- Text/Events in Early Modern England: Poetics of History
Sandra Logan’s project is a fascinating one: to explore ‘the possibilities for difference and discontinuity within the emergent notion of English national identity, considering the instrumentality of historiographic and dramatic appropriations of events in reimagining, contesting, and/or reifying Early Modern mechanisms of social formation’ (p. 2). Logan approaches the writing of history – in dramatic texts, chronicle history and accounts of public ceremonial displays – as a rhetorical process of sociopolitical inscription ‘predicated on the erasure of the event/text relationship’ (p. 5). Such ‘erasure’ is illustrated, for instance, when accounts of Elizabeth I’s coronation entry ‘come to stand for the event itself’ (p. 35).
In theoretical terms, Logan identifies George Puttenham’s Art of English Poesie (1580) as a key work in the developing Elizabethan investment in the political potentiality of ‘poetry’, understood in the broadest terms (p. 16). Arguing Puttenham’s importance in ‘interventive Rhetoric’, which aimed at ‘“lifelike” or seemingly “experiential” … representation’ (pp. 9–10), Logan cites Puttenham’s ‘Englishing’ of the classical term ‘hypotyposis’ as ‘counterfeit representation’ (p.11). In historiography – Edward Hall’s Chronicle (1547) being an example – historians employed ‘a cohesive narrative structure’ alongside a didactic purpose, highlighting the inappropriateness of Sidney’s distinctions between poetry and history, and constituting a rediscovery of such ancient historians as Tacitus (pp. 19– 20, 191). In accounts of pageantry and courtly ceremonial, no less than in history plays, by extension, Logan identifies changes during the Elizabethan age, which ultimately succeeded in ‘privileging mediated over immediate experience’ (p. 24).
Key Early Modern English ‘texts/events’ examined include conflicting accounts of Elizabeth’s coronation entry, and of the entertainments at Kenilworth, fruitfully explored to furnish an illuminating account of the creation of a dominant Protestant myth of Elizabeth and of her nation. In addition, various treatments of Henry IV’s overthrow of Richard II – including John Hayward’s The First Part of the Raigne of Henrie IIII (1599), Hall’s Chronicle, Holinshed’s Chronicles (1577; 1587), and Shakespeare’s Richard II – and the cultural and political deployment and implications of such ‘texts/events’ [End Page 212] are explored. In the process, Logan builds her own coherent and very convincing narrative of a rhetorical process of national self-definition.
As in any study, there are weaknesses; Text/Events is let down by poor editing, errors ranging from trivial glitches (‘a good show if it’, p. 37; ‘perceived of as her project’, p. 101) to problematic ones, including incorrect dates (‘1599’ for ‘1399’, p. 229). Logan’s strengths are her painstaking analysis of primary sources and her excellent grasp of Early Modern literary theory and practice, and of its classical foundations. It is, conversely, where the plethora of Elizabethan criticism of the last three decades is concerned that Logan seems less well founded. This is the likely consequence of a brief list of secondary sources (less than nine pages), which, in addition, play a limited role in the study itself. Two such weak points are Logan’s cursory account of her study’s relationship to ‘materialist/historicist analysis’ as epitomized, in her view, by Dollimore and Sinfield’s 1985/1994 edited collection, Political Shakespeare (pp. 250–51 n. 6, p. 318), and her discussion of Elizabeth’s oft-discussed pronouncements in response to the staging of Richard II on the eve of the Essex rebellion (pp. 315-16), a reading which hangs on a single reference to Louis Montrose. This seems regrettable in an otherwise a very worthwhile study.