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Quarles as Dramatist Elizabeth K. Hill Although usually considered a static genre, the emblem book on occasion achieves form and structure that provide analogies with plays created for the theater. Perhaps the most impressive and coherent dramatic element in emblem literature is that derived from a devotional tradition based on the biblical Song of Songs, or Canticles. A part of exegetical and homiletic literature since the third century, this interpretation of the text, which Origen called a "drama,"' views the Song as an account of the love between Christ and the human soul. It is a romance; and because the Divine Spouse frequently is not present, it is the Parable of the Absent Lover.2 Origen had called the Song a drama "because many persons speak," but, being concerned with scriptural exegesis rather than theater, he did not discuss dramatic structure or theory. The Song presented the most profound of spiritual mysteries, he insisted— matters too sacred to display openly before the vulgar, but which the Holy Spirit had caused to be "roofed over" with allegory.3 Origen's interpretation was rooted in rabbinical tradition, notably the work of Akiba ben Joseph (A.D. c.50-135), who had declared : "All the Scriptures are holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies," adding that the whole world "is not worthy of the day on which [it] was given to Israel."4 For the rabbis, the romance had been between God and Israel; for the Fathers it was between Christ and the Church. Origen, the only early Patristic writer to include the individual soul as well, indicates that Anima and Ecclesia are interchangeable recipients of the Spouse's affections.5 Although the Anima tradition continued in private devotion, especially among mystics, the Ecclesia reading long remained the dominant one. Anima, however, was again to become prominent in St. Bernard of Clairvaux's eighty-six sermons on the Song in which he starts at the book's beginning and progresses only into the third chapter. The romance was especially to be dear to St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross and was adopted as a 168 Elizabeth K. Hill169 significant part of Carmelite tradition. Thus in 1615, when the Flemish poet Otto van Veen (Octavius Vaenus, ? 1560-? 1629) composed his Amorum Divina Emblemata , he was not only "baptizing" the secular Renaissance putti but continuing a sacred tradition as well. The story of Cupid and Psyche, included in the Greek Anthology, had long been popular, as had the representation of Eros as a child. Hence it followed that the god's beloved should be a child also, and thus as children were both depicted in the engravings for van Veen's widely imitated work. His earlier secular book, Amorum Emblemata (1608), had presented, visually and verbally, .the mildly erotic antics of the pudgy pair. The emblems of divine love merely announce the lovers' new identities and give the Christ Child a halo but make no other significant changes. The later Amorum Divina Emblemata was widely imitated, especially by Jesuits and, more explicitly related to the Song ofSongs, eclipsed the earlier volume's popularity. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, these two children as holy lovers romp through Europe in numerous editions, translations, and adaptations . The version best known to English-speaking readers is Francis Quarles' 1635 Emblèmes. Although of course not the first emblem book in English, Quarles' Emblèmes proved to be the most popular.6 Explaining in his preface a genre still presumably unfamiliar to many of his countrymen, Quarles states: an Embleme is but a silent Parable. Let not the tender Eye checke, to see the allusion to our blessed SAVIOUR figured, in these Types. In holy Scripture, He is sometimes called a Sower; sometimes, a Fisher; sometimes, a Physitian: And why not presented so. as well to the eye, as to the earc'?7 The emblem, as Quarles makes clear, has a visual element which consists of an actual picture—in the seventeenth century more often a metal engraving than a woodcut—and a verbal portion in the form of a poem, epigram, and sententia, which is often a scriptural quotation. Thus...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 168-182
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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