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76Book Reviews Michael C. Schoenfeldt, Prayer and Power: George Herbert and Renaissance Courtship. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1991. xii + 345 pp. $49.95 cloth, $18.95 paper. by Michael P. Parker In an incident recounted in Epistolae Ho-Elianae, James Howell describes an invitation to "a solemn Supper" with Ben Jonson. After the meal, Jonson began to "vapour extremely of himself, and by vilifying others, to magnify his own Muse." One of the other diners, the poet Thomas Carew, "buzzed" Howell in the ear to remark "that tho' Ben had barrelled up a great deal of Knowledge, yet it seems he had not read the Ethics, which, among other Precepts of Morality, forbid Self-commendation, declaring it to be an ill-favour'd Solecism in good Manners." For most modern readers, "Morality" and "good Manners" are clean different things. In the early seventeenth-century, however, the frontier between ethics and etiquette, between the moral and aesthetic realms, was not yet so clearly demarcated. This marcher territory is the region that Michael Schoenfeldt sets out to explore in Prayer and Power, and he returns with rich discoveries in his pack. Schoenfeldt takes as his starting point Kenneth Burke's observation that "theology ... is the last reach of the persuasive principle" (p. 12). The techniques that a poet employs to petition a patron or cajole a reluctant mistress are merely localized versions of the strategies he employs with the godhead; Herbert the courtier and Herbert the priest are ultimately the same man. Schoenfeldt's insistence on the continuity of Herbert's experience is a necessary and overdue corrective to the traditional litany of linked dichotomies (worldly/saintly, corrupt/innocent, profane/sacred) that has long fettered our readings of this poet and of seventeenth-century literature in general. Prayer and Power concerns itself with connections, intersections, overlays; Schoenfeldt gives us a culture that is rich, complicated, but ultimately unitary in its focus. Schoenfeldt's strategy is to uncoverthe basic cultural suppositions that prop the poetic superstructure; he is, indeed, something of the moral archaeologist in his approach. The subtitle of his study, George Herbert and Renaissance Courtship, neatly epitomizes the process by conflating two meanings of "courtship," reminding us that the modern amatory sense of the word derives rather straightforwardly Book Reviews77 from its original meaning of "courtliness" or "courtiership." Love has pitched its mansion in the place of compliment: Herbert's wooing of the divine finds its model in the manners of the Jacobean court. The addresses Herbert delivered as the University Orator of Cambridge concretize the dilemmas that Herbert would confront as a sacred poet: what strategies to employ to secure a boon; how to define the private self in relation to public power; how, ultimately, to bridge the seemingly unbridgeable gap between petitioner and lord. Schoenfeldt suggests that Herbert's abandonment of his political career in the mid-1620s should be read less as a renunciation of the court than as a quest for preferment on a higher plane. The poet puts the Lord back in lordship: Herbert's paean of "my God, my King" isn't a rejection of earthly monarchy so much as a subsumption of the Jacobean court in its first original. Schoenfeldt's readings of individual poems demonstrate the fruitfulness of his approach. He provides a new, expansive context for "The Collar" by unfolding the complex experience compacted in the word "suit." Similarly, Schoenfeldt's discussion of the obligations and frustrations inherent in service at court helps explain out the seemingly immoderate passion that wracks the speaker of "Affliction" (I). Most impressively, his reading of "Love" (III) explodes traditional interpretations of the poem by reading it in light of the stylized rituals of deference, of offer and refusal, that underlay intercourse between individuals of different status at the Jacobean court. The painfully froward, almost irritatingly humble speaker I remember from my first reading of the poem in college sheds his rustic weeds to emerge a polished courtier: he and his lord are engaged in a skillful game of polite one-upmanship. Schoenfeldt's reading broadens our appreciation of an already rich poem. More importantly, it points to a need to reassess the persona of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-1192
Print ISSN
0161-7435
Pages
pp. 76-79
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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