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Court and Culture in Renaissance Scotland: Sir David Lindsay of the Mount.

Carol Edington, Court and Culture in Renaissance Scotland: Sir David Lindsay of the Mount

Ed. Arthur F. Kinncy. (Massachusetts Studies in Early Modern Culture.) Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994. x + 6 pls. + 276 pps. $40. ISBN: n.a.

Carol Edington's Court and Culture in Renaissance Scotland: Sir David Lindsay of the Mount ably paints a picture of the life and times of an important Scottish court poet, comic narrator, and playwright, Lindsay (1490-1555), perhaps the last great Scottish literary figure before the Union in 1707. The book's genre thus harkens back to expansive milieu studies as it looks forward to more narrow materialist analyses. Lindsay here receives a fine introduction almost four hundred and fifty years after his death. If little is said of his contribution to the Scots literary tradition flankcd by William Dunbar and Gavin Douglas on one side and Allan Ramsay at a good distance on the other, it is by design. Although Edingron gives us a rousing summary of Lindsay's works in an appendix, she follows her own advice in the wry caveat: "Anyone looking for a line-by-line analysis of Lindsay's poetry will not find it here" (6). What we have then is a historical prolegomenon, an introduction to the age and the life at court o f a bright poet in the dark times of post-Flodden Scotland.

Edington delivers an account of the signal political and religious difficulties during the short reign of James IV and the long reign in minority of James V, a monarch under the careful eye of a master of encomium, satire, and apocalypse, who, up to a rupture with Henry VIII's sister, Margaret Tudor, was usher and tutor of James V, and who eventually gained a post as both as quasi-laureate and leading heraldic expert and propagandist of the Stuart monarchy. In her book, Edington defines "culture" in the broadest sense, not dwelling on mere economical and political impulses. "Court" she finds harder to define because it comprises, in her estimation, a much larger area of activity in this bustling Scottish nation than that which is within arm's length or earshot of the monarch. "Court," in this work, she argues, is diffuse and hard to pin down.

Edington's method of continual speculation around thematic topoi may seem less compelling than a hypothesized narrative history with historical checkpoints, but the subject requires unusual circumspection. As Edington points out, the first editor of Lindsay's collected works, Henry Charteris, made the unpardonable decision in 1568 not to include a biography of the author, claiming his life was already too familiar. Thus we must speculate about some of Lindsay's forebears, education, some of his travels, and friends, and even his appearance, although some images, including one on the book cover, are extant. Also justified are Edington's returns to description of the major historical events of Lindsay's life beyond the Battle of Flodden, mainly of the Rough Wooing, and of the Castilian storming of St. Andrew's Cathedral and the assassination of Archbishop David Beaton. These events are checkpoints in the period of the Reformation and the Counter Reformation that will be remembered as long as those surrounding the Diet of Worms and the Defenestration at Prague.

Edington concludes that Lindsay's astounding early reputation as author of works nearly on a par with scripture is part of an unwarranted Protestant sanctification of Lindsay following the Scottish Reformation in 1560. But she also pictures an indirect Erasmian figure working for reform within the Kirk in complex and valuable forms who is more of a hero than the radical and erratic John Knox, and one whose works deserve all the early attention that they received. Highlights of Court and Culture in Renaissance Scotland include a number of savvy summaries of heraldic symbolism, for example of the closed or open crown, the thistle, and ornithological images, and a history of apocalyptic thinking that might have done well, however, to include a discussion of Lindsay's likely expectation of Last Things in 1533, when he was forty-three, fifteen hundred years after the Passion.

Edington's work clears much of the historical ground for further discussion of David Lindsay as the last great Scottish Chaucerian. Of course, as Michaela Grudin has pointed out elsewhere, Edington never uses the term, but like the many references to "south of the border" in the text for "English" its very absence requires our attention. "Scottish Chaucerian" may have become an onus based on a real admiration of some Scottish Renaissance authors for a triumvirate of medieval English poets, Chaucer, Gower, and Lydgate, who absorbed huge continental and classical influences and died at least seventy-five years before any of our Scots began writing. The onus of the term may have even led to some critical oversight. Indeed, of the whole rather coherent and self-referential tradition of poets writing in Scots, only two romantics, Robert Burns and Walter Scott, and the modernist, Hugh MacDiarmid, seem to have been given their critical due. But like Henryson, Dunbar and Douglas, Lindsay displays a self-conscious and often humorous anxiety of influence especially with Chaucer. If, for example, Henryson metamorphoses Chaucer's most compelling woman, Criseyde, into a whore, and Dunbar turns his second most compelling woman, the Wife of Bath, into an ideologue, Lindsay inflates elements of Chaucer's mirthful and mercifully curtailed self-criticism in Sir Topas into an extensive presentation of his Knight of civic virtues and unrequited loves in two directions, Squyer Meldrum (Lindsay's old friend) and his ironically overblown testament and funeral. In fact, Edington's analysis and description of The Historie of Squyer Meldrum, with a stated assist from Felicity Riddy, is one of the many high points of Edington's largely historical narrative, and it helps pave the way for filling a gap in British literary studies that might put Scottish reaction to Chaucer on a par with Wyatt's, Sidney's, Spenser's, and Shakespeare's.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:HAGER, ALAN
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Geographic Code:4EUUS
Date:Dec 22, 2000
Words:973
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