- Anthony Munday and the Catholics, 1560-1633
Donna Hamilton begins her book: "Anthony Munday (1560–1633) had the longest writing career of any author of his generation and left a body of work larger and more various than nearly all writers of his time" (xv). Exactly. So why has it taken seventy-six years since the last book-length study of Munday, done by Celeste Turner in 1928, to reach Tracey Hill's Anthony Munday and Civic Culture (2004) and now Hamilton's 2005 book? Do two books on Munday within a year of each other at the beginning of the twenty-first century signal some change? Will this be Munday's century? I am noting the remarkable fact of a seemingly sudden upsurge of interest in Munday, a writer who has mainly experienced benign neglect.
Hamilton's thesis can be captured in this statement: "Read with the Catholic elements in mind, Munday's work becomes not only newly accessible but purposeful, propagandistic for the Catholic loyalist position and conservationist in terms of preserving Catholic ideology in England" (xvii). Readers can decide if Hamilton convincingly makes this case. Certainly one can quibble if this should indeed be the focus on Munday, and one can argue that his writing is both accessible and purposeful without concern for possible Catholic ideas in it. I think that Hamilton lays out an intelligent argument, buttressed by impressive excursions into all kinds of arcane scholarship. She proceeds to work systematically and chronologically through Munday's canon, thereby enriching our understanding of his accomplishment and the extent of his diverse endeavors.
The first two chapters focus on Munday's early career and force Hamilton to [End Page 633] locate Catholic sympathy in his most virulent anti-Catholic tracts, such as those published in 1582: A breefe and true reporte, A discoverie of Edmund Campion, and The English Romane lyfe. I think that Hamilton has partial success so long as she maintains Munday's centrist position as a Catholic loyalist. But clearly he is also angling for court preferment and support in these tracts; such he finally gets by being named Queen's servant and messenger. A subversive Catholic could not have received such an appointment. Hamilton provides a worthwhile account of Munday's translations of Spanish romances, one of which the character Rafe in Beaumont's Knight of the Burning Pestle is presumably reading at one point. Why Munday should have taken on this translation project is not clear. Hamilton insists that these romances grow out of the older, Catholic world of Europe, thereby hinting of Munday's attraction to them. She writes: "Munday's choice to translate Iberian romances from French translations involved him directly in the importation — smuggling, if you will — of material that carried foreign ideologies" (75). But the same argument might be made of most of Shakespeare's plays or those by Webster, for example.
To a considerable extent Hamilton abandons her Catholic insistence when she writes about Munday's plays, his civic pageants, and his revisions of Stow's Survey of London (the last two chapters of the book). Certainly one has to labor to see an overt Catholic influence here. She strains credulity when she writes about Jonson's satire of Munday in The Case Is Altered: "My own best guess is that Jonson's jibes at Munday were written for the 1609 publication, at a point before Jonson had yielded to pressure to conform and as a way to 'out' Munday in a most public and defiant manner for closeting his Catholicism in the safety of loyalty" (158). Hamilton seems to misunderstand how the guilds chose the dramatist for their Lord Mayor's Shows when she makes much of the fact that Munday seems to have been passed over in 1612 and 1613, replaced by Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton, respectively (159). This leads her to suggest that Munday was not an adequate "pageant poet for Protestantism" (159) — ergo, Catholic.
I think that Munday reflects...