- Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century by Frances A. Yates, and: Shakespeare’s Last Plays: A New Approach by Frances A. Yates (review)
- Comparative Drama
- Western Michigan University
- Volume 11, Number 3, Fall 1977
- pp. 273-278
- View Citation
- Additional Information
REVIEWS Frances A. Yates. Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century. London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975. Pp. xvi + 233. 44 pp. of plates. $21.75. ---------------- . Shakespeare’s Last Plays: A New Approach. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975. Pp. xi + 140. 8 pp. of plates. $10.25. Frances Yates’s Astraea offers a collection of related essay's, written at different periods, and presenting the monarchy in France and England in the sixteenth century as a unifying symbol in a world threatened by chaos. The phantom of universal empire, revived in the Renaissance, found such wide currency because of “a psychological need of the times, the need for order” in a period when the walls were crumbling. For the subtitle of this book, “The Imperial Theme,” read: “l’espérance impériale.” The dramatizing of good hope manifest in the sovereign is the essential and important business with which Miss Yates is concerned. In the middle of the sixteenth century the Holy Roman Empire, long moribund in fact, is resuscitated in theory in the person of the Emperor Charles V. The empire does not survive its creator. But the ideal it embodies, the return of the Golden Age in the auspicious figure of Virgo, the goddess of justice—Astraea, after she had fled to heaven—is trans mitted to the rising monarchies of Europe, in particular those of England and France. The symbolism with which Queen Elizabeth I is invested attests the effort of selfconscious propagandists to prosecute the goal of imperial reform, so to reverse the old and dispiriting school tag, familiar from Shakespeare: “Terras Astraea reliquit.” The conversion and acces sion to the French throne of Henri IV—in hope the pacifier of religious and political strife— also reflects the return of Astraea, emblematized in art and literature, for example in Honoré d’Urfé’s pastoral romance, LAstrée. A Spanish bishop and historiographer to the Emperor Charles composes a work on imperial virtue which gains wide currency through out Europe and is translated into English by Sir Thomas North as The Dial of Princes. Yearning for a better or more “ecumenical” past as against the fractured present—Charles as the new Charlemagne— in spirits the currency of the book of Antonio Guevara. At the court of Ferrara, Ariosto, composing his Orlando furioso, makes the identification explicit. The chivalrous epic is a modern manifesto. Charlemagne the antique hero is the once and future king, now renascent as “re Carlo imperator romano.” Basically it is to validate the destinies and origins of his time and place that Ronsard, in his unfinished epic, the Franciade, attempts to link them with imperial Rome, as by providing Charles IX with a Trojan 273 274 Comparative Drama counterpart to Aeneas, the ancestor of Augustus. Brut, the English par allel to Francus, enables the Tudor dynasty to derive its line from Troy, in this way to impose a fictive order on flux. In the search for continuity—Spenser’s romantic epic certainly par ticipates in it—there is infinite pathos. For the search grows more insis tent as burgeoning disorder gives it the lie. The unity of medieval Catholicism is shattered. So Elizabethan Protestantism depicts itself not as annulling but resuming the past. (Of course it does no such thing.) The monarch is figured under this aspect. In an illustration published in the year of the Armada, Elizabeth grasps and wields the concentric spheres of the Ptolemaic universe, even as the sustaining God of the Middle Ages interfuses the world with His beneficent presence, on the walls of the Campo Santo at Pisa. But already Copernicus has super vened. Latin verses gloss the diagram, identifying the Queen as the Virgin Astraea. “The Return of Astraea must always be a renovatio, a renewal or rebirth or rediscovery of the past through which a new future is created.” On one side this emphasis on renewing means syncretism, not the persistence of the past in the present but the abrading and therefore spurious reconciling of contrarities in the past and present. The restora tion of the Golden Age which is held to be accomplished in the reign of François 1er and his unlucky successors, the last...