1590 A good year for literature

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1590 A good year for literature

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1baswood
Edited: Dec 23, 2019, 10:43am

I have over the last eight years or so started reading English literature from the beginnings and for me that was Chaucer. I have now reached the year 1590 which saw a number of plays from the burgeoning Elizabethan renaissance, the publication of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene and perhaps the first novel with Thomas Lodge's Rosalynde

Here is my Working list:

1590 Fair Em - Anonymous, - Mucedorus - Anonymous (Read and reviewed))

1590 Robert Greene - The comical history of Alphonsus, History of Orlando Furioso, Scottish history of James IV, (read and reviewed))

1590 Robert Greene - Greene’s mourning garment & Never too late (read and reviewed)

1590 Thomas Lodge - Rosalynde (read and reviewed)

1590 Thomas Nashe - An Almond for a Parrot (read and reviewed)

1590 George Peele - Famous chronicle of King Edward I (read and reviewed)

1590 Robert Wilson - The three Lords and Ladies of London. (read and reviewed)

1590 Shakespeare -The Taming of the shrew (read and reviewed)

1590 Edmund Spenser - Fairie Queen books 1-3 (read and reviewed)

1590 H R Henry Roberts - A defiance of fortune (gave up halfway)

1590 Tarltons news out of Purgatorie

1588-1590 Arden of Feversham (read and reviewed)

1590-1591 Henry VI part 2

1590-1591 Henry VI part 3

1588-1594 Two Gentlemen of Verona

1589- 1592 Titus Andronicus

2baswood
Nov 4, 2019, 5:09pm

Just when I thought I would get through this list by the end of the year I hit a bit of a roadblock with Spenser's Faerie Queene. Even with cantering through the Canto's (stop it Edmund!) at one per day that's another 33 days.

And Crypto-Willobie has come up with some more must reads probably from around that year and so:

Arden of Feversham

Henry VI part 2

Henry VI part 3

Two Gentlemen of Verona

Titus Andronicus

All associated with Shakespeare have been added

3baswood
Dec 9, 2019, 2:26pm

H R (Henry Roberts`or Henry Robards) A defiance of Fortune is an early attempt at a romantic novel, but is so formulaic for the time that I stopped reading a quarter of the way through.

I have started the play Arden of Faversham in the new Mermaids edition.

Still reading The Faerie Queene

4baswood
Dec 12, 2019, 7:39am



Arden of Faversham - Unknown
An Elizabethan period play that has managed to stay in the repertoire of performed plays right up to recent times, which does not surprise me because of the quality of the writing and the modern feel of the play. It is a play plucked almost in its entirety from Holinshed's chronicles of England Scotland and Ireland published in 1587 which describes in some detail the murder of Arden a gentleman of Faversham by his wife, her lover Mosby and their accomplices. Holinshed apologises for including the event in his history because of it being a private matter or as we might interpret: a domestic affair, but its 'horribleness' and detail would have attracted playwrights as a likely subject for a stage play. The fact that Shakespeare used the Chronicles as a source for several of his plays and that he has been linked with Arden of Faversham ever since Edward Jacob's 1770 edition of the play has not hindered its continuing relative popularity.

Assuming it was written for the stage around 1590; although there are no firm dates for it's performance, points to a further development in the history of the theatre; several reasons place it in advance of other plays performed at the time: the absence of any person of heroic qualities, the very few references to classical antiquity, the very close emulation of a reported historical event and the absence, by and large of magical or mystical events. It has the feeling of a modern day crime story. The play does have its problems, much of it stemming from the uneven quality of its writing with the general consensus being that it was one of the many patchwork productions of the time, with various playwrights in collaboration or later adding to the text. This is apparent from the characterisation of Alice Arden who seems to lurch from one moment portraying herself as a faithful wife to the extreme of a murderous women intent on having her lover at any cost. However it cannot be denied there is enough here in the text for a modern actress to make something of this part, although it might have been a stretch for a boy child actor who would have played the part in Elizabethan times. There is also a noticeable unevenness in the seriousness of the portrayal of a tragic affair, for example here is Alice asking the painter (Clarke) if he has prepared a poison to use against her husband Arden and her speech turns into a play on words between life and love:

Alice. Then this, I hope, if all the rest do fail,
Will catch Master Arden,
And make him wise in death that lived a fool.
Why should he thrust his sickle in our corn,
Or what hath he to do with thee, my love,
Or govern me that am to rule myself?
Forsooth, for credit sake, I must leave thee!
Nay, he must leave to live that we may love,
May live, may love; for what is life but love?
And Love shall last as long as life remains,
And life shall end before my love depart.


The history in Holinshed's chronicle tells of how many attempts there were on Ardens life by the cutthroat pair: Black Will and Shakebag and these are all faithfully written into the play, the problem is that Black Will and Shakebag could appear as a pair of bumbling fools rather than evil mercenaries. So much of the play is taken up with their exploits that more reflective thoughts on the situation by the characters are squeezed into a smaller place. They are there, however; I am thinking of Mosby and Alices thoughts on their relationship and Arden on his marriage to Alice: longer speeches that are attractive to those scholars who see the hand of Shakespeare himself. The very names of Black Will and Shakebag lead one to think of Shakespeare however these were the names taken directly from Holinshed's Chronicle, as was the character Greene. Greene, Shakebag, Black Will are names with which one could invent a sort of conspiracy that this play was worked up by playwrights in some unholy collaboration.

In the 21st century the play has been performed a number of times by various theatre groups, notably the Royal Shakespeare company in 2014. They chose to do it in modern dress, which on the face of it would seem to be a strange decision, because some of the charm of the play is the feeling of a portrayal of life in a prosperous community, not far from London in the Elizabethan era.

A mainly plot driven play that certainly tells a good story with some interesting characters that moves fast enough to be entertaining and which does have its black moments. I enjoyed reading it, but might be more circumspect about seeing a performance of the play 4 stars.

5baswood
Edited: Dec 22, 2019, 8:21am



The Faerie Queene: books 1-3 - Edmund Spenser

Frightened of the Allegory? With Good Reason

In his letter to Sir Walter Raleigh that now serves as an introduction to the poem Spenser claimed that:

"The General end therefore of all the book is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous snd gentle discipline"

From the high sounding tone of the letter it seems to me that Spenser was clear in his mind that he had written (or was going to write) the most important epic poem of the English Renaissance. It harks back to the most popular of books for the gentleman reader: Baldassare Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier which had been translated into English some thirty years previously and was still immensely popular. Spenser was just as ambitious for his poem and for his own inspiration and for the edification of his readers he chose to base his poem on the myths of the knight errants of King Arthur's round table. The poem looks backwards rather than forwards and would have appealed to his readers for this very reason. His readers would also be familiar with the use of allegory, as much contemporary printed material and some popular stage plays were still steeped in its usage.

The first three books of the Faerie Queen were published in 1590. With Sponsorship from Sir Walter Raleigh he was able to get the Royal Seal of approval from Elizabeth I which guaranteed its success and obtained for Spenser a pension for life of £50 per year. The fact that Queen Elizabeth I is celebrated as the glorious queen of the faeries throughout the poem probably did not hinder Spenser's ambition.

Some of the reasons for the Faerie Queene's popularity with readers in the late 16th century, no longer hold good for readers today. It is a poem after all and a very long one at that. The whole thing of 6 (or 7 books if you include the Mutabilitie cantos) amounts to over 36000 lines. Spenser's intention was to write 12 books celebrating the adventures of 12 knights for the Christmas feast, some of us may be relieved that he only managed to get to half way. Then there is the allegory, familiar to Spenser's 16th century readers but not for many readers today and so when we are introduced to the very first character with that famous first line "A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine" it is Red Cross who symbolises Holiness; actually he is trying to achieve holiness and so the reader must have this in mind when trying to account for his actions in the story. Allegory is used in other ways; for example when describing the seven sins, they are characterised, here is Gluttony:

And by his side rode loathsome Gluttony,
Deformed creature, on a filthie swyne;
His belly was up-blowne with luxury,
And eke with fatnesse swollen were his eyne,
And like a Crane° his necke was long and fyne,
With which he swallowed up excessive feast,
For want whereof poore people oft did pyne;
And all the way, most like a brutish beast,
He spued up his gorge, that all did him deteast.


However Spenser rarely leaves his readers floundering, he usually tells us who the allegorical figures are or what they represent: at the start of each book we are told the name of the knight and his/her allegorical representation.

Spenser's language is adapted to fit into his poetic rhyming scheme, but this will be familiar to poetry readers, however his language was said to be archaic even by late 16th century standards, but really too much has been made of this and people who have been exposed to other 16th century writing and spelling will have no problem, for others if you can get to grips with the example above of Gluttony then you will enjoy the poem without a lot of trouble.

The epic proportions of the poem, the allegory and the language may be reasons to hesitate before starting in on a long read, but Spenser's Faerie Queene may be worth a little effort for other reasons. The poetry can be sublime and the syntax is not difficult to follow with most lines being end stopped. The poem is made up of nine line stanzas with a regular rhyming scheme and the final line more often than not provides a summary or commentary on the preceding eight lines.

This is an example of Spenser using the popular trope of a ship lost at sea to describe the hopelessness of ill fortune, or restless needs. It is the female knight Britomart the hero of book three, representing chastity;

"For else my feeble vessell crazd and crackt
Through thy strong buffets and outrageous blowes
cannot endure, but needs it must be wrackt
On the rough rocks, or on the sandy shallowes
The while the love it steres, and fortune rows;
Love my lewd pilot hath a restless mind
And fortune Boteswaine no assurance knowes,
But sail withouten starres gainst tide and wind:
How can they other do, sith both are bold and blind?


The battle scenes are inventive and full of action and Spenser's descriptive powers are in evidence throughout. Oh! and there is the eroticism that always seems to be just below the surface but can erupt out into some sensuous stanzas or into the realms of sadomasochism. There are plenty of purple patches but also some longueurs. Spenser saw himself as a historian or more accurately as a poetic historian and so there are some long sequences of stanzas that seem intent on naming all the mythical rulers of ancient England. These of course can be skimmed, but do hark back again to a late medieval feel.

There is no doubt the poem has layers of meaning, however it can be read as a straight forward epic adventure poem about knight errants. Some of the actions of the protagonists may seem strange, but the beauty of the poetry and the action sequences and vivid locations may be of enough interest. The next layer down is the allegory with which I think you need to have some idea to grasp the reasons why the characters do the things that they do. After all the poem is aimed to provide moral instruction and so missing out on this will put a brake on some of the enjoyment. There are also references to the politics of 16th century England and it's history, some of which will remain obscure. Spenser never aimed to be obscure and he is always there to help the reader; he usually speaks directly to the reader in the first two or three stanzas of each canto to set out his main themes or ideas and at the very start of each canto there is a four line synopsis of the canto. The Canto's can be read as separate poems, although characters do appear and reappear throughout the length of the poem the reader never needs to know the back story to make sense of the events.

Some critics have warned about reading too much into Spenser's allegory. The question Did Spenser really mean to say all of this? is pertinent and following through an allegorical, political or philosophical idea can lead to confusion. This is down to the choice of the reader, how much time do you want to spend teasing out possible meanings?

History has not been so very kind to Spenser's faerie Queene. The Cambridge History of English literature says:

"He tried to do too many things at once. and, in elaborating intellectually the allegorical plot he has confused the imaginative substance of the poetic narrative........ Spenser tried to tell his lies while clinging to a disabling kind of truth and so he does not convince his readers. He lives as an exquisite word-painter of widely different scenes and as supreme poet-musician using with unrivalled skill a noble stanza of his own invention. unparalleled in any other language"

This summary misses the excitement of the action and the underlying eroticism that lingers in the story telling. To my way of thinking Spenser has taken us into a wonderful world of faerie land, which sometimes resembles the real world too uncomfortably. It is a long poem with some passages more exciting and entertaining than others, however with a little knowledge of the allegorical structure the poem takes on another life and the reader can easily become absorbed. It is a 5 star read of course as there is nothing like it, but at times it can feel like a three star read.



6baswood
Dec 23, 2019, 6:32am

The Arden Shakespeare King Henry VI part 2 and part 3 arrived in the post this morning and so that's my holiday entertainment sorted.

They are ex-library books - One comes from Broxtowe college library Chilwell, Nottingham England and the other from the Thomas Tallis School in London. Both books are in mint condition apart from the library sticker which says 'return on or before the last date stamped below'

7baswood
Edited: Dec 28, 2019, 8:45am



Tarlton's Jests and News out of purgatory - Anonymous
Tarlton's jests and news out of purgatory was published in 1590 and it would seem to be another in the long line of jest books which were still popular in the 1590's. Tarlton died in 1588 and this publication traded on his name, there is no evidence that he was the author of any of these snippets.

Jest books were collections amusing stories, sometimes risqué many of which were recycled and owed much to the stories from the Italian Renaissance, jests tended to be cut down versions that would not strain the reader too much, they were the equivalent of light entertainment and the jokes and anecdotes might be rolled up together with warnings about tricksters and cony-catchers. Richard Tarlton was a famous stage personality, a comedian and a clown, said to be Queen Elizabeth's favourite clown, he specialised in witty repartee noted for his ability to harangue and amuse play goers in the theatre, he was associated with Queen Elizabeth's men which were the dominant acting troupe of the 1580's. He was evidently a very funny man.

James Orchard Halliwell published the version that I read in 1844 for the Shakespeare society. It contains an account of the life of Richard Tarlton. The Jests are stories either involving Tarlton or tricks and jokes that were associated with him; there are his court witty jests, his sound city jests and his country pretty jests. An example:

Tarltons opinion of Oysters.
CErtaine Noblemen and Ladies of the Court, being eating of Oysters, one of them séeing Tarlton, called him, & asked him if he loued Oysters? No (quoth Tarlton) for they be vngodly meate, vncharitable meat, and vnpro∣fitable meate. Why, quoth the Courtiers; They are vn∣godly, sayes Tarlton, because they are eaten without grace, vncharitable, because they leaue nought but shelles: and vnprofitable, because they must swim in wine.


Tarlton's news out of Purgatory is a little different. The author is sitting dreaming under a tree when he sees the ghost of Tarlton, who gives a brief description of the path into purgatory and then describes some of the people who are trapped there. Each of these have a story associated with their predicament, for example there is a tale explaining why the Vicar of Bergamo is sitting with piece of coal in his mouth. Purgatory is of course part of the catholic religion and so some allowance has to be made for these stories circulating in a protestant country, and it also points to the origin of the stories. Light entertainment 2.5 stars.