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Elizabeth Cary, Drayton, and Edward II.

Renaissance writer Elizabeth Tanfield Cary (1585-1639), Viscountess Falkland, has recently been credited for a history of Edward II (1627).(1) Investigation of Renaissance poet Michael Drayton's life and writings, dealing with Edward H and court favourites, Piers Gaveston and Hugh Le Despenser, strongly suggests that Drayton served as an artistic source for Cary.

Bernard Newdigate believed that Drayton clearly knew the young Elizabeth Tanfield when he dedicated to her the Epistles of William da la Pole and Margaret of Anjou.(2) His address, `my honoured Mistresse', implies that Drayton served the distinguished lawyer, Lawrence Tanfield, perhaps as Elizabeth's tutor. The girl would have been about ten years old at the time of this dedication.

Although direct connection between Cary and Drayton remains unproven, her interested in Edward II reflects Drayton's own. Similar, sometimes identical allusions and figurative language used by the two writers offer strong evidence of relation. In Drayton's Queene Isabel to Mortimer, Edward's usurped queen calls Gaveston, Edward II's presumed lover since adolescence, `that lascivious shamelesse Ganimed', terms him a `Girlie-Boy' and concludes, `Betwixt the feature of my Face and his, / My Glasse assures me no such diference is . . .' (65-6). Cary refers to Gaveston as `Gaveston his Ganymede' and describes his having `Perfection enough to have equal'd the fairest Female splendour that breath'd within the Confines of this Kingdom'(4).

Drayton's Gaveston says, `In his [Edward's] affection chain'd to me so fast, / That as my shaddow still he seem'd to goe' (Gaveston, Canto I, 23-4). Cary echoes Drayton's shadow allusion: `they seem'd to beat with one and the self-same motion; ... one seem'd without the other, like a Body without a Soul, or a Shadow without a Substance' (4-5).

Drayton's jealous Queen Isabel laments in Isabel to Mortimer: `That a foule Witches Bastard should thereby / Be thought more worthie of his Love then I' (66-7). Likewise, Cary considers the strangeness of `such masculine affection...which have made many believe, that they had a supernatural operation and working, enforc'd by Art or Witchcraft'(28).

Later, in describing conditions at Edward's Court, both accounts employ insect and chameleon metaphors and similies. Drayton's adult Gaveston remarks,

Like the Camelion, whilst Time turnes the hue,

And with false Proteus puts on sundrie shapes,

This change scarce gone, a second dothe ensue

One fild, another for promotion gapes,

Thus doe they swarme like Flyes about the brim (Gaveston, 223-6)

Cary's account reads, `Such Agents may seem Lambs, but in the end they will be found as savage as Tygers, and false as the Camelions' (41), and `Lord, how the Vermin creep to this warm sunshine, and count each Beam of his special favour'(50).

Following Gaveston's murder by Edward's discontented barons, both writers draw attention to the general discontent with Edward's new lover, Spencer, preparing readers for the metaphorical storm gathering over the channel separating England and France. In The Barons-Warres, Drayton speaks of the Severne ebbing to leave `th'uncovered Sands' which fetch `full Tides' that seem `T'invade the neighb'ring Lands ...' (I.39). Cary writes: `[Spencer] seeing the violence of the Tide, begins to fear it; and letting his Anchor fall, hulls out the full Sea in the Royal Harbour; he strikes his top-sail, yet contemns the Winds that cause the Tempest' (62).

Additionally, both writers relate the destructive effects of Edward's overthrow. Drayton emphasizes the violent acts of the `Multitude', which beheads the Bishop of Excester, then engages in `Murther, Incest, Rape' and `Ravishment' of London: `Her sad Destruction, which was but too nye, / Upon her Gates was charact'red her Fall, in mangled Bodies, her Anatomie, Which for her Errors did that Reck'ning call' (Warres, IV.44). Cary says the `actions of this same heady monster Multitude never examine the Justice, or the dependance, but are led by Passion and Opinion; which in fury leaves no Disorder unacted, and no Villany unattempted' (122).

Drayton and Cary each consider Isabel's and Moritmer's altered personalities, expounding upon Ambition as cause for the change. Drayton asserts,

But never doth it [Ambition) surfet with Excess

nothing can the Gluttonie suppresse,

But still it longs, so liquorish is the sight,

Nor having all, is in desire the lesse. (V.23)

Cary's parallel comment notes, `Ambition hath no end, but still goes upward, never content or fully satisfied. If man had all that Earth could give, and were sole Monarch of the world, he yet would farther' (150).

Although these examples of similarities between the works of Cary and Drayton are by no means exhaustive, they well support a claim of influence upon Cary by the poet.

(1) Two versions of the history, printed in 1680 by different printers, survive, although there remains a dispute as to whether the shorter is not simply a printer's condensed version. Donald Stauffer questions the authenticity of the short version, but Betty Travitsky believes it to have been a first form of Cary's history. See `The Feme Covert in Elizabeth Cary's Mariam', Ambiguous Realities, ed. Carole Levin and Jeanie Watson (Detroit, 1987). I refer to the longer version, titled The History of the Life, Reign, and Death of Edward II, King of England and Lord of Ireland with The Rise and Fall of his great Favourites, Gaveston and the Spencers (1627). (2) See Michael Drayton & His Circle, ed. Kathleen Tillotson and Bernard H. Newdigate (Oxford, 1941; corrected edition, 1961), 78.
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Title Annotation:Michael Drayton
Author:Brackett, Virginia
Publication:Notes and Queries
Date:Dec 1, 1994
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