outset,
Henry even attacked Luther in a pamphlet, which won from the Pope for
himself and his successors the title 'Defender of the Faith.' But when the
Pope finally refused Henry's demand for the divorce from Katharine of
Spain, which would make possible a marriage with Anne Boleyn, Henry angrily
threw off the papal authority and declared himself the Supreme Head of the
Church in England, thus establishing the separate English (Anglican,
Episcopal) church. In the brief reign of Henry's son, Edward VI, the
separation was made more decisive; under Edward's sister, Mary, Catholicism
was restored; but the last of Henry's children, Elizabeth, coming to the
throne in 1558, gave the final victory to the English communion. Under all
these sovereigns (to complete our summary of the movement) the more radical
Protestants, Puritans as they came to be called, were active in agitation,
undeterred by frequent cruel persecution and largely influenced by the
corresponding sects in Germany and by the Presbyterianism established by
Calvin in Geneva and later by John Knox in Scotland. Elizabeth's skilful
management long kept the majority of the Puritans within the English
Church, where they formed an important element, working for simpler
practices and introducing them in congregations which they controlled. But
toward the end of the century and of Elizabeth's reign, feeling grew
tenser, and groups of the Puritans, sometimes under persecution, definitely
separated themselves from the State Church and established various
sectarian bodies. Shortly after 1600, in particular, the Independents, or
Congregationalists, founded in Holland the church which was soon to
colonize New England. At home, under James I, the breach widened, until the
nation was divided into two hostile camps, with results most radically
decisive for literature. But for the present we must return to the early
part of the sixteenth century.

SIR THOMAS MORE AND HIS 'UTOPIA.' Out of the confused and bitter strife of
churches and parties, while the outcome was still uncertain, issued a great
mass of controversial writing which does not belong to literature. A few
works, however, more or less directly connected with the religious
agitation, cannot be passed by.

One of the most attractive and finest spirits of the reign of Henry VIII
was Sir Thomas More. A member of the Oxford group in its second generation,
a close friend of Erasmus, his house a center of humanism, he became even
more conspicuous in public life. A highly successful lawyer, he was rapidly
advanced by Henry VIII in court and in national affairs, until on the fall
of Cardinal Wolsey in 1529 he was appointed, much against his will, to the
highest office open to a subject, that of Lord Chancellor (head of the
judicial system). A devoted Catholic, he took a part which must have been
revolting to himself in the torturing and burning of Protestants; but his
absolute loyalty to conscience showed itself to better purpose when in the
almost inevitable reverse of fortune he chose harsh imprisonment and death
rather than to take the formal oath of allegiance to the king in opposition
to the Pope. His quiet jests on the scaffold suggest the never-failing
sense of humor which was one sign of the completeness and perfect poise of
his character; while the hair-shirt which he wore throughout his life and
the severe penances to which he subjected himself reveal strikingly how the
expression of the deepest convictions of the best natures may be determined
by inherited and outworn modes of thought.

More's most important work was his 'Utopia,' published in 1516. The name,
which is Greek, means No-Place, and the book is one of the most famous of
that series of attempts to outline an imaginary ideal condition of society
which begins with Plato's 'Republic' and has continued to our own time.
'Utopia,' broadly considered, deals primarily with the question which is
common to most of these books and in which both ancient Greece and Europe
of the Renaissance took a special interest, namely the question of the
relation of the State and the individual. It consists of two parts. In the
first there is a vivid picture of the terrible evils which England was
suffering through war, lawlessness, the wholesale and foolish application
of the death penalty, the misery of the peasants, the absorption of the
land by the rich, and the other distressing corruptions in Church and
State. In the second part, in contrast to all this, a certain imaginary
Raphael Hythlodaye describes the customs of Utopia, a remote island in the
New World, to which chance has carried him. To some of the ideals thus set
forth More can scarcely have expected the world ever to attain; and some of
them will hardly appeal to the majority of readers of any period; but in
the main he lays down an admirable program for human progress, no small
part of which has been actually realized in the four centuries which have
since elapsed.

The controlling purpose in the life of the Utopians is to secure both the
welfare of the State and the full development of the individual under the
ascendancy of his higher faculties. The State is democratic, socialistic,
and communistic, and the will of the individual is subordinated to the
advantage of all, but the real interests of each and all are recognized as
identical. Every one is obliged to work, but not to overwork; six hours a
day make the allotted period; and the rest of the time is free, but with
plentiful provision of lectures and other aids for the education of mind
and spirit. All the citizens are taught the fundamental art, that of
agriculture, and in addition each has a particular trade or profession of
his own. There is no surfeit, excess, or ostentation. Clothing is made for
durability, and every one's garments are precisely like those of every one
else, except that there is a difference between those of men and women and
those of married and unmarried persons. The sick are carefully tended, but
the victims of hopeless or painful disease are mercifully put to death if
they so desire. Crime is naturally at a minimum, but those who persist in
it are made slaves (not executed, for why should the State be deprived of
their services?). Detesting war, the Utopians make a practice of hiring
certain barbarians who, conveniently, are their neighbors, to do whatever
fighting is necessary for their defense, and they win if possible, not by
the revolting slaughter of pitched battles, but by the assassination of
their enemies' generals. In especial, there is complete religious
toleration, except for atheism, and except for those who urge their
opinions with offensive violence.

'Utopia' was written and published in Latin; among the multitude of
translations into many languages the earliest in English, in which it is
often reprinted, is that of Ralph Robinson, made in 1551.

THE ENGLISH BIBLE AND BOOKS OF DEVOTION. To this century of religious
change belongs the greater part of the literary history of the English
Bible and of the ritual books of the English Church. Since the suppression
of the Wiclifite movement the circulation of the Bible in English had been
forbidden, but growing Protestantism insistently revived the demand for it.
The attitude of Henry VIII and his ministers was inconsistent and
uncertain, reflecting their own changing points of view. In 1526 William
Tyndale, a zealous Protestant controversialist then in exile in Germany,
published an excellent English translation of the New Testament. Based on
the proper authority, the Greek original, though with influence from Wiclif
and from the Latin and German (Luther's) version, this has been directly or
indirectly the starting-point for all subsequent English translations
except those of the Catholics.

Ten years later Tyndale suffered martyrdom, but in 1535 Miles Coverdale,
later bishop of Exeter, issued in Germany a translation of the whole Bible
in a more gracious style than Tyndale's, and to this the king and the
established clergy were now ready to give license and favor. Still two
years later appeared a version compounded of those of Tyndale and Coverdale
and called, from the fictitious name of its editor, the 'Matthew' Bible. In
1539, under the direction of Archbishop Cranmer, Coverdale issued a revised
edition, officially authorized for use in churches; its version of the
Psalms still stands as the Psalter of the English Church. In 1560 English
Puritan refugees at Geneva put forth the 'Geneva Bible,' especially
accurate as a translation, which long continued the accepted version for
private use among all parties and for all purposes among the Puritans, in
both Old and New England. Eight years later, under Archbishop Parker, there
was issued in large volume form and for use in churches the 'Bishops'
Bible,' so named because the majority of its thirteen editors were bishops.
This completes the list of important translations down to those of 1611 and
1881, of which we shall speak in the proper place. The Book of Common
Prayer, now used in the English Church coordinately with Bible and Psalter,
took shape out of previous primers of private devotion, litanies, and
hymns, mainly as the work of Archbishop Cranmer during the reign of Edward
VI.

Of the influence of these translations of the Bible on English literature
it is impossible to speak too strongly. They rendered the whole nation
familiar for centuries with one of the grandest and most varied of all
collections of books, which was adopted with ardent patriotic enthusiasm as
one of the chief national possessions, and which has served as an unfailing
storehouse of poetic and dramatic allusions for all later writers. Modern
English literature as a whole is permeated and enriched to an incalculable
degree with the substance and spirit of the English Bible.

WYATT AND SURREY AND THE NEW POETRY. In the literature of fine art also the
new beginning was made during the reign of Henry VIII. This was through the
introduction by Sir Thomas Wyatt of the Italian fashion of lyric poetry.
Wyatt, a man of gentle birth, entered Cambridge at the age of twelve and
received his degree of M. A. seven years later. His mature life was that of
a courtier to whom the king's favor brought high appointments, with such
vicissitudes of fortune, including occasional imprisonments, as formed at
that time a common part of the courtier's lot. Wyatt, however, was not a
merely worldly person, but a Protestant seemingly of high and somewhat
severe moral character. He died in 1542 at the age of thirty-nine of a
fever caught as he was hastening, at the king's command, to meet and
welcome the Spanish ambassador.

On one of his missions to the Continent, Wyatt, like Chaucer, had visited
Italy. Impressed with the beauty of Italian verse and the contrasting
rudeness of that of contemporary England, he determined to remodel the
latter in the style of the former. Here a brief historical retrospect is
necessary. The Italian poetry of the sixteenth century had itself been
originally an imitation, namely of the poetry of Provence in Southern
France. There, in the twelfth century, under a delightful climate and in a
region of enchanting beauty, had arisen a luxurious civilization whose
poets, the troubadours, many of them men of noble birth, had carried to the
furthest extreme the woman-worship of medieval chivalry and had enshrined
it in lyric poetry of superb and varied sweetness and beauty. In this
highly conventionalized poetry the lover is forever sighing for his lady, a
correspondingly obdurate being whose favor is to be won only by years of
the most unqualified and unreasoning devotion. From Provence, Italy had
taken up the style, and among the other forms for its expression, in the
twelfth and thirteenth centuries, had devised the poem of a single
fourteen-line stanza which we call the sonnet. The whole movement had found
its great master in Petrarch, who, in hundreds of poems, mostly sonnets, of
perfect beauty, had sung the praises and cruelty of his nearly imaginary
Laura.

It was this highly artificial but very beautiful poetic fashion which Wyatt
deliberately set about to introduce into England. The nature and success of
his innovation can be summarized in a few definite statements.

1. Imitating Petrarch, Wyatt nearly limits himself as regards substance to
the treatment of the artificial love-theme, lamenting the unkindness of
ladies who very probably never existed and whose favor in any case he
probably regarded very lightly; yet even so, he often strikes a manly
English note of independence, declaring that if the lady continues
obstinate he will not die for her love.

2. Historically much the most important feature of Wyatt's experiment was
the introduction of the sonnet, a very substantial service indeed; for not
only did this form, like the love-theme, become by far the most popular one
among English lyric poets of the next two generations, setting a fashion
which was carried to an astonishing excess; but it is the only artificial
form of foreign origin which has ever been really adopted and naturalized
in English, and it still remains the best instrument for the terse
expression of a single poetic thought. Wyatt, it should be observed,
generally departs from the Petrarchan rime-scheme, on the whole
unfortunately, by substituting a third quatrain for the first four lines of
the sestet. That is, while Petrarch's rime-arrangement is either _a b b a
a b b a c d c d c d_, or _a b b a a b b a c d e c d e_, Wyatt's is
usually _a b b a a b b a c d d c e e_.

3. In his attempted reformation of English metrical irregularity Wyatt, in
his sonnets, shows only the uncertain hand of a beginner. He generally
secures an equal number of syllables in each line, but he often merely
counts them off on his fingers, wrenching the accents all awry, and often
violently forcing the rimes as well. In his songs, however, which are much
more numerous than the sonnets, he attains delightful fluency and melody.
His 'My Lute, Awake,' and 'Forget Not Yet' are still counted among the
notable English lyrics.

4. A particular and characteristic part of the conventional Italian lyric
apparatus which Wyatt transplanted was the 'conceit.' A conceit may be
defined as an exaggerated figure of speech or play on words in which
intellectual cleverness figures at least as largely as real emotion and
which is often dragged out to extremely complicated lengths of literal
application. An example is Wyatt's declaration (after Petrarch) that his
love, living in his heart, advances to his face and there encamps,
displaying his banner (which merely means that the lover blushes with his
emotion). In introducing the conceit Wyatt fathered the most conspicuous of
the superficial general features which were to dominate English poetry for
a century to come.

5. Still another, minor, innovation of Wyatt was the introduction into
English verse of the Horatian 'satire' (moral poem, reflecting on current
follies) in the form of three metrical letters to friends. In these the
meter is the _terza rima_ of Dante.

Wyatt's work was continued by his poetical disciple and successor, Henry
Howard, who, as son of the Duke of Norfolk, held the courtesy title of Earl
of Surrey. A brilliant though wilful representative of Tudor chivalry, and
distinguished in war, Surrey seems to have occupied at Court almost the
same commanding position as Sir Philip Sidney in the following generation.
His career was cut short in tragically ironical fashion at the age of
thirty by the plots of his enemies and the dying bloodthirstiness of King
Henry, which together led to his execution on a trumped-up charge of
treason. It was only one of countless brutal court crimes, but it seems the
more hateful because if the king had died a single day earlier Surrey could
have been saved.

Surrey's services to poetry were two: 1. He improved on the versification
of Wyatt's sonnets, securing fluency and smoothness. 2. In a translation of
two books of Vergil's 'Aneid' he introduced, from the Italian, pentameter
blank verse, which was destined thenceforth to be the meter of English
poetic drama and of much of the greatest English non-dramatic poetry.
Further, though his poems are less numerous than those of Wyatt, his range
of subjects is somewhat broader, including some appreciative treatment of
external Nature. He seems, however, somewhat less sincere than his teacher.
In his sonnets he abandoned the form followed by Wyatt and adopted (still
from the Italian) the one which was subsequently used by Shakspere,
consisting of three independent quatrains followed, as with Wyatt, by a
couplet which sums up the thought with epigrammatic force, thus: _a b a b
c d c d e f e f g g_.

Wyatt and Surrey set a fashion at Court; for some years it seems to have
been an almost necessary accomplishment for every young noble to turn off
love poems after Italian and French models; for France too had now taken up
the fashion. These poems were generally and naturally regarded as the
property of the Court and of the gentry, and circulated at first only in
manuscript among the author's friends; but the general public became
curious about them, and in 1557 one of the publishers of the day, Richard
Tottel, securing a number of those of Wyatt, Surrey, and a few other noble
or gentle authors, published them in a little volume, which is known as
'Tottel's Miscellany.' Coming as it does in the year before the accession
of Queen Elizabeth, at the end of the comparatively barren reigns of Edward
and Mary, this book is taken by common consent as marking the beginning of
the literature of the Elizabethan period. It was the premature predecessor,
also, of a number of such anthologies which were published during the
latter half of Elizabeth's reign.

THE ELIZABETHAN PERIOD. [Footnote: Vivid pictures of the Elizabethan period
are given in Charles Kingsley's 'Westward, ho!' and in Scott's
'Kenilworth.' Scott's 'The Monastery' and 'The Abbot' deal less
successfully with the same period in Scotland.] The earlier half of
Elizabeth's reign, also, though not lacking in literary effort, produced no
work of permanent importance. After the religious convulsions of half a
century time was required for the development of the internal quiet and
confidence from which a great literature could spring. At length, however,
the hour grew ripe and there came the greatest outburst of creative energy
in the whole history of English literature. Under Elizabeth's wise guidance
the prosperity and enthusiasm of the nation had risen to the highest pitch,
and London in particular was overflowing with vigorous life. A special
stimulus of the most intense kind came from the struggle with Spain. After
a generation of half-piratical depredations by the English seadogs against
the Spanish treasure fleets and the Spanish settlements in America, King
Philip, exasperated beyond all patience and urged on by a bigot's zeal for
the Catholic Church, began deliberately to prepare the Great Armada, which
was to crush at one blow the insolence, the independence, and the religion
of England. There followed several long years of breathless suspense; then
in 1588 the Armada sailed and was utterly overwhelmed in one of the most
complete disasters of the world's history. Thereupon the released energy of
England broke out exultantly into still more impetuous achievement in
almost every line of activity. The great literary period is taken by common
consent to begin with the publication of Spenser's 'Shepherd's Calendar' in
1579, and to end in some sense at the death of Elizabeth in 1603, though in
the drama, at least, it really continues many years longer.

Several general characteristics of Elizabethan literature and writers
should be indicated at the outset. 1. The period has the great variety of
almost unlimited creative force; it includes works of many kinds in both
verse and prose, and ranges in spirit from the loftiest Platonic idealism
or the most delightful romance to the level of very repulsive realism. 2.
It was mainly dominated, however, by the spirit of romance (above, pp.
95-96). 3. It was full also of the spirit of dramatic action, as befitted
an age whose restless enterprise was eagerly extending itself to every
quarter of the globe. 4. In style it often exhibits romantic luxuriance,
which sometimes takes the form of elaborate affectations of which the
favorite 'conceit' is only the most apparent. 5. It was in part a period of
experimentation, when the proper material and limits of literary forms were
being determined, oftentimes by means of false starts and grandiose
failures. In particular, many efforts were made to give prolonged poetical
treatment to many subjects essentially prosaic, for example to systems of
theological or scientific thought, or to the geography of all England. 6.
It continued to be largely influenced by the literature of Italy, and to a
less degree by those of France and Spain. 7. The literary spirit was
all-pervasive, and the authors were men (not yet women) of almost every
class, from distinguished courtiers, like Ralegh and Sidney, to the company
of hack writers, who starved in garrets and hung about the outskirts of the
bustling taverns.

PROSE FICTION. The period saw the beginning, among other things, of English
prose fiction of something like the later modern type. First appeared a
series of collections of short tales chiefly translated from Italian
authors, to which tales the Italian name 'novella' (novel) was applied.
Most of the separate tales are crude or amateurish and have only historical
interest, though as a class they furnished the plots for many Elizabethan
dramas, including several of Shakspere's. The most important collection was
Painter's 'Palace of Pleasure,' in 1566. The earliest original, or partly
original, English prose fictions to appear were handbooks of morals and
manners in story form, and here the beginning was made by John Lyly, who is
also of some importance in the history of the Elizabethan drama. In 1578
Lyly, at the age of twenty-five, came from Oxford to London, full of the
enthusiasm of Renaissance learning, and evidently determined to fix himself
as a new and dazzling star in the literary sky. In this ambition he
achieved a remarkable and immediate success, by the publication of a little
book entitled 'Euphues and His Anatomie of Wit.' 'Euphues' means 'the
well-bred man,' and though there is a slight action, the work is mainly a
series of moralizing disquisitions (mostly rearranged from Sir Thomas
North's translation of 'The Dial of Princes' of the Spaniard Guevara) on
love, religion, and conduct. Most influential, however, for the time-being,
was Lyly's style, which is the most conspicuous English example of the
later Renaissance craze, then rampant throughout Western Europe, for
refining and beautifying the art of prose expression in a mincingly
affected fashion. Witty, clever, and sparkling at all costs, Lyly takes
especial pains to balance his sentences and clauses antithetically, phrase
against phrase and often word against word, sometimes emphasizing the
balance also by an exaggerated use of alliteration and assonance. A
representative sentence is this: 'Although there be none so ignorant that
doth not know, neither any so impudent that will not confesse, friendship
to be the jewell of humaine joye; yet whosoever shall see this amitie
grounded upon a little affection, will soone conjecture that it shall be
dissolved upon a light occasion.' Others of Lyly's affectations are
rhetorical questions, hosts of allusions to classical history, and
literature, and an unfailing succession of similes from all the recondite
knowledge that he can command, especially from the fantastic collection of
fables which, coming down through the Middle Ages from the Roman writer
Pliny, went at that time by the name of natural history and which we have
already encountered in the medieval Bestiaries. Preposterous by any
reasonable standard, Lyly's style, 'Euphuism,' precisely hit the Court
taste of his age and became for a decade its most approved conversational
dialect.

In literature the imitations of 'Euphues' which flourished for a while gave
way to a series of romances inaugurated by the 'Arcadia' of Sir Philip
Sidney. Sidney's brilliant position for a few years as the noblest
representative of chivalrous ideals in the intriguing Court of Elizabeth is
a matter of common fame, as is his death in 1586 at the age of thirty-two
during the siege of Zutphen in Holland. He wrote 'Arcadia' for the
amusement of his sister, the Countess of Pembroke, during a period of
enforced retirement beginning in 1580, but the book was not published until
ten years later. It is a pastoral romance, in the general style of Italian
and Spanish romances of the earlier part of the century. The pastoral is
the most artificial literary form in modern fiction. It may be said to have
begun in the third century B. C. with the perfectly sincere poems of the
Greek Theocritus, who gives genuine expression to the life of actual
Sicilian shepherds. But with successive Latin, Medieval, and Renaissance
writers in verse and prose the country characters and setting had become
mere disguises, sometimes allegorical, for the expression of the very far
from simple sentiments of the upper classes, and sometimes for their partly
genuine longing, the outgrowth of sophisticated weariness and ennui, for
rural naturalness. Sidney's very complicated tale of adventures in love and
war, much longer than any of its successors, is by no means free from
artificiality, but it finely mirrors his own knightly spirit and remains a
permanent English classic. Among his followers were some of the better
hack-writers of the time, who were also among the minor dramatists and
poets, especially Robert Greene and Thomas Lodge. Lodge's 'Rosalynde,' also
much influenced by Lyly, is in itself a pretty story and is noteworthy as
the original of Shakspere's 'As You Like It.'

Lastly, in the concluding decade of the sixteenth century, came a series of
realistic stories depicting chiefly, in more or less farcical spirit, the
life of the poorer classes. They belonged mostly to that class of realistic
fiction which is called picaresque, from the Spanish word 'picaro,' a
rogue, because it began in Spain with the 'Lazarillo de Tormes' of Diego de
Mendoza, in 1553, and because its heroes are knavish serving-boys or
similar characters whose unprincipled tricks and exploits formed the
substance of the stories. In Elizabethan England it produced nothing of
individual note.

EDMUND SPENSER, 1552-1599. The first really commanding figure in the
Elizabethan period, and one of the chief of all English poets, is Edmund
Spenser. [Footnote: His name should never be spelled with a _c_.] Born
in London in 1552, the son of a clothmaker, Spenser past from the newly
established Merchant Taylors' school to Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, as a
sizar, or poor student, and during the customary seven years of residence
took the degrees of B. A. and, in 1576, of M. A. At Cambridge he
assimilated two of the controlling forces of his life, the moderate
Puritanism of his college and Platonic idealism. Next, after a year or two
with his kinspeople in Lancashire, in the North of England, he came to
London, hoping through literature to win high political place, and attached
himself to the household of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, Queen
Elizabeth's worthless favorite. Together with Sidney, who was Leicester's
nephew, he was for a while a member of a little group of students who
called themselves 'The Areopagus' and who, like occasional other
experimenters of the later Renaissance period, attempted to make over
English versification by substituting for rime and accentual meter the
Greek and Latin system based on exact quantity of syllables. Spenser,
however, soon outgrew this folly and in 1579 published the collection of
poems which, as we have already said, is commonly taken as marking the
beginning of the great Elizabethan literary period, namely 'The Shepherd's
Calendar.' This is a series of pastoral pieces (eclogues, Spenser calls
them, by the classical name) twelve in number, artificially assigned one to
each month in the year. The subjects are various--the conventionalized love
of the poet for a certain Rosalind; current religious controversies in
allegory; moral questions; the state of poetry in England; and the praises
of Queen Elizabeth, whose almost incredible vanity exacted the most fulsome
flattery from every writer who hoped to win a name at her court. The
significance of 'The Shepherd's Calendar' lies partly in its genuine
feeling for external Nature, which contrasts strongly with the hollow
conventional phrases of the poetry of the previous decade, and especially
in the vigor, the originality, and, in some of the eclogues, the beauty, of
the language and of the varied verse. It was at once evident that here a
real poet had appeared. An interesting innovation, diversely judged at the
time and since, was Spenser's deliberate employment of rustic and archaic
words, especially of the Northern dialect, which he introduced partly
because of their appropriateness to the imaginary characters, partly for
the sake of freshness of expression. They, like other features of the work,
point forward to 'The Faerie Queene.'

In the uncertainties of court intrigue literary success did not gain for
Spenser the political rewards which he was seeking, and he was obliged to
content himself, the next year, with an appointment, which he viewed as
substantially a sentence of exile, as secretary to Lord Grey, the governor
of Ireland. In Ireland, therefore, the remaining twenty years of Spenser's
short life were for the most part spent, amid distressing scenes of English
oppression and chronic insurrection among the native Irish. After various
activities during several years Spenser secured a permanent home in
Kilcolman, a fortified tower and estate in the southern part of the island,
where the romantic scenery furnished fit environment for a poet's
imagination. And Spenser, able all his life to take refuge in his art from
the crass realities of life, now produced many poems, some of them short,
but among the others the immortal 'Faerie Queene.' The first three books of
this, his crowning achievement, Spenser, under enthusiastic encouragement
from Ralegh, brought to London and published in 1590. The dedication is to
Queen Elizabeth, to whom, indeed, as its heroine, the poem pays perhaps the
most splendid compliment ever offered to any human being in verse. She
responded with an uncertain pension of L50 (equivalent to perhaps $1500 at
the present time), but not with the gift of political preferment which was
still Spenser's hope; and in some bitterness of spirit he retired to
Ireland, where in satirical poems he proceeded to attack the vanity of the
world and the fickleness of men. His courtship and, in 1594, his marriage
produced his sonnet sequence, called 'Amoretti' (Italian for 'Love-poems'),
and his 'Epithalamium,' the most magnificent of marriage hymns in English
and probably in world-literature; though his 'Prothalamium,' in honor of
the marriage of two noble sisters, is a near rival to it.

Spenser, a zealous Protestant as well as a fine-spirited idealist, was in
entire sympathy with Lord Grey's policy of stern repression of the Catholic
Irish, to whom, therefore, he must have appeared merely as one of the hated
crew of their pitiless tyrants. In 1598 he was appointed sheriff of the
county of Cork; but a rebellion which broke out proved too strong for him,
and he and his family barely escaped from the sack and destruction of his
tower. He was sent with despatches to the English Court and died in London
in January, 1599, no doubt in part as a result of the hardships that he had
suffered. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Spenser's 'Faerie Queene' is not only one of the longest but one of the
greatest of English poems; it is also very characteristically Elizabethan.
To deal with so delicate a thing by the method of mechanical analysis seems
scarcely less than profanation, but accurate criticism can proceed in no
other way.

1. _Sources and Plan_. Few poems more clearly illustrate the variety
of influences from which most great literary works result. In many respects
the most direct source was the body of Italian romances of chivalry,
especially the 'Orlando Furioso' of Ariosto, which was written in the early
part of the sixteenth century. These romances, in turn, combine the
personages of the medieval French epics of Charlemagne with something of
the spirit of Arthurian romance and with a Renaissance atmosphere of magic
and of rich fantastic beauty. Spenser borrows and absorbs all these things
and moreover he imitates Ariosto closely, often merely translating whole
passages from his work. But this use of the Italian romances, further,
carries with it a large employment of characters, incidents, and imagery
from classical mythology and literature, among other things the elaborated
similes of the classical epics. Spenser himself is directly influenced,
also, by the medieval romances. Most important of all, all these elements
are shaped to the purpose of the poem by Spenser's high moral aim, which in
turn springs largely from his Platonic idealism.

What the plan of the poem is Spenser explains in a prefatory letter to Sir
Walter Ralegh. The whole is a vast epic allegory, aiming, in the first
place, to portray the virtues which make up the character of a perfect
knight; an ideal embodiment, seen through Renaissance conceptions, of the
best in the chivalrous system which in Spenser's time had passed away, but
to which some choice spirits still looked back with regretful admiration.
As Spenser intended, twelve moral virtues of the individual character, such
as Holiness and Temperance, were to be presented, each personified in the
hero of one of twelve Books; and the crowning virtue, which Spenser, in
Renaissance terms, called Magnificence, and which may be interpreted as
Magnanimity, was to figure as Prince (King) Arthur, nominally the central
hero of the whole poem, appearing and disappearing at frequent intervals.
Spenser states in his prefatory letter that if he shall carry this first
projected labor to a successful end he may continue it in still twelve
other Books, similarly allegorizing twelve political virtues. The
allegorical form, we should hardly need to be reminded, is another heritage
from medieval literature, but the effort to shape a perfect character,
completely equipped to serve the State, was characteristically of the
Platonizing Renaissance. That the reader may never be in danger of
forgetting his moral aim, Spenser fills the poem with moral observations,
frequently setting them as guides at the beginning of the cantos.

2. _The Allegory. Lack of Unity_. So complex and vast a plan could
scarcely have been worked out by any human genius in a perfect and clear
unity, and besides this, Spenser, with all his high endowments, was
decidedly weak in constructive skill. The allegory, at the outset, even in
Spenser's own statement, is confused and hazy. For beyond the primary moral
interpretation, Spenser applies it in various secondary or parallel ways.
In the widest sense, the entire struggle between the good and evil
characters is to be taken as figuring forth the warfare both in the
individual soul and in the world at large between Righteousness and Sin;
and in somewhat narrower senses, between Protestantism and Catholicism, and
between England and Spain. In some places, also, it represents other events
and aspects of European politics. Many of the single persons of the story,
entering into each of these overlapping interpretations, bear double or
triple roles. Gloriana, the Fairy Queen, is abstractly Glory, but humanly
she is Queen Elizabeth; and from other points of view Elizabeth is
identified with several of the lesser heroines. So likewise the witch
Duessa is both Papal Falsehood and Mary Queen of Scots; Prince Arthur both
Magnificence and (with sorry inappropriateness) the Earl of Leicester; and
others of the characters stand with more or less consistency for such
actual persons as Philip II of Spain, Henry IV of France, and Spenser's
chief, Lord Grey. In fact, in Renaissance spirit, and following Sidney's
'Defense of Poesie,' Spenser attempts to harmonize history, philosophy,
ethics, and politics, subordinating them all to the art of poetry. The plan
is grand but impracticable, and except for the original moral
interpretation, to which in the earlier books the incidents are skilfully
adapted, it is fruitless as one reads to undertake to follow the
allegories. Many readers are able, no doubt, merely to disregard them, but
there are others, like Lowell, to whom the moral, 'when they come suddenly
upon it, gives a shock of unpleasant surprise, as when in eating
strawberries one's teeth encounter grit.'

The same lack of unity pervades the external story. The first Book begins
abruptly, in the middle; and for clearness' sake Spenser had been obliged
to explain in his prefatory letter that the real commencement must be
supposed to be a scene like those of Arthurian romance, at the court and
annual feast of the Fairy Queen, where twelve adventures had been assigned
to as many knights. Spenser strangely planned to narrate this beginning of
the whole in his final Book, but even if it had been properly placed at the
outset it would have served only as a loose enveloping action for a series
of stories essentially as distinct as those in Malory. More serious,
perhaps, is the lack of unity within the single books. Spenser's genius was
never for strongly condensed narrative, and following his Italian
originals, though with less firmness, he wove his story as a tangled web of
intermingled adventures, with almost endless elaboration and digression.
Incident after incident is broken off and later resumed and episode after
episode is introduced, until the reader almost abandons any effort to trace
the main design. A part of the confusion is due to the mechanical plan.
Each Book consists of twelve cantos (of from forty to ninety stanzas each)
and oftentimes Spenser has difficulty in filling out the scheme. No one,
certainly, can regret that he actually completed only a quarter of his
projected work. In the six existing Books he has given almost exhaustive
expression to a richly creative imagination, and additional prolongation
would have done little but to repeat.

Still further, the characteristic Renaissance lack of certainty as to the
proper materials for poetry is sometimes responsible for a rudely
inharmonious element in the otherwise delightful romantic atmosphere. For a
single illustration, the description of the House of Alma in Book II, Canto
Nine, is a tediously literal medieval allegory of the Soul and Body; and
occasional realistic details here and there in the poem at large are merely
repellent to more modern taste.

3. _The Lack of Dramatic Reality_. A romantic allegory like 'The
Faerie Queene' does not aim at intense lifelikeness--a certain remoteness
from the actual is one of its chief attractions. But sometimes in Spenser's
poem the reader feels too wide a divorce from reality. Part of this fault
is ascribable to the use of magic, to which there is repeated but
inconsistent resort, especially, as in the medieval romances, for the
protection of the good characters. Oftentimes, indeed, by the persistent
loading of the dice against the villains and scapegoats, the reader's
sympathy is half aroused in their behalf. Thus in the fight of the Red
Cross Knight with his special enemy, the dragon, where, of course, the
Knight must be victorious, it is evident that without the author's help the
dragon is incomparably the stronger. Once, swooping down on the Knight, he
seizes him in his talons (whose least touch was elsewhere said to be fatal)
and bears him aloft into the air. The valor of the Knight compels him to
relax his hold, but instead of merely dropping the Knight to certain death,
he carefully flies back to earth and sets him down in safety. More definite
regard to the actual laws of life would have given the poem greater
firmness without the sacrifice of any of its charm.

4. _The Romantic Beauty. General Atmosphere and Description._ Critical
sincerity has required us to dwell thus long on the defects of the poem;
but once recognized we should dismiss them altogether from mind and turn
attention to the far more important beauties. The great qualities of 'The
Faerie Queene' are suggested by the title, 'The Poets' Poet,' which Charles
Lamb, with happy inspiration, applied to Spenser. Most of all are we
indebted to Spenser's high idealism. No poem in the world is nobler than
'The Faerie Queene' in atmosphere and entire effect. Spenser himself is
always the perfect gentleman of his own imagination, and in his company we
are secure from the intrusion of anything morally base or mean. But in him,
also, moral beauty is in full harmony with the beauty of art and the
senses. Spenser was a Puritan, but a Puritan of the earlier English
Renaissance, to whom the foes of righteousness were also the foes of
external loveliness. Of the three fierce Saracen brother-knights who
repeatedly appear in the service of Evil, two are Sansloy, the enemy of
law, and Sansfoy, the enemy of religion, but the third is Sansjoy, enemy of
pleasure. And of external beauty there has never been a more gifted lover
than Spenser. We often feel, with Lowell, that 'he is the pure sense of the
beautiful incarnated.' The poem is a romantically luxuriant wilderness of
dreamily or languorously delightful visions, often rich with all the
harmonies of form and motion and color and sound. As Lowell says, 'The true
use of Spenser is as a gallery of pictures which we visit as the mood takes
us, and where we spend an hour or two, long enough to sweeten our
perceptions, not so long as to cloy them.' His landscapes, to speak of one
particular feature, are usually of a rather vague, often of a vast nature,
as suits the unreality of his poetic world, and usually, since Spenser was
not a minute observer, follow the conventions of Renaissance literature.
They are commonly great plains, wide and gloomy forests (where the trees of
many climates often grow together in impossible harmony), cool caves--in
general, lonely, quiet, or soothing scenes, but all unquestionable portions
of a delightful fairyland. To him, it should be added, as to most men
before modern Science had subdued the world to human uses, the sublime
aspects of Nature were mainly dreadful; the ocean, for example, seemed to
him a raging 'waste of waters, wide and deep,' a mysterious and insatiate
devourer of the lives of men.

To the beauty of Spenser's imagination, ideal and sensuous, corresponds his
magnificent command of rhythm and of sound. As a verbal melodist,
especially a melodist of sweetness and of stately grace, and as a harmonist
of prolonged and complex cadences, he is unsurpassable. But he has full
command of his rhythm according to the subject, and can range from the most
delicate suggestion of airy beauty to the roar of the tempest or the
strident energy of battle. In vocabulary and phraseology his fluency
appears inexhaustible. Here, as in 'The Shepherd's Calendar,' he
deliberately introduces, especially from Chaucer, obsolete words and forms,
such as the inflectional ending in _-en_, which distinctly contribute
to his romantic effect. His constant use of alliteration is very skilful;
the frequency of the alliteration on _w_ is conspicuous but apparently
accidental.

5. _The Spenserian Stanza._ For the external medium of all this beauty
Spenser, modifying the _ottava rima_ of Ariosto (a stanza which rimes
_abababcc_), invented the stanza which bears his own name and which is
the only artificial stanza of English origin that has ever passed into
currency. [Footnote: Note that this is not inconsistent with what is said
above, p. 102, of the sonnet.] The rime-scheme is _ababbcbcc_, and in
the last line the iambic pentameter gives place to an Alexandrine (an
iambic hexameter). Whether or not any stanza form is as well adapted as
blank verse or the rimed couplet for prolonged narrative is an interesting
question, but there can be no doubt that Spenser's stanza, firmly unified,
in spite of its length, by its central couplet and by the finality of the
last line, is a discovery of genius, and that the Alexandrine, 'forever
feeling for the next stanza,' does much to bind the stanzas together. It
has been adopted in no small number of the greatest subsequent English
poems, including such various ones as Burns' 'Cotter's Saturday Night,'
Byron's 'Childe Harold,' Keats' 'Eve of St. Agnes,' and Shelley's
'Adonais.'

In general style and spirit, it should be added, Spenser has been one of
the most powerful influences on all succeeding English romantic poetry. Two
further sentences of Lowell well summarize his whole general achievement:
'His great merit is in the ideal treatment with which he glorified common
things and gilded them with a ray of enthusiasm. He is a standing protest
against the tyranny of the Commonplace, and sows the seeds of a noble
discontent with prosaic views of life and the dull uses to which it may be
put.'

ELIZABETHAN LYRIC POETRY. 'The Faerie Queene' is the only long Elizabethan
poem of the very highest rank, but Spenser, as we have seen, is almost
equally conspicuous as a lyric poet. In that respect he was one among a
throng of melodists who made the Elizabethan age in many respects the
greatest lyric period in the history of English or perhaps of any
literature. Still grander, to be sure, by the nature of the two forms, was
the Elizabethan achievement in the drama, which we shall consider in the
next chapter; but the lyrics have the advantage in sheer delightfulness
and, of course, in rapid and direct appeal.

The zest for lyric poetry somewhat artificially inaugurated at Court by
Wyatt and Surrey seems to have largely subsided, like any other fad, after
some years, but it vigorously revived, in much more genuine fashion, with
the taste for other imaginative forms of literature, in the last two
decades of Elizabeth's reign. It revived, too, not only among the courtiers
but among all classes; in no other form of literature was the diversity of
authors so marked; almost every writer of the period who was not purely a
man of prose seems to have been gifted with the lyric power.

The qualities which especially distinguish the Elizabethan lyrics are
fluency, sweetness, melody, and an enthusiastic joy in life, all
spontaneous, direct, and exquisite. Uniting the genuineness of the popular
ballad with the finer sense of conscious artistic poetry, these poems
possess a charm different, though in an only half definable way, from that
of any other lyrics. In subjects they display the usual lyric variety.
There are songs of delight in Nature; a multitude of love poems of all
moods; many pastorals, in which, generally, the pastoral conventions sit
lightly on the genuine poetical feeling; occasional patriotic outbursts;
and some reflective and religious poems. In stanza structure the number of
forms is unusually great, but in most cases stanzas are internally varied
and have a large admixture of short, ringing or musing, lines. The lyrics
were published sometimes in collections by single authors, sometimes in the
series of anthologies which succeeded to Tottel's 'Miscellany.' Some of
these anthologies were books of songs with the accompanying music; for
music, brought with all the other cultural influences from Italy and
France, was now enthusiastically cultivated, and the soft melody of many of
the best Elizabethan lyrics is that of accomplished composers. Many of the
lyrics, again, are included as songs in the dramas of the time; and
Shakspere's comedies show him nearly as preeminent among the lyric poets as
among the playwrights.

Some of the finest of the lyrics are anonymous. Among the best of the known
poets are these: George Gascoigne (about 1530-1577), a courtier and
soldier, who bridges the gap between Surrey and Sidney; Sir Edward Dyer
(about 1545-1607), a scholar and statesman, author of one perfect lyric,
'My mind to me a kingdom is'; John Lyly (1553-1606), the Euphuist and
dramatist; Nicholas Breton (about 1545 to about 1626), a prolific writer in
verse and prose and one of the most successful poets of the pastoral style;
Robert Southwell (about 1562-1595), a Jesuit intriguer of ardent piety,
finally imprisoned, tortured, and executed as a traitor; George Peele (1558
to about 1598), the dramatist; Thomas Lodge (about 1558-1625), poet,
novelist, and physician; Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), the dramatist;
Thomas Nash (1567-1601), one of the most prolific Elizabethan hack writers;
Samuel Daniel (1562-1619), scholar and critic, member in his later years of
the royal household of James I; Barnabe Barnes (about 1569-1609); Richard
Barnfield (1574-1627); Sir Walter Ralegh (1552-1618), courtier, statesman,
explorer, and scholar; Joshua Sylvester (1563-1618), linguist and merchant,
known for his translation of the long religious poems of the Frenchman Du
Bartas, through which he exercised an influence on Milton; Francis Davison
(about 1575 to about 1619), son of a counsellor of Queen Elizabeth, a
lawyer; and Thomas Dekker (about 1570 to about 1640), a ne'er-do-weel
dramatist and hack-writer of irrepressible and delightful good spirits.

THE SONNETS. In the last decade, especially, of the century, no other lyric
form compared in popularity with the sonnet. Here England was still
following in the footsteps of Italy and France; it has been estimated that
in the course of the century over three hundred thousand sonnets were
written in Western Europe. In England as elsewhere most of these poems were
inevitably of mediocre quality and imitative in substance, ringing the
changes with wearisome iteration on a minimum of ideas, often with the most
extravagant use of conceits. Petrarch's example was still commonly
followed; the sonnets were generally composed in sequences (cycles) of a
hundred or more, addressed to the poet's more or less imaginary cruel lady,
though the note of manly independence introduced by Wyatt is frequent.
First of the important English sequences is the 'Astrophel and Stella' of
Sir Philip Sidney, written about 1580, published in 1591. 'Astrophel' is a
fanciful half-Greek anagram for the poet's own name, and Stella (Star)
designates Lady Penelope Devereux, who at about this time married Lord
Rich. The sequence may very reasonably be interpreted as an expression of
Platonic idealism, though it is sometimes taken in a sense less consistent
with Sidney's high reputation. Of Spenser's 'Amoretti' we have already
spoken. By far the finest of all the sonnets are the best ones (a
considerable part) of Shakspere's one hundred and fifty-four, which were
not published until 1609 but may have been mostly written before 1600.
Their interpretation has long been hotly debated. It is certain, however,
that they do not form a connected sequence. Some of them are occupied with
urging a youth of high rank, Shakspere's patron, who may have been either
the Earl of Southampton or William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, to marry and
perpetuate his race; others hint the story, real or imaginary, of
Shakspere's infatuation for a 'dark lady,' leading to bitter disillusion;
and still others seem to be occasional expressions of devotion to other
friends of one or the other sex. Here as elsewhere Shakspere's genius, at
its best, is supreme over all rivals; the first recorded criticism speaks
of the 'sugared sweetness' of his sonnets; but his genius is not always at
its best.

JOHN DONNE AND THE BEGINNING OF THE 'METAPHYSICAL' POETRY. The last decade
of the sixteenth century presents also, in the poems of John Donne,
[Footnote: Pronounced _Dun_] a new and very strange style of verse.
Donne, born in 1573, possessed one of the keenest and most powerful
intellects of the time, but his early manhood was largely wasted in
dissipation, though he studied theology and law and seems to have seen
military service. It was during this period that he wrote his love poems.
Then, while living with his wife and children in uncertain dependence on
noble patrons, he turned to religious poetry. At last he entered the
Church, became famous as one of the most eloquent preachers of the time,
and through the favor of King James was rapidly promoted until he was made
Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral. He died in 1631 after having furnished a
striking instance of the fantastic morbidness of the period
(post-Elizabethan) by having his picture painted as he stood wrapped in his
shroud on a funeral urn.

The distinguishing general characteristic of Donne's poetry is the
remarkable combination of an aggressive intellectuality with the lyric form
and spirit. Whether true poetry or mere intellectual cleverness is the
predominant element may reasonably be questioned; but on many readers
Donne's verse exercises a unique attraction. Its definite peculiarities are
outstanding: 1. By a process of extreme exaggeration and minute elaboration
Donne carries the Elizabethan conceits almost to the farthest possible
limit, achieving what Samuel Johnson two centuries later described as
'enormous and disgusting hyperboles.' 2. In so doing he makes relentless
use of the intellect and of verbally precise but actually preposterous
logic, striking out astonishingly brilliant but utterly fantastic flashes
of wit. 3. He draws the material of his figures of speech from highly
unpoetical sources--partly from the activities of every-day life, but
especially from all the sciences and school-knowledge of the time. The
material is abstract, but Donne gives it full poetic concrete
picturesqueness. Thus he speaks of one spirit overtaking another at death
as one bullet shot out of a gun may overtake another which has lesser
velocity but was earlier discharged. It was because of these last two
characteristics that Dr. Johnson applied to Donne and his followers the
rather clumsy name of 'Metaphysical' (Philosophical) poets. 'Fantastic'
would have been a better word. 4. In vigorous reaction against the
sometimes nerveless melody of most contemporary poets Donne often makes his
verse as ruggedly condensed (often as obscure) and as harsh as possible.
Its wrenched accents and slurred syllables sometimes appear absolutely
unmetrical, but it seems that Donne generally followed subtle rhythmical
ideas of his own. He adds to the appearance of irregularity by
experimenting with a large number of lyric stanza forms--a different form,
in fact, for nearly every poem. 5. In his love poems, while his sentiment
is often Petrarchan, he often emphasizes also the English note of
independence, taking as a favorite theme the incredible fickleness of
woman.

In spirit Donne belongs much less to Elizabethan poetry than to the
following period, in which nearly half his life fell. Of his great
influence on the poetry of that period we shall speak in the proper place.

CHAPTER VI

THE DRAMA FROM ABOUT 1550 TO 1642

THE INFLUENCE OF CLASSICAL COMEDY AND TRAGEDY. In Chapter IV we left the
drama at that point, toward the middle of the sixteenth century, when the
Mystery Plays had largely declined and Moralities and Interlude-Farces,
themselves decadent, were sharing in rather confused rivalry that degree of
popular interest which remained unabsorbed by the religious, political, and
social ferment. There was still to be a period of thirty or forty years
before the flowering of the great Elizabethan drama, but they were to be
years of new, if uncertain, beginnings.

The first new formative force was the influence of the classical drama, for
which, with other things classical, the Renaissance had aroused enthusiasm.
This force operated mainly not through writers for popular audiences, like
the authors of most Moralities and Interludes, but through men of the
schools and the universities, writing for performances in their own circles
or in that of the Court. It had now become a not uncommon thing for boys at
the large schools to act in regular dramatic fashion, at first in Latin,
afterward in English translation, some of the plays of the Latin comedians
which had long formed a part of the school curriculum. Shortly after the
middle of the century, probably, the head-master of Westminister School,
Nicholas Udall, took the further step of writing for his boys on the
classical model an original farce-comedy, the amusing 'Ralph Roister
Doister.' This play is so close a copy of Plautus' 'Miles Gloriosus' and
Terence's 'Eunuchus' that there is little that is really English about it;
a much larger element of local realism of the traditional English sort, in
a classical framework, was presented in the coarse but really skillful
'Gammer Gurton's Needle,' which was probably written at about the same
time, apparently by the Cambridge student William Stevenson.

Meanwhile students at the universities, also, had been acting Plautus and
Terence, and further, had been writing and acting Latin tragedies, as well
as comedies, of their own composition. Their chief models for tragedy were
the plays of the first-century Roman Seneca, who may or may not have been
identical with the philosopher who was the tutor of the Emperor Nero. Both
through these university imitations and directly, Seneca's very faulty
plays continued for many years to exercise a great influence on English
tragedy. Falling far short of the noble spirit of Greek tragedy, which they
in turn attempt to copy, Seneca's plays do observe its mechanical
conventions, especially the unities of Action and Time, the use of the
chorus to comment on the action, the avoidance of violent action and deaths
on the stage, and the use of messengers to report such events. For proper
dramatic action they largely substitute ranting moralizing declamation,
with crudely exaggerated passion, and they exhibit a great vein of
melodramatic horror, for instance in the frequent use of the motive of
implacable revenge for murder and of a ghost who incites to it. In the
early Elizabethan period, however, an age when life itself was dramatically
intense and tragic, when everything classic was looked on with reverence,
and when standards of taste were unformed, it was natural enough that such
plays should pass for masterpieces.

A direct imitation of Seneca, famous as the first tragedy in English on
classical lines, was the 'Gorboduc, or Ferrex and Porrex,' of Thomas Norton
and Thomas Sackville, acted in 1562. Its story, like those of some of
Shakspere's plays later, goes back ultimately to the account of one of the
early reigns in Geoffrey of Monmouth's 'History.' 'Gorboduc' outdoes its
Senecan models in tedious moralizing, and is painfully wooden in all
respects; but it has real importance not only because it is the first
regular English tragedy, but because it was the first play to use the
iambic pentameter blank verse which Surrey had introduced to English poetry
and which was destined to be the verse-form of really great English
tragedy. When they wrote the play Norton and Sackville were law students at
the Inner Temple, and from other law students during the following years
came other plays, which were generally acted at festival seasons, such, as
Christmas, at the lawyers' colleges, or before the Queen, though the common
people were also admitted among the audience. Unlike 'Gorboduc,' these
other university plays were not only for the most part crude and coarse in
the same manner as earlier English plays, but in accordance also with the
native English tradition and in violent defiance of the classical principle
of Unity, they generally combined tragical classical stories with realistic
scenes of English comedy (somewhat later with Italian stories).
Nevertheless, and this is the main thing, the more thoughtful members of
the Court and University circles, were now learning from the study of
classical plays a sense for form and the fundamental distinction between
tragedy and comedy.

THE CHRONICLE-HISTORY PLAY. About twenty years before the end of the
century there began to appear, at first at the Court and the Universities,
later on the popular stage, a form of play which was to hold, along with
tragedy and comedy, an important place in the great decades that were to
follow, namely the Chronicle-History Play. This form of play generally
presented the chief events in the whole or a part of the reign of some
English king. It was largely a product of the pride which was being
awakened among the people in the greatness of England under Elizabeth, and
of the consequent desire to know something of the past history of the
country, and it received a great impulse from the enthusiasm aroused by the
struggle with Spain and the defeat of the Armada. It was not, however,
altogether a new creation, for its method was similar to that of the
university plays which dealt with monarchs of classical history. It partly
inherited from them the formless mixture of farcical humor with historical
or supposedly historical fact which it shared with other plays of the time,
and sometimes also an unusually reckless disregard of unity of action,
time, and place. Since its main serious purpose, when it had one, was to
convey information, the other chief dramatic principles, such as careful
presentation of a few main characters and of a universally significant
human struggle, were also generally disregarded. It was only in the hands
of Shakspere that the species was to be moulded into true dramatic form and
to attain real greatness; and after a quarter century of popularity it was
to be reabsorbed into tragedy, of which in fact it was always only a
special variety.

JOHN LYLY. The first Elizabethan dramatist of permanent individual
importance is the comedian John Lyly, of whose early success at Court with
the artificial romance 'Euphues' we have already spoken. From 'Euphues'
Lyly turned to the still more promising work of writing comedies for the
Court entertainments with which Queen Elizabeth was extremely lavish. The
character of Lyly's plays was largely determined by the light and
spectacular nature of these entertainments, and further by the fact that on
most occasions the players at Court were boys. These were primarily the
'children [choir-boys] of the Queen's Chapel,' who for some generations had
been sought out from all parts of England for their good voices and were
very carefully trained for singing and for dramatic performances. The
choir-boys of St. Paul's Cathedral, similarly trained, also often acted
before the Queen. Many of the plays given by these boys were of the
ordinary sorts, but it is evident that they would be most successful in
dainty comedies especially adapted to their boyish capacity. Such comedies
Lyly proceeded to write, in prose. The subjects are from classical
mythology or history or English folk-lore, into which Lyly sometimes weaves
an allegorical presentation of court intrigue. The plots are very slight,
and though the structure is decidedly better than in most previous plays,
the humorous sub-actions sometimes have little connection with the main
action. Characterization is still rudimentary, and altogether the plays
present not so much a picture of reality as 'a faint moonlight reflection
of life.' None the less the best of them, such as 'Alexander and Campaspe,'
are delightful in their sparkling delicacy, which is produced partly by the
carefully-wrought style, similar to that of 'Euphues,' but less artificial,
and is enhanced by the charming lyrics which are scattered through them.
For all this the elaborate scenery and costuming of the Court
entertainments provided a very harmonious background.

These plays were to exert a strong influence on Shakspere's early comedies,
probably suggesting to him: the use of prose for comedy; the value of
snappy and witty dialog; refinement, as well as affectation, of style;
lyric atmosphere; the characters and tone of high comedy, contrasting so
favorably with the usual coarse farce of the period; and further such

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