English Epicures and Stoics: Ancient Legacies in Early Stuart Culture.
(Massachusetts Studies in Early Modern Culture). Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998. x + 312 pp. $45. ISBN: 1-55849-171-6.
Curtis Perry. The Making of Jacobean Culture: James I and the Renegotiation of Elizabethan Literary Practice.
New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. 4 pls. + xiv + 281 pp. $59.95. ISBN: 0-521-57406-4.
The authors of both books under review are concerned, each in his way, with the idea of negotiation, the accommodations and trade-offs, the necessary re-emphases and suppressions, that are inevitable when one cultural accretion is superseded by another which attempts to appropriate or discount the power and authority of the predecessor.
In English Epicures and Stoics, Reid Barbour's altogether impressive study of a surpisingly prominent area of intellectual history in the first half of the seventeenth century, we are shown the intricate and manifold attempts of churchmen, politicians, royal apologists and republicans to enlist the ancient philosophies of the Garden and the Porch for one or another of the hotly contested religious and political issues of the day. Barbour devotes four chapters to Jacobean and Carolingian adaptations of Epicurean and Stoic doctrine, a fifth (third in order) to the Stoicism of John Ford's plays, and a sixth and final ("The Collapse of Accommodation") to the post-Restoration aftermath, particularly to the austere rejection of the philosophies of Garden and Porch in the work of Lucy Hutchinson and John Milton.
Barbour states the thesis of his work thus: "Early Stuart culture is diacritically obsessed with the Stoics and Epicureans, apart from and in relation to one another ... the Stoics and Epicureans afford early Stuart readers and writers with the most impressive yet vexatious answers to many of their most urgent political and religious questions; and... given the complexity with which the philosophies have been transmitted, the cultural brokers of early Stuart England are forced to wrestle with the paradox by which the friendly philosophy becomes the enemy, and the enemy the friend" (2-3). It is that last point that is of the utmost interest, for in virtually every case he touches, Barbour is able to demonstrate the thoroughly plastic character of ancient doctrine, its antithetical adaptability, so to speak, so that any attempt to enlist the authority of, say, Epicurus or Marcus Aurelius for one position inevitably suggests and most often generates a countering enlistment by the opposition. If Stuart apologist s for monarchical sovereignty and personal rule were understandably drawn to the discreteness and self-sufficiency of the Democritean atom, for instance, those of a more republican persuasion had only to turn to the treatment of the same atoms in motion in the work of Lucretius to find an emblem for "just the opposite: political authority disjointed in a multitude of principal subjects" (22). "Far from solving the conflicts between king and subject," Barbour observes, "natural philosophy offers grounds for their rival integrities" (31).
Such argumentative defections occur throughout the period in appropriations of Stoic doctrine quite as often as in appropriations of Epicureanism. Barbour's survey of the influence of Stoicism on Stuart political theory includes great breadth of material but tends to focus on the various versions of Marcus Aurelius, now given an imperial spin, now a republican, provided in the work of such men as Antonio de Guevara and Meric Casaubon. Here again, the slipperiness of application is to the fore, the fact that Stoicism offers obvious support to court and church, but then "delivers its hidden sting in the name of rebels and iconoclasts" (111). But Barbour is perhaps at his very best in explicating the kind of theological debate that took place at York House in February of 1626 between John Preston and Richard Montagu, where he shows a finely nuanced sense of the advantages and costs to either side of invoking Stoic doctrine concerning the pneuma as it pervades and mixes with the material world. If Montagu could find in the doctrine of mixture support for the anti-Calvinist notion of universally offered grace, the radical predestinarian Preston could appeal to the very same doctrine to suggest God's omnipresence and omniscience, thus refuting the putative Arminianism of an opposition stressing the place of free will. "Stoic mixture is so contentious," Barbour points out, "that on the one hand, it annihiliates the space of human will but, on the other, it magnifies that space. At the same time, it appears to offer a malleable language in which to stake out a middle ground between extremes -- a golden mean for which both Montagu and Preston believed they stood" (213). Barbour's argument makes it seem almost inevitable that the Milton of Paradise Regained, speaking in a post-Restoration world weary of controversy, would, in the person of the Son, sternly reject the ancient philosophy altogether.
Curtis Perry's acute study, The Making of Jocobean Culture, is occupied not with Jacobean negotiations concerning the ancient past but with Jacobean attempts (the plural here is crucial for Perry) to absorb and accommodate the attitudes, ideologies, and literary genres of the previous reign. In three sections of two chapters each, Perry treats encomiastic and pastoral poetry, drama, and, finally, cultural genres and rituals of an extra-literary kind in the form of Jacobean re-fashionings of the image of Elizabeth and Lord Mayor's pageants as they came to express an increasing independence of the City from the court and royal patronage. In a respectful but firm dissent from certain aspects of recent historicist criticism, Perry is at pains to stress what he quite plausibly takes to be conscious authorial agency in the Jacobean remaking of specifically Elizabethan literary codes and protocols. He does not altogether rule out the presence of suppressed ideology, the kind of textual "unconscious" that Pierre Mac herey finds in nineteenth century novels, for instance. Perry adduces the pastorals of Michael Drayton and Samuel Daniel as instances of the unconscious jostling of generically incompatible material, though even here, another reader might find Drayton's revision of his 1593 Idea, The Shepheardes Garland for his 1606 Poemes Lyrick and pastorall not so much an example of the kind of unconscious that Macherey intends but rather a perfectly conscious splicing ineptly executed.
But with Jonson's far more skillful Althorpe Entertainment of 1603 Perry is entirely persuasive in finding the kind of conscious authorial agency and cunning that joins a typical Elizabethan love plot with a much more characteristically Jacobean call to communal sport. This is just the kind of division Macherey might flag, but "since the break in form reinforces the show's encomiastic message," Perry not implausibly understands "the fracture in this particular text as entirely self-conscious" (57). In Reid Barbour's terms, Perry is staking out a kind of Arminian position that claims a degree of efficacy for the individual will, as against the predestinarian and fatalistic views of recent historicists, who insist on seeing individual action as foreordained rather than chosen.
It is indeed one of the strengths of Perry's fine study that he consistently refuses totalizing views of culture and society in favor of the plurality, specificity, and contingency which he sees as the conditions of literary production. In response to the sort of top-down determinism of Jonathan Goldberg's James land the Politics of Literature, for instance, Perry offers "a model of royal influence which challenges the hypostatizations of power so common in recent historicist criticism" (12), a model which allows for "a series of exchanges and appropriations within which the king is only one specially key player" (49). He understands a monarch's characteristic style not as an absolute determinant, setting the agenda and dictating the shape of all cultural activity undertaken within its aegis, but as one (to be sure) very important voice, which poets can address and even, as Perry argues in the case of Jonson and Donne, on occasion appropriate and ventriloquize.
The altogether pertinent conclusion to this argument comes with Perry's epilogue, devoted to Jonson's Bartholomew Fair, in which authority is understood to be in a constant process of circulation and recontextualization, rather than being imposed once and for all by an all-powerful source from above. Perry finds in the mad character Trouble-all, whose obsession with the authority of Justice Adam Overdo makes him unwilling to perform the least action without that character's formal warrant, a fitting emblem for Foucauldian man, the remotest reaches of whose life are said to be suffused with and determined by the invisible network of authoritative power. But Trouble-all is well and truly mad, and his obsessive obedience can only remind us, as Perry shrewdly observes, "of the failure of authority to elicit total obedience from even loving subjects" (223). "Seeing a character who will not respond to bodily needs or selfish desires without warrant underscores precisely the degree to which needs and desires normal ly escape control" (223-24). Trouble-all's madness has in this case elicited a fine degree of sanity.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||MACDONALD, RONALD R.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Dec 22, 1999|
|Previous Article:||Jonson, Shakespeare and Early Modem Virgil.|
|Next Article:||Theory and Theology in George Herbert's Poetry: "Divinitie, and Poesie, Met".|