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Poetry and Courtliness in Renaissance…
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Poetry and Courtliness in Renaissance England (Princeton Legacy Library)

by Daniel Javitch

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Poetry and Courtliness in Renaissance England by Daniel Javitch
This felt like a university thesis that had been expanded into book form by the Princeton University Press, however it was an interesting read and it made some good points. Javitch claims that in the 1580’s courtiers to Queen Elizabeth I were very heavily influenced by Baldassare Castiglione’s [The Book of the Courtier] to such an extent that it shaped their behaviour at Court. He relies heavily on George Puttenham’s [The art of English poesie] published in 1589 which claims that the best poetry obscures and retards the disclosure of its meaning. This was stock in trade to being a courtier and it was no surprise that poetry flourished at Queen Elizabeths court. Javitch says that behaviour and prestige at Court tended to override the education in rhetoric that most courtiers would have grown up with at school.

Sprezzatura was the key skill for a Courtier as Identified by Castiglione. It was the supreme skill of being knowledgable, sophisticated, efficient, and charismatic, without appearing to make any effort. These people at the heart of the cultural centre would both practice and appreciate poetry. As George Gascoigne said: “the art of allegory was to conceal certain truths from the base and profane multitude.” Edmund Spenser and Philip Sidney are used as example of the poetic art of the period, however there is very few references to anyone else. The 1590’s saw a change in the culture; Elizabeth was coming to the end of her long reign and the war with Spain had left the country short of money. Corruption was beginning to take a stranglehold of the court and people in power found it more difficult to keep to the ideals set out in [The Book of The Courtier].

The final chapter in the book looks for evidence of criticism of the Court in Spenser’s [Faerie Queen] and concludes there is more evidence of this in the final three books that were published. After the turn of the century Courtiers were no longer the teachers of poets but were being taught by them to keep standards high. Javitch claims that the clearest purpose of [The Faerie Queen] was “to fashion a gentlemen or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline. Worth a read, but much of it can be read down the middle. 3 stars. ( )
  baswood | Feb 13, 2018 |
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