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Representing Ireland: Literature and the Origins of Conflict, 1534-1660.

This interdisciplinary collection assembles essays by six literary critics and four historians. All of the contributors are interested in the fictions of Irish barbarousness that were used to justify the English occupation of Ireland. The essays suggest that these fictions played a crucial role in the emergence of English national identity: the English arrived at a self-definition that depended on a contrast with an uncivilized neighbor. Other topics that recur frequently in this collection include Irish resistance to English stereotypes, the anxious and ambiguous status of the Old English settlers, and the fear that the New English settlers might degenerate and become Irish. Although the contributors disagree on a number of points, they are unanimous in their belief that English and Irish politics and literature cannot be studied separately. Considered together, these essays make a powerful argument for a less parochial approach to the study of early modern Britain.

In the first essay, medieval historian John Gillingham challenges the generally accepted account of the origin of anti-Irish sentiment among the English. Where most historians see the prejudice against the Irish as motivated by the Reformation and the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland, Gillingham locates the shift in English attitudes much earlier, in the twelfth century. Andrew Hadfield writes about the apocalyptic narratives with which Reformation writers began to justify their anti-Irish prejudices. His essay focuses on the Vocacyon of John Bale, which tells the story of a difficult year as Protestant bishop of Catholic Ossorie.

Lisa Jardine examines Gabriel Harvey's role as tutor, companion, and even strategist for several aristocrats involved in the colonization of Ireland. David Baker writes about the difficulties the English experience in mapping Ireland: not only was the land beyond the pale terra incognita, the Irish insurgents exerted a continual pressure on the boundaries of the Pale. They refused to allow the English colonists to establish fixed claims to territory. Julia Reinhard Lupton develops linked readings of Spenser's View of the Present State of Ireland and his Cantos of Mutabilitie, examining both their Ovidian and their Irish contexts. Sheila Cavanagh discusses a group of English treatises on Ireland, and concludes that Spenser's View was more compassionate and less pessimistic about the Irish than was typical for the genre. The historian Hiram Morgan writes a short biography of Tom Lee, an English colonist who was eventually executed for his role in Essex's rebellion. This essay, which emphasizes anecdote over theory or synthesis, provides a nice complement to the criticism and historiography of the other essays. In a fascinating essay, Brendan Bradshaw discusses the Gaelic history of Ireland written by Geoffrey Keating, a member of the Old English community. Keating attempted to create "an origin-legend for Counter-Reformation Catholic Ireland" (167).

The final two essays focus on the seventeenth century. Willy Maley discusses the seventeenth-century reception of Spenser's View, concluding that radical, republican writers advocated harsher measures against the Irish than their monarchist opponents. In the last essay, Norah Carlin examines Cromwellian justifications for the invasion of Ireland.

The editors have provided a select bibliography and a chronology which is subtly and productively unsettling in its refusal to privilege the English perspective. There are only four illustrations. In an anthology on representations of Ireland, it would have made sense to include more illustrations and perhaps an essay by an art historian, but the book's subtitle warns us not to expect this. This is in any case a minor quibble with a very useful book.

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Author:MacDonald, Ronald R.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 1996
Previous Article:The Collected Works of Abraham Cowley, vol. 2, Poems, Part 1: The Mistress.
Next Article:Representing Ireland: Literature and the Origins of Conflict, 1534-1660.

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