Civil Idolatry: Desacralizing and Monarchy in Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton

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University of Delaware Press, 1992 - 267 pages
This book discusses the tensions in major Renaissance literary texts between the cult of monarchy and its subversions by Christianity. It corrects some modern scholars' assumptions of a prevailing divine-right theory of monarchy. A recurring theme from the English mystery plays to Milton proposes an inherent tendency of monarchy toward idolatry. The chapter on Erasmus makes a case for a strong tradition of political libertarianism that became a notable emphasis in English humanism. Then follow three essays on Spenser (especially Faerie Queene V and View), Shakespeare (especially the political plays of the late 1590s), and Milton (political writings, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained.)
Ozment and others have shown that the Reformation fostered the desacralizing of secular life, an impulse that Schneidau has seen as central to the Hebrew-Christian tradition. Texts like the infamous Vindiciae contra Tyrannos support this interpretation as regards monarchy, rather than the received views of Kantorowicz, which are perhaps more relevant to the Continent. The king-figure in the English mystery plays is often the butt of satire, in contrast to his more dignified counterpart in some Continental drama. The king-figure enters the morality-play tradition as the "pride of life," a transition observed in the hybrid play Mary Magdalene.
Erasmus's writings develop from a unified political and religious sensibility in accord with what Mesnard calls his evangelisme politique. For Erasmus, order is not an end in itself but serves the ends of peace, which in turn allow the human soul the optimum liberty to choose or reject the virtuous life. Thomas More's earlier agreement with, and later departure from, Erasmus's views on political authority are related to the Henrician political crisis. Spenser's anti-absolutism and Erasmus-like concept of peace, order, and liberty are disclosed in explications of the Isis Temple, Souldan, Gerioneo, and Grantorto episodes of Faerie Queene V. These and other writings show the poet's belief in the need for aristocracy to act in the service of truth.
Shakespeare's "second tetralogy" moves toward Henry V's renouncing "idol ceremony," in contrast to Julius Caesar, which presents a model of disordered polity. Civil idolatry (Milton's phrase) in that play and in Milton's long poems leads to tyranny and ritualism, accompanied by fear and awe. This logic is woven into the texture of hell in Paradise Lost. Paradise Regained advances the position through its redefinition of conquest and fatherhood in response to the "conquest theory" and patriarchalism with which monarchists justified their cause. Ultimately Milton places the blame for civil idolatry on the majority, who prefer a condition of subservience and awe because, as Shakespeare's Henry V declared, it relieves them of the responsibilities of consciousness. The epilogue glances at new directions in a comparison of the coronations of Charles II and of William and Mary.

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Contents

Abbreviations
7
Preface
9
Religion and Rule
15
King of This World
41
Erasmus Christian Liberty and Renaissance Majesty
62
Spensers Anatomy of Tyranny
91
Shakespeare Liberty and Idol Ceremony
124
Milton and Civil Idolatry
164
No Ceremony No Bishop No Bishop No King
202
Notes
208
Bibliography
244
Index
263
Copyright

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Page 104 - it [mercy] becomes The throned monarch better than his crown. His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings: But mercy is above the sceptred sway; It is enthroned in the hearts
Page 17 - He gave us only over Beast, Fish, Fowl Dominion absolute; that right we hold By his donation; but Man over men He made not Lord; such title to himself Reserving, human left from human free. But this Usurper his encroachment proud Stays not on Man; to God his Tower intends Siege and defiance.
Page 25 - Twin-born with greatness, subject to the breath Of every fool, whose sense no more can feel But his own wringing. What infinite heart's ease Must kings neglect that private men enjoy! . . . What kind of god art thou, that suff'rest more Of mortal griefs than do thy worshippers?
Page 139 - O Ceremony, show me but thy worth! What is thy soul of adoration? Art thou aught else but place, degree, and form, Creating awe and fear in other men? Wherein thou art less happy being fear'd Than they in fearing. (IV.
Page 138 - WILLIAMS. Under what captain serve you? KING. Under Sir Thomas Erpingham. WILLIAMS. A good old commander and a most kind gentleman. I pray you, what thinks he of our estate? KING. Even as men wrecked upon a sand, that look to be washed off the next tide.
Page 27 - in the person of Aeneas: after him Ariosto comprised them both in his Orlando: and lately Tasso dissevered them againe, and formed both parts in two persons, namely that part which they in Philosophy call Ethice, or vertues of a private man, coloured in his Rinaldo: The other named Politice in his Godfredo.
Page 27 - Persons of Agamemnon and Ulysses hath ensampled a good governour and a vertuous man, the one in his Ilias, the other in his Odysseis; then Virgil, whose like intention was to do in the person of Aeneas: after him Ariosto comprised them both in his Orlando: and lately Tasso dissevered them
Page 192 - They err who count it glorious to subdue By Conquest far and wide, to overrun Large Countries, and in field great Battles win, Great Cities by assault: what do these Worthies, But rob and spoil, burn, slaughter, and enslave Peaceable Nations.
Page 146 - This new and gorgeous garment, majesty, Sits not so easy on me as you think. Brothers, you mix your sadness with some fear: This is the English, not the Turkish court, Not Amurath an Amurath succeeds, But Harry Harry.
Page 196 - majestic unaffected style. . . . In them is plainest taught, and easiest learnt What makes a Nation happy, and keeps it so, What ruins Kingdoms, and lays Cities flat; These only, with our Law, best form a King. The

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