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REVIEWS ELIZABETHAN AND JACOBEAN* DouGLAS BusH Profes~or Wilson's Alexander Lectures, delivered at the University of Toronto in November, 1943, must have been good to hear, and they are assu .reclly good to read and re-read. His subject, in brief, is the transition from EEza·bethan to Jacobean literature. After two general discussions, "Inheritance, and uThe Elizabethans and the Jacobeans,:" he proceeds to survey and analyse the process of transition in four areas, prose, poetry, drama, and Shakespeare. The book is .not large, and it does not attempt formal history, but it is a very substantial, stimulating, and delightful study of a fascinating theme. . Questions of this kind, in regard to any period, often invite from amateurs facile or speculative formulas and patterns. Although Professor Wilson, confronting such a complex problem, deprecates his own learning and gift for generalization, he is of course a notable master of the perio"d. Even if his name did not carry authority, we should have a guarantee of·wisdom in the initial recognition that "epochs of literature do not wait upon the deaths of kings and queens, and it was in the fifteen-nineties, while The Faerie ~ueene was fresh from the press, that the chief modes ofJacobean literature became apparent. In that decade Donne, Jonson, ai1d. Bacon first declared themselves, and before the death of the Queen, Shakespeare wrote his Hamlet." The first lecture illustrates as well as any the author's happy knack for· covering a great deal of ground with unhurried ease.~ Its theme is "the many links which bound both Elizabethans and Jacobeans to their ·past." The creed of Renaissance humanism is attested by such diverse witnesses as Lord Burghley and Bacon, Nashe and Dekker. In a few pages more w~ are carried through -another set of concepts on which books have been written oflate, the vitality of Christian belief and such concomitant articles of faith as «order'" and '4 degree" in the soul and the cosmos. ·The new astronomy did not really disturb many minds. Thought and feeling still worked, in terms of analogy and correspondence, within the Christian frame;. yet that frame was spacious and flexible enough to accommodate both tragic speculations on the destiny of man and what the 6ne-track.minds of later ages would regard as impossible inconsistencies. For evidence Pro- .. fessor Wilson appeals not so much to the obvious exemplars of orthodoxy as to Ralegh and Marlowe. If lVIarlowe was the enfant terrible of conventional literary history, he still wrote . "the one importa.nt play of that .age which is explicitly Christian and religious i!1 plot," and in which "the orthodox doctrines of redemption and damnation" are "announced with a power not approached in English drama before or since." And while drama *Elizabet!Jan and 'jacobean. By F. P. WILSON. Oxford: at the Clarendon Press [Toronto:·; Oxford University Press]. 1945. Pp. viii, 144. ($2.25) 199 200 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY in general was necessarily "concer~ed with men and women and their ways upon earth, this background of a Christian universe under divine ordinance ' is assumed and is present in allusions the full force of which escape a reader unfamiUar with their world.'' - · Having stressed the basic fact of conservatism, Professoi· Wilson turns to the other side of the picture. He rejects the common but false contrast between Elizabethan optimism and Jacobean _pessimism, and he finds the 1 J acobeans, like their predecessors, mainly preoccupied with religion and moral philosophy. Yet he sees a very real change. "What distinguishes the Jacobean age from the· Elizabethan is -its more exact, more searching, more detailed inquiry into moral and political questions and its interest in the analysis of the mysteries and _ perturbations of the human mind., That , distinctive and far-reaching change owed its special stimulus to a number of Continental thinkers, and its operation is illustrated from Machiavelli and Montaigne. The new spirit required a new kind of prose and a new kind of poetry. The established forms and rhetorical patterns and devices had been the approprif!te vehicles for the established verities, but a medium was needed for a new kind of apprehension and inquiry, "sceptical; tentative , and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 199-202
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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