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Themes and Variations in Counter-Reformation Poetic Theory to 1648 Critical interest in Counter-Reformation poetic theory effectively began in 1935 when Pierre Janelle, in his study of Southwell, briefly discussed Pontanus' Poeticarum Institutionum Libri Tres} The point of Janelle's discussion was, of course, to relate the English Jesuit's verse to contemporary Jesuit ideas on poetry - he intended neither to survey Counter-Reformation poetic theory as a whole nor to consider it except in relation to one man's poetic practice.2 Nonetheless, Janelle both stimulated further work on Counter-Reformation poetics and, broadly speaking, set the pattern for how that work would be conducted. Subsequent research tended to deal with specific aspects of CounterReformation poetics in relation to the writings of individual poets, such as Crashaw. Very little comparative research was done on the post-Tridentine theorists themselves, except notably for studies much concerned to compare Gracian with Tesauro; furthermore, Tesauro's / / Cannocchiale Aristotelico appeared to be regarded as at once the terminus and the summa of CounterReformation poetics.3 There seemed to be an agreement that to have read Tesauro would supply answers to most questions about Catholic poetic theory after the Council of Trent This essay offers a less familiar approach to Counter-Reformation poetics.4 It attempts to identify elemental themes and to trace some of their variations - to achieve which it does not look backward from Gracian or (as is more usual) from Tesauro but onward from Pontanus, and it glances beyond the clerical theorists to Tasso. The concluding date of enquiry is 1648, the year in which the final version of Grecian's treatise appeared, so that the essay can usefully concentrate on those theorists whose works appeared in the lifetimes of the English poets connected most closely with the literary culture of post-Tridentine Europe.5 That does not mean exclusion of Tesauro but rather that he is considered in two ways: as someone writing after the theorists chronologically parallel to those English poets linked to the Counter reformation and as someone recapitulating or varying themes well defined by his predecessors. Thereby the essay hopes, 1 Pierre Janelle, Robert Southwell the Writer, London, 1935, 119-123. 2 For all that, Janelle's work was seminal. I am indebted to his early discussion, though m y departure from his views will be apparent. 3 O n comparison of Gracian with Tesauro, see S. L. Bethell, The Nature of Metaphysical Wit, Northern Miscellany, 1953, rpt. in Gerald Hammond, ed., I he Metaphysical Poets, London, 1974, 129-156; J. A. Mazzeo, Renaissance and Seventeenth-Century Studies, London, 1964, 29-59. 4 For the related approach to a topic (if a differing view of it), see J. A. Mazzeo, op.cit., 29-43. 5 That is, up to the publication of Benlowes' Theophila, 1652. 156 AD. Cousins without claims to completeness or finality of judgment, to illuminate one of the more fascinating areas of later Renaissance thought In the scope of this brief essay one can hope to examine only representative figures in some detail. Focus will fall on Pontanus, Tasso and Gracian, with reference being made to Teasuro and to St. Francis de Sales.6 Before starting with Pontanus, who well introduces the rest, one has to say something of what his criticism - insofar as it is Jesuit - has in c o m m o n with Gracian's and with that by other Jesuits, so much Counter-Reformation poetic theory being produced by the Jesuits or under their auspices. As is well known, during the Counter Reformation the Society of Jesus resolved that literature and literary studies should be redirected to become truly Christian, that resolution epitomizing the Council of Trent's attitude to all the arts: there has been a good deal of documentation to suggest that the Jesuit literary programme in fact magisterially expressed and disseminated the Council of Trent's views on the role of the arts in society.7 Pontanus' work clearly reflects Tridentine priorities, but with whatever degree of intent other Jesuit critical works may do so they nonetheless appear often to share with his a number of specific preoccupations. It can be reasonably said that, in essence...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 155-162
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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