- Between Spenser and Swift: English Writing in Seventeenth-Century Ireland
Since Representing Ireland, edited by Bradshaw, Hadfield, and Maley in 1993, interdisciplinary work on early modern Ireland has been growing. In Irish-language scholarship, Marc Caball and Breandàn Ó Buachalla have shown how literature in Irish continued beyond the defeat of the Gaelic political order in 1603. Books on Spenser by Hadfield, Maley, and McCabe have explored the relevance of the Irish colonial context to all his works. Patricia Palmer's examination of translation in Ireland versus that in the Americas, and my own work on the influence of European texts upon both English and Irish language writers, have begun to integrate early modern Ireland into transatlantic and European studies. An excellent anthology of English poetry written in Ireland and edited by Andrew Carpenter, and numerous articles by Patricia Coughlan on political, dramatic, and historical writing, have opened windows onto the field of seventeenth-century Anglo-Irish literature. Deana Rankin's Between Spenser and Swift is the first book-length study of seventeenth-century English writing in Ireland.
This interdisciplinary collection of essays spans the period from the first printed version of Spenser's A View, edited by Ware in 1633, to Richard Cox's Hibernia Anglicana in 1689. Rankin's book is divided into two parts: the first three chapters focus on the construction of subjectivity in dramatic, military, and political writing; the second three focus on the representation of Ireland's past in romance, drama, and history. Rankin outlines the book's two parts as: an explanation of how, in the first half of the century, the Irish were transformed from [End Page 980] "English subject to Irish rebel," and how, in the second half of the century, a dominant English historiography emerged that "eclipsed the long years of complex contest" (23). The introduction and conclusion framing the book show Rankin's concern with dismantling myths. Her introduction confronts us with Defoe's view of an Ireland overrun by wild Irish rebels and promises to explain the historical and textual battles that led to this distortion. Her conclusion interprets Swift's satiric representation of the "wild English who consume their compatriot's offspring" (283) as an inversion of Spenser's Irish cannibals.
Rankin explores a wide variety of political positions and linguistic forms in English writing in Ireland, always with an acute awareness of context. For example, she analyzes the neologisms and idiosyncratic syntax of the "Aphorismical Discovery of Treasonable Faction" as a new form of English created to express a point of view on the 1640s by one of the defeated Irish. Rankin also explores cultural productions for a New English audience in Ireland in translations of Corneille's tragedies, produced for the Smock Alley stage of post-Restoration Dublin. The military settlers saw themselves mirrored in the soldier hero of John Dancer's translation of Nicomède, clinging to his military honor in the face of courtly deception. She also investigates various Old English perspectives on the conflicts of seventeenth-century Ireland. In the genres of romance and history, Bellings attempts to justify the position of the Old English. In his continuation of Sidney's Arcadia he interpolates a story about his brother Christopher, a soldier turned diplomat, who epitomizes the superior civility of the Old English. In his history, Bellings emerges as a kind of seventeenth-century inheritor of the Old English constitutionalists of the sixteenth century. He attempts to protect this marginalized group from association with the rebellious disloyalty of the Old Irish on the one hand and from attacks by the religious sectarianism of the New English on the other.
One minor criticism that I have is that Rankin sometimes naively takes the writer's word at face value. She accepts Bellings's portrayal of Rinuccini's appointment as papal nuncio as a "demotion" (217). Evidence in Tadhg Ó hAnnracháin's recent biography shows that this zealous Counter-Reformation cleric turned down a position in Florence to serve in Ireland.