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Old English literature

Old English literature (sometimes referred to as Anglo-Saxon literature) encompasses literature

written in Old English (also called Anglo-Saxon) in Anglo-Saxon England from the 7th century to
the decades after the Norman Conquest of 1066. "Cdmon's Hymn", composed in the 7th century
according to Bede, is often considered the oldest extant poem in English, whereas the later poem,
The Grave is one of the final poems written in Old English, and presents a transitional text between
Old and Middle English.[1] Likewise, the Peterborough Chronicle continues until the 12th century.
The poem Beowulf, which often begins the traditional canon of English literature, is the most
famous work of Old English literature. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has also proven significant for
historical study, preserving a chronology of early English history.
In descending order of quantity, Old English literature consists of: sermons and saints' lives; biblical
translations; translated Latin works of the early Church Fathers; Anglo-Saxon chronicles and
narrative history works; laws, wills and other legal works; practical works on grammar, medicine,
geography; and poetry.[2] In all there are over 400 surviving manuscripts from the period, of which
about 189 are considered "major".[3]
Besides Old English literature, Anglo-Saxons wrote a number of Anglo-Latin works.

Old English literature has gone through different periods of research; in the 19th and early 20th
centuries the focus was on the Germanic and pagan roots that scholars thought they could detect in
Old English literature.[4] Later, on account of the work of Bernard F. Hupp,[5] the influence of
Augustinian exegesis was emphasised.[6] Today, along with a focus upon paleography and the
physical manuscripts themselves more generally, scholars debate such issues as dating, place of
origin, authorship, and the connections between Anglo-Saxon culture and the rest of Europe in the
Middle Ages, and literary merits.[2]

Extant manuscripts
The Peterborough Chronicle,in a hand of about 1150, is one of the major sources of the AngloSaxon Chronicle; the initial page
A large number of manuscripts remain from the Anglo-Saxon period, with most written during its
last 300 years (9th to 11th centuries), in both Latin and the vernacular. There were considerable
losses of manuscripts as a result of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century.[2]
Scholarly study of the language began in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I when Matthew Parker and
others obtained whatever manuscripts they could.[2] Old English manuscripts have been highly
prized by collectors since the 16th century, both for their historic value and for their aesthetic
beauty with their uniformly spaced letters and decorative elements.[2]
There are four major poetic manuscripts:
The Junius manuscript, also known as the man hunt, is an illustrated collection of poems on

biblical narratives.
The Exeter Book, is an anthology, located in the Exeter Cathedral since it was donated there
in the 11th century.
The Vercelli Book, contains both poetry and prose; it is not known how it came to be in
The Beowulf Manuscript (British Library Cotton Vitellius A. xv), sometimes called the
Nowell Codex, contains prose and poetry, typically dealing with monstrous themes,
including Beowulf.[7]
Seven major scriptoria produced a good deal of Old English manuscripts: Winchester; Exeter;
Worcester; Abingdon; Durham; and two Canterbury houses, Christ Church and St. Augustine's
Abbey. Regional dialects include: Northumbrian; Mercian; Kentish; and the main dialect, West
Saxon.[2] Some Old English text survives on parchment, stone structures, and other ornate objects.

Further information: Alliterative verse
In this illustration from page 46 of the Cdmon (or Junius) manuscript, an angel is shown guarding
the gates of paradise.
Old English poetry falls broadly into two styles or fields of reference, the heroic Germanic and the
Christian. Almost all Old English poets are anonymous.
Although there are Anglo-Saxon discourses on Latin prosody, the rules of Old English verse are
understood only through modern analysis of the extant texts. The first widely accepted theory was
constructed by Eduard Sievers (1893), who distinguished five distinct alliterative patterns.[8] His
system of alliterative verse is based on accent, alliteration, the quantity of vowels, and patterns of
syllabic accentuation. It consists of five permutations on a base verse scheme; any one of the five
types can be used in any verse. The system was inherited from and exists in one form or another in
all of the older Germanic languages. Two poetic figures commonly found in Old English poetry are
the kenning, an often formulaic phrase that describes one thing in terms of another (e.g. in Beowulf,
the sea is called the whale road) and litotes, a dramatic understatement employed by the author for
ironic effect.[8] Alternative theories have been proposed, such as the theory of John C. Pope (1942),
which uses musical notation to track the verse patterns.[9] J. R. R. Tolkien describes and illustrates
many of the features of Old English poetry in his 1940 essay "On Translating Beowulf".[10]
Even though all extant Old English poetry is written and literate, it is assumed that Old English
poetry was an oral craft that was performed by a scop and accompanied by a harp.

Named poets
Most Old English poets are anonymous, and only four names are known with any certainty:
Cdmon; Bede; Alfred the Great; and Cynewulf.
Cdmon is considered the first Old English poet whose work still survives. According to the
account in Bede's Historia ecclesiastica, he lived at the abbey of Whitby in Northumbria in the 7th
century. Only his first poem, comprising nine-lines, Cdmon's Hymn, remains, in Northumbrian,
West-Saxon and Latin versions that appear in 19 surviving manuscripts:[11]
Now let us praise the Guardian of the Kingdom
of Heaven
the might of the Creator and the thought of his

the work of the glorious Father, how He, the
eternal Lord
established the beginning of every wonder.
For the sons of men, He, the Holy Creator
first made heaven as a roof, then the
Keeper of mankind, the eternal Lord
God Almighty afterwards made the middle
the earth, for men.
--(Cdmon, Hymn, St Petersburg Bede)
Bede is often thought to be the poet of a five-line poem entitled Bede's Death Song, on account of
its appearance in a letter on his death by Cuthbert. This poem exists in a Northumbrian and later
Alfred is said to be the author of some of the metrical prefaces to the Old English translations of
Gregory's Pastoral Care and Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy. Alfred is also thought to be the
author of 50 metrical psalms, but whether the poems were written by him, under his direction or
patronage, or as a general part in his reform efforts is unknown.[13]
Cynewulf has proven to be a difficult figure to identify, but recent research suggests[citation
needed] he was from the early part of the 9th century to which a number of poems are attributed
including The Fates of the Apostles and Elene (both found in the Vercelli Book), and Christ II and
Juliana (both found in the Exeter Book).
Although William of Malmesbury claims that Aldhelm, bishop of Sherborne (d. 709), performed
secular songs while accompanied by a harp, none of these Old English poems survives. Paul G.
Remely has recently proposed that the Old English Exodus may have been the work of Aldhelm, or
someone closely associated with him.[14]
Oral tradition
Main article: Oral-formulaic theory in Anglo-Saxon poetry
The hypotheses of Milman Parry and Albert Lord on the Homeric Question came to be applied (by
Parry and Lord, but also by Francis Magoun) to verse written in Old English. That is, the theory
proposes that certain features of at least some of the poetry may be explained by positing oralformulaic composition. While Anglo-Saxon (Old English) epic poetry may bear some resemblance
to Ancient Greek epics such as the Iliad and Odyssey, the question of if and how Anglo-Saxon
poetry was passed down through an oral tradition remains a subject of debate, and the question for
any particular poem unlikely to be answered with perfect certainty.
Parry and Lord had already demonstrated the density of metrical formulas in Ancient Greek, and
observed that the same phenomenon was apparent in the Old English alliterative line:
Hrothgar mathelode helm Scildinga ("Hrothgar spoke, protector of the Scildings")
Beowulf mathelode bearn Ecgtheowes ("Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow")
In addition to verbal formulas, many themes have been shown to appear among the various works
of Anglo-Saxon literature. The theory proposes to explain this fact by suggesting that the poetry was
composed of formulae and themes from a stock common to the poetic profession, as well as literary
passages composed by individual artists in a more modern sense. Larry Benson introduced the
concept of "written-formulaic" to describe the status of some Anglo-Saxon poetry which, while
demonstrably written, contains evidence of oral influences, including heavy reliance on formulas
and themes[15] Frequent oral-formulaic themes in Old English poetry include "Beasts of

Battle"[16] and the "Cliff of Death".[17] The former, for example, is characterised by the mention
of ravens, eagles, and wolves preceding particularly violent depictions of battle. Among the most
thoroughly documented themes is "The Hero on the Beach". D. K. Crowne first proposed this
theme, defined by four characteristics:
A Hero on the Beach.
Accompanying "Retainers".
A Flashing Light.
The Completion or Initiation of a Journey.
One example Crowne cites in his article is that which concludes Beowulf's fight with the monsters
during his swimming match with Breca:
Those sinful creatures had no fill of rejoicing that they consumed me, assembled at feast at the sea
bottom; rather, in the morning, wounded by blades they lay up on the shore, put to sleep by swords,
so that never after did they hinder sailors in their course on the sea. The light came from the east,
the bright beacon of God.
Ns hie re fylle gefean hfdon,
manforddlan, t hie me egon,
symbel ymbston sgrunde neah;
ac on mergenne mecum wunde
be ylafe uppe lgon,
sweordum aswefede, t syan na
ymb brontne ford brimliende
lade ne letton. Leoht eastan com,
beorht beacen godes;
Beowulf, lines 562-70a
Crowne drew on examples of the theme's appearance in twelve Anglo-Saxon texts, including one
occurrence in Beowulf. It was also observed in other works of Germanic origin, Middle English
poetry, and even an Icelandic prose saga. John Richardson held that the schema was so general as to
apply to virtually any character at some point in the narrative, and thought it an instance of the
"threshold" feature of Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey monomyth. J.A. Dane, in an article [18]
characterised as "polemics without rigour"[19] claimed that the appearance of the theme in Ancient
Greek poetry, a tradition without known connection to the Germanic, invalidated the notion of "an
autonomous theme in the baggage of an oral poet." Foley's response was that Dane misunderstood
the nature of oral tradition, and that in fact the appearance of the theme in other cultures showed
that it was a traditional form.[19]

Genres and themes

Heroic poetry
Remounted page from Beowulf, British Library Cotton Vitellius A.XV
First page of Beowulf, contained in the damaged Nowell Codex.
The Old English poetry which has received the most attention deals with the Germanic heroic past.
The longest at 3,182 lines, and the most important, is Beowulf, which appears in the damaged
Nowell Codex. The poem tells the story of the legendary Geatish hero Beowulf, who is the title
character. The story is set in Scandinavia, in Sweden and Denmark, and the tale likewise probably is

of Scandinavian origin. The story is biographical and sets the tone for much of the rest of Old
English poetry. It has achieved national epic status, on the same level as the Iliad, and is of interest
to historians, anthropologists, literary critics, and students the world over.
Other heroic poems besides Beowulf exist. Two have survived in fragments: The Fight at
Finnsburh, controversially interpreted by many to be a retelling of one of the battle scenes in
Beowulf, and Waldere, a version of the events of the life of Walter of Aquitaine. Two other poems
mention heroic figures: Widsith is believed to be very old in parts, dating back to events in the 4th
century concerning Eormanric and the Goths, and contains a catalogue of names and places
associated with valiant deeds. Deor is a lyric, in the style of Consolation of Philosophy, applying
examples of famous heroes, including Weland and Eormanric, to the narrator's own case.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle contains various heroic poems inserted throughout. The earliest from
937 is called The Battle of Brunanburh, which celebrates the victory of King Athelstan over the
Scots and Norse. There are five shorter poems: capture of the Five Boroughs (942); coronation of
King Edgar (973); death of King Edgar (975); death of Alfred the son of King thelred (1036); and
death of King Edward the Confessor (1065).
The 325 line poem The Battle of Maldon celebrates Earl Byrhtnoth and his men who fell in battle
against the Vikings in 991. It is considered one of the finest, but both the beginning and end are
missing and the only manuscript was destroyed in a fire in 1731. A well-known speech is near the
end of the poem:
Thought shall be the harder, the heart the keener, courage the greater, as our strength lessens.
Here lies our leader all cut down, the valiant man in the dust;
always may he mourn who now thinks to turn away from this warplay.
I am old, I will not go away, but I plan to lie down by the side of my lord, by the man so
dearly loved.
The Battle of Maldon
Old English heroic poetry was handed down orally from generation to generation. As Christianity
began to appear, re-tellers often recast the tales of Christianity into the older heroic stories.
Elegiac poetry
Related to the heroic tales are a number of short poems from the Exeter Book which have come to
be described as "elegies"[20] or "wisdom poetry".[2][21] They are lyrical and Boethian in their
description of the up and down fortunes of life. Gloomy in mood is The Ruin, which tells of the
decay of a once glorious city of Roman Britain (cities in Britain fell into decline after the Romans
departed in the early 5th century, as the early English continued to live their rural life), and The
Wanderer, in which an older man talks about an attack that happened in his youth, where his close
friends and kin were all killed; memories of the slaughter have remained with him all his life. He
questions the wisdom of the impetuous decision to engage a possibly superior fighting force: the
wise man engages in warfare to preserve civil society, and must not rush into battle but seek out
allies when the odds may be against him. This poet finds little glory in bravery for bravery's sake.
The Seafarer is the story of a somber exile from home on the sea, from which the only hope of
redemption is the joy of heaven. Other wisdom poems include Wulf and Eadwacer, The Wife's
Lament, and The Husband's Message. Alfred the Great wrote a wisdom poem over the course of his
reign based loosely on the neoplatonic philosophy of Boethius called the Lays of Boethius.
Classical and Latin poetry
Several Old English poems are adaptations of late classical philosophical texts. The longest is a
10th-century translation of Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy contained in the Cotton manuscript
Otho A.vi.[22] Another is The Phoenix in the Exeter Book, an allegorisation of the De ave phoenice

by Lactantius.
Other short poems derive from the Latin bestiary tradition. Some examples include The Panther,
The Whale and The Partridge.
Main article: Anglo-Saxon riddles
Anglo-Saxon riddles are part of Anglo-Saxon literature. The most famous Anglo-Saxon riddles are
found in the Exeter Book. This book contains secular and religious poems and other writings, along
with a collection of 94 riddles, although there is speculation that there may have been closer to 100
riddles in the book. The riddles are written in a similar manner, but "it is unlikely that the whole
collection was written by one person."[23] It is more likely that many scribes worked on this
collection of riddles. Although the Exeter Book has a unique and extensive collection of AngloSaxon riddles,[24] riddles were not uncommon during this era. Riddles were both comical and
Christian poetry
Saints' lives

The Vercelli Book and Exeter Book contain four long narrative poems of saints' lives, or
hagiography. In Vercelli are Andreas and Elene and in Exeter are Guthlac and Juliana.
Andreas is 1,722 lines long and is the closest of the surviving Old English poems to Beowulf in style
and tone. It is the story of Saint Andrew and his journey to rescue Saint Matthew from the
Mermedonians. Elene is the story of Saint Helena (mother of Constantine) and her discovery of the
True Cross. The cult of the True Cross was popular in Anglo-Saxon England and this poem was
Guthlac consists of two poems about the English 7th century Saint Guthlac.
Biblical paraphrases

There are a number of partial Old English Bible translations and paraphrases surviving. The Junius
manuscript contains three paraphrases of Old Testament texts. These were re-wordings of Biblical
passages in Old English, not exact translations, but paraphrasing, sometimes into beautiful poetry in
its own right. The first and longest is of Genesis, the second is of Exodus and the third is Daniel.
The fourth and last poem, Christ and Satan, which is contained in the second part of the Junius
manuscript, does not paraphrase any particular biblical book, but retells a number of episodes from
both the Old and New Testament.
The Nowell Codex contains a Biblical poetic paraphrase, which appears right after Beowulf, called
Judith, a retelling of the story of Judith. This is not to be confused with lfric's homily Judith,
which retells the same Biblical story in alliterative prose.
Old English translations of Psalms 51-150 have been preserved, following a prose version of the
first 50 Psalms.
There are a number of verse translations of the Gloria in Excelsis, the Lord's Prayer, and the
Apostles' Creed, as well as a number of hymns and proverbs.
Original Christian poems

In addition to Biblical paraphrases are a number of original religious poems, mostly lyrical (nonnarrative).

The Exeter Book contains a series of poems entitled Christ, sectioned into Christ I, Christ II and
Christ III.
Considered one of the most beautiful of all Old English poems is Dream of the Rood, contained in
the Vercelli Book. It is a dream vision of Christ on the cross, with the cross personified, speaking
I endured much hardship up on that hill. I saw the God of hosts stretched out cruelly.
Darkness had covered with clouds the body of the Lord, the bright radiance. A shadow went
forth, dark under the heavens. All creation wept, mourned the death of the king. Christ was
on the cross.
Dream of the Rood
The dreamer resolves to trust in the cross, and the dream ends with a vision of heaven.
There are a number of religious debate poems. The longest is Christ and Satan in the Junius
manuscript, it deals with the conflict between Christ and Satan during the forty days in the desert.
Another debate poem is Solomon and Saturn, surviving in a number of textual fragments, Saturn is
portrayed as a magician debating with the wise king Solomon.
Other poems
Other poetic forms exist in Old English including short verses, gnomes, and mnemonic poems for
remembering long lists of names.
There are short verses found in the margins of manuscripts which offer practical advice, such as
remedies against the loss of cattle or how to deal with a delayed birth, often grouped as charms. The
longest is called Nine Herbs Charm and is probably of pagan origin. Other similar short verses, or
charms, include For a Swarm of Bees, Against a Dwarf, Against a Stabbing Pain, and Against a
There are a group of mnemonic poems designed to help memorise lists and sequences of names and
to keep objects in order. These poems are named Menologium, The Fates of the Apostles, The Rune
Poem, The Seasons for Fasting, and the Instructions for Christians.

Simile and metaphor
Anglo-Saxon poetry is marked by the comparative rarity of similes. This is a particular feature of
Anglo-Saxon verse style, and is a consequence both of its structure and of the rapidity with which
images are deployed, to be unable to effectively support the expanded simile. As an example of this,
Beowulf contains at best five similes, and these are of the short variety. This can be contrasted
sharply with the strong and extensive dependence that Anglo-Saxon poetry has upon metaphor,
particularly that afforded by the use of kennings. The most prominent example of this in The
Wanderer is the reference to battle as a "storm of spears".[25] This reference to battle shows how
Anglo-Saxons viewed battle: as unpredictable, chaotic, violent, and perhaps even a function of
Main article: alliterative verse
Old English poetry traditionally alliterates, meaning that a sound (usually the initial consonant
sound) is repeated throughout a line. For instance, in the first line of Beowulf, "Hwaet! We GarDena | in gear-dagum",[26] (meaning "Lo! We ... of the Spear Danes in days of yore"), the stressed

words Gar-Dena and gear-dagum alliterate on the consonant "G".

The Old English poet was particularly fond of describing the same person or object with varied
phrases, (often appositives) that indicated different qualities of that person or object. For instance,
the Beowulf poet refers in three and a half lines to a Danish king as "lord of the Danes" (referring to
the people in general), "king of the Scyldings" (the name of the specific Danish tribe), "giver of
rings" (one of the king's functions is to distribute treasure), and "famous chief". Such variation,
which the modern reader (who likes verbal precision) is not used to, is frequently a difficulty in
producing a readable translation.[27]
Old English poetry, like other Old Germanic alliterative verse, is also commonly marked by the
caesura or pause. In addition to setting pace for the line, the caesura also grouped each line into two

The amount of surviving Old English prose is much greater than the amount of poetry.[2] Of the
surviving prose, the majority consists of sermons and translations of religious works that were
composed in Latin.[2] The division of early medieval written prose works into categories of
"Christian" and "secular", as below, is for convenience's sake only, for literacy in Anglo-Saxon
England was largely the province of monks, nuns, and ecclesiastics (or of those laypeople to whom
they had taught the skills of reading and writing Latin and/or Old English). Old English prose first
appears in the 9th century, and continues to be recorded through the 12th century as the last
generation of scribes, trained as boys in the standardised West Saxon before the Conquest, died as
old men.

Christian prose
The most widely known secular author of Old English was King Alfred the Great (849899), who
translated several books, many of them religious, from Latin into Old English. Alfred, wanting to
restore English culture, lamented the poor state of Latin education:
So general was [educational] decay in England that there were very few on this side of
the Humber who could...translate a letter from Latin into English; and I believe there
were not many beyond the Humber
Pastoral Care, introduction
Alfred proposed that students be educated in Old English, and those who excelled should go on to
learn Latin. Alfred's cultural program produced the following translations: Gregory the Great's The
Pastoral Care, a manual for priests on how to conduct their duties; The Consolation of Philosophy
by Boethius; and The Soliloquies of Saint Augustine. Alfred the Great was also responsible for a
translation of fifty Psalms into Old English.[2]
Other important Old English translations include:[2] Historiae adversum paganos by Orosius, a
companion piece for St. Augustine's The City of God; the Dialogues of Gregory the Great; and
Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People.[28]
lfric of Eynsham, wrote in the late 10th and early 11th century. He was the greatest and most
prolific writer of Anglo-Saxon sermons, which were copied and adapted for use well into the 13th

century. He translated the first six books of the Bible (Old English Hexateuch), and glossed and
translated other parts of the Bible. His Lives of Saints in the Julius manuscript contains Seven
Sleepers of Ephesus, Saint Mary of Egypt, Saint Eustace, and Saint Euphrosyne. lfric also wrote
an Old English work on time-reckoning, and pastoral letters.
In the same category as Aelfric, and a contemporary, was Wulfstan II, archbishop of York.[2] His
sermons were highly stylistic. His best known work is Sermo Lupi ad Anglos in which he blames
the sins of the English for the Viking invasions. He wrote a number of clerical legal texts Institutes
of Polity and Canons of Edgar.[2]
One of the earliest Old English texts in prose is the Martyrology, information about saints and
martyrs according to their anniversaries and feasts in the church calendar.[2] It has survived in six
fragments. It is believed to date from the 9th century by an anonymous Mercian author.[2]
The oldest collections of church sermons is the Blickling homilies, found in a 10th-century
There are a number of saint's lives prose works; beyond those written by Aelfric are the prose life of
Saint Guthlac (Vercelli Book), the life of Saint Margaret and the life of Saint Chad. There are four
lives in the Julius manuscript: Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, Saint Mary of Egypt, Saint Eustace and
Saint Euphrosyne.[2]
The Wessex Gospels are a full translation of the four gospels into a West Saxon dialect of Old
English, produced about 990. The Old English Gospel of Nicodemus manuscripts date from the 11th
century AD. Other translations include "...the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, Vindicta salvatoris,
Vision of Saint Paul and the Apocalypse of Thomas".[2]
One of the largest bodies of Old English text is found in the legal texts collected and saved by the
religious houses.[2] These include many kinds of texts: records of donations by nobles; wills;
documents of emancipation; lists of books and relics; court cases; guild rules.[2] All of these texts
provide valuable insights into the social history of Anglo-Saxon times, but are also of literary value.
[2] For example, some of the court case narratives are interesting for their use of rhetoric.[2]

Secular prose
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle was probably started in the time of King Alfred the Great and
continued for over 300 years as a historical record of Anglo-Saxon history.[2]
A single example of a Classical romance has survived, it is a fragment of the story of Apollonius of
Tyre, from the 11th century.[2]
A monk who was writing in Old English at the same time as Aelfric and Wulfstan was Byrhtferth of
Ramsey, whose books Handboc and Manual were studies of mathematics and rhetoric.[2]
Aelfric wrote two neo-scientific works, Hexameron and Interrogationes Sigewulfi, dealing with the
stories of Creation.[2] He also wrote a grammar and glossary in Old English called Latin, later used
by students interested in learning Old French because it had been glossed in Old French.[2]
There are many surviving rules and calculations for finding feast days, and tables on calculating the
tides and the season of the moon.[2]
In the Nowell Codex is the text of The Wonders of the East which includes a remarkable map of the
world, and other illustrations.[2] Also contained in Nowell is Alexander's Letter to Aristotle.[2]
Because this is the same manuscript that contains Beowulf, some scholars speculate it may have
been a collection of materials on exotic places and creatures.[2]
There are a number of interesting medical works.[2] There is a translation of Apuleius's Herbarium
with striking illustrations, found together with Medicina de Quadrupedibus.[2] A second collection
of texts is Bald's Leechbook, a 10th-century book containing herbal and even some surgical cures.

[2] A third collection, known as the Lacnunga, includes many charms and incantations.[2]
Anglo-Saxon legal texts are a large and important part of the overall corpus.[2] By the 12th century
they had been arranged into two large collections (see Textus Roffensis).[2] They include laws of the
kings, beginning with those of Aethelbert of Kent, and texts dealing with specific cases and places
in the country.[2] An interesting example is Gerefa which outlines the duties of a reeve on a large
manor estate.[2] There is also a large volume of legal documents related to religious houses.[2]

Old English literature did not disappear in 1066 with the Norman Conquest.[2] Many sermons and
works continued to be read and used in part or whole up through the 14th century, and were further
catalogued and organised.[2] During the Reformation, when monastic libraries were dispersed, the
manuscripts were collected by antiquarians and scholars.[2] These included Laurence Nowell,
Matthew Parker, Robert Bruce Cotton and Humfrey Wanley.[2] In the 17th century there began a
tradition of Old English literature dictionaries and references.[2] The first was William Somner's
Dictionarium Saxonico-Latino-Anglicum (1659).[2] Lexicographer Joseph Bosworth began a
dictionary in the 19th century which was completed by Thomas Northcote Toller in 1898 called An
Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, which was updated by Alistair Campbell in 1972.[2]
Because Old English was one of the first vernacular languages to be written down, nineteenthcentury scholars searching for the roots of European "national culture" (see Romantic Nationalism)
took special interest in studying Anglo-Saxon literature, and Old English became a regular part of
university curriculum.[2] Since WWII there has been increasing interest in the manuscripts
themselvesNeil Ker, a paleographer, published the groundbreaking Catalogue of Manuscripts
Containing Anglo-Saxon in 1957, and by 1980 nearly all Anglo-Saxon manuscript texts were in
print.[2] J.R.R. Tolkien is credited with creating a movement to look at Old English as a subject of
literary theory in his seminal lecture Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics (1936).[2]
Old English literature has had some influence on modern literature, and notable poets have
translated and incorporated Old English poetry. Well-known early translations include William
Morris's translation of Beowulf and Ezra Pound's translation of The Seafarer.[2] The influence of
the poetry can be seen in modern poets T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and W. H. Auden.[2] Tolkien
adapted the subject matter and terminology of heroic poetry for works like The Hobbit and The
Lord of the Rings,[2] and John Gardner wrote Grendel, which tells the story of Beowulf's opponent
from his own perspective.
More recently other notable poets such as Paul Muldoon, Seamus Heaney, Denise Levertov and U.
A. Fanthorpe have all shown an interest in Old English poetry. In 1987 Denise Levertov published a
translation of Cdmon's Hymn under her title "Caedmon" in the collection Breathing the Water.
This was then followed by Seamus Heaney's version of the poem "Whitby-sur-Moyola" in his The
Spirit Level (1996) Paul Muldoon's "Caedmona's Hymn" in his Moy Sand and Gravel (2002) and U.
A. Fanthorpe's "Caedmon's Song" in her Queuing for the Sun (2003). These translations differ
greatly from one another, just as Seamus Heaney's Beowulf (1999) deviates from earlier, similar
projects. Heaney uses Irish diction across Beowulf to bring what he calls a "special body and force"
to the poem, foregrounding his own Ulster heritage, "in order to render (the poem) ever more
'willable forward/again and again and again.'"

William Langland
Langland's Dreamer: from an illuminated initial in a Piers Plowman manuscript held at Corpus
Christi College, Oxford
William Langland (/llnd/; c. 1332 c. 1386) is the conjectured author of the 14th-century
English dream-vision Piers Plowman.

The attribution of Piers to Langland rests principally on the evidence of a manuscript held at Trinity
College, Dublin (MS 212). This directly ascribes 'Perys Ploughman' to one 'Willielmi de Langlond',
son of 'Stacy de Rokayle, who died in Shipton-under-Wychwood, a tenant of the Lord Spenser in
the county of Oxfordshire'. Other manuscripts also name the author as 'Robert or William langland',
or 'Wilhelmus W.' (most likely shorthand for 'William of Wychwood'). The poem itself also seems
to point towards Langland's authorship. At one stage the narrator remarks: 'I have lyved in
londe...my name is longe wille' (B.XV.152). This can be taken as a coded reference to the poet's
name, in the style of much late-medieval literature (see, for instance, Villon's acrostics in Le
Testament). Although the evidence may appear slender, Langland's authorship has been widely
accepted by commentators since the 1920s. It is not, however, entirely beyond dispute, as recent
work by Stella Pates and C. David Benson[1] has demonstrated.
Almost nothing is known of Langland himself. His entire identity rests on a string of conjectures
and vague hints. It would seem that he was born in the West Midlands. Langland's narrator receives
his first vision while sleeping in the Malvern Hills (between Herefordshire and Worcestershire),
which suggests some level of attachment to the area. The dialect of the poem is also consistent with
this part of the country. Although his date of birth is unknown, there is a strong indication that he
died c. 13851386. A note written by one 'Iohan but' ('John But') in a fourteenth-century manuscript
of the poem (Rawlinson 137) makes direct reference to the death of its author: whan this werke was
wrouyt, ere Wille myte aspie/ Deth delt him a dent and drof him to the erthe/ And is closed vnder
clom ('once this work was made, before Will was aware/ Death struck him a blow and knocked him
to the ground/ And now he is buried under the soil'). Since But himself, according to Edith Rickert,
seems to have died in 1387, Langland must have died shortly before this date.
The rest of our knowledge of the poet can only be reconstructed from Piers itself. There is in fact a
wealth of ostensibly biographical data in the poem, but it is difficult to know how this should be
treated. The C-text of Piers contains a passage in which Will describes himself as a 'loller' or 'idler'
living in the Cornhill area of London, and refers directly to his wife and child: it also suggests that
he was well above average height, and made a living reciting prayers for the dead. However, it
would be rash to take this episode at face value. The distinction between allegory and 'real-life' in
Piers is by no means absolute, and the entire passage, as Wendy Scase observes, is suspiciously
reminiscent of the 'false confession' tradition in medieval literature (represented elsewhere by the
Confessio Goliae and by Fals-Semblaunt in Jean de Meun's Roman de la Rose). A similar passage in
the final Passus of the B- and C-texts provides further ambiguous details. This also refers to Will's
wife, and describes his torments by Elde (Old Age), as he complains of baldness, gout and

impotence. This may well indicate that the poet had already reached middle age by the 1370s: but
once again suspicions are aroused by the conventional nature of this description (see, for instance,
Walter Kennedy's 'In Praise of Aige' and The Parlement of the Thre Ages), and the fact that it occurs
towards the end of the poem, when Will's personal development is reaching its logical conclusion.
Further details can be inferred from the poem, but these are also far from unproblematic. For
instance, the detailed and highly sophisticated level of religious knowledge in the poem indicates
that Langland had some connection to the clergy, but the nature of this relationship is uncertain. The
poem shows no obvious bias towards any particular group or order of churchmen, but is rather
even-handed in its anticlericalism, attacking the regular and secular clergy indiscriminately. This
makes it difficult to align Langland with any specific order. He is probably best regarded, as John
Bowers writes, as a member of "that sizable group of unbeneficed clerks who formed the radical
fringe of contemporary society...the poorly shod Will is portrayed "y-robed in russet" traveling
about the countryside, a crazed dissident showing no respect to his superiors." Malcolm Godden has
proposed that he lived as an itinerant hermit, attaching himself to a patron temporarily, exchanging
writing services for shelter and food.
The tradition that Langland was a Wycliffite, an idea promoted by Robert Crowley's 1550 edition of
Piers and complicated by early Lollard appropriation of the Plowman-figure (see, for instance,
Pierce the Ploughman's Crede and The Plowman's Tale), is almost certainly incorrect. It is true that
Langland and Wyclif shared many concerns: both question the value of indulgences and pilgrimage,
promote the use of the vernacular in preaching, attack clerical corruption, and even advocate
disendowment. But these topics were widely discussed throughout the late fourteenth century, only
becoming typically 'Wycliffite' after Langland's death. Furthermore, as Pamela Gradon observes, at
no point does Langland echo Wyclif's characteristic teachings on the sacraments.

Geoffrey Chaucer
[...] se Shakespeare e Milton sono i pi grandi figli del loro Paese, Chaucer ne comunque il
(Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Chaucer[1])
Ritratto di Chaucer del XVII secolo
Geoffrey Chaucer, /fri s/ (Londra, 1343 circa Londra, 25 ottobre 1400), stato uno
scrittore, poeta, cantante, burocrate e diplomatico inglese. Viene spesso riconosciuto come il padre
della letteratura inglese.
Bench abbia scritto diverse opere importanti, viene di solito ricordato in particolare per il suo
capolavoro, pervenutoci incompleto, de I racconti di Canterbury. Alcuni studiosi sostengono inoltre
che Chaucer sia stato il primo autore ad aver dimostrato la legittimit letteraria in volgare della
lingua inglese[2]. In un'epoca nella quale in Inghilterra la poesia veniva scritta prevalentemente in
latino, francese e anglo-normanno[3], Chaucer fece uso della lingua volgare (middle English,
evoluzione dell'old English parlato dagli Anglosassoni) elevando la lingua inglese del suo tempo a
lingua letteraria.

Filosofia e letteratura: non c' l'una se non c' l'altra
Geoffrey Chaucer in un'illustrazione su History of England - Century Edition di Cassel, 1902

Le informazioni biografiche su Geoffrey Chaucer sono molto scarse. Sappiamo che egli nacque nel
1343 a Londra da un mercante di vini, e visse al servizio di tre re (Edoardo III, Riccardo II ed
Enrico IV). noto inoltre che tra il 1368 e il 1378 egli venne in Italia, dove conobbe i testi di
Petrarca, Dante e Boccaccio; quest'ultimo, con il suo Decameron, avrebbe poi dato a Chaucer
un'ispirazione fondamentale per la scrittura dei Racconti di Canterbury[4].

Le origini e la Guerra dei cent'anni (1343-1360)

Il padre e il nonno erano entrambi dei viticoltori e, prima di questa attivit, la famiglia aveva gestito
dei commerci ad Ipswich per diverse generazioni. Il suo nome ha origini francesi e significa
shoemaker ("calzolaio").
Nel 1324 John Chaucer, padre di Geoffrey, fu rapito da una zia nella speranza che questi, allora
dodicenne, ne sposasse la figlia, in modo da mantenere il possesso sulle attivit commerciali ad
Ipswich. La zia venne imprigionata e i 250 di sanzione amministrativa, pagati per il reato,
suggeriscono che la famiglia fosse benestante, se non addirittura di alto rango. John spos infine
Agnes Copton, che nel 1349 eredit le propriet dello zio[5], inclusi ventiquattro negozi a Londra.
Bench non ci sia pervenuto alcun documento certo sulla sua adolescenza e sulla sua educazione, si
pu supporre che Geoffrey Chaucer avesse una profonda conoscenza del latino e del francese, come
dimostrano le sue traduzioni; si noti anche che lo studio di queste lingue era consueto
nell'educazione dei giovani alto-borghesi[6].
La prima volta che si ha menzione del nome di Chaucer nel 1357[6], in un documento di
contabilit domestica presso l'abitazione di Elisabetta de Burgh, contessa di Ulster, quando il padre
riusc a farlo diventare paggio della nobildonna. Lavor anche a corte come diplomatico ed
impiegato statale: in particolare ebbe da parte del re l'incarico di raccogliere e inventariare i rifiuti
Nel 1359, nei primi anni della Guerra dei cent'anni, Edoardo III d'Inghilterra invase la Francia e
Chaucer viaggi con Lionello di Anversa, marito di Elisabetta, insieme all'esercito inglese. Un anno
pi tardi[4], nel 1360, fu catturato durante l'assedio di Reims e trattenuto come prigioniero di
guerra. Edoardo III pag 16 di contributo al riscatto e Chaucer venne rilasciato.

Il matrimonio e la corte di Edoardo III (1360-1378)

Dopo la cattura, i documenti riguardo alla vita di Chaucer sono incerti: sembra infatti che il giovane
abbia viaggiato in Francia, Spagna e Fiandre, presumibilmente come messaggero e forse anche
come pellegrino. Si parla di un possibile pellegrinaggio a Santiago di Compostela; forse prosegu
intanto gli studi presso la Inner Temple[senza fonte].
Intorno al 1366, Chaucer spos Philippa Roet, damigella della regina di Edoardo III, Filippa di
Hainault, e sorella di Katherine Swynford, futura moglie di Giovanni di Gand, Duca di Lancaster.
Non ancora stato stabilito con precisione il numero dei figli avuti da Chaucer e Filippa, ma le
opinioni pi accreditate e maggiormente diffuse sostengono la nascita di tre o quattro figli. Uno di
essi, Thomas Chaucer, ebbe un'illustre carriera: fu ufficiale di quattro re, inviato in Francia e infine
Oratore della Camera dei Comuni. Altri figli furono probabilmente Elisabetta Chaucy (che prese poi
i voti), Agnes Chaucer (addetta all'incoronorazione di Enrico IV) e Lewis Chaucer.
Possibile ritratto di Chaucer, creazione del XIX secolo
Documenti inoltre attestano la sua presenza nella corte reali di Edoardo III come valletto, yeoman o
Esquire il 20 giugno 1367[4]. Viaggi all'estero diverse volte, almeno come valletto, e prese parte al
matrimonio tra Lionello di Anversa e Violante, figlia di Galeazzo II Visconti, presso la corte
milanese. Alla cerimonia erano presenti due altri grandi letterari dell'epoca, Jean Froissart e

l'italiano Petrarca. Si ritiene inoltre che intorno a questo periodo Chaucer abbia scritto Il libro della
duchessa, in onore di Bianca di Lancaster, l'ultima moglie di Giovanni di Gand morta nel
1369[senza fonte].
Chaucer intraprese altri numerosi viaggi, tra cui una spedizione militare in Piccardia, una visita a
Genova per questioni commerciali, a Firenze per chiedere un prestito alla banca dei Bardi (di cui
erano soci Boccaccio e suo padre) in favore del re, e probabilmente a Padova nel 1373[6]. Fu
proprio in questo viaggio italiano che Chaucer entr in contatto con la cultura italiana medioevale,
le sue strutture e le sue tematiche, che si ritrovano facilmente nelle sue opere. Nel periodo compreso
tra il 1372 e il 1376 inoltre databile la traduzione parziale del Roman de la Rose in Middle
Si ipotizza un altro viaggio, intrapreso nel 1377, ma avvolto nel mistero: solo ultimi documenti
suggeriscono che si tratti di una missione, insieme a Jean Froissart, per combinare un possibile
matrimonio tra il futuro Riccardo II e una principessa francese, cos da porre termine alla
sanguinosa Guerra dei cent'anni. Se questo era davvero lo scopo del viaggio, non ebbe successo, in
quanto non avvenne nessun matrimonio[4]. Nel 1378, Riccardo II lo invi presso la corte viscontea
e in seguito presso Sir John Hawkwood, soldato e mercenario d'Inghilterra: il Cavaliere chauceriano
dei Canterbury Tales ricorda infatti per molti tratti questo personaggio[7].
Una possibile indicazione che la sua carriera da scrittore fosse apprezzata gi all'epoca viene da
Edoardo III che accredit a Chaucer un gallone di vino al giorno, vita natural durante, come
ricompensa di certi servigi. Questo genere di pagamento era inusuale, ma venne dato nel giorno
della celebrazione il 23 aprile 1374, giorno di San Giorgio, quando venivano premiate le opere
artistiche: si ipotizza dunque trattarsi del premio al lavoro di Chaucer. Il poeta continu a ricevere
questo compenso fino alla salita al trono di Riccardo II, il 18 aprile 1378, quando lo stipendio fu
convertito in denaro[4].

La maturit e gli ultimi anni (1378-1400)

In seguito all'entrata in servizio presso la corte riccardiana, Chaucer venne nominato ispettore del
dazio presso il porto di Londra, 1382[6]. Nel 1386 entr a far parte del Parlamento inglese nel ruolo
di rappresentante della contea del Kent: in questo periodo, considerato della maturit, si presuppone
vengano scritti i poemi allegorici de Il parlamento degli uccelli e del Troilo e Criseide. Quest'ultima
opera fu verosimilmente scritta tra il 1383 e il 1385, a differenza de La leggenda delle donne
eccellenti, datata 1386. Lo stesso anno Chaucer divenne Giudice di pace nella contea del Kent.[8]
Nel 1387 mor la moglie Filippa e per Chaucer inizi un periodo di crisi economica, data dai cattivi
rapporti con i potenti: crisi fu superata probabilmente con il ritorno di Giovanni di Gand nel 1390.
in questo periodo di crisi che alcuni studiosi pongono l'inizio del suo capolavoro, I racconti di
Canterbury[6]. Dei documenti attestano che nel settembre dello stesso anno il poeta fu derubato, e
forse ferito, durante un suo pattugliamento e che poco dopo, il 17 giugno 1391, smise di ricoprire
questa carica. Quasi immediatamente dopo, il 22 giugno 1391, in seguito al ritorno di Giovanni,
venne nominato sovraintendente alle acque del Tamigi presso la parte meridionale del porto di
Londra, svolgendo anche l'incarico di controllore delle gabelle sulle lane e sui pellami[9] e viceintendente forestale di North Pethenton Park, Somersetshire. Nello stesso periodo tra il 1389 e il
1391, svolse anche l'incarico di sovraintendente alle costruzioni reali nella regione[9]
Gli ultimi scritti sono traduzioni e trattati, il Boezio e il Trattato sull'astrolabio (scritto per il figlio
Lewis), datati 1392. Il nuovo re Enrico IV rinnov il contratto con Chaucer, fatto in precedenza da
re Riccardo, ma ne la Lamentela di Chaucer per il suo Borsello il poeta accenna al mancato rispetto
del pagamento da parte del nuovo sovrano: l'ultima testimonianza scritta del poeta del 5 giugno
1400, quando compare una somma di denaro che gli fu data[4].
Si presuppone anche che abbia avuto luogo in quest'anno l'ultima revisione dei Canterbury Tales,
prima della morte che lo colse il 25 ottobre 1400.

Geoffrey Chaucer fu sepolto nell'abbazia di Westminster, in un'ala che prender in seguito il nome
di Angolo dei poeti.

Chaucer pellegrino, dal manoscritto di Ellesmere
Geoffrey Chaucer rappresenta il fondatore della letteratura inglese moderna. L'antico inglese del
primo Medioevo aveva dato vita a tanti testi letterari, ma questa tradizione fu interrotta bruscamente
dopo l'invasione dei Normanni nel 1066. In seguito, fu il francese (o meglio l'anglo-normanno) la
lingua delle categorie colte ed elevate. Soltanto nel XIV secolo l'inglese riconquist prestigio, e
Chaucer fu uno dei primi ad impiegare la propria madrelingua come lingua letteraria.
Le sue opere sono fortemente marcate dai modelli antichi, francesi e italiani, e contengono tuttavia
anche innovazioni metriche, stilistiche e di contenuto, divenute poi le fondamenta dell'autonomia
della prima letteratura inglese. Solitamente si distinguono tre fasi produttive[2], ognuna delle quali
rispecchia i suoi influssi letterari e infine l'emancipazione dai suoi modelli letterari: le prime opere
di Chaucer sono conosciute quindi come le "francesi", quelle dopo il 1370 come quelle appartenenti
alla fase "italiana"; The Canterbury Tales furono scritti in maggior parte dopo il 1390, durante la
sua fase "inglese".

Il periodo francese (fino al 1372)

La prima opera letteraria di Chaucer ritenuta Il Romanzo della Rosa, una traduzione del Roman de
la Rose, con i suoi 22.000 versi l'opera poetica francese pi lunga e pi influente del tardo
Medioevo. Tale opera rimasta conservata solo in parte e non chiaro se Chaucer sia mai riuscito a
terminarne la traduzione. La scrittura stampata (apparsa per la prima volta nel 1532) di alcune
edizioni viene suddivisa in tre frammenti, che linguisticamente si differenziano profondamente l'uno
dall'altro; la paternit di Chaucer certa soltanto riguardo al frammento A (righe 1-1705), mentre
riguardo al frammento C essa discussa e riguardo al frammento B confutata. Il Romanzo della
Rosa metricamente e linguisticamente ancora piuttosto ineguale, bench Chaucer ne trasse molti
motivi (soprattutto, per esempio, quello del sogno come elemento di cornice) che pi tardi
avrebbero impresso le sue poesie.
Anche ABC una traduzione dal francese. La poesia, di Guillaume de Deguileville, una lode alla
Santa Vergine; il titolo corrisponde alle lettere iniziali delle strofe.
Il libro della duchessa la prima poesia propria di Chaucer. Si tratta di un encomio a Bianca, la
prima moglie di Giovanni di Gaunt, morta nel 1368; presumibilmente la poesia ebbe origine in
occasione di una commemorazione che il principe faceva preparare ogni anno. Questa poesia
onirica di modello francese racconta con la lingua allegorica della poesia cortese il lutto del vedovo.
conosceva molto bene la lingua francese perch era la lingua delle corti, infatti in questa fase scrive
poemi che hanno come tema l'amore cortese.

Il periodo italiano (1372-1380)

La casa della fama datata intorno al 1380 ed anch'essa una poesia onirica, il cui contenuto per
si distingue nettamente dalla poesia precedente di Chaucer. Esso sembra perdersi in meandri senza
punto d'arrivo, trattando nei suoi numerosi excursus diversi temi, tra cui quelli del senso e dello
scopo dell'arte, della verit e delle menzogne della storiografia, fino ad arrivare ad argomentazioni
di carattere scientifico sulla natura del suono e dell'aria. Il poeta Geoffrey si ritrova nel suo sogno in
un tempio vitreo dedicato a Venere, dove sta leggendo la storia della conquista di Troia incisa su
una tavola d'ottone. Un'aquila alquanto loquace lo trasporta da quel luogo nella casa della dea Fama,

dove apprende come costei distribuisca la celebrit tra i postulanti in modo del tutto arbitrario; per
ultimo entra nella casa delle voci, costruita con rami d'albero, dove un uomo di alta
considerazione (non ben descritto) viene messo alle strette da figure strane. A questo punto
s'interrompe la poesia. Alcune immagini, come l'aquila, sono tratte dalla Divina Commedia; inoltre
tale poesia contornata pienamente con rimandi pi o meno parodistici e frecciate ad autori antichi,
in particolar modo all'Eneide virgiliana, alle Metamorfosi di Ovidio e a Boezio, cosicch la poesia
stata letta dai critici come un trattato di teoria letteraria.
Col titolo Boece, Chaucer tradusse in inglese, intorno al 1380, il De consolatione philosophiae di
Severino Boezio, dal quale ha appreso l'arte della concretezza espositiva. Di tale testo conservato
un manoscritto del primo Cinquecento.
Anelida e Arcite racconta invece l'infelice amore della regina armena Anelida per il nobile tebano
Arcite: la parte centrale di questa poesia incompiuta costituita dal lamento di Anelida; il monologo
drammatico rappresenta la situazione della regina in modo molto eloquente ed strutturato
simmetricamente, con introduzione, strofa, contro-strofa ed epodo. Alcune parti dell'Anelida and
Arcyte, come il mito dei Sette contro Tebe, sono riprese dalla Thebais di Stazio. Il lamento d'amore
piuttosto di genere francese, mentre il racconto mostra notevolmente l'influsso della Teseide di
Boccaccio. La storia in s comunque opera di Chaucer.
Il parlamento degli uccelli un altro poema onirico. Le cento strofe, tenute in rima reale, sono una
delle prime prove del giorno di San Valentino come festivit dell'amore. Come ne La casa della
fama, il narratore un poeta che tenta inutilmente di studiare l'amore da vecchi libri. Egli
s'addormenta piegato sul Somnium Scipionis (il sogno di Scipio descritto da Cicerone nella parte
finale del De re publica) e nel sogno viene condotto da Scipio in persona nel giardino dell'amore,
dove gli uccelli si sono riuniti in occasione della stagione degli accoppiamenti sotto la presidenza
della dea Natura. La lunga esitazione di una nobildonna, che non riesce a decidere fra tre
corteggiatori, viene interrotta dalla dea, la quale d cos inizio alle trattative per la scelta del partner.
In queste le colombe si battono per la fedelt eterna, mentre il cuculo al contrario elogia la
promiscuit. La gaia allegoria di Chaucer viene spesso interpretata come poesia d'occasione dello
sposalizio tra Riccardo II d'Inghilterra e Anna di Boemia.
Nel Troilo e Criseide l'amore non viene trasfigurato in modo allegorico, bens illustrato in modo
assolutamente moderno nella sua complessit psicologica. Questo poema epico in versi, anch'esso
tenuto in rima reale, racconta dell'amore del principe troiano Troilo per Criseide. Lo zio di lei,
Pandero, aiuta Troilo a conquistarne l'amore, ma alla fine questa s'innamora del guerriero greco
Diomede. Chaucer conclude il poema con un consiglio ai giovani innamorati di dedicarsi all'amore
celeste verso Dio invece che a quello sulla Terra: questa affermazione chiaramente impregnata,
come d'altronde il resto del poema, della filosofia di Boezio; il modello diretto di Chaucer era per
Il Filostrato (1340) di Boccaccio.
Ne La leggenda delle donne eccellenti Chaucer commemora le donne abbandonate della storia e
della mitologia e il "santo" Cupido. Questa tematica ripresa dall'Epistulae heroidum di Ovidio: in
particolare vengono raccontate le storie di Cleopatra, Tisbe, Didone, Medea e di Ipsipile, Lucrezia,
Filomela, Filide ed Ipermnestra. Il prologo rappresenta probabilmente la prima poesia epica della
letteratura inglese ad essere composta ininterrottamente in distici ecoici. Chaucer impieg questo
verso anche nella maggior parte delle sue Canterbury Tales.

Il periodo inglese: I racconti di Canterbury

Canterbury Tales, incisione su legno, 1484
Lo stesso argomento in dettaglio: I racconti di Canterbury.
I racconti di Canterbury sono una raccolta di novelle, scritte in gran parte dopo il 1388, durante la
fase inglese della produzione chauceriana. Tuttavia il suo modello letterario il Decamerone del

1353, dalla quale Chaucer adott soprattutto il principio organizzativo della trama a cornici, mentre
le singole vicende sono opera originale di Chaucer.
Il celebre prologo fa da cornice all'avvenimento: il poeta intenzionato ad andare in pellegrinaggio
alla tomba di san Tommaso Becket a Canterbury, e in una taverna alle porte di Londra incontra una
schiera di ventinove pellegrini con le sue stesse intenzioni, a cui si aggrega. L'oste propone ad ogni
pellegrino di raccontare due storie all'andata e due al ritorno del viaggio, anche col secondo fine di
mantenere i clienti con la voglia di bere; la storia migliore sarebbe stata premiata e ci sarebbe stata
una penalit per chi non avesse raccontato le sue due storie. Nel prologo, Chaucer ritrae ognuno dei
pellegrini, in modo breve ma molto realistico e pieno di dettagli. Ne deriva cos un'immagine della
societ borghese del tempo, l'autore pu in tal modo rappresentare ogni ceto sociale, dal cavaliere
alla suora fino al contadino; solo i nobili e i mendicanti non sono rappresentati: infatti i nobili non
avrebbero mai viaggiato con la plebe e i mendicanti non avrebbero mai avuto il denaro per il
Dei centoventi racconti inizialmente previsti, Chaucer riusc a completarne solo ventidue, mentre
altri due sono rimasti incompiuti. Alcuni rimandano nel contenuto ad altri racconti, ci nonostante
la successione originaria dei racconti non pu essere ricostruita con certezza. Ma la vera forza
d'attrazione dei Racconti di Canterbury la loro variet: Chaucer dot ognuno dei suoi pellegrini di
un linguaggio caratteristico e di una storia adeguata, di modo che una moltitudine di generi possono
coesistere uno accanto all'altro e, allo stesso tempo, tramite la trama a cornici, formare un'unit. Il
poeta seppe accostare l'agiografia delle devote leggende di santi, la poesia cortese e storielle
grossolane con eleganza e senza contraddizioni. Recentemente alcune interpretazioni che vedono i
Canterbury Tales come satira degli stati sociali si sono dimostrate fondate.
Il poema scritto in pentametri alternando sillabe accentate a sillabe atone.

Opere scientifiche
Chaucer redasse presumibilmente per suo figlio una sorta di guida all'uso di un astrolabio (Trattato
sull'astrolabio). Questo testo dunque una prova delle sue conoscenze anche tecniche e
Un'altra opera tecnica, ad argomento astronomico e dal titolo Equatorie of the Planetis, scoperta nel
1952 da Derek de Solla Price, segue la descrizione di alcuni oggetti contenuti nel Trattato, al quale
tra l'altro linguisticamente molto simile. comunque ancora incerto che si tratti davvero di
un'opera di Chaucer.

Valore letterario e influenza linguistica

Chaucer ritratto da Thomas Hoccleve: questo ritratto viene considerato uno dei pi fedeli, in quanto
Hoccleve conobbe Chaucer di persona
Chaucer scrisse la maggior parte delle sue opere in un metro accentuativo, uno stile sviluppato circa
nell'XI secolo come alternativo all'antico metro anglosassone alliterativo. L'innovazione di Chaucer
risiede proprio nella metrica: egli inventa la cosiddetta rima reale, divenendo uno dei primi poeti
inglesi ad utilizzare il pentametro giambico all'interno delle sue opere[10]. La collocazione di questi
cinque piedi giambici nel distico ecoico si trova per la prima volta ne La leggenda delle donne
eccellenti, ed utilizzato in seguito in numerose altre opere, divenendo un canone della poesia
inglese. Importante inoltre la sua influenza nella satira inglese, con l'utilizzo delle comuni
tecniche dell'umorismo e dell'accento dialettale: la sua prima comparsa si ha nel Racconto del
Fattore, come ad esempio la dissacrante trovata finale dell'inversione bocca-ano, tipica della
tradizione carnevalesca del racconto popolare[11].

La metrica
La poesia inglese antica si rif al metro accentuativo germanico, che si ritrova alcune volte nelle
opere di Chaucer. Costui riprese la rima finale dalla tradizione letteraria delle lingue romanze,
speriment diverse forme poetiche francesi ed italiane e le adatt alle caratteristiche grammaticali e
ritmiche della lingua inglese. Inizi dapprima col verso in ballate francesi, perfezionato da
Guillaume de Machaut: queste ballate sono composte da otto versi con lo schema rimato ABA BB
CBC, e ogni tre strofe successive vengono riprese le stesse rime; Chaucer si attenne strettamente a
questa regola in poemi pi corti come Truth o Gentilesse. In italiano la strofa in ballate
corrispondeva all'ottava rima impiegata da Boccaccio: mentre in francese i versi erano composti
piuttosto da otto sillabe, in italiano le sillabe erano undici (endecasillabo). Chaucer si serv
maggiormente del pentametro giambico, introducendo cos nella poesia inglese la tipologia di verso
pi usata successivamente.
Tramite l'eliminazione del settimo verso tipico dell'ottava rima, Chaucer cre una forma poetica,
chiamata in seguito rima reale, che ebbe molti imitatori nella letteratura inglese. Si consideri, come
esempio, la prima strofa de Il parlamento degli uccelli:
The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne,
Th'assay so hard, so sharp the conquerynge,
The dredful joye alwey that slit so yerne:
Al this mene I by Love, that my felynge
Astonyeth with his wonderful werkynge
So sore, iwis, that whan I on hym thynke
Nat wot I wel wher that I flete or wynke.
(Geoffrey Chaucer, Il parlamento degli uccelli)
Gli ultimi due versi formano un cosiddetto distico ecoico, ossia due pentametri giambici uniti in una
coppia rimata. Questi costituiscono la base metrica del maggior numero dei Canterbury Tales e di
gran parte della poesia epica inglese successiva a Chaucer.

La poetica
Folio di apertura del manoscritto di Hengwrt
Ci che caratterizza maggiormente lo stile poetico di Chaucer il distacco dall'allegoria e dalle
norme della letteratura cavalleresca del Medioevo: egli si configura infatti, con i suoi Canterbury
Tales, come il precursore della logica laico-borghese che andr sviluppandosi nel corso dei
secoli[2]. Questo non significa che Chaucer si sia distaccato totalmente dalla letteratura medievale
contemporanea, ma che l'evoluzione dipartitasi da lui culminer con il romanzo realistico-borghese:
nelle sue opere infatti convergono tutti i motivi principali della letteratura medievale: il filone
cortese-cavalleresco, il filone religioso e per ultimo il filone realistico-borghese.
Inoltre, per la vastit della sua commedia umana e l'acuta capacit di conoscere gli uomini e di
descriverli nella sua opera pi importante, Canterbury Tales, si pu gi riconoscere in lui il
precursore del romanzo psicologico che sar lo splendore dell'Inghilterra del XVIII secolo.
Chaucer e il moderno inglese
Il racconto della donna di Bath, I racconti di Canterbury manoscritto di Ellesmere
La poetica di Chaucer, insieme a quella di altri scrittori dell'epoca, considerata come un forte
incentivo ed aiuto per uniformare il dialetto londinese medioevale, combinazione dei dialetti del
Kent e del Midlands. L'influenza della corte, della cancelleria e della burocrazia di cui fece parte
Chaucer rimane probabilmente fondamentale nello sviluppo dell'inglese standard, anche se

l'inglese moderno in qualche modo distante dal linguaggio delle opere di Chaucer, dovuto
soprattutto all'effetto del Great Vowel Shift (grande spostamento vocalico)[12] che invase il Regno
Unito dopo la morte del poeta. Questo cambiamento di pronuncia infatti, non ancora del tutto
compreso, alla base delle difficolt nella lettura dei testi di Chaucer[13].
And so bifel, whan comen was the tyme
Of Aperil, whan clothd is the mede
With newe grene, of lusty Veer the pryme,
And swote smellen floures white and rede,
In sondry wises shewed, as I rede,
The folk of Troie hir observaunces olde,
Palladiones feste for to holde.
(Geoffrey Chaucer, Troilo e Criseide[14].)
La desinenza -e in questi versi, come nella maggior parte degli altri, ancora sconosciuta: sembra
probabile che durante il periodo di Chaucer l'uso colloquiale dei vocaboli prevedesse la -e finale,
ma nonostante ci l'uso risulta comunque irregolare. La versificazione del poeta suggerisce inoltre
che la finale -e verrebbe alcune volte pronunciata, altre invece rimarrebbe silenziosa[15].
A prescindere dall'irregolarit della pronuncia, molte parole del vocabolario chauceriano sono
riconoscibili da un moderno madrelingua: l'Oxford English Dictionary infatti definisce Chaucer
come il primo autore ad aver utilizzato un gran numero di parole comuni inglesi all'interno dei
propri scritti, e Milton lo definir in seguito, a buon diritto, padre della letteratura inglese proprio
per il vasto dizionario chauceriano presente nella lingua moderna. Probabilmente questi vocaboli
comuni erano gi presenti nella lingua parlata, ma Chaucer il primo autore di cui si siano
conservati e trovati documenti scritti: acceptable, alkali, altercation, amble, angrily, annex,
annoyance, approaching, arbitration, armless, army, arrogant, arsenic, arc, artillery o aspect sono
solo alcuni dei vocaboli utilizzati da Chaucer e ritrovati nel moderno inglese.
Bench il linguaggio di Chaucer sia molto pi prossimo rispetto al testo del Beowulf, l'inglese
chauceriano differisce per alcuni versi dal moderno inglese, tanto che molte versioni delle sue opere
sono pubblicate in prosa o con una vera e propria traduzione letterale. Di seguito riportato un
esempio[16] che mette a confronto il testo di Chaucer con una moderna parafrasi:




This frere bosteth that he knoweth helle,
And God it woot, that it is litel wonder;
Freres and feendes been but lyte asonder.
For, pardee, ye han ofte tyme herd telle
How that a frere ravyshed was to helle
In spirit ones by a visioun;
And as an angel ladde hym up and doun,
To shewen hym the peynes that the were,
In al the place saugh he nat a frere;
Of oother folk he saugh ynowe in wo.
Unto this angel spak the frere tho:
Now, sire, quod he, han freres swich a
That noon of hem shal come to this place?
Yis, quod this aungel, many a millioun!
And unto sathanas he ladde hym doun.
--And now hath sathanas,--seith he,--a tayl

This friar boasts that he knows hell,
And God knows that it is little wonder;
Friars and fiends are seldom far apart.
For, by God, you have ofttimes heard tell
How a ravished friar went to hell
In spirit, once by a vision;
And as an angel led him up and down,
To show him the pains that were there,
In the whole place he saw not one friar;
He saw enough of other folk in woe.
To the angel spoke the friar thus:
"Now sir," said he, "Are friars in such good
That none of them come to this place?"
"Yes," answered the angel, "many a million!"
And the angel led him down to Satan.
He said, "And Satan has a tail,

Brodder than of a carryk is the sayl.

Hold up thy tayl, thou sathanas!--quod he;
1690 --shewe forth thyn ers, and lat the frere se
Where is the nest of freres in this place!-And er that half a furlong wey of space,
Right so as bees out swarmen from an
Out of the develes ers ther gonne dryve
1695 Twenty thousand freres on a route,
And thurghout helle swarmed al aboute,
And comen agayn as faste as they may
And in his ers they crepten everychon.
1699 He clapte his tayl agayn and lay ful stille.

Broader than a large ship's sail.

Hold up your tail, Satan!" he ordered.
"Show your arse, and let the friar see
Where the nest of friars is in this place!"
And before half a furlong of space,
Just as bees swarm from a hive,
Out of the devil's arse there drove
Twenty thousand friars on a route,
And they swarmed all over hell,
And came again as fast as they had gone,
And every one crept back into his arse.
He clapped his tail again and lay very still.

L'eredit di Chaucer
Gi quando Chaucer era ancora in vita le sue opere furono elogiate, nel suo paese e all'estero, ad
esempio da John Gower, Thomas Usk ed Eustache Deschamps. Dopo la sua morte ebbe inizio la
sua canonizzazione come massimo punto di riferimento della poesia inglese, soprattutto per merito
del poeta di corte John Lydgate. Lo stile di Chaucer fu spesso imitato, al punto che opere di alcuni
suoi imitatori furono ritenute sue originali fino al XX secolo. Le sue opere vennero copiate in
manoscritti e in ogni copia si presentavano errori, cambiamenti o variazioni dialettali, cosicch alla
fine circolavano diverse versioni, soprattutto dei Canterbury Tales, ma la base di ogni edizione
odierna il cosiddetto manoscritto Ellesmere, apparso intorno al 1410. Il manoscritto Hengwrt,
custodito nella Biblioteca Nazionale di Aberystwyth, si suppone sia essere di data anteriore (intorno
al 1400), e fu probabilmente steso dallo stesso copista del manoscritto Ellesmere, anche se presenta
irregolarit, dovute forse a censura: ad esempio Il racconto della donna di Bath qui risulta essere
notevolmente sdrammatizzato. La passione per Chaucer perdur immutata per tutto il XV secolo,
tanto che I racconti di Canterbury furono uno dei primi libri ad essere stampati in Inghilterra: la
prima edizione usc da William Caxton nel 1478. Anche due drammi di Shakespeare si rifanno
direttamente a Chaucer: il Troilo e Cressida e la tragicommedia apocrifa Two Noble Kinsmen (Due
nobili cugini) (quest'ultima s'ispira al Racconto del cavaliere).
Nel XVI e XVII secolo la celebrit di Chaucer svan, soprattutto perch il Medio inglese divenne
per i lettori sempre pi incomprensibile a causa delle notevoli mutazioni consonantiche e di altri
sviluppi linguistici[12]. John Dryden elogi Chaucer come padre della poesia inglese e tradusse
alcuni Tales in neo-inglese. Le opinioni su Chaucer dei Romantici differirono. Molti lo stimavano
per la presunta primordialit della sua poesia, Lord Byron lo riteneva osceno e spregevole. Nel
XIX e XX secolo le sue opere divennero oggetto della scienza letteraria moderna. La Chaucer
Society[17] (dal 1978 New Chaucer Society) pubblica annualmente dal 1868 un'antologia di saggi,
che oggi porta il nome di Studies in the Age of Chaucer. La poesia pi famosa dell'inglese moderno,
The Waste Land (Thomas Stearns Eliot, 1922) comincia con un riferimento alle prime parole del
prologo dei Racconti di Canterbury:
Prologo Generale
1 Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote;
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

The Waste Land

April is the cruellest month, breeding;
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

5 Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth

Winter kept us warm, covering
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
A little life with dried tubers.
Hath in the ram his half cours yronne,
I Racconti di Canterbury sono stati adattati pi volte per il teatro, rappresentati anche come musical
e filmati tra l'altro da Pier Paolo Pasolini (I racconti di Canterbury, 1972).
La prima posizione canonica di Chaucer contribu in modo determinante alla standardizzazione
dapprima del linguaggio burocratico londinese e, in base a questo, della lingua inglese.

Lista delle opere

La lista delle opere di Chaucer in ordine cronologico, anche se ancora oggi molti critici dibattono
sull'esatta collocazione temporale di alcuni lavori. Le raccolte probabilmente sono state realizzate in
un lungo arco di tempo[18].
Opere maggiori
Titolo originale
The Romaunt of the Rose

Romanzo della Rosa

The Book of Duchess

Il libro della duchessa

The House of Fame

Anelida and Arcite
The Parliament of Fowls

La casa della fama

Anelida e Arcite
Il parlamento degli uccelli



Troilus and Criseyde

Troilo e Criseide
La leggenda delle donne
The Legend of Good Women
Treatise on the Astrolabe
Trattato sull'astrolabio
The Canterbury Tales
Opere minori, testi brevi

Traduzione del Roman de la Rose, il
titolo incerto.
Prima importante opera, scritta
nell'intervallo tra il 1369 e il 1372
Probabile traduzione del De
consolatione philosophiae

L'opera pi celebre di Chaucer:
I racconti di Canterbury
pervenutaci frammentaria.
Lavori menzionati da Chaucer andati perduti

Chaucers Wordes unto
Adam, His Owne
The Complaint unto
The Complaint of
Chaucer to his Purse
The Complaint of Mars
The Complaint of
A Complaint to His

Of the Wreched Engendrynge of Mankynde,

presumibilmente una traduzione del De miseria
conditionis humanae di Innocenzo III.
Origenes upon the Maudeleyne
The book of the Leoun (Il libro del leone), menzionato
nell'epilogo a conclusione dei Racconti di Canterbury:
non ancora pervenuta a noi nessuna copia del testo.
Opere attribuite a Chaucer
Against Women Unconstant
A Balade of Complaint
Complaynt D'Amours

The Former Age

Lak of Stedfastnesse
Lenvoy de Chaucer a
Lenvoy de Chaucer a
To Rosemounde
Womanly Noblesse

Merciles Beaute
The Visioner's Tale
The Equatorie of the Planets
Pseudoepigrafi e lavori che plagiano Chaucer
The Pilgrim's Tale, scritto del XVI secolo con molte
allusioni a Chaucer.
The Plowman's Tale (conosciuto anche come The
Complaint of the Ploughman), una satira lollarda.
Pierce the Ploughman's Crede, altra satira.
The Ploughman's Tale.
La Belle Dame Sans Merci.
The Testament of Love, attribuito inizialmente a
Chaucer, scritto da Thomas Usk.
Jack Upland
God Spede the Plow, prende in prestito parti del
Racconto del Frate.

Thomas Malory
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sir Thomas Malory

An Aubrey Beardsley illustration for Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, "How Sir Bedivere Cast the
Sword Excalibur into the Water" (1894)
Thomas Malory
c. 1405.
Warwickshire, England
March 14, 1471.
Newgate Prison
Sir Thomas Malory (c. 1415-18 - 14 March, 1471) was an English writer, the author or compiler of
Le Morte d'Arthur. Since the late nineteenth century, he has generally been identified as Sir Thomas
Malory of Newbold Revel in Warwickshire,[1] a knight, land-owner, and Member of Parliament.[2]
Previously, it was suggested by antiquary John Leland and John Bale that he was Welsh (identifying
"Malory" with "Maelor"). Occasionally, other candidates are put forward for authorship of Le
Morte d'Arthur, but the supporting evidence for their claim has been described as "no more than

Most of what is known about Malory stems from the accounts describing him in the prayers found
in the Winchester Manuscript. He is described as a "knight prisoner", distinguishing him from the

other six individuals also bearing the name Thomas Malory in the 15th century when Le Morte
d'Arthur was written.[4] At the end of the "Tale of King Arthur" (Books IIV in the printing by
William Caxton) is written: "For this was written by a knight prisoner Thomas Malleorre, that God
send him good recovery."[5] At the end of "The Tale of Sir Gareth" (Caxton's Book VII): "And I
pray you all that readeth this tale to pray for him that this wrote, that God send him good
deliverance soon and hastily."[5] At the conclusion of the "Tale of Sir Tristram" (Caxton's VIII
XII): "Here endeth the second book of Sir Tristram de Lyones, which was drawn out of the French
by Sir Thomas Malleorre, knight, as Jesu be his help."[5] Finally, at the conclusion of the whole
book: "The Most Piteous Tale of the Morte Arthure Sanz Gwerdon par le shyvalere Sir Thomas
Malleorre, knight, Jesu aide ly pur votre bon mercy."[5]
However, all these are replaced by Caxton with a final colophon reading: "I pray you all gentlemen
and gentlewomen that readeth this book of Arthur and his knights, from the beginning to the ending,
pray for me while I am alive, that God send me good deliverance and when I am dead, I pray you
all pray for my soul. For this book was ended the ninth year of the reign of King Edward the Fourth
by Sir Thomas Maleore, knight, as Jesu help him for his great might, as he is the servant of Jesu
both day and night."[5]
The author was educated, as some of his material "was drawn out of the French," which suggests
that he might have been from a wealthy family. A claimant's age must also fit the time of writing.[5]

Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel

By far the likeliest candidate for the authorship is Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel in
Warwickshire. H. Oskar Sommer first proposed this identification in his edition of Le Morte
d'Arthur published in 1890, and George Lyman Kittredge, a professor at Harvard, provided the
evidence in 1896. Kittredge showed Malory as a soldier and a member of Parliament who fought at
Calais with Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. However, a biography by Edward Hicks
published in 1928 revealed that Malory had been imprisoned as a thief, bandit, kidnapper, and
rapist, which hardly seemed in keeping with the high chivalric standards of his book.[6] Helen
Cooper referred to his life as one that "reads more like an account of exemplary thuggery than
Thomas Malory was born to Sir John Malory of Winwick, who had served as a Justice of the Peace
in Warwickshire and as a member of Parliament, and Lady Phillipa Malory, heiress of Newbold.
was born after 1415 and before 1418, judging by the fact that he attained his majority (at the age of
21) between 1434 and 1439.[7] He was knighted before 8 October 1441, became a professional
soldier, and served under the Duke of Warwickbut all dates are vague, and it is not known how he
became distinguished. He acted as an elector in Northamptonshire but, in 1443, he and accomplice
Eustace Barnaby were accused of attacking, kidnapping, and stealing 40 pounds' worth of goods
from Thomas Smythe, though nothing came of this charge. He married a woman named Elizabeth
Walsh[8] who bore him at least one son named Robert,[5] and possibly one or two other children.
The same year, Malory was elected to Parliament, serving as a knight of the shire for Warwickshire
for the rest of 1443, and being appointed to a royal commission charged with the distribution of
money to impoverished towns in Warwickshire. Despite the charges against him, he seems to have
remained in good standing with his peers.[5] In 1449, he was elected as member of Parliament for
the Duke of Buckingham's safe seat of Great Bedwyn.
Malory's status changed abruptly in 1451 when he was accused of ambushing the Duke of
Buckingham, Humphrey Stafford, a prominent Lancastrian in the Wars of the Roses, along with 26
other men during 1450. The accusation was never proved. Later in 1451, he was accused of
extorting 100 shillings from Margaret King and William Hales of Monks Kirby, and then of
committing the same crime against John Mylner for 20 shillings.[5] He was also accused of

breaking into the house of Hugh Smyth of Monks Kirby in 1450, stealing 40 pounds' worth of
goods and raping his wife, and with attacking the same woman in Coventry eight weeks later. At
this period, however, a charge of rape could also apply to consensual sex with a married woman
whose husband had not agreed to the liaison.[10] On 15 March 1451, Malory and 19 others were
ordered to be arrested. Nothing came of this and, in the following months, Malory and his cohorts
allegedly committed a series of crimes, especially violent robberies, rising past 100. At one point,
he was arrested and imprisoned in Maxstoke Castle, but he escaped, swam the moat, and returned to
Newbold Revel.[5] Most of these crimes, if they occurred, seem to have been targeted at the
property and followers of the Duke of Buckingham. Malory was a supporter of the family of
Buckingham's former rival, the Duke of Warwick, so there may have been a political motive behind
either Malory's attacks (assuming that he committed them) or Buckingham and others bringing
charges against him. It is possible that Malory's enemies tried to slander him, and there is evidence
that the Duke of Buckingham was Malory's long-time enemy.[11]
Malory finally came to trial on 23 August 1451 in Nuneaton, a town in the heartland of
Buckingham's power and a place where Malory found little support as a supporter of the
Beauchamps.[9] Those accused included Malory and several others, and there were numerous
charges. The judgment went against Malory and he was sent to the Marshalsea Prison in London,
where he remained for a year. He demanded a retrial with a jury of men from his own county. This
never took place, but he was released. By March 1452, he was back in the Marshalsea, from which
he escaped two months later, possibly by bribing the guards and gaolers. After a month, he was
back in prison yet again, and this time he was held until the following May, when he was released
on bail of 200 pounds paid by a number of his fellow magnates from Warwickshire.[5][9]
Malory later ended up in custody in Colchester, accused of still more crimes, involving robbery and
the stealing of horses. Once again, he escaped and once again he was apprehended and returned to
the Marshalsea.[5] He was pardoned at the accession of Edward IV in 1461. He was never actually
tried on any of the charges brought against him, except at Nuneaton in 1451.[9] In 1462, Malory
settled his estate on his son Robert and, in 1466 or 1467, Robert fathered a son named Nicholas who
was Malory's ultimate heir.
Malory appears to have changed his allegiance by 1468. He had previously been a Yorkist, but he
now entered into a conspiracy with Richard Neville, the new Earl of Warwick, to overthrow King
Edward IV. The plot was discovered and Malory was imprisoned in June 1468. Uniquely in English
history, so far as is known, he was excluded by name from two general pardons, in July 1468 and
February 1470.[10] In 1470, the collapse of the Yorkist regime and the temporary return to the
throne of Henry VI was followed by Malory's final release from prison.[9]
Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel died on 14 March 1471 and was buried in Christ Church
Greyfriars, near Newgate Prison. His interment there suggests that his misdeeds (whatever they
really amounted to) had been forgiven and that he possessed some wealth.[5] However, it was
certified at the granting of probate that he owned little wealth of his own, having settled his estate
on his son in 1462.[9]
The inscription on Malory's tomb read: "HIC JACET DOMINUS THOMAS MALLERE, VALENS
meaning: "Here lies Lord Thomas Mallere, Valiant Soldier. Died 14 March 1471, in the parish of
Monkenkirby in the county of Warwick."[5] The tomb was lost when Greyfriars was dissolved by
Henry VIII. Malory's grandson Nicholas eventually inherited his lands and was appointed High
Sheriff of Warwickshire in 1502.[5]

Alternative identities
There has been a great deal of scholarly research on the subject, but no candidate for authorship has
ever been found to command widespread support, other than Malory of Newbold Revel. No other

Malory family contained a Thomas who was knighted or who spent many years in a prison with a
good library (the Tower of London in the case of Malory of Newbold Revel).[12] In the entry on
Malory in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, P.J.C. Field stresses that recent scholarship
has focused firmly on Malory of Newbold Revel, especially because "he was the only knight of the
right name alive at the right time".[9]
Over the centuries, many alternative identities have been proposed for Malory, in part because of
the perceived gap between the crimes charged against Malory of Newbold Revel and the chivalric
ideals espoused in Le Morte d'Arthur. Some of the more popular alternatives are listed below.

Welsh poet
The earliest identification was made by John Bale, a 16th-century antiquarian, who declared that
Malory was Welsh, hailing from Maloria on the River Dee. This theory received further support
from Sir John Rhys, who proclaimed in 1893 that the alternative spelling indicated an area
straddling the border between England and North Wales border, Maleore in Flintshire and Maleor in
Denbighshire. On this theory, Malory may have been related to Edward Rhys Maelor, a 15thcentury Welsh poet.[5]

Thomas Malory of Papworth

A second candidate was presented by A.T. Martin, another antiquarian, in an article in the
Athenaeum in September 1897,[13] who proposed that the author was Thomas Malory of Papworth
St Agnes in Huntingdonshire. Martin's argument was based on a will made at Papworth on 16
September 1469 and proved at Lambeth on 27 October the same year. This identification was taken
seriously for some time by editors of Malory, including Alfred W. Pollard, the noted bibliographer,
who included it in his edition of Malory published in 1903.[14] This Thomas Malory was born on 6
December 1425 at Moreton Corbet Castle, Shropshire, the eldest son of Sir William Mallory,
member of Parliament for Cambridgeshire, who had married Margaret, the widow of Robert Corbet
(died 1420) of Moreton Corbet.[15] Thomas inherited his father's estates in 1425 and was placed in
the wardship of the King, initially as a minor, but later (for reasons unknown) remaining there until
within four months of his death in 1469. Nothing else is known of him, apart from one peculiar
incident discovered by William Matthews. A collection of Chancery proceedings includes a petition
brought against Malory by Richard Kyd, parson of Papworth, claiming that Malory ambushed him
on a November evening and took him from Papworth to Huntingdon, and then to Bedford and on to
Northampton, all the while threatening his life and demanding that he either forfeit his church to
Malory or give him 100 pounds. The outcome of this case is unknown, but it seems to indicate that
this Malory was something other than an ordinary country gentleman.[5] However, there is no
evidence that this Malory was ever actually knighted and the very specific use of the word "knight"
in respect of the author Malory tells against him.[12]

Thomas Malory of Hutton Conyers

The third contender is the little-known Thomas Malory of Hutton Conyers in Yorkshire. This claim
was put forward in The Ill-Framed Knight: A Skeptical Inquiry Into the Identity of Sir Thomas
Malory by William Matthews, a British professor who taught at UCLA (and also transcribed the
Diary of Samuel Pepys).[16] Matthews's claim was met with little enthusiasm, despite evidence that
the author spoke a regional dialect that matches the language of Le Morte d'Arthur. This Malory is
not known to have been knighted.[5]

Malory was most probably confined at Newgate prison from 1460 until his release. He likely wrote

Le Morte d'Arthur (The Death of Arthur) based on Arthurian mythology, the first major work of
English language prose. Richard Whittington, mayor of London, was responsible for philanthropic
work that allowed prisoners access to a library in the Greyfriars monastery adjacent to Newgate.
[17] This, coupled with the probability that Malory had at least some wealth, allowed a certain level
of comfort and leisure within the prison. His main sources for his work included Arthurian French
prose romances, Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, and two anonymous
English works called the Alliterative Morte Arthure and the Stanzaic Morte Arthur.[18] The entire
work is eight romances that span twenty-one books with 507 chapters, which was said to be
considerably shorter than the original French sources, despite its vast size.[19] Malory was
responsible for organizing these diverse sources and consolidating them into a cohesive whole. The
work was originally titled The Book of King Arthur and His Noble Knights of the Round Table, but
printer William Caxton changed it to Le Morte d'Arthur before he printed it in 1485, as well as
making several other editorial changes. According to one theory, the eight romances were originally
intended to be separate, but Caxton altered them to be more unified.[20]
There has been some argument among critics that Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur was primarily
intended as a political commentary of Malory's own era. Malory portrays an initially idyllic past
under the strong leadership of King Arthur and his knights, but as intrigue and infighting develop,
the utopic kingdom collapses, which may have been intended as a parallel and a warning against the
infighting taking place during the Wars of the Roses. The seemingly contradictory changes in King
Arthur's character throughout the work has been argued to support the theory that Arthur represents
different eras and reigns throughout the tales.[21] This argument has also been used to attempt to
reconcile Malory's doubtful reputation as a person who continually changed sides with the
unexpected idealism of Le Morte d'Arthur. It remains a matter of some debate whether this was a
deliberate commentary or an imaginative fiction influenced by the political climate.
The sources of the romances that make up Le Morte d'Arthur, and Malory's treatment of those
sources, correspond to some degree with those of a poem called The Wedding of Sir Gawain and
Dame Ragnelle; they also both end with a similarly worded prayer to be released from
imprisonment. This has led some scholars in recent years to believe that Malory may have been the
author of the poem.[22][23]

Thomas Wyatt (poet)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Thomas Wyatt, Drawing by Hans Holbein the Younger
Thomas Wyatt
Allington Castle, Kent
11 October 1542 (aged 3839)
Clifton Maybank House, Dorset
Resting place Sherborne Abbey, Dorset
Occupation English ambassador and poet
Elizabeth Brooke
Sir Thomas Wyatt

Sir Henry Wyatt
Anne Skinner
Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503 11 October 1542)[1] was a 16th-century English ambassador and
lyrical poet. He is credited with introducing the sonnet into English literature. He was born at
Allington Castle, near Maidstone in Kent, though his family was originally from Yorkshire. His
mother was Anne Skinner and his father, Henry Wyatt, had been one of Henry VII's Privy
Councillors, and remained a trusted adviser when Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509. In his
turn, Thomas Wyatt followed his father to court after his education at St John's College, Cambridge.
None of Wyatt's poems were published during his lifetimethe first book to feature his verse,
Tottel's Miscellany of 1557, was printed a full fifteen years after his death.[2]

Thomas Wyatt, born at Allington, Kent, in 1503, was the son of Sir Henry Wyatt by Anne Skinner,
the daughter of John Skinner of Reigate, Surrey.[3] He had a brother and sister:
Henry Wyatt, assumed to have died an infant.[4]
Margaret Wyatt, who married Sir Anthony Lee (died 1549), by whom she was the mother of
Queen Elizabeth's champion, Sir Henry Lee.[5][6]

Education and diplomatic career

Wyatt was over six feet tall, reportedly both handsome and physically strong. Wyatt was not only a
poet, but also an ambassador in the service of Henry VIII. He first entered Henry's service in 1515
as "Sewer Extraordinary", and the same year he began studying at St John's College of the
University of Cambridge.[7]
He accompanied Sir John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, to Rome to help petition Pope Clement VII
to annul the marriage of Henry VIII to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, an embassy whose goal
was to make Henry free to marry Anne Boleyn. According to some, Wyatt was captured by the
armies of Emperor Charles V when they captured Rome and imprisoned the Pope in 1527 but
managed to escape and then made it back to England. In 1535 Wyatt was knighted and appointed
High Sheriff of Kent for 1536.[8]
In December 1541 he was elected knight of the shire (MP) for Kent.[8]

Marriage and issue

Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger (15211554)
In 1520, Wyatt married Elizabeth Brooke, (15031550), the daughter of Thomas Brooke, 8th Baron
Cobham, by Dorothy Heydon, daughter of Sir Henry Heydon and Elizabeth or Anne Boleyn,
daughter of Sir Geoffrey Boleyn.[9] A year later, the couple had a son:[10]
Sir Thomas Wyatt, (15211554), who led Wyatt's rebellion many years after his father's

In 1524 Henry VIII assigned Wyatt to be an ambassador at home and abroad, and some time soon
after he separated from his wife on the grounds of her alleged adultery.[11]

Wyatt's poetry and influence

Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Thomas Wyatt
Wyatt's professed object was to experiment with the English tongue, to civilise it, to raise its powers
to those of its neighbours.[12] A significant amount of his literary output consists of translations and
imitations of sonnets by the Italian poet Petrarch; he also wrote sonnets of his own. He took subject
matter from Petrarch's sonnets, but his rhyme schemes make a significant departure. Petrarch's
sonnets consist of an "octave", rhyming abba abba, followed, after a turn (volta) in the sense, by a
"sestet" with various rhyme schemes. Wyatt employs the Petrarchan octave, but his most common
sestet scheme is cddc ee. This marks the beginnings of an exclusively "English" contribution to
sonnet structure, that is three quatrains and a closing couplet.[13] 15 years after his death, the
printer Richard Tottel included 97 poems attributed to Wyatt among the 271 poems in Tottel's
Miscellany, Songs and Sonnets.
In addition to imitations of works by the classical writers Seneca and Horace, he experimented in
stanza forms including the rondeau, epigrams, terza rima, ottava rima songs, satires and also with
monorime, triplets with refrains, quatrains with different length of line and rhyme schemes,
quatrains with codas, and the French forms of douzaine and treizaine.[14] Wyatt introduced
contemporaries to his poulter's measure form (Alexandrine couplets of twelve syllable iambic lines
alternating with a fourteener, fourteen syllable line), [15] and is acknowledged a master of the
iambic tetrameter.[16]
While Wyatt's poetry reflects classical and Italian models, he also admired the work of Chaucer and
his vocabulary reflects Chaucer's (for example, his use of Chaucer's word newfangleness, meaning
fickle, in They flee from me that sometime did me seek). Many of his poems deal with the trials of
romantic love, and the devotion of the suitor to an unavailable or cruel mistress.[17] Others of his
poems are scathing, satirical indictments of the hypocrisies and flat-out pandering required of
courtiers ambitious to advance at the Tudor court.
Wyatt was one of the earliest poets of the English Renaissance. He was responsible for many
innovations in English poetry and, alongside Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, introduced the sonnet
from Italy into England.[12][18][17] His lyrics show tenderness of feeling and purity of diction. He
is one of the originators of the convention in love poetry according to which the mistress is painted
as hard-hearted and cruel.

The Egerton Manuscript,[19] originally an album containing Wyatt's personal selection of his
poems and translations, preserves 123 texts, partly in the poet's hand. Tottel's Miscellany (1557), the
Elizabethan anthology which created Wyatt's posthumous reputation, ascribes 96 poems to him,[20]
(33 not extant in the Egerton Manuscript). These 156 poems can be ascribed to Wyatt with certainty,
on the basis of objective evidence. Another 129 poems have been ascribed to Wyatt purely on the
basis of subjective editorial judgment. They derive mostly from two Tudor manuscript anthologies,
the Devonshire[21] and Blage manuscripts.[22] In his preface to Sir Thomas Wyatt, The Complete
Poems, R A Rebholz comments, 'the problem of determining which poems Wyatt wrote is as yet
unsolved'.[23] However, as Richard Harrier's The Canon of Sir Thomas Wyatt's Poetry (1975)
shows, the problem of determining which poems aren't Wyatt's is much simpler. Harrier examines
the documentary evidence of the manuscripts (handwritings, organisation, etc.) and establishes that
there is insufficient textual warrant for assigning any of these poems to Wyatt. The only basis for

ascribing these poems to Wyatt resides in editorial evaluation of their style and poetic merits.
Compared with the indubitable standard presented in Wyatt's 156 unquestionably ascribable poems,
fewer than 30 of these 129 poems survive scrutiny. Most can be dismissed at once. Joost Daalder's
1975 edition of Wyatt presents 199 poems, including 25 misascriptions (mostly segregated as
"Unascribed") and is missing a dozen poems likely to be Wyatt's.[24]

Critical opinions of his work have varied widely.[25] Thomas Warton, the 18th-century critic,
considered Wyatt "confessedly an inferior" to his contemporary Henry Howard, and that Wyatt's
"genius was of the moral and didactic species and be deemed the first polished English satirist".[26]
The 20th century saw an awakening in his popularity and a surge in critical attention. C. S. Lewis
called him "the father of the Drab Age" (i.e. the unornate), from what Lewis calls the "golden" age
of the 16th century,[27] while others see his love poetry, with its complex use of literary conceits, as
anticipating that of the metaphysical poets in the next century. More recently, the critic Patricia
Thomson describes Wyatt as "the Father of English Poetry".[25]

Rumoured affair with Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn
Many legends and conjectures have grown up around the notion that the young, unhappily married
Wyatt fell in love with the young Anne Boleyn in the early-to-mid-1520s. Their acquaintance is
certain, but whether or not the two shared a romantic relationship remains unknown. The
nineteenth-century critic George Gilfillan implies that Wyatt and Boleyn were romantically
connected.[28] In his verse Wyatt calls his mistress Anna and allegedly alludes to events in her life:
And now I follow the coals that be quent,
From Dover to Calais against my mind . . . .
Gilfillan argues that these lines could refer to Anne's trip to France in 1532 immediately prior to her
marriage to Henry VIII,[28] and could imply that Wyatt was present, although his name is not
included among those who accompanied the royal party to France.[28] Wyatt's sonnet "Whoso List
To Hunt" may also allude to Anne's relationship with the King:[28]
Graven in diamonds with letters plain,
There is written her fair neck round about,
'Noli me tangere [Do not touch me], Caesar's, I am'.
According to his grandson George Wyatt, who wrote a biography of Anne Boleyn many years after
her death, the moment Thomas Wyatt had seen "this new beauty" on her return from France in
winter 1522 he had fallen in love with her. When she attracted King Henry VIII's attentions
sometime around 1525, Wyatt was the last of Anne's other suitors to be ousted by the king.
According to Wyatt's grandson, after an argument over her during a game of bowls with the King,
Wyatt was sent on, or himself requested, a diplomatic mission to Italy.

Imprisonment on charges of adultery

In May 1536 Wyatt was imprisoned in the Tower of London for allegedly committing adultery with
Anne Boleyn.[29] He was released from the Tower later that year, thanks to his friendship or his
father's friendship with Thomas Cromwell, and he returned to his duties. During his stay in the
Tower he may have witnessed not only the execution of Anne Boleyn (19 May 1536) from his cell

window but also the prior executions of the five men with whom she was accused of adultery. Wyatt
is known to have written a poem inspired by the experience,[30] which, though it stays clear of
declaring the executions groundless, expresses grief and shock.
In the 1530s, he wrote poetry in the Devonshire MS declaring his love for a woman; employing the
basic acrostic formula: the first letter of each line spells out SHELTUN. A reply is written
underneath it, signed by Mary Shelton, rejecting him. Mary, Anne Boleyn's first cousin, had been
the mistress of Henry VIII between February and August 1535.[31]
Around the year 1537, he took Elizabeth Darrell as his mistress. Elizabeth bore Wyatt three sons,
[32] Henry (who died in early infancy), Francis (born in 1540 and took the surname of Darrell), and
Edward, who was later executed for his part in the Wyatt's Rebellion of 1554, led by his legitimate
half-brother, Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger. Wyatt left Elizabeth properties in Dorset.
Memorial in Sherborne Abbey
By 1540 he was again in favour, as evident by the fact that he was granted the site and many of the
manorial estates of the dissolved Boxley Abbey. However, in 1541 he was charged again with
treason and the charges were again liftedthough only thanks to the intervention of Henry's fifth
wife, Queen Catherine Howard, and upon the condition of reconciling with his wife. He was
granted a full pardon and restored once again to his duties as ambassador. After the execution of
Catherine Howard, there were rumours that Wyatt's wife, Elizabeth, was a possibility for wife
number six, despite the fact that she was still married to Wyatt.[33] He became ill not long after,
and died on 11 October 1542 around the age of 39, while staying with his friend Sir John Horsey at
Clifton Maybank House in Dorset. He is buried in nearby Sherborne Abbey.[34]

Descendants and relatives

Long after Thomas Wyatt's death, his only legitimate son, Thomas Wyatt the Younger, led a
thwarted rebellion against Henry's daughter, Mary I, for which he was executed. The rebellion's aim
was to set the Protestant-minded Elizabeth, the daughter of Anne Boleyn, on the throne.[35] His
sister Margaret Wyatt was the mother of Henry Lee of Ditchley, from whom descend the Lees of
Virginia, including Robert E. Lee. Wyatt's grandson, Sir George Wyatt, was an ancestor of Wallis,
Duchess of Windsor, wife of King Edward VIII, later Duke of Windsor.[36] Thomas Wyatt's greatgrandson was Virginia Colony governor Sir Francis Wyatt.[37]

Thomas More
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For other uses, see Thomas More (disambiguation).
Sir Thomas More
Sir Thomas More,
by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1527
Lord Chancellor

In office
October 1529 May 1532
Henry VIII
Preceded by Thomas Wolsey
Succeeded by Thomas Audley
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
31 December 1525 3 November 1529
Henry VIII
Preceded by Richard Wingfield
Succeeded by William FitzWilliam
Speaker of the House of Commons
In office
16 April 1523 13 August 1523
Henry VIII
Preceded by Thomas Nevill
Succeeded by Thomas Audley
Personal details
7 February 1478
London, England
6 July 1535 (aged 57)
London, England
Church of St Peter ad Vincula, London, England
Resting place
51.508611N 0.076944W
Jane Colt ( 1505)
Alice Harpur ( 1511)
University of Oxford
Alma mater
Lincoln's Inn
Religion Roman Catholic
Sir Thomas More (/mr/; 7 February 1478 6 July 1535), venerated by Catholics as Saint
Thomas More,[1][2] was an English lawyer, social philosopher, author, statesman and noted
Renaissance humanist. He was also a councillor to Henry VIII, and Lord High Chancellor of
England from October 1529 to 16 May 1532.[3]
More opposed the Protestant Reformation, in particular the theology of Martin Luther and William
Tyndale. He also wrote Utopia, published in 1516, about the political system of an imaginary ideal
island nation. More opposed the King's separation from the Catholic Church, refusing to
acknowledge Henry as Supreme Head of the Church of England and the annulment of his marriage
to Catherine of Aragon. After refusing to take the Oath of Supremacy, he was convicted of treason
and beheaded.

Pope Pius XI canonised More in 1935 as a martyr. Pope John Paul II in 2000 declared him the
"heavenly Patron of Statesmen and Politicians."[4] Since 1980, the Church of England has
remembered More liturgically as a Reformation martyr.[5] The Soviet Union honoured him for the
Communistic attitude toward property rights he expressed in Utopia.[6][7][8]

Early life
Saint Thomas More, T.O.S.F.
Medallion of Thomas More
Catholic Church; Church of England; some other churches of the Anglican
Venerated in
Beatified 29 December 1886, Florence, Kingdom of Italy, by Pope Leo XIII
Canonized 19 May 1935, Vatican City, by Pope Pius XI
22 June (Catholic Church)
6 July (Church of England)
Attributes dressed in the robe of the Chancellor and wearing the Collar of Esses; axe
Adopted children; civil servants; court clerks; difficult marriages; large families;
lawyers, politicians, and statesmen; stepparents; widowers; Ateneo de Manila Law
Patronage School; Diocese of Arlington; Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee; Kerala Catholic
Youth Movement; University of Malta; University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Arts
and Letters
Thomas More
Notable work Utopia (1516)
English Renaissance
Western philosophy
Renaissance Philosophy
Born in Milk Street in London, on 7 February 1478, Thomas More was the son of Sir John More,[9]
a successful lawyer and later judge, and his wife Agnes (ne Graunger). More was educated at St
Anthony's School, then considered one of London's finest schools.[10] From 1490 to 1492, More
served John Morton, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England, as a household
page.[11]:xvi Morton enthusiastically supported the "New Learning" (now called the Renaissance),
and thought highly of the young More. Believing that More had great potential, Morton nominated
him for a place at Oxford University (either in St. Mary's Hall or Canterbury College, both now
More began his studies at Oxford in 1492, and received a classical education. Studying under
Thomas Linacre and William Grocyn, he became proficient in both Latin and Greek. More left
Oxford after only two yearsat his father's insistenceto begin legal training in London at New
Inn, one of the Inns of Chancery.[11]:xvii[13] In 1496, More became a student at Lincoln's Inn, one
of the Inns of Court, where he remained until 1502, when he was called to the Bar.[11]:xvii

Spiritual life
According to his friend, theologian Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam, More once seriously
contemplated abandoning his legal career to become a monk.[14][15] Between 1503 and 1504 More
lived near the Carthusian monastery outside the walls of London and joined in the monks' spiritual

exercises. Although he deeply admired their piety, More ultimately decided to remain a layman,
standing for election to Parliament in 1504 and marrying the following year.[11]:xxi
In spite of his choice to pursue a secular career, More continued ascetical practices for the rest of his
life, such as wearing a hair shirt next to his skin and occasionally engaging in flagellation.[11]:xxi A
tradition of the Third Order of St. Francis honors More as a member of that Order on their calendar
of saints.[16]

Family life
Rowland Lockey after Hans Holbein the Younger, The Family of Sir Thomas More, c. 1594
More married Jane Colt in 1505.[12]:118 She was 5 years, 1 month younger than her husband, quiet
and good-natured.[12]:119 Erasmus reported that More wanted to give his young wife a better
education than she had previously received at home, and tutored her in music and literature.[12]:119
The couple had four children before Jane died in 1511: Margaret, Elizabeth, Cicely, and John.
Going "against friends' advice and common custom," within thirty days More had married one of
the many eligible women among his wide circle of friends.[17] He chose a rich widow, Alice
Harpur Middleton.[18] The speed of the marriage was so unusual that More had to get a
dispensation of the banns, which due to his good public reputation he easily obtained.[17] Alice
More lacked Jane's docility; More's friend Andrew Ammonius derided Alice as a "hook-nosed
harpy."[19] Erasmus, however, called their marriage happy.[12]:144
More had no children from his second marriage, although he raised Alice's daughter from her
previous marriage as his own. More also became the guardian of a young girl named Anne
Cresacre, who would eventually marry his son, John More.[12]:146 An affectionate father, More
wrote letters to his children whenever he was away on legal or government business, and
encouraged them to write to him often.[12]:150[20]:xiv
More insisted upon giving his daughters the same classical education as his son, a highly unusual
attitude at the time.[12]:14647 His eldest daughter, Margaret, attracted much admiration for her
erudition, especially her fluency in Greek and Latin.[12]:147 More told his daughter of his pride in
her academic accomplishment in September 1522, after he showed the bishop a letter she had
When he saw from the signature that it was the letter of a lady, his surprise led him to
read it more eagerly ... he said he would never have believed it to be your work unless I
had assured him of the fact, and he began to praise it in the highest terms ... for its pure
Latinity, its correctness, its erudition, and its expressions of tender affection. He took
out at once from his pocket a portague [A Portuguese gold coin] ... to send to you as a
pledge and token of his good will towards you.[20]:152
More's decision to educate his daughters set an example for other noble families. Even Erasmus
became much more favourable once he witnessed their accomplishments.[12]:149
A portrait of More and his family was painted by Holbein, but it was lost in a fire in the 18th
century. More's grandson commissioned a copy, two versions of which survive.

Early political career

Study for a portrait of Thomas More's family, c. 1527, by Hans Holbein the Younger

In 1504 More was elected to Parliament to represent Great Yarmouth, and in 1510 began
representing London.[21]
From 1510, More served as one of the two undersheriffs of the City of London, a position of
considerable responsibility in which he earned a reputation as an honest and effective public
servant. More became Master of Requests in 1514,[22] the same year in which he was appointed as
a Privy Councillor.[23] After undertaking a diplomatic mission to the Holy Roman Emperor,
Charles V, accompanying Thomas Wolsey, Cardinal Archbishop of York, to Calais and Bruges,
More was knighted and made under-treasurer of the Exchequer in 1521.[23]
As secretary and personal adviser to King Henry VIII, More became increasingly influential:
welcoming foreign diplomats, drafting official documents, and serving as a liaison between the
King and Lord Chancellor Wolsey. More later served as High Steward for the universities of Oxford
and Cambridge.
In 1523 More was elected as knight of the shire (MP) for Middlesex and, on Wolsey's
recommendation, the House of Commons elected More its Speaker.[23] In 1525 More became
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, with executive and judicial responsibilities over much of
northern England.[23]

After Wolsey fell, More succeeded to the office of Lord Chancellor in 1529. He dispatched cases
with unprecedented rapidity.

Campaign against the Reformation

More supported the Catholic Church and saw the Protestant Reformation as heresy, a threat to the
unity of both church and society. Believing in the theology, polemics, and ecclesiastical laws of the
church, More "heard Luther's call to destroy the Catholic Church as a call to war."[24]
His early actions against the Reformation included aiding Wolsey in preventing Lutheran books
from being imported into England, spying on and investigating suspected Protestants, especially
publishers, and arresting any one holding in his possession, transporting, or selling the books of the
Protestant Reformation. More vigorously suppressed the travelling country ministers who used
Tyndale's English translation of the New Testament.[citation needed] It contained controversial
translations of certain wordsfor example Tyndale used "senior" and "elder" rather than "priest"
for the Greek "presbyteros"and some of the marginal glosses challenged Catholic doctrine.[25] It
was during this time that most of his literary polemics appeared.
Sir Thomas More is commemorated with a sculpture at the late-19th-century Sir Thomas More
House, opposite the Royal Courts of Justice, Carey Street, London.
Rumours circulated during and after More's lifetime regarding ill-treatment of heretics during his
time as Lord Chancellor. The popular anti-Catholic polemicist John Foxe, who "placed Protestant
sufferings against the background of... the Antichrist"[26] was instrumental in publicising
accusations of torture in his famous Book of Martyrs, claiming that More had often personally used
violence or torture while interrogating heretics. Later authors, such as Brian Moynahan and Michael
Farris, cite Foxe when repeating these allegations.[27] More himself denied these allegations:
Stories of a similar nature were current even in More's lifetime and he denied them
forcefully. He admitted that he did imprison heretics in his house 'theyr sure kepynge'
he called it but he utterly rejected claims of torture and whipping... 'so helpe me

However, in More's "Apology," published in 1533, he writes that he only applied corporal
punishment to two heretics: a child who was caned in front of his family for heresy regarding the
Eucharist and a "feeble-minded" man who was whipped for disrupting prayers.[28]:404 During
More's chancellorship six people were burned at the stake for heresy; they were Thomas Hitton,
Thomas Bilney, Richard Bayfield, John Tewkesbery, Thomas Dusgate, and James Bainham.
[12]:299306 Moynahan has argued that More was influential in the burning of Tyndale as More's
agents had long pursued him, even though this took place over a year after his own death.[29]
Burning at the stake had long been a standard punishment for heresyabout thirty burnings had
taken place in the century before More's elevation to Chancellor, and burning continued to be used
by both Catholics and Protestants during the religious upheaval of the following decades.[30]
Ackroyd notes that More explicitly "approved of Burning".[12]:298 After the case of John
Tewkesbury, a London leather-seller found guilty by the Bishop of London, John Stokesley,[31] of
harbouring banned books and sentenced to burning for refusing to recant, More declared: he
"burned as there was neuer wretche I wene better worthy."[32]
Modern commentators are divided over More's religious actions as Chancellor. While biographers
such as Peter Ackroyd, a Catholic English biographer, have taken a relatively tolerant view of
More's campaign against Protestantism by placing his actions within the turbulent religious climate
of the time, other eminent historians, such as Richard Marius, an American scholar of the
Reformation, have been more critical, believing that persecutionsincluding More's zealous and
well-documented advocacy of extermination for Protestantswere a betrayal of More's earlier
humanist convictions.[28]:386406 Some Protestants take a different viewin 1980, despite being
a fierce opponent of the English Reformation that created the Church of England, More was added
to the Church of England's calendar of Saints and Heroes of the Christian Church, jointly with John
Fisher, to be commemorated every 6 July (the date of More's execution) as "Thomas More, Scholar,
and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, Reformation Martyrs, 1535".[5] When honouring him by
making him patron saint of statesmen and politicians in October 2000 Pope John Paul II stated: "It
can be said that he demonstrated in a singular way the value of a moral conscience... even if, in his
actions against heretics, he reflected the limits of the culture of his time".[4]

As the conflict over supremacy between the Papacy and the King reached its apogee, More
continued to remain steadfast in supporting the supremacy of the Pope as Successor of Peter over
that of the King of England. In 1530, More refused to sign a letter by the leading English
churchmen and aristocrats asking Pope Clement VII to annul Henry's marriage to Catherine of
Aragon, and also quarrelled with Henry VIII over the heresy laws. In 1531, Henry had isolated
More by purging most clergy who supported the papal stance from senior positions in the church.
Parliament's reinstatement of the charge of praemunire in 1529 had made it a crime to support in
public or office the claim of any authority outside the realm (such as the Papacy) to have a legal
jurisdiction superior to the King's. In 1531, a royal decree required the clergy to take an oath
acknowledging the King as "Supreme Head" of the Church in England. As a layperson, More did
not need to take the oath and the clergy, after some initial resistance, took the oath with the addition
of the clause "as far as the law of Christ allows." However, More saw he could not render the
support Henry expected from his Lord Chancellor for the policy the King was developing to support
the annulment of his marriage with Catherine. In 1532 he petitioned the King to relieve him of his
office, alleging failing health. Henry granted his request.

Trial and execution

In 1533, More refused to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn as the Queen of England.
Technically, this was not an act of treason, as More had written to Henry acknowledging Anne's
queenship and expressing his desire for the King's happiness and the new Queen's health.[33]

Despite this, his refusal to attend was widely interpreted as a snub against Anne, and Henry took
action against him.
Shortly thereafter, More was charged with accepting bribes, but the charges had to be dismissed for
lack of any evidence. In early 1534, More was accused of conspiring with the "Holy Maid of Kent,"
Elizabeth Barton, a nun who had prophesied against the king's annulment, but More was able to
produce a letter in which he had instructed Barton not to interfere with state matters.[citation
On 13 April 1534, More was asked to appear before a commission and swear his allegiance to the
parliamentary Act of Succession. More accepted Parliament's right to declare Anne Boleyn the
legitimate Queen of England, but he steadfastly refused to take the oath of supremacy of the Crown
in the relationship between the kingdom and the church in England. Holding fast to the teaching of
papal supremacy, More refused to take the oath and furthermore publicly refused to uphold Henry's
annulment from Catherine. John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, refused the oath along with More. The
oath reads:[34]
...By reason whereof the Bishop of Rome and See Apostolic, contrary to the great and
inviolable grants of jurisdictions given by God immediately to emperors, kings and
princes in succession to their heirs, hath presumed in times past to invest who should
please them to inherit in other men's kingdoms and dominions, which thing we your
most humble subjects, both spiritual and temporal, do most abhor and detest...
With his refusal to support the King's annulment, More's enemies had enough evidence to have the
King arrest him on treason. Four days later, Henry had More imprisoned in the Tower of London.
There More prepared a devotional Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation. While More was
imprisoned in the Tower, Thomas Cromwell made several visits, urging More to take the oath,
which More continued to refuse.
Site of scaffold at Tower Hill where More was executed by decapitation
Commemorative plaque at the site of the ancient scaffold at Tower Hill, with Sir Thomas More
listed among other notables executed at the site.
On 1 July 1535, More was tried before a panel of judges that included the new Lord Chancellor, Sir
Thomas Audley, as well as Anne Boleyn's father, brother, and uncle. He was charged with high
treason for denying the validity of the Act of Supremacy and was tried under the following section
of the Treason Act 1534:
If any person or persons, after the first day of February next coming, do maliciously
wish, will or desire, by words or writing, or by craft imagine, invent, practise, or attempt
any bodily harm to be done or committed to the king's most royal person, the queen's, or
their heirs apparent, or to deprive them or any of them of their dignity, title, or name of
their royal estates ...
That then every such person and persons so offending ... shall have and suffer such
pains of death and other penalties, as is limited and accustomed in cases of high treason.
More, relying on legal precedent and the maxim "qui tacet consentire videtur" (literally, who (is)
silent is seen to consent), understood that he could not be convicted as long as he did not explicitly
deny that the King was Supreme Head of the Church, and he therefore refused to answer all
questions regarding his opinions on the subject.
Thomas Cromwell, at the time the most powerful of the King's advisors, brought forth the Solicitor

General, Richard Rich, to testify that More had, in his presence, denied that the King was the
legitimate head of the church. This testimony was characterised by More as being extremely
dubious. Witnesses Richard Southwell and Mr. Palmer both denied having heard the details of the
reported conversation, and as More himself pointed out:
Can it therefore seem likely to your Lordships, that I should in so weighty an Affair as
this, act so unadvisedly, as to trust Mr. Rich, a Man I had always so mean an Opinion of,
in reference to his Truth and Honesty, ... that I should only impart to Mr. Rich the
Secrets of my Conscience in respect to the King's Supremacy, the particular Secrets, and
only Point about which I have been so long pressed to explain my self? which I never
did, nor never would reveal; when the Act was once made, either to the King himself, or
any of his Privy Councillors, as is well known to your Honours, who have been sent
upon no other account at several times by his Majesty to me in the Tower. I refer it to
your Judgments, my Lords, whether this can seem credible to any of your Lordships.
The jury took only fifteen minutes, however, to find More guilty.
William Frederick Yeames, The meeting of Sir Thomas More with his daughter after his sentence of
death, 1872
After the jury's verdict was delivered and before his sentencing, More spoke freely of his belief that
"no temporal man may be the head of the spirituality". He was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and
quartered (the usual punishment for traitors who were not the nobility), but the King commuted this
to execution by decapitation. The execution took place on 6 July 1535. When he came to mount the
steps to the scaffold, he is widely quoted as saying (to the officials): "I pray you, I pray you, Mr
Lieutenant, see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself"; while on the scaffold
he declared that he died "the king's good servant, but God's first."[37]

Another comment he is believed to have made to the executioner is that his beard was completely
innocent of any crime, and did not deserve the axe; he then positioned his beard so that it would not
be harmed.[38] More asked that his foster/adopted daughter Margaret Clement (ne Giggs) be given
his headless corpse to bury.[39] He was buried at the Tower of London, in the chapel of St Peter ad
Vincula in an unmarked grave. His head was fixed upon a pike over London Bridge for a month,
according to the normal custom for traitors. His daughter Margaret (Meg) Roper rescued it, possibly
by bribery, before it could be thrown in the River Thames.[citation needed]
The skull is believed to rest in the Roper Vault of St Dunstan's Church, Canterbury, though some
researchers[who?] have claimed it might be within the tomb he erected for More in Chelsea Old
Church (see below). The evidence,[clarification needed] however, seems to be in favour of its
placement in St Dunstan's, with the remains of his daughter, Margaret Roper, and her husband's
family, whose vault it was.[citation needed]
Among other surviving relics is his hair shirt, presented for safe keeping by Margaret Clement
(150870), his adopted daughter.[40] This was long in the custody of the community of Augustinian
canonesses who until 1983 lived at the convent at Abbotskerswell Priory, Devon. It is now
preserved at Syon Abbey, near South Brent.

Scholarly and literary work

History of King Richard III
Between 1512 and 1519 More worked on a History of King Richard III, which he never finished but
which was published after his death. The History is a Renaissance biography, remarkable more for
its literary skill and adherence to classical precepts than for its historical accuracy.[citation needed]
Some consider it an attack on royal tyranny, rather than on Richard III himself or the House of
York.[citation needed] More uses a more dramatic writing style than had been typical in medieval
chronicles; Richard is limned as an outstanding, archetypal tyrant.
The History of King Richard III was written and published in both English and Latin, each written
separately, and with information deleted from the Latin edition to suit a European readership.
[citation needed] It greatly influenced William Shakespeare's play Richard III. Contemporary
historians attribute the unflattering portraits of Richard III in both works to both authors' allegiance
to the reigning Tudor dynasty that wrested the throne from Richard III in the Wars of the Roses.
[citation needed] More's version barely mentions King Henry VII, the first Tudor king, perhaps
because he had persecuted his father, Sir John More.[citation needed] Clements Markham suggests
that the actual author of the work was Archbishop Morton and that More was simply copying or
perhaps translating the work.[41][42]

Main article: Utopia (book)
More's best known and most controversial work, Utopia is a novel written in Latin. More completed
and Erasmus published the book in Leuven in 1516, but it was only translated into English and
published in his native land in 1551 (long after More's execution), and the 1684 translation became
the most commonly cited. More (also a character in the book) and the narrator/traveller, Raphael
Hythlodaeus (whose name alludes both to the healer archangel Raphael, and 'speaker of nonsense',
the surname's Greek meaning), discuss modern ills in Antwerp, as well as describe the political
arrangements of the imaginary island country of Utopia (Greek pun on 'ou-topos' [no place], 'eutopos' [good place]) among themselves as well as to Pieter Gillis and Hieronymus van Busleyden.
Utopia's original edition included a symmetrical "Utopian alphabet" omitted by later editions, but
which may have been an early attempt at cryptography or precursor of shorthand.
Utopia contrasts the contentious social life of European states with the perfectly orderly, reasonable
social arrangements of Utopia and its environs (Tallstoria, Nolandia, and Aircastle). In Utopia, there
are no lawyers because of the laws' simplicity and because social gatherings are in public view
(encouraging participants to behave well), communal ownership supplants private property, men
and women are educated alike, and there is almost complete religious toleration (except for atheists,
who are allowed but despised). More may have used monastic communalism (rather than the
biblical communalism in the Acts of the Apostles) as his model, although other concepts such as
legalizing euthanasia remain far outside Church doctrine. Hythlodaeus asserts that a man who
refuses to believe in a god or an afterlife could never be trusted, because he would not acknowledge
any authority or principle outside himself. Some take the novel's principal message to be the social
need for order and discipline rather than liberty. Ironically, Hythlodaeus, who believes philosophers
should not get involved in politics, addresses More's ultimate conflict between his humanistic
beliefs and courtly duties as the King's servant, pointing out that one day those morals will come
into conflict with the political reality.
Utopia gave rise to a literary genre, Utopian and dystopian fiction, which features ideal societies or
perfect cities, or their opposite. Early works influenced by Utopia included New Atlantis by Francis
Bacon, Erewhon by Samuel Butler, and Candide by Voltaire. Although Utopianism combined

classical concepts of perfect societies (Plato and Aristotle) with Roman rhetorical finesse (cf.
Cicero, Quintilian, epideictic oratory), the Renaissance genre continued into the Age of
Enlightenment and survives in modern science fiction.

Religious polemics
In 1520 the reformer Martin Luther published three works in quick succession: An Appeal to the
Christian Nobility of the German Nation (Aug.), Concerning the Babylonish Captivity of the
Church (Oct.), and On the Liberty of a Christian Man (Nov.).[12]:225 In these books, Luther set out
his doctrine of salvation through grace alone, rejected certain Catholic practices, and attacked
abuses and excesses within the Catholic Church.[12]:2256 In 1521, Henry VIII formally
responded to Luthers criticisms with the Assertio, written with More's assistance. Pope Leo X
rewarded the English king with the title 'Fidei defensor' ("Defender of the Faith") for his work
combating Luthers heresies.[12]:2267
Martin Luther then attacked Henry VIII in print, calling him a "pig, dolt, and liar".[12]:227 At the
king's request, More composed a rebuttal: the Responsio ad Lutherum was published at the end of
1523. In the Responsio, More defended papal supremacy, the sacraments, and other Church
traditions. Mores language, like Luthers, was virulent: he branded Luther an "ape", a "drunkard",
and a "lousy little friar" amongst other insults.[12]:230 Writing as Rosseus, More offers to "throw
back into your paternity's shitty mouth, truly the shit-pool of all shit, all the muck and shit which
your damnable rottenness has vomited up".[23]
Confronting Luther confirmed More's theological conservatism. He thereafter avoided any hint of
criticism of Church authority.[12]:230 In 1528, More published another religious polemic, A
Dialogue Concerning Heresies, that asserted the Catholic Church was the one true church,
established by Christ and the Apostles, and affirmed the validity of its authority, traditions and
practices.[12]:27981 In 1529, the circulation of Simon Fishs Supplication for the Beggars
prompted More to respond with The Supplication of Souls.
In 1531, a year after More's father died, William Tyndale published An Answer unto Sir Thomas
Mores Dialogue in response to Mores Dialogue Concerning Heresies. More responded with a half
million words: the Confutation of Tyndales Answer. The Confutation is an imaginary dialogue
between More and Tyndale, with More addressing each of Tyndales criticisms of Catholic rites and
doctrines.[12]:3079 More, who valued structure, tradition and order in society as safeguards
against tyranny and error, vehemently believed that Lutheranism and the Protestant Reformation in
general were dangerous, not only to the Catholic faith but to the stability of society as a whole.

Most major humanists were prolific letter writers, and Thomas More was no exception. However, as
in the case of his friend Erasmus of Rotterdam, only a small portion of his correspondence (about
280 letters) survived. These include everything from personal letters to official government
correspondence (mostly in English), letters to fellow humanist scholars (in Latin), several epistolary
tracts, verse epistles, prefatory letters (some fictional) to several of More's own works, letters to
More's children and their tutors (in Latin), and the so-called "prison-letters" (in English) which he
exchanged with his oldest daughter, Margaret Roper while he was imprisoned in the Tower of
London awaiting execution.[24] More also engaged in controversies, most notably with the French
poet Germain de Brie, which culminated in the publication of de Brie's Antimorus (1519). Erasmus
intervened, however, and ended the dispute.[25]
More also wrote about more spiritual matters. They include: A Treatise on the Passion (a/k/a
Treatise on the Passion of Christ), A Treatise to Receive the Blessed Body (a/k/a Holy Body Treaty),
and De Tristitia Christi (a/k/a The Agony of Christ). More handwrote the last which reads in the

Tower of London while awaiting his execution. This last manuscript, saved from the confiscation
decreed by Henry VIII, passed by the will of his daughter Margaret to Spanish hands through Fray
Pedro de Soto, confessor of Emperor Charles V. More's friend Luis Vives received it in Valencia,
where it remains in the collection of Real Colegio Seminario del Corpus Christi Museum.

Statue of Thomas More at the Ateneo Law School chapel.

Catholic Church
Pope Leo XIII beatified Thomas More, John Fisher and 52 other English Martyrs on 29 December
1886. Pope Pius XI canonised More and Fisher on 19 May 1935, and More's feast day was
established as 9 July. Since 1970 the General Roman Calendar has celebrated More with St John
Fisher on 22 June (the date of Fisher's execution). In 2000, Pope John Paul II declared More "the
heavenly Patron of Statesmen and Politicians".[4]

Anglican Communion
In 1980, despite their opposing the English Reformation, More and Fisher were jointly added as
martyrs of the reformation to the Church of England's calendar of "Saints and Heroes of the
Christian Church", to be commemorated every 6 July (the date of More's execution) as "Thomas
More, Scholar, and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, Reformation Martyrs, 1535".[5]
More is also listed in the calendars of saints of some of the other churches in the Anglican
Communion including:
The Anglican Church of Australia has "July 6: John Fisher and Thomas More, martyrs (died
The Anglican Church of Brazil has "July 6: Thomas More, Martyr, 1535".
The Anglican Church of Canada has "July 6 Thomas More died 1535 Commemoration" in
its Book of Alternative Services Calendar, and has "July 6 The Octave Day of St Peter and
St Paul, and Thomas More, Chancellor of England, Martyr 1535." in the July section of its
Book of Common Prayer Calendar.
The Anglican Church of Southern Africa has "July 6: Thomas More, Martyr, 1535".
Among those on which More is not listed are the calendars of the Episcopal Church in the United
States, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Hong Kong and Macau.

The steadfastness and courage with which More maintained his religious convictions, and his
dignity during his imprisonment, trial, and execution, contributed much to More's posthumous
reputation, particularly among Roman Catholics. However, his zealous and brutal persecution of
Protestants while Lord Chancellor contravenes modern notions of religious liberty as discussed
below. Many historians[who?] consider More's treason conviction unjust, or at least his execution
heavy-handed.[citation needed] His friend Erasmus defended More's character as "more pure than
any snow" and described his genius as "such as England never had and never again will have."[43]
Upon learning of More's execution, Emperor Charles V said: "Had we been master of such a
servant, we would rather have lost the best city of our dominions than such a worthy
councillor."[44] G. K. Chesterton, a Roman Catholic convert from the Church of England, predicted
More "may come to be counted the greatest Englishman, or at least the greatest historical character

in English history."[45] Hugh Trevor-Roper called More "the first great Englishman whom we feel
that we know, the most saintly of humanists, the most human of saints, the universal man of our
cool northern renaissance."[46]
Jonathan Swift, an Anglican, wrote that More was "a person of the greatest virtue this kingdom ever
produced".[47][48][49] Some consider Samuel Johnson that quote's author, although neither his
writings nor Boswell's contain such.[50][51] The metaphysical poet John Donne, also honoured as a
saint by Anglicans, was More's great-great-nephew.[52]
While Roman Catholic scholars maintain that More used irony in Utopia, and that he remained an
orthodox Christian, Marxist theoretician Karl Kautsky considered the book a shrewd critique of
economic and social exploitation in pre-modern Europe; More thus influenced the early
development of socialist ideas.[53] Others thought Utopia mythologised Indian cultures in the New
World at a time when the Catholic Church was still debating internally its view toward those
decidedly non-Christian cultures.[citation needed]
Several authors have criticised More for his campaign against Protestantism. Brian Moynahan, in
his book God's Messenger: William Tyndale, Thomas More and the Writing of the English Bible,
criticised More's intolerance, as does Michael Farris in his book From Tyndale to Madison. Richard
Marius also criticised More for Anti-Protestantism and intolerance.[citation needed] Jasper Ridley,
who wrote biographies of Henry VIII and Mary Tudor, goes much further in his dual biography of
More and Cardinal Wolsey, The Statesman and the Fanatic, describing More as "a particularly nasty
sado-masochistic pervert."[page needed] Joanna Denny in her 2004 biography of Anne Boleyn also
criticised More.

Communism, Socialism, and resistance to Communism

Having been praised "as a Communist hero by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Karl Kautsky"
because of the Communist attitude to property in his Utopia,[6] under Soviet Communism the name
of Thomas More was in ninth position from the top[7] of Moscow's Stele of Freedom (also known
as the Obelisk of Revolutionary Thinkers),[8] as one of the most influential thinkers "who promoted
the liberation of humankind from oppression, arbitrariness, and exploitation."[7] This monument
was erected in 1918 in Aleksndrovsky Garden near the Kremlin at Lenin's suggestion.[6][7][8] It
was dismantled on 2 July 2013, during Vladimir Putin's third term as President of post-Communist
Utopia also inspired Socialists such as William Morris.[54]
Many see More's communism or socialism as purely satirical.[54] In 1888, while praising More's
communism, Karl Kautsky pointed out that "perplexed" historians and economists often saw the
name Utopia (which means "no place") as "a subtle hint by More that he himself regarded his
communism as an impracticable dream".[55]
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian Nobel Prize-winning anti-Communist author, and survivor and
historian of the Soviet prison camps, argued that Soviet communism needed enslavement and
forced labour to survive, and that this had been " ...foreseen as far back as Thomas More, the greatgrandfather of socialism, in his Utopia".[56]
In 2008, More was portrayed on stage in Hong Kong as an allegorical symbol of the Pan-democracy
camp resisting Chinese Communism in a translated and modified version of Robert Bolt's play A
Man for All Seasons .[57]

Literature and popular culture

William Roper's biography of More was one of the first biographies in Modern English.
More was portrayed as a wise and honest statesman in the 1592 play Sir Thomas More, which was

probably written in collaboration by Henry Chettle, Anthony Munday, William Shakespeare, and
others, and which survives only in fragmentary form after being censored by Edmund Tylney,
Master of the Revels in the government of Queen Elizabeth I (any direct reference to the Act of
Supremacy was censored out).
The 20th-century agnostic playwright Robert Bolt portrayed Thomas More as the tragic hero of his
1960 play A Man for All Seasons. The title is drawn from what Robert Whittington in 1520 wrote of
More is a man of an angel's wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the
man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous
mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons.[46]
In 1966, the play was made into the successful film A Man for All Seasons directed by Fred
Zinnemann, adapted for the screen by the playwright himself, and starring Paul Scofield in an
Oscar-winning performance. Scofield, an actor known for many acclaimed performances in
Classical theatre, later called Sir Thomas More, "The most difficult part I played."[58]
The film won the Academy Award for Best Picture for that year. In 1988, Charlton Heston starred in
and directed a made-for-television film that followed Bolt's original play almost verbatim, restoring
for example the commentaries of "the common man".
Catholic science fiction writer R. A. Lafferty wrote his novel Past Master as a modern equivalent to
More's Utopia, which he saw as a satire. In this novel, Thomas More travels through time to the
year 2535, where he is made king of the world "Astrobe", only to be beheaded after ruling for a
mere nine days. One character compares More favourably to almost every other major historical
figure: "He had one completely honest moment right at the end. I cannot think of anyone else who
ever had one."
Karl Zuchardt's novel, Stirb du Narr! ("Die you fool!"), about More's struggle with King Henry,
portrays More as an idealist bound to fail in the power struggle with a ruthless ruler and an unjust
The novelist Hilary Mantel's portrays More as an unsympathetic persecutor of Protestants, and an
ally of the Habsburg empire, in her 2009 novel Wolf Hall, told from the perspective of a
sympathetically portrayed Thomas Cromwell. Literary critic James Wood calls More "cruel in
punishment, evasive in argument, lusty for power, and repressive in politics".[51]
Aaron Zelman's non-fiction book The State Versus the People includes a comparison of Utopia with
Plato's Republic. Zelman is undecided as to whether More was being ironic in his book or was
genuinely advocating a police state. Zelman comments, "More is the only Christian saint to be
honoured with a statue at the Kremlin."[citation needed] By this Zelman implies that Utopia
influenced Vladimir Lenin's Bolsheviks, despite their brutal repression of religion.
Other biographers, such as Peter Ackroyd, have offered a more sympathetic picture of More as both
a sophisticated philosopher and man of letters, as well as a zealous Catholic who believed in the
authority of the Holy See over Christendom.
The protagonist of Walker Percy's novels, Love in the Ruins and The Thanatos Syndrome, is "Dr
Thomas More", a reluctant Catholic and descendant of More.
More is the focus of the Al Stewart song "A Man For All Seasons" from the 1978 album Time
Passages, and of the Far song "Sir", featured on the limited editions and 2008 re-release of their
1994 album Quick. In addition, the song "So Says I" by indie rock outfit The Shins alludes to the
socialist interpretation of More's Utopia.
Jeremy Northam depicts More in the television series The Tudors as a peaceful man, as well as a
devout Roman Catholic and loving family patriarch. He also shows More loathing Protestantism,

burning both Martin Luther's books and English Protestants who have been convicted of heresy.
The portrayal has unhistorical aspects, such as that More neither personally caused nor attended
Simon Fish's execution (since Fish actually died of bubonic plague in 1531 before he could stand
trial), although More's The Supplycatyon of Soulys, published in October 1529, addressed Fish's
Supplication for the Beggars.[59][60] Indeed, there is no evidence that More ever attended the
execution of any heretic.[citation needed] The series also neglected to show More's avowed
insistence that Richard Rich's testimony about More disputing the King's title as Supreme Head of
the Church of England was perjured.
In 2002, More was placed at number 37 in the BBC's poll of the 100 Greatest Britons.[61]

Institutions named after More

Main article: List of institutions named after Thomas More

Historic sites
This section does not cite any sources. Please help improve this section by adding
citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (July

Westminster Hall
A plaque in the middle of the floor of London's Westminster Hall commemorates More's trial for
treason and condemnation to execution in that original part of the Palace of Westminster.[62] The
building, which houses Parliament, would have been well known to More, who served several terms
as a member and became Speaker of the House of Commons before his appointment as England's
Lord Chancellor.

Crosby Hall
The Crown confiscated More's home and estate along the Thames in Chelsea after his execution.
Crosby Hall, which was part of More's London residence, was eventually relocated and
reconstructed in Chelsea by conservation architect Walter Godfrey in 1910. Rebuilt in the 1990s,
the white stone building stands amid modern brick structures that attempt to recapture the style of
More's former manor on the site. Crosby Hall is privately owned and closed to the public. The
modern structures face the Thames and include an entry way that displays More's arms, heraldic
beasts, and a Latin maxim. Apartment buildings and a park cover the former gardens and orchard;
Roper's Garden is the park atop one of More's gardens, sunken as his was believed to be. No other
remnants exist of the More estate.

Chelsea Old Church

Thomas More statue, Chelsea Old Church
Across a small park and Old Church Street from Crosby Hall is Chelsea Old Church, an Anglican
church whose southern chapel More commissioned and in which he sang with the parish choir.
Except for his chapel, the church was largely destroyed in the Second World War and rebuilt in
1958. The capitals on the medieval arch connecting the chapel to the main sanctuary display
symbols associated with More and his office. On the southern wall of the sanctuary is the tomb and
epitaph he erected for himself and his wives, detailing his ancestry and accomplishments in Latin,
including his role as peacemaker between the Christian nations of Europe as well as a curiously
altered portion about his curbing heresy. When More served Mass, he would leave by the door just

to the left of it. He is not, however, buried here, nor is it entirely certain which of his family may be.
It is open to the public at specific times. Outside the church, facing the River Thames, is a statue by
L. Cubitt Bevis erected in 1969, commemorating More as "saint", "scholar", and "statesman"; the
back displays his coat-of-arms. Nearby, on Upper Cheyne Row, the Roman Catholic Church of Our
Most Holy Redeemer & St. Thomas More honours the martyr.

Tower Hill
A plaque and small garden commemorate the famed execution site on Tower Hill, London, just
outside the Tower of London, as well as all those executed there, many as religious martyrs or as
prisoners of conscience. More's corpse, minus his head, was unceremoniously buried in an
unmarked mass grave beneath the Royal Chapel of St. Peter Ad Vincula, within the walls of the
Tower of London, as was the custom for traitors executed at Tower Hill. The chapel is accessible to
Tower visitors.

St Katharine Docks
Thomas More is commemorated by a stone plaque near St Katharine Docks, just east of the Tower
where he was executed. The street in which it is situated was formerly called Nightingale Lane, a
corruption of "Knighten Guild", derived from the original owners of the land. It is now renamed
Thomas More Street in his honour.[63]

St Dunstan's Church and Roper House, Canterbury

St Dunstan's Church, an Anglican parish church in Canterbury, possesses More's head, rescued by
his daughter Margaret Roper, whose family lived in Canterbury down and across the street from
their parish church. A stone immediately to the left of the altar marks the sealed Roper family vault
beneath the Nicholas Chapel, itself to the right of the church's sanctuary or main altar. St Dunstan's
Church has carefully investigated, preserved and sealed this burial vault. The last archaeological
investigation revealed that the suspected head of More rests in a niche separate from the other
bodies, possibly from later interference.[citation needed] Displays in the chapel record the
archaeological findings in pictures and narratives. Catholics donated stained glass to commemorate
the events in More's life. A small plaque marks the former home of William and Margaret Roper;
another house nearby and entitled Roper House is now a home for the deaf.

Note: The reference "CW" is to the relevant volume of the Yale Edition of the Complete Works of
St. Thomas More (New Haven and London 19631997)

Published during Mores life (with dates of publication)

A Merry Jest (c. 1516) (CW 1)

Utopia (1516) (CW 4)
Latin Poems (1518, 1520) (CW 3, Pt.2)
Letter to Brixius (1520) (CW 3, Pt. 2, App C)
Responsio ad Lutherum (The Answer to Luther, 1523) (CW 5)
A Dialogue Concerning Heresies (1529, 1530) (CW 6)
Supplication of Souls (1529) (CW 7)
Letter Against Frith (1532) (CW 7)
The Confutation of Tyndale's Answer (1532, 1533) (CW 8)
Apology (1533) (CW 9)

Debellation of Salem and Bizance (1533) (CW 10)

The Answer to a Poisoned Book (1533) (CW 11)

Published after Mores death (with likely dates of composition)

The History of King Richard III (c. 15131518) (CW 2 & 15)
The Four Last Things (c. 1522) (CW 1)
A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation (1534) (CW 12)
Treatise Upon the Passion (1534) (CW 13)
Treatise on the Blessed Body (1535) (CW 13)
Instructions and Prayers (1535) (CW 13)
De Tristitia Christi (1535) (CW 14)

Philip Sidney
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For other people named Philip Sidney, see Philip Sidney (disambiguation).
Sir Philip Sidney
Sir Philip Sidney
Spouse(s) Frances Walsingham
Father Sir Henry Sidney
Mother Lady Mary Dudley
30 November 1554
Penshurst Place, Kent, England
17 October 1586 (aged 31)
Arnhem, Netherlands
Buried St Paul's Cathedral
Sir Philip Sidney (30 November 1554 17 October 1586) was an English poet, courtier, scholar,
and soldier, who is remembered as one of the most prominent figures of the Elizabethan age. His
works include Astrophel and Stella, The Defence of Poesy (also known as The Defence of Poetry or
An Apology for Poetry), and The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia.

Early life
Born at Penshurst Place, Kent, he was the eldest son of Sir Henry Sidney and Lady Mary Dudley.
His mother was the eldest daughter of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland, and the sister of
Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. His younger brother, Robert was a statesman and patron of the
arts, and was created Earl of Leicester in 1618. His younger sister, Mary, married Henry Herbert,
2nd Earl of Pembroke and was a writer, translator and literary patron. Sidney dedicated his longest
work, the Arcadia, to her. After her brother's death, Mary reworked the Arcadia, which became

known as The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia.

Philip was educated at Shrewsbury School and Christ Church, Oxford. In 1572 he was elected to
Parliament as Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury[1] and in the same year travelled to France as
part of the embassy to negotiate a marriage between Elizabeth I and the Duc D'Alenon. He spent
the next several years in mainland Europe, moving through Germany, Italy, Poland, the Kingdom of
Hungary and Austria. On these travels, he met a number of prominent European intellectuals and
politicians. During a 1577 diplomatic visit to Prague, Sidney secretly visited the exiled Jesuit priest
Edmund Campion.[2]

Returning to England in 1575, Sidney met Penelope Devereux, the future Lady Rich; though much
younger, she would inspire his famous sonnet sequence of the 1580s, Astrophel and Stella. Her
father, Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, is said to have planned to marry his daughter to Sidney,
but he died in 1576. In England, Sidney occupied himself with politics and art. He defended his
father's administration of Ireland in a lengthy document. More seriously, he quarrelled with Edward
de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, probably because of Sidney's opposition to the French marriage,
which de Vere championed. In the aftermath of this episode, Sidney challenged de Vere to a duel,
which Elizabeth forbade. He then wrote a lengthy letter to the Queen detailing the foolishness of the
French marriage. Characteristically, Elizabeth bristled at his presumption, and Sidney prudently
retired from court.

Literary writings
His artistic contacts were more peaceful and more significant for his lasting fame. During his
absence from court, he wrote Astrophel and Stella and the first draft of The Arcadia and The
Defence of Poesy. Somewhat earlier, he had met Edmund Spenser, who dedicated The Shepheardes
Calender to him. Other literary contacts included membership, along with his friends and fellow
poets Fulke Greville, Edward Dyer, Edmund Spenser and Gabriel Harvey, of the (possibly
fictitious) 'Areopagus', a humanist endeavour to classicise English verse.
Sidney had returned to court by the middle of 1581 and in 1584 was MP for Kent. That same year
Penelope Devereux was married, apparently against her will, to Lord Rich. Sidney was knighted in
1583. An early arrangement to marry Anne Cecil, daughter of Sir William Cecil and eventual wife
of de Vere, had fallen through in 1571. In 1583, he married Frances, teenage daughter of Sir Francis
Walsingham. In the same year, he made a visit to Oxford University with Giordano Bruno, who
subsequently dedicated two books to Sidney.

Military activity
Both through his family heritage and his personal experience (he was in Walsingham's house in
Paris during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre), Sidney was a keenly militant Protestant. In the
1570s, he had persuaded John Casimir to consider proposals for a united Protestant effort against
the Roman Catholic Church and Spain. In the early 1580s, he argued unsuccessfully for an assault
on Spain itself. Promoted General of Horse in 1583,[1] his enthusiasm for the Protestant struggle
was given a free rein when he was appointed governor of Flushing in the Netherlands in 1585. In
the Netherlands, he consistently urged boldness on his superior, his uncle the Earl of Leicester. He
conducted a successful raid on Spanish forces near Axel in July, 1586.

Injury and death

Memorial for Sir Philip Sidney at the spot where he was fatally injured
Later that year, he joined Sir John Norris in the Battle of Zutphen, fighting for the Protestant cause
against the Spanish.[3] During the battle, he was shot in the thigh and died of gangrene 26 days
later, at the age of 31. According to the story, while lying wounded he gave his water to another
wounded soldier, saying, "Thy necessity is yet greater than mine".[4] As he lay dying, Sidney
composed a song to be sung by his deathbed.[5] This became possibly the most famous story about
Sir Phillip, intended to illustrate his noble and gallant character.[4] It also inspired evolutionary
biologist John Maynard Smith to formulate a problem in signalling theory which is known as the
Sir Philip Sidney game.[6]
The funeral of Sir Philip Sidney, 1586
Sidney's body was returned to London and interred in the Old St. Paul's Cathedral on 16 February
1587. The grave and monument were destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. A modern
monument in the crypt lists him among the important graves lost.
Already during his own lifetime, but even more after his death, he had become for many English
people the very epitome of a Castiglione courtier: learned and politic, but at the same time
generous, brave, and impulsive. The funeral procession was one of the most elaborate ever staged,
so much so that his father-in-law, Francis Walsingham, almost went bankrupt.[3] Never more than a
marginal figure in the politics of his time, he was memorialised as the flower of English manhood in
Edmund Spenser's Astrophel, one of the greatest English Renaissance elegies.
An early biography of Sidney was written by his friend and schoolfellow, Fulke Greville. While
Sidney was traditionally depicted as a staunch and unwavering Protestant, recent biographers such
as Katherine Duncan-Jones have suggested that his religious loyalties were more ambiguous.

Sir Philip Sidney, as depicted in an 18th-century history of the Netherlands
The Lady of May This is one of Sidney's lesser-known works, a masque written and
performed for Queen Elizabeth in 1578 or 1579.
Astrophel and Stella The first of the famous English sonnet sequences, Astrophel and
Stella was probably composed in the early 1580s. The sonnets were well-circulated in
manuscript before the first (apparently pirated) edition was printed in 1591; only in 1598 did
an authorised edition reach the press. The sequence was a watershed in English Renaissance
poetry. In it, Sidney partially nativised the key features of his Italian model, Petrarch:
variation of emotion from poem to poem, with the attendant sense of an ongoing, but partly
obscure, narrative; the philosophical trappings; the musings on the act of poetic creation
itself. His experiments with rhyme scheme were no less notable; they served to free the
English sonnet from the strict rhyming requirements of the Italian form.
The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia The Arcadia, by far Sidney's most ambitious work,
was as significant in its own way as his sonnets. The work is a romance that combines
pastoral elements with a mood derived from the Hellenistic model of Heliodorus. In the
work, that is, a highly idealised version of the shepherd's life adjoins (not always naturally)
with stories of jousts, political treachery, kidnappings, battles, and rapes. As published in the
sixteenth century, the narrative follows the Greek model: stories are nested within each
other, and different storylines are intertwined. The work enjoyed great popularity for more

than a century after its publication. William Shakespeare borrowed from it for the
Gloucester subplot of King Lear; parts of it were also dramatised by John Day and James
Shirley. According to a widely-told story, King Charles I quoted lines from the book as he
mounted the scaffold to be executed; Samuel Richardson named the heroine of his first
novel after Sidney's Pamela. Arcadia exists in two significantly different versions. Sidney
wrote an early version (the Old Arcadia) during a stay at Mary Herbert's house; this version
is narrated in a straightforward, sequential manner. Later, Sidney began to revise the work
on a more ambitious plan, with much more backstory about the princes, and a much more
complicated story line, with many more characters. He completed most of the first three
books, but the project was unfinished at the time of his deaththe third book breaks off in
the middle of a sword fight. There were several early editions of the book. Fulke Greville
published the revised version alone, in 1590. The Countess of Pembroke, Sidney's sister,
published a version in 1593, which pasted the last two books of the first version onto the
first three books of the revision. In the 1621 version, Sir William Alexander provided a
bridge to bring the two stories back into agreement.<Evans, 12-13> It was known in this
cobbled-together fashion until the discovery, in the early twentieth century, of the earlier
An Apology for Poetry[7] (also known as A Defence of Poesie and The Defence of Poetry)
Sidney wrote the Defence before 1583. It is generally believed that he was at least partly
motivated by Stephen Gosson, a former playwright who dedicated his attack on the English
stage, The School of Abuse, to Sidney in 1579, but Sidney primarily addresses more general
objections to poetry, such as those of Plato. In his essay, Sidney integrates a number of
classical and Italian precepts on fiction. The essence of his defence is that poetry, by
combining the liveliness of history with the ethical focus of philosophy, is more effective
than either history or philosophy in rousing its readers to virtue. The work also offers
important comments on Edmund Spenser and the Elizabethan stage.
The Sidney Psalms These English translations of the Psalms were completed in 1599 by
Philip Sidney's sister Mary.

Edmund Spenser
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Edmund Spenser
Resting place
Alma mater
Notable works

London, England
13 January 1599[1]
London, England
Westminster Abbey
Pembroke College, Cambridge
The Faerie Queene

Edmund Spenser (/spnsr/; 1552/1553 13 January 1599) was an English poet best known for
The Faerie Queene, an epic poem and fantastical allegory celebrating the Tudor dynasty and
Elizabeth I. He is recognized as one of the premier craftsmen of nascent Modern English verse, and
is often considered one of the greatest poets in the English language.


1 Life
2 Rhyme and reason
3 The Shepherd's Calendar
4 The Faerie Queene
5 Shorter poems
6 The Spenserian stanza and sonnet
7 Influences
8 A View of the Present State of Ireland
9 List of works
10 Editions
11 References
12 Sources
13 External links

Edmund Spenser was born in East Smithfield, London, around the year 1552, though there is some
ambiguity as to the exact date of his birth. As a young boy, he was educated in London at the
Merchant Taylors' School and matriculated as a sizar at Pembroke College, Cambridge.[2][3] While
at Cambridge he became a friend of Gabriel Harvey and later consulted him, despite their differing
views on poetry. In 1578, he became for a short time secretary to John Young, Bishop of Rochester.
[4] In 1579, he published The Shepheardes Calender and around the same time married his first
wife, Machabyas Childe.[5] They had two children, Sylvanus (d.1638) and Katherine.[6]
In July 1580, Spenser went to Ireland in service of the newly appointed Lord Deputy, Arthur Grey,
14th Baron Grey de Wilton. Spenser served under Lord Gray with Walter Raleigh at the Siege of
Smerwick massacre.[7] When Lord Grey was recalled to England, Spenser stayed on in Ireland,
having acquired other official posts and lands in the Munster Plantation. Raleigh acquired other
nearby Munster estates confiscated in the Second Desmond Rebellion. Some time between 1587
and 1589, Spenser acquired his main estate at Kilcolman, near Doneraile in North Cork.[8] He later
bought a second holding to the south, at Rennie, on a rock overlooking the river Blackwater in
North Cork. Its ruins are still visible today. A short distance away grew a tree, locally known as
"Spenser's Oak" until it was destroyed in a lightning strike in the 1960s. Local legend has it that he
penned some of The Faerie Queene under this tree.[9]
In 1590, Spenser brought out the first three books of his most famous work, The Faerie Queene,
having travelled to London to publish and promote the work, with the likely assistance of Raleigh.
He was successful enough to obtain a life pension of 50 a year from the Queen. He probably hoped
to secure a place at court through his poetry, but his next significant publication boldly antagonised

the queen's principal secretary, Lord Burghley (William Cecil), through its inclusion of the satirical
Mother Hubberd's Tale.[10] He returned to Ireland.
By 1594, Spenser's first wife had died, and in that year he married Elizabeth Boyle, to whom he
addressed the sonnet sequence Amoretti. The marriage itself was celebrated in Epithalamion.[11]
They had a son named Peregrine.[6]
In 1596, Spenser wrote a prose pamphlet titled A View of the Present State of Ireland. This piece, in
the form of a dialogue, circulated in manuscript, remaining unpublished until the mid-seventeenth
century. It is probable that it was kept out of print during the author's lifetime because of its
inflammatory content. The pamphlet argued that Ireland would never be totally 'pacified' by the
English until its indigenous language and customs had been destroyed, if necessary by violence.[12]
In 1598, during the Nine Years War, Spenser was driven from his home by the native Irish forces of
Aodh Nill. His castle at Kilcolman was burned, and Ben Jonson, who may have had private
information, asserted that one of his infant children died in the blaze.[13]
Title page, Fowre Hymnes, by Edmund Spenser, published by William Ponsonby, London, 1596
In the year after being driven from his home, 1599, Spenser travelled to London, where he died at
the age of forty-six "for want of bread", according to Ben Jonson, which is ironic considering
Spenser's approving writing on the scorched-earth policy that caused famine in Ireland.[14] His
coffin was carried to his grave in Westminster Abbey by other poets, who threw many pens and
pieces of poetry into his grave with many tears. His second wife survived him and remarried twice.
His sister Sarah, who had accompanied him to Ireland, married into the Travers family, and her
descendants were prominent landowners in Cork for centuries.

Rhyme and reason

Thomas Fuller, in Worthies of England, included a story where the Queen told her treasurer,
William Cecil, to pay Spenser one hundred pounds for his poetry. The treasurer, however, objected
that the sum was too much. She said, "Then give him what is reason". Without receiving his
payment in due time, Spenser gave the Queen this quatrain on one of her progresses:
I was promis'd on a time,
To have a reason for my rhyme:
From that time unto this season,
I receiv'd nor rhyme nor reason.
She immediately ordered the treasurer pay Spenser the original 100.
This story seems to have attached itself to Spenser from Thomas Churchyard, who apparently had
difficulty in getting payment of his pension, the only other pension Elizabeth awarded to a poet.
Spenser seems to have had no difficulty in receiving payment when it was due as the pension was
being collected for him by his publisher, Ponsonby.[15]

The Shepherd's Calendar

Main article: The Shepherd's Calendar
Title Page of a 1617 Edition of The Shepherd's Calendar printed by Matthew Lownes, often bound
with the complete works printed in 1611 or 1617.
The Shepherd's Calendar is Edmund Spenser's first major work, which appeared in 1579. It
emulates Virgil's Eclogues of the first century BCE and the Eclogues of Mantuan by Baptista

Mantuanus, a late medieval, early renaissance poet. An eclogue is a short pastoral poem that is in
the form of a dialogue or soliloquy. Although all the months together form an entire year, each
month stands alone as a separate poem. Editions of the late 16th and early 17th centuries include
woodcuts for each month/poem, and thereby have a slight similarity to an emblem book which
combines a number of self-contained pictures and texts, usually a short vignette, saying, or allegory
with an accompanying illustration.

The Faerie Queene

Main article: The Faerie Queene
The epic poem The Faerie Queene frontispiece, printed by William Ponsonby in 1590.
Spenser's masterpiece is the epic poem The Faerie Queene. The first three books of The Faerie
Queene were published in 1590, and a second set of three books were published in 1596. Spenser
originally indicated that he intended the poem to consist of twelve books, so the version of the poem
we have today is incomplete. Despite this, it remains one of the longest poems in the English
language.[16] It is an allegorical work, and can be read (as Spenser presumably intended) on several
levels of allegory, including as praise of Queen Elizabeth I. In a completely allegorical context, the
poem follows several knights in an examination of several virtues. In Spenser's "A Letter of the
Authors," he states that the entire epic poem is "cloudily enwrapped in allegorical devises," and that
the aim behind The Faerie Queene was to "fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and
gentle discipline.

Shorter poems
Spenser published numerous relatively short poems in the last decade of the sixteenth century,
almost all of which consider love or sorrow. In 1591, he published Complaints, a collection of
poems that express complaints in mournful or mocking tones. Four years later, in 1595, Spenser
published Amoretti and Epithalamion. This volume contains eighty-nine sonnets commemorating
his courtship of Elizabeth Boyle. In "Amoretti," Spenser uses subtle humour and parody while
praising his beloved, reworking Petrarchism in his treatment of longing for a woman.
"Epithalamion," similar to "Amoretti," deals in part with the unease in the development of a
romantic and sexual relationship. It was written for his wedding to his young bride, Elizabeth
Boyle. The poem consists of 365 long lines, corresponding to the days of the year; 68 short lines,
claimed to represent the sum of the 52 weeks, 12 months, and 4 seasons of the annual cycle; and 24
stanzas, corresponding to the diurnal and sidereal hours.[citation needed] Some have speculated that
the attention to disquiet in general reflects Spenser's personal anxieties at the time, as he was unable
to complete his most significant work, The Faerie Queene. In the following year Spenser released
Prothalamion, a wedding song written for the daughters of a duke, allegedly in hopes to gain favour
in the court.[17]

The Spenserian stanza and sonnet

Spenser used a distinctive verse form, called the Spenserian stanza, in several works, including The
Faerie Queene. The stanza's main meter is iambic pentameter with a final line in iambic hexameter
(having six feet or stresses, known as an Alexandrine), and the rhyme scheme is ababbcbcc. He also
used his own rhyme scheme for the sonnet. In a Spenserian sonnet, the last line of every stanza is
linked with the first line of the next one, yielding the rhyme scheme ababbcbccdcdee.

Though Spenser was well read in classical literature, scholars have noted that his poetry does not
rehash tradition, but rather is distinctly his. This individuality may have resulted, to some extent,
from a lack of comprehension of the classics. Spenser strove to emulate such ancient Roman poets
as Virgil and Ovid, whom he studied during his schooling, but many of his best-known works are
notably divergent from those of his predecessors.[18] The language of his poetry is purposely
archaic, reminiscent of earlier works such as The Canterbury Tales of Geoffrey Chaucer and Il
Canzoniere of Francesco Petrarca, whom Spenser greatly admired.
Spenser was called a Poets' Poet and was admired by John Milton, William Blake, William
Wordsworth, John Keats, Lord Byron, and Alfred Lord Tennyson, among others. Walter Raleigh
wrote a dedicatory poem to The Faerie Queene in 1590, in which he claims to admire and value
Spenser's work more so than any other in the English language. John Milton in his Areopagitica
called Spenser "our sage and serious poet . . . whom I dare be known to think a better teacher than
Scotus or Aquinas".[19] In the eighteenth century, Alexander Pope compared Spenser to "a
mistress, whose faults we see, but love her with them all."[20]

A View of the Present State of Ireland

In his work A Veue of the present state of Irelande (1596), Spenser discussed future plans to
subjugate Ireland, the most recent rising, led by Hugh O'Neill, having demonstrated the futility of
previous efforts. The work is partly a defence of Lord Arthur Grey de Wilton, who was appointed
Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1580, and who greatly influenced Spenser's thinking on Ireland.
The goal of this piece was to show that Ireland was in great need of reform. Spenser believed that
"Ireland is a diseased portion of the State, it must first be cured and reformed, before it could be in a
position to appreciate the good sound laws and blessings of the nation".[21] In A View of the
Present State of Ireland, Spenser categorises the evils of the Irish people into three prominent
categories: laws, customs, and religion. These three elements work together in creating the
disruptive and degraded people. One example given in the work is the native law system called
"Brehon Law" which trumps the established law given by the English monarchy. This system has its
own court and way of dealing with infractions. It has been passed down through the generations and
Spenser views this system as a native backward custom which must be destroyed. (Brehon Law
methods of dealing with murder by imposing an raic, or fine, on the murderer's whole family
particularly horrified the English, in whose Protestant view a murderer should die for his act.)
Spenser wished devoutly that the Irish language should be eradicated, writing that if children learn
Irish before English, "Soe that the speach being Irish, the hart must needes be Irishe; for out of the
aboundance of the hart, the tonge speaketh".[22]
He pressed for a scorched earth policy in Ireland, noting that the destruction of crops and animals
had been successful in crushing the Second Desmond Rebellion (157983), when, despite the rich
and bountiful land:
"'Out of everye corner of the woode and glenns they came creepinge forth upon theire
handes, for theire legges could not beare them; they looked Anatomies [of] death, they
spake like ghostes, crying out of theire graves; they did eate of the carrions, happye
wheare they could find them, yea, and one another soone after, in soe much as the verye
carcasses they spared not to scrape out of theire graves; and if they found a plott of
water-cresses or shamrockes, theyr they flocked as to a feast in a shorte space there
were none almost left, and a most populous and plentyfull countrye suddenly lefte
voyde of man or beast: yett sure in all that warr, there perished not manye by the
sworde, but all by the extreamytie of famine ... they themselves had wrought'"[22]

List of works
Iambicum Trimetrum
1569: Jan van der Noodt's A theatre for Worldlings, including poems translated into English
by Spenser from French sources, published by Henry Bynneman in London[23]
1579: The Shepheardes Calender, published under the pseudonym "Immerito"[24] (entered
into the Stationers' Register in December[23])
The Faerie Queene, Books 13
Complaints, Containing sundrie small Poemes of the Worlds Vanitie (entered into the
Stationer's Register in 1590[23]), includes:
"The Ruines of Time"
"The Teares of the Muses"
"Virgil's Gnat"
"Prosopopoia, or Mother Hubberds Tale"
"Ruines of Rome: by Bellay"
"Muiopotmos, or the Fate of the Butterflie"
"Visions of the worlds vanitie"
"The Visions of Bellay"
"The Visions of Petrarch"
Axiochus, a translation of a pseudo-Platonic dialogue from the original Ancient Greek;
published by Cuthbert Burbie; attributed to "Edw: Spenser"[23] but the attribution is
Daphnada. An Elegy upon the death of the noble and vertuous Douglas Howard, Daughter
and heire of Henry Lord Howard, Viscount Byndon, and wife of Arthure Gorges Esquier
(published in London in January, according to one source;[23] another source gives 1591 as
the year[24])
Amoretti and Epithalamion, containing:
Astrophel. A Pastorall Elegie vpon the death of the most Noble and valorous Knight, Sir
Philip Sidney.
Colin Clouts Come home againe
Four Hymns (poem)|Fowre Hymnes dedicated from the court at Greenwich;[23] published
with the second edition of Daphnaida[24]
The Faerie Queene, Books 46[23]
Babel, Empress of the East a dedicatory poem prefaced to Lewes Lewkenor's The
Commonwealth of Venice, 1599.
1609: Two Cantos of Mutabilitie published together with a reprint of The Fairie Queene[26]

1611: First folio edition of Spenser's collected works[26]

1633: A vewe of the present state of Irelande, a prose treatise on the reformation of Ireland,
[27] first published in James Ware's Ancient Irish Chronicles (Spenser's work was entered
into the Stationer's Register in 1598 and circulated in manuscript but not published until it
was included in this work of Ware's)[26]

John Donne
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For other people named John Donne, see John Donne (disambiguation).
John Donne
John Donne
22 January 1572[1]
London, England
31 March 1631 (aged 59)
London, England
Poet, priest, lawyer
Alma mater
Oxford University
Satire, love poetry, elegy, sermons
Love, sexuality, religion, death
Literary movement Metaphysical poetry
John Donne (/dn/ dun) (22 January 1572[1] 31 March 1631) was an English poet and a cleric
in the Church of England. He is considered the pre-eminent representative of the metaphysical
poets. His works are noted for their strong, sensual style and include sonnets, love poems, religious
poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, satires and sermons. His poetry is noted for its
vibrancy of language and inventiveness of metaphor, especially compared to that of his
contemporaries. Donne's style is characterised by abrupt openings and various paradoxes, ironies
and dislocations. These features, along with his frequent dramatic or everyday speech rhythms, his
tense syntax and his tough eloquence, were both a reaction against the smoothness of conventional
Elizabethan poetry and an adaptation into English of European baroque and mannerist techniques.
His early career was marked by poetry that bore immense knowledge of English society and he met
that knowledge with sharp criticism. Another important theme in Donne's poetry is the idea of true
religion, something that he spent much time considering and about which he often theorized. He
wrote secular poems as well as erotic and love poems. He is particularly famous for his mastery of
metaphysical conceits.[2]
Despite his great education and poetic talents, Donne lived in poverty for several years, relying
heavily on wealthy friends. He spent much of the money he inherited during and after his education
on womanising, literature, pastimes, and travel. In 1601, Donne secretly married Anne More, with
whom he had twelve children.[3] In 1615, he became an Anglican priest, although he did not want
to take Anglican orders. He did so because King James I persistently ordered it. In 1621, he was
appointed the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral in London. He also served as a member of Parliament in
1601 and in 1614.

Early life
A portrait of Donne as a young man, c. 1595, artist unknown, in the collection of the National
Portrait Gallery, London[4]
Donne was born in London, into a recusant Roman Catholic family when practice of that religion
was illegal in England.[5] Donne was the third of six children. His father, also named John Donne,
was of Welsh descent and a warden of the Ironmongers Company in the City of London. Donne's
father was a respected Roman Catholic who avoided unwelcome government attention out of fear of
His father died in 1576, when Donne was four years old, leaving his son fatherless and his widow,
Elizabeth Heywood, with the responsibility of raising their children alone.[1] Heywood was also
from a recusant Roman Catholic family, the daughter of John Heywood, the playwright, and sister
of the Reverend Jasper Heywood, a Jesuit priest and translator.[1] She was a great-niece of the
Roman Catholic martyr Thomas More.[1] This tradition of martyrdom would continue among
Donne's closer relatives, many of whom were executed or exiled for religious reasons.[8] Donne
was educated privately; however, there is no evidence to support the popular claim that he was
taught by Jesuits.[1] Donne's mother married Dr. John Syminges, a wealthy widower with three
children, a few months after Donne's father died. Donne thus acquired a stepfather. Two more of his
sisters, Mary and Katherine, died in 1581. Donne's mother lived her last years in the Deanery after
Donne became Dean of St Paul's, and died just two months before Donne, in January 1631 [1].
In 1583, the 11-year-old Donne began studies at Hart Hall, now Hertford College, Oxford. After
three years of studies there, Donne was admitted to the University of Cambridge, where he studied
for another three years.[9] However, Donne could not obtain a degree from either institution
because of his Catholicism, since he refused to take the Oath of Supremacy required to graduate.
In 1591 Donne was accepted as a student at the Thavies Inn legal school, one of the Inns of
Chancery in London.[1] On 6 May 1592 he was admitted to Lincoln's Inn, one of the Inns of Court.
[1] In 1593, five years after the defeat of the Spanish Armada and during the intermittent AngloSpanish War (15851604), Queen Elizabeth issued the first English statute against sectarian dissent
from the Church of England, titled "An Act for restraining Popish recusants". It defined "Popish
recusants" as those "convicted for not repairing to some Church, Chapel, or usual place of Common
Prayer to hear Divine Service there, but forbearing the same contrary to the tenor of the laws and
statutes heretofore made and provided in that behalf". Donne's brother Henry was also a university
student prior to his arrest in 1593 for harbouring a Catholic priest, William Harrington, whom he
betrayed under torture.[5] Harrington was tortured on the rack, hanged until not quite dead, and then
subjected to disembowelment.[5] Henry Donne died in Newgate prison of bubonic plague, leading
Donne to begin questioning his Catholic faith.[7]
During and after his education, Donne spent much of his considerable inheritance on women,
literature, pastimes and travel.[6] Although no record details precisely where Donne travelled, he
did cross Europe and later fought with the Earl of Essex and Sir Walter Raleigh against the Spanish
at Cadiz (1596) and the Azores (1597), and witnessed the loss of the Spanish flagship, the San
Felipe.[1][11] According to Izaak Walton, who wrote a biography of Donne in 1658:
... he returned not back into England till he had stayed some years, first in Italy, and
then in Spain, where he made many useful observations of those countries, their laws

and manner of government, and returned perfect in their languages.

Izaak Walton[12]
By the age of 25 he was well prepared for the diplomatic career he appeared to be seeking.[11] He
was appointed chief secretary to the Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, Sir Thomas Egerton, and was
established at Egerton's London home, York House, Strand close to the Palace of Whitehall, then
the most influential social centre in England.

Marriage to Anne More

During the next four years Donne fell in love with Egerton's niece Anne More, and they were
secretly married just before Christmas[5] in 1601, against the wishes of both Egerton and George
More, who was Lieutenant of the Tower and Anne's father. Upon discovery, this wedding ruined
Donne's career, getting him fired and put in Fleet Prison, along with minister Samuel Brooke, who
married them,[13] and the man who acted as a witness to the wedding. Donne was released shortly
thereafter when the marriage was proven valid, and he soon secured the release of the other two.
Walton tells us that when Donne wrote to his wife to tell her about losing his post, he wrote after his
name: John Donne, Anne Donne, Un-done. It was not until 1609 that Donne was reconciled with his
father-in-law and received his wife's dowry.
Part of the house where Donne lived in Pyrford
After his release, Donne had to accept a retired country life in a small house in Pyrford, Surrey,
owned by Anne's cousin, Sir Francis Wooley, where they resided until the end of 1604.[1][14] In
spring 1605 they moved to another small house in Mitcham, London, where he scraped a meager
living as a lawyer,[15] while Anne Donne bore a new baby almost every year. Though he also
worked as an assistant pamphleteer to Thomas Morton writing anti-Catholic pamphlets, Donne was
in a constant state of financial insecurity.[1]
Anne bore John 12 children in 16 years of marriage, a record at that time,[according to whom?]
(including two stillbirths their eighth and then, in 1617, their last child); indeed, she spent most
of her married life either pregnant or nursing. The 10 surviving children were Constance, John,
George, Francis, Lucy (named after Donne's patroness Lucy, Countess of Bedford, her godmother),
Bridget, Mary, Nicholas, Margaret, and Elizabeth. Three (Francis, Nicholas, and Mary) died before
they were ten. In a state of despair that almost drove him to kill himself, Donne noted that the death
of a child would mean one mouth fewer to feed, but he could not afford the burial expenses. During
this time, Donne wrote but did not publish Biathanatos, his defense of suicide.[16] His wife died on
15 August 1617, five days after giving birth to their twelfth child, a still-born baby.[1] Donne
mourned her deeply, and wrote of his love and loss in his 17th Holy Sonnet.

Career and later life

A few months before his death, Donne commissioned this portrait of himself as he expected to
appear when he rose from the grave at the Apocalypse.[17] He hung the portrait on his wall as a
reminder of the transience of life.
In 1602 John Donne was elected as Member of Parliament for the constituency of Brackley, but this
was not a paid position.[1] Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603, being succeeded by King James I of
Scotland. The fashion for coterie poetry of the period gave Donne a means to seek patronage, and
many of his poems were written for wealthy friends or patrons, especially MP Sir Robert Drury of
Hawsted (15751615), whom he met in 1610 and became Donne's chief patron, furnishing him and
his family an apartment in his large house in Drury Lane.[11]

In 1610 and 1611 Donne wrote two anti-Catholic polemics: Pseudo-Martyr and Ignatius his
Conclave for Morton.[1] He then wrote two Anniversaries, An Anatomy of the World (1611) and Of
the Progress of the Soul[18] (1612) for Drury. Although James was pleased with Donne's work, he
refused to reinstate him at court and instead urged him to take holy orders.[7] At length, Donne
acceded to the king's wishes, and in 1615 was ordained into the Church of England.[11]
In 1615 Donne was awarded an honorary doctorate in divinity from Cambridge University, and
became a Royal Chaplain in the same year, and a Reader of Divinity at Lincoln's Inn in 1616,[1]
where he served in the chapel as minister until 1622.[19] In 1618 he became chaplain to Viscount
Doncaster, who was on an embassy to the princes of Germany. Donne did not return to England
until 1620.[14] In 1621 Donne was made Dean of St Paul's, a leading and well-paid position in the
Church of England, which he held until his death in 1631. During his period as dean his daughter
Lucy died, aged eighteen. In late November and early December 1623 he suffered a nearly fatal
illness, thought to be either typhus or a combination of a cold followed by a period of fever. During
his convalescence he wrote a series of meditations and prayers on health, pain, and sickness that
were published as a book in 1624 under the title of Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. One of
these meditations, Meditation XVII, later became well known for its phrases "No man is an Iland"
(often modernised as "No man is an island") and "...for whom the bell tolls". In 1624 he became
vicar of St Dunstan-in-the-West, and 1625 a prolocutor to Charles I.[1] He earned a reputation as an
eloquent preacher and 160 of his sermons have survived, including the famous Deaths Duel sermon
delivered at the Palace of Whitehall before King Charles I in February 1631.

Memorial to John Donne, St Paul's Cathedral
It is thought that Donne's final illness was stomach cancer, although this has not been proven. He
died on 31 March 1631 having written many poems, most of which were circulated in manuscript
during his lifetime. Donne was buried in old St Paul's Cathedral, where a memorial statue of him
was erected (carved from a drawing of him in his shroud), with a Latin epigraph probably
composed by himself. Donne's monument survived the 1666 fire, and is on display in the present

Early poetry
Donne's earliest poems showed a developed knowledge of English society coupled with sharp
criticism of its problems. His satires dealt with common Elizabethan topics, such as corruption in
the legal system, mediocre poets, and pompous courtiers. His images of sickness, vomit, manure,
and plague reflected his strongly satiric view of a world populated by all the fools and knaves of
England. His third satire, however, deals with the problem of true religion, a matter of great
importance to Donne. He argued that it was better to examine carefully one's religious convictions
than blindly to follow any established tradition, for none would be saved at the Final Judgment, by
claiming "A Harry, or a Martin taught [them] this."[8]
Donne's early career was also notable for his erotic poetry, especially his elegies, in which he
employed unconventional metaphors, such as a flea biting two lovers being compared to sex.[11] In
"Elegy XIX: To His Mistris Going to Bed" he poetically undressed his mistress and compared the
act of fondling to the exploration of America. In "Elegy XVIII" he compared the gap between his
lover's breasts to the Hellespont.[11] Donne did not publish these poems, although he did allow
them to circulate widely in manuscript form.[11]

... any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore
never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee..
Donne, Meditation XVII[21]
Some have speculated that Donne's numerous illnesses, financial strain, and the deaths of his
friends all contributed to the development of a more somber and pious tone in his later poems.[11]
The change can be clearly seen in "An Anatomy of the World" (1611), a poem that Donne wrote in
memory of Elizabeth Drury, daughter of his patron, Sir Robert Drury of Hawstead, Suffolk. This
poem treats Elizabeth's demise with extreme gloominess, using it as a symbol for the Fall of Man
and the destruction of the universe.[11]
The poem "A Nocturnal upon S. Lucy's Day, Being the Shortest Day", concerns the poet's despair at
the death of a loved one. In it Donne expresses a feeling of utter negation and hopelessness, saying
that "I am every dead thing ... re-begot / Of absence, darkness, death." This famous work was
probably written in 1627 when both Donne's friend Lucy, Countess of Bedford, and his daughter
Lucy Donne died. Three years later, in 1630, Donne wrote his will on Saint Lucy's day (13
December), the date the poem describes as "Both the year's, and the day's deep midnight".
The increasing gloominess of Donne's tone may also be observed in the religious works that he
began writing during the same period. His early belief in the value of scepticism now gave way to a
firm faith in the traditional teachings of the Bible. Having converted to the Anglican Church, Donne
focused his literary career on religious literature. He quickly became noted for his sermons and
religious poems. The lines of these sermons and devotional works would come to influence future
works of English literature, such as Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, which took its
title from a passage in Meditation XVII of Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, and Thomas
Merton's No Man is an Island, which took its title from the same source.
Towards the end of his life Donne wrote works that challenged death, and the fear that it inspired in
many men, on the grounds of his belief that those who die are sent to Heaven to live eternally. One
example of this challenge is his Holy Sonnet X, "Death Be Not Proud", from which come the
famous lines "Death, be not proud, though some have called thee / Mighty and dreadful, for thou art
not so." Even as he lay dying during Lent in 1631, he rose from his sickbed and delivered the
Death's Duel sermon, which was later described as his own funeral sermon. Death's Duel portrays
life as a steady descent to suffering and death, yet sees hope in salvation and immortality through an
embrace of God, Christ and the Resurrection.[16][11][22]

His work has received much criticism over the years, especially concerning his metaphysical form.
Donne is generally considered the most prominent member of the metaphysical poets, a phrase
coined in 1781 by Samuel Johnson, following a comment on Donne by John Dryden. Dryden had
written of Donne in 1693: "He affects the metaphysics, not only in his satires, but in his amorous
verses, where nature only should reign; and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice
speculations of philosophy, when he should engage their hearts, and entertain them with the
softnesses of love."[23] In Life of Cowley (from Samuel Johnson's 1781 work of biography and
criticism Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets), Johnson refers to the beginning of the
seventeenth century in which there "appeared a race of writers that may be termed the metaphysical
poets". Donne's immediate successors in poetry therefore tended to regard his works with
ambivalence, with the Neoclassical poets regarding his conceits as abuse of the metaphor. However
he was revived by Romantic poets such as Coleridge and Browning, though his more recent revival
in the early twentieth century by poets such as T. S. Eliot and critics like F R Leavis tended to
portray him, with approval, as an anti-Romantic.[24]

Donne is considered a master of the metaphysical conceit, an extended metaphor that combines two
vastly different ideas into a single idea, often using imagery.[8] An example of this is his equation
of lovers with saints in "The Canonization". Unlike the conceits found in other Elizabethan poetry,
most notably Petrarchan conceits, which formed clichd comparisons between more closely related
objects (such as a rose and love), metaphysical conceits go to a greater depth in comparing two
completely unlike objects. One of the most famous of Donne's conceits is found in "A Valediction:
Forbidding Mourning" where he compares two lovers who are separated to the two legs of a
Donne's works are also witty, employing paradoxes, puns, and subtle yet remarkable analogies. His
pieces are often ironic and cynical, especially regarding love and human motives. Common subjects
of Donne's poems are love (especially in his early life), death (especially after his wife's death), and
John Donne's poetry represented a shift from classical forms to more personal poetry. Donne is
noted for his poetic metre, which was structured with changing and jagged rhythms that closely
resemble casual speech (it was for this that the more classical-minded Ben Jonson commented that
"Donne, for not keeping of accent, deserved hanging").[16]
Some scholars believe that Donne's literary works reflect the changing trends of his life, with love
poetry and satires from his youth and religious sermons during his later years. Other scholars, such
as Helen Gardner, question the validity of this datingmost of his poems were published
posthumously (1633). The exception to these is his Anniversaries, which were published in 1612
and Devotions upon Emergent Occasions published in 1624. His sermons are also dated, sometimes
specifically by date and year.

Christopher Marlowe
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This article is about the English dramatist. For the American sportscaster, see Chris Marlowe.
Christopher Marlowe
An anonymous portrait in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, believed to show Christopher
baptised 26 February 1564
Canterbury, Kent, England
30 May 1593 (aged 29)
Deptford, Kent, England
Playwright, poet
Early Modern English
Literary movement English Renaissance theatre
Hero and Leander, Edward the Second, The Tragical History of Doctor
Notable works

Christopher Marlowe,[1] also known as Kit Marlowe (baptised 26 February 1564 30 May
1593), was an English playwright, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era. Marlowe was the
foremost Elizabethan tragedian of his day.[2] He greatly influenced William Shakespeare, who was
born in the same year as Marlowe and who rose to become the pre-eminent Elizabethan playwright
after Marlowe's mysterious early death. Marlowe's plays are known for the use of blank verse and
their overreaching protagonists.
A warrant was issued for Marlowe's arrest on 18 May 1593. No reason was given for it, though it
was thought to be connected to allegations of blasphemya manuscript believed to have been
written by Marlowe was said to contain "vile heretical conceipts". On 20 May he was brought to the
court to attend upon the Privy Council for questioning. There is no record of their having met that
day, however, and he was commanded to attend upon them each day thereafter until "licensed to the
contrary." Ten days later, he was stabbed to death by Ingram Frizer. Whether the stabbing was
connected to his arrest has never been resolved.[3]

Early life
Marlowe was born in Canterbury to shoemaker John Marlowe and his wife Catherine. His date of
birth is not known, but he was baptised on 26 February 1564, and is likely to have been born a few
days before. Thus he was just two months older than his contemporary William Shakespeare, who
was baptised on 26 April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Marlowe attended The King's School in Canterbury (where a house is now named after him) and
Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he studied on a scholarship and received his Bachelor of
Arts degree in 1584.[4] In 1587 the university hesitated to award him his Master of Arts degree
because of a rumour that he intended to go to the English college at Rheims, presumably to prepare
for ordination as a Roman Catholic priest. However, his degree was awarded on schedule when the
Privy Council intervened on his behalf, commending him for his "faithful dealing" and "good
service" to the Queen.[5] The nature of Marlowe's service was not specified by the Council, but its
letter to the Cambridge authorities has provoked much speculation, notably the theory that Marlowe
was operating as a secret agent working for Sir Francis Walsingham's intelligence service.[6] No
direct evidence supports this theory, although the Council's letter is evidence that Marlowe had
served the government in some secret capacity.

Literary career
Marlowe was christened at St George's Church, in Canterbury.
The corner of Old Court of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where Marlowe stayed during his
Of the dramas attributed to Marlowe, Dido, Queen of Carthage is believed to have been his first. It
was performed by the Children of the Chapel, a company of boy actors, between 1587 and 1593.
The play was first published in 1594; the title page attributes the play to Marlowe and Thomas
Marlowe's first play performed on the regular stage in London, in 1587, was Tamburlaine the Great,
about the conqueror Tamburlaine, who rises from shepherd to war-lord. It is among the first English
plays in blank verse,[7] and, with Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy, generally is considered the
beginning of the mature phase of the Elizabethan theatre. Tamburlaine was a success, and was
followed with Tamburlaine the Great, Part II.

The two parts of Tamburlaine were published in 1590; all Marlowe's other works were published
posthumously. The sequence of the writing of his other four plays is unknown; all deal with
controversial themes.
The Jew of Malta (first published as The Famous Tragedy of the Rich Jew of Malta), about a
Maltese Jew's barbarous revenge against the city authorities, has a prologue delivered by a
character representing Machiavelli. It was probably written in 1589 or 1590, and was first
performed in 1592. It was a success, and remained popular for the next fifty years. The play
was entered in the Stationers' Register on 17 May 1594, but the earliest surviving printed
edition is from 1633.
Edward the Second is an English history play about the deposition of King Edward II by his
barons and the Queen, who resent the undue influence the king's favourites have in court and
state affairs. The play was entered into the Stationers' Register on 6 July 1593, five weeks
after Marlowe's death. The full title of the earliest extant edition, of 1594, is The
troublesome reigne and lamentable death of Edward the second, King of England, with the
tragicall fall of proud Mortimer.
The Massacre at Paris is a short and luridly written work, the only surviving text of which
was probably a reconstruction from memory of the original performance text,[8] portraying
the events of the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre in 1572, which English Protestants
invoked as the blackest example of Catholic treachery. It features the silent "English Agent",
whom subsequent tradition has identified with Marlowe himself and his connections to the
secret service.[9] The Massacre at Paris is considered his most dangerous play, as agitators
in London seized on its theme to advocate the murders of refugees from the low countries
and, indeed, it warns Elizabeth I of this possibility in its last scene.[10][11] Its full title was
The Massacre at Paris: With the Death of the Duke of Guise.
Doctor Faustus (or The Tragicall History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus),[12]
based on the German Faustbuch, was the first dramatised version of the Faust legend of a
scholar's dealing with the devil. While versions of "The Devil's Pact" can be traced back to
the 4th century, Marlowe deviates significantly by having his hero unable to "burn his
books" or repent to a merciful God in order to have his contract annulled at the end of the
play. Marlowe's protagonist is instead carried off by demons, and in the 1616 quarto his
mangled corpse is found by several scholars. Doctor Faustus is a textual problem for
scholars as two versions of the play exist: the 1604 quarto, also known as the A text, and the
1616 quarto or B text. Both were published after Marlowe's death. Scholars have disagreed
which text is more representative of Marlowe's original, and some editions are based on a
combination of the two. The latest scholarly consensus (as of the late 20th century) holds the
A text is more representative because it contains irregular character names and idiosyncratic
spelling, which are believed to reflect a text based on the author's handwritten manuscript, or
"foul papers." The B text, in comparison, was highly edited, censored because of shifting
theatre laws regarding religious words onstage, and contains several additional scenes which
scholars believe to be the additions of other playwrights, particularly Samuel Rowley and
William Bird (alias Borne).
Marlowe's plays were enormously successful, thanks in part, no doubt, to the imposing stage
presence of Edward Alleyn. Alleyn was unusually tall for the time, and the haughty roles of
Tamburlaine, Faustus, and Barabas were probably written especially for him. Marlowe's plays were
the foundation of the repertoire of Alleyn's company, the Admiral's Men, throughout the 1590s.
Marlowe also wrote the poem Hero and Leander (published in 1598, and with a continuation by
George Chapman the same year), the popular lyric "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love", and
translations of Ovid's Amores and the first book of Lucan's Pharsalia. In 1599, his translation of
Ovid was banned and copies publicly burned as part of Archbishop Whitgift's crackdown on
offensive material.

As with other writers of the period, little is known about Marlowe. What evidence there is can be
found in legal records and other official documents. This has not stopped writers of both fiction and
non-fiction from speculating about his activities and character. Marlowe has often been described as
a spy, a brawler, and a heretic, as well as a "magician", "duellist", "tobacco-user", "counterfeiter",
and "rakehell". J. A. Downie and Constance Kuriyama have argued against the more lurid
speculation,[13] but J. B. Steane remarked, "it seems absurd to dismiss all of these Elizabethan
rumours and accusations as 'the Marlowe myth'".[14]

Title page of the earliest published text of Edward II (1594)
Marlowe is often alleged to have been a government spy (Park Honan's 2005 biography even had
"Spy" in its title[15]) The author Charles Nicholl speculates this was the case and suggests that
Marlowe's recruitment took place when he was at Cambridge. As noted above, in 1587 the Privy
Council ordered the University of Cambridge to award Marlowe his degree of Master of Arts,
denying rumours that he intended to go to the English Catholic college in Rheims, saying instead
that he had been engaged in unspecified "affaires" on "matters touching the benefit of his country".
[16] Surviving college records from the period also indicate that Marlowe had had a series of
unusually lengthy absences from the university much longer than permitted by university
regulations that began in the academic year 15841585. Surviving college buttery (provisions
store) accounts indicate he began spending lavishly on food and drink during the periods he was in
attendance[17] more than he could have afforded on his known scholarship income.[nb 1]
It has sometimes been theorised that Marlowe was the "Morley" who was tutor to Arbella Stuart in
1589.[19] This possibility was first raised in a TLS letter by E. St John Brooks in 1937; in a letter to
Notes and Queries, John Baker has added that only Marlowe could be Arbella's tutor due to the
absence of any other known "Morley" from the period with an MA and not otherwise occupied.[20]
If Marlowe was Arbella's tutor, (and some biographers think that the "Morley" in question may have
been a brother of the musician Thomas Morley[21]) it might indicate that he was there as a spy,
since Arbella, niece of Mary, Queen of Scots, and cousin of James VI of Scotland, later James I of
England, was at the time a strong candidate for the succession to Elizabeth's throne.[22] Frederick
Boas dismisses the possibility of this identification, based on surviving legal records which
document his "residence in London between September and December 1589". He had been party to
a fatal quarrel involving his neighbours in Norton Folgate, and was held in Newgate Prison for a
fortnight.[23] In fact the quarrel and his arrest was on 18 September, he was released on bail on 1
October, and he had to attend court where he was cleared of any wrongdoing on 3 December,
but there is no record of where he was for the intervening two months.[24]
In 1592 Marlowe was arrested in the town of Flushing (Vlissingen) in the Netherlands for his
alleged involvement in the counterfeiting of coins, presumably related to the activities of seditious
Catholics. He was sent to be dealt with by the Lord Treasurer (Burghley) but no charge or
imprisonment resulted.[25] This arrest may have disrupted another of Marlowe's spying missions:
perhaps by giving the resulting coinage to the Catholic cause. He was to infiltrate the followers of
the active Catholic plotter William Stanley and report back to Burghley.[26]

Arrest and death

Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Deptford. The plaque
shown here is modern.

In early May 1593 several bills were posted about London threatening Protestant refugees from
France and the Netherlands who had settled in the city. One of these, the "Dutch church libel",[27]
written in rhymed iambic pentameter, contained allusions to several of Marlowe's plays and was
signed, "Tamburlaine". On May 11 the Privy Council ordered the arrest of those responsible for the
libels. The next day, Marlowe's colleague Thomas Kyd was arrested. Kyd's lodgings were searched
and a fragment of a heretical tract was found. Kyd asserted that it had belonged to Marlowe, with
whom he had been writing "in one chamber" some two years earlier.[28] At that time they had both
been working for an aristocratic patron, probably Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange.[29] A warrant
for Marlowe's arrest was issued on May 18, when the Privy Council apparently knew that he might
be found staying with Thomas Walsingham, whose father was a first cousin of the late Sir Francis
Walsingham, Elizabeth's principal secretary in the 1580s and a man more deeply involved in state
espionage than any other member of the Privy Council.[30] Marlowe duly presented himself on 20
May but, there apparently being no Privy Council meeting on that day, was instructed to "give his
daily attendance on their Lordships, until he shall be licensed to the contrary".[31] On Wednesday
May 30, Marlowe was killed.
Various accounts of Marlowe's death were current over the next few years. In his Palladis Tamia,
published in 1598, Francis Meres says Marlowe was "stabbed to death by a bawdy serving-man, a
rival of his in his lewd love" as punishment for his "epicurism and atheism."[32] In 1917, in the
Dictionary of National Biography, Sir Sidney Lee wrote that Marlowe was killed in a drunken fight,
and this is still often stated as fact today.
The official account came to light only in 1925 when the scholar Leslie Hotson discovered the
coroner's report of the inquest on Marlowe's death, held two days later on Friday June 1, 1593, by
the Coroner of the Queen's Household, William Danby.[33] Marlowe had spent all day in a house in
Deptford, owned by the widow Eleanor Bull, and together with three men: Ingram Frizer, Nicholas
Skeres and Robert Poley. All three had been employed by one or other of the Walsinghams. Skeres
and Poley had helped snare the conspirators in the Babington plot and Frizer would later describe
Thomas Walsingham as his "master" at that time[34] although his role was probably more that of a
financial or business agent as he was for Walsingham's wife Audrey a few years later.[35] These
witnesses testified that Frizer and Marlowe had argued over payment of the bill (now famously
known as the 'Reckoning') exchanging "divers malicious words" while Frizer was sitting at a table
between the other two and Marlowe was lying behind him on a couch. Marlowe snatched Frizer's
dagger and wounded him on the head. In the ensuing struggle, according to the coroner's report,
Marlowe was stabbed above the right eye, killing him instantly. The jury concluded that Frizer acted
in self-defence, and within a month he was pardoned. Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave in
the churchyard of St. Nicholas, Deptford immediately after the inquest, on June 1, 1593.
The complete text of the inquest report was published by Leslie Hotson in his book, The Death of
Christopher Marlowe, in the introduction to which Prof. G. L. Kittredge said "The mystery of
Marlowe's death, heretofore involved in a cloud of contradictory gossip and irresponsible guesswork, is now cleared up for good and all on the authority of public records of complete authenticity
and gratifying fullness", but this confidence proved fairly short-lived.
Hotson himself had considered the possibility that the witnesses had "concocted a lying account of
Marlowe's behaviour, to which they swore at the inquest, and with which they deceived the jury"
but came down against that scenario.[36] Others, however, began to suspect that this was indeed the
case. Writing to the Times Literary Supplement shortly after the book's publication, Eugnie de Kalb
disputed that the struggle and outcome as described were even possible,[37] and Samuel A.
Tannenbaum (a graduate of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons) insisted
the following year that such a wound could not have possibly resulted in instant death, as had been
claimed.[38] Even Marlowe's biographer John Bakeless acknowledged that "some scholars have
been inclined to question the truthfulness of the coroner's report. There is something queer about the
whole episode" and said that Hotson's discovery "raises almost as many questions as it
answers."[39] It has also been discovered more recently that the apparent absence of a local county

coroner to accompany the Coroner of the Queen's Household would, if noticed, have made the
inquest null and void.[40]
One of the main reasons for doubting the truth of the inquest concerns the reliability of Marlowe's
companions as witnesses.[41] As an agent provocateur for the late Sir Francis Walsingham, Robert
Poley was a consummate liar, the "very genius of the Elizabethan underworld",[42] and is even on
record as saying "I will swear and forswear myself, rather than I will accuse myself to do me any
harm."[43] The other witness, Nicholas Skeres, had for many years acted as a confidence trickster,
drawing young men into the clutches of people in the money-lending racket, including Marlowe's
apparent killer, Ingram Frizer, with whom he was currently engaged in just such a swindle.[44] In
other words, despite their being referred to as "generosi" (gentlemen) in the inquest report, they
were all professional liars.
Some biographers, such as Kuriyama[45] and Downie,[46] nevertheless take the inquest to be a true
account of what occurred, but in trying to explain what really happened if the account was not true,
others have come up with a variety of murder theories.
Jealous of her husband Thomas's relationship with Marlowe, Audrey Walsingham arranged
for the playwright to be murdered.[47]
Sir Walter Raleigh arranged the murder, fearing that under torture Marlowe might
incriminate him.[48]
With Skeres the main player, the murder resulted from attempts by the Earl of Essex to use
Marlowe to incriminate Sir Walter Raleigh.[49]
He was killed on the orders of father and son Lord Burghley and Sir Robert Cecil, who
thought that his plays contained Catholic propaganda.[50]
He was accidentally killed while Frizer and Skeres were pressuring him to pay back money
he owed them.[51]
Marlowe was murdered at the behest of several members of the Privy Council who feared
that he might reveal them to be atheists.[52]
The Queen herself ordered his assassination because of his subversively atheistic behaviour.
Frizer murdered him because he envied Marlowe's close relationship with his master
Thomas Walsingham and feared the effect that Marlowe's behaviour might have on
Walsingham's reputation.[54]
There is even a theory that Marlowe's death was faked to save him from trial and execution for
subversive atheism.[55] However, since there are only written documents on which to base any
conclusions, and since it is probable that the most crucial information about his death was never
committed to writing at all, it is unlikely that the full circumstances of Marlowe's death will ever be

A foul sheet from Marlowe's writing of The Massacre at Paris (1593). Reproduced from Folger
Shakespeare Library Ms.J.b.8
During his lifetime, Marlowe was reputed to be an atheist, which, at that time, held the dangerous
implication of being an enemy of God and by association, the state.[56] With the rise of public fears
concerning The School of Night, or the then called "School of Atheism" in the late 16th century,
accusations of Atheism were closely associated with disloyalty to the then Protestant monarchy of
Some modern historians, however, consider that Marlowe's professed atheism, as with his supposed
Catholicism, may have been no more than an elaborate and sustained pretence adopted to further his

work as a government spy.[58] Contemporary evidence comes from Marlowe's accuser in Flushing,
an informer called Richard Baines. The governor of Flushing had reported that each of the men had
"of malice" accused the other of instigating the counterfeiting, and of intending to go over to the
Catholic "enemy"; such an action was considered atheistic by the Protestants, who constituted the
dominant religious faction in England at that time. Following Marlowe's arrest in 1593, Baines
submitted to the authorities a "note containing the opinion of one Christopher Marly concerning his
damnable judgment of religion, and scorn of God's word."[59] Baines attributes to Marlowe a total
of eighteen items which "scoff at the pretensions of the Old and New Testament"[14] such as,
"Christ was a bastard and his mother dishonest [unchaste]", "the woman of Samaria and her sister
were whores and that Christ knew them dishonestly", and, "St John the Evangelist was bedfellow to
Christ and leaned always in his bosom" (cf. John 13:2325), and, "that he used him as the sinners of
Sodom". He also implies that Marlowe had Catholic sympathies. Other passages are merely
sceptical in tone: "he persuades men to atheism, willing them not to be afraid of bugbears and
hobgoblins". The final paragraph of Baines' document reads:
These thinges, with many other shall by good & honest witnes be aproved to be his
opinions and Comon Speeches, and that this Marlowe doth not only hould them himself,
but almost into every Company he Cometh he perswades men to Atheism willing them
not to be afeard of bugbeares and hobgoblins, and vtterly scorning both god and his
ministers as I Richard Baines will Justify & approue both by mine oth and the testimony
of many honest men, and almost al men with whome he hath Conversed any time will
testify the same, and as I think all men in Cristianity ought to indevor that the mouth of
so dangerous a member may be stopped, he saith likewise that he hath quoted a number
of Contrarieties oute of the Scripture which he hath giuen to some great men who in
Convenient time shalbe named. When these thinges shalbe Called in question the witnes
shalbe produced.[60]
Similar examples of Marlowe's statements were given by Thomas Kyd after his imprisonment and
possible torture (see above);[28][61] both Kyd and Baines connect Marlowe with the mathematician
Thomas Harriot and Walter Raleigh's circle. Another document[62] claimed at around the same time
that "one Marlowe is able to show more sound reasons for Atheism than any divine in England is
able to give to prove divinity, and that ... he hath read the Atheist lecture to Sir Walter Raleigh and
Poster for WPA performance of Marlowe's Faustus, New York, circa 1935
Some critics believe that Marlowe sought to disseminate these views in his work and that he
identified with his rebellious and iconoclastic protagonists.[63] However, plays had to be approved
by the Master of the Revels before they could be performed, and the censorship of publications was
under the control of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Presumably these authorities did not consider
any of Marlowe's works to be unacceptable (apart from the Amores).

Like his contemporary William Shakespeare, Marlowe is sometimes described today as
homosexual. Others argue that the question of whether an Elizabethan was gay or homosexual in a
modern sense is anachronistic. For the Elizabethans, what is often today termed homosexual or
bisexual was more likely to be recognised as a sexual act, rather than an exclusive sexual
orientation and identity.[64] Some scholars argue that the evidence is inconclusive and that the
reports of Marlowe's homosexuality may simply be exaggerated rumours produced after his death.
Richard Baines reported Marlowe as saying: "All they that love not Tobacco and Boys are fools".
David Bevington and Eric Rasmussen describe Baines's evidence as "unreliable testimony" and
make the comment: "These and other testimonials need to be discounted for their exaggeration and

for their having been produced under legal circumstances we would regard as a witch-hunt".[65]
One critic, J.B. Steane, remarked that he considers there to be "no evidence for Marlowe's
homosexuality at all."[14] Other scholars,[66] however, point to homosexual themes in Marlowe's
writing: in Hero and Leander, Marlowe writes of the male youth Leander, "in his looks were all that
men desire"[67] and that when the youth swims to visit Hero at Sestos, the sea god Neptune
becomes sexually excited, "[i]magining that Ganymede, displeas'd, [h]ad left the Heavens ... [t]he
lusty god embrac'd him, call'd him love ... He watched his arms and, as they opened wide [a]t every
stroke, betwixt them would he slide [a]nd steal a kiss, ... And dive into the water, and there pry
[u]pon his breast, his thighs, and every limb, ... [a]nd talk of love",[68] while the boy, naive and
unaware of Greek love practices, protests, "'You are deceiv'd, I am no woman, I.' Thereat smil'd
Neptune."[69] Edward the Second contains the following passage supporting homosexual
The mightiest kings have had their minions;
Great Alexander loved Hephaestion,
The conquering Hercules for Hylas wept;
And for Patroclus, stern Achilles drooped.
And not kings only, but the wisest men:
The Roman Tully loved Octavius,
Grave Socrates, wild Alcibiades.[70]
Marlowe wrote the only play about the life of Edward II up to his time, taking the humanist literary
discussion of male sexuality much further than his contemporaries. The play was extremely bold,
dealing with a star-crossed love story between Edward II and Piers Gaveston. Though it was
common practice at the time to reveal characters as gay to give audiences reason to suspect them as
culprits of a given crime, Christopher Marlowe's Edward II is portrayed as a sympathetic character.

Reputation among contemporary writers

Whatever the particular focus of modern critics, biographers and novelists, for his contemporaries
in the literary world, Marlowe was above all an admired and influential artist. Within weeks of his
death, George Peele remembered him as "Marley, the Muses' darling"; Michael Drayton noted that
he "Had in him those brave translunary things / That the first poets had", and Ben Jonson wrote of
"Marlowe's mighty line". Thomas Nashe wrote warmly of his friend, "poor deceased Kit Marlowe".
So too did the publisher Edward Blount, in the dedication of Hero and Leander to Sir Thomas
Among the few contemporary dramatists to say anything negative about Marlowe was the
anonymous author of the Cambridge University play The Return From Parnassus (1598) who
wrote, "Pity it is that wit so ill should dwell, / Wit lent from heaven, but vices sent from hell."
The most famous tribute to Marlowe was paid by Shakespeare in As You Like It, where he not only
quotes a line from Hero and Leander ("Dead Shepherd, now I find thy saw of might, 'Who ever
loved that loved not at first sight?'") but also gives to the clown Touchstone the words "When a
man's verses cannot be understood, nor a man's good wit seconded with the forward child,
understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room." This appears to
be a reference to Marlowe's murder which involved a fight over the "reckoning", the bill, as well as
to a line in Marlowe's Jew of Malta "Infinite riches in a little room".
Shakespeare was heavily influenced by Marlowe in his work, as can be seen in the re-using of
Marlovian themes in Antony and Cleopatra, The Merchant of Venice, Richard II, and Macbeth
(Dido, Jew of Malta, Edward II and Dr Faustus respectively). In Hamlet, after meeting with the
travelling actors, Hamlet requests the Player perform a speech about the Trojan War, which at

2.2.42932 has an echo of Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage. In Love's Labour's Lost
Shakespeare brings on a character "Marcade" (three syllables) in conscious acknowledgement of
Marlowe's character "Mercury", also attending the King of Navarre, in Massacre at Paris. The
significance, to those of Shakespeare's audience who had read Hero and Leander, was Marlowe's
identification of himself with the god Mercury.[72]

As Shakespeare
Main articles: Marlovian theory of Shakespeare authorship and Shakespeare authorship question
A theory has arisen centred on the notion that Marlowe may have faked his death and then
continued to write under the assumed name of William Shakespeare. However, orthodox academic
consensus rejects alternative candidates for authorship, including Marlowe.[73]

William Shakespeare
Da Wikipedia, l'enciclopedia libera.

William Shakespeare nel ritratto eseguito da Martin Droeshout

Firma di Shakespeare
William Shakespeare (Stratford-upon-Avon, 23 aprile 1564[1] Stratford-upon-Avon, 23 aprile
1616[2]) stato un drammaturgo e poeta inglese, considerato come il pi importante scrittore in
lingua inglese e generalmente ritenuto il pi eminente drammaturgo della cultura occidentale[3][4]
Spesso considerato il poeta pi rappresentativo del popolo inglese[6] e soprannominato il "Bardo
dell'Avon" (o semplicemente "Il Bardo"[7]) oppure il "Cigno dell'Avon"[8], delle sue opere ci sono
pervenuti, incluse alcune collaborazioni, 37 testi teatrali, 154 sonetti e una serie di altri poemi. Le
sue opere teatrali sono state tradotte in tutte le maggiori lingue del mondo e sono state inscenate pi
spesso di qualsiasi altra opera[9]; inoltre lo scrittore maggiormente citato nella storia della
letteratura inglese e molte delle sue espressioni linguistiche sono entrate nell'inglese quotidiano[10]
Nonostante la cronologia esatta delle sue opere sia ancora al centro di numerosi dibattiti, cos come
la paternit di alcune di esse, possibile collocare con sufficiente certezza l'epoca di composizione
della maggior parte dei suoi lavori nei circa venticinque anni compresi tra il 1588 e il 1613[13][14].
Capace di eccellere sia nella tragedia sia nella commedia, fu in grado di coniugare il gusto popolare
della sua epoca con una complessa caratterizzazione dei personaggi, una poetica raffinata e una
notevole profondit filosofica. Bench fosse gi popolare in vita, divenne immensamente famoso
dopo la sua morte e i suoi lavori furono esaltati e celebrati da numerosi e importanti personaggi nei
secoli seguenti. La scarsit di documenti pervenutici riguardanti la sua vita privata ha fatto sorgere
numerose congetture riguardo al suo aspetto fisico, alla sua sessualit, al suo credo religioso e
persino all'attribuzione delle sue opere[15][16][17][18].

Le origini
La presunta casa natale di Shakespeare a Stratford.
Shakespeare visse a cavallo fra il XVI e il XVII secolo, un periodo in cui si stava realizzando il
passaggio dalla societ medievale al mondo moderno. Nel 1558 sul trono del regno era salita
Elisabetta I d'Inghilterra, inaugurando un periodo di fioritura artistica e culturale che da lei prese il
nome[19]. Il padre di William, John, si trasfer, alla met del Cinquecento, da Snitterfield a
Stratford-upon-Avon, dove divenne guantaio e conciatore[20].
John compare per la prima volta nelle documentazioni storiche nel 1552. Un documento ci informa
che John Shakespeare aveva in affitto un'ala di quella che sarebbe poi diventata famosa come la
casa natale del poeta, situata a Henley Street. Nel 1556 John accrebbe le sue propriet, acquistando
una propriet fondiaria e l'altra ala della casa natale, che a quel tempo era una struttura separata[21].
John prese in moglie Mary Arden, figlia del ricco agricoltore Robert Arden[22]. Mary era la figlia
minore, tuttavia era probabilmente la prediletta del padre visto che quando questi mor, verso la fine
del 1556, le lasci la sua tenuta e il raccolto della sua terra[23]. Il matrimonio avvenne tra il
novembre del 1556, mese in cui fu redatto il testamento di Robert Arden, e il settembre del 1558,
mese in cui nacque la prima figlia[24].
A partire dall'autunno del 1558, inizi la carriera politica di John Shakespeare: prest giuramento
come uno dei quattro connestabili[25]. Dal 1565 fu aldermanno, cio un componente della giunta
municipale di Stratford; nel 1568 ricopr per un anno la carica pi importante della citt, quella di
balivo[26]. Raggiunto il massimo riconoscimento cittadino, decise di rivolgersi al Collegio degli
araldisti per ricevere uno stemma, ma non riusc a ottenerlo[27]. Tra il 1570 e il 1590, John
Shakespeare, oppresso dai debiti, ebbe problemi di natura finanziaria, che portarono alla fine della
sua carriera pubblica e alla vendita di alcuni possedimenti[28].

La giovinezza a Stratford
La famiglia di Shakespeare in un'illustrazione del 1890. William recita l'Amleto, Anne seduta sulla
destra, Hamnet in piedi, mentre, da sinistra, Judith e Susannah lo ascoltano.
La data di battesimo di William Shakespeare a Stratford-upon-Avon risulta essere il 26 aprile 1564;
la trascrizione nel registro parrocchiale riporta: "Gulielmus, filius Johannes Shakspere"[29]. Non
documentata la data di nascita, che tradizionalmente si suppone sia avvenuta tre giorni prima, il 23
aprile, giorno in cui si festeggia San Giorgio, patrono dell'Inghilterra[30][31]. William fu il terzo di
otto figli[32]. Nell'estate del 1564 la peste colp Stratford, ma risparmi gli Shakespeare[33].
Sebbene non ci siano giunti i registri scolastici di quel periodo, per alcuni biografi Shakespeare
frequent la King's New School, istituto gratuito per i maschi della cittadina, dedicato a Edoardo VI
e fondato dalla Gilda della Santa Croce, distante circa quattrocento metri dalla sua casa[34][35][36];
l avrebbe avuto modo di apprendere il latino e i classici della letteratura, e di essere forse
sottoposto a frequenti punizioni corporali[37][38]. Le lezioni erano impartite sei giorni alla
settimana, cominciavano alle sei o alle sette di mattina e continuavano fino alle undici; dopo la
sosta per il pranzo riprendevano all'una per poi concludersi alle sei di sera[39]. Non risulta nessuna
sua eventuale formazione universitaria.

probabile che William abbia lavorato come apprendista nel negozio del padre[40]; stato messo
in rilievo come Shakespeare abbia fatto riferimento a svariati tipi di pelle e ad altre conoscenze
tipiche dei conciatori[41]. Il 27 novembre 1582, a diciotto anni, William spos a Stratford Anne
Hathaway, di otto anni pi grande. Considerata la data di nascita della prima figlia, il matrimonio,
testimoniato da Fulk Sandalls e John Richardson, fu forse affrettato dalla gravidanza della
Il 26 maggio 1583 la prima figlia di Shakespeare, Susannah, fu battezzata a Stratford[43]. Due anni
dopo, il 2 febbraio 1585, furono battezzati due gemelli: un maschio, Hamnet, e una femmina,
Judith[44]. Gli Shakespeare chiamarono i figli come i loro vicini e inseparabili amici, Hamnet e
Judith Sadler[45]. Quando nel 1598 Judith e Hamnet Sadler ebbero un figlio, lo chiamarono
William[45]. Hamnet era una variante morfologica, consueta a quel tempo, di Hamlet[46], ed
stato supposto che per il nome del bambino si sia ispirato a quello del protagonista dell'opera
omonima, bench il nome Hamnet o Hamlet fosse a quei tempi piuttosto comune. La figlia di
Susannah e di John Hall, Elizabeth, sar l'ultima discendente della famiglia[47].
Shakespeare Before Thomas Lucy, un'illustrazione di un aneddoto sul poeta.

Gli anni perduti

Tra il battesimo dei due gemelli e la sua comparsa sulla scena letteraria inglese, non vi sono
documenti relativi alla vita di Shakespeare; per questo motivo, il periodo che va dal 1585 al 1592
definito dagli studiosi come lost years ("anni perduti"). Il tentativo di spiegare questo periodo ha
dato vita a numerose supposizioni e fantasie; spesso nessuna prova suffraga queste storie se non le
dicerie raccolte dopo la morte del drammaturgo[48][49]. Nicholas Rowe, il primo biografo di
Shakespeare, riporta una leggenda di Stratford secondo la quale Shakespeare abbandon la citt,
rifugiandosi a Londra, per sfuggire a un processo causato dalla caccia di frodo di un cervo di
Thomas Lucy, un signorotto locale[50][51]. Un altro racconto del XVIII secolo riporta che
Shakespeare cominci la sua carriera teatrale badando ai cavalli dei clienti dei teatri di Londra[52].
John Aubrey riport che Shakespeare divenne un insegnante di campagna[53] pur non presentando
nessuna prova a sostegno di questa ipotesi. Alcuni studiosi hanno suggerito la possibilit che
Shakespeare sia stato assunto come tutore da Alexander Hoghton di Lancashire, un proprietario
terriero cattolico che cita un certo "William Shakeshafte" nel suo testamento del 1581[54][55].
Tuttavia non si hanno prove che qualche membro della famiglia del poeta us mai la variante
"Shakeshafte"[56]. stato ipotizzato che Shakespeare abbia cominciato la sua carriera teatrale
unendosi a una delle tante compagnie che visitavano Stratford annualmente. Nella stagione 1583-84
tre compagnie visitarono Stratford, nella stagione 1586-87 ben cinque, tra cui quella della regina,
quella di Essex e quella di Leicester[57].

La comparsa a Londra e i primi successi

La statua di Shakespeare a Leicester Square, Londra, opera di Giovanni Fontana del 1874[58].
Diversi documenti del 1592 ci informano del successo di Shakespeare in ambito teatrale: sappiamo
che sue opere sono gi state rappresentate dalle compagnie dei conti di Derby, di Pembroke e del
Sussex; si ha notizia, inoltre, della rappresentazione il 3 marzo 1592 della prima parte dell'Enrico
VI[59]. La fama delle opere di Shakespeare erano in ascesa vertiginosa, tanto da attirarsi le gelosie
dei colleghi pi anziani: proprio in quest'anno Robert Greene dedic la celebre invettiva che
sembrerebbe rivolta a Shakespeare:


an upstart Crow, beautified with our

feathers, that with his Tygers hart wrapt in a
Players hyde, supposes he is as well able to
bombast out a blanke verse as the best of
you: and beeing an absolute Johannes
factotum, is in his owne conceit the onely
Shake-scene in a countrey.

Un corvo parvenu, abbellito dalle nostre piume, che

con la sua Arte di tigre nascosta da un corpo
d'attore[60] ritiene d'essere capace quanto il migliore
di voi di tuonare in pentametri giambici; ed essendo
un faccendiere affaccendatissimo, secondo il suo
giudizio l'unico 'Scuoti-scene'[61] del paese.

(Greene, nel Groatsworth of Wit, un opuscolo pubblicato il 3 settembre 1592)

Greene era uno scrittore dalla personalit focosa che entr in contrasto col letterato John Florio e
che nel Groatsworth critic anche Marlowe e Nashe[62]. Henry Chettle, il tipografo che aveva
preparato per le stampe il manoscritto del Groatsworth, sent il bisogno, pochi mesi dopo, di
prendere le distanze da Greene nella prefazione alla sua opera Kind-Heart's Dream (Sogno di cuor
gentile)[63]; nel passo in questione, sul quale gli studiosi hanno spesso speculato dal momento che
tramanda il carattere di Shakespeare, Chettle si dispiace di non averlo risparmiato, apprezzando la
"rettitudine della sua condotta, che attesta della sua onest, e della sua grazia arguta nello scrivere,
che depone bene sulla sua arte"[64].
Negli anni 1593-94, a causa di un'epidemia di peste, i teatri inglesi rimasero chiusi; Shakespeare, in
questo periodo, pubblic due poemetti, Venere e Adone e Il ratto di Lucrezia[65]. Il primo, stampato
nel 1593, dedicato a Henry Wriothesley, III conte di Southampton, all'epoca diciannovenne. Sono
state fatte molte speculazioni intorno alla relazione tra Shakespeare e Southampton - alcuni critici lo
identificano come il misterioso "W.H." destinatario dei sonetti -, tuttavia secondo Samuel
Schoenbaum "non traspare una grande intimit tra poeta e mecenate"[66]. Il volume ebbe molto
successo ed ebbe numerose ristampe[67]. Il successo dell'opera testimoniato anche da un'opera
teatrale, stampata nel 1606 ma di qualche anno precedente, The Return from Parnassus,
rappresentata all'inizio del XVII secolo dagli studenti del St John's College di Cambridge[68]. The
Return from Parnassus la seconda di un ciclo di tre opere teatrali; al suo interno, un personaggio
Lo stemma della famiglia Shakespeare.


Let this duncified world esteem of Spenser and

Chaucer, I'll worship sweet Mr Shakespeare, and
to honour him will lay his Venus and Adonis
under my pillow.

Che il mondo ignorante stimi pure Spenser e

Chaucer. Io venerer il dolce signor Shakespeare,
e in suo onore metter Venere e Adone sotto il
mio cuscino

(The Return from Parnassus, 1606)

Tuttavia questa citazione manifesta solo la popolarit che il Venere e Adone aveva raggiunto in
quegli anni; infatti, sebbene alcuni critici abbiano interpretato questa frase come un apprezzamento
dell'ambiente universitario nei confronti di Shakespeare, altri hanno sottolineato che il personaggio
che fa questo elogio uno stupido[67]. A supporto dell'ipotesi che Shakespeare non era visto di
buon occhio dall'ambiente universitario, possibile citare la terza e ultima parte del ciclo
"Parnassus" degli studenti del St John's College, The Second Part of the Return from Parnassus; in
questa, un personaggio che impersona William Kempe, parlando con un personaggio che impersona
un altro membro della compagnia di Shakespeare, critica in maniera grossolana i drammaturghi con
educazione universitaria e afferma che "il nostro compagno Shakespeare li ha tutti umiliati"[69].
Nel 1594, Shakespeare d alle stampe il suo secondo poemetto Il ratto di Lucrezia, anch'esso
dedicato al conte di Southampton. Leggendo la dedica, la maggioranza degli studiosi sono
d'accordo sull'accresciuta familiarit tra il poeta e il conte[70]; tuttavia, la relazione tra i due resta di
difficile interpretazione, dato che, escluse queste due dediche, Southampton non compare in nessun

altro documento riguardante Shakespeare[71].

I servi del Lord Ciambellano

Nell'autunno 1594 la peste abbandon Londra, e ci permise la riapertura dei teatri; Shakespeare si
un, o contribu a formare, una compagnia teatrale chiamata The Lord Chamberlain's Men ("servi
del Lord Ciambellano"), della quale facevano parte anche Richard Burbage e William Kempe[72].
La prima notizia dell'esistenza della compagnia si ebbe nel giugno 1594[73], attraverso un
documento del libro dei conti del tesoriere privato della regina, che riportava la notizia di una
rappresentazione della compagnia presso il palazzo reale di Greenwich, il giorno di S. Stefano (26
dicembre) e il giorno degli Innocenti (28 dicembre), di fronte a Elisabetta I[73].
New Place, casa di Shakespeare, in un disegno di George Vertue.
Nel 1596 mor l'unico figlio maschio, Hamnet, che fu sepolto a Stratford l'11 agosto[74]. Nello
stesso anno, John Shakespeare, grazie al successo avuto dal figlio, riusc a ottenere il diritto di
fregiarsi di uno stemma e del titolo di gentleman per s e per i suoi discendenti, nonostante il suo
prestigio e la sua fortuna fossero notevolmente ridotti rispetto ad alcuni anni prima[75], il motto
scelto Non sanz droict, "Non senza diritto"[76].
Nel 1597 Shakespeare compr da William Underhill per sessanta sterline una residenza a Stratford,
New Place, composta da "due granai, due giardini, due frutteti, con annessi". La casa, la pi grande
di Stratford a quei tempi, era stata infatti costruita da un eminente cittadino della generazione
precedente, Sir Hugh Clopton[77]. L'acquisto testimonia i notevoli guadagni ottenuti da
Shakespeare con l'attivit teatrale.
Nell 1598 Shakespeare si trasfer nella diocesi di St. Helen's Bishopsgate. In questo stesso anno,
Francis Meres pubblic il Palladis Tamia, nel quale parlava di "un Ovidio risorto nel mellifluo
Shakespeare", e aggiungeva che tra i drammaturghi inglesi era il migliore sia nella tragedia sia nella
commedia, citando molti suoi titoli[76]. Sempre nel 1598 il Bardo partecip come attore alla
rappresentazione di Every Man in his Humour di Ben Jonson, nella parte di Kno'well, un vecchio
gentiluomo[78]; nell'in-folio delle opere di Jonson del 1616, Shakespeare compariva infatti in cima
alla lista degli attori[76].
Shakespeare divenne poi azionista dei The Lord Chamberlain's Men, acquisendo circa il 10% della
compagnia la quale, soprattutto grazie a lui, era talmente popolare da far s che, dopo la morte di
Elisabetta I e l'incoronazione di Giacomo I (1603), il nuovo monarca la adottasse, e si fregi cos
del titolo di The King's Men ("Gli uomini del re"); in questa compagnia Shakespeare ricopr anche il
ruolo di amministratore, oltre a quelli di drammaturgo e attore[79]. Vari documenti che registrano
affari legali e transazioni economiche mostrano come la ricchezza di Shakespeare si fosse
accresciuta molto nei suoi anni londinesi. Il 5 giugno 1607 sua figlia Susannah spos il medico John
Hall nella chiesa della Holy Trinity di Stratford[80].

Il ritorno a Stratford
Il monumento funerario di Shakespeare.
Intorno al 1611 si ritir nella sua citt natale, Stratford. L'11 settembre "Mr. Shackspere" figura
sulla lista dei contribuenti che devono pagare l'imposta per la manutenzione delle strade reali[76].
In quello stesso anno firm una petizione dei cittadini di Stratford che chiedeva alla Camera dei
comuni di riparare le strade maestre[81][82]. Il 3 febbraio 1612 fu sepolto Gilbert, un fratello di
Shakespeare[83]. A maggio Shakespeare fu convocato a Londra per testimoniare nella causa
"Mountjoy-Bellott", che opponeva due fabbricanti di parrucche londinesi, Christopher Mountjoy e
il genero Stephen Bellott. Gli atti del processo sono giunti fino a noi: al termine di quelli che

contengono la deposizione di Shakespeare presente la sua firma[84].

Agli inizi del 1613 mor l'ultimo fratello di Shakespeare, Richard[85]: degli otto figli di John
Shakespeare rimanevano solo William e la sorella Joan[85]. Nel mese di marzo Shakespeare
acquist una casa a Londra per 140 sterline (di cui 80 in contanti); era l'ex portineria dell'abbazia
dei Frati Neri (Blackfriars), non lontano dall'omonimo teatro[76]. A partire dal 1613 Shakespeare
non produsse pi alcunch[82]. Nel novembre 1614 trascorse diverse settimane a Londra insieme al
genero John Hall[86].
Il 10 febbraio 1616 sua figlia Judith spos Thomas Quiney[87]: quest'ultimo poco prima di sposarsi
aveva messo incinta una ragazza di Stratford[88]. Il 25 marzo 1616 Shakespeare fece testamento: la
maggior parte dei suoi beni and alla figlia Susanna e al marito; all'altra figlia, Judith, lasci alcune
somme in denaro con clausole cautelative, mentre alla moglie lasci "l'usufrutto della seconda
camera da letto" nella casa a New Place; lasci poi vari oggetti e piccole somme per l'acquisto di
anelli ad alcuni conoscenti di Stratford e agli attori Richard Burbage, John Heminge e Henry
La tomba di William Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare mor il 23 aprile 1616; era rimasto sposato ad Anne fino alla fine. John Ward,
un vicario di Stratford, mezzo secolo dopo raccont che Shakespeare, dopo aver passato una serata
in campagna con Michael Drayton e Ben Jonson, in cui bevve molto alcol, mor di una febbre
contratta in quell'occasione[89]. possibile che questa sia una delle numerose leggende relative alla
vita del Bardo[89].
Fu sepolto nel coro della Holy Trinity Church, la chiesa parrocchiale di Stratford; questo privilegio
non fu dovuto alla sua fama come scrittore ma al pagamento di una quota della decima della chiesa,
440 sterline. Su un muro nei pressi della sua tomba si trova un monumento, commissionato
probabilmente dalla sua famiglia,[90]; un busto che mostra Shakespeare nell'atto di scrivere.
L'epitaffio sulla sua tomba recita:


Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear,

To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.

Caro amico, per l'amor di Ges astieniti,

dallo smuovere la polvere qui contenuta.
Benedetto colui che custodisce queste pietre,
E maledetto colui che disturba le mie ossa

(Epitaffio sulla tomba di W.Shakespeare)

Lo stesso argomento in dettaglio: Cronologia delle opere di Shakespeare.
The Plays of William Shakespeare, Sir John Gilbert, 1849.
L'opera poetica e drammaturgica di Shakespeare costituisce una parte fondamentale della letteratura
occidentale ed continuamente studiata e rappresentata in ogni parte del globo. La cronologia delle
sue opere incerta e rappresenta un argomento ancora dibattuto dagli studiosi[3][4][5]. Nel First
Folio del 1623, redatto da John Heminges e Henry Condell, sono comprese le 36 opere teatrali di
Shakespeare, elencate in base alla loro classificazione come tragedie, commedie e drammi
Nessun'opera poetica di Shakespeare stata inclusa nel First Folio. Alla fine del XIX secolo,
Edward Dowden ha definito quattro delle ultime commedie shakespeariane, Pericle, principe di
Tiro, La tempesta, I due nobili congiunti e Il racconto d'inverno, come romances e, anche se molti

studiosi preferiscono chiamarle "tragicommedie", questo termine spesso usato[92][93].

Nel 1896, Frederick S. Boas coni il termine problem play, "drammi dialettici", per descrivere
quattro scritti di Shakespeare, Tutto bene quel che finisce bene, Misura per misura, Troilo e
Cressida e Amleto[94]; il termine, nonostante sia dibattuto, rimane in uso, anche se Amleto viene
definitivamente classificato come una tragedia[94][95]. Altre opere, attribuite talvolta al
drammaturgo di Stratford, sono elencate come apocrife. Due sono le opere andate perdute,
Cardenio e Pene d'amore vinte[94].

Opere teatrali
Talbot in battaglia nel Enrico VI, parte I.
Inizialmente, come era tradizione in et elisabettiana, Shakespeare collabor con altri drammaturghi
alla stesura delle sue prime opere[96]; tra queste vi sono Tito Andronico, della quale un
drammaturgo di fine Seicento disse "egli si limitato soltanto a perfezionare con il suo magistrale
tocco uno o due dei personaggi principali"[97]. I due nobili congiunti, scritta in collaborazione con
John Fletcher, e Cardenio, andata perduta, hanno una documentazione sull'attribuzione a
Shakespeare precisa.
Le prime opere di Shakespeare furono incentrate su Enrico VI; Enrico VI, parte I, composto tra il
1588 e il 1592, potrebbe essere la prima opera di Shakespeare, sicuramente messa in scena, se non
commissionata, da Philip Henslowe. Al successo della prima parte fanno seguito Enrico VI, parte II,
Enrico VI, parte III e Riccardo III, costituendo a posteriori una tetralogia sulla guerra delle due rose
e sui fatti immediatamente successivi; queste furono in diversa misura composte a pi mani
attingendo copiosamente dalle Cronache di Raphael Holinshed, ma sempre pi segnate dallo stile
caratteristico del drammaturgo, descrivendo i contrasti tra le dinastie York e Lancaster, conclusisi
con l'avvento della dinastia Tudor da cui discendeva l'allora regnante Elisabetta I. Nel suo insieme,
prima ancora che celebrazione della monarchia e dei meriti del suo casato, la tetralogia appare
come un appello alla concordia civile[98].
Incisione da una scena de La bisbetica domata, atto IV, scena III.
Molte opere risalenti al primo periodo della carriera di Shakespeare furono influenzate dalle opere
di altri drammaturghi elisabettiani, in particolare Thomas Kyd e Christopher Marlowe, dalle
tradizioni del dramma medievale e dalle opere di Seneca[99][100]. Di datazione controversa, ma
collocabili prima delle opere della maturit, sono un piccolo gruppo di commedie, in cui forte
l'influenza dell'eufuismo e dei testi dei letterati rinascimentali e alle ambientazioni italiane. Di
questo periodo fanno parte I due gentiluomini di Verona, La commedia degli errori, in cui vi sono
elementi riconducibili ai modelli classici, e La bisbetica domata, derivante probabilmente da un
racconto popolare[101][102].
Dal 1594, la peste e l'inasprirsi della censura provocarono la scomparsa di molte compagnie, mentre
nacquero nuove realt teatrali, come The Lord Chamberlain's Men, di cui fece parte come autore e
attore. L'abilit del drammaturgo di identificare i temi pi richiesti e il suo talento nella riscrittura
dei copioni perch non incappassero nei tagli del Master of the Revels gli assicurarono in questo
periodo una rapida ascesa al successo. Le prime commedie shakespeariane, influenzate dallo stile
classico e italiano, con strette trame matrimoniali e precise sequenze comiche, dal 1594 cedono il
passo all'atmosfera romantica, con toni a volte pi scuri e propri di una tragicommedia[103].
In tutte le opere di questa fase presente il wit, gioco letterario basato sulle sottigliezze lessicali.
Shakespeare riesce a rendere strumenti espressivi i giochi di parole, gli ossimori, le figure retoriche,
che non sono mai fini a s stessi, ma inseriti a creare voluti contrasti tra l'eleganza della
convenzione letteraria e i sentimenti autentici dei personaggi[104]. Questo periodo caratterizzato

quindi da commedie romantiche ha inizio tuttavia con una tragedia, Romeo e Giulietta, una delle
opere pi note di Shakespeare, proseguendo poi con Sogno di una notte di mezza estate, che
contiene diversi elementi inediti nelle opere del bardo come la magia e le fate, e Il mercante di
Venezia[105][106]. Completano le opere di questa fase degli scritti shakespeariani l'ingegno e i
giochi di parole di Molto rumore per nulla[107] la suggestiva cornice rurale di Come vi piace, la
vivace allegria de La dodicesima notte e Le allegre comari di Windsor[108].
Negli stessi anni nacque la seconda serie di drammi storici inglesi; dopo la lirica Riccardo II, scritta
quasi interamente in versi, Shakespeare present, alla fine del XVI secolo, alcune commedie in
prosa, come Enrico IV, parte I e II ed Enrico V. L'ultimo scritto di questo periodo fu Giulio Cesare,
basato sulla traduzione di Thomas North delle Vite parallele di Plutarco[109]. La produzione di
opere storiche riguardanti le origini della dinastia regnante and di pari passo con il successo
suscitato da tale genere. Edoardo III, attribuibile a Shakespeare solo in parte, offre un esempio
positivo di monarchia, contrapposto a quello del Riccardo III. Re Giovanni, abile riscrittura
shakespeariana di un copione pubblicato nel 1591, narra di un monarca instabile e tormentato e dei
discutibili personaggi che lo circondano. In queste opere i suoi personaggi divennero pi complessi
e teneri, mentre si passa abilmente tra scene comiche e serie, tra prosa e poesia, raggiungendo una
notevole variet narrativa. Fu determinante per il successo dei drammi l'introduzione di personaggi
fittizi a cui il pubblico si affezion, come Falstaff[110].
Hamlet et Horatio au cimetire, Eugne Delacroix, 1839.
Nei primi anni del XVII secolo, Shakespeare scrisse quelle che verranno definite da Frederick S.
Boas problem play, i "drammi dialettici" che segnano un nuovo modo di intendere la
rappresentazione, in cui i personaggi esprimono compiutamente le contraddizioni umane, dando
voce alle problematiche di un'epoca che si ormai distaccata completamente dagli schemi
medioevali; di queste fanno parte Tutto bene quel che finisce bene, Misura per misura, Troilo e
Cressida e alcune tra le sue tragedie pi note, come Amleto[94][111]; l'eroe di quest'ultima
probabilmente il personaggio shakespeariano pi conosciuto, discusso e studiato, soprattutto per il
suo famoso monologo "To be, or not to be"[112]. Shakespeare inoltre ha probabilmente scritto parte
della scena VI di Sir Tommaso Moro, frutto della mano di almeno cinque diversi autori, mai
rappresentato e stampato soltanto nel 1814[113].
Il 1603 segna una svolta storica per il teatro inglese; salito al trono, Giacomo I promuove un nuovo
impulso delle arti sceniche, avocando a s la migliore compagnia dell'epoca, i Chamberlain's Men,
che da quel momento si chiameranno The King's Men. A Giacomo I, Shakespeare dedic alcune
delle sue opere maggiori, scritte per l'ascesa al trono del sovrano scozzese, come Otello, Re Lear e
Macbeth, la pi breve e pi complessa delle tragedie di Shakespeare[114]. A differenza
dell'introverso Amleto, il cui errore fatale l'esitazione, gli eroi di queste tragedie come Otello e Re
Lear furono sconfitti da affrettati errori di giudizio[115]; le trame di queste opere fanno spesso
perno su questi errori fatali, che sovvertono l'ordine e distruggono l'eroe e i suoi cari[116]. Le tre
ultime tragedie, che risentono della lezione di Amleto, sono drammi che restano aperti, senza
ristabilire un ordine ma generando piuttosto ulteriori interrogativi. Ci che conta non l'esito finale,
ma l'esperienza. Ci a cui si d maggiore importanza l'esperienza catartica dell'azione scenica,
piuttosto che la sua conclusione.
Incisione de La tempesta, atto I, scena I, basata su un dipinto di George Romney.
Le sue ultime grandi tragedie contengono alcune delle pi note poesie di Shakespeare e sono state
considerate le migliori da Thomas Stearns Eliot[117]. I drammi di argomento classico sono
l'occasione per affrontare il tema politico, calato nella dimensione della storia antica ricca di
corrispondenze con la realt britannica. In Antonio e Cleopatra l'utilizzo di una scrittura poetica
sottolinea la grandiosit del tema, le vicissitudini storiche e politiche dell'impero romano.
Coriolano invece occasione per affrontare il tema del crollo dei potenti, l'indagine sui vizi e sulle

virt, dando voce a una intera comunit come in una sorta di coro. Timone d'Atene, probabilmente
scritto in collaborazione con Thomas Middleton, contiene allo stesso tempo la coscienza dei rischi
di un individualismo moderno e la denuncia della corruzione e del potere dell'oro[117].
Negli ultimi anni della produzione shakespeariana, il mondo del teatro londinese subisce un
cambiamento sensibile; il pubblico aristocratico e della nuova borghesia agiata non frequenta pi i
grandi anfiteatri, ma teatri pi raccolti come il Blackfriars. Le richieste di tale pubblico andavano
pi nella direzione dell'intrattenimento che non del coinvolgimento nella rappresentazione; alcuni
commentatori hanno visto questo cambiamento di umore come prova di una pi serena visione della
vita da parte di Shakespeare[118]. Il Bardo, sempre attento ai cambiamenti del gusto e della
sensibilit dei suoi spettatori, produce dei nuovi drammi, i cosiddetti romances, "drammi
romanzeschi", tornando in parte agli scritti romantici e alle tragicommedie; nascono dunque
Pericle, principe di Tiro, Cimbelino, Il racconto d'inverno, La tempesta e I due nobili cugini.
A differenza delle tragedie degli anni precedenti, queste spesso terminano con la riconciliazione e il
perdono di errori potenzialmente tragici[118][119]. In Enrico VIII, l'ultimo grande rifacimento di un
dramma storico gi in cartellone per le compagnie rivali, Shakespeare, aiutato probabilmente da
Fletcher, arricchiva e perfezionava la vicenda, riprendendo i temi della produzione precedente, dalla
cronaca storica e nazionale al dramma morale, riprendendo lo stile dell'et elisabettiana nel
momento in cui quell'epoca era giunta al termine[120]. Shakespeare abolisce le tre unit
aristoteliche dalle proprie opere teatrali.
Elenco delle opere teatrali di Shakespeare

Romeo e

Giulio Cesare

Amleto (16001602)

Troilo e

Otello (1604)
Re Lear (16051606)

Timone di
Atene (16051608)


Antonio e


I due gentiluomini
di Verona (15901595)

La commedia
degli errori (1592)
La bisbetica
domata (1593)
Pene d'amore
perdute (1593-1596)
Il mercante di
Venezia (1594-1597)
Sogno di una
notte di mezza
estate (1595)
Molto rumore per
nulla (1598-1599)
Come vi piace

La dodicesima
notte (1599-1601)
Le allegre comari
di Windsor (15991601)

Tutto bene quel

che finisce bene

Misura per misura

Drammi storici
Enrico VI,
parte I (15881590)

Enrico VI,
parte II

Enrico VI,
parte III

Riccardo III

Riccardo II

Enrico V

Enrico IV,
parte I (1597)
Enrico IV,
parte II

Enrico VIII

Re Giovanni

Opere perdute



Pericle principe di
Tiro (1607-1608)
La tempesta (1611)
Il racconto
d'inverno (16101611)

Rappresentazioni teatrali
Gli interni del Globe Theatre nella ricostruzione del 1997.
Non chiaro per quali compagnie teatrali Shakespeare scrisse le sue prime opere; il frontespizio
dell'edizione del 1594 del Tito Andronico rileva che la tragedia stata messa in scena da tre gruppi
di attori diversi[121]. Dopo la peste del 1592-1593, le opere di Shakespeare vennero affidate alla
propria compagnia, The Lord Chamberlain's Men, che si esibiva presso il The Theatre e il The
Curtain di Shoreditch[122]. Quando la compagnia si trov in conflitto con il proprietario del The
Theatre, con conseguente riduzione del pubblico del teatro, Richard Burbage, capo dei The Lord
Chamberlain's Men, per salvare l'investimento fatto, decise di abbattere la struttura e utilizzare il
legno rimanente per costruire il Globe Theatre[123]. Il "Globe" venne aperto nell'autunno del 1599;
una dei primi copioni rappresentati nel nuovo teatro fu Giulio Cesare, mentre negli anni successivi
vennero messe in scena alcune delle maggiori opere shakespeariane, tra cui Amleto, Otello e Re
Nel 1603, i The Lord Chamberlain's Men entrarono nei favori di Re Giacomo I e cambiarono nome
in King's Men; anche se le loro rappresentazioni non furono regolari e continue nel tempo,
riuscirono a esibirsi sette volte a corte tra il 10 novembre 1604 e il 31 ottobre 1605[124]. Dal 1608
si spostarono al Blackfriars Theatre in inverno (era infatti un teatro coperto) e al Globe, che venne
distrutto da un incendio accidentale il 29 giugno 1613 mentre era in corso la rappresentazione
dell'Enrico VIII[125], in estate[126]. Le scenografie interne, combinate con le elaborate maschere
della moda giacobina, permisero a Shakespeare di introdurre dispositivi scenici pi complessi[127].
Tra gli attori della compagnia di Shakespeare vi erano Richard Burbage, William Kempe, Henry
Condell e John Heminges. Burbage svolgeva il ruolo di primo attore nelle prime rappresentazioni
delle opere di Shakespeare, tra cui Riccardo III, Amleto, Otello e Re Lear[128]. Il popolare attore
comico William Kempe ricopr il ruolo del servo Pietro in Romeo e Giulietta e di Dogberry in
Molto rumore per nulla, oltre ad altri personaggi[129][130]. Alla fine del XVI secolo venne
sostituito da Robert Armin, che fu Pietraccia in Come vi piace e il Fool in Re Lear[131].

Opere poetiche
Frontespizio originale dei Sonetti.
Negli anni dal 1592 al 1594 a Londra infuri la peste, provocando la chiusura dei teatri.
Shakespeare, nell'attesa di riprendere la sua attivit sul palcoscenico, scrisse due poemi di diverso
stile ma entrambi dedicati a Henry Wriothesley, III conte di Southampton; Venere e Adone,
pubblicato nel 1593, fu ristampato numerose volte ed ebbe un notevole seguito; il ratto di Lucrezia,
registrato l'anno seguente, ebbe un successo molto inferiore[132] Influenzate da Le metamorfosi di
Ovidio[133], le opere, caratterizzate da forti tematiche erotiche, mostrano il senso di colpa e la
confusione morale che derivano dalla lussuria incontrollata[134].
Negli anni seguenti Shakespeare continu occasionalmente a scrivere poemi e sonetti, perlopi
diffusi nella cerchia delle sue amicizie. Nel 1609 l'editore Thomas Thorpe stamp senza il consenso

dell'autore Sonnets, una raccolta di 154 sonetti del Bardo. Scritti prevalentemente tra il 1593 e il
1595, i sonetti rappresentano l'unica opera autobiografica di Shakespeare, da considerarsi anche
come libro filosofico colmo di implicazioni meditative[135]. La critica ha suddiviso
sommariamente la raccolta in due parti: la prima dedicata a un non meglio specificato fair friend
("bell'amico", sonetti 1-126), la seconda a una dark lady ("donna misteriosa", sonetti 127-154); tra
questi possiamo poi individuare la sequenza del "poeta rivale" (sonetti 76-86)[136].
Un terzo poema narrativo, A Lover's Complaint, attribuito a Shakespeare dalla maggior parte degli
studiosi, venne stampato e inserito nella prima edizione dei Sonetti nel 1609[137][138]. Nel 1599,
due prime stesure dei sonetti 138 e 144 vennero incluse ne Il pellegrino appassionato, pubblicato
sotto il nome di Shakespeare ma senza il suo permesso[137] La fenice e la tortora, pubblicato in
appendice a Love's Martyr, un poema di Robert Chester, conosciuto come uno dei suoi lavori pi
oscuri e ha portato a molti conflitti interpretativi[139].[140].

Sonetti (1591-1604)
Venere e Adone (15921593)
Lo stupro di Lucrezia (1594)
A Lover's Complaint (1595-1596)
Il pellegrino appassionato (1599)
La fenice e la tortora (1600-1601)

Opere apocrife
Facsimile di una pagina del Sir Tommaso Moro scritta dalla 'Mano D', considerata l'unico esempio
pervenutoci della scrittura del Bardo.
Nel corso degli anni, un gruppo di opere teatrali e poetiche stato talvolta attribuito a Shakespeare,
anche se il dibattito sulla paternit di queste opere al Bardo ancora aperto. Questa incertezza
dovuta alla mancanza di alcune opere all'interno del First Folio e del Palladis Tamia di Francis
Meres. Tra questi vi sono Arden of Feversham, dramma del 1592 attribuito in parte a Shakespeare,
che lo mise in scena almeno una volta insieme ai The Lord Chamberlain's Men[141], Edoardo III,
opera edita anonimamente nel 1596, scritta almeno in parte, secondo gli studiosi, da
Shakespeare[142], Locrine, pubblicata nel 1595 con la scritta "Appena redatta, supervisionata e
corretta da WS"[143], Sir John Oldcastle, edita nel 1600, per la quale Shakespeare fu indicato
subito come l'autore (il diario di Philip Henslowe riporta invece che questa fu opera di altri quattro
scrittori), Thomas Lord Cromwell, che venne data alle stampe nel 1602 e alla quale, secondo
moderni studi, il Bardo non contribu alla stesura[144] e To the Queen, poesia ritenuta l'epilogo di
Come vi piace.
The London Prodigal venne stampata nel 1605 sotto il nome di Shakespeare, anche se, secondo
alcuni studiosi, manca di alcuni elementi tipici delle opere shakespeariane[144], mentre The
Puritan, A Yorkshire Tragedy e The Second Maiden's Tragedy, pubblicate rispettivamente nel 1607,
nel 1608 e nel 1611 e attribuite a "W.S.", vennero in seguito ritenute tutte di Thomas
Middleton[144]. Degli scritti apocrifi del Bardo vi sono anche The Birth of Merlin, pubblicata nel
1662 come opera del Bardo e di William Rowley ma scritta probabilmente nel 1622, sei anni dopo
la morte di Shakespeare[145], e Sir Tommaso Moro, dramma incappato subito nella censura che ne
impose numerosi tagli; tre delle pagine di quest'opera possono essere state scritte da Shakespeare e
rappresentare quindi, l'unico documento autografo del Bardo (fatta eccezione per le firme poste su
alcuni documenti) arrivato in et contemporanea[146].
Alcune sono le opere attribuite a Shakespeare andate perdute; Cardenio (The History of Cardenio)
una commedia messa in scena dai King's Men nel 1613. Il libraio Humphrey Moseley inser l'opera
nel 1653 nello Stationers' Register, attribuendola a Shakespeare e a John Fletcher. Il contenuto della
commedia, la cui esistenza attesta da diversi documenti, non conosciuto, ma era probabilmente

basato sulle disavventure che coinvolgevano il personaggio Cardenio del Don Chisciotte[147]. Nel
Palladis Tamia, Meres inser nella lista di opere di Shakespeare Pene d'amore vinte (Love's
Labour's Won); alcuni lo ritengono un lavoro a noi non giunto, altri considerano la citazione di
Meres un titolo alternativo di una commedia del Bardo a noi giunta[148]. Alcuni studiosi ipotizzano
inoltre la pubblicazione di Ur-Hamlet, una prima versione di Amleto[144].

Edizioni e pubblicazioni
Frontespizio del First Folio
A differenza del suo contemporaneo Ben Jonson, Shakespeare non ha partecipato alla redazione e
pubblicazione delle sue opere. Infatti, fatta eccezione per due poemetti giovanili (Venere e Adone e
Lo stupro di Lucrezia), il Bardo non si mai curato di dare alle stampe le proprie opere; daltra
parte a quel tempo non vi era interesse a farlo, poich le opere teatrali erano di propriet della
compagnia e pubblicarle avrebbe significato mettere nelle mani di compagnie rivali i propri copioni.
I testi esistenti sono solitamente trascrizioni effettuate dopo le prime rappresentazioni oppure
provengono direttamente dal manoscritto autografato dello scrittore o dagli stessi copioni[149].
Le prime stampe furono destinate a un pubblico popolare e le copie erano fatte senza notevoli
accorgimenti estetici. Il formato utilizzato chiamato in quarto, le cui specifiche pagine sono
ottenute piegando i fogli stampati in quattro parti; talvolta le pagine non erano ordinate
correttamente. La seconda edizione venne destinata a un pubblico pi agiato, comportando quindi
una maggiore importanza alla presentazione; per questa stampa vennero utilizzati fogli singoli
Nel 1598 Francis Meres pubblic Palladis Tamia, primo resoconto critico delle opere di
Shakespeare di natura enciclopedica, importante per la ricostruzione della cronologia dei drammi
shakespeariani[151]. Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories & Tragedies, conosciuta
comunemente come First Folio, fu la prima raccolta delle opere di Shakespeare e venne pubblicata
nel 1623 a cura di John Heminges e Henry Condell; questa contiene 36 testi, di cui 18 stampati per
la prima volta, elencati come tragedie, commedie e drammi storici[91]. Il First Folio, che non
comprende n poesie n poemi, rappresenta la sola fonte attendibile per circa venti opere e
comunque una fonte molto importante anche per molte di quelle gi in precedenza pubblicate[91]
[152]. Due opere non sono incluse nel First Folio, I due nobili congiunti e Pericle, principe di Tiro,
tuttavia sono comunque accettate come parte del canone shakespeariano, dal momento che
numerosi studiosi hanno concordato sul notevole contributo di Shakespeare sulla loro
La ricerca dei testi originali di Shakespeare diventata una delle principali preoccupazioni degli
editori moderni. Refusi, errori di battitura, interpretazioni sbagliate del copista, dimenticanze di
versi sono presenti nell'in quarto e il primo folio. Inoltre il drammaturgo spesso scriveva utilizzando
ortografie diverse anche per la stessa parola, aggiungendo alla confusione della trascrizione; gli
studiosi devono dunque ricostruire i testi originali ed eliminandone gli errori[154]. Critici moderni
credono che lo stesso Shakespeare abbia rivisto le sue composizioni nel corso degli anni, facendo
cos coesistere due versioni differenti di una determinata opera. Per arrivare a un testo accettabile,
gli editori devono scegliere tra la prima e la versione rivista, che generalmente pi "teatrale"; in
passato, gli editori risolvevano la questione con la fusione dei testi, ma i critici ora ammettono che
questo processo contrario alle intenzioni di Shakespeare[155].

The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, Joseph Noel Paton, 1849.

Le prime opere di Shakespeare vennero scritte seguendo lo stile convenzionale dell'epoca,

utilizzando un linguaggio stilizzato che non sempre funzionale ai personaggi e alle opere[156]. La
poesia si basa su estese ed elaborate metafore e il linguaggio spesso retorico, scritto appositamente
per declamare piuttosto che per parlare[157]. Ben presto, per, Shakespeare cominci ad adeguare
lo stile tradizionale ai propri fini, riuscendo a coniugare le convenzioni e la scrittura del passato alle
esigenze del pubblico; nel periodo della pubblicazione di Romeo e Giulietta, probabilmente il
migliore esempio di mescolanza dei due stili, di Riccardo II e di Sogno di una notte di mezza estate,
Shakespeare aveva iniziato a scrivere una poesia pi naturale e scorrevole, in cui comico e tragico
coesistono nello stesso testo[158], relazionando le metafore e le figure retoriche alle esigenze
dell'opera[159]. L'originalit di Shakespeare non era negli intrecci, ma nell'ampiezza di respiro con
cui faceva propri gli apporti pi diversi[158].
La forma poetica standard utilizzata da Shakespeare sono i blank verse, mutuato nella letteratura
inglese dalla tradizione classica tra XIII e XIV secolo e adottato anche da Christopher Marlowe;
questo composto da un sistema giambico a cinque accenti (pentametro giambico). Questo
significava che i suoi versi, costituiti solitamente da dieci sillabe, lasciando l'accento su ogni
seconda sillaba, non erano in rima; tuttavia le frasi tendono a coincidere con le righe, aumentando il
rischio di una lettura monotona[160]. Il blank verse delle sue prime opere piuttosto diverso da
quello dei suoi lavori pi maturi, riuscendo a modificare il ritmo delle sue opere, dando cos
maggiore forza e flessibilit importanza ai propri versi[161].
Dopo Amleto, Shakespeare modific ulteriormente il suo stile poetico, in particolare nei passaggi
pi emotivi delle tragedie, sottolineando inoltre l'illusione del teatro[162]. Il critico letterario A.C.
Bradley ha descritto questo stile come "pi concentrato, veloce, vario e meno regolare nella
costruzione, non di rado contorta o ellittica"[163]. Nell'ultima fase della sua carriera, Shakespeare
adott molte tecniche letterarie per raggiungere questi effetti; tra queste vi sono enjambement,
pause irregolari e notevoli variazioni nella struttura della frase e nella lunghezza dei versi, riuscendo
a coinvolgere maggiormente il pubblico[164]. Le opere della maturit, con le variazioni della
sequenza cronologica degli eventi e i colpi di scena nella trama, sono invece caratterizzate da frasi
lunghe e brevi in sequenza, dall'inversione tra oggetto e soggetto e dall'omissione di parole, creando
cos maggiore spontaneit[165]. Shakespeare fu in grado di combinare il suo genio poetico con un
senso pratico del teatro[166], strutturando le trame delle sue opere per creare vari centri di interesse
e per mostrare diversi possibili punti di vista, senza schemi preordinati[167].

Fonti letterarie
Geoffrey Chaucer, padre della letteratura inglese, a cui Shakespeare attinse per Troilo e Cressida e
Due nobili cugini.
La grande maggioranza dei lavori di Shakespeare sono rielaborazioni di opere precedenti; inoltre,
non raro il caso in cui Shakespeare attinga a gruppi separati di narrazioni per intrecciarle tra
loro[168]. Il primo punto di riferimento sono evidentemente le opere dei contemporanei[76], in
particolare le opere del teatro elisabettiano. Alcuni esempi di opere utilizzate come fonte
d'ispirazione sono i romances Rosalynde di Thomas Lodge per Come vi piace, Pandosto o il trionfo
del tempo di Robert Greene per Il racconto d'inverno, Arcadia di Philip Sidney per Re Lear, I due
gentiluomini di Verona e Come vi piace, oltre alle opere di autori stranieri riproposte da autori
inglesi, come The tragical History of Romeus and Juliet di Arthur Brooke, riproposizione di una
novella di Matteo Bandello rifacentesi a quella omonima di Luigi da Porto, per Romeo e Giulietta o
il romanzo pastorale Diana Enamorada di Jorge de Montemayor, tradotto in inglese da Bartolomew
Yong, per I due gentiluomini di Verona e per Sogno di una notte di mezza estate[76]. Anche
Geoffrey Chaucer venne utilizzato da Shakespeare per Troilo e Cressida e Due nobili cugini.
Per i drammi storici la fonte principale sono le imponenti compilazioni cronologiche degli storici
Tudor[76]. La prima opera utilizzata da Shakespeare per i suoi drammi storici fu The Union of the

Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and Yorke di Edward Hall, tuttavia "ben presto
Shakespeare avrebbe abbandonato l'opera di Hall a favore delle pi ricche e pittoresche Chronicles
of England, Scotland and Ireland di Raphael Holinshed"[76]. Oltre che ai drammi storici, queste
cronache fornirono spunti importanti anche per Macbeth, Cimbelino e Re Lear. Sia Hall sia
Holinshead hanno spesso attinto dalla Anglicae Historiae Libri XXVI dei Polidoro Virgili[76]. Altre
opere storiche certamente utilizzate da Shakespeare furono la Historia Regum Britanniae redatta in
latino da Goffredo di Monmouth nel 1130 e poi ripresa da altri autori compreso Holinshed[76],
utilizzata per Re Lear e Cimbelino, e le Gesta Danorum di Saxo Grammaticus, fonte principale
Numerose sono le riproposizioni di storie e tematiche presenti nella novellistica italiana; tuttavia
probabile che Shakespeare sia arrivato a conoscenza di tali storie solo attraverso la mediazione di
traduzioni e adattamenti francesi e inglesi[76]. Le novelle di Matteo Bandello furono utilizzate per
Romeo e Giulietta, Molto rumore per nulla e La dodicesima notte, mentre alcuni spunti del
Decameron di Giovanni Boccaccio sono rintracciabili in Tutto bene quel che finisce bene e nel
Cimbelino[76]. La traduzione inglese delle 100 novelle degli Hecatommithi di Giambattista Giraldi
Cinzio serv a Shakespeare per alcuni elementi di Misura per misura e una novella in particolare fu
la fonte principale dell'Otello[169] Il Pecorone di Giovanni Fiorentino serv per Le allegre comari
di Windsor e per Il mercante di Venezia. La novella Le piacevoli notti di Gianfrancesco Straparola
serv anch'essa per Le allegre comari di Windsor. La traduzione inglese di George Gascoigne de I
suppositi di Ludovico Ariosto serv per La bisbetica domata. Gl'ingannati, una commedia italiana
allestita a Siena dall'Accademia degli Intronati nel 1531 e stampata a Venezia nel 1537, forn la
guida principale per la vicenda amorosa de La dodicesima notte. La traduzione inglese di Thomas
Hoby de Il Cortegiano di Baldassare Castiglione fu certamente letta da Shakespeare, attingendoci
per Molto rumore per nulla[76].
Bronzo di Shakespeare a Verona.
Shakespeare probabilmente non conosceva il greco, tuttavia aveva studiato il latino e letto i classici
come Seneca alla King's New School di Stratford, non c' da stupirsi pertanto che molti spunti delle
sue opere provengono da autori antichi. Le Vite parallele di Plutarco fornirono la fonte principale
del Giulio Cesare, Antonio e Cleopatra, Coriolano e del Timone d'Atene; non conoscendo il greco
probabile che Shakespeare abbia utilizzato la traduzione di Thomas North Plutarch's Lives of the
noble Grecians and Romans stampata nel 1579 e nel 1595. I Menaechmi di Plauto servirono invece
come spunto per La commedia degli errori e La dodicesima notte; la Mostellaria serv invece per
La bisbetica domata. Le tragedie di Seneca fornirono alcuni elementi del Tito Andronico[76].
Ovidio era il modello dichiarato dei due poemetti giovanili di Shakespeare, Venere e Adone e Lo
stupro di Lucrezia. Le Metamorfosi riecheggiano anche in Tito Andronico, La commedia degli
errori, Le allegre comari di Windsor, Sogno di una notte di mezza estate (con la vicenda di Piramo e
Tisbe), Troilo e Cressida e La tempesta[76].

Temi del teatro di Shakespeare

Sono temi ricorrenti nel teatro di Shakespeare: l'amore (passione disperata in Otello, passione
sensuale in Romeo e Giulietta), la lotta per il potere, la morte, il carattere illusorio e la fugacit della
vita, la precariet dell'esistenza con i frequenti motivi dell'oscura presenza della morte e del dubbio
che sembrano dominare il cammino terreno dell'uomo (si pensi al celeberrimo monologo di Amleto
"Essere o non essere, questo il problema", scritto nella prima scena del terzo atto). Il tema della
lotta per il potere frequente (Amleto, Macbeth, Re Lear) anche per il fatto che l'autore vive in
un'epoca in cui predomina la monarchia assoluta che, se da una parte pu assicurare l'ordine e la
prosperit, dall'altra crea grande brama di potere e di potenza, nonch rivalit, invidie, gelosie.
Altri temi fondamentali sono la presentazione dei sentimenti e degli stati d'animo umani nella loro
variet e complessit, senza escludere i problemi morali e psicologici nonch gli stati anomali della

mente quali le contraddizioni nel comportamento, l'inquietudine, la follia (quest'ultima presente, ad

esempio, in Amleto). Dalla tradizione popolare e medievale Shakespeare accoglie poi la dimensione
fantastica e irrazionale (gli spettri in Amleto e Macbeth, le streghe in Macbeth, i folletti in La
Tempesta, ecc.). Tali figure soprannaturali rappresentano le angosce e le colpe insite nell'animo
umano. L'"eroe" si presenta come una figura complessa che resta tale e spesso esce moralmente
nobilitata anche dopo drammatici conflitti di coscienza ed una sconfitta subita ad opera degli eventi.
Il fato nella tragedia classica era una forza soprannaturale, superiore anche agli dei, capace di
determinare la sorte degli uomini. Nel teatro di Shakesperare esso non pi presente in quanto cede
il posto al carattere, alle libere scelte e ai conflitti interiori dell'individuo. Quanto alle figure
femminili, esse assumono una notevole importanza: sono dotate di autonomia e di forte
individualit. I loro caratteri e i loro comportamenti sono diversi: ad esempio la tenera Giulietta
(Romeo e Giulietta), l'innocente Desdemona (Otello), l'intelligente Porzia (Il mercante di Venezia).
Altre invece sono coinvolte nella lotta per il potere come la sinistra Lady Macbeth (Macbeth) o le
due perfide figlie di Re Lear.
Il drammaturgo inglese da una parte figlio del Rinascimento in quanto nelle sue opere interpreta
l'uomo che afferma se stesso, la propria creativit e razionalit (antropocentrismo) contro i limiti
posti dalla realt e dal destino; d'altra parte egli anche esponente della nuova sensibilit del
barocco in quanto evidenzia le lacerazioni di coscienza dell'individuo, l'incertezza degli ideali, la
mutevolezza della sorte, il mistero insondabile della vita accompagnato da un senso di smarrimento
esistenziale. I drammi di Shakespeare si interrogano quindi sull'identit dell'uomo, sull'assurdit
della vita, sui misteri profondi e inconfessabili dell'animo umano, senza per giungere ad una verit
unica capace di eliminare ansie e insicurezze. In Shakespeare troviamo poi un dubbio radicale, cio
se la vita, oltre ad essere breve, fragile e minacciata dalla continua presenza della morte, sia anche
un sogno, un'illusione: ne sono testimonianza due celebri affermazioni, una nel Macbeth (V, 5) ed
una ne La Tempesta (IV, 1).
Macbeth sostiene che "la vita solo un'ombra che cammina, un povero commediante che si
pavoneggia e si dimena per un'ora sulla scena e poi cade nell'oblio: la storia raccontata da un idiota,
piena di rumore e di foga, che non significa nulla". Nella seconda opera citata, il principe Prospero
dice: "noi siamo fatti della stessa sostanza dei sogni e la nostra breve vita cinta di sonno". I
personaggi del drammaturgo inglese tuttavia lasciano aperta la questione in quanto non forniscono
una risposta definitiva a questa domanda contenente un'idea ricorrente nell'et barocca: si pensi al
Don Chisciotte di Cervantes (realt-illusione) e al capolavoro La vita sogno del grande
drammaturgo spagnolo Pedro Caldern de la Barca.[170][171]

Statua di Shakespeare, opera di John Massey Rhind, situata presso il Carnegie Museums di
Durante la sua vita, bench non fosse venerato e apprezzato come dopo la morte, Shakespeare
ricevette comunque numerose lodi per i suoi lavori[172]. Nel 1598, Francis Meres lo ha inserito in
un gruppo di scrittori inglesi, definiti come "i pi eccellenti"[173]. Gli autori del Parnassus del St
John's College di Cambridge lo paragonarono a Geoffrey Chaucer, a John Gower e a Edmund
Spenser[174]. Anche Ben Jonson, nel First Folio, dimostr apprezzamento per le sue opere.
Tra la restaurazione inglese e la fine del XVII secolo, l'apprezzamento per le idee e i modelli
classici fece s che i critici del tempo apprezzavano John Fletcher e Ben Jonson piuttosto che
Shakespeare[175]. Thomas Rymer, ad esempio, critic il drammaturgo per la sua combinazione di
comico e tragico; tuttavia, il poeta e critico John Dryden aveva grande considerazione di
Shakespeare, dicendo di Jonson, "Lo ammiro, ma amo Shakespeare"[176]. Per alcuni decenni, il
giudizio di Rymer non fu largamente diffuso, ma nel corso del XVIII secolo, i critici cominciarono

a considerare l'importanza e il genio del Bardo. Una serie di critiche letterarie sulle sue opere, in
particolare quella di Samuel Johnson del 1765 e di Edmond Malone del 1790, ha contribuito alla
sua crescente reputazione[177]. Nel 1800, Shakespeare divenne poeta nazionale[178]. Tra il XVIII
e il XIX secolo, la sua fama si diffuse anche all'estero; tra coloro che hanno apprezzato le sue opere
vi sono Voltaire, Goethe, Stendhal e Victor Hugo[179].
Durante l'et romantica, venne ulteriormente riconosciuta l'importanza dei lavori di Shakespeare;
venne elogiato dal poeta e filosofo Samuel Taylor Coleridge, mentre il critico Wilhelm August von
Schlegel tradusse le sue opere nello spirito del romanticismo tedesco[180]. Nel XIX secolo,
l'ammirazione critica per il genio di Shakespeare spesso scivolava in eccessi e nell'adulazione[181]
[182]; i vittoriani misero in scena le sue opere in modo sontuoso e su larga scala[183]. George
Bernard Shaw defin il culto di Shakespeare come bardolatry ("bardolatria"), ritenendo che il nuovo
naturalismo di Ibsen avesse fatto diventare le opere shakespeariane obsolete[184].
La rivoluzione modernista nelle arti del XX secolo utilizz con entusiasmo i suoi testi al servizio
del Avanguardia. Gli espressionisti in Germania e i futuristi a Mosca organizzarono alcune
rappresentazioni delle sue commedie; anche Bertolt Brecht mise in scena il suo teatro epico,
influenzato dalle opere di Shakespeare. Il poeta e critico TS Eliot, insieme a G. Wilson Knight e al
New Criticism, sostenne la necessit di una lettura pi attenta di opere di Shakespeare. Negli anni
cinquanta, nuovi approcci critici hanno aperto la strada a studi post-moderni sul bardo. Negli anni
ottanta, le sue opere cominciarono a essere utilizzate per nuovi movimenti come lo strutturalismo, il
femminismo, il New Historicism, gli studi afro-americani e queer[177][185].

Macbeth Consulting the Vision of the Armed Head, Henry Fuseli, 179394.
Lo stesso argomento in dettaglio: Influenza di Shakespeare.
I lavori di Shakespeare hanno avuto una profonda influenza sul teatro e sulla letteratura successiva.
In particolare, Shakespeare ampli il potenziale drammatico della caratterizzazione dei personaggi,
dell'intreccio e del linguaggio[186]. Ad esempio, i monologhi erano generalmente utilizzati per
fornire informazioni sui personaggi o gli eventi; Shakespeare, invece, li utilizz per esplorare la
mente dei personaggi[187].
Le sue opere influenzarono profondamente anche la letteratura poetica successiva. La poesia
romantica tent di far rivivere i versi drammatici shakespeariani, tuttavia con scarso successo. Il
critico George Steiner descrisse tutti i versi drammatici inglesi da Coleridge a Tennyson come
"flebili variazioni di temi shakespeariani"[188]. Shakespeare influenz i romanzieri come Thomas
Hardy, William Faulkner, e Charles Dickens. I monologhi del romanziere statunitense Herman
Melville devono molto a Shakespeare: il suo Capitano Achab di Moby Dick un classico eroe
tragico, ispirato al King Lear[189]. Alcune opere liriche sono direttamente collegate con i lavori di
Shakespeare, tra cui tre lavori di Giuseppe Verdi, il Macbeth, l'Otello e il Falstaff[190]. Shakespeare
ha inoltre ispirato molti pittori, inclusi i romantici, tra cui Henry Fuseli, e i preraffaelliti[191].
Ai giorni di Shakespeare, la grammatica, l'ortografia e la pronuncia inglese erano meno
standardizzati rispetto a oggi[192], e il suo utilizzo del linguaggio aiut la formazione dell'inglese
moderno[193]. Samuel Johnson cit Shakespeare pi spesso di qualsiasi altro autore nel suo
dizionario di lingua inglese, il primo lavoro autorevole di questo tipo[194]. Espressioni come "with
bated breath" ("con il fiato sospeso", da Il mercante di Venezia) e "a foregone conclusion" ("una
conclusione inevitabile", dall'Otello) sono ormai presenti nell'inglese di tutti i giorni[11][12].

John Milton
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For other people named John Milton, see John Milton (disambiguation).
John Milton
Portrait of Milton
Resting place
Alma mater

December 9, 1608
Bread Street, Cheapside, London, England
November 8, 1674 (aged 65)
Bunhill, London, England
St Giles-without-Cripplegate
Poet, prose polemicist, civil servant
English, Latin, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Spanish, Aramaic, Syriac
Christ's College, Cambridge

John Milton (9 December 1608 8 November 1674) was an English poet, polemicist, man of
letters, and a civil servant for the Commonwealth of England under Oliver Cromwell. He wrote at a
time of religious flux and political upheaval, and is best known for his epic poem Paradise Lost
(1667), written in blank verse.
Milton's poetry and prose reflect deep personal convictions, a passion for freedom and selfdetermination, and the urgent issues and political turbulence of his day. Writing in English, Latin,
Greek, and Italian, he achieved international renown within his lifetime, and his celebrated
Areopagitica (1644)written in condemnation of pre-publication censorshipis among history's
most influential and impassioned defences of free speech and freedom of the press.
William Hayley's 1796 biography called him the "greatest English author",[1] and he remains
generally regarded "as one of the preeminent writers in the English language",[2] though critical
reception has oscillated in the centuries since his death (often on account of his republicanism).
Samuel Johnson praised Paradise Lost as "a poem which...with respect to design may claim the first
place, and with respect to performance, the second, among the productions of the human mind",
though he (a Tory and recipient of royal patronage) described Milton's politics as those of an
"acrimonious and surly republican".[3]

The phases of Milton's life parallel the major historical and political divisions in Stuart Britain.
Under the increasingly personal rule of Charles I and its breakdown in constitutional confusion and
war, Milton studied, travelled, wrote poetry mostly for private circulation, and launched a career as
pamphleteer and publicist. Under the Commonwealth of England, from being thought dangerously
radical and even heretical, the shift in accepted attitudes in government placed him in public office,

and he even acted as an official spokesman in certain of his publications. The Restoration of 1660
deprived Milton, now completely blind, of his public platform, but this period saw him complete
most of his major works of poetry.
Milton's views developed from his very extensive reading, as well as travel and experience, from
his student days of the 1620s to the English Civil War.[4] By the time of his death in 1674, Milton
was impoverished and on the margins of English intellectual life, yet famous throughout Europe
and unrepentant for his political choices.

Early life
Main article: Early life of John Milton
Blue plaque in Bread Street, London, where Milton was born
John Milton was born in Bread Street, London, on 9 December 1608, the son of the composer John
Milton and his wife, Sarah Jeffrey. The senior John Milton (15621647) moved to London around
1583 after being disinherited by his devout Catholic father, Richard Milton, for embracing
Protestantism. In London, the senior John Milton married Sarah Jeffrey (15721637) and found
lasting financial success as a scrivener.[5] He lived in, and worked from, a house on Bread Street,
where the Mermaid Tavern was located in Cheapside. The elder Milton was noted for his skill as a
musical composer, and this talent left his son with a lifelong appreciation for music and friendships
with musicians such as Henry Lawes.[6]
Milton's father's prosperity provided his eldest son with a private tutor, Thomas Young, a Scottish
Presbyterian with an M.A. from the University of St. Andrews. Research suggests that Young's
influence served as the poet's introduction to religious radicalism.[7] After Young's tutorship Milton
attended St Paul's School in London. There he began the study of Latin and Greek, and the classical
languages left an imprint on his poetry in English (he also wrote in Italian and Latin).
John Milton at age 10 by Cornelis Janssens van Ceulen
Milton's first datable compositions are two psalms done at age 15 at Long Bennington. One
contemporary source is the Brief Lives of John Aubrey, an uneven compilation including first-hand
reports. In the work, Aubrey quotes Christopher, Milton's younger brother: "When he was young, he
studied very hard and sat up very late, commonly till twelve or one o'clock at night".[8]
In 1625 Milton began attending Christ's College, Cambridge. He graduated with a B.A. in 1629,[9]
and ranked fourth of 24 honours graduates that year in the University of Cambridge.[10] Preparing
to become an Anglican priest, Milton stayed on to obtain his Master of Arts degree on 3 July 1632.
Milton was probably rusticated (suspended) for quarrelling in his first year with his tutor, Bishop
William Chappell. He was certainly at home in the Lent Term 1626; there he wrote his Elegia
Prima, a first Latin elegy, to Charles Diodati, a friend from St Paul's. Based on remarks of John
Aubrey, Chappell "whipt" Milton.[8] This story is now disputed, though certainly Milton disliked
Chappell.[11] Historian Christopher Hill cautiously notes that Milton was "apparently" rusticated,
and that the differences between Chappell and Milton may have been either religious or personal.
[12] It is also possible that, like Isaac Newton four decades later, Milton was sent home because of
the plague, by which Cambridge was badly affected in 1625. Later, in 1626, Milton's tutor was
Nathaniel Tovey.
At Cambridge, Milton was on good terms with Edward King, for whom he later wrote Lycidas. He
also befriended Anglo-American dissident and theologian Roger Williams. Milton tutored Williams
in Hebrew in exchange for lessons in Dutch.[13] At Cambridge Milton developed a reputation for
poetic skill and general erudition, but experienced alienation from his peers and university life as a
whole. Watching his fellow students attempting comedy upon the college stage, he later observed

'they thought themselves gallant men, and I thought them fools'.[14]

Milton was disdainful of the university curriculum, which consisted of stilted formal debates on
abstruse topics, conducted in Latin. His own corpus is not devoid of humour, notably his sixth
prolusion and his epitaphs on the death of Thomas Hobson. While at Cambridge he wrote a number
of his well-known shorter English poems, among them On the Morning of Christ's Nativity, his
Epitaph on the admirable Dramatick Poet, W. Shakespeare, his first poem to appear in print,
L'Allegro and Il Penseroso.

Study, poetry, and travel

For more details on this topic, see Early life of John Milton.
Commemorative blue plaque 'John Milton lived here 1632-1638' at Berkyn Manor Farm, Horton,
Upon receiving his M.A. in 1632, Milton retired to
It appears in all his writings that he
Hammersmith, his father's new home since the previous
had the usual concomitant of great
year. He also lived at Horton, Berkshire, from 1635 and
abilities, a lofty and steady
undertook six years of self-directed private study.
confidence in himself, perhaps not
Christopher Hill argues that this was not retreat into a rural without some contempt of others; for
idyll: Hammersmith was then a "suburban village" falling scarcely any man ever wrote so much,
into the orbit of London, and even Horton was becoming
and praised so few. Of his praise he
deforested, and suffered from the plague.[16] He read both was very frugal; as he set its value
ancient and modern works of theology, philosophy, history, high, and considered his mention of a
politics, literature and science, in preparation for a
name as a security against the waste
prospective poetical career. Milton's intellectual
of time, and a certain preservative
development can be charted via entries in his commonplace from oblivion.[15]
book (like a scrapbook), now in the British Library. As a
Samuel Johnson, Lives of the Most
result of such intensive study, Milton is considered to be
among the most learned of all English poets. In addition to Eminent English Poets
his years of private study, Milton had command of Latin,
Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, and Italian from his school and undergraduate days; he also added
Old English to his linguistic repertoire in the 1650s while researching his History of Britain, and
probably acquired proficiency in Dutch soon after.[17]
Milton continued to write poetry during this period of study: his Arcades and Comus were both
commissioned for masques composed for noble patrons, connections of the Egerton family, and
performed in 1632 and 1634 respectively. Comus argues for the virtuousness of temperance and
He contributed his pastoral elegy Lycidas to a memorial collection for one of his Cambridge
classmates. Drafts of these poems are preserved in Miltons poetry notebook, known as the Trinity
Manuscript because it is now kept at Trinity College, Cambridge.
In May 1638, Milton embarked upon a tour of France and Italy that lasted up to July or August
1639.[18] His travels supplemented his study with new and direct experience of artistic and
religious traditions, especially Roman Catholicism. He met famous theorists and intellectuals of the
time, and was able to display his poetic skills. For specific details of what happened within Milton's
"grand tour", there appears to be just one primary source: Milton's own Defensio Secunda. Although
there are other records, including some letters and some references in his other prose tracts, the bulk
of the information about the tour comes from a work that, according to Barbara Lewalski, "was not
intended as autobiography but as rhetoric, designed to emphasise his sterling reputation with the
learned of Europe."[19]

He first went to Calais, and then on to Paris, riding

horseback, with a letter from diplomat Henry Wotton to
ambassador John Scudamore. Through Scudamore, Milton
met Hugo Grotius, a Dutch law philosopher, playwright and
poet. Milton left France soon after this meeting. He
travelled south, from Nice to Genoa, and then to Livorno
and Pisa. He reached Florence in July 1638. While there,
Milton enjoyed many of the sites and structures of the city.
His candour of manner and erudite neo-Latin poetry earned
him friends in Florentine intellectual circles, and he met the
astronomer Galileo, who was under house arrest at Arcetri,
as well as others.[21] Milton probably visited the Florentine
Academy and the Academia della Crusca along with
smaller academies in the area including the Apatisti and the

In [Florence], which I have always

admired above all others because of
the elegance, not just of its tongue,
but also of its wit, I lingered for about
two months. There I at once became
the friend of many gentlemen eminent
in rank and learning, whose private
academies I frequenteda Florentine
institution which deserves great
praise not only for promoting humane
studies but also for encouraging
friendly intercourse.[20]
Milton's account of Florence in
Defensio Secunda

He left Florence in September to continue to Rome. With the connections from Florence, Milton
was able to have easy access to Rome's intellectual society. His poetic abilities impressed those like
Giovanni Salzilli, who praised Milton within an epigram. In late October, Milton, despite his dislike
for the Society of Jesus, attended a dinner given by the English College, Rome, meeting English
Catholics who were also guests, theologian Henry Holden and the poet Patrick Cary.[22] He also
attended musical events, including oratorios, operas and melodramas. Milton left for Naples toward
the end of November, where he stayed only for a month because of the Spanish control.[23] During
that time he was introduced to Giovanni Battista Manso, patron to both Torquato Tasso and to
Giovanni Battista Marino.[24]
Originally Milton wanted to leave Naples in order to travel to Sicily, and then on to Greece, but he
returned to England during the summer of 1639 because of what he claimed, in Defensio Secunda,
[25] were "sad tidings of civil war in England."[26] Matters became more complicated when Milton
received word that Diodati, his childhood friend, had died. Milton in fact stayed another seven
months on the continent, and spent time at Geneva with Diodati's uncle after he returned to Rome.
In Defensio Secunda, Milton proclaimed he was warned against a return to Rome because of his
frankness about religion, but he stayed in the city for two months and was able to experience
Carnival and meet Lukas Holste, a Vatican librarian, who guided Milton through its collection. He
was introduced to Cardinal Francesco Barberini who invited Milton to an opera hosted by the
Cardinal. Around March Milton travelled once again to Florence, staying there for two months,
attending further meetings of the academies, and spent time with friends. After leaving Florence he
travelled through Lucca, Bologna, and Ferrara before coming to Venice. In Venice, Milton was
exposed to a model of Republicanism, later important in his political writings, but he soon found
another model when he travelled to Geneva. From Switzerland, Milton travelled to Paris and then to
Calais before finally arriving back in England in either July or August 1639.[27]

Civil war, prose tracts, and marriage

Title page of the 1644 edition of Areopagitica
Main article: Milton's antiprelatical tracts
On returning to England, where the Bishops' Wars presaged further armed conflict, Milton began to
write prose tracts against episcopacy, in the service of the Puritan and Parliamentary cause. Milton's
first foray into polemics was Of Reformation touching Church Discipline in England (1641),
followed by Of Prelatical Episcopacy, the two defences of Smectymnuus (a group of Presbyterian
divines named from their initials: the "TY" belonged to Milton's old tutor Thomas Young), and The
Reason of Church-Government Urged against Prelaty. With frequent passages of real eloquence

lighting up the rough controversial style of the period, and deploying a wide knowledge of church
history, he vigorously attacked the High-church party of the Church of England and their leader,
William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury.
Though supported by his father's investments, at this time Milton became a private schoolmaster,
educating his nephews and other children of the well-to-do. This experience, and discussions with
educational reformer Samuel Hartlib, led him to write in 1644 his short tract, Of Education, urging
a reform of the national universities.
In June 1642, Milton paid a visit to the manor house at Forest Hill, Oxfordshire, and returned with a
16-year-old bride, Mary Powell.[28][29] A month later, finding life difficult with the severe 35year-old schoolmaster and pamphleteer, Mary returned to her family. Partly because of the outbreak
of the Civil War,[28] she did not return until 1645; in the meantime her desertion prompted Milton,
over the next three years, to publish a series of pamphlets arguing for the legality and morality of
divorce. (Anna Beer, one of Milton's most recent biographers, points to a lack of evidence and the
dangers of cynicism in urging that it was not necessarily the case that the private life so animated
the public polemicising.) In 1643, Milton had a brush with the authorities over these writings, in
parallel with Hezekiah Woodward, who had more trouble.[30] It was the hostile response accorded
the divorce tracts that spurred Milton to write Areopagitica, his celebrated attack on pre-printing
censorship. In Areopagitica, Milton not only aligns himself with the parliamentary cause, he also
begins to synthesize the ideal of neo-Roman liberty with that of Christian liberty.[31][32]

Secretary for Foreign Tongues

With the parliamentary victory in the Civil War, Milton used his pen in defence of the republican
principles represented by the Commonwealth. The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1649)
defended popular government and implicitly sanctioned the regicide; Milton's political reputation
got him appointed Secretary for Foreign Tongues by the Council of State in March 1649. Though
Milton's main job description was to compose the English Republic's foreign correspondence in
Latin, he also was called upon to produce propaganda for the regime and to serve as a censor.[33] In
October 1649, he published Eikonoklastes, an explicit defence of the regicide, in response to the
Eikon Basilike, a phenomenal best-seller popularly attributed to Charles I that portrayed the King as
an innocent Christian martyr. A month after Milton had tried to break this powerful image of
Charles I (the literal translation of Eikonoklastes is 'the image breaker'), the exiled Charles II and
his party published a defence of monarchy, Defensio Regia pro Carolo Primo, written by the
leading humanist Claudius Salmasius. By January of the following year, Milton was ordered to
write a defence of the English people by the Council of State. Given the European audience and the
English Republic's desire to establish diplomatic and cultural legitimacy, Milton worked more
slowly than usual, as he drew on the learning marshalled by his years of study to compose a riposte.
On 24 February 1652, Milton published his Latin defence of the English People, Defensio pro
Populo Anglicano, also known as the First Defence. Milton's pure Latin prose and evident learning,
exemplified in the First Defence, quickly made him a European reputation, and the work ran to
numerous editions.[34] He also published in 1652 his Sonnet 16 in praise of "Cromwell, our chief
of men".
The back of no 19 York Street (1848). In 1651 Milton moved into a "pretty garden-house" in Petty
France, Westminster. He lived there until the Restoration. Later it became No. 19 York Street,
belonged to Jeremy Bentham, was occupied successively by James Mill and William Hazlitt, and
finally demolished in 1877.[35]
In 1654, in response to an anonymous Royalist tract "Regii sanguinis clamor", a work that made
many personal attacks on Milton, he completed a second defence of the English nation, Defensio
secunda, which praised Oliver Cromwell, now Lord Protector, while exhorting him to remain true
to the principles of the Revolution. Alexander Morus, to whom Milton wrongly attributed the

Clamor (in fact by Peter du Moulin), published an attack on Milton, in response to which Milton
published the autobiographical Defensio pro se in 1655. In addition to these literary defences of the
Commonwealth and his character, Milton continued to translate official correspondence into Latin.
By 1654, Milton had become totally blind; the cause of his blindness is debated but bilateral retinal
detachment or glaucoma are most likely.[36] His blindness forced him to dictate his verse and prose
to amanuenses (helpers), one of whom was the poet Andrew Marvell. One of his best-known
sonnets, On His Blindness, is presumed to date from this period.

The Restoration
Though Cromwell's death in 1658 caused the English Republic to collapse into feuding military and
political factions, Milton stubbornly clung to the beliefs that had originally inspired him to write for
the Commonwealth. In 1659, he published A Treatise of Civil Power, attacking the concept of a
state-dominated church (the position known as Erastianism), as well as Considerations touching the
likeliest means to remove hirelings, denouncing corrupt practises in church governance. As the
Republic disintegrated, Milton wrote several proposals to retain a non-monarchical government
against the wishes of parliament, soldiers and the people.[citation needed]
Milton later in life
A Letter to a Friend, Concerning the Ruptures of the Commonwealth, written in October
1659, was a response to General Lambert's recent dissolution of the Rump Parliament.
Proposals of certain expedients for the preventing of a civil war now feared, written in
November 1659.
The Ready and Easy Way to Establishing a Free Commonwealth, in two editions, responded
to General Monck's march towards London to restore the Long Parliament (which led to the
restoration of the monarchy). The work is an impassioned, bitter, and futile jeremiad
damning the English people for backsliding from the cause of liberty and advocating the
establishment of an authoritarian rule by an oligarchy set up by unelected parliament.
Upon the Restoration in May 1660, Milton went into hiding for his life, while a warrant was issued
for his arrest and his writings burnt. He re-emerged after a general pardon was issued, but was
nevertheless arrested and briefly imprisoned before influential friends, such as Marvell, now an MP,
intervened. On 24 February 1663, Milton remarried, for a third and final time, Elizabeth (Betty)
Minshull, then aged 24, a native of Wistaston, Cheshire. Milton spent the remaining decade of his
life living quietly in London, only retiring to a cottageMilton's Cottagein Chalfont St. Giles,
his only extant home, during the Great Plague of London.
During this period, Milton published several minor prose works, such as a grammar textbook, Art of
Logic, and a History of Britain. His only explicitly political tracts were the 1672 Of True Religion,
arguing for toleration (except for Catholics), and a translation of a Polish tract advocating an
elective monarchy. Both these works were referred to in the Exclusion debatethe attempt to
exclude the heir presumptive, James, Duke of York, from the throne of England because he was
Roman Catholicthat would preoccupy politics in the 1670s and 1680s and precipitate the
formation of the Whig party and the Glorious Revolution.
Milton died of kidney failure on 8 November 1674 and was buried in the church of St Giles
Cripplegate, Fore Street, London.[37] According to an early biographer, his funeral was attended by
his learned and great Friends in London, not without a friendly concourse of the Vulgar.[38] A
monument by John Bacon the Elder was added in 1793.

Milton and his first wife, Mary Powell (16251652) had four children:

Anne (born 7 July 1646)

Mary (born 25 October 1648)
John (16 March 1651 June 1652)
Deborah (2 May 1652 )

Mary Powell died on 5 May 1652 from complications following Deborah's birth. Milton's daughters
survived to adulthood, but he had always a strained relationship with them.
On 12 November 1656, Milton was married again, to Katherine Woodcock. She died on 3 February
1658, less than four months after giving birth to a daughter, Katherine, who also died.
Milton married for a third time on 24 February 1662, to Elizabeth Mynshull (16381728), the niece
of Thomas Mynshull, a wealthy apothecary and philanthropist in Manchester. Despite a 31-year age
gap, the marriage seemed happy, according to John Aubrey, and was to last more than 12 years until
Milton's death. (A plaque on the wall of Mynshull's House in Manchester describes Elizabeth as
Milton's "3rd and Best wife".) Samuel Johnson, however, claims that Mynshull was "a domestic
companion and attendant" and that Milton's nephew, Edward Phillips, relates that Mynshull
"oppressed his children in his lifetime, and cheated them at his death".[39]
Two nephews (sons of Milton's sister Anne), Edward and John Phillips, were educated by Milton
and became writers themselves. John acted as a secretary, and Edward was Milton's first biographer.

Milton's poetry was slow to see the light of day, at least under his name. His first published poem
was On Shakespear (1630), anonymously included in the Second Folio edition of William
Shakespeare. In the midst of the excitement attending the possibility of establishing a new English
government, Milton collected his work in 1645 Poems. The anonymous edition of Comus was
published in 1637, and the publication of Lycidas in 1638 in Justa Edouardo King Naufrago was
signed J. M. Otherwise, the 1645 collection was the only poetry of his to see print, until Paradise
Lost appeared in 1667.

Paradise Lost
Main article: Paradise Lost
Milton Dictates the Lost Paradise to His Three Daughters, ca. 1826. Artist: Eugne Delacroix
Milton's magnum opus, the blank-verse epic poem Paradise Lost, was composed by the blind and
impoverished Milton from 1658 to 1664 (first edition) with small but significant revisions published
in 1674 (second edition). As a blind poet, Milton dictated his verse to a series of aides in his
employ. It has been argued that the poem reflects his personal despair at the failure of the
Revolution, yet affirms an ultimate optimism in human potential. Some literary critics have argued
that Milton encoded many references to his unyielding support for the "Good Old Cause".[40]
On 27 April 1667,[41] Milton sold the publication rights for Paradise Lost to publisher Samuel
Simmons for 5, equivalent to approximately 7,400 income in 2008,[42] with a further 5 to be
paid if and when each print run of between 1,300 and 1,500 copies sold out.[43] The first run, a
quarto edition priced at three shillings per copy, was published in August 1667 and sold out in
eighteen months.[44]
Milton followed up the publication Paradise Lost with its sequel, Paradise Regained, which was
published alongside the tragedy Samson Agonistes in 1671. Both of these works also resonate with
Milton's post-Restoration political situation. Just before his death in 1674, Milton supervised a
second edition of Paradise Lost, accompanied by an explanation of "why the poem rhymes not",
and prefatory verses by Marvell. In 1673, Milton republished his 1645 Poems, as well as a

collection of his letters and the Latin prolusions from his Cambridge days. A 1668 edition of
Paradise Lost, reported to have been Milton's personal copy, is now housed in the archives of the
University of Western Ontario.

An unfinished religious manifesto, De doctrina christiana, probably written by Milton, lays out
many of his heterodox theological views, and was not discovered and published until 1823. Milton's
key beliefs were idiosyncratic, not those of an identifiable group or faction, and often they go well
beyond the orthodoxy of the time. Their tone, however, stemmed from the Puritan emphasis on the
centrality and inviolability of conscience.[45] He was his own man, but he was anticipated by
Henry Robinson in Areopagitica.

By the late 1650s, Milton was a proponent of monism or animist materialism, the notion that a
single material substance which is "animate, self-active, and free" composes everything in the
universe: from stones and trees and bodies to minds, souls, angels, and God.[46] Milton devised this
position to avoid the mind-body dualism of Plato and Descartes as well as the mechanistic
determinism of Hobbes. Milton's monism is most notably reflected in Paradise Lost when he has
angels eat (5.43339)[clarification needed] and engage in sexual intercourse (8.62229)
[clarification needed] and the De Doctrina, where he denies the dual natures of man and argues for
a theory of Creation ex Deo.

Political thought
Title page of John Milton's 1644 edition of Areopagitica
Main article: John Milton's politics
In his political writing, Milton addressed particular themes at different periods. The years 164142
were dedicated to church politics and the struggle against episcopacy. After his divorce writings,
Areopagitica, and a gap, he wrote in 164954 in the aftermath of the execution of Charles I, and in
polemic justification of the regicide and the existing Parliamentarian regime. Then in 165960 he
foresaw the Restoration, and wrote to head it off.[47]
Milton's own beliefs were in some cases both unpopular and dangerous, and this was true
particularly to his commitment to republicanism. In coming centuries, Milton would be claimed as
an early apostle of liberalism.[48] According to James Tully:
... with Locke as with Milton, republican and contraction conceptions of political
freedom join hands in common opposition to the disengaged and passive subjection
offered by absolutists such as Hobbes and Robert Filmer.[49]
A friend and ally in the pamphlet wars was Marchamont Nedham. Austin Woolrych considers that
although they were quite close, there is "little real affinity, beyond a broad republicanism", between
their approaches.[50] Blair Worden remarks that both Milton and Nedham, with others such as
Andrew Marvell and James Harrington, would have taken the problem with the Rump Parliament to
be not the republic, but the fact that it was not a proper republic.[51] Woolrych speaks of "the gulf
between Milton's vision of the Commonwealth's future and the reality".[52] In the early version of
his History of Britain, begun in 1649, Milton was already writing off the members of the Long
Parliament as incorrigible.[53]
He praised Oliver Cromwell as the Protectorate was set up; though subsequently he had major

reservations. When Cromwell seemed to be backsliding as a revolutionary, after a couple of years in

power, Milton moved closer to the position of Sir Henry Vane, to whom he wrote a sonnet in 1652.
[54][55] The group of disaffected republicans included, besides Vane, John Bradshaw, John
Hutchinson, Edmund Ludlow, Henry Marten, Robert Overton, Edward Sexby and John Streater; but
not Marvell, who remained with Cromwell's party.[56] Milton had already commended Overton,
along with Edmund Whalley and Bulstrode Whitelocke, in Defensio Secunda.[57] Nigel Smith
writes that
... John Streater, and the form of republicanism he stood for, was a fulfilment of Milton's
most optimistic ideas of free speech and of public heroism [...][58]
As Richard Cromwell fell from power, he envisaged a step towards a freer republic or free
commonwealth, writing in the hope of this outcome in early 1660. Milton had argued for an
awkward position, in the Ready and Easy Way, because he wanted to invoke the Good Old Cause
and gain the support of the republicans, but without offering a democratic solution of any kind.[59]
His proposal, backed by reference (amongst other reasons) to the oligarchical Dutch and Venetian
constitutions, was for a council with perpetual membership. This attitude cut right across the grain
of popular opinion of the time, which swung decisively behind the restoration of the Stuart
monarchy that took place later in the year.[60] Milton, an associate of and advocate on behalf of the
regicides, was silenced on political matters as Charles II returned.

Main article: John Milton's religion
Like many Renaissance artists before him, Milton attempted to integrate Christian theology with
classical modes. In his early poems, the poet narrator expresses a tension between vice and virtue,
the latter invariably related to Protestantism. In Comus, Milton may make ironic use of the Caroline
court masque by elevating notions of purity and virtue over the conventions of court revelry and
superstition. In his later poems, Milton's theological concerns become more explicit.
Milton embraced many heterodox Christian theological views. He rejected the Trinity, in the belief
that the Son was subordinate to the Father, a position known as Arianism; and his sympathy or
curiosity was probably engaged by Socinianism: in August 1650 he licensed for publication by
William Dugard the Racovian Catechism, based on a non-trinitarian creed.[61][62] A source has
interpreted him as broadly Protestant, if not always easy to locate in a more precise religious
In his 1641 treatise, Of Reformation, Milton expressed his dislike for Catholicism and episcopacy,
presenting Rome as a modern Babylon, and bishops as Egyptian taskmasters. These analogies
conform to Milton's puritanical preference for Old Testament imagery. He knew at least four
commentaries on Genesis: those of John Calvin, Paulus Fagius, David Pareus and Andreus Rivetus.
Through the Interregnum, Milton often presents England, rescued from the trappings of a worldly
monarchy, as an elect nation akin to the Old Testament Israel, and shows its leader, Oliver
Cromwell, as a latter-day Moses. These views were bound up in Protestant views of the
Millennium, which some sects, such as the Fifth Monarchists predicted would arrive in England.
Milton, however, would later criticise the "worldly" millenarian views of these and others, and
expressed orthodox ideas on the prophecy of the Four Empires.[64]
The Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660 began a new phase in Milton's work. In Paradise
Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes, Milton mourns the end of the godly
Commonwealth. The Garden of Eden may allegorically reflect Milton's view of England's recent
Fall from Grace, while Samson's blindness and captivitymirroring Milton's own lost sightmay
be a metaphor for England's blind acceptance of Charles II as king. Illustrated by Paradise Lost is

mortalism, the belief that the soul lies dormant after the body dies.[65]
Despite the Restoration of the monarchy, Milton did not lose his personal faith; Samson shows how
the loss of national salvation did not necessarily preclude the salvation of the individual, while
Paradise Regained expresses Milton's continuing belief in the promise of Christian salvation
through Jesus Christ.
Though he may have maintained his personal faith in spite of the defeats suffered by his cause, the
Dictionary of National Biography recounted how he had been alienated from the Church of England
by Archbishop William Laud, and then moved similarly from the Dissenters by their denunciation
of religious tolerance in England.
Milton had come to stand apart from all sects, though apparently finding the Quakers
most congenial. He never went to any religious services in his later years. When a
servant brought back accounts of sermons from nonconformist meetings, Milton
became so sarcastic that the man at last gave up his place.

Religious toleration
Milton called in the Areopagitica for "the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to
conscience, above all liberties" (applied, however, only to the conflicting Protestant denominations,
and not to atheists, Jews, Muslims or Catholics[66]). "Milton argued for disestablishment as the
only effective way of achieving broad toleration. Rather than force a man's conscience, government
should recognise the persuasive force of the gospel."[67]

Main article: Milton's divorce tracts
Milton wrote The Doctrine & Discipline of Divorce in 1643, at the beginning of the English Civil
War. In August of that year, he presented his thoughts to the Westminster Assembly of divines,
which had been created by the Long Parliament to bring greater reform to the Church of England.
The Assembly convened on 1 July against the will of King Charles I.
Milton's thinking on divorce caused him considerable trouble with the authorities. An orthodox
Presbyterian view of the time was that Milton's views on divorce constituted a one-man heresy:
The fervently Presbyterian Edwards had included Miltons divorce tracts in his list in
Gangraena of heretical publications that threatened the religious and moral fabric of the
nation; Milton responded by mocking him as shallow Edwards in the satirical sonnet
On the New Forcers of Conscience under the Long Parliament, usually dated to the
latter half of 1646.[68]
Even here, though, his originality is qualified: Thomas Gataker had already identified "mutual
solace" as a principal goal in marriage.[69] Milton abandoned his campaign to legitimise divorce
after 1645, but he expressed support for polygamy in the De Doctrina Christiana, the theological
treatise that provides the clearest evidence for his views.[70]
Milton wrote during a period when thoughts about divorce were anything but simplistic; rather,
there was active debate among thought-leaders. However, Milton's basic approval of divorce within
strict parameters set by the biblical witness was typical of many influential Christian intellectuals,
particularly the Westminster divines. Milton addressed the Assembly on the matter of divorce in
August 1643,[71] at a moment when the Assembly was beginning to form its opinion on the matter.
In the Doctrine & Discipline of Divorce, Milton argued that divorce was a private matter, not a legal
or ecclesiastical one. Neither the Assembly nor Parliament condemned Milton or his ideas. In fact,
when the Westminster Assembly wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith they allowed for

divorce ('Of Marriage and Divorce,' Chapter 24, Section 5) in cases of infidelity or abandonment.
Thus, the Christian community, at least a majority within the 'Puritan' sub-set, approved of Milton's
Nevertheless, reaction among Puritans to Milton's views on divorce was mixed. Herbert Palmer
(Puritan) condemned Milton in the strongest possible language. Palmer, who was a member of the
Westminster Assembly, wrote:
If any plead Conscience ... for divorce for other causes then Christ and His Apostles
mention; Of which a wicked booke is abroad and uncensured, though deserving to be
burnt, whose Author, hath been so impudent as to set his Name to it, and dedicate it to
your selves ... will you grant a Toleration for all this? (The Glasse of Gods Providence
Towards His Faithfull Ones, 1644, p. 54).[72]
Palmer expressed his disapproval in a sermon addressed to the Westminster Assembly. The Scottish
commissioner Robert Baillie described Palmer's sermon as one of the most Scottish and free
sermons that ever I heard any where.[73]

History was particularly important for the political class of the period, and Lewalski considers that
Milton "more than most illustrates" a remark of Thomas Hobbes on the weight placed at the time on
the classical Latin historical writers Tacitus, Livy, Sallust and Cicero, and their republican attitudes.
[74] Milton himself wrote that "Worthy deeds are not often destitute of worthy relaters", in Book II
of his History of Britain. A sense of history mattered greatly to him:[75]
The course of human history, the immediate impact of the civil disorders, and his own
traumatic personal life, are all regarded by Milton as typical of the predicament he
describes as "the misery that has bin since Adam".[76]

Legacy and influence

Once Paradise Lost was published, Milton's stature as epic poet was immediately recognised. He
cast a formidable shadow over English poetry in the 18th and 19th centuries; he was often judged
equal or superior to all other English poets, including Shakespeare. Very early on, though, he was
championed by Whigs, and decried by Tories: with the regicide Edmund Ludlow he was claimed as
an early Whig,[77] while the High Tory Anglican minister Luke Milbourne lumped Milton in with
other "Agents of Darkness" such as John Knox, George Buchanan, Richard Baxter, Algernon
Sidney and John Locke.[78] The political ideas of Milton, Locke, Sidney, and James Harrington
strongly influenced the Radical Whigs, whose ideology in turn was central to the American

Early reception of the poetry

John Dryden, an early enthusiast, in 1677 began the trend of describing Milton as the poet of the
sublime.[80] Dryden's The State of Innocence and the Fall of Man: an Opera (1677) is evidence of
an immediate cultural influence. In 1695, Patrick Hume became the first editor of Paradise Lost,
providing an extensive apparatus of annotation and commentary, particularly chasing down
Title page of a 17521761 edition of "The Poetical Works of John Milton with Notes of Various
Authors by Thomas Newton" printed by J. & R. Tonson in the Strand

In 1732, the classical scholar Richard Bentley offered a corrected version of Paradise Lost.[82]
Bentley was considered presumptuous, and was attacked in the following year by Zachary Pearce.
Christopher Ricks judges that, as critic, Bentley was both acute and wrong-headed, and
"incorrigibly eccentric"; William Empson also finds Pearce to be more sympathetic to Bentley's
underlying line of thought than is warranted.[83][84]
There was an early, partial translation of Paradise Lost into German by Theodore Haak, and based
on that a standard verse translation by Ernest Gottlieb von Berge. A subsequent prose translation by
Johann Jakob Bodmer was very popular; it influenced Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock. The Germanlanguage Milton tradition returned to England in the person of the artist Henry Fuseli.
Many enlightenment thinkers of the 18th century revered and commented on Milton's poetry and
non-poetical works. In addition to John Dryden, among them were Alexander Pope, Joseph
Addison, Thomas Newton, and Samuel Johnson. For example, in The Spectator,[85] Joseph
Addison wrote extensive notes, annotations, and interpretations of certain passages of Paradise
Lost. Jonathan Richardson, senior, and Jonathan Richardson, the younger, co-wrote a book of
criticism.[86] In 1749, Thomas Newton published an extensive edition of Milton's poetical works
with annotations provided by himself, Dryden, Pope, Addison, the Richardsons (father and son) and
others. Newton's edition of Milton was a culmination of the honour bestowed upon Milton by early
Enlightenment thinkers; it may also have been prompted by Richard Bentley's infamous edition,
described above. Samuel Johnson wrote numerous essays on Paradise Lost, and Milton was
included in his Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (17791781).

Frontispiece to Milton a Poem
William Blake considered Milton the major English poet. Blake placed Edmund Spenser as Milton's
precursor, and saw himself as Milton's poetical son.[87] In his Milton a Poem, Blake uses Milton as
a character.

Romantic theory
Edmund Burke was a theorist of the sublime, and he regarded Milton's description of Hell as
exemplary of sublimity as an aesthetic concept. For Burke, it was to set alongside mountain-tops, a
storm at sea, and infinity.[88] In The Beautiful and the Sublime, he wrote: "No person seems better
to have understood the secret of heightening, or of setting terrible things, if I may use the
expression, in their strongest light, by the force of a judicious obscurity than Milton."[89]
The Romantic poets valued his exploration of blank verse, but for the most part rejected his
religiosity. William Wordsworth began his sonnet "London, 1802" with "Milton! thou should'st be
living at this hour"[90] and modelled The Prelude, his own blank verse epic, on Paradise Lost. John
Keats found the yoke of Milton's style uncongenial;[91] he exclaimed that "Miltonic verse cannot
be written but in an artful or rather artist's humour."[92] Keats felt that Paradise Lost was a
"beautiful and grand curiosity", but his own unfinished attempt at epic poetry, Hyperion, was
unsatisfactory to the author because, amongst other things, it had too many "Miltonic inversions".
[92] In The Madwoman in the Attic, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar note that Mary Shelley's novel
Frankenstein is, in the view of many critics, "one of the key 'Romantic' readings of Paradise

Later legacy
The Victorian age witnessed a continuation of Milton's influence, George Eliot[94] and Thomas
Hardy being particularly inspired by Milton's poetry and biography. Hostile 20th-century criticism

by T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound did not reduce Milton's stature.[95] F. R. Leavis, in The Common
Pursuit, responded to the points made by Eliot, in particular the claim that "the study of Milton
could be of no help: it was only a hindrance", by arguing, "As if it were a matter of deciding not to
study Milton! The problem, rather, was to escape from an influence that was so difficult to escape
from because it was unrecognized, belonging, as it did, to the climate of the habitual and
'natural'."[96] Harold Bloom, in The Anxiety of Influence, wrote that "Milton is the central problem
in any theory and history of poetic influence in English [...]".[97]
Milton's Areopagitica is still cited as relevant to the First Amendment to the United States
Constitution.[98] A quotation from Areopagitica"A good book is the precious lifeblood of a
master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life"is displayed in many
public libraries, including the New York Public Library.
The title of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is derived from a quotation, "His dark
materials to create more worlds", line 915 of Book II in Paradise Lost. Pullman was concerned to
produce a version of Milton's poem accessible to teenagers,[99] and has spoken of Milton as "our
greatest public poet".[100]
T. S. Eliot believed that "of no other poet is it so difficult to consider the poetry simply as poetry,
without our theological and political dispositions... making unlawful entry".[101]

Literary legacy
Milton's use of blank verse, in addition to his stylistic innovations (such as grandiloquence of voice
and vision, peculiar diction and phraseology) influenced later poets. At the time, poetic blank verse
was considered distinct from its use in verse drama, and Paradise Lost was taken as a unique
examplar.[102] Said Isaac Watts in 1734, "Mr. Milton is esteemed the parent and author of blank
verse among us".[103] "Miltonic verse" might be synonymous for a century with blank verse as
poetry, a new poetic terrain independent from both the drama and the heroic couplet.
Lack of rhyme was sometimes taken as Milton's defining innovation. He himself considered the
rhymeless quality of Paradise Lost to be an extension of his own personal liberty:
This neglect then of Rhime ... is to be esteem'd an example set, the first in English, of
ancient liberty recover'd to heroic Poem from the troublesom and modern bondage of
This pursuit of freedom was largely a reaction against conservative values entrenched within the
rigid heroic couplet.[105] Within a dominant culture that stressed elegance and finish, he granted
primacy to freedom, breadth and imaginative suggestiveness, eventually developed into the
romantic vision of sublime terror. Reaction to Milton's poetic worldview included, grudgingly,
acknowledgement that of poet's resemblance to classical writers (Greek and Roman poetry being
unrhymed). Blank verse came to be a recognised medium for religious works and for translations of
the classics. Unrhymed lyrics like Collins' Ode to Evening (in the meter of Milton's translation of
Horace's Ode to Pyrrha) were not uncommon after 1740.[106]
Statue of Milton in Temple of British Worthies, Stowe
A second aspect of Milton's blank verse was the use of unconventional rhythm:
His blank-verse paragraph, and his audacious and victorious attempt to combine blank
and rhymed verse with paragraphic effect in Lycidas, lay down indestructible models
and patterns of English verse-rhythm, as distinguished from the narrower and more
strait-laced forms of English metre.[107]
Before Milton, "the sense of regular rhythm ... had been knocked into the English head so securely

that it was part of their nature".[108] The "Heroick measure", according to Samuel Johnson, "is
pure ... when the accent rests upon every second syllable through the whole line The repetition of
this sound or percussion at equal times, is the most complete harmony of which a single verse is
capable",[109] Caesural pauses, most agreed, were best placed at the middle and the end of the line.
In order to support this symmetry, lines were most often octo- or deca-syllabic, with no enjambed
endings. To this schema Milton introduced modifications, which included hypermetrical syllables
(trisyllabic feet), inversion or slighting of stresses, and the shifting of pauses to all parts of the line.
[110] Milton deemed these features to be reflective of "the transcendental union of order and
freedom".[111] Admirers remained hesitant to adopt such departures from traditional metrical
schemes: The English ... had been writing separate lines for so long that they could not rid
themselves of the habit.[112] Isaac Watts preferred his lines distinct from each other, as did Oliver
Goldsmith, Henry Pemberton, and Scott of Amwell, whose general opinion it was that Milton's
frequent omission of the initial unaccented foot was "displeasing to a nice ear".[113] It was not until
the late 18th century that poets (beginning with Gray) began to appreciate "the composition of
Milton's harmony ... how he loved to vary his pauses, his measures, and his feet, which gives that
enchanting air of freedom and wilderness to his versification".[114]
While neo-classical diction was as restrictive as its prosody, and narrow imagery paired with
uniformity of sentence structure resulted in a small set of 800 nouns circumscribing the vocabulary
of 90% of heroic couplets ever written up to the eighteenth century,[115] and tradition required that
the same adjectives attach to the same nouns, followed by the same verbs, Milton's pursuit of liberty
extended into his vocabulary as well. It included many Latinate neologisms, as well as obsolete
words already dropped from popular usage so completely that their meanings were no longer
understood. In 1740, Francis Peck identified some examples of Milton's "old" words (now popular).
[116] The Miltonian dialect as it was called, was emulated by later poets; Pope used the diction of
Paradise Lost in his Homer translation, while the lyric poetry of Gray and Collins was frequently
criticised for their use of obsolete words out of Spenser and Milton.[117] The language of
Thomson's finest poems (e.g. The Seasons, Castle of Indolence) was self-consciously modelled after
the Miltonian dialect, with the same tone and sensibilities as Paradise Lost. Following to Milton,
English poetry from Pope to John Keats exhibited a steadily increasing attention to the connotative,
the imaginative and poetic, value of words.[118]

Joseph Addison
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
For the 20th-century British ambassador, see Joseph Addison (diplomat).
Joseph Addison
Joseph Addison, the "Kit-cat portrait", circa 17031712, by Godfrey Kneller
1 May 1672
Milston, Wiltshire, England
17 June 1719 (aged 48)
Kensington, Middlesex, England
Writer and politician
Joseph Addison (1 May 1672 17 June 1719) was an English essayist, poet, playwright, and

politician. He was the eldest son of The Reverend Lancelot Addison. His name is usually
remembered alongside that of his long-standing friend, Richard Steele, with whom he founded The
Spectator magazine.

Life and writing

Addison was born in Millstone, Wiltshire, but soon after his birth his father, Lancelot Addison, was
appointed Dean of Lichfield and the Addison family moved into the cathedral close. He was
educated at Charterhouse School, where he first met Richard Steele, and at The Queen's College,
Oxford.[1] He excelled in classics, being specially noted for his Latin verse, and became a fellow of
Magdalen College. In 1693, he addressed a poem to John Dryden, and his first major work, a book
of the lives of English poets, was published in 1694. His translation of Virgil's Georgics was
published in the same year. Dryden, Lord Somers and Charles Montague, 1st Earl of Halifax, took
an interest in Addison's work and obtained for him a pension of 300 to enable him to travel to
Europe with a view to diplomatic employment, all the time writing and studying politics. While in
Switzerland in 1702, he heard of the death of William III, an event which lost him his pension, as
his influential contacts, Halifax and Somers, had lost their employment with the Crown.

Political career
He returned to England at the end of 1703. For more than a year he remained without employment,
but the Battle of Blenheim in 1704 gave him a fresh opportunity of distinguishing himself. The
government, more specifically Lord Treasurer Godolphin, commissioned Addison to write a
commemorative poem, and he produced The Campaign, which gave such satisfaction that he was
forthwith appointed a Commissioner of Appeals in Halifax's government.[2] His next literary
venture was an account of his travels in Italy, which was followed by an opera libretto titled
Rosamund. In 1705, with the Whigs in political power, Addison was made Under-Secretary of State
and accompanied Halifax on a mission to Hanover. Addison's biographer states: "In the field of his
foreign responsibilities Addison's views were those of a good Whig. He had always believed that
England's power depended upon her wealth, her wealth upon her commerce, and her commerce
upon the freedom of the seas and the checking of the power of France and Spain."[3]
From 1708 to 1709 he was MP for the rotten borough of Lostwithiel. Addison was shortly
afterwards appointed secretary to the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Wharton, and Keeper of
the Records of that country. Under the influence of Wharton, he was Member of Parliament in the
Irish House of Commons for Cavan Borough from 1709 until 1713. From 1710, he represented
Malmesbury, in his home county of Wiltshire, holding the seat until his death.

Magazine founder
Joseph Addison: engraving after the Kneller portrait
He encountered Jonathan Swift in Ireland and remained there for a year. Subsequently, he helped
found the Kitcat Club and renewed his association with Richard Steele. In 1709 Steele began to
bring out Tatler, to which Addison became almost immediately a contributor: thereafter he (with
Steele) started The Spectator, the first number of which appeared on 1 March 1711. This paper,

which at first appeared daily, was kept up (with a break of about a year and a half when The
Guardian took its place) until 20 December 1714. His last undertaking was The Freeholder, a
political paper, 171516.

He wrote the libretto for Thomas Clayton's opera Rosamond, which had a disastrous premiere in
London in 1707.[4] In 1713 Addison's tragedy Cato was produced, and was received with
acclamation by both Whigs and Tories. He followed this effort with a comedic play, The Drummer

Addison wrote the popular church hymn "The Spacious Firmament on High", publishing it in The
Spectator in 1712. It is sung either to the tune known as "London (Addison's)" by John Sheeles,
written c. 1720, or to "Creation" by Franz Haydn, 1798.[5]
The actor John Kemble in the role of Cato in Addison's play, which he revived at Covent Garden in
1816, drawn by George Cruikshank.
Main article: Cato, a Tragedy
In 1712, Addison wrote his most famous work of fiction, Cato, a Tragedy. Based on the last days of
Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, it deals with such themes as individual liberty versus government
tyranny, Republicanism versus Monarchism, logic versus emotion, and Cato's personal struggle to
cleave to his beliefs in the face of death. It has a prologue written by Alexander Pope and an
epilogue by Dr. Garth.[6]
The play was a success throughout Britain and its possessions in the New World, as well as Ireland.
It continued to grow in popularity, especially in the American colonies, for several generations.
Indeed, it was almost certainly literary inspiration for the American Revolution, being well known
to many of the Founding Fathers. In fact, George Washington had it performed for the Continental
Army while they were encamped at Valley Forge. Among the founders, according to John J. Miller,
"no single work of literature may have been more important than Cato".[7]
Some scholars have identified the inspiration for several famous quotations from the American
Revolution in Cato. These include:
Patrick Henry's famous ultimatum: "Give me liberty or give me death!"
(Supposed reference to Act II, Scene 4: "It is not now time to talk of aught/But chains or
conquest, liberty or death.").[8]
Nathan Hale's valediction: "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country."
(Supposed reference to Act IV, Scene 4: "What a pity it is/That we can die but once to serve
our country.").[8]
Washington's praise for Benedict Arnold in a letter to him: "It is not in the power of any man
to command success; but you have done moreyou have deserved it."
(Clear reference to Act I, Scene 2: "'Tis not in mortals to command success; but we'll do
more, Sempronius, we'll deserve it.").

Not long after the American Revolution, Edmund Burke quotes the play as well in his Letter to
Charles-Jean-Franois Depont (1789) in Further Reflections on the Revolution in France, saying
the French may be yet be obliged to go through more transmigrations and "to pass, as one of our
poets says, 'through great varieties of untried being'", before their state obtains its final form.[9] The
poet in reference is of course Addison and the passage Burke quoted is from Cato (V.i. II):
"Through what variety of untried being,/Through what new scenes and changes must we pass!"
Though the play has fallen from popularity and is now rarely performed, it was widely popular and
often cited in the eighteenth century, with Cato as an exemplar of republican virtue and liberty. For
example, John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon were inspired by the play to write a series of letters,
Cato's Letters on individual rights, using the name "Cato".[citation needed]
The action of the play involves the forces of Cato at Utica, awaiting the arrival of Caesar just after
Caesar's victory at Thapsus (46 BC). The noble sons of Cato, Portius and Marcus, are both in love
with Lucia, the daughter of Lucius, a senatorial ally of Cato. Juba, prince of Numidia, another
fighting on Cato's side, loves Cato's daughter Marcia. Meanwhile, Sempronius, another senator, and
Syphax, general of the Numidians, are conspiring secretly against Cato, hoping to draw off the
Numidian army from supporting him. In the final act, Cato commits suicide, leaving his supporters
to make their peace with the approaching Caesaran easier task after Cato's death, since he has
been Caesar's most implacable foe.

Marriage and death

Joseph Addison in 1719, the year he died.
The later events in the life of Addison did not contribute to his happiness. In 1716, he married
Charlotte, Dowager Countess of Warwick, to whose son Edward Rich, 7th Earl of Warwick, he had
been tutor, and his political career continued to flourish, as he served as Secretary of State for the
Southern Department from 1717 to 1718. However, his political newspaper, The Freeholder, was
much criticised, and Alexander Pope, in The Dunciad, made him an object of derision, christening
him "Atticus", likening him to an adder, "Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike". His wife
appears to have been arrogant and imperious; his stepson, seventh Earl, was a rake and unfriendly to
him; while in his public capacity his shyness made him of little use in Parliament. He eventually fell
out with Steele over the Peerage Bill of 1719. In 1718, Addison was forced to resign as Secretary of
State because of his poor health, but remained an MP until his death at Holland House, London, on
17 June 1719, in his 48th year, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. After Addison died, a story
circulated that he, on his deathbed, had sent for his stepson, described as a wastrel, to see how a
Christian meets death.
On 6 April 1808, after Addison's death, a town in upstate New York which had been originally
organized as Middletown in March 1796 was changed to Addison, in honor of Joseph Addison.

It is mostly as an essayist that Addison is remembered today. Addison began writing essays quite
casually. In April 1709, his childhood friend, Richard Steele, started The Tatler. Addison inspired
him to write this essay. Addison contributed 42 essays while Steele wrote 188. Of Addison's help,
Steele remarked, "when I had once called him in, I could not subsist without dependence on him".
[10] On 2 January 1711, The Tatler was discontinued. On 1 March 1711, The Spectator was
published, and it continued until 6 December 1712. The Spectator was issued daily and achieved
great popularity. It exercised a great deal of influence over the reading public of the time. In The
Spectator, Addison soon became the leading partner. He contributed 274 essays out a total of 555;
Steele wrote 236 for this periodical. Addison also assisted Steele with the Guardian which Steele
began in 1713.
The breezy, conversational style of the essays later elicited Bishop Hurd's reproving attribution of
an "Addisonian Termination", for preposition stranding, the casual grammatical construction that
ends a sentence with a preposition.[11]
Besides the works above mentioned, he wrote an essay, Dialogues on Medals, and left incomplete a
work, Of the Christian Religion.

Joseph Addison by Kraemer

Albin Schram letters

In 2005 an Austrian banker and collector named Albin Schram died and, in his laundry room, a
collection of around 1000 letters from great historical figures was found.
One was written by Joseph Addison, reporting on the debate in the House of Commons over the
grant to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, and his heirs, following the Battle of Ramillies.
The letter was written on the day of the debate, probably to George Stepney.
Addison explains that the motion was opposed by Mr Annesley, Ward, Caesar and Sir William
Vevian, "One said that this was showing no honour to His Grace but to a posterity that he was not
concern'd in. Casar ... hoped ye Duke tho he had ben Victorious over the Enemy would not think of
being so over a House of Commons: wch was said in pursuance to a Motion made by some of the
Craftier sort that would not oppose the proposition directly but turn it off by a Side-Wind pretending
that it being a money affaire it should be refer'd to a Committee of the whole House wch in all
probability would have defeated the whole affaire...."[citation needed]
Following the Duke of Marlborough's highly successful campaigns of 1706, he and George Stepney
became the first English regents of the Anglo-Dutch condominium for governing the southern
Netherlands. It was Stepney who formally took possession of the principality of Mindelheim in
Marlborough's name on 26 May, following the Battle of Ramillies. On Marlborough's return to
London in November, Parliament granted his request that his grant of 5,000 'out of ye Post-Office'
be made in perpetuity for his heirs.
A second letter to his friend Sir Richard Steele was also found, concerning the Tatler and other
'I very much liked your last paper upon the Courtship that is usually paid to the fair sex. I wish you
had reserved the Letter in this days paper concerning Indecencies at Church for an entire piece. It

wd have made as good a one as any you have published. Your Reflections upon Almanza are very
good.' The letter concludes with references to impeachment proceedings against Addison's friend,
Henry Sacheverell ('I am much obliged to you for yor Letters relating to Sackeverell'), and the Light
House petition: 'I am something troubled that you have not sent away ye Letters received from
Ireland to my Lord Lieutenant, particularly that from Mr Forster [the Attorney General] with the
Enclosed petition about the Light House, which I hope will be delivered to the House before my

Addison's character has been described as kind and magnanimous, albeit somewhat cool and
unimpassioned. His appealing manners and conversation made him one of the most popular men of
his day; and while he laid his friends under obligations for substantial favours, he showed great
forbearance towards his few enemies. His essays are noted for their clarity and elegant style, as well
as their cheerful and respectful humour. One flaw in Addison's character was a tendency to
convivial excess, which nonetheless should be judged in view of the somewhat lax manners of his
Thackeray wrote Addison and his colleague Richard Steele into the novel The History of Henry
Esmond as characters.
"As a man, he may not have deserved the adoration which he received from those who, bewitched
by his fascinating society, and indebted for all the comforts of life to his generous and delicate
friendship, worshipped him nightly, in his favourite temple at Buttons. But, after full inquiry and
impartial reflection, we have long been convinced that he deserved as much love and esteem as can
be justly claimed by any of our infirm and erring race. Some blemishes may undoubtedly be
detected in his character; but the more carefully it is examined, the more it will appear, to use the
phrase of the old anatomists, sound in the noble parts, free from all taint of perfidy, of cowardice, of
cruelty, of ingratitude, of envy. Men may easily be named, in whom some particular good
disposition has been more conspicuous than in Addison. But the just harmony of qualities, the exact
temper between the stern and the humane virtues, the habitual observance of every law, not only of
moral rectitude, but of moral grace and dignity, distinguish him from all men who have been tried
by equally strong temptations, and about whose conduct we possess equally full information."
Lord Macaulay[12]

Daniel Defoe
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe
Daniel Foe
London, England
24 April 1731 (aged 70-72)
London, England
Writer, journalist, merchant

Daniel Defoe (/dnjl dfo/; c. 1660 24 April 1731),[1] born Daniel Foe, was an English
trader, writer, journalist, pamphleteer, and spy, most famous for his novel Robinson Crusoe. Defoe
is noted for being one of the earliest proponents of the novel, as he helped to popularise the form in
Britain with others such as Samuel Richardson, and is among the founders of the English novel. He
was a prolific and versatile writer, producing more than five hundred books, pamphlets, and
journals on various topics, including politics, crime, religion, marriage, psychology, and the
supernatural. He was also a pioneer of economic journalism.[2]

Early life
Daniel Foe (his original name) was probably born in Fore Street in the parish of St. Giles
Cripplegate, London.[3] Defoe later added the aristocratic-sounding "De" to his name, and on
occasion claimed descent from the family of De Beau Faux. His birthdate and birthplace are
uncertain, and sources offer dates from 16591662, with 1660 considered the most likely. His father
James Foe was a prosperous tallow chandler and a member of the Worshipful Company of
Butchers. In Defoe's early life, he experienced some of the most unusual occurrences in English
history: in 1665, 70,000 were killed by the Great Plague of London, and next year, the Great Fire of
London left standing only Defoe's and two other houses in his neighbourhood.[4] In 1667, when he
was probably about seven, a Dutch fleet sailed up the Medway via the River Thames and attacked
the town of Chatham in the raid on the Medway. His mother Annie had died by the time that he was
about ten.[5][6]

Defoe was educated at the Rev. James Fisher's boarding school in Pixham Lane in Dorking, Surrey.
[7] His parents were Presbyterian dissenters, and around the age of 14 he attended a dissenting
academy at Newington Green in London run by Charles Morton, and he is believed to have
attended the Newington Green Unitarian Church.[8][9] During this period, the English government
persecuted those who chose to worship outside the Church of England.

Business career
Defoe entered the world of business as a general merchant, dealing at different times in hosiery,
general woollen goods, and wine. His ambitions were great and he was able to buy a country estate
and a ship (as well as civets to make perfume), though he was rarely out of debt. In 1684, Defoe
married Mary Tuffley, the daughter of a London merchant, receiving a dowry of 3,700 a huge
amount by the standards of the day. With his debts and political difficulties, the marriage may have
been troubled, but it lasted 50 years and produced eight children.[5]
In 1685, Defoe joined the ill-fated Monmouth Rebellion but gained a pardon, by which he escaped
the Bloody Assizes of Judge George Jeffreys. Queen Mary and her husband William III were jointly
crowned in 1688, and Defoe became one of William's close allies and a secret agent.[5] Some of the
new policies led to conflict with France, thus damaging prosperous trade relationships for Defoe,
who had established himself as a merchant.[5] In 1692, Defoe was arrested for debts of 700 (and
his civets were seized), though his total debts may have amounted to 17,000. His laments were
loud and he always defended unfortunate debtors, but there is evidence that his financial dealings
were not always honest[citation needed].

Following his release, he probably travelled in Europe and Scotland,[citation needed] and it may
have been at this time that he traded wine to Cadiz, Porto, and Lisbon. By 1695, he was back in
England, now formally using the name "Defoe" and serving as a "commissioner of the glass duty",
responsible for collecting taxes on bottles. In 1696, he ran a tile and brick factory in what is now
Tilbury, Essex and lived in the parish of Chadwell St Mary.

Pamphleteering and prison
Daniel Defoe in the pillory, 1862 line engraving by James Charles Armytage after Eyre Crowe
Defoe's first notable publication was An Essay upon Projects, a series of proposals for social and
economic improvement, published in 1697. From 1697 to 1698, he defended the right of King
William III to a standing army during disarmament, after the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) had ended
the Nine Years' War (168897). His most successful poem, The True-Born Englishman (1701),
defended the king against the perceived xenophobia of his enemies, satirising the English claim to
racial purity. In 1701, Defoe presented the Legion's Memorial to the Speaker of the House of
Commons, later his employer Robert Harley, flanked by a guard of sixteen gentlemen of quality. It
demanded the release of the Kentish petitioners, who had asked Parliament to support the king in an
imminent war against France.
The death of William III in 1702 once again created a political upheaval, as the king was replaced
by Queen Anne who immediately began her offensive against Nonconformists.[5] Defoe was a
natural target, and his pamphleteering and political activities resulted in his arrest and placement in
a pillory on 31 July 1703, principally on account of his December 1702 pamphlet entitled The
Shortest-Way with the Dissenters; Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church, purporting to
argue for their extermination.[10] In it, he ruthlessly satirised both the High church Tories and those
Dissenters who hypocritically practised so-called "occasional conformity", such as his Stoke
Newington neighbour Sir Thomas Abney. It was published anonymously, but the true authorship
was quickly discovered and Defoe was arrested.[5] He was charged with seditious libel. Defoe was
found guilty after a trial at the Old Bailey in front of the notoriously sadistic judge Salathiel Lovell.
[2] Lovell sentenced him to a punitive fine, to public humiliation in a pillory, and to an
indeterminate length of imprisonment which would only end upon the discharge of the punitive
fine.[2] According to legend, the publication of his poem Hymn to the Pillory caused his audience at
the pillory to throw flowers instead of the customary harmful and noxious objects and to drink to
his health. The truth of this story is questioned by most scholars, although John Robert Moore later
said that "no man in England but Defoe ever stood in the pillory and later rose to eminence among
his fellow men".[6]
"Wherever God erects a house of prayer
the Devil always builds a chapel there;
And 't will be found, upon examination,
the latter has the largest congregation."
Defoe's The True-Born Englishman, 1701
After his three days in the pillory, Defoe went into Newgate Prison. Robert Harley, 1st Earl of
Oxford and Earl Mortimer, brokered his release in exchange for Defoe's co-operation as an
intelligence agent for the Tories. In exchange for such co-operation with the rival political side,
Harley paid some of Defoe's outstanding debts, improving his financial situation considerably.[5]
Within a week of his release from prison, Defoe witnessed the Great Storm of 1703, which raged
through the night of 26/27 November. It caused severe damage to London and Bristol, uprooted

millions of trees, and killed more than 8,000 people, mostly at sea. The event became the subject of
Defoe's The Storm (1704), which includes a collection of witness accounts of the tempest.[11]
Many regard it as one of the world's first examples of modern journalism.[12] In the same year, he
set up his periodical A Review of the Affairs of France which supported the Harley Ministry,
chronicling the events of the War of the Spanish Succession (17021714). The Review ran three
times a week without interruption until 1713. Defoe was amazed that a man as gifted as Harley left
vital state papers lying in the open, and warned that he was almost inviting an unscrupulous clerk to
commit treason; his warnings were fully justified by the William Gregg affair. When Harley was
ousted from the ministry in 1708, Defoe continued writing the Review to support Godolphin, then
again to support Harley and the Tories in the Tory ministry of 17101714. The Tories fell from
power with the death of Queen Anne, but Defoe continued doing intelligence work for the Whig
government, writing "Tory" pamphlets that undermined the Tory point of view.[5]
Not all of Defoe's pamphlet writing was political. One pamphlet was originally published
anonymously, entitled "A True Relation of the Apparition of One Mrs. Veal the Next Day after her
Death to One Mrs. Bargrave at Canterbury the 8th of September, 1705." It deals with interaction
between the spiritual realm and the physical realm and was most likely written in support of Charles
Drelincourt's The Christian Defense against the Fears of Death (1651). It describes Mrs. Bargrave's
encounter with her old friend Mrs. Veal after she had died. It is clear from this piece and other
writings that the political portion of Defoe's life was by no means his only focus.

Anglo-Scottish Union of 1707

As many as 545 titles have been ascribed to Defoe, ranging from satirical poems, political and
religious pamphlets, and volumes. (Furbank and Owens argue for the much smaller number of 276
published items in Critical Bibliography (1998).) His ambitious business ventures saw him
bankrupt by 1692, with a wife and seven children to support. In 1703, he published a satirical
pamphlet against the High Tories and in favour of religious tolerance entitled The Shortest-Way
with the Dissenters; Or, Proposals for the Establishment of the Church. This pamphlet was widely
misunderstood, as has happened with other ironic writings since, but eventually its author was
prosecuted for seditious libel and was sentenced to be pilloried, fined 200 marks, and detained at the
Queen's pleasure.
Title page from Daniel Defoe's: The History of the Union of Great Britain dated 1709 and printed in
Edinburgh by the Heirs of Anderson
In despair, he wrote to William Paterson, the London Scot and founder of the Bank of England and
part instigator of the Darien scheme, who was in the confidence of Robert Harley, 1st Earl of
Oxford and Earl Mortimer, leading minister and spymaster in the English Government. Harley
accepted Defoe's services and released him in 1703. He immediately published The Review, which
appeared weekly, then three times a week, written mostly by himself. This was the main mouthpiece
of the English Government promoting the Act of Union 1707.
In 1709, Defoe authored a rather lengthy book entitled The History of the Union of Great Britain, an
Edinburgh publication printed by the Heirs of Anderson.[13] The book was not published
anonymously and cites Defoe twice as being its author.[14][15] The book attempts to explain the
facts leading up to the Act of Union 1707, dating all the way back to 6 December 1604 when King
James was presented with a proposal for unification.[16] This so-called "first draft" for unification
took place 100 years before the signing of the 1707 accord, which respectively preceded the
commencement of Robinson Crusoe' by another ten years.
Defoe began his campaign in The Review and other pamphlets aimed at English opinion, claiming
that it would end the threat from the north, gaining for the Treasury an "inexhaustible treasury of
men", a valuable new market increasing the power of England. By September 1706, Harley ordered

Defoe to Edinburgh as a secret agent to do everything possible to help secure acquiescence in the
Treaty of Union. He was conscious of the risk to himself. Thanks to books such as The Letters of
Daniel Defoe (edited by G. H. Healey, Oxford 1955), far more is known about his activities than is
usual with such agents.
His first reports included vivid descriptions of violent demonstrations against the Union. "A Scots
rabble is the worst of its kind", he reported. Years later John Clerk of Penicuik, a leading Unionist,
wrote in his memoirs that,
He was a spy among us, but not known as such, otherwise the Mob of Edinburgh would
pull him to pieces.
Defoe was a Presbyterian who had suffered in England for his convictions, and as such he was
accepted as an adviser to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and committees of the
Parliament of Scotland. He told Harley that he was "privy to all their folly" but "Perfectly
unsuspected as with corresponding with anybody in England". He was then able to influence the
proposals that were put to Parliament and reported,
Having had the honour to be always sent for the committee to whom these amendments
were referrd,
I have had the good fortune to break their measures in two particulars via the bounty on
Corn and
proportion of the Excise.
For Scotland, he used different arguments, even the opposite of those which he used in England,
usually ignoring the English doctrine of the Sovereignty of Parliament, for example, telling the
Scots that they could have complete confidence in the guarantees in the Treaty. Some of his
pamphlets were purported to be written by Scots, misleading even reputable historians into quoting
them as evidence of Scottish opinion of the time. The same is true of a massive history of the Union
which Defoe published in 1709 and which some historians still treat as a valuable contemporary
source for their own works. Defoe took pains to give his history an air of objectivity by giving some
space to arguments against the Union but always having the last word for himself.
He disposed of the main Union opponent, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, by ignoring him. Nor does
he account for the deviousness of the Duke of Hamilton, the official leader of the various factions
opposed to the Union, who seemingly betrayed his former colleagues when he switched to the
Unionist/Government side in the decisive final stages of the debate.
Defoe made no attempt to explain why the same Parliament of Scotland which was so vehement for
its independence from 17031705 became so supine in 1706. He received very little reward from
his paymasters and of course no recognition for his services by the government. He made use of his
Scottish experience to write his Tour thro' the whole Island of Great Britain, published in 1726,
where he admitted that the increase of trade and population in Scotland which he had predicted as a
consequence of the Union was "not the case, but rather the contrary".
Glasgow Bridge as Defoe might have seen it in the 18th century.
Defoe's description of Glasgow (Glaschu) as a "Dear Green Place" has often been misquoted as a
Gaelic translation for the town's name. The Gaelic Glas could mean grey or green, while chu means
dog or hollow. Glaschu probably means "Green Hollow". The "Dear Green Place", like much of
Scotland, was a hotbed of unrest against the Union. The local Tron minister urged his congregation
"to up and anent for the City of God".
The "Dear Green Place" and "City of God" required government troops to put down the rioters
tearing up copies of the Treaty at almost every mercat cross in Scotland. When Defoe visited in the
mid-1720s, he claimed that the hostility towards his party was "because they were English and

because of the Union, which they were almost universally exclaimed against"[citation needed].

Late writing and novels

The extent and particulars are widely contested concerning Defoe's writing in the period from the
Tory fall in 1714 to the publication of Robinson Crusoe in 1719. Defoe comments on the tendency
to attribute tracts of uncertain authorship to him in his apologia Appeal to Honour and Justice
(1715), a defence of his part in Harley's Tory ministry (171014). Other works that anticipate his
novelistic career include The Family Instructor (1715), a conduct manual on religious duty;
Minutes of the Negotiations of Monsr. Mesnager (1717), in which he impersonates Nicolas
Mesnager, the French plenipotentiary who negotiated the Treaty of Utrecht (1713); and A
Continuation of the Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy (1718), a satire of European politics and religion,
ostensibly written by a Muslim in Paris.
Memorial to "Daniel De-Foe", Bunhill Fields, City Road, Borough of Islington, London.
From 1719 to 1724, Defoe published the novels for which he is famous (see below). In the final
decade of his life, he also wrote conduct manuals, including Religious Courtship (1722), The
Complete English Tradesman (1726) and The New Family Instructor (1727). He published a
number of books decrying the breakdown of the social order, such as The Great Law of
Subordination Considered (1724) and Everybody's Business is Nobody's Business (1725) and works
on the supernatural, like The Political History of the Devil (1726), A System of Magick (1727) and
An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions (1727). His works on foreign travel and trade
include A General History of Discoveries and Improvements (1727) and Atlas Maritimus and
Commercialis (1728). Perhaps his greatest achievement with the novels is the magisterial A tour
thro' the whole island of Great Britain (172427), which provided a panoramic survey of British
trade on the eve of the Industrial Revolution.
The Complete English Tradesman
Published in 1726, The Complete English Tradesman is an example of Defoe's political works. He
discusses the role of the tradesman in England in comparison to tradesmen internationally, arguing
that the British system of trade is far superior.[17] He also implies that trade is the backbone of the
British economy: "estate's a pond, but trade's a spring." [17] He praises the practicality of trade not
only within the economy but the social stratification as well. Most of the British gentry, he argues is
at one time or another inextricably linked with the institution of trade, either through personal
experience, marriage, or genealogy.[17] Oftentimes younger members of noble families entered into
trade. Marriage to a tradesmen's daughter by a nobleman was also common. Overall Defoe
demonstrated a high respect for tradesmen, being one himself.
Not only does Defoe elevate individual British tradesmen to the level of gentleman, but he praises
the entirety of British trade as a superior system.[17] Trade, Defoe argues is a much better catalyst
for social and economic change than war. He states the through imperialism and trade expansion the
British empire is able to "increase commerce at home" through job creation and increased
consumption.[17] He states that increased consumption, by laws of supply and demand, increases
production and in turn raises wages for the poor therefore lifting part of British society further out
of poverty.[17]

Robinson Crusoe (1719)
The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1719)
Serious reflections during the life and surprising adventures of Robinson Crusoe: with his

Vision of the angelick world (1720)

Memoirs of a Cavalier (1720)
Captain Singleton (1720)
A Journal of the Plague Year (1722)
Colonel Jack (1722)
Moll Flanders (1722)
Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress (1724)

Robinson Crusoe
Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe (1719) relates the story of a man's shipwreck on a desert island for
thirty years and his subsequent adventures. Usually read as fiction, a coincidence of background
geography suggests that this may be non-fiction. In the opening pages of The Further Adventures of
Robinson Crusoe, the author describes how Crusoe settled in Bedford, married and produced a
family, and that when his wife died, he went off on these further adventures. Bedford is also the
place where the brother of "H. F." in A Journal of the Plague Year retired to avoid the danger of the
plague, so that by implication, if these works were not fiction, Defoe's family met Crusoe in
Bedford, from whence the information in these books was gathered. Defoe went to school in Stoke
Newington, London, with a friend named Caruso.
The novel has been assumed to be based in part on the story of the Scottish castaway Alexander
Selkirk, who spent four years stranded in the Juan Fernndez Islands,[5] but this is inconsistent with
the details of the narrative. The island Selkirk lived on was named Ms a Tierra (Closer to Land) at
the time and was renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966. It has been supposed that Defoe may
have also been inspired by the Latin or English translation of a book by the Andalusian-Arab
Muslim polymath Ibn Tufail, who was known as "Abubacer" in Europe. The Latin edition of the
book was entitled Philosophus Autodidactus and it was an earlier novel that is also set on a deserted
A house near London, England, where Defoe once lived.
Captain Singleton
Defoe's next novel was Captain Singleton (1720), an adventure story whose first half covers a
traversal of Africa and whose second half taps into the contemporary fascination with piracy. It has
been commended for its sensitive depiction of the close relationship between the hero and his
religious mentor, Quaker William Walters.
Memoirs of a Cavalier
Memoirs of a Cavalier (1720), is set during the Thirty Years' War and the English Civil War.
A Journal of the Plague Year
A novel often read as if it were non-fiction, this is his account of the Great Plague of London in
1665. It is undersigned by the initials "H. F.", suggesting the author's uncle Henry Foe. A Journal of
the Plague Year is an historical novel based on extensive research which was published in 1722.
Bring out your dead! The ceaseless chant of doom echoed through a city of emptied
streets and filled grave pits. For this was London in the year of 1665, the Year of the
Great Plague ... In 1721, when the Black Death again threatened the European
Continent, Daniel Defoe wrote "A Journal of the Plague Year" to alert an indifferent
populace to the horror that was almost upon them. Through the eyes of a saddler who
had chosen to remain while multitudes fled, the master realist vividly depicted a plague-

stricken city. He re-enacted the terror of a helpless people caught in a tragedy they could
not comprehend: the weak preying on the dying, the strong administering to the sick,
the sinful orgies of the cynical, the quiet faith of the pious. With dramatic insight he
captured for all time the death throes of a great city.
- Back Cover of the New American Library version of "A Journal of the Plague Year" ; Signet
Classic (c) 1960
Colonel Jack
Colonel Jack (1722) follows an orphaned boy from a life of poverty and crime to colonial
prosperity, military and marital imbroglios, and religious conversion, driven by a problematic
notion of becoming a "gentleman."
Moll Flanders and Roxana
Also in 1722, Defoe wrote Moll Flanders, another first-person picaresque novel of the fall and
eventual redemption of a lone woman in 17th-century England. The titular heroine appears as a
whore, bigamist, and thief, lives in The Mint, commits adultery and incest, and yet manages to
retain the reader's sympathy.
Moll Flanders and Defoe's final novel, Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress (1724), are examples of
the remarkable way in which Defoe seems to inhabit his fictional characters (yet "drawn from life"),
not least in that they are women. Roxanna narrates the moral and spiritual decline of a high society

Bunhill Fields monument detail
Daniel Defoe died on 24 April 1731, probably while in hiding from his creditors. He was interred in
Bunhill Fields, (today Bunhill Fields Burial and Gardens), Borough of Islington, London, where a
monument was erected to his memory in 1870.[22]
Defoe is known to have used at least 198 pen names.[23]

Alexander Pope
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Not to be confused with Pope Alexander.
For other uses, see Alexander Pope (disambiguation).
Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope (c. 1727), an English poet best known for his Essay on Criticism, The Rape of the
Lock and The Dunciad
21 May 1688
London, England


30 May 1744 (aged 56)

Twickenham, Middlesex, Great Britain

Alexander Pope (21 May 1688 30 May 1744) was an 18th-century English poet. He is best
known for his satirical verse, as well as for his translation of Homer. Famous for his use of the
heroic couplet, he is the second-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of
Quotations, after Shakespeare.[1]

Alexander Pope painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller (16461723).
A likeness of Pope derived from a portrait by William Hoare.[2]

Early life
Alexander Pope was born to Alexander Pope Senior (16461717), a linen merchant of Plough
Court, Lombard Street, London, and his wife Edith (ne Turner) (16431733), who were both
Catholics.[3] Edith's sister Christiana was the wife of the famous miniature painter Samuel Cooper.
Pope's education was affected by the recently enacted Test Acts, which upheld the status of the
established Church of England and banned Catholics from teaching, attending a university, voting,
or holding public office on pain of perpetual imprisonment. Pope was taught to read by his aunt,
and went to Twyford School in about 1698/99.[3] He then went to two Catholic schools in London.
[3] Such schools, while illegal, were tolerated in some areas.[4]
In 1700, his family moved to a small estate at Popeswood in Binfield, Berkshire, close to the royal
Windsor Forest.[3] This was due to strong anti-Catholic sentiment and a statute preventing
Catholics from living within 10 miles (16 km) of either London or Westminster.[5] Pope would later
describe the countryside around the house in his poem Windsor Forest. Pope's formal education
ended at this time, and from then on he mostly educated himself by reading the works of classical
writers such as the satirists Horace and Juvenal, the epic poets Homer and Virgil, as well as English
authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and John Dryden.[3] He also studied many
languages and read works by English, French, Italian, Latin, and Greek poets. After five years of
study, Pope came into contact with figures from the London literary society such as William
Wycherley, William Congreve, Samuel Garth, William Trumbull, and William Walsh.[3][4]
At Binfield, he also began to make many important friends. One of them, John Caryll (the future
dedicatee of The Rape of the Lock), was twenty years older than the poet and had made many
acquaintances in the London literary world. He introduced the young Pope to the ageing playwright
William Wycherley and to William Walsh, a minor poet, who helped Pope revise his first major
work, The Pastorals. He also met the Blount sisters, Teresa and Martha, both of whom would
remain lifelong friends.[4]
From the age of 12, he suffered numerous health problems, such as Pott's disease (a form of
tuberculosis that affects the bone), which deformed his body and stunted his growth, leaving him
with a severe hunchback. His tuberculosis infection caused other health problems including
respiratory difficulties, high fevers, inflamed eyes, and abdominal pain.[3] He grew to a height of
only 1.37 m (4 ft 6 in). Pope was already removed from society because he was Catholic; his poor

health only alienated him further. Although he never married, he had many female friends to whom
he wrote witty letters. Allegedly, his lifelong friend Martha Blount was his lover.[4][6][7][8]

Early career
Pope's villa at Twickenham, showing the grotto. From a watercolour produced soon after his death.
Plaque above Pope's Grotto at Twickenham
In May, 1709, Pope's Pastorals was published in the sixth part of Tonson's Poetical Miscellanies.
This brought Pope instant fame, and was followed by An Essay on Criticism, published in May
1711, which was equally well received.
Around 1711, Pope made friends with Tory writers John Gay, Jonathan Swift, Thomas Parnell and
John Arbuthnot, who together formed the satirical Scriblerus Club. The aim of the club was to
satirise ignorance and pedantry in the form of the fictional scholar Martinus Scriblerus. He also
made friends with Whig writers Joseph Addison and Richard Steele. In March 1713, Windsor
Forest was published to great acclaim.[4]
During Pope's friendship with Joseph Addison, he contributed to Addison's play Cato, as well as
writing for The Guardian and The Spectator. Around this time he began the work of translating the
Iliad, which was a painstaking process publication began in 1715 and did not end until 1720.[4]
In 1714, the political situation worsened with the death of Queen Anne and the disputed succession
between the Hanoverians and the Jacobites, leading to the attempted Jacobite Rebellion of 1715.
Though Pope as a Catholic might have been expected to have supported the Jacobites because of his
religious and political affiliations, according to Maynard Mack, "where Pope himself stood on these
matters can probably never be confidently known". These events led to an immediate downturn in
the fortunes of the Tories, and Pope's friend, Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke, fled to
Pope lived in his parents' house in Mawson Row, Chiswick, between 1716 and 1719; the red brick
building is now the Mawson Arms, commemorating him with a blue plaque.[9]
The money made from his translation of Homer allowed Pope to move in 1719 to a villa at
Twickenham, where he created his now famous grotto and gardens. The serendipitous discovery of
a spring during the subterranean retreat's excavations enabled it to be filled with the relaxing sound
of trickling water, which would quietly echo around the chambers. Pope was said to have remarked
that: "Were it to have nymphs as well it would be complete in everything." Although the house
and gardens have long since been demolished, much of this grotto still survives. The grotto now lies
beneath Radnor House Independent Co-ed School, and is occasionally opened to the public.[6][10]

Mawson Arms, Chiswick Lane, with Pope blue plaque

Essay on Criticism
An Essay on Criticism was first published anonymously on 15 May 1711. Pope began writing the
poem early in his career and took about three years to finish it.
At the time the poem was published, the heroic couplet style in which it was written was a
moderately new genre of poetry, and Pope's most ambitious work. An Essay on Criticism was an
attempt to identify and refine his own positions as a poet and critic. The poem was said to be a

response to an ongoing debate on the question of whether poetry should be natural, or written
according to predetermined artificial rules inherited from the classical past.[11]
The poem begins with a discussion of the standard rules that govern poetry by which a critic passes
judgment. Pope comments on the classical authors who dealt with such standards, and the authority
that he believed should be accredited to them. He discusses the laws to which a critic should adhere
while critiquing poetry, and points out that critics serve an important function in aiding poets with
their works, as opposed to the practice of attacking them.[12]
The final section of An Essay on Criticism discusses the moral qualities and virtues inherent in the
ideal critic, who, Pope claims, is also the ideal man.

Rape of the Lock

Pope's most famous poem is The Rape of the Lock, first published in 1712, with a revised version
published in 1714. A mock-epic, it satirises a high-society quarrel between Arabella Fermor (the
"Belinda" of the poem) and Lord Petre, who had snipped a lock of hair from her head without her
permission. The satirical style is tempered, however, by a genuine and almost voyeuristic interest in
the "beau-monde" (fashionable world) of 18th-century English society.[13] The revised and
extended version of the poem brought more clearly into focus its true subject - the onset of
acquisitive individualism and a society of conspicuous consumers. In the world of the poem
purchased artefacts displace human agency, and 'trivial things' assume dominance.[14]

Dunciad and Moral Essays

Alexander Pope, painting attributed to English painter Jonathan Richardson, c.1736 Museum of
Fine Arts, Boston.
Though the Dunciad was first published anonymously in Dublin, its authorship was not in doubt. As
well as Theobald, it pilloried a host of other "hacks", "scribblers" and "dunces". Mack called its
publication "in many ways the greatest act of folly in Pope's life". Though a masterpiece, "it bore
bitter fruit. It brought the poet in his own time the hostility of its victims and their sympathizers,
who pursued him implacably from then on with a few damaging truths and a host of slanders and
lies...". The threats were physical too.
According to his sister, Pope would never go for a walk without the company of his Great Dane,
Bounce, and a pair of loaded pistols in his pocket. Together with John Gay's 'The Beggar's Opera'
and Swift's 'Gulliver's Travels' this first 'Dunciad' was part of a concerted propaganda assault
against Walpole's Whig ministry and the financial revolution it stabilised. Although he was a keen
participant in the stock and money markets, Pope never missed an opportunity to satirise the
personal, social and political effects of the new scheme of things. From 'The Rape of the Lock'
onwards, these satirical themes are a constant in his work.
In 1731, Pope published his "Epistle to Burlington", on the subject of architecture, the first of four
poems which would later be grouped under the title Moral Essays (173135). In the epistle, Pope
ridiculed the bad taste of the aristocrat "Timon". Pope's enemies claimed he was attacking the Duke
of Chandos and his estate, Cannons. Though the charge was untrue, it did Pope a great deal of

Essay on Man
Main article: An Essay on Man
The Essay on Man is a philosophical poem, written in heroic couplets and published between 1732
and 1734. Pope intended this poem to be the centrepiece of a proposed system of ethics that was to

be put forth in poetic form. It was a piece of work that Pope intended to make into a larger work;
however, he did not live to complete it.[15]
The poem is an attempt to "vindicate the ways of God to Man," a variation on Milton's attempt in
Paradise Lost to "justify the ways of God to Man" (1.26). It challenges as prideful an
anthropocentric world-view. The poem is not solely Christian, however; it makes an assumption that
man has fallen and must seek his own salvation.[15]
It consists of four epistles that are addressed to Lord Bolingbroke. Pope presents an idea on his
view on the Universe; he says that no matter how imperfect, complex, inscrutable and disturbing the
Universe appears to be, it functions in a rational fashion according to the natural laws. The natural
laws consider the Universe as a whole a perfect work of God. To humans it appears to be evil and
imperfect in many ways; however, Pope points out that this is due to our limited mindset and
limited intellectual capacity. Pope gets the message across that humans must accept their position in
the "Great Chain of Being" which is at a middle stage between the angels and the beasts of the
world. If we are able to accomplish this then we potentially could lead happy and virtuous lives.[15]
The poem is an affirmative poem of faith: life seems to be chaotic and confusing to man when he is
in the center of it, but according to Pope it is really divinely ordered. In Pope's world, God exists
and is what he centres the Universe around in order to have an ordered structure. The limited
intelligence of man can only take in tiny portions of this order and can experience only partial
truths, hence man must rely on hope which then leads into faith. Man must be aware of his
existence in the Universe and what he brings to it, in terms of riches, power and fame. It is man's
duty to strive to be good regardless of other situations: this is the message Pope is trying to get
across to the reader.[16]

Later life and works

Alexander Pope circa 1742
The Imitations of Horace followed (173338). These were written in the popular Augustan form of
the "imitation" of a classical poet, not so much a translation of his works as an updating with
contemporary references. Pope used the model of Horace to satirise life under George II, especially
what he regarded as the widespread corruption tainting the country under Walpole's influence and
the poor quality of the court's artistic taste.
Pope also added a wholly original poem, An Epistle to Doctor Arbuthnot, as an introduction to the
"Imitations". It reviews his own literary career and includes the famous portraits of Lord Hervey
("Sporus") and Addison ("Atticus"). In 1738 he wrote the Universal Prayer.[17]
After 1738, Pope wrote little. He toyed with the idea of composing a patriotic epic in blank verse
called Brutus, but only the opening lines survive. His major work in these years was revising and
expanding his masterpiece The Dunciad. Book Four appeared in 1742, and a complete revision of
the whole poem in the following year. In this version, Pope replaced the "hero", Lewis Theobald,
with the poet laureate Colley Cibber as "king of dunces". But the real focus of the revised poem is
Walpole and all his works. By now Pope's health, which had never been good, was failing. When
told by his physician, on the morning of his death, that he was better, Pope replied: "Here am I,
dying of a hundred good symptoms."[18][19] He died in his villa surrounded by friends on 30 May
1744, about eleven o'clock at night. On the previous day, 29 May 1744, Pope had called for a priest
and received the Last Rites of the Roman Catholic Church. He was buried in the nave of the Church
of England Church of St Mary the Virgin in Twickenham.

Translations and editions

Translation of the Iliad
Pope had been fascinated by Homer since childhood. In 1713, he announced his plans to publish a
translation of the Iliad. The work would be available by subscription, with one volume appearing
every year over the course of six years. Pope secured a revolutionary deal with the publisher
Bernard Lintot, which brought him two hundred guineas (210) a volume, equivalent to about
27,900 in 2016,[20] a vast sum at the time.
His translation of the Iliad appeared between 1715 and 1720. It was acclaimed by Samuel Johnson
as "a performance which no age or nation could hope to equal" (although the classical scholar
Richard Bentley wrote: "It is a pretty poem, Mr. Pope, but you must not call it Homer.").

Translation of the Odyssey

Frontispiece and titlepage of a 1752 edition of Alexander Pope's extensively annotated translation of
Homer's The Odyssey.
Encouraged by the success of the Iliad, Pope translated the Odyssey. The translation appeared in
1726, but this time, confronted with the arduousness of the task, he enlisted the help of William
Broome and Elijah Fenton. Pope attempted to conceal the extent of the collaboration (he himself
translated only twelve books, Broome eight and Fenton four),[21] but the secret leaked out. It did
some damage to Pope's reputation for a time, but not to his profits.[22]

Edition of Shakespeare's works

In this period, Pope was also employed by the publisher Jacob Tonson to produce an opulent new
edition of Shakespeare. When it finally appeared, in 1725, this edition silently "regularised"
Shakespeare's metre and rewrote his verse in a number of places. Pope also demoted about 1560
lines of Shakespearean material to footnotes, arguing that they were so "excessively bad" that
Shakespeare could never have written them. (Other lines were excluded from the edition
altogether.) In 1726, the lawyer, poet and pantomime deviser Lewis Theobald published a scathing
pamphlet called Shakespeare Restored, which catalogued the errors in Pope's work and suggested a
number of revisions to the text.
The second edition of Pope's Shakespeare appeared in 1728, but aside from making some minor
revisions to the preface, it seems that Pope had little to do with it. Most later 18th-century editors of
Shakespeare dismissed Pope's creatively motivated approach to textual criticism. Pope's preface,
however, continued to be highly rated. It was suggested that Shakespeare's texts were thoroughly
contaminated by actors' interpolations and they would influence editors for most of the 18th

The death of Alexander Pope from Museus, a threnody by William Mason. Diana holds the dying
Pope, and John Milton, Edmund Spenser, and Geoffrey Chaucer prepare to welcome him to heaven.
By the mid-18th century new fashions in poetry emerged. A decade after Pope's death, Joseph
Warton claimed that Pope's style of poetry was not the most excellent form of the art. The Romantic

movement that rose to prominence in early 19th-century England was more ambivalent towards his
work. Though Lord Byron identified Pope as one of his chief influences (believing his scathing
satire of contemporary English literature English Bards and Scotch Reviewers to be a continuance
of Pope's tradition), William Wordsworth found Pope's style fundamentally too decadent a
representation of the human condition.[4] George Gilfillan in his study of 1856 described Pope's
talent as 'a rose peering into the summer air, fine, rather than powerful,[23]
In the 20th century Pope's reputation was revived. Pope's work was found to be full of references to
the people and places of his time, and these aided people's understanding of the past. The postwar
period stressed the power of Pope's poetry, recognising that Pope's immersion in Christian and
Biblical culture lent depth to his poetry. Maynard Mack thought highly of Pope's poetry, arguing
that Pope's moral vision demanded as much respect as his technical excellence. In the years 1953
1967 the production of the definitive Twickenham edition of Pope's poems was published in ten

Feminists have criticised Pope for regarding women as intellectually and physically inferior to men.
Modern criticism of Pope focuses on the man, his circumstances and motivations, prompted by
theoretical perspectives such as Marxism, feminism and other forms of post-structuralism. Brean
Hammond focuses on Pope's singular achievement in making an independent living solely from his
writing. Laura Brown (1985) adopts a Marxist approach and accuses Pope of being an apologist for
the oppressive upper classes. Hammond (1986) has studied Pope's work from the perspectives of
cultural materialism and new historicism. Along Hammond's lines, Raymond Williams explains art
as a set of practices influenced by broad cultural factors rather than simply the vague ideas of
genius alone.[4] Hayden Carruth, wrote that it was "Pope's rationalism and pandeism with which he
wrote the greatest mock-epic in English literature."[24]
In Politics and Poetics of Transgression (1985) Peter Stallybrass and Allon White charge that Pope
drew upon the low culture which he despised in order to produce his own "high art". They assert
Pope was implicated in the very material he was attempting to exclude, not dissimilar to
observations made in Pope's time.[4] Colin Nicholson reads the poetry in terms of the Financial
Revolution, showing how Pope responded to the corruption of the traditional 'landed interest' by the
newly dominant 'moneyed interest'.[25]
Feminists have also criticised Pope's works. Ellen Pollak's The Poetics of Sexual Myth (1985)
argues that Pope followed an anti-feminist tradition, that regarded women as inferior to men both
intellectually and physically. Carolyn Williams contends that a crisis in the male role during the
18th century in Britain affected Pope and his writing.[4]

Jonathan Swift
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Very Reverend

Jonathan Swift
Portrait by Charles Jervas


Pen name


30 November 1667
Dublin, Ireland
19 October 1745 (aged 77)
Dublin, Ireland
M. B. Drapier
Lemuel Gulliver
Isaac Bickerstaff

Political pamphleteer

Language English
Nationality Irish
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin
Gulliver's Travels
A Modest Proposal
Notable works
A Tale of a Tub
Drapier's Letters

Jonathan Swift (shown without wig) by Rupert Barber, 1745, National Portrait Gallery, London
Jonathan Swift (30 November 1667 19 October 1745) was an Anglo-Irish[1] satirist, essayist,
political pamphleteer (first for the Whigs, then for the Tories), poet and cleric who became Dean of
St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin.[2]
Swift is remembered for works such as Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal, A Journal to Stella,
Drapier's Letters, The Battle of the Books, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity and A Tale
of a Tub. He is regarded by the Encyclopdia Britannica as the foremost prose satirist in the
English language,[1] and is less well known for his poetry. He originally published all of his works
under pseudonyms such as Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff, Drapier's Letters as MB Drapier
or anonymously. He is also known for being a master of two styles of satire, the Horatian and
Juvenalian styles.

House in which Swift was born, 1865 illustration

Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin, Ireland. He was the second child and only son of Jonathan Swift
(16401667) and his wife Abigail Erick (or Herrick), of Frisby on the Wreake.[3] His father, a
native of Goodrich, Herefordshire, accompanied his brothers to Ireland to seek their fortunes in law
after their Royalist father's estate was brought to ruin during the English Civil War. Swift's father
died in Dublin about seven months before he was born.[4][5][6] His mother returned to England
after his birth, leaving him in the care of his influential uncle, Godwin, a close friend and confidant
of Sir John Temple, whose son later employed Swift as his secretary.[7]
Swift's family had several interesting literary connections: his grandmother, Elizabeth (Dryden)
Swift, was the niece of Sir Erasmus Dryden, grandfather of the poet John Dryden. The same
grandmother's aunt, Katherine (Throckmorton) Dryden, was a first cousin of Elizabeth, wife of Sir
Walter Raleigh. His great-great grandmother, Margaret (Godwin) Swift, was the sister of Francis
Godwin, author of The Man in the Moone which influenced parts of Swift's Gulliver's Travels. His
uncle, Thomas Swift, married a daughter of the poet and playwright Sir William Davenant, a
godson of William Shakespeare.
Swift's uncle Godwin Swift (16281695), a benefactor, took primary responsibility for the young
Jonathan, sending him with one of his cousins to Kilkenny College (also attended by the
philosopher George Berkeley).[7] In 1682, financed by Godwin's son Willoughby, he attended
Dublin University (Trinity College, Dublin), from which he received his B.A. in 1686, and
developed his friendship with William Congreve. Swift was studying for his master's degree when
political troubles in Ireland surrounding the Glorious Revolution forced him in 1688 to leave for
England, where his mother helped him get a position as secretary and personal assistant of Sir
William Temple at Moor Park, Farnham.[8] Temple was an English diplomat who, having arranged
the Triple Alliance of 1668, had retired from public service to his country estate to tend his gardens
and write his memoirs. Gaining his employer's confidence, Swift "was often trusted with matters of
great importance".[9] Within three years of their acquaintance, Temple had introduced his secretary
to William III and sent him to London to urge the King to consent to a bill for triennial Parliaments.
When Swift took up his residence at Moor Park, he met Esther Johnson, then eight years old, the
daughter of an impoverished widow who acted as companion to Temple's sister, Lady Giffard. Swift
acted as her tutor and mentor, giving her the nickname "Stella", and the two maintained a close but
ambiguous relationship for the rest of Esther's life.[10]
In 1690, Swift left Temple for Ireland because of his health but returned to Moor Park the following
year. The illness, fits of vertigo or giddiness now known to be Mnire's diseasewould continue
to plague Swift throughout his life. During this second stay with Temple, Swift received his M.A.
from Hart Hall, Oxford in 1692. Then, apparently despairing of gaining a better position through
Temple's patronage, Swift left Moor Park to become an ordained priest in the Established Church of
Ireland, and in 1694 he was appointed to the prebend of Kilroot in the Diocese of Connor, with his
parish located at Kilroot, near Carrickfergus in County Antrim.
Swift appears to have been miserable in his new position, being isolated in a small, remote
community far from the centres of power and influence. While at Kilroot, however, Swift may well
have become romantically involved with Jane Waring, whom he called "Varina", the sister of an old
college friend.[9] A letter from him survives, offering to remain if she would marry him and
promising to leave and never return to Ireland if she refused. She presumably refused, because
Swift left his post and returned to England and Temple's service at Moor Park in 1696, and he
remained there until Temple's death. There he was employed in helping to prepare Temple's
memoirs and correspondence for publication. During this time Swift wrote The Battle of the Books,
a satire responding to critics of Temple's Essay upon Ancient and Modern Learning (1690), though
Battle was not published until 1704.
Temple died on 27 January 1699.[9] Swift, normally a harsh judge of human nature, said that all

that was good and amiable in humankind had died with Temple.[9] Swift stayed on briefly in
England to complete the editing of Temple's memoirs, and perhaps in the hope that recognition of
his work might earn him a suitable position in England. Unfortunately, Swift's work made enemies
among some of Temple's family and friends, in particular Temple's formidable sister, Lady Giffard,
who objected to indiscretions included in the memoirs.[10] Swift's next move was to approach King
William directly, based on his imagined connection through Temple and a belief that he had been
promised a position. This failed so miserably that he accepted the lesser post of secretary and
chaplain to the Earl of Berkeley, one of the Lords Justice of Ireland. However, when he reached
Ireland he found that the secretaryship had already been given to another. He soon obtained the
living of Laracor, Agher, and Rathbeggan, and the prebend of Dunlavin in St Patrick's Cathedral,
At Laracor, just over four and half miles (7.5 km) from Summerhill, County Meath, and twenty
miles (32 km) from Dublin, Swift ministered to a congregation of about fifteen and had abundant
leisure for cultivating his garden, making a canal (after the Dutch fashion of Moor Park), planting
willows, and rebuilding the vicarage. As chaplain to Lord Berkeley, he spent much of his time in
Dublin and travelled to London frequently over the next ten years. In 1701, Swift anonymously
published a political pamphlet, A Discourse on the Contests and Dissentions in Athens and Rome.

In February 1702, Swift received his Doctor of Divinity degree from Trinity College, Dublin. That
spring he travelled to England and then returned to Ireland in October, accompanied by Esther
Johnsonnow 20and his friend Rebecca Dingley, another member of William Temple's
household. There is a great mystery and controversy over Swift's relationship with Esther Johnson,
nicknamed "Stella". Many, notably his close friend Thomas Sheridan, believed that they were
secretly married in 1716; others, like Swift's housekeeper Mrs Brent and Rebecca Dingley (who
lived with Stella all through her years in Ireland) dismissed the story as absurd.[12] Swift certainly
did not wish her to marry anyone else: in 1704, when their mutual friend William Tisdall informed
Swift that he intended to propose to Stella, Swift wrote to him to dissuade him from the idea.
Although the tone of the letter was courteous, Swift privately expressed his disgust for Tisdall as an
"interloper", and they were estranged for many years.
During his visits to England in these years, Swift published A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the
Books (1704) and began to gain a reputation as a writer. This led to close, lifelong friendships with
Alexander Pope, John Gay, and John Arbuthnot, forming the core of the Martinus Scriblerus Club
(founded in 1713).
Swift became increasingly active politically in these years.[13] From 1707 to 1709 and again in
1710, Swift was in London unsuccessfully urging upon the Whig administration of Lord Godolphin
the claims of the Irish clergy to the First-Fruits and Twentieths ("Queen Anne's Bounty"), which
brought in about 2,500 a year, already granted to their brethren in England. He found the
opposition Tory leadership more sympathetic to his cause, and, when they came to power in 1710,
he was recruited to support their cause as editor of The Examiner. In 1711, Swift published the
political pamphlet The Conduct of the Allies, attacking the Whig government for its inability to end
the prolonged war with France. The incoming Tory government conducted secret (and illegal)
negotiations with France, resulting in the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) ending the War of the Spanish
Swift was part of the inner circle of the Tory government,[14] and often acted as mediator between
Henry St John (Viscount Bolingbroke), the secretary of state for foreign affairs (171015), and
Robert Harley (Earl of Oxford), lord treasurer and prime minister (17111714). Swift recorded his
experiences and thoughts during this difficult time in a long series of letters to Esther Johnson,
collected and published after his death as A Journal to Stella. The animosity between the two Tory
leaders eventually led to the dismissal of Harley in 1714. With the death of Queen Anne and

accession of George I that year, the Whigs returned to power, and the Tory leaders were tried for
treason for conducting secret negotiations with France.
Also during these years in London, Swift became acquainted with the Vanhomrigh family (Dutch
merchants who had settled in Ireland, then moved to London) and became involved with one of the
daughters, Esther. Swift furnished Esther with the nickname "Vanessa", and she features as one of
the main characters in his poem Cadenus and Vanessa. The poem and their correspondence suggest
that Esther was infatuated with Swift, and that he may have reciprocated her affections, only to
regret this and then try to break off the relationship.[15] Esther followed Swift to Ireland in 1714,
and settled at her old family home, Celbridge Abbey. Their uneasy relationship continued for some
years; then there appears to have been a confrontation, possibly involving Esther Johnson. Esther
Vanhomrigh died in 1723 at the age of 35, having destroyed the will she had made in Swift's favour.
[16] Another lady with whom he had a close but less intense relationship was Anne Long, a toast of
the Kit-Cat Club.

Bust in St Patrick's Cathedral
Before the fall of the Tory government, Swift hoped that his services would be rewarded with a
church appointment in England. However, Queen Anne appeared to have taken a dislike to Swift
and thwarted these efforts. Her dislike has been attributed to The Tale of a Tub, which she thought
blasphemous, compounded by The Windsor Prophecy, where Swift, with a surprising lack of tact,
advised the Queen on which of her bedchamber ladies she should and which she should not trust.
[17] The best position his friends could secure for him was the Deanery of St Patrick's; this was not
in the Queen's gift and Anne, who could be a bitter enemy, made it clear that Swift would not have
received the preferment if she could have prevented it.[18] With the return of the Whigs, Swift's
best move was to leave England and he returned to Ireland in disappointment, a virtual exile, to live
"like a rat in a hole".[19]
Once in Ireland, however, Swift began to turn his pamphleteering skills in support of Irish causes,
producing some of his most memorable works: Proposal for Universal Use of Irish Manufacture
(1720), Drapier's Letters (1724), and A Modest Proposal (1729), earning him the status of an Irish
patriot.[20] This new role was unwelcome to the Government, which made clumsy attempts to
silence him. His printer, Edward Waters, was convicted of seditious libel in 1720, but four years
later a grand jury refused to find that the Drapier's Letters (which, though written under a
pseudonym, were universally known to be Swift's work) were seditious.[21] Swift responded with
an attack on the Irish judiciary almost unparalleled in its ferocity, his principal target being the "vile
and profligate villain" William Whitshed, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.[22]
Also during these years, he began writing his masterpiece, Travels into Several Remote Nations of
the World, in Four Parts, by Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships,
better known as Gulliver's Travels. Much of the material reflects his political experiences of the
preceding decade. For instance, the episode in which the giant Gulliver puts out the Lilliputian
palace fire by urinating on it can be seen as a metaphor for the Tories' illegal peace treaty; having
done a good thing in an unfortunate manner. In 1726 he paid a long-deferred visit to London,[23]
taking with him the manuscript of Gulliver's Travels. During his visit he stayed with his old friends
Alexander Pope, John Arbuthnot and John Gay, who helped him arrange for the anonymous
publication of his book. First published in November 1726, it was an immediate hit, with a total of
three printings that year and another in early 1727. French, German, and Dutch translations
appeared in 1727, and pirated copies were printed in Ireland.
Swift returned to England one more time in 1727 and stayed with Alexander Pope once again. The
visit was cut short when Swift received word that Esther Johnson was dying, and rushed back home

to be with her.[23] On 28 January 1728, Esther Johnson died; Swift had prayed at her bedside, even
composing prayers for her comfort. Swift could not bear to be present at the end, but on the night of
her death he began to write his The Death of Mrs Johnson. He was too ill to attend the funeral at St
Patrick's.[23] Many years later, a lock of hair, assumed to be Esther Johnson's, was found in his
desk, wrapped in a paper bearing the words, "Only a woman's hair".
Swift's death mask
Death became a frequent feature of Swift's life from this point. In 1731 he wrote Verses on the
Death of Dr. Swift, his own obituary published in 1739. In 1732, his good friend and collaborator
John Gay died. In 1735, John Arbuthnot, another friend from his days in London, died. In 1738
Swift began to show signs of illness, and in 1742 he may have suffered a stroke, losing the ability to
speak and realising his worst fears of becoming mentally disabled. ("I shall be like that tree," he
once said, "I shall die at the top.")[24] He became increasingly quarrelsome, and long-standing
friendships, like that with Thomas Sheridan, ended without sufficient cause. To protect him from
unscrupulous hangers on, who had begun to prey on the great man, his closest companions had him
declared of "unsound mind and memory". However, it was long believed by many that Swift was
actually insane at this point. In his book Literature and Western Man, author J. B. Priestley even
cites the final chapters of Gulliver's Travels as proof of Swift's approaching "insanity".
In part VIII of his series, The Story of Civilization, Will Durant describes the final years of Swift's
life as such:
"Definite symptoms of madness appeared in 1738. In 1741 guardians were appointed to
take care of his affairs and watch lest in his outbursts of violence he should do himself
harm. In 1742 he suffered great pain from the inflammation of his left eye, which
swelled to the size of an egg; five attendants had to restrain him from tearing out his
eye. He went a whole year without uttering a word."[25]
In 1744, Alexander Pope died. Then on 19 October 1745, Swift, at nearly 80, died.[26] After being
laid out in public view for the people of Dublin to pay their last respects, he was buried in his own
cathedral by Esther Johnson's side, in accordance with his wishes. The bulk of his fortune (12,000)
was left to found a hospital for the mentally ill, originally known as St Patricks Hospital for
Imbeciles, which opened in 1757, and which still exists as a psychiatric hospital.[26]

Epitaph in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin near his burial site.
Text extracted from the introduction to The Journal to Stella by George A. Aitken and from
other sources)
Jonathan Swift wrote his own epitaph:
Hic depositum est Corpus
Hujus Ecclesi Cathedralis
Ubi sva Indignatio
Cor lacerare nequit,
Abi Viator
Et imitare, si poteris,
Strenuum pro virili

Here is laid the Body

of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Sacred Theology,
Dean of this Cathedral Church,
where fierce Indignation
can no longer
injure the Heart.
Go forth, Voyager,
and copy, if you can,
this vigorous (to the best of his ability)

Libertatis Vindicatorem.

Champion of Liberty.

Obiit 19 Die Mensis Octobris He died on the 19th Day of the Month of October,
A.D. 1745 Anno tatis 78. A.D. 1745, in the 78th Year of his Age.
W. B. Yeats poetically translated it from the Latin as:
Swift has sailed into his rest;
Savage indignation there
Cannot lacerate his breast.
Imitate him if you dare,
World-besotted traveller; he
Served human liberty.

Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Jonathan Swift
Swift was a prolific writer, notable for his satires. The most recent collection of his prose works
(Herbert Davis, ed. Basil Blackwell, 1965) comprises fourteen volumes. A recent edition of his
complete poetry (Pat Rodges, ed. Penguin, 1983) is 953 pages long. One edition of his
correspondence (David Woolley, ed. P. Lang, 1999) fills three volumes.

Major prose works

Jonathan Swift at the Deanery of St Patrick's, illus. from 1905 Temple Scott edition of Works
The title page to Swift's 1735 Works, depicting the author in the Dean's chair, receiving the thanks
of Ireland. The Horatian motto reads, Exegi Monumentum re perennius, "I have completed a
monument more lasting than brass." The 'brass' is a pun, for Wood's half-pence (alloyed with brass)
is scattered at his feet. Cherubim award Swift a poet's laurel.
Swift's first major prose work, A Tale of a Tub, demonstrates many of the themes and stylistic
techniques he would employ in his later work. It is at once wildly playful and funny while being
pointed and harshly critical of its targets. In its main thread, the Tale recounts the exploits of three
sons, representing the main threads of Christianity, who receive a bequest from their father of a coat
each, with the added instructions to make no alterations whatsoever. However, the sons soon find
that their coats have fallen out of current fashion, and begin to look for loopholes in their father's
will that will let them make the needed alterations. As each finds his own means of getting around
their father's admonition, they struggle with each other for power and dominance. Inserted into this
story, in alternating chapters, the narrator includes a series of whimsical "digressions" on various
In 1690, Sir William Temple, Swift's patron, published An Essay upon Ancient and Modern
Learning a defence of classical writing (see Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns), holding up
the Epistles of Phalaris as an example. William Wotton responded to Temple with Reflections upon
Ancient and Modern Learning (1694), showing that the Epistles were a later forgery. A response by
the supporters of the Ancients was then made by Charles Boyle (later the 4th Earl of Orrery and
father of Swift's first biographer). A further retort on the Modern side came from Richard Bentley,
one of the pre-eminent scholars of the day, in his essay Dissertation upon the Epistles of Phalaris
(1699). The final words on the topic belong to Swift in his Battle of the Books (1697, published
1704) in which he makes a humorous defence on behalf of Temple and the cause of the Ancients.

In 1708, a cobbler named John Partridge published a popular almanac of astrological predictions.
Because Partridge falsely determined the deaths of several church officials, Swift attacked Partridge
in Predictions for the Ensuing Year by Isaac Bickerstaff, a parody predicting that Partridge would
die on 29 March. Swift followed up with a pamphlet issued on 30 March claiming that Partridge
had in fact died, which was widely believed despite Partridge's statements to the contrary.
According to other sources,[citation needed] Richard Steele uses the personae of Isaac Bickerstaff
and was the one who wrote about the "death" of John Partridge and published it in The Spectator,
not Jonathan Swift.
Drapier's Letters (1724) was a series of pamphlets against the monopoly granted by the English
government to William Wood to provide the Irish with copper coinage. It was widely believed that
Wood would need to flood Ireland with debased coinage in order make a profit. In these "letters"
Swift posed as a shop-keepera draperto criticise the plan. Swift's writing was so effective in
undermining opinion in the project that a reward was offered by the government to anyone
disclosing the true identity of the author. Though hardly a secret (on returning to Dublin after one of
his trips to England, Swift was greeted with a banner, "Welcome Home, Drapier") no one turned
Swift in, although there was an unsuccessful attempt to prosecute the publisher Harding.[27] The
government eventually resorted to hiring none other than Sir Isaac Newton to certify the soundness
of Wood's coinage to counter Swift's accusations. In "Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift" (1739)
Swift recalled this as one of his best achievements.
Gulliver's Travels, a large portion of which Swift wrote at Woodbrook House in County Laois, was
published in 1726. It is regarded as his masterpiece. As with his other writings, the Travels was
published under a pseudonym, the fictional Lemuel Gulliver, a ship's surgeon and later a sea
captain. Some of the correspondence between printer Benj. Motte and Gulliver's also-fictional
cousin negotiating the book's publication has survived. Though it has often been mistakenly thought
of and published in bowdlerised form as a children's book, it is a great and sophisticated satire of
human nature based on Swift's experience of his times. Gulliver's Travels is an anatomy of human
nature, a sardonic looking-glass, often criticised for its apparent misanthropy. It asks its readers to
refute it, to deny that it has adequately characterised human nature and society. Each of the four
booksrecounting four voyages to mostly fictional exotic landshas a different theme, but all are
attempts to deflate human pride. Critics hail the work as a satiric reflection on the shortcomings of
Enlightenment thought.
In 1729, Swift published A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland
Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick, a
satire in which the narrator, with intentionally grotesque arguments, recommends that Ireland's poor
escape their poverty by selling their children as food to the rich: "I have been assured by a very
knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a
year old a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food..." Following the satirical form, he
introduces the reforms he is actually suggesting by deriding them:
Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients...taxing our absentees...using
[nothing] except what is of our own growth and manufacture...rejecting...foreign
luxury...introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance...learning to love our
country...quitting our animosities and factions...teaching landlords to have at least one
degree of mercy towards their tenants....Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of
these and the like expedients, 'till he hath at least some glympse of hope, that there will
ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.

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William Blake
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Blake

Notable works

Blake in a portrait
by Thomas Phillips (1807)
28 November 1757
Soho, London, Great Britain
12 August 1827 (aged 69)
Charing Cross, London, Great Britain[1]
Poet, painter, printmaker
Visionary, poetry
Songs of Innocence and of Experience, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, The
Four Zoas, Jerusalem, Milton, And did those feet in ancient time
Catherine Boucher (17821827, his death)

William Blake (28 November 1757 12 August 1827) was an English poet, painter, and
printmaker. Largely unrecognised during his lifetime, Blake is now considered a seminal figure in
the history of the poetry and visual arts of the Romantic Age. His prophetic poetry has been said to
form "what is in proportion to its merits the least read body of poetry in the English language".[2]
His visual artistry led one contemporary art critic to proclaim him "far and away the greatest artist
Britain has ever produced".[3] In 2002, Blake was placed at number 38 in the BBC's poll of the 100
Greatest Britons.[4] Although he lived in London his entire life (except for three years spent in
Felpham),[5] he produced a diverse and symbolically rich uvre, which embraced the imagination
as "the body of God"[6] or "human existence itself".[7]
Although Blake was considered mad by contemporaries for his idiosyncratic views, he is held in
high regard by later critics for his expressiveness and creativity, and for the philosophical and
mystical undercurrents within his work. His paintings and poetry have been characterised as part of
the Romantic movement and as "Pre-Romantic".[8] Reverent of the Bible but hostile to the Church
of England (indeed, to almost all forms of organised religion), Blake was influenced by the ideals
and ambitions of the French and American Revolutions.[9] Though later he rejected many of these
political beliefs, he maintained an amiable relationship with the political activist Thomas Paine; he

was also influenced by thinkers such as Emanuel Swedenborg.[10] Despite these known influences,
the singularity of Blake's work makes him difficult to classify. The 19th-century scholar William
Rossetti characterised him as a "glorious luminary",[11] and "a man not forestalled by predecessors,
nor to be classed with contemporaries, nor to be replaced by known or readily surmisable

Early life
28 Broad Street (now Broadwick Street) in an illustration of 1912. Blake was born here and lived
here until he was 25. The house was demolished in 1965.[13]
William Blake was born on 28 November 1757 at 28 Broad Street (now Broadwick St.) in Soho,
London. He was the third of seven children,[14][15] two of whom died in infancy. Blake's father,
James, was a hosier.[15] He attended school only long enough to learn reading and writing, leaving
at the age of ten, and was otherwise educated at home by his mother Catherine Blake (ne Wright).
[16] Even though the Blakes were English Dissenters,[17] William was baptised on 11 December at
St James's Church, Piccadilly, London.[18] The Bible was an early and profound influence on
Blake, and remained a source of inspiration throughout his life.
Blake started engraving copies of drawings of Greek antiquities purchased for him by his father, a
practice that was preferred to actual drawing. Within these drawings Blake found his first exposure
to classical forms through the work of Raphael, Michelangelo, Maarten van Heemskerck and
Albrecht Drer. The number of prints and bound books that James and Catherine were able to
purchase for young William suggests that the Blakes enjoyed, at least for a time, a comfortable
wealth.[17] When William was ten years old, his parents knew enough of his headstrong
temperament that he was not sent to school but instead enrolled in drawing classes at Pars's drawing
school in the Strand.[19] He read avidly on subjects of his own choosing. During this period, Blake
made explorations into poetry; his early work displays knowledge of Ben Jonson, Edmund Spenser,
and the Psalms.

Apprenticeship to Basire
The archetype of the Creator is a familiar image in Blake's work. Here, the demiurgic figure Urizen
prays before the world he has forged. The Song of Los is the third in a series of illuminated books
painted by Blake and his wife, collectively known as the Continental Prophecies.
On 4 August 1772, Blake was apprenticed to engraver James Basire of Great Queen Street, at the
sum of 52.10, for a term of seven years.[15] At the end of the term, aged 21, he became a
professional engraver. No record survives of any serious disagreement or conflict between the two
during the period of Blake's apprenticeship, but Peter Ackroyd's biography notes that Blake later
added Basire's name to a list of artistic adversaries and then crossed it out.[20] This aside, Basire's
style of line-engraving was of a kind held at the time to be old-fashioned compared to the flashier
stipple or mezzotint styles.[21] It has been speculated that Blake's instruction in this outmoded form
may have been detrimental to his acquiring of work or recognition in later life.
After two years, Basire sent his apprentice to copy images from the Gothic churches in London
(perhaps to settle a quarrel between Blake and James Parker, his fellow apprentice). His experiences
in Westminster Abbey helped form his artistic style and ideas. The Abbey of his day was decorated
with suits of armour, painted funeral effigies and varicoloured waxworks. Ackroyd notes that "...the
most immediate [impression] would have been of faded brightness and colour".[22] This close
study of the Gothic (which he saw as the "living form") left clear traces in his style.[23] In the long

afternoons Blake spent sketching in the Abbey, he was occasionally interrupted by boys from
Westminster School, who were allowed in the Abbey. They teased him and one tormented him so
much that James knocked the boy off a scaffold to the ground, "upon which he fell with terrific
Violence".[24] After James complained to the Dean, the schoolboys' privilege was withdrawn.[23]
Blake experienced visions in the Abbey, he saw Christ and his Apostles and a great procession of
monks and priests and heard their chant.[23]

Royal Academy
On 8 October 1779, Blake became a student at the Royal Academy in Old Somerset House, near the
Strand. While the terms of his study required no payment, he was expected to supply his own
materials throughout the six-year period. There, he rebelled against what he regarded as the
unfinished style of fashionable painters such as Rubens, championed by the school's first president,
Joshua Reynolds. Over time, Blake came to detest Reynolds' attitude towards art, especially his
pursuit of "general truth" and "general beauty". Reynolds wrote in his Discourses that the
"disposition to abstractions, to generalising and classification, is the great glory of the human
mind"; Blake responded, in marginalia to his personal copy, that "To Generalize is to be an Idiot; To
Particularize is the Alone Distinction of Merit".[25] Blake also disliked Reynolds' apparent
humility, which he held to be a form of hypocrisy. Against Reynolds' fashionable oil painting, Blake
preferred the Classical precision of his early influences, Michelangelo and Raphael.
David Bindman suggests that Blake's antagonism towards Reynolds arose not so much from the
president's opinions (like Blake, Reynolds held history painting to be of greater value than
landscape and portraiture), but rather "against his hypocrisy in not putting his ideals into
practice."[26] Certainly Blake was not averse to exhibiting at the Royal Academy, submitting works
on six occasions between 1780 and 1808.
Blake became a friend of John Flaxman, Thomas Stothard and George Cumberland during his first
year at the Royal Academy. They shared radical views, with Stothard and Cumberland joining the
Society for Constitutional Information.[27]

Gordon Riots
Blake's first biographer, Alexander Gilchrist, records that in June 1780 Blake was walking towards
Basire's shop in Great Queen Street when he was swept up by a rampaging mob that stormed
Newgate Prison.[28] The mob attacked the prison gates with shovels and pickaxes, set the building
ablaze, and released the prisoners inside. Blake was reportedly in the front rank of the mob during
the attack. The riots, in response to a parliamentary bill revoking sanctions against Roman
Catholicism, became known as the Gordon Riots and provoked a flurry of legislation from the
government of George III, and the creation of the first police force.
Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing (1786)

Marriage and early career

Blake met Catherine Boucher in 1782 when he was recovering from a relationship that had
culminated in a refusal of his marriage proposal. He recounted the story of his heartbreak for
Catherine and her parents, after which he asked Catherine, "Do you pity me?" When she responded
affirmatively, he declared, "Then I love you." Blake married Catherine who was five years his
junior on 18 August 1782 in St Mary's Church, Battersea. Illiterate, Catherine signed her wedding
contract with an X. The original wedding certificate may be viewed at the church, where a
commemorative stained-glass window was installed between 1976 and 1982.[29] Later, in addition
to teaching Catherine to read and write, Blake trained her as an engraver. Throughout his life she

proved an invaluable aid, helping to print his illuminated works and maintaining his spirits
throughout numerous misfortunes.
Blake's first collection of poems, Poetical Sketches, was printed around 1783.[30] After his father's
death, Blake and former fellow apprentice James Parker opened a print shop in 1784, and began
working with radical publisher Joseph Johnson.[31] Johnson's house was a meeting-place for some
leading English intellectual dissidents of the time: theologian and scientist Joseph Priestley,
philosopher Richard Price, artist John Henry Fuseli,[32] early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and
English-American revolutionary Thomas Paine. Along with William Wordsworth and William
Godwin, Blake had great hopes for the French and American revolutions and wore a Phrygian cap
in solidarity with the French revolutionaries, but despaired with the rise of Robespierre and the
Reign of Terror in France. In 1784 Blake composed his unfinished manuscript An Island in the
Blake illustrated Original Stories from Real Life (2nd edition, 1791) by Mary Wollstonecraft. They
seem to have shared some views on sexual equality and the institution of marriage, but there is no
evidence proving without doubt that they actually met. In 1793's Visions of the Daughters of Albion,
Blake condemned the cruel absurdity of enforced chastity and marriage without love and defended
the right of women to complete self-fulfilment.
From 1790 to 1800, William Blake lived in North Lambeth, London, at 13 Hercules Buildings,
Hercules Road.[33] The property was demolished in 1918, but the site is now marked with a plaque.
[34] There is a series of 70 mosaics inspired by Blake in the nearby railway tunnels of Waterloo

Relief etching
In 1788, aged 31, Blake experimented with relief etching, a method he used to produce most of his
books, paintings, pamphlets and poems. The process is also referred to as illuminated printing, and
the finished products as illuminated books or prints. Illuminated printing involved writing the text
of the poems on copper plates with pens and brushes, using an acid-resistant medium. Illustrations
could appear alongside words in the manner of earlier illuminated manuscripts. He then etched the
plates in acid to dissolve the untreated copper and leave the design standing in relief (hence the
This is a reversal of the usual method of etching, where the lines of the design are exposed to the
acid, and the plate printed by the intaglio method. Relief etching (which Blake referred to as
"stereotype" in The Ghost of Abel) was intended as a means for producing his illuminated books
more quickly than via intaglio. Stereotype, a process invented in 1725, consisted of making a metal
cast from a wood engraving, but Blake's innovation was, as described above, very different. The
pages printed from these plates were hand-coloured in water colours and stitched together to form a
volume. Blake used illuminated printing for most of his well-known works, including Songs of
Innocence and of Experience, The Book of Thel, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Jerusalem.

Although Blake has become most famous for his relief etching, his commercial work largely
consisted of intaglio engraving, the standard process of engraving in the 18th century in which the
artist incised an image into the copper plate, a complex and laborious process, with plates taking
months or years to complete, but as Blake's contemporary, John Boydell, realised, such engraving
offered a "missing link with commerce", enabling artists to connect with a mass audience and
became an immensely important activity by the end of the 18th century.[38]
Blake employed intaglio engraving in his own work, most notably for the illustrations of the Book

of Job, completed just before his death. Most critical work has concentrated on Blake's relief
etching as a technique because it is the most innovative aspect of his art, but a 2009 study drew
attention to Blake's surviving plates, including those for the Book of Job: they demonstrate that he
made frequent use of a technique known as "repoussage", a means of obliterating mistakes by
hammering them out by hitting the back of the plate. Such techniques, typical of engraving work of
the time, are very different to the much faster and fluid way of drawing on a plate that Blake
employed for his relief etching, and indicates why the engravings took so long to complete.[39]

Later life and career

The cottage in Felpham where Blake lived from 1800 until 1803.
Blake's marriage to Catherine was close and devoted until his death. Blake taught Catherine to
write, and she helped him colour his printed poems.[40] Gilchrist refers to "stormy times" in the
early years of the marriage.[41] Some biographers have suggested that Blake tried to bring a
concubine into the marriage bed in accordance with the beliefs of the more radical branches of the
Swedenborgian Society,[42] but other scholars have dismissed these theories as conjecture.[43]
William and Catherine's first daughter and last child might be Thel described in The Book of Thel
who was conceived as dead.[44]
The Night of Enitharmon's Joy, 1795. Blake's vision of Hecate, Greek goddess of black magic and
the underworld

In 1800, Blake moved to a cottage at Felpham, in Sussex (now West Sussex), to take up a job
illustrating the works of William Hayley, a minor poet. It was in this cottage that Blake began
Milton (the title page is dated 1804, but Blake continued to work on it until 1808). The preface to
this work includes a poem beginning "And did those feet in ancient time", which became the words
for the anthem "Jerusalem". Over time, Blake began to resent his new patron, believing that Hayley
was uninterested in true artistry, and preoccupied with "the meer drudgery of business" (E724).
Blake's disenchantment with Hayley has been speculated to have influenced Milton: a Poem, in
which Blake wrote that "Corporeal Friends are Spiritual Enemies". (4:26, E98)
Blake's trouble with authority came to a head in August 1803, when he was involved in a physical
altercation with a soldier, John Schofield.[45] Blake was charged not only with assault, but with
uttering seditious and treasonable expressions against the king. Schofield claimed that Blake had
exclaimed "Damn the king. The soldiers are all slaves."[46] Blake was cleared in the Chichester
assizes of the charges. According to a report in the Sussex county paper, "[T]he invented character
of [the evidence] was ... so obvious that an acquittal resulted".[47] Schofield was later depicted
wearing "mind forged manacles" in an illustration to Jerusalem.[48]

Return to London
Sketch of Blake from circa 1804 by John Flaxman
Blake returned to London in 1804 and began to write and illustrate Jerusalem (180420), his most
ambitious work. Having conceived the idea of portraying the characters in Chaucer's Canterbury
Tales, Blake approached the dealer Robert Cromek, with a view to marketing an engraving.
Knowing Blake was too eccentric to produce a popular work, Cromek promptly commissioned
Blake's friend Thomas Stothard to execute the concept. When Blake learned he had been cheated,
he broke off contact with Stothard. He set up an independent exhibition in his brother's

haberdashery shop at 27 Broad Street in Soho. The exhibition was designed to market his own
version of the Canterbury illustration (titled The Canterbury Pilgrims), along with other works. As a
result, he wrote his Descriptive Catalogue (1809), which contains what Anthony Blunt called a
"brilliant analysis" of Chaucer and is regularly anthologised as a classic of Chaucer criticism.[49] It
also contained detailed explanations of his other paintings. The exhibition was very poorly attended,
selling none of the temperas or watercolours. Its only review, in The Examiner, was hostile.[50]
Blake's The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with Sun (1805) is one of a series of
illustrations of Revelation 12.
Also around this time (circa 1808), Blake gave vigorous expression of views on art in an extensive
series of polemical annotations to the Discourses of Sir Joshua Reynolds, denouncing the British
Academy as a fraud and proclaiming, "To Generalize is to be an Idiot".[51]
In 1818, he was introduced by George Cumberland's son to a young artist named John Linnell.[52]
A blue plaque commemorates Blake and Linnell at Old Wyldes' at North End, Hampstead.[53]
Through Linnell he met Samuel Palmer, who belonged to a group of artists who called themselves
the Shoreham Ancients. The group shared Blake's rejection of modern trends and his belief in a
spiritual and artistic New Age. Aged 65, Blake began work on illustrations for the Book of Job, later
admired by Ruskin, who compared Blake favourably to Rembrandt, and by Vaughan Williams, who
based his ballet Job: A Masque for Dancing on a selection of the illustrations.
In later life Blake began to sell a great number of his works, particularly his Bible illustrations, to
Thomas Butts, a patron who saw Blake more as a friend than a man whose work held artistic merit;
this was typical of the opinions held of Blake throughout his life.
Dante's Divine Comedy
William Blake's image of the Minotaur to illustrate Inferno, Canto XII,1228, The Minotaur XII
"Head of William Blake" by James De Ville. Life mask taken in plaster cast in September 1823,
Fitzwilliam Museum
The commission for Dante's Divine Comedy came to Blake in 1826 through Linnell, with the aim of
producing a series of engravings. Blake's death in 1827 cut short the enterprise, and only a handful
of watercolours were completed, with only seven of the engravings arriving at proof form. Even so,
they have evoked praise:
'[T]he Dante watercolours are among Blake's richest achievements, engaging fully with the
problem of illustrating a poem of this complexity. The mastery of watercolour has reached an
even higher level than before, and is used to extraordinary effect in differentiating the
atmosphere of the three states of being in the poem'.[54]
Blake's The Lovers' Whirlwind illustrates Hell in Canto V of Dante's Inferno
Blake's illustrations of the poem are not merely accompanying works, but rather seem to critically
revise, or furnish commentary on, certain spiritual or moral aspects of the text.
Because the project was never completed, Blake's intent may be obscured. Some indicators bolster
the impression that Blake's illustrations in their totality would take issue with the text they
accompany: In the margin of Homer Bearing the Sword and His Companions, Blake notes, "Every
thing in Dantes Comedia shews That for Tyrannical Purposes he has made This World the
Foundation of All & the Goddess Nature & not the Holy Ghost." Blake seems to dissent from
Dante's admiration of the poetic works of ancient Greece, and from the apparent glee with which

Dante allots punishments in Hell (as evidenced by the grim humour of the cantos).
At the same time, Blake shared Dante's distrust of materialism and the corruptive nature of power,
and clearly relished the opportunity to represent the atmosphere and imagery of Dante's work
pictorially. Even as he seemed to be near death, Blake's central preoccupation was his feverish work
on the illustrations to Dante's Inferno; he is said to have spent one of the very last shillings he
possessed on a pencil to continue sketching.[55]
Monument near Blake's unmarked grave at Bunhill Fields in London
Blakes's last years were spent at Fountain Court off the Strand (the property was demolished in the
1880s, when the Savoy Hotel was built).[1] On the day of his death (12 August 1827), Blake
worked relentlessly on his Dante series. Eventually, it is reported, he ceased working and turned to
his wife, who was in tears by his bedside. Beholding her, Blake is said to have cried, "Stay Kate!
Keep just as you are I will draw your portrait for you have ever been an angel to me." Having
completed this portrait (now lost), Blake laid down his tools and began to sing hymns and verses.
[56] At six that evening, after promising his wife that he would be with her always, Blake died.
Gilchrist reports that a female lodger in the house, present at his expiration, said, "I have been at the
death, not of a man, but of a blessed angel."[57]
George Richmond gives the following account of Blake's death in a letter to Samuel Palmer:
He died ... in a most glorious manner. He said He was going to that Country he had all
His life wished to see & expressed Himself Happy, hoping for Salvation through Jesus
Christ Just before he died His Countenance became fair. His eyes Brighten'd and he
burst out Singing of the things he saw in Heaven.[58]
Catherine paid for Blake's funeral with money lent to her by Linnell. He was buried five days after
his death on the eve of his 45th wedding anniversary at the Dissenter's burial ground in Bunhill
Fields, in what is today in the Borough of Islington, London.[59] His parents were interred in the
same grounds. Present at the ceremonies were Catherine, Edward Calvert, George Richmond,
Frederick Tatham and John Linnell. Following Blake's death, Catherine moved into Tatham's house
as a housekeeper. She believed she was regularly visited by Blake's spirit. She continued selling his
illuminated works and paintings, but entertained no business transaction without first "consulting
Mr. Blake".[60] On the day of her death, in October 1831, she was as calm and cheerful as her
husband, and called out to him "as if he were only in the next room, to say she was coming to him,
and it would not be long now".[61]
On her death, Blake's manuscripts were inherited by Frederick Tatham, who burned some he
deemed heretical or politically radical. Tatham was an Irvingite, one of the many fundamentalist
movements of the 19th century, and opposed to any work that smacked of blasphemy.[62] John
Linnell erased sexual imagery from a number of Blake's drawings.[63]
Since 1965, the exact location of William Blake's grave had been lost and forgotten as gravestones
were taken away to create a lawn. Blakes grave is commemorated by a stone that reads "Near by lie
the remains of the poet-painter William Blake 17571827 and his wife Catherine Sophia 1762
1831". The memorial stone is situated approximately 20 metres away from the actual grave, which
is not marked. Members of the group Friends of William Blake have rediscovered the location and
intend to place a permanent memorial at the site.[64][65]
Blake is recognised as a saint in the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica. The Blake Prize for Religious Art
was established in his honour in Australia in 1949. In 1957 a memorial to Blake and his wife was
erected in Westminster Abbey.[66]

Blake was not active in any well-established political party. His poetry consistently embodies an
attitude of rebellion against the abuse of class power as documented in David Erdman's large study
Blake: Prophet Against Empire: A Poet's Interpretation of the History of His Own Times. Blake was
concerned about senseless wars and the blighting effects of the Industrial Revolution. Much of his
poetry recounts in symbolic allegory the effects of the French and American revolutions. Erdman
claims Blake was disillusioned with them, believing they had simply replaced monarchy with
irresponsible mercantilism and notes Blake was deeply opposed to slavery, and believes some of his
poems read primarily as championing "free love" have had their anti-slavery implications shortchanged.[67] A more recent (and very short) study, William Blake: Visionary Anarchist by Peter
Marshall (1988), classified Blake and his contemporary William Godwin as forerunners of modern
anarchism.[68] British Marxist historian E. P. Thompson's last finished work, Witness Against the
Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law (1993), shows how far he was inspired by dissident
religious ideas rooted in the thinking of the most radical opponents of the monarchy during the
English Civil War.

Development of Blake's views

Because Blake's later poetry contains a private mythology with complex symbolism, his late work
has been less published than his earlier more accessible work. The Vintage anthology of Blake
edited by Patti Smith focuses heavily on the earlier work, as do many critical studies such as
William Blake by D. G. Gillham.
The earlier work is primarily rebellious in character and can be seen as a protest against dogmatic
religion especially notable in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in which the figure represented by
the "Devil" is virtually a hero rebelling against an imposter authoritarian deity. In later works, such
as Milton and Jerusalem, Blake carves a distinctive vision of a humanity redeemed by self-sacrifice
and forgiveness, while retaining his earlier negative attitude towards what he felt was the rigid and
morbid authoritarianism of traditional religion. Not all readers of Blake agree upon how much
continuity exists between Blake's earlier and later works.
Psychoanalyst June Singer has written that Blake's late work displayed a development of the ideas
first introduced in his earlier works, namely, the humanitarian goal of achieving personal wholeness
of body and spirit. The final section of the expanded edition of her Blake study The Unholy Bible
suggests the later works are the "Bible of Hell" promised in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.
Regarding Blake's final poem "Jerusalem", she writes: "The promise of the divine in man, made in
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, is at last fulfilled."[69]
John Middleton Murry notes discontinuity between Marriage and the late works, in that while the
early Blake focused on a "sheer negative opposition between Energy and Reason", the later Blake
emphasised the notions of self-sacrifice and forgiveness as the road to interior wholeness. This
renunciation of the sharper dualism of Marriage of Heaven and Hell is evidenced in particular by
the humanisation of the character of Urizen in the later works. Murry characterises the later Blake
as having found "mutual understanding" and "mutual forgiveness".[70]

19th-century "free love" movement
Since his death, William Blake has been claimed by those of various movements who apply his
complex and often elusive use of symbolism and allegory to the issues that concern them.[71] In
particular, Blake is sometimes considered (along with Mary Wollstonecraft and her husband

William Godwin) a forerunner of the 19th-century "free love" movement, a broad reform tradition
starting in the 1820s that held that marriage is slavery, and advocated the removal of all state
restrictions on sexual activity such as homosexuality, prostitution, and adultery, culminating in the
birth control movement of the early 20th century. Blake scholarship was more focused on this
theme in the earlier 20th century than today, although it is still mentioned notably by the Blake
scholar Magnus Ankarsj who moderately challenges this interpretation. The 19th-century "free
love" movement was not particularly focused on the idea of multiple partners, but did agree with
Wollstonecraft that state-sanctioned marriage was "legal prostitution" and monopolistic in character.
It has somewhat more in common with early feminist movements[72] (particularly with regard to
the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, whom Blake admired).
Blake was critical of the marriage laws of his day, and generally railed against traditional Christian
notions of chastity as a virtue.[73] At a time of tremendous strain in his marriage, in part due to
Catherine's apparent inability to bear children, he directly advocated bringing a second wife into the
house.[74] His poetry suggests that external demands for marital fidelity reduce love to mere duty
rather than authentic affection, and decries jealousy and egotism as a motive for marriage laws.
Poems such as "Why should I be bound to thee, O my lovely Myrtle-tree?" and "Earth's Answer"
seem to advocate multiple sexual partners. In his poem "London" he speaks of "the MarriageHearse" plagued by "the youthful Harlot's curse", the result alternately of false Prudence and/or
Harlotry. Visions of the Daughters of Albion is widely (though not universally) read as a tribute to
free love since the relationship between Bromion and Oothoon is held together only by laws and not
by love. For Blake, law and love are opposed, and he castigates the "frozen marriage-bed". In
Visions, Blake writes:
Till she who burns with youth, and knows no fixed lot, is bound
In spells of law to one she loathes? and must she drag the chain
Of life in weary lust? (5.21-3, E49)
In the 19th century, poet and free love advocate Algernon Charles Swinburne wrote a book on
Blake drawing attention to the above motifs in which Blake praises "sacred natural love" that is not
bound by another's possessive jealousy, the latter characterised by Blake as a "creeping skeleton".
[75] Swinburne notes how Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell condemns the hypocrisy of the
"pale religious letchery" of advocates of traditional norms.[76] Another 19th-century free love
advocate, Edward Carpenter (18441929), was influenced by Blake's mystical emphasis on energy
free from external restrictions.[77]
In the early 20th century, Pierre Berger described how Blake's views echo Mary Wollstonecraft's
celebration of joyful authentic love rather than love born of duty,[78] the former being the true
measure of purity.[79] Irene Langridge notes that "in Blake's mysterious and unorthodox creed the
doctrine of free love was something Blake wanted for the edification of 'the soul'."[80] Michael
Davis's 1977 book William Blake a New Kind of Man suggests that Blake thought jealousy separates
man from the divine unity, condemning him to a frozen death.[81]
As a theological writer, Blake has a sense of human "fallenness". S. Foster Damon noted that for
Blake the major impediments to a free love society were corrupt human nature, not merely the
intolerance of society and the jealousy of men, but the inauthentic hypocritical nature of human
communication.[82] Thomas Wright's 1928 book Life of William Blake (entirely devoted to Blake's
doctrine of free love) notes that Blake thinks marriage should in practice afford the joy of love, but
notes that in reality it often does not,[83] as a couple's knowledge of being chained often diminishes
their joy. Pierre Berger also analyses Blake's early mythological poems such as Ahania as declaring
marriage laws to be a consequence of the fallenness of humanity, as these are born from pride and
Some scholars have noted that Blake's views on "free love" are both qualified and may have
undergone shifts and modifications in his late years. Some poems from this period warn of dangers

of predatory sexuality such as The Sick Rose. Magnus Ankarsj notes that while the hero of Visions
of the Daughters of Albion is a strong advocate of free love, by the end of the poem she has become
more circumspect as her awareness of the dark side of sexuality has grown, crying "Can this be love
which drinks another as a sponge drinks water?"[85] Ankarsj also notes that a major inspiration to
Blake, Mary Wollstonecraft, similarly developed more circumspect views of sexual freedom late in
life. In light of Blake's aforementioned sense of human 'fallenness' Ankarsj thinks Blake does not
fully approve of sensual indulgence merely in defiance of law as exemplified by the female
character of Leutha,[86] since in the fallen world of experience all love is enchained.[87] Ankarsj
records Blake as having supported a commune with some sharing of partners, though David Worrall
read The Book of Thel as a rejection of the proposal to take concubines espoused by some members
of the Swedenborgian church.[88]
Blake's later writings show a renewed interest in Christianity, and although he radically reinterprets
Christian morality in a way that embraces sensual pleasure, there is little of the emphasis on sexual
libertarianism found in several of his early poems, and there is advocacy of "self-denial", though
such abnegation must be inspired by love rather than through authoritarian compulsion.[89] Berger
(more so than Swinburne) is especially sensitive to a shift in sensibility between the early Blake and
the later Blake. Berger believes the young Blake placed too much emphasis on following impulses,
[90] and that the older Blake had a better formed ideal of a true love that sacrifices self. Some
celebration of mystical sensuality remains in the late poems (most notably in Blake's denial of the
virginity of Jesus's mother). However, the late poems also place a greater emphasis on forgiveness,
redemption, and emotional authenticity as a foundation for relationships.

Religious views
Blake's Ancient of Days. The "Ancient of Days" is described in Chapter 7 of the Book of Daniel.
This image depicts Copy D of the illustration currently held at the British Museum.[91]
Although Blake's attacks on conventional religion were shocking in his own day, his rejection of
religiosity was not a rejection of religion per se. His view of orthodoxy is evident in The Marriage
of Heaven and Hell. Therein, Blake lists several Proverbs of Hell, among which are the following:
Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.
As the catterpiller [sic] chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs on, so the priest lays his
curse on the fairest joys. (8.21, 9.55, E36)
In The Everlasting Gospel, Blake does not present Jesus as a philosopher or traditional messianic
figure, but as a supremely creative being, above dogma, logic and even morality:
If he had been Antichrist Creeping Jesus,
He'd have done anything to please us:
Gone sneaking into Synagogues
And not us'd the Elders & Priests like Dogs,
But humble as a Lamb or Ass,
Obey'd himself to Caiaphas.
God wants not Man to Humble himself (5561, E51920)
Jesus, for Blake, symbolises the vital relationship and unity between divinity and humanity: "All
had originally one language, and one religion: this was the religion of Jesus, the everlasting Gospel.
Antiquity preaches the Gospel of Jesus." (Descriptive Catalogue, Plate 39, E543)
Blake designed his own mythology, which appears largely in his prophetic books. Within these he
describes a number of characters, including "Urizen", "Enitharmon", "Bromion" and "Luvah". His
mythology seems to have a basis in the Bible as well as Greek and Norse mythology,[92][93] and it

accompanies his ideas about the everlasting Gospel.

"I must Create a System, or be enslav'd by another Man's. I will not Reason & Compare; my
business is to Create."
Words uttered by Los in Blake's Jerusalem The Emanation of the Giant Albion.
One of Blake's strongest objections to orthodox Christianity is that he felt it encouraged the
suppression of natural desires and discouraged earthly joy. In A Vision of the Last Judgment, Blake
says that:
Men are admitted into Heaven not because they have curbed and governd their Passions
or have No Passions but because they have Cultivated their Understandings. The
Treasures of Heaven are not Negations of Passion but Realities of Intellect from which
All the Passions Emanate Uncurbed in their Eternal Glory. (E564)
His words concerning religion in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:
All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following Errors.
1. That Man has two real existing principles Viz: a Body & a Soul.
2. That Energy, called Evil, is alone from the Body, & that Reason, called Good, is
alone from the Soul.
3. That God will torment Man in Eternity for following his Energies.
But the following Contraries to these are True
1. Man has no Body distinct from his Soul for that calld Body is a portion of Soul
discernd by the five Senses, the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
2. Energy is the only life and is from the Body and Reason is the bound or outward
circumference of Energy.
3. Energy is Eternal Delight. (Plate 4, E34)
The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve, c. 1825. Watercolour on wood.
Blake does not subscribe to the notion of a body distinct from the soul that must submit to the rule
of the soul, but sees the body as an extension of the soul, derived from the "discernment" of the
senses. Thus, the emphasis orthodoxy places upon the denial of bodily urges is a dualistic error born
of misapprehension of the relationship between body and soul. Elsewhere, he describes Satan as the
"state of error", and as beyond salvation.[94]
Blake opposed the sophistry of theological thought that excuses pain, admits evil and apologises for
injustice. He abhorred self-denial,[95] which he associated with religious repression and
particularly sexual repression:[96] "Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity. / He
who desires but acts not breeds pestilence." (7.45, E35) He saw the concept of "sin" as a trap to
bind men's desires (the briars of Garden of Love), and believed that restraint in obedience to a moral
code imposed from the outside was against the spirit of life:
Abstinence sows sand all over
The ruddy limbs & flaming hair
But Desire Gratified
Plants fruits & beauty there. (E474)
He did not hold with the doctrine of God as Lord, an entity separate from and superior to mankind;
[97] this is shown clearly in his words about Jesus Christ: "He is the only God ... and so am I, and
so are you." A telling phrase in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is "men forgot that All deities
reside in the human breast". This is very much in line with his belief in liberty and social equality in
society and between the sexes.

Enlightenment philosophy
Blake had a complex relationship with Enlightenment philosophy. Due to his visionary religious
beliefs, he opposed the Newtonian view of the universe. This mindset is reflected in an excerpt from
Blake's Jerusalem:
Blake's Newton (1795) demonstrates his opposition to the "single-vision" of scientific materialism:
Newton fixes his eye on a compass (recalling Proverbs 8:27, an important passage for Milton)[98]
to write upon a scroll that seems to project from his own head.[99]
I turn my eyes to the Schools & Universities of Europe
And there behold the Loom of Locke whose Woof rages dire
Washd by the Water-wheels of Newton. black the cloth
In heavy wreathes folds over every Nation; cruel Works
Of many Wheels I view, wheel without wheel, with cogs tyrannic
Moving by compulsion each other: not as those in Eden: which
Wheel within Wheel in freedom revolve in harmony & peace. (15.1420, E159)
Blake believed the paintings of Sir Joshua Reynolds, which depict the naturalistic fall of light upon
objects, were products entirely of the "vegetative eye", and he saw Locke and Newton as "the true
progenitors of Sir Joshua Reynolds' aesthetic".[100] The popular taste in the England of that time
for such paintings was satisfied with mezzotints, prints produced by a process that created an image
from thousands of tiny dots upon the page. Blake saw an analogy between this and Newton's
particle theory of light.[101] Accordingly, Blake never used the technique, opting rather to develop
a method of engraving purely in fluid line, insisting that:
a Line or Lineament is not formed by Chance a Line is a Line in its Minutest
Subdivision[s] Strait or Crooked It is Itself & Not Intermeasurable with or by any Thing
Else Such is Job. (E784)
It has been supposed that, despite his opposition to Enlightenment principles, Blake arrived at a
linear aesthetic that was in many ways more similar to the Neoclassical engravings of John Flaxman
than to the works of the Romantics, with whom he is often classified.[citation needed] However,
Blake's relationship with Flaxman seems to have grown more distant after Blake's return from
Felpham, and there are surviving letters between Flaxman and Hayley wherein Flaxman speaks ill
of Blake's theories of art.[102] Blake further criticized Flaxman's styles and theories of art in his
responses to criticism made against his print of Chaucer's Caunterbury Pilgrims in 1810.[103]

Creative mindset
Northrop Frye, commenting on Blake's consistency in strongly held views, notes Blake "himself
says that his notes on [Joshua] Reynolds, written at fifty, are 'exactly Similar' to those on Locke and
Bacon, written when he was 'very Young'. Even phrases and lines of verse will reappear as much as
forty years later. Consistency in maintaining what he believed to be true was itself one of his
leading principles ... Consistency, then, foolish or otherwise, is one of Blake's chief preoccupations,
just as 'self-contradiction' is always one of his most contemptuous comments".[104]
Blake's "A Negro Hung Alive by the Ribs to a Gallows", an illustration to J. G. Stedman's
Narrative, of a Five Years' Expedition, against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam (1796).
Blake abhorred slavery and believed in racial and sexual equality. Several of his poems and

paintings express a notion of universal humanity: "As all men are alike (tho' infinitely various)". In
one poem, narrated by a black child, white and black bodies alike are described as shaded groves or
clouds, which exist only until one learns "to bear the beams of love":
When I from black and he from white cloud free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy:
Ill shade him from the heat till he can bear,
To lean in joy upon our fathers knee.
And then I'll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him and he will then love me. (23-8, E9)
Blake retained an active interest in social and political events throughout his life, and social and
political statements are often present in his mystical symbolism. His views on what he saw as
oppression and restriction of rightful freedom extended to the Church. His spiritual beliefs are
evident in Songs of Experience (1794), in which he distinguishes between the Old Testament God,
whose restrictions he rejected, and the New Testament God whom he saw as a positive influence.

From a young age, William Blake claimed to have seen visions. The first may have occurred as
early as the age of four when, according to one anecdote, the young artist "saw God" when God
"put his head to the window", causing Blake to break into screaming.[105] At the age of eight or ten
in Peckham Rye, London, Blake claimed to have seen "a tree filled with angels, bright angelic
wings bespangling every bough like stars."[105] According to Blake's Victorian biographer
Gilchrist, he returned home and reported the vision and only escaped being thrashed by his father
for telling a lie through the intervention of his mother. Though all evidence suggests that his parents
were largely supportive, his mother seems to have been especially so, and several of Blake's early
drawings and poems decorated the walls of her chamber. On another occasion, Blake watched
haymakers at work, and thought he saw angelic figures walking among them.[105]
The Ghost of a Flea, 18191820. Having informed painter-astrologer John Varley of his visions of
apparitions, Blake was subsequently persuaded to paint one of them.[106] Varley's anecdote of
Blake and his vision of the flea's ghost became well-known.[106]
Blake claimed to experience visions throughout his life. They were often associated with beautiful
religious themes and imagery, and may have inspired him further with spiritual works and pursuits.
Certainly, religious concepts and imagery figure centrally in Blake's works. God and Christianity
constituted the intellectual centre of his writings, from which he drew inspiration. Blake believed he
was personally instructed and encouraged by Archangels to create his artistic works, which he
claimed were actively read and enjoyed by the same Archangels. In a letter of condolence to
William Hayley, dated 6 May 1800, four days after the death of Hayley's son,[107] Blake wrote:
I know that our deceased friends are more really with us than when they were apparent
to our mortal part. Thirteen years ago I lost a brother, and with his spirit I converse daily
and hourly in the spirit, and see him in my remembrance, in the region of my
imagination. I hear his advice, and even now write from his dictate.
In a letter to John Flaxman, dated 21 September 1800, Blake wrote:
[The town of] Felpham is a sweet place for Study, because it is more spiritual than
London. Heaven opens here on all sides her golden Gates; her windows are not
obstructed by vapours; voices of Celestial inhabitants are more distinctly heard, & their
forms more distinctly seen; & my Cottage is also a Shadow of their houses. My Wife &
Sister are both well, courting Neptune for an embrace... I am more famed in Heaven for

my works than I could well conceive. In my Brain are studies & Chambers filled with
books & pictures of old, which I wrote & painted in ages of Eternity before my mortal
life; & those works are the delight & Study of Archangels. (E710)
In a letter to Thomas Butts, dated 25 April 1803, Blake wrote:
Now I may say to you, what perhaps I should not dare to say to anyone else: That I can
alone carry on my visionary studies in London unannoy'd, & that I may converse with
my friends in Eternity, See Visions, Dream Dreams & prophecy & speak Parables
unobserv'd & at liberty from the Doubts of other Mortals; perhaps Doubts proceeding
from Kindness, but Doubts are always pernicious, Especially when we Doubt our
In A Vision of the Last Judgement Blake wrote:
Error is Created Truth is Eternal Error or Creation will be Burned Up & then & not till
then Truth or Eternity will appear It is Burnt up the Moment Men cease to behold it I
assert for My self that I do not behold the Outward Creation & that to me it is hindrance
& not Action it is as the Dirt upon my feet No part of Me. What it will be Questiond
When the Sun rises do you not see a round Disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea O no no
I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying Holy Holy Holy is the Lord
God Almighty I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would
Question a Window concerning a Sight I look thro it & not with it. (E565-6)
Aware of Blake's visions, William Wordsworth commented, "There was no doubt that this poor man
was mad, but there is something in the madness of this man which interests me more than the sanity
of Lord Byron and Walter Scott."[108] In a more deferential vein, writing in A Short Biographical
Dictionary of English Literature, John William Cousins wrote that Blake was "a truly pious and
loving soul, neglected and misunderstood by the world, but appreciated by an elect few", who "led a
cheerful and contented life of poverty illumined by visions and celestial inspirations".[109] Blake's
sanity was called into question as recently as the publication of the 1911 Encyclopdia Britannica,
whose entry on Blake comments that "the question whether Blake was or was not mad seems likely
to remain in dispute, but there can be no doubt whatever that he was at different periods of his life
under the influence of illusions for which there are no outward facts to account, and that much of
what he wrote is so far wanting in the quality of sanity as to be without a logical coherence".

Cultural influence
Main article: William Blake in popular culture
William Blake's portrait in profile, by John Linnell. This larger version was painted to be engraved
as the frontispiece of Alexander Gilchrist's Life of Blake (1863).
Blake's work was neglected for a generation after his death and almost forgotten when Alexander
Gilchrist began work on his biography in the 1860s. The publication of the Life of William Blake
rapidly transformed Blake's reputation, in particular as he was taken up by Pre-Raphaelites and
associated figures, in particular Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Algernon Charles Swinburne. In the
twentieth century, however, Blake's work was fully appreciated and his influence increased.
Important early and mid twentieth-century scholars involved in enhancing Blake's standing in
literary and artistic circles included S. Foster Damon, Geoffrey Keynes, Northrop Frye, David V.
Erdman and G. E. Bentley, Jr.
While Blake had a significant role to play in the art and poetry of figures such as Rossetti, it was
during the Modernist period that this work began to influence a wider set of writers and artists.

William Butler Yeats, who edited an edition of Blake's collected works in 1893, drew on him for
poetic and philosophical ideas,[110] while British surrealist art in particular drew on Blake's
conceptions of non-mimetic, visionary practice in the painting of artists such as Paul Nash and
Graham Sutherland.[111] His poetry came into use by a number of British classical composers such
as Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughan Williams, who set his works. Modern British composer
John Tavener set several of Blake's poems, including The Lamb (as the 1982 work "The Lamb") and
The Tyger.
Many such as June Singer have argued that Blake's thoughts on human nature greatly anticipate and
parallel the thinking of the psychoanalyst Carl Jung. In Jung's own words: "Blake [is] a tantalizing
study, since he compiled a lot of half or undigested knowledge in his fantasies. According to my
ideas they are an artistic production rather than an authentic representation of unconscious
processes."[112][113] Similarly, although less popularly, Diana Hume George claimed that Blake
can be seen as a precursor to the ideas of Sigmund Freud.[114]
Blake had an enormous influence on the beat poets of the 1950s and the counterculture of the
1960s, frequently being cited by such seminal figures as beat poet Allen Ginsberg, songwriters Bob
Dylan, Jim Morrison,[115] Van Morrison,[116][117] and English writer Aldous Huxley. Much of
the central conceit of Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials is rooted in the world of
Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. After World War II, Blake's role in popular culture came
to the fore in a variety of areas such as popular music, film, and the graphic novel, leading Edward
Larrissy to assert that "Blake is the Romantic writer who has exerted the most powerful influence
on the twentieth century."[118]

Mary Wollstonecraft
Da Wikipedia, l'enciclopedia libera.

Disambiguazione Se stai cercando la scrittrice ed autrice di Frankenstein, figlia di Mary

Wollstonecraft, vedi Mary Shelley.
John Opie, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1797
Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Londra, 27 aprile 1759 Londra, 10 settembre 1797) stata una
filosofa e scrittrice britannica, considerata la fondatrice del femminismo liberale.
Ebbe una vita relativamente breve e avventurosa: dopo un'adolescenza passata in una famiglia
condizionata dalla povert e dall'alcolismo del padre, si rese indipendente con il proprio lavoro e
un'istruzione formata attraverso i suoi studi personali. Visse amicizie di grandi dedizioni ed ebbe
relazioni tempestose fino al matrimonio con il filosofo William Godwin, precursore
dell'anarchismo, dal quale ebbe la figlia Mary, nota scrittrice e moglie del poeta Percy Bysshe
Antesignana del femminismo, Mary Wollstonecraft nota soprattutto per il suo libro A Vindication
of the Rights of Woman, nel quale sostenne, contro la prevalente opinione del tempo, che le donne
non sono inferiori per natura agli uomini, anche se la diversa educazione a loro riservata nella
societ le pone in una condizione di inferiorit e di subordinazione.

I primi anni
Mary fu la seconda dei sei figli di Elisabeth ed Edward John Wollstonecraft, un tessitore londinese
che lasci il suo lavoro quando, alla fine della Guerra dei sette anni, erano crollati i prezzi dei
tessuti, per trasferirsi nello Yorkshire e investire i suoi risparmi nell'agricoltura: i prodotti agricoli
conoscevano un periodo di crescita e possedere terreni era anche segno di distinzione sociale. Non
ebbe tuttavia successo, tanto da dover far ritorno a Londra, nel sobborgo di Walworth, dopo aver
trascinato la famiglia nella povert a causa dei suoi fallimenti finanziari, causati anche dalla sua
passione per il gioco. Per il resto, fu un uomo che l'inclinazione per l'alcool spingeva a rendersi
brutale nei confronti della moglie, tanto che l'adolescente Mary dovette a volte intervenire per
difendere la madre.[1] La madre sembra essere stata una tradizionale donna di casa - del resto, i
sette figli da crescere e le poche possibilit economiche non le davano alternative - sottomessa al
marito e con un debole per il primo figlio maschio.[2]
Due furono le amicizie che ebbero un peso importante nella sua adolescenza. La prima fu quella
con una certa Jane Arden, che Mary, quando abitava ancora nello Yorkshire, andava a trovare nella
sua casa di Beverley, dove insieme leggevano i libri consigliati loro dal padre della Arden. Mary
intendeva l'amicizia come qualcosa di possessivo, come scrisse lei stessa a Jane: Io mi sono
formata una nozione romantica dell'amicizia [...] ho un'idea piuttosto singolare dell'amore e
dell'amicizia: io devo avervi il primo posto oppure nessuno.[3]
Il secondo, intenso rapporto di amicizia, fu quello sviluppato con Fanny Blood, conosciuta, quando
Mary era tornata a vivere a Londra, attraverso i Clares, una coppia di Hoxton che assunsero quasi il
ruolo di genitori per Mary. La Wollstonecraft afferm che la Blood ebbe il grande merito di averle
aperto la mente sulle cose della vita e sul mondo.[4] La precariet della sua esistenza in famiglia,
costretta a diversi spostamenti per l'Inghilterra seguendo il padre in cerca di una fortuna che non
raggiunse mai, non avevano permesso a Mary di conseguire un'istruzione regolare e solida. Grazie
all'amica Fanny Blood, ebbe modo di entrare in contatto con alcuni circoli intellettuali della societ
londinese, che stimolarono i suoi interessi culturali. Lasci allora la casa paterna e s'impieg come
dama di compagnia di Sarah Dawson, una vedova di Bath, nel Somerset, un lavoro che le diede
l'occasione di apprendere usi e costumi della buona societ mentre nello stesso tempo cercava di
procurarsi un'istruzione, studiando da autodidatta.
L'irascibile signora Dawson le rese per la vita difficile - quell'esperienza sar in parte descritta nel
1787 nei suoi Thoughts on the Education of Daughters - finch nell'autunno del 1780 la malattia
della madre la costrinse a tornare nella casa paterna, dove rimase fino alla morte della madre,
avvenuta nell'aprile del 1782.[5] Nella casa di famiglia rimasero il fratello maggiore Edward con le
due sorelle Eliza ed Everina, il padre si rispos con una domestica andando a vivere nel Galles e
Mary, che si guard bene dal tornare a lavorare dalla Dawson, si trasfer a Fulham, in casa
dell'amica Fanny Blood, dove furono raggiunte nel 1784 dalla sorella Elizabeth e dal figlio appena
nato, dopo il suo divorzio dal marito avvenuto dopo un solo anno di matrimonio.

Robert Pine: Catharine Macaulay, 1775
Le due sorelle e Fanny Blood fondarono una scuola nel quartiere londinese di Islington, iniziativa
che non ebbe alcun successo e la scuola dovette essere chiusa; ritentarono aprendo un'altra scuola
nel vicino sobborgo di Newington Green, ma per una serie di avvenimenti dovettero ancora una
volta abbandonare l'impresa. Infatti, in agosto mor il figlio di Elizabeth e alla fine dell'anno Fanny,
malata di tisi, accett di sposare un vecchio amico che si era trasferito per lavoro a Lisbona, poich i

medici sostenevano che i climi caldi erano propizi alla guarigione, e Fanny Blood lo segu in
Portogallo. La gravidanza che ne segu si rivel difficile e Mary volle raggiungere l'amica per
assisterla, ma fu tutto inutile: nel novembre del 1785 Fanny e il figlio morirono.
Tornata a Newington Green, Mary chiuse la scuola e si mise a scrivere i Thoughts on the education
of daughters, with the reflections on female conduct, in the more important duties of life,[6] che un
primo abbozzo del suo futuro e pi importante libro, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. una
critica dell'educazione inadeguata che la societ riserva alle donne, che vengono rese incapaci di
affrontare i pi difficili problemi della vita, emarginate in un ruolo ridicolo e dannoso, come
scriveva lei stessa recensendo le Letters on Education with Observations on Religious and
Metaphysical Subjects [7] di Catharine Macaulay, una scrittrice da cui Mary ammette di dipendere.
Avendo necessit di guadagnarsi da vivere, accett un impiego di educatrice delle figlie di lord
Kingsborough, un proprietario terriero irlandese. In Irlanda e a Bristol, dove i Kingsborough
passavano l'estate, trascorse un anno, lesse Rousseau e scrisse il romanzo autobiografico Mary, a
Fiction, che incorpora molte tematiche romantiche come limportanza della fantasia, il sentimento
religioso, il viaggio come occasione di crescita morale, il tutto affrontato con una scrittura disadorna
e realistica.
Licenziata nell'agosto del 1787 per contrasti con lady Kingsborough, Mary and a Londra e trov
un impiego nel mensile Analytical Review dell'editore e libraio Joseph Johnson, che pubblic il
suo romanzo: nel club progressista londinese Johnson's Circle conobbe esponenti
dell'intellettualit radicale, come Thomas Paine, sostenitore del diritto di voto alle donne, la
femminista Anna Barbauld, William Godwin, i pittori William Blake e Heinrich Fssli. Nel 1788
pubblic le Original Stories from Real Life; with Conversations Calculated to Regulate the
Affections, and Form the Mind to Truth and Goodness, un libro per l'infanzia che fu illustrato da
William Blake, e tradusse dal tedesco il Moralisches Elementarbuch di Salzmann, pubblicato da
Johnson nel 1790 con il titolo Elements of Morality, for the Use of Children.
James Northcote: Heinrich Fssli, 1778
Il suo lavoro presso la casa editrice Johnson le permise la conoscenza diretta del pensiero dei
maggiori intellettuali europei, traducendo articoli degli illuministi d'Alembert, Diderot, d'Holbach,
Voltaire, Rousseau. Di quest'ultimo critic in un articolo la sua concezione del ruolo della donna
espressa nell'mile: Rousseau aveva scritto che i doveri delle donne, in tutti i tempi e da
conculcare nella loro educazione fin dall'infanzia, consistevano nel piacere agli uomini ed essere
loro utili, farsi amare e stimare da loro, educarli da giovani, assisterli da grandi, consigliarli,
confortarli, render loro piacevole la vita.
Come Mary scriver nella Vindication, Rousseau non concepisce che una donna possa essere
indipendente, ma pretende di trasformarla in una schiava tutta civetteria per diventare un pi
seducente oggetto di desiderio, una compagna pi dolce per l'uomo ogni volta che questi desideri
svagarsi. Si spinge addirittura ad affermare che la verit e la forza d'animo, le pietre angolari di ogni
virt umana, dovrebbero essere coltivate entro certi limiti, perch per ci che concerne il carattere
femminile, la virt pi importante l'ubbidienza [...] Che sciocchezza!.[8]
Il 1789 l'anno d'inizio della Rivoluzione francese, accolta in Inghilterra con soddisfazione negli
ambienti progressisti e con ostilit o preoccupazione in quelli conservatori e reazionari. A questi
ultimi apparteneva Edmund Burke, che nel 1790 diede alle stampe le sue critiche Reflections on the
Revolution in France alle quali la Wollstonecraft rispose con la propria A Vindication of the Rights
of Men in forma di lettera indirizzata allo stesso Burke. Insieme con i Rights of Men del Paine, usciti
nel 1791, fu la pi popolare rivendicazione dei moderni diritti civili che fosse allora pubblicata in
Inghilterra: naturalmente, Mary sperava che di questi diritti avessero potuto godere anche le donne.
Fu cos che a quel libro fece seguire nel 1792 il suo capolavoro, A Vindication of the Rights of

Intanto Mary aveva allacciato una relazione con il pittore Heinrich Fssli, che era tuttavia gi
sposato con Sophia Rawlins: attratta, come scrisse, dalla grandezza della sua anima, dalla vivacit
del suo spirito e dalla simpatia ispirata dalla sua personalit,[9] giunse a proporgli una convivenza
a tre, naturalmente respinta dalla moglie che impose al marito la rottura della relazione con Mary.

In Francia
Helen Maria Williams
La Wollstonecraft part nel dicembre 1792 per Parigi, dove gi risiedeva una piccola colonia di
inglesi, come Helen Maria Williams, appassionati alle straordinarie vicende della Rivoluzione in
corso. A Parigi conobbe anche un avventuriero, Gilbert Imlay, gi fuggito in Inghilterra dagli Stati
Uniti per sottrarsi ai creditori, del quale s'innamor sinceramente, intanto che questi intendeva
vivere una semplice avventura.[11] Quando la Gran Bretagna, nel 1793, si un alla Prussia e
all'Austria nella guerra contro la Francia, l'americano Imlay fece passare Mary per sua moglie, in
modo da evitare a lei, cittadina inglese, possibili sospetti di spionaggio, come era avvenuto a
Thomas Paine e alla Williams.
I due si trasferirono a Le Havre dove, rimasta incinta, il 14 maggio 1794 le nacque una bambina che
chiam Fanny, in ricordo della sua amica Fanny Blood. Mary continu a scrivere sotto le tragiche
impressioni della Rivoluzione in corso - aveva vissuto in quegli anni la guerra, il Terrore e la caduta
di Robespierre - e a Le Havre termin il suo nuovo libro, An Historical and Moral View of the
French Revolution, pubblicato a Londra in dicembre.
Imlay si allontanava spesso da lei, con la necessit o il pretesto di dover viaggiare per affari,
provocando la sua reazione in lettere spesso disperate. In una gli scrisse: Mi potrai rendere
infelice, ma non riuscirai a rendermi spregevole ai miei occhi.[12] Nel 1795, insieme con la figlia
e una bambinaia, fecero un viaggio in Danimarca, in Norvegia e in Svezia - Mary descrisse
quell'esperienza nelle sue Letters written during a short residence in Sweden, Norway and
Denmark, pubblicato nel 1796 - alla fine del quale avvenne la definitiva rottura con Gilbert Imlay.
Mary torn allora a Londra: in preda a una grave depressione, un giorno cerc di suicidarsi
gettandosi nel Tamigi, ma fu salvata.

Gli ultimi anni

James Northcote, William Godwin, 1802
La Wollstonecraft fin per liberarsi della depressione e torn a lavorare nella Casa editrice Johnson e
a frequentare il vecchio circolo intellettuale dove erano presenti, in particolare, Mary Hays,
Elizabeth Inchbald, Sarah Siddons e dove ritrov William Godwin. Questi aveva letto le sue Letters
written in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, e aveva commentato che quello era un libro che poteva
far innamorare un lettore della sua autrice. Parla dei suoi dolori, in un modo che ci riempie di
malinconia, e ci scioglie lanimo in tenerezza, e al tempo stesso ci rivela un genio che esige tutta la
nostra ammirazione.
Fra di loro inizi una relazione e decisero di sposarsi dopo che Mary rimase incinta. Il fatto che
Mary fosse una ragazza madre e che si sposasse quando gi aspettava un bambino, poteva
scandalizzare la societ dellepoca, non certo Godwin che non a caso, nel suo scritto Political
Justice, si era dichiarato favorevole allabolizione dellistituto matrimoniale.[13] Si sposarono
soltanto per far cessare, per quanto possibile, i pettegolezzi: infatti, dopo il matrimonio celebrato il
29 marzo 1797, andarono ad abitare in due case adiacenti, in modo da conservare ciascuno la
propria indipendenza.

La loro unione dur pochi mesi: il 30 agosto 1797 Mary Wollstonecraft diede alla luce la sua
seconda figlia, Mary, la nota futura scrittrice, ma le conseguenze del parto furono fatali alla madre,
che mor il 10 settembre di setticemia. Il marito scrisse al suo amico Thomas Holcroft: credo
fermamente che non esistesse una donna eguale a lei al mondo. Eravamo fatti per essere felici e ora
non ho la minima speranza di esserlo mai pi.[14] Fu sepolta nella chiesa di St Pancras, e
successivamente i suoi resti, insieme con quelli di William Godwin, furono traslati nel cimitero di

Gli scritti
I Pensieri sull'educazione delle figlie
Thoughts on the education of daughters, 1787
I Thoughts on the education of daughters: with reflections on female conduct, in the more important
duties of life (Pensieri sull'educazione delle figlie: con riflessioni sul comportamento delle donne,
nei doveri pi importanti della vita) il primo scritto di Mary Wollstonecraft, pubblicato nel 1787
dall'amico editore Joseph Johnson. L'opera un manuale di comportamento che presenta dei
consigli sull'educazione femminile indirizzati in particolare all'emergente classe media britannica.
Bench dominato dalle questioni attinenti alla moralit e il galateo, il testo contiene istruzioni di
base per l'educazione delle bambine fino alle cure da riservare ai neonati.
I manuali britannici sul comportamento pubblicati nel XVIII secolo derivano dalla pi antica
tradizione letteraria dei consigli e dei precetti religiosi. Nella seconda met del secolo vi fu un
impetuoso sviluppo di tali pubblicazioni, nel quale s'inser anche il libro della Wollstonecraft, che
tuttavia ebbe un modesto successo: ottenne una sola recensione e venne ristampato soltanto una
volta, a parte la pubblicazione di alcuni estratti in riviste popolari dell'epoca. Fu poi ripubblicato
negli anni Settanta del XX secolo, sull'onda dello sviluppo femminista in Europa e dell'interesse per
la storia di questo movimento.
Come altri manuali del genere, questi pensieri si adattano allo spirito e alle esigenze della classe
media e piccolo-borghese. Si incoraggiano le madri a insegnare alle figlie la riflessione critica,
l'autodisciplina, i valori dell'onest, dello spirito di adattamento e del savoir faire, utili a conseguire
un corretto rapporto con le circostanze della vita. Questi consigli di buon senso mostrano la loro
derivazione dal pensiero di John Locke, pur con una maggiore importanza accordata alla fede
religiosa e ai sentimenti innati. Il loro scopo sta nell'insegnare alle ragazze a diventare donne e
madri che sappiano essere utili e a loro agio in un mondo di adulti, dando cos un efficace apporto al
buon andamento della societ. Si comprende come la funzione essenzialmente domestica che la
scrittrice assegna alle donne collochi questo libro ancora lontano dalle posizioni pi mature e
significative assunte dalla Wollstonecraft.

La Rivendicazione dei diritti degli uomini

A Vindication of the Rights of Men, 1790
Pubblicato nel 1790 come risposta alle Riflessioni sulla Rivoluzione francese di Edmund Burke, il
quale aveva difeso, contro le pur moderate riforme liberali introdotte in Francia nel primo periodo
della Rivoluzione, la monarchia britannica, l'aristocrazia e la Chiesa d'Inghilterra, A Vindication of
the Rights of Men della Wollstonecraft rappresenta invece un attacco ai privilegi nobiliari e una
difesa del regime repubblicano, e si unisce al coro dei difensori della Rivoluzione - tra i quali vi
Thomas Paine con i suoi Rights of Man - contro l'opposto schieramento degli oppositori
conservatori e reazionari.

In un passo delle sue Reflections, Burke scriveva: Io pensavo che diecimila spade si sarebbero
sguainate per vendicare anche un solo sguardo insolente nei confronti di Maria Antonietta. Ma l'et
della cavalleria passata. La teatralit dell'immagine burkiana, conseguente delle sue idee
estetiche espresse gi nel 1756 nello scritto A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of
the Sublime and Beautiful, viene stigmatizzata dalla Wollstonecraft: Burke aveva associato l'idea del
bello con quella della debolezza e della femminilit, mentre aveva identificato l'idea del sublime
con quella della forza e della virilit. Wollstonecraft gli ritorce quelle definizioni, sostenendo che
tali descrizioni teatrali rendono i lettori delle femminucce infiacchite e lo accusa di difendere una
societ inegualitaria fondata anche sull'emarginazione delle donne.[15]
Difendendo le virt repubblicane, la Wollstonecraft invoca l'etica della classe media in opposizione
ai viziosi codici di comportamento dell'aristocrazia.[16] Illuministicamente, ella crede nel progresso
e deride il Burke per il suo attaccamento ai vecchi costumi e alle antiche tradizioni: se infatti si
fosse sempre rimasti fedeli alle pi antiche tradizioni, per conseguenza si dovrebbe tuttora essere
favorevoli perfino all'antichissimo sistema della schiavit. Ella contrappone all'esaltazione dei
valori feudali fatta dal Burke l'immagine borghese dell'idillica vita di campagna, nella quale ogni
famiglia conduca la propria esistenza in una fattoria, soddisfacendo i propri bisogni con un lavoro
semplice e onesto. Questa visione della societ le appare l'espressione di sentimenti sinceri, di
contro ai sentimenti fittizi sui quali si fonderebbe la visione reazionaria del Burke.
Rights of Men il primo libro apertamente politico della Wollstonecraft, cos come la sua prima
opera femminista: sembra che nell'atto di scrivere l'ultima parte dei Rights of Men, ella scopra il
soggetto che occuper il resto della sua carriera.[17]

La Rivendicazione dei diritti della donna

John Opie: Mary Wollstonecraft, 1791
La Rivendicazione dei diritti della donna (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman) l'opera pi
importante della Wollstonecraft, sviluppo conseguente dei precedenti Rights of Men e uno dei primi
scritti di filosofia femminista.
Wollstonecraft vi afferma che le donne devono ricevere un'educazione alla misura della posizione
occupata nella societ, specificando che tutte le donne sono essenziali per la nazione nella quale
vivono, dal momento che educano i loro figli e sono - o potrebbero essere - le compagne dei loro
mariti e non semplicemente delle spose.[18]. Invece di considerare le donne una sorta di ornamento
della societ e un oggetto di mercato in occasione del matrimonio, esse sono, in quanto esseri
umani, titolari degli stessi diritti fondamentali riconosciuti agli uomini. A questo proposito, la
Wollstonecraft polemizza vivacemente con James Fordyce, con John Gregory e con Jean-Jacques
Rousseau, che negano che le donne abbiano tale diritto all'educazione; Rousseau, nell'mile (1762)
sosteneva infatti che le donne avrebbero dovuto essere educate in modo da piacere all'uomo.[19]
Wollstonecraft riconosce l'esistenza, ai suoi tempi, di molte donne sciocche e superficiali, ma non a
causa di una loro innata deficienza di spirito, bens proprio a motivo dell'esclusione da una corretta
educazione cui sono state soggette. Scrive: Istruite fin dall'infanzia che la bellezza lo scettro
della donna, il loro spirito prende la forma del loro corpo e viene chiuso in questo scrigno dorato, ed
essa non fa che decorare la sua prigione,[20] rilevando come, senza tali incoraggiamenti a
concentrare ogni loro cura sull'aspetto esteriore, esse potrebbero raggiungere ben altri traguardi.[21]
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Pur facendo continui richiami all'eguaglianza tra i sessi, in certi campi, come la morale, la
Wollstonecraft non pretende che esista un'analoga eguaglianza.[22] Ella insiste piuttosto
sull'eguaglianza agli occhi di Dio, in contrasto, sembra, con le sue affermazioni al riguardo della

superiorit della forza e dell'ardimento maschile.[23] Scrive: Io non ne concludo di desiderare un

rovesciamento dell'ordine delle cose, avendo gi concesso che, dalla costituzione fisica, gli uomini
sembrano essere stati concepiti dalla Provvidenza per raggiungere un grado pi elevato di valore.
Parlo collettivamente nell'insieme dei sessi e non vedo l'ombra di ragione per concludere che le
virt dei due sessi devono differire tra loro, pur avendo riguardo alla loro differente natura. In
effetti, come potrebbero differire, se la virt non si presenta che sotto una specie eterna?
Ragionando di conseguenza, devo dunque sostenere con vigore che entrambi hanno un eguale e
semplice orientamento, come quello dell'esistenza di Dio.[24] Queste ambigue considerazioni
riguardo l'eguaglianza dei sessi rendono difficile classificare la Wollstonecraft una femminista
moderna, a prescindere dal fatto che i termini femminista e femminismo appaiono solo alla fine del
XIX secolo.
Una delle critiche pi acri espresse dalla Wollstonecraft riguarda la falsa ed eccessiva sensibilit
femminile: ella nota che le donne che finiscono per soccombere al dominio della sensibilit
vengono trasportate da ogni soffio dei loro sentimenti, ed essendo preda dei sensi, non possono
pi pensare razionalmente.[25] Tali donne fanno del male a s stesse e alla societ tutta, non
contribuendo ad affinarne lo sviluppo civile - un'idea, questa, molto diffusa a quel tempo - ma
possono perfino contribuire a danneggiarla. La Wollstonecraft non pretende che ragione e
sentimento debbano essere nettamente separati, ma al contrario ritiene che debbano agire di
concerto, in modo per che la ragione non si lasci sopraffare dal sentimento.[26]
La Wollstonecraft stabilisce nella Vindication anche un progetto educativo: nel capitolo On
National Education, sostiene che tutti i bambini dovrebbero essere educati sia nella country day
school che in casa, al fine di ispirare l'amore del focolare e dei piaceri domestici. Le classi
dovrebbero essere miste, in modo che l'educazione segua un modello comune ai due sessi.
I contenuti dell'educazione da impartire seguono i valori tipici della classe borghese:[27] la
Wollstonecraft incoraggia la modestia e il lavoro, e depreca l'ozio aristocratico. A conferma di
questa visione, ella ritiene che i proletari, i poveri, raggiunta l'et di nove anni, fatta eccezione degli
scolari pi dotati, debbano essere separati dai benestanti e frequentare altre scuole.[28]

I romanzi
Mary: A Fiction, 1788
I due romanzi di Mary Wollstonecraft - Mary: A Fiction (1788) e Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman,
quest'ultimo incompiuto e pubblicato postumo nel 1798 - criticano il matrimonio, considerato
un'istituzione patriarcale che ha deleteri effetti sulle donne. In Mary: A Fiction, la protagonista
costretta a un matrimonio di convenienza e senza amore n amicizia, e deve cos cercare di
realizzare i propri desideri d'amore e di affetto fuori di esso in due amicizie romantiche a
appassionate con una donna e con un uomo. Alla conclusione del romanzo, l'eroina progetta di
andare per questo mondo, dove non bisogna sposarsi n essere offerta in matrimonio.[29]
Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman, considerato l'opera femminista pi radicale della Wollstonecraft,
[30] costruito sulla vicenda di una donna fatta internare dal marito in manicomio; come Mary,
anche Maria si realizza fuori del matrimonio, nella relazione con una delle sue sventurate compagne
e nell'amicizia con una delle guardiane. In nessuno dei due romanzi vi traccia di matrimoni felici,
per quanto nei Rights of Woman la scrittrice avesse almeno ammesso la necessit della loro
Nei due romanzi si torna a criticare la teoria della sensibilit, quella filosofia morale ed estetica
tanto in voga alla fine del secolo. Mary infatti un romanzo della sensibilit nel quale la
Wollstonecraft tenta di utilizzare gli stessi stereotipi di quel genere letterario al fine di scalzare il
sentimentalismo, una filosofia del sentimento dannosissima specialmente per le donne, che vengono
incoraggiate a privilegiare le emozioni a danno della razionalit. Anche in Maria: or the Wrongs of

Woman, l'indulgenza dell'eroina per le fantasie romantiche, favorite dalla lettura dei romanzi di
moda, descritta come particolarmente pregiudizievole per lo sviluppo della personalit.[31].
Punto centrale dei due romanzi l'amicizia tra donne: quella tra Maria e Jemima, basata su un
legame quasi materno tra una donna di classe superiore e una donna del popolo, ha una particolare
rilevanza nella storia della letteratura femminista, in quanto si ammette che donne di diversa
estrazione sociale possano avere gli stessi interessi allorch siano in questione i diritti delle donne.

Le Lettere scritte in Svezia, Norvegia e Danimarca

Le Letters written in Sweden, Norway, and Danmark, scritte in occasione di un viaggio compiuto da
Mary nei tre paesi nordici nel 1795 e pubblicate l'anno dopo, sono in numero di venticinque e
trattano di varie questioni: di controversi problemi politici, come la riforma delle prigioni, la
propriet fondiaria, il divorzio, e di soggetti di natura completamente diversa, come il giardinaggio,
l'estrazione del sale o la vista di panorami naturali che ispirano l'idea del sublime. Se le Lettere,
nel loro insieme, possono sembrare appartenere al genere del diario di viaggio, in realt sembrano
far parte di un genere ibrido, anche se non tutti i critici condividono questo assunto.
Alcuni studiosi sottolineano come Mary Wollstonecraft abbia fuso il tema del viaggio con
l'autobiografia e la memoria, parola con la quale Mary stessa presenta la sua raccolta,[33] ed stato
notato altres che l'opera sembra prendere la forma del romanzo epistolare.[34] In effetti, nel libro si
va dalle riflessioni autobiografiche alle fantasie sulla natura e alle teorie politiche. L'unit dello
scritto garantita da due elementi: le idee di Mary sulla natura e l'evoluzione della societ, e
un'impronta malinconica che caratterizza tutto il libro, e questa immagine di sofferenza finisce con
l'imporsi al lettore.[35]
Le Lettere si rifanno alle descrizioni di viaggi, con intenti morali, in voga nel Settecento, come The
Traveller, or a Prospect of Society (1764) di Oliver Goldsmith, il A Sentimental Journey Through
France and Italy (1768) di Laurence Sterne, A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775) di
Samuel Johnson, The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785) di James Boswell e ai libri di
viaggio di Arthur Young.[36]
La Tour, Rousseau, 1753
Avendo infatti analizzato 24 libri di viaggio per conto della rivista Analytical Review, nella quale
lavorava, Mary Wollstonecraft conosceva bene questo genere: ella pot cristallizzare le idee sulle
quali fondare un buon libro di viaggio; in una delle sue analisi, sosteneva che gli scrittori di viaggio
devono avere un'idea direttrice in testa, un obbiettivo di massima sul quale concentrare i propri
pensieri e dirigere le proprie riflessioni, e questi libri non devono essere costituiti da osservazioni
isolate, non sostenute da alcun interesse, da nessun orientamento dominante nello spirito, senza i
quali il libro mancherebbe di unit.[37] I libri di viaggio devono contenere descrizioni dettagliate e
attraenti di popoli e luoghi, riflessioni nelle quali lo spirito dell'osservatore vagabondi sulla storia, e
la curiosit del narratore per i soggetti descritti deve essere pari a quella suscitata nel lettore.[38]
L'arte del viaggio un ramo dell'arte del pensiero, scrive la Wollstonecraft.[39] Il suo viaggio e i
suoi commenti non sono soltanto sentimentali ma anche filosofici. Ella utilizza questi due aspetti
per proseguire nella critica dei ruoli sociali attribuiti alle donne e del progresso della civilt, gi
delineata nelle A Vindication of the Rights of Men, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman e
nell'analisi contenuta in An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution.[40] Dopo aver
rifiutato le convenzioni della scrittura politica e filosofica, Mary Wollstonecraft introduce il suo
femminismo rivoluzionario in un genere fino ad allora riservato agli scrittori uomini,
trasformando l'insieme di fatti oggettivi e di impressioni individuali del viaggio [...] in una
rivelazione autobiografica.[41]

Il suo desiderio di approfondire e di cogliere pienamente ogni istante dell'esperienza del viaggio
trova la sua origine nell'opera di Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in particolare ne Les Rveries du
promeneur solitaire[42] Numerosi i temi russoiani: la ricerca delle fonti della felicit, il rifiuto dei
beni materiali, l'impressione estatica data dalla natura, e il ruolo essenziale esercitato dal sentimento
nella comprensione delle cose. Diversamente da Rousseau, tuttavia, che rifiuta i valori della
moderna societ civile, Mary Wollstonecraft celebra tanto i valori domestici quanto quelli del
progresso industriale.
Anche linflusso delle Confessioni di Rousseau, scritte nel 1782, presente nel viaggio, fisico e
psicologico, descritto nelle Letters.[43] Le cose che Mary rivela di s, presentate come rivelazioni
non premeditate, sono utili a offrire al lettore una personalit stabile e comprensibile, e a
trasformare la sua condizione, in quel momento infelice a causa della compromessa relazione con
lImlay, in una materia letteraria in grado di coinvolgere emotivamente il lettore.[44]
Appoggiandosi largamente sul linguaggio filosofico del sublime, Mary ridefinisce i termini centrali
del A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757) del
Burke. Questi privilegiava il sublime associato con la virilit, la forza, il terrore, il timore sacro
rispetto al bello associato con la femminilit, la passivit, la delicatezza e la debolezza mentre
Mary Wollstonecraft associa il sublime con la sterilit e il bello con la fecondit. Questo
cambiamento di prospettiva estetica evidente, per esempio, nei numerosi passi consacrati al
legame affettuoso di Mary con la piccola figlia Fanny: qui bella la tipica virt della donna,
quella di essere madre.[45]
Joseph Anton Koch, Cascata, 1796
La Wollstonecraft rimette anche in discussione le tradizionali associazioni negative esistenti tra il
sublime e la morte; i pensieri di morte, evocati per esempio da una cascata d'acqua, sono condotti a
evocare le idee di rinascita e di immortalit:[46]
Raggiungendo la cascata, o piuttosto la cataratta, il cui rombo mi aveva annunciato da tempo la
vicinanza, la mia anima fu gettata in una nuova serie di riflessioni. La corsa impetuosa del torrente
che balza delle nere cavit che sfidano l'occhio che vorrebbe esplorarlo, produsse nel mio spirito
un'uguale attivit: i miei pensieri si lanciavano dalla terra al cielo, e mi chiedevo perch mai fossi
incatenata alla vita ed alle sue miserie. E tuttavia, le emozioni tumultuose che facevano nascere
questo oggetto sublime mi erano piacevoli; e contemplando quella cascata, la mia anima si elevava,
con rinnovata dignit, al disopra delle sue angosce, cercando di raggiungere l'immortalit: sembrava
impossibile fermare tanto la corrente dei miei pensieri quanto quella del torrente davanti a me,
sempre mutevole eppure sempre lo stesso; io stesi la mano verso l'eternit, superando d'un balzo la
piccola macchia oscura della vita futura
Cos come le sue altre manipolazioni del linguaggio del sublime, questo passo fortemente segnato
dal sesso dellautore: essendo una donna, e perci tenuta a tutte le restrizioni e ai condizionamenti
giuridici e sociali che le sono imposte, ella pu immaginare una qualche autonomia soltanto dopo la

Leredit di Mary Wollstonecraft

Si detto che la vita di Mary Wollstonecraft ha, fino allultimo quarto del XX secolo, interessato i
lettori molto pi dei suoi scritti.[48] A seguito della pubblicazione delle Memorie di Godwin, che
la presentarono per quello che era, una donna inaccettabile per i conformisti della buona borghesia e
dell'alta societ, la reputazione di Mary Wollstonecraft scese per un secolo, messa quasi alla berlina
da Maria Edgeworth, che prese a modello la sua figura rappresentandola nel personaggio bizzarro
di Harriet Freke del suo romanzo Belinda (1801). Altre scrittrici come Mary Hays, Charlotte Turner
Smith, Fanny Burney e Jane West misero in scena personaggi analoghi per impartire una lezione di
morale alle loro lettrici.[49] Le opere di Mary furono poco lette per tutto lOttocento perch le

sue critiche lasciano intendere o dichiarano che nessuna donna che abbia rispetto di s leggerebbe i
suoi scritti.[50]
Samuel Laurence: George Eliot, 1860
Fuori dal coro si mise per la prima volta George Eliot, scrittrice prolifica che nel 1855 dedic un
saggio al ruolo e ai diritti delle donne, dove sono citate Mary Wollstonecraft e Margaret Fuller, la
giornalista e attivista americana per i diritti delle donne che era stata in Europa, nel 1849 aveva
partecipato alla difesa della Repubblica Romana e aveva avuto un bambino da un uomo che non
spos.[51] Millicent Garrett Fawcett, una suffragetta poi presidente della National Union of
Women's Suffrage Societies, scrivendo l'introduzione dei Rights of Woman pubblicata nella
ricorrenza del centenario della loro prima edizione, rivalutava la memoria della Wollstonecraft
presentandola come la prima combattente per il diritto di voto alla donne.[52] Con l'emergere del
moderno femminismo, anche Virginia Woolf ed Emma Goldman si volgono alla biografia di Mary
Wollstonecraft celebrandone le esperienze di vita.[53]
In tanti ora descrivono e discutono della vita di Mary, le cui opere, per, continuano a essere
sostanzialmente ignorate, finch dagli anni Sessanta del XX secolo i suoi scritti tornano finalmente
in primo piano. La loro fortuna corrisponde all'ondata femminista durante la quale vengono
pubblicate sei corpose biografie della scrittrice, presentandone la vita appassionata che si
giustappone al suo programma radicale e razionalista.[54]. Mary Wollstonecraft vista come una
figura piena di paradossi, intrigante perch non corrispondente al femminismo contemporaneo, nel
quale il privato politico. Nei decenni successivi emerge una nuova immagine di Mary, vista
come prodotto della sua epoca e tuttavia viene rilevata la continuit del suo pensiero con le
successive, storiche correnti femministe.
Nei primi anni del XXI secolo, l'opera di Mary Wollstonecraft viene ancora studiata: Ayaan Hirsi
Ali, scrittrice politica, gi musulmana e poi critica dell'Islam, in particolare per quanto attiene alla
sua legislazione nei confronti delle donne, cita i Rights of Woman nella sua autobiografia Infidel,
scrivendo di essersi ispirata a Mary Wollstonecraft, pioniera del femminismo che diceva alle
donne che esse avevano la stessa capacit di ragionare degli uomini e meritavano gli stessi diritti.

Teatro elisabettiano

Teatro contemporaneo

Storia della danza

Storia del mimo e della
Storia del circo

Visita il Portale del Teatro

Il teatro elisabettiano stato uno dei periodi artistici di maggiore splendore del teatro britannico.
Esso viene collocato tradizionalmente fra il 1558 e il 1625, durante i regni dei sovrani britannici
Elisabetta I d'Inghilterra e Giacomo I d'Inghilterra[1]. Il termine, nella sua accezione di teatro
rinascimentale inglese, si estende ai fenomeni teatrali fioriti nel periodo che va dalla riforma
anglicana alla chiusura dei teatri nel 1642 al sopraggiungere della Guerra Civile, comprendendo
quindi anche buona parte del regno di Carlo I.
La produzione del periodo successivo al 1603, anno della morte della regina, talvolta definita in
modo distinto come il teatro dell'et giacobita (jacobean) e presenta caratteri differenti dal
precedente, di cui l'evoluzione.
Il teatro di tutto il periodo viene tradizionalmente associato a due grandi figure: la regina Elisabetta
(1533-1603), da cui trae il nome, e il drammaturgo William Shakespeare (1564-1616), massimo
esponente di questo periodo e uno dei maggiori autori teatrali in assoluto[2].
Assieme agli aspetti economici della professione teatrale, il carattere del dramma mut verso la fine
del periodo: sotto Elisabetta il dramma era un'espressione unitaria al di l dalla classe sociale
coinvolta: la corte assisteva alle stesse rappresentazioni che la gente comune vedeva nei teatri
pubblici, mentre con lo sviluppo dei teatri privati il dramma divenne pi orientato verso i gusti e
valori di un pubblico di alto ceto. Con l'ultima parte del regno di Carlo venivano scritti pochi nuovi
drammi per il teatro pubblico, che si sosteneva sulle opere accumulate dei decenni precedenti.[3]

Contesto storico
Lo stesso argomento in dettaglio: Et elisabettiana.
Elisabetta I d'Inghilterra (1533-1603)
Il periodo elisabettiano coincide cronologicamente solo in parte col rinascimento europeo e meno
ancora con quello italiano, recando in s forti accenti di manierismo e di barocco in quanto pi
Questo periodo storico fu idealizzato dalla storiografia vittoriana e del primo Novecento come una
sorta di "et dell'oro". Gli studi storici pi recenti tendono a ridimensionare questa visione idilliaca,
sottolineando la povert della stragrande maggioranza della popolazione, il sostegno allo
schiavismo e le grandi tensioni interne al paese che sfoceranno, quarant'anni dopo la morte di
Elisabetta, nella guerra civile inglese.[5] tuttavia opinione generale degli storici che l'et
elisabettiana consent all'isola un periodo di relativa pace, un governo che utilizz con parsimonia la
tortura, una riduzione consistente delle persecuzioni religiose e un grado di libert e prosperit di
gran lunga superiore alle monarchie precedenti e immediatamente successive.[6][7][8]
L'et elisabettiana segn l'ingresso dell'Inghilterra nell'et moderna sotto la spinta delle innovazioni
scientifico-tecnologiche come la rivoluzione copernicana e delle grandi esplorazioni geografiche (
l'inizio della colonizzazione inglese dell'America settentrionale).[5] La tempesta di William
Shakespeare si ambienta non a caso in un'isola dei Caraibi la cui popolazione (rappresentata
simbolicamente dal "selvaggio" Calibano e da sua madre, la strega Sicorace) stata sottomessa
dalle arti magiche di Prospero, cio dalla tecnologia e dal progresso dei colonizzatori europei.
L'ascesa al trono di Elisabetta I, dopo il tragico quinquennio di regno di Maria la cattolica, si
caratterizz per un consolidamento del protestantesimo e uno sviluppo deciso dei commerci e delle

conquiste territoriali del regno. Il distacco dall'orbita del papato e del Sacro Romano Impero, con la
sconfitta di Filippo II di Spagna e della sua Invencible Armada (1588), il maggior benessere
economico dovuto all'espansione dei commerci oltre Atlantico, suggellarono il trionfo di Elisabetta
e la nascita dell'Inghilterra moderna[9].
Una nuova classe mercantile acquistava potere e con i commerci aumentarono anche gli scambi
culturali con l'estero. Si accrebbe l'interesse verso le humanae litterae e quindi verso l'Italia, dove
gli intellettuali fuggiti da Costantinopoli (1453) avevano portato con s gli antichi manoscritti dei
grandi classici greci e latini facendo esplodere un interesse senza precedenti per l'antichit grecoromana e lo studio della lingua ebraica.
Nasceva allora in Italia l'umanesimo (a vocazione soprattutto filologica e archeologica), destinato a
maturare nel XVI secolo nel rinascimento, con la creazione di un'arte e un'architettura moderna e un
rinnovamento tecnologico su larga scala (si pensi soltanto a Leonardo da Vinci). Se in Italia il
rinascimento si esaur verso la met del XVI secolo, nell'Europa settentrionale (dove arriva pi
tardi) esso perdur fino ai primi decenni del XVII secolo.
Un fattore sociale che segn la nuova realt inglese, oltre alla crescente intraprendenza dei
commercianti, fu l'aumento della popolazione[10]. Le differenze economiche tra i ceti ricchi e i
meno abbienti durante la dinastia Tudor si approfondirono. La crescita demografica e l'emigrazione
dalle campagne investirono Londra, che quadruplic la sua popolazione in meno di un secolo. Nel
1600 la capitale contava circa 200.000 abitanti. Lo sviluppo del teatro inglese di quest'epoca ha il
suo centro proprio a Londra, diffondendosi poi nella provincia.[11]

Rappresentazione di un mystery play a Chester
Nel periodo immediatamente precedente all'era del teatro elisabettiano, erano molto diffuse le
rappresentazioni sacre, i Corpus Christie plays e i Miracle plays, interrotti solo dal re scismatico
Enrico VIII (1548), e definitivamente messi al bando sotto Elisabetta. Vennero rappresentati in oltre
centoventicinque citt britanniche e per alcune loro caratteristiche, come il passaggio improvviso
dal serio al comico e viceversa, la narrazione per episodi priva della classica strutturazione dei
cinque atti tradizionali, anticiparono il teatro elisabettiano. Quest'ultimo fu maggiormente
influenzato, invece dalle Moralities, testi allegorici con fini educativi che seppur legati alla sfera
sacra, introdussero il gusto della visualizzazione di concetti astratti, ottenuta grazie a figure
simboliche, ovverosia personaggi che rappresentano idee o atteggiamenti.[12]
Inoltre un altro filone teatrale, questa volta laico, precedette quello elisabettiano: gli Interludes
("interludi"), che ebbero l'apice del loro successo dalla met del Quattrocento fino alla seconda
met del Cinquecento, il cui protagonista era solitamente il monarca, l'ambientazione era Londra, la
trama insisteva sull'enfatizzazione della felicit terrena. Fondamentale fu la nascita dei cosiddetti
minidrammi, influenzati dalle opere latine e classiche che inventeranno il metro del teatro in versi
che caratterizzer la produzione successiva.
Frontespizio medievale della morality Everyman
Le compagnie di attori sotto la protezione dei casati nobiliari, che eseguivano periodicamente
rappresentazioni nelle corti e in altri luoghi, esistevano anche prima del regno di Elisabetta, e
prepararono la strada agli attori professionisti del teatro elisabettiano. I sovrani Tudor si
circondarono spesso di artisti, giullari, musicisti e attori. Enrico VII manteneva a corte una piccola
compagnia di attori, i King's Players (Lusores Regis), allo scopo di intrattenere e divertire gli ospiti.
I nobili pi potenti, come il duca di Northumberland o quello di Buckingham, non erano da meno
nell'affermare il proprio prestigio arruolando attori e menestrelli, impegnandoli in sfarzose

celebrazioni, in occasione delle festivit natalizie o per inaugurare un nuovo palazzo. Gli attori,
pedine nei giochi politici, legavano il proprio successo a quello del protettore, di cui portavano la
livrea. Spesso venivano 'prestati' ad altre corti, allo scopo di accrescere il prestigio del proprio
mecenate, e compivano viaggi nei quali a volte erano impiegati anche come informatori. Le lotte di
potere e le rivalit tra la monarchia e le casate pi potenti diventarono argomento degli stessi
drammi rappresentati, in una finzione che rifletteva e si confondeva con la realt.
Le tourne di queste compagnie di attori in livrea soppiantarono gradualmente le altre forme di
rappresentazione sacre e profane. Un articolo della Poor Law (legge sui poveri) del 1572 elimin le
rimanenti compagnie che operavano senza una formale protezione, equiparandole al
vagabondaggio. Le autorit di Londra furono generalmente ostili alle pubbliche rappresentazioni.
Nonostante le protezioni reali e nobiliari, i teatri pubblici della citt furono edificati nelle liberties
fuori dalla giurisdizione comunale, quali il quartiere di Southwark, e per mettersi al riparo dai
divieti le compagnie dovettero ricorrere frequentemente allo stratagemma di presentare le
rappresentazioni come semplici prove di spettacoli destinati alla corte reale.
A Londra, citt in forte espansione nella quale fiorivano le attivit economiche, l'edificazione e la
gestione di un teatro assunse il carattere allora inedito di impresa commerciale autonoma, facendo
emergere la figura dell'impresario. Lo scrittore, poeta e drammaturgo Thomas Dekker giunse ad
equiparare i teatri alla Borsa Reale di Londra costruita nel 1565 da Thomas Gresham, affermando
come le Muse si fossero trasformate in mercanti, scambiandosi la merce leggera delle parole[13]

I teatri
Particolare di una mappa di Londra del 1616 dove si vede la riva del Tamigi sulla quale sorgevano
le playhouses elisabettiane: sulla destra visibile il Globe Theatre
La vita teatrale era ampiamente concentrata a Londra, ma le opere erano rappresentate in tutta
Inghilterra da compagnie itineranti.[14] Le compagnie inglesi si esibivano in tourne recitando
opere inglesi anche in Paesi vicini come Germania e Danimarca.[15]
Il periodo in esame ha inizio prima della fondazione dei primi teatri permamenti. Vi erano all'inizio
due tipi di spazi per la rappresentazione, i cortili degli inn, locande economiche di provincia, e gli
Inn of Court, associazioni professionali per penalisti e giudici, come l'Inner Temple. Tali strutture
continuarono a venire utilizzate anche dopo l'istituzione di teatri permanenti. Il primo teatro stabile
inglese, il Red Lion, apr nel 1567[16][17] ma ebbe scarso successo e vita breve. I primi teatri di
successo, come The Theatre, aprirono nel 1576.
L'istituzione di grandi teatri pubblici redditizi fu un fattore essenziale per successo del dramma
inglese rinascimentale: una volta che tali strutture furono entrate in funzione, il dramma sarebbe
diventato un fenomeno stabile e permanente e non pi transitorio. La loro costruzione fu richiesta
quando il sindaco e la Corporation of London vietarono prima le rappresentazioni nel 1572 come
misura contro la peste, e quindi espulsero formalmente tutti gli attori dalla citt nel 1575.[18] Ci
spinse alla costruzione di teatri stabili al di fuori della giurisdizione di Londra, nelle liberties di
Halliwell/Holywell a Shoreditch e pi tardi Clink, e a Newington Butts, vicino al quartiere dei
divertimenti stabilito a St. George's Fields nel Surrey.[18]
Quando nel Cinquecento sorsero i primi teatri nelle liberties fuori dalla City (sorta di zone franche
non completamente assoggettate all'autorit comunale), essi conservarono molto della antica
semplicit medievale. Senza l'aiuto di macchine o luci artificiali, gli attori inglesi svilupparono al
massimo creativit e fantasia personale prima ancora che fossero scritte le prime grandi opere
elisabettiane (Shakespeare si fece le ossa esordendo come attore, e cos fecero molti altri).
Ricavato in origine da circhi dell'epoca per le lotte tra orsi o tra cani oppure da "inn", l'edificio
teatrale consisteva in una costruzione molto semplice in legno o in pietra, spesso circolare e dotata

di un ampio cortile interno chiuso tutt'intorno ma senza tetto. Tale corte divent la platea del teatro,
mentre i loggioni derivavano dalle balconate interne della locanda. Quando la locanda o il circo
divennero teatro, poco o nulla mut dell'antica costruzione: le rappresentazioni si svolgevano nella
corte, alla luce del sole. L'attore elisabettiano recitava in mezzo, non davanti alla gente: infatti il
palcoscenico si "addentrava" in una platea che lo circondava da tre lati (solo la parte posteriore era
riservata agli attori restando a ridosso dell'edificio). Come nel Medioevo, il pubblico non era
semplice spettatore, ma partecipe della rappresentazione scenica. L'assenza degli "effetti speciali"
raffinava le capacit gestuali, mimiche e verbali dell'attore, che sapeva creare con maestria luoghi e
mondi invisibili (le magie di Prospero ne La Tempesta alludono metaforicamente proprio a questa
magia "evocativa"). E nello stesso tempo, lo spettatore sopperiva alla carenza della componente
visiva con unaltrettanto raffinata fruizione, fatta di straordinaria sensibilit nei confronti della
parola recitata e di vivida immaginazione[19].
Il primo grande anfiteatro aperto al pubblico dell'et elisabettiana fu quello denominato
semplicemente The Theatre, "Il teatro", costruito dall'attore e impresario James Burbage e dal
cognato John Brayne (proprietario del fallito Red Lion)[17] nel quartiere periferico di Shoreditch
nel 1576, su un terreno preso in affitto dal puritano Giles Allen (il quale venti anni pi tardi ne
pretender la restituzione e la demolizione del teatro). Nello stesso anno la regina Elisabetta aveva
infatti accordato ai Leicester's men di Burbage una licenza grazie alla quale essi erano esenti dal
vigente divieto alle pubbliche rappresentazioni teatrali.
Il prototipo per il nuovo teatro era stato il Red Lion, fatto costruire da Brayne nove anni prima, nel
1567, a Mile End, un villaggio ad est di Londra:[17] nelle sue forme essenziali (uno spazio aperto
recintato, con gallerie intorno e il palcoscenico sopraelevato), la sua impostazione strutturale
influenz l'architettura teatrale successiva.
Il teatro di Newington Butts venne fondato, probabilmente da Jerome Savage, tra il 1575[20] e
1577.[21] Seguirono il Curtain Theatre (1577), il Rose (1587), lo Swan (1595), il Globe (del 1599,
costruito con il legname del Theatre, dopo la rescissione del contratto di affitto del terreno), il
Fortune (1600) e il Red Bull (1604).[22]
Questi teatri erano alti tre piani e costruiti anch'essi intorno ad uno spazio aperto al centro. In genere
la pianta era poligonale per ottenere un effetto circolare (anche se il Red Bull e il primo Fortune
erano a pianta quadrata). I tre livelli di gallerie, rivolti all'interno, circondavano lo spazio aperto
centrale. Il palcoscenico era essenzialmente una piattaforma circondata dai tre lati dal pubblico,
sollevata dal terreno di un metro e mezzo circa e coperta da un tetto. Sul fondo erano collocate le
porte di ingresso e uscita degli attori e le sedie per i musicisti. La parte superiore dietro al
palcoscenico poteva essere utilizzata come balcone, come nella famosa scena di Romeo e Giulietta,
oppure come un luogo da cui un attore poteva arringare la folla, come in Giulio Cesare. Gli scavi
archeologici sulle fondamenta del Rose e del Globe alla fine del XX secolo hanno dimostrato che
tutti i teatri di Londra presentavano differenze individuali, ma la loro funzione comune richiedeva
un progetto generale simile.[23]
In genere costruiti in legno, i primi teatri erano soggetti agli incendi. Quando nel giugno del 1613 il
Globe and a fuoco, fu ricostruito con un tetto di tegole. Nel dicembre del 1621, quando il fuoco
distrusse il Fortune, questo fu interamente ricostruito in mattoni. La capienza degli anfiteatri si
aggirava tra i 1500 e i 3000 spettatori.
Un modello differente fu sviluppato con il Blackfriars Theatre, ricavato da un ex convento, che
cominci a essere utilizzato con regolarit nel 1599.[24] Il Blackfriars era pi piccolo, confrontato
con i precedenti, ed era interamente coperto. Assomigliava pi degli altri ad un moderno teatro.
L'illuminazione interna era ottenuta con candele, che venivano sostituite durante uno o pi
intermezzi del dramma.
Altri piccoli teatri coperti seguirono, quali il Whitefriars (1608) e il Cockpit (1617). Questi teatri,
pi raccolti, contenevano circa 500 spettatori, in un ambiente raccolto. Venivano detti "privati",

bench fossero anch'essi aperti al pubblico: essendo molti di essi situati dentro le mura della citt,
era questo un ennesimo stratagemma per sfuggire alle rigide disposizioni della legge. Alla grande O
di legno di cui si parla nel prologo dell'Enrico V progressivamente si sostituiscono le sale dei
palazzi barocchi, relegando gli anfiteatri a sede di spettacoli estivi o, come nel caso dello Hope, ai
combattimenti tra cani e orsi.
Con la costruzione del Salisbury Court Theatre nel 1629 vicino al luogo del dismesso Whitefriars, il
pubblico londinese aveva sei teatri tra cui scegliere, tre dei quali ampi e a cielo aperto - il Globe, il
Fortune e il Red Bull - e tre pi piccoli, "privati": il Blackfriars, il Cockpit e il Salisbury Court.[25]
Intorno al 1580, quando sia il Theatre sia il Curtain erano pieni, con il bel tempo la capacit totale
dei teatri a Londra era di circa 5.000 spettatori. Quando furono costruiti i nuovi edifici e si
formarono nuove compagnie, il numero di posti disponibili aument fino a superare i 10.000
spettatori dopo il 1610.[26]
Ricostruzione dell'interno di un teatro elisabettiano
Mentre il dramma rinascimentale italiano si evolveva verso una forma di arte elitaria, il teatro
elisabettiano diventava un grande contenitore che affascinava tutte le classi. Alle rappresentazioni
che si svolgevano nei teatri pubblici potevano incontrarsi principi e contadini, uomini, donne e
bambini, anche perch il biglietto era alla portata di tutti: i posti in piedi al centro del teatro
costavano un penny; gli spettatori pi abbienti potevano sedersi nelle gallerie pagando due penny
(oppure, con una somma superiore, potevano recarsi nei teatri coperti); la frequentazione del teatro
era fortemente radicata nei costumi dell'epoca. Per questo ogni dramma doveva incontrare gusti
diversi: quelli del soldato che voleva vedere guerre e duelli, quelli della donna che cercava amore e
sentimento, quelli dell'avvocato che si interessava di filosofia morale e di diritto, e cos via. Anche il
linguaggio teatrale riflette questa esigenza, arricchendosi dei registri pi vari e acquistando grande
flessibilit espressiva.
Le tariffe minime non mutarono nel tempo: nel 1580, i cittadini pi poveri potevano acquistare
l'ingresso al Curtain o al Theatre per un penny; nel 1640 l'ingresso al Globe o al Red Bull costava
esattamente la stessa somma, mentre l'ingresso per i teatri privati ammontava a cinque o sei volte

Lo stesso argomento in dettaglio: Esponenti del teatro elisabettiano.

Gli autori
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Ben Jonson (1572-1637)
La popolazione in aumento di Londra, la ricchezza crescente di alcuni dei suoi cittadini e la
crescente domanda di intrattenimento, frustrata dalla soppressione delle forme medioevali di
spettacolo, produsse una letteratura drammaturgica di notevole variet, qualit ed estensione. Il
repertorio del teatro inglese si form in un lasso di tempo brevissimo, seguendo la necessit di
dover offrire sempre nuovi spettacoli (le cui repliche consecutive erano sempre molto limitate) nei
nuovi teatri che venivano via via edificati. Malgrado la maggior parte dei testi scritti per il
palcoscenico elisabettiano siano andati perduti ne rimangono oltre 600, a testimonianza di un'epoca
culturalmente vivace.
Gli uomini che inventavano questi drammi erano anzitutto autodidatti di modeste origini,

nonostante alcuni di essi avessero avuto un'istruzione a Oxford o a Cambridge. Non vi sono donne,
per quanto si sappia, che scrissero per il teatro in quest'epoca, anche se vi furono un pugno di
aristocratiche impegnate in testi teatrali da lettura (closet drama) o traduzioni drammaturgiche.[27]
Alcuni autori, come William Shakespeare, furono innanzitutto attori, tuttavia la maggior parte di
essi non lo erano e a partire dal 1600 non noto il nome di alcun autore che abbia calcato le scene
come attore per arrotondare le proprie entrate.
Quella del drammaturgo era una professione impegnativa e tutt'altro che redditizia.[28] Le voci sul
diario dell'impresario Philip Henslowe mostrano che negli anni intorno al 1600 egli versava un
minimo di 6 o 7 sterline per opera. Era probabilmente una tariffa bassa, anche se i migliori scrittori
non potevano pretendere molto di pi. Un drammaturgo, lavorando da solo, poteva in genere
produrre per lo pi due pezzi teatrali l'anno. Dato che gli autori guadagnavano poco dalla vendita
delle loro opere, per vivere dovevano scrivere moltissimo. In un unico anno, il 1598, Thomas
Dekker lavor su 16 collaborazioni per Henslowe, guadagnando 30 sterline, o un po' meno di 12
scellini a settimana, circa il doppio del reddito medio di un artigiano, uno scellino al giorno.[29] I
drammaturghi erano in genere pagati per stati di avanzamento nel corso della stesura e se infine il
loro testo era accettato potevano inoltre ricevere i proventi di una giornata di rappresentazione. Essi
tuttavia non godevano di alcun diritto d'autore su ci che scrivevano: quando il testo era stato
venduto a una compagnia, questa lo possedeva e l'autore non aveva alcun controllo sulla scelta degli
attori o sulla rappresentazione, n sulle successive revisioni e pubblicazioni.
John Lyly, il primo drammaturgo elisabettiano a noi noto di una certa rilevanza, fu essenzialmente
un autore di corte, poco interessato a sviluppare una drammaturgia adatta ad un pubblico
popolare[30]. Le sue opere erano destinate a compagnie di adolescenti che recitavano in teatri
"privati" e le sue trame erano il pretesto per raffinate dissertazioni, scritte in un linguaggio ricercato.
Il suo stile, detto eufuismo, incoraggi la ricerca di un linguaggio ricco e colto, reso complesso da
figure retoriche e da strutture simmetriche o ricorrenti. Un esempio della sua influenza sulla
produzione successiva la commedia scespiriana Pene d'amore perdute.
Non tutti i drammaturghi corrispondono tuttavia alle moderne immagini di poeti o intellettuali:
Christopher Marlowe fu ucciso nel corso di una rissa in una taverna, Shakespeare si accompagnava
a personaggi dei bassifondi di Londra e arrotondava le proprie entrate prestando denaro, mentre Ben
Jonson uccise un attore in duello. Molti altri furono probabilmente soldati. Forse in nessuna altra
epoca il dramma pi reale e tocca la sensibilit di tutti: cospirazioni, assassinii politici, condanne a
morte e violenza sono all'ordine del giorno, anche perch il Rinascimento un'epoca di
cambiamenti traumatici in tutta Europa. Per sfuggire alla censura i temi trattati sono sempre
presentati come lontani o estranei, ma non mancano le fonti di ispirazione: in Italia, e soprattutto a
Firenze, i complotti politici di palazzo e le guerre intestine hanno insanguinato le citt, come si
apprende dalle cronache e dalla novellistica italiana tradotta in inglese. Queste e altre vicende
europee offrono ottimi spunti per rappresentare in modo esotico le tensioni con le quali convivono i
cittadini del Regno. La grandezza dell'epoca contempla cos la sua stessa crisi, che anche la crisi e
il tramonto definitivo dell'et di mezzo.
Marlowe compose opere su temi molto controversi, rompendo molti del tab dell'epoca. Nei suoi
drammi, tramite allegorie ben dissimulate in vicende apparentemente lontane nel tempo - come il
caso dell'Edoardo II - egli affronta l'omosessualit, le guerre intestine per la conquista del potere, il
regicidio. Tamerlano il Grande (Tamburlaine the Great, 1587) fu il dramma che lo consacr
all'attenzione del pubblico inglese, messo in scena dagli Admiral's Men durante la guerra con la
Spagna e interpretato con successo da Edward Alleyn. Il trionfo del re barbaro che annienta regni di
raffinata cultura interpretava i sinistri timori del popolo inglese nei confronti di Filippo II di Spagna
e della sua costruenda Invincibile Armata. Questa modalit narrativa provocatoria, apparentemente
innocente ma facilmente decodificabile dal pubblico, non fu sanzionata n censurata e fu il modello
a cui si attennero i drammaturghi successivi nell'affrontare tematiche politiche.
Se le caratterizzazioni di Alleyn gi avevano reso necessaria una scrittura teatrale che si affidasse e

offrisse spunti al talento dell'attore, con Shakespeare si assiste a una pi completa fusione tra il testo
e la sua esecuzione. Shakespeare, a differenza di Marlowe, scrisse drammi corali, vere e proprie
macchine teatrali in cui ogni personaggio contribuisce all'incisivit dell'insieme. Non si affid alla
perizia del solo Richard Burbage (che pure fu in grado di veri e propri virtuosismi, innanzitutto
vocali, alle prese con i personaggi maggiori) ma a quella di un gruppo affiatato. Si tratt del
perfezionamento di un vero e proprio "artigianato teatrale", come gi riconobbe la studiosa
britannica Muriel Bradbrook nell'intitolare un suo studio, appunto, Shakespeare l'artigiano[31], nel
quale la scrittura del copione procedeva di pari passo con il lavoro di palcoscenico, misurando i
ruoli sugli interpreti, le cui doti migliori dovevano essere valorizzate nella costruzione dei
personaggi. La maggior parte dei drammaturghi scrivevano, come Shakespeare, in versi.

Vita degli attori

Il palcoscenico del Globe Theatre
Le compagnie di recitazione funzionavano sulla base un sistema di repertorio: a differenza delle
produzioni moderne, che possono funzionare per mesi o anni di seguito, le troupes raramente
recitavano lo stesso pezzo due giorni di fila. A Game at Chess di Thomas Middleton ebbe ben nove
recite consecutive nell'agosto 1624[32] prima che fosse chiuso dalle autorit, ma ci fu dovuto al
contenuto politico del dramma e fu un fenomeno unico, senza precedenti e irripetibile.
Considerando la stagione 1592 dei Lord Strange's Men al Rose in quanto pi rappresentativa: tra il
19 febbraio e il 23 giugno la compagnia recit per sei giorni alla settimana, meno il Venerd Santo e
altri due giorni, esibendosi in 23 opere differenti, alcune solo una volta, e 15 volte il loro pezzo pi
popolare della stagione, The First Part of Hieronimo (tratta da The Spanish Tragedy di Kyd). Le
compagnie non rappresentavano mai lo stesso spettacolo due giorni di fila e raramente lo stesso
spettacolo due volte alla settimana.[33]
Per costruire un personaggio vero, umanamente vicino alla gente, non era in uso l'abitudine, che
diverr via via prassi nel teatro romantico e nel teatro borghese, di una precisa fedelt al periodo
storico dal punto di vista scenografico e costumistico. Impiegare delle attrici era inoltre proibito
dalla legge, e lo fu per tutto il Seicento, anche dopo la dittatura puritana. I personaggi femminili
erano dunque rappresentati da adolescenti maschi[34], ma questo non diminu il successo delle
rappresentazioni, provato dai testimoni dell'epoca e dalle continue proteste contro le compagnie
teatrali da parte degli amministratori puritani della City.
Solo la protezione accordata alle troupe dai prncipi e dai reali - se l'attore vestiva la loro livrea non
poteva essere infatti arrestato - pot salvare Shakespeare e i suoi compagni dalle condanne di
empiet lanciate dalle municipalit puritane. I nomi di molte compagnie teatrali derivano proprio da
questa forma di patrocinio: The Admiral's Men e The King's Men erano appunto "gli uomini
dell'ammiraglio" e "gli uomini del sovrano". Una compagnia che non avesse avuto un potente
sponsor alle spalle poteva andare incontro a serie difficolt e vedersi cancellati gli spettacoli da un
giorno all'altro.
A questi problemi si aggiungevano, per gli attori, i salari molto bassi.

Compagnie teatrali

The Admiral's Men

The King's Men
Lord Chamberlain's Men
Queen Anne's Men
Worcester's Men

Le opere
Interesse per l'Italia
Questa voglia di rinnovamento e di modernit si diffuse anche a Londra. Neanche i sinistri resoconti
di presunti viaggi nel paese di Niccol Machiavelli, come il Viaggiatore sfortunato di Thomas
Nashe, parvero diminuire l'entusiasmo del grande pubblico: l'amoralit de Il Principe e le voci delle
congiure papali contribuirono invece a tenere vivo l'interesse per l'Italia. Proprio nella capitale vi
era cospicua una comunit di immigrati italiani (molti dei quali drammaturghi e attori): con essi
Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, il secondo pi grande drammaturgo, e i contemporanei
dovettero probabilmente intrattenere rapporti di amicizia e di frequente collaborazione

Il successo di Seneca
Nell'et di Shakespeare non erano in molti a leggere i drammi in latino e meno ancora in greco,
lingua che solo allora si cominciava a conoscere. Le opere di Seneca, gi oggetto di grande interesse
per gli umanisti italiani si diffusero perci soprattutto attraverso adattamenti italiani che si
discostano non poco dallo spirito dell'originale. Furono inserite nella rappresentazione quelle scene
di violenza e crudelt che dall'autore erano invece affidate al racconto di testimoni. Ma fu proprio la
versione italianizzata, dove il male presentato nella sua interezza, a piacere ai drammaturghi
elisabettiani e a incontrare l'interesse del pubblico.

La tragicommedia e il romanzesco
Ferdinando e Miranda, da La tempesta, E.R. Frampton (British, 1870-1923).
Un dramma molto legato all'effetto di scena e che fa presa sulle emozioni pi violente associa talora
a s le passioni d'amore pi morbose: il quadro antico dipinto con mano tanto leggera restaurato
con tinte tanto forti da cancellare quasi il tocco del suo artista. Non fu forse un caso che gli stessi
drammaturghi rinascimentali lavorassero contemporaneamente ad opere di tipo "misto", come le
pastorali o le tragicommedie, fusioni di commedia e tragedia, insieme di tragico, di comico e di
La contaminazione dei generi in voga nel rinascimento fu accolta anche dagli elisabettiani, le cui
tragedie e commedie mantengono per un maggiore distacco ironico e realistico. La tempesta ha
molto della tragicommedia, ma l'ironia e la comicit dei personaggi, la profondit dell'esplorazione
filosofica le conferiscono pi respiro. Lo stesso pu dirsi di molte altre grandi commedie
scespiriane ed elisabettiane, in cui il comico si mescola fatalmente al tragico, come d'altra parte
avviene nel cinema moderno. Le battute del buffone di Re Lear e la follia dello stesso re caduto in
disgrazia per il tradimento delle figlie a cui tutto aveva affettuosamente donato danno il necessario
sollievo comico al pubblico facendo contemporaneamente risaltare, come per l'effetto del
chiaroscuro, la tragedia personale di Lear e quella nazionale dell'Inghilterra dilaniata dalla guerra

Innovazioni rispetto al teatro continentale

L'era elisabettiana tuttavia non si limit ad adattare i modelli: rinnov felicemente il metro col
blank verse, o pentametro giambico, che ricalca abbastanza fedelmente quello latino senechiano,
liberando il dialogo drammatico dall'artificiosit della rima, mentre rest la regolarit dei cinque
piedi del verso. Il blank verse fu introdotto dal Conte di Surrey quando nel 1540 pubblic una
traduzione dell'Eneide usando proprio questa forma metrica, ma si dovette aspettare il Gorboduc di

Sackville e Norton (1561) perch esso entrasse nel dramma (e far poi furore nell'epopea biblica di
John Milton, il Paradiso perduto del 1667). L'idea di usare un metro simile era venuta al Surrey
proprio dalla traduzione in versi sciolti dell'Eneide del Caro. Il teatro elisabettiano introdusse anche
tutta una serie di tecniche teatrali d'avanguardia che vennero utilizzate secoli pi tardi dal cinema e
dalla televisione. Il palcoscenico inglese della fine del Cinquecento (soprattutto in Shakespeare) si
serve di un frequente e rapido susseguirsi di scene che fanno passare presto da un luogo all'altro
saltando ore, giorni, mesi con un'agilit quasi pari a quella del cinema moderno. Il blank verse gioca
una parte non indifferente conferendo alla poesia la spontaneit della conversazione e la spigliatezza
della recitazione.
La Poetica di Aristotele, che defin le unit di tempo e di azione (l'unit di luogo un'aggiunta degli
umanisti) nel dramma, riusc ad imporsi meglio nel Continente: solo alcuni classicisti di stampo
accademico come Ben Jonson ne seguirono alla lettera i precetti, ma questi personaggi non hanno la
vita di quelli di Shakespeare, rimanendo (soprattutto nel caso di Jonson) dei "tipi" o delle
"maschere". Fu proprio grazie alla rinuncia delle regole che il teatro elisabettiano pot sviluppare
quelle forme nuove nelle quali Shakespeare, Beaumont, Fletcher, Marlowe e molti altri trovarono
campo fertile per loro genio.

Modernit e realismo dei personaggi

Romeo e Giulietta, dipinto di Ford Madox Brown
La rilettura elisabettiana dei classici port dunque una ventata di innovazione a storie ormai
millenarie, esaltando anzi le qualit universali dei grandi personaggi storici o leggendari. Oltre allo
stile e alle tecniche, anche le tematiche sociali sono affrontate in modo moderno, in tutta la loro
complessit psicologica infrangendo consolidati tab sociali (sessualit, morte, cannibalismo,
follia). Si pensi all'amore "proibito" tra Romeo e Giulietta, due ragazzi di quattordici anni che
decidono in pochi giorni di sposarsi e fuggire di casa; si pensi alla rappresentazione del suicidio
degli amanti. Nel Re Lear l'abbandono del vecchio re da parte delle figlie il tema dominante.
Qualit queste che, lungi dal "peggiorare" i personaggi, li rendono pi simili a noi, dimostrando
come questa epoca ci tocchi ancora profondamente.

Il teatro nel teatro

Il Globe Theatre
Che il teatro elisabettiano sia un "teatro aperto" non solo nel suo significato pi letterale sembra
dimostrato anche dal senso di autoironia degli attori e dei drammaturghi elisabettiani. L'attore ama
parlare al pubblico "tra le righe", magari per prendere in giro il personaggio stesso che sta recitando,
anticipando il distacco ironico del teatro di Bertolt Brecht. Per questo genere di attore il
drammaturgo elisabettiano inventa il teatro nel teatro. Lo si visto nella maschera de La tempesta,
ma l'esempio pi emblematico forse quello dell'Amleto, in cui il giovane erede al trono di
Danimarca ingaggia una troupe di attori itineranti per fare rappresentare di fronte agli occhi di
Claudio, sospettato di avere ucciso suo padre, un dramma che ne ricostruisce il presunto assassinio.
Al finale a sorpresa Claudio si alza sconvolto e terrorizzato, lasciando la corte. Da qui il giovane
Amleto si convincer della colpevolezza del patrigno, architettando la sua uccisione. Anche la
versione originale de La bisbetica domata strutturata come un teatro nel teatro: la commedia si
apre infatti con la scena nella quale l'ubriacone Sly viene convinto da un Lord di essere in realt un
ricco signore addormentato per anni, e viene quindi invitato a vedere una rappresentazione di attori
girovaghi dal titolo "La bisbetica domata". Potremmo trovare tanti altri esempi di questo tipo tra gli
elisabettiani, in seguito ripresi con successo con il "cinema nel cinema", ma anche col "teatro nel

Teatro inglese
Da Wikipedia, l'enciclopedia libera.
Con la locuzione teatro inglese si intendono tutte le forme di spettacolo drammatico provenienti da
uno specifico Stato del continente europeo, l'Inghilterra. In senso allargato vi si includono alcune
forme drammatiche britanniche della met dello scorso millennio, in virt del fatto che la storia del
teatro degli stati britannici ha avuto il suo fulcro proprio in Londra.

10 Bibliografia
11 Voci correlate
12 Collegamenti esterni

Forme arcaiche drammatiche

Nell'intera Gran Bretagna possibile rinvenire tracce di drammi arcaici denominati agon
(generalmente, conflitto) di genesi popolare e campestre, agiti nel periodo invernale delle feste sia
nelle case dei cittadini che nelle sale di ritrovo degli stessi. Privi di testo scritto e dunque basati sul
mito pagano della comunit alla quale appartenevano, erano strutturati sulla forma dialogica tra pi
attori mascherati, che prendevano nomi differenti a seconda del luogo della rappresentazione: in
Inghilterra venivano definiti Mummers[1] (termine usato anche in Irlanda), Tipteers o Soulcakers[2], in Cornovaglia Geese-dancers, Goloshans o Guisers in Scozia.[3]
Dei ludi popolari arcaici ben poco rimasto e raramente vengono rappresentati. La struttura
drammatica che li costituiva era comunque abbastanza definita e presenter alcune similitudini col
teatro medievale successivo: di norma un protagonista, il quale incarnava un esempio non di virt
(caratteristica che sar poi del teatro religioso a partire da quello medievale) ma di caratteristiche
positive, si trovava di fronte ad una sfida che poteva culminare con la sua morte e successiva
resurrezione per mezzo delle arti magiche di un altro personaggio e alla quale succedeva un
festeggiamento collettivo.[4]

Teatro medievale
Lo stesso argomento in dettaglio: Teatro medievale.
Un pageant utilizzato nel Ciclo di Chester
Dopo la caduta dell'Impero romano d'Occidente ed il successivo imporsi della cultura e civilt
cattolica in Europa, le forme teatrali pagane furono aspramente combattute dalla Chiesa, che le
considerava sinonimo di pericolosit per la moralit sociale. Sopravvissero, nell'alto Medioevo,
giullarate e spettacoli di intrattenimento di menestrelli e buffoni, ma il materiale al loro riguardo
piuttosto scarso e, in genere, si tratta di fonti storiche di seconda mano.

Mankind, protagonista dell'Everyman, lotta con la Morte.

Il teatro risorse come fenomeno religioso grazie all'interpretazione delle Sacre scritture in forma
drammatica, impersonate da laici all'interno delle chiese e via via spostatesi all'esterno di esse, su
sagrati e piazze pubbliche. Grazie ai pageants, carri mobili sui quali avveniva una rappresentazione,
lo spettacolo divenne itinerante e nacquero vere e proprie compagnie teatrali, senza alcun
riconoscimento professionale o sociale, che portarono i propri repertori di matrice religiosa in giro
per le citt. Il fenomeno delle rappresentazioni di carattere religioso ebbe vasta diffusione in tutta
l'isola britannica tra il XIII ed il XV secolo, per poi essere abolite da Enrico VIII nel 1548 e riprese
da Maria Tudor, che le vide di nuovo proibite da Elisabetta I a causa del differente, seppur non
fervente, orientamento religioso.[5]
Un diagramma illustra la disposizione delle mansiones nel The Castle of Perseverance
Le Sacre rappresentazioni ebbero in Inghilterra il loro apice con i mystery plays (anche detti miracle
plays) e i morality plays: mentre i primi erano la drammatizzazione delle vite dei santi e delle
vicende bibliche pi celebri, i secondi portavano in scena la lotta dell'uomo contro le passioni e la
lotta contro di esse delle virt, rappresentate entrambe in scena da attori reali con l'ausilio di una
sempre pi precisa e spettacolare scenografia. Mentre in Inghilterra prevaleva l'uso di stazioni tra
loro separate, ognuna rappresentante un differente luogo scenico, in Scozia si utilizzava il
palcoscenico alla francese, costituito da un solo lungo praticabile sullo sfondo del quale erano
dipinti o costruiti i vari ambienti in successione.[6] Si calcola che nel periodo di massima diffusione
si tennero nell'intera Gran Bretagna rappresentazioni in oltre 125 citt[5]: ci sono pervenuti molti
testi scritti di esse, alcuni dei quali organizzati in cicli che presero il nome delle citt di
allestimento: tra i pi celebri miracle plays si ricordano il Ciclo di Chester (della met del
Trecento), il Ciclo di York (successivo al 1350), il Ciclo di Wakefield (1425 circa) ed il Ciclo di NTown (1468)[7]. Dal lato delle moralities, il pi celebre rimane l'Everyman del tardo XV secolo
mentre il pi antico e lungo il The Castle of Perseverance, sempre dello stesso secolo.
Proprio grazie alla sempre maggiore diffusione di queste forme di sacra rappresentazione le
compagnie laicali che le allestivano iniziarono a costituirsi come vere e proprie compagnie
professioniste, sebbene il loro repertorio fosse limitato ed il loro riconoscimento sociale nullo. Certo
che la scenotecnica ebbe invece notevoli sviluppi.
Il teatro pagano e popolare, demonizzato dalla Chiesa, sopravvisse in minima parte nei Mummer's
plays di origine arcaica, e negli spettacoli dei giullari e trovatori, il cui luogo d'esibizione deputato
erano le corti dei signori inglesi, dalla cui struttura deriver poi la forma architettonica particolare
del teatro elisabettiano.

Ben Jonson
Nel periodo che va dalla fine del XV secolo alla met di quello successivo, coincidente con lo
sviluppo del Rinascimento inglese, ebbero vasta risonanza gli interludi, forme drammatiche di
intrattenimento agite nelle corti dei nobili e derivanti dalle moralities, ma di argomento non
religioso: al contrario delle moralit classiche, il ruolo del protagonista era del signore che ospitava
lo spettacolo e che lo vedeva non alla ricerca della salvezza eterna dell'anima, bens della felicit
terrena, discostandosi cos enormemente dalle finalit del teatro religioso.[8] Non di rado negli
interludi era contenuta una propaganda politica: poich prendevano spunto dalla contemporaneit,
accadeva che l'autore prendesse posizione nei confronti di un accadimento come nel King John di
John Bale, nel quale l'autore dichiarava la tesi dell'omicidio di Giovanni Senzaterra da parte
dell'arcivescovo di Canterbury. Nella drammaturgia degli interludi vi inoltre la possibilit di

scorgervi elementi di derivazione classica, soprattutto degli autori latini e della novellistica italiana,
che rimarr un punto di riferimento anche per la produzione drammatica successiva.
La presentazione scenica degli interludi era caratterizzata dal dialogo di pi attori con un
accompagnamento musicale composto sovente da piffero e tamburino[6]. Degli interludi
possediamo circa 80 frammenti di copioni che coprono un arco temporale che va dal 1466 al 1576.
[9] Tra i maggiori autori del genere vanno ricordati innanzitutto John Heywood, John Rastell,
Henry Medwall, John Redford, Nicholas Udall. Proprio Udall viene ricordato come l'autore della
prima commedia in lingua inglese: si trattava del Ralph Roister Doister del 1535, una versione
modificata del Miles Gloriosus di Plauto[10]. Il primo interludio pervenutoci completo viene invece
genericamente identificato nel Fulgens and Lucrece di Henry Medwall, composto negli ultimi anni
del Quattrocento[8].
Gli interludi, per il loro carattere politicizzato e colto, erano indirizzati ad un pubblico ben preciso:
sullo stesso stile, ma di argomento comico e leggero, si inserivano le farse, rappresentate nelle
piazze per il popolo.[11]
Di derivazione medievale fu il masque[12], genere teatrale nato in principio da un carnascialesco
corteo di maschere che, accompagnate da musica, allietavano le serate dei nobili e trasformato poi
in una vera e propria opera teatrale anni dopo da Ben Jonson, che vi costru impianti drammaturgici
tali da renderlo celebre autore di tali spettacoli.

Il teatro elisabettiano
Lo stesso argomento in dettaglio: Teatro elisabettiano.
Un teatro elisabettiano
Il teatro elisabettiano fu uno dei momenti di maggiore intensit del teatro inglese. Sotto questo
nome si suole identificare la produzione teatrale collocata tradizionalmente fra il 1558 e il 1625,
durante i regni dei sovrani britannici Elisabetta I d'Inghilterra e Giacomo I d'Inghilterra. Il termine,
nella sua accezione di teatro rinascimentale inglese, si estende ai fenomeni teatrali fioriti nel
periodo che va dalla riforma anglicana alla chiusura dei teatri nel 1642, a causa del sopraggiungere
della Guerra Civile, comprendendo quindi anche buona parte del regno di Carlo I. La produzione
del periodo successivo al 1603 (anno della morte della regina) talvolta definita in modo distinto
come il teatro dell'et giacobita (jacobean) e presenta caratteri differenti dal precedente, di cui
Il teatro di tutto il periodo viene tradizionalmente associato a due grandi figure: la regina Elisabetta,
da cui trae il nome, e il drammaturgo William Shakespeare, massimo esponente di questo periodo e
considerato tuttora uno dei maggiori autori teatrali a livello mondiale.
Lo stesso argomento in dettaglio: Et elisabettiana.
Sotto il regno di Elisabetta l'Inghilterra vide, nonostante gli attacchi dei puritani che non gradivano
l'arte teatrale poich vi scorgevano i tratti di attivit ludiche che potessero allontanare i fedeli dal
credo, una fioritura impressionante delle attivit connesse allo spettacolo: l'associazionismo port
alla nascita di numerose compagnie configurate come un organismo moderno con tanto di autore,
attore e scenografi, che prendevano sovente il nome del nobile finanziatore ricevendone quindi una
protezione pi o meno ufficiale. Nacque la figura dell'impresario teatrale, quando il teatro si
configur come una vera e propria attivit commerciale: sorsero, nonostante le difficolt del caso,
strutture teatrali debitrici nella forma e logistica delle vecchie sale dei nobili dove si svolgevano
spettacoli di puro intrattenimento.

L'architettura teatrale
Esterno della ricostruzione del Globe Theatre a Londra
Il palcoscenico del Globe nella ricostruzione romana a Villa Borghese
Questi luoghi, chiamati playhouses, erano aperti al pubblico ed erano distanti, per rozzezza, dai
raffinati teatri europei che stavano sorgendo nel resto del continente, il cui momento di massimo
splendore fu rappresentato dalla concezione dello spazio del teatro all'italiana. Tra le numerose
strutture teatrali vi erano il celebre Globe Theatre, il The Curtain, il The Rose ed altri ancora.
Le strutture lignee sorgevano fuori dal territorio comunale londinese dove il potere puritano,
avverso all'arte teatrale, era meno forte. Di forma circolare, erano sprovviste di tetto e
l'illuminazione era garantita dalla luce diurna nell'orario delle rappresentazioni, che avvenivano dal
primo pomeriggio, per poi passare a quella delle candele e delle torce. Il palcoscenico, provvisto di
sgabelli laterali dove sedevano alcuni spettatori e privo di sipario e di arco scenico, aveva un
proscenio aggettante rialzato che dava nella platea dov'era il popolo, che assisteva in piedi alle
messinscene. Alle spalle del palco vi era la continuazione delle gallerie del pubblico che si divideva
in due parti: una al livello del palco e praticabile detta inner stage , l'altra al secondo livello detta
upper stage: entrambe erano utilizzate come luoghi dell'azione scenica, e alle spalle dell'upper
stage, nascosta, si celava l'orchestra musicale, che suonava non a vista.

La drammaturgia
Lo stesso argomento in dettaglio: Esponenti del teatro elisabettiano.
Frontespizio de La tragedia spagnola di Thomas Kyd
Christopher Marlowe
La produzione teatrale scritta destinata ad un pubblico d'lite prese il nome di University wits
(tradotto, ingegni universitari), intendendo con questa una schiera di drammaturghi che alzarono il
livello medio della drammaturgia d'epoca, inserendovi riferimenti colti e attingendo alla propria
cultura universitaria. Tra questi vanno ricordati John Lyly, Thomas Lodge, Christopher Marlowe,
Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, George Peele.[13]
Se Lyly riprese nelle commedie la mitologia classica e le leggende per celebrare i fasti del regno
elisabettiano come una ripresa dell'et dell'oro, George Peele incentr la sua produzione sui drammi
patriottici e storici, mentre Robert Greene si riserv di attingere ampiamente alla letteratura
fantastica derivante dalla novellistica.
Christopher Marlowe, spirito inquieto e ribelle, rivendica fortemente l'autorialit del singolo a
scapito della produzione plurale frutto di collaborazioni[14]: la tensione dialettica delle sue opere
miste ad una dose di volont di stupire e di stravolgere l'ordine costituito sono riscontrabili in opere
come Tamerlano il grande del 1587-1588, dove il personaggio principale diviene stereotipo del
protagonista marlowiano, ossia l'uomo venuto dal nulla che raggiunge il potere imponendo il suo
pensiero al di sopra delle ipocrisie sociali con una dose di sarcasmo e sfacciataggine che lo pongono
in atteggiamento di sfida. Ancor pi celebre il suo Doctor Faustus del 1588-1593, dove trasforma
un libello in dramma dalle tinte fosche e luciferine, in una celebrazione del dramma dell'interiorit
che lo render celebre ai posteri per l'innovativo messaggio contenuto.
Lontano dalla formazione universitaria fu invece Thomas Kyd, di cui ci rimane il testo La tragedia
spagnola (1582-1592) che si configura come la prima tragedia di vendetta (revenge tragedy) ed
articolato su pi livelli metateatrali grazie all'utilizzo del discorso drammatico diviso tra i
personaggi che agiscono le scene e il coro di fantasmi che le commenta.

William Shakespeare
Lo stesso argomento in dettaglio: William Shakespeare.
William Shakespeare
Il frontespizio del secondo quarto dell'Amleto
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) considerato all'unanimit uno dei maggiori drammaturghi a
livello mondiale, per la ricchezza delle sue opere e l'universalit dei messaggi dalle forti tinte
contenuti in esse .
Dei suoi lavori ci sono giunte tragedie, commedie e drammi storici, per un totale di 40 opere, la
maggior parte delle quali di certa attribuzione:
Tragedie: Romeo e Giulietta, Macbeth, Re Lear, Amleto, Otello, Tito Andronico, Giulio Cesare,
Antonio e Cleopatra, Coriolano, Troilo e Cressida, Timone di Atene.
Commedie: Le allegre comari di Windsor, La bisbetica domata, Cimbelino, Come vi piace, La
commedia degli errori, La dodicesima notte, I due gentiluomini di Verona, I due nobili congiunti, Il
mercante di Venezia, Misura per misura, Molto rumore per nulla, Pene d'amor perdute, Pericleprincipe di Tiro, Il racconto d'inverno, Sogno di una notte di mezza estate, La tempesta, Timone
d'Atene, Tutto bene quel che finisce bene.
Drammi storici: Riccardo III, Riccardo II, Enrico VI-parte I, Enrico V,-parte II, Enrico VI- parte III,
Enrico V, Enrico IV- parte I, Enrico IV- parte II, Enrico VIII, Re Giovanni, Edoardo III.
Le opere di Shakespeare, pi volte rimaneggiate e riadattate alla contemporaneit, furono in periodi
diversi riprese con successo dalla maggior parte degli attori e delle compagnie inglesi. Ad oggi il
suo lavoro considerato tra i punti pi alti della drammaturgia di tutti i tempi.
Altri protagonisti
Dal punto di vista della produzione drammatica, oltre a Shakespeare agirono per le scene numerosi
autori, alcuni dei quali di stampo profondamente classicheggiante quali Samuel Daniel, William
Alexander, Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke e William Alabaster, che si rifacevano ai moduli tragici
senechiani[15] e le cui opere, di rado rappresentate, erano destinate ad una cerchia elitaria distante
dalle rumorose playhouses. Il gusto degli spettatori si spost pian piano sulla tragicommedia,
sebbene tragedie e commedie furono ancora rappresentate fino alla chiusura dei teatri nel 1660 per
volere dei puritani.
John Fletcher
Francis Beaumont
Di altro stampo erano gli autori di mestiere i quali, ad eccezione di Thomas Dekker, possedevano
una buona cultura di base pur senza farne puro esercizio di stile: la loro produzione era quindi
finalizzata essenzialmente alla rappresentazione. Francis Beaumont e John Fletcher lavorarono in
alcuni drammi in coppia e Fletcher in particolare collabor con Shakespeare nella stesura de I due
nobili congiunti. Sebbene Beaumont fosse pi dotato di Fletcher[16] fu quest'ultimo ad assicurarsi
larga fama presso i contemporanei.
Dall'apice del teatro elisabettiano si giunse poi ad un sostanziale inaridimento della
drammaturgia[17], sebbene vi siano autori che si siano ampiamente distinti nel loro lavoro. La
ricerca di precise fonti sul loro lavoro per difficile, anche a causa della distruzione di numerosi
fonti storiche nell'incendio di Londra del 1666.
George Chapman fu autore di varie commedie e tragedie di stampo ampolloso e stereotipato[15]

mentre John Marston lo fu di tragedie ideate per gruppi di fanciulli. Della produzione di Thomas
Heywood ci sono giunti 24 lavori di cui uno, A Woman Killed wirh Kindness, si configura come
dramma domestico, mentre autore principalmente di city comedies fu Thomas Middleton, la cui
produzione di difficile attribuzione per la elevata quantit di collaboratori di cui si serv per
completare le proprie opere.
Ben Jonson fu contemporaneo di Shakespeare, ma profondamente differente per la produzione
drammaturgica. Erudito e raffinato quanto mondano socialmente ma schivo personalmente, lasci ai
posteri una copiosa produzione di masque e di drammi. Tra i pi celebri vi sono Every Man in His
Humour del 1598 o il Volpone del 1606. In qualche modo Jonson fu portavoce di un'aspra critica nei
confronti della mancanza di cultura del teatro del suo tempo, inneggiando questo a pi alti valori di
dignit e sapienza, senza essere per in alcun modo un ammonitore del genere.
Altri autori minori furono Nathanael Field che fu autore di city comedies, Richard Browne, Robert
Davenport, John Ford e James Shirley. Se Ford prefer il sensazionalismo scabroso, Shirley fu pi
pacato nei toni con le sue tragicommedie e commedie brillanti nelle quali si ravvisa una capacit
letteraria notevole, adatta pi alla lettura che alla messinscena.[18]

Il sistema teatrale
Edward Alleyn, uno tra i pi celebri attori dell'epoca.
Nel periodo di maggior fioritura del teatro elisabettiano Londra fu l'epicentro della vita dello
spettacolo dal vivo inglese. Costruiti su terreni non assoggettati completamente all'autorit
comunale, i teatri sorsero di grande capienza e prevalentemente in legno, a partire dalla seconda
met del sedicesimo secolo.
Gli attori si costituivano in associazioni che si spartivano i dividendi degli introiti (costituiti dal
pagamento del biglietto di ingresso da parte degli spettatori) in quote stabilite dal contratto iniziale
sottoscritto, alla stregua di moderni azionisti di una societ.[19] I drammaturghi scrivevano per
specifiche compagnie che detenevano i diritti delle rappresentazioni, sebbene talvolta essi venissero
violati, nella fattispecie di fronte ai successi di un lavoro. Ci sono giunti 24 nomi di compagnie
operanti nel periodo elisabettiano[20], e tutte possedevano un "protettore" che dava il nome al
gruppo: oltre ad agire nel teatro dove avevano sede, alla stregua delle moderne compagnie di
produzione, che conteneva anche i costumi e la poca scenografia oltre che le suppellettili di scena,
esse agivano anche in tourne sia nazionali che internazionali. Sovente, poi, venivano introdotte a
corte per spettacoli privati da allestire in saloni che possedevano una struttura differente rispetto al
teatro classico elisabettiano.
Richard Burbage, attore figlio dell'impresario teatrale James Burbage e a sua volta impresario.
In particolar modo nell'et elisabettiana si ebbe la fioritura di numerose compagnie teatrali, come i
The Admiral's Men o i Lord Chamberlain's Men, nella quale lavorava Shakespeare, oltre che di
figure di spicco come gli impresari James Burbage e Philip Henslowe. Compagnie di giro, che si
produssero in tourne europee furono quella di Robert Browne[21], allievo del celebre attore
Edward Alleyn, altro protagonista dell'epoca particolarmente apprezzato dalla regina Elisabetta. Se
Alleyn era per interprete del modo garbato di recitare, dalla parte del fool, il comico danzatore
grottesco da ricordare William Kempe, erede di Richard Tarlton. Altra compagnia fu quella di
George Webster, mentre pare che un certo John Kempe fu celebre in Italia agli inizi del Seicento.
Inigo Jones ritratto da Anthony van Dyck
Numerosi sono i tentativi di ricostruzione della recitazione dell'epoca, sebbene essa non sia

possibile da delineare se non sommariamente e per deduzione, vista la mancanza di fonti dirette.
Quasi sicuramente non esistevano veri e propri copioni, in quanto la stampa era una pratica costosa
e non di certo possibile per ogni spettacolo in allestimento: stampare copie per tutti gli attori era
dunque poco probabile. Di certo, era necessaria un'indubbia capacit vocale, visto che i teatri erano
all'aperto e non vi era un sistema di diffusione del suono. La scarsa scenografia di scena lasciava al
testo il compito di illustrare l'ambiente nel quale agivano i personaggi.
Da ci possibile dedurre che all'elemento verbale fosse attribuita notevole importanza, proprio
perch fungeva da elemento descrittivo della scena. Bisogna poi tener presente che alle donne era
vietato intraprendere la carriera di attrice, per cui i ruoli femminili erano designati a giovinetti che,
di certo, agivano molto diversamente da come agirebbe una donna.
Giunto il genere del masque al momento del suo massimo splendore, acquis fama e importanza nel
campo teatrale il nome dello scenografo ed architetto Inigo Jones, al quale di accreditano importanti
innovazioni in campo scenico quali l'inserimento dell'arco di proscenio, fino ad allora non utilizzato
in Inghilterra, o lo studio e l'applicazione delle quinte prospettiche sul palcoscenico.
L'imprenditoria teatrale era ormai una professione a tutti gli effetti sebbene non regolamentata,
come molte altre, da nessuna specifica norma legale. Tra gli imprenditori celebri si ricordano James
Burbage, che fu alla guida degli stabili The Theatre e The Curtain, poi passati al figlio James
Burbage; Philip Henslowe, sotto la cui direzione passarono il Globe Theatre, il Fortune Theatre in
societ con l'attore Edward Alleyn, The Rose e The Hope; Francis Langley, che diede vita al The

La fine
Il 1642 si configur come un anno negativo per i teatri londinesi: convocato il Parlamento da Carlo
I, alla vigilia della successiva guerra civile, i puritani imposero la chiusura dei teatri con il
conseguente abbandono di ogni attivit di intrattenimento.[22][23] Tale situazione perdur per
diciotto anni, fino alla restaurazione della monarchia e all'ascesa al trono di Carlo II.
Sebbene la chiusura dei teatri valesse per l'intera nazione, alcuni spettacoli continuarono ad essere
allestiti in clandestinit all'esterno della capitale. Sappiamo per certo che la Red Bull di
Clerkenwell, un salone popolare dove si allestivano in gighe e farse alcune compagnie (tra cui, in
seguito, quella della Regina Anna) lavor clandestinamente, come dimostra l'arresto del comico
Andrew Cane nel 1649.[24] Nei grandi palazzi privati, inoltre, era d'uso dare rappresentazioni
private, come dimostra la grande attivit culturale della Holland House a Kensington[25] sia dopo
l'immediata chiusura delle playhouses sia nel corso della dittatura di Oliver Cromwell. Anche il
poeta laureato William Davenant, protagonista del successivo periodo della restaurazione, mise in
scena alcuni suoi lavori, come L'assedio di Rodi (The Siege of Rhodes) nel 1698 e arriv a creare in
Rutland House, una mansione affittata nella citt di Londra, un vero e proprio teatro semiclandestino nel 1656.
Soprattutto gli attori, privati del loro lavoro, si videro costretti o a ripiegare su altri mestieri o ad
arruolarsi negli eserciti reali, mentre una minoranza prefer continuare la professione trasferendosi
in altri paesi europei.[26]

La Restaurazione
Il poeta William Davenant
Thomas Killigrew in un dipinto di Antoon van Dyck
La Restaurazione fu il periodo successivo alla caduta del protettorato repubblicano di Richard
Cromwell, figlio di Oliver e a lui succeduto, con la conseguente ascesa al potere di Carlo II,

proclamato re, che ripristin il potere monarchico della corona d'Inghilterra. Era il 1660: Carlo II,
amante delle arti in genere, aveva vissuto un lungo periodo in Francia presso la corte del cugino
Luigi XIV, dove aveva sviluppato una sensibilit verso un certo tipo di spettacoli di diversa fattura
rispetto alla produzione teatrale precedente.
Gi nel 1662 il sovrano deleg due cortigiani di fiducia, Thomas Killigrew e Sir William Davenant,
di ricomporre due compagnie: mentre il primo rifond la Compagnia del Re (la King's Company) il
secondo fu il direttore della Compagnia del Duca di York (la Duke's Company), in onore del pi
giovane fratello del monarca e futuro sovrano Giacomo II d'Inghilterra[27]. Il teatro della
Restaurazione si bas fondamentalmente su questo duopolio che dur per quasi due secoli[28][29],
ma cambiarono sia gli spazi della rappresentazione che le sue forme: da quest'ultimo punto di vista
se da una parte si mantenne viva la tradizione del dramma elisabettiano, dall'altra nuovi lavori di
gusto spiccatamente francese, debitrici del periodo che Carlo II pass alla corte del cugino, fecero il
loro ingresso sulle scene inglesi.
Carlo II eredit dal re francese anche la volont di creare un forte potere accentratore in nome di un
assolutismo monarchico, senza per poi riuscirci. Nonostante l'apertura di nuove sale teatrali,
infatti, le attivit connesse a questa arte rimasero per lo pi nella stretta cerchia delle corti, rendendo
il teatro della Restaurazione strettamente elitario rispetto al periodo d'oro precedente.

L'architettura e la scenografia
Il palco del Drury Lane nel 1674
Le playhouses elisabettiane dalla loro tipica forma erano state ormai smantellate. Le nuove
architetture teatrali rispecchiavano maggiormente le forme dei teatri europei, con riferimento al
teatro all'italiana che acquisiva maggiore importanza sulla scena architettonica internazionale. Il pi
celebre architetto inglese del periodo, Christopher Wren, ricostru il Drury Lane dotandolo di una
sala rettangolare e disponendo in platea file di panche per far sedere il pubblico, che nei teatri
elisabettiani rimaneva in piedi. Le gallerie divennero file di palchi mentre il palcoscenico acquis
profondit e uno spazio per i fondali che fungevano da scenografia per l'ambientazione. Veniva cos
modificato anche lo spazio per la recitazione rispetto a prima: si recitava davanti alla scenografia, in
linea con la tradizione del continente, senza alcun praticabile. Lo studio dell'illuminotecnica non era
ancora sviluppato: il lampadario centrale delle sale impediva la creazione del buio, costringendo
cos gli inservienti di scena ai cambi della stessa a vista.[28] Per dare maggiore risalto agli
avvenimenti sul palcoscenico si utilizzavano delle lastre rifrangenti con cui direzionare la luce sugli
attori[28] senza per riuscire a creare l'effetto occhio di bue, che sar raggiunto solo nel XIX secolo
con il limelight. Di contro, mut profondamente la scenotecnica, per la quale ora c'era bisogno di
valletti che facessero scorrere i fondali - che si aprivano nel mezzo come serrande - e che
muovessero le suppellettili in scena. Poich il sipario, altro nuovo elemento del teatro inglese, non
si abbassava se non alla fine della rappresentazione, i cambi erano a vista e preceduti dal suono di
un fischietto o di un campanello, caratteristica che rimarr nel teatro nazionale fino a met del XIX

Attori e attrici
Nell Gwyn ritratta da Sir Peter Lely, 1675 circa.
Una vera innovazione dal punto di vista sociologico fu l'ingresso delle donne in scena, pratica
severamente proibita fino a pochi decenni prima. Vi era stato un precedente, nel quale una
compagnia francese aveva presentato al Blackfriars Theatre delle attrici nel 1629, ma la novit non
era stata ben accolta dal pubblico.[30][31] Tra le prime donne a calcare le scene vi furono Ann e
Rebecca Marshall, poi entrate stabilmente nella compagnia di Killigrew; la pi celebre tra tutte

rimase per Nell Gwyn, ex venditrice di arance, che pass alla storia per essere diventata l'amante
del re Carlo II[32] dal quale ebbe due figli.
Serv comunque del tempo per educare le prime donne all'esibizione scenica. Lo stesso valse per gli
attori uomini, che modificarono lo stile recitativo stilizzandolo verso forme pi raffinate, visto il
pubblico di ceto pi elevato che assisteva alle rappresentazioni[33].
Tra i pi celebri nomi dell'epoca da ricordare Thomas Betterton, attore e poi capocomico delle
compagnie di Killigrew e Davenant nel periodo in cui esse si fusero sotto la sua guida.
Specializzato in ruoli shakespeariani, venne ben pagato per le sue rappresentazioni e la sua fama
crebbe a tal punto da essere sepolto nella Westminster Abbey. Tra le prime attrici del periodo fu
anche Mary Saunderson, moglie di Betterton, anch'essa celebre per le interpretazioni dei personaggi
del vecchio repertorio. Di un ventennio pi giovane era Elizabeth Barry, che recit assieme a
Betterton e che era specializzata in ruoli tragici: il pathos che ispirava riportato in diverse
cronache d'epoca.
Un dato importante da sottolineare che proprio in questi anni va nascendo il fenomeno che sar
detto poi del divismo, che trover con l'avvento del cinema il suo apice: gli attori iniziano ad essere
celebri e ammirati. Non di rado vengono ammessi a corte (come nel caso di Nell Gwyn) e diventano
vere e proprie icone di riferimento per il pubblico, che ne copia mode e comportamenti.

Il sistema teatrale
Il sipario fu una delle novit introdotte nel teatro
Ad esclusione delle grandi sale destinate alle messinscene per i nobili, una serie di compagnie pi o
meno girovaghe si form nel resto d'Inghilterra, lasciando poche tracce dietro di s che possano
permettere una ricostruzione storica precisa e attendibile del fenomeno.
Se il duopolio delle compagnie maggiori trovava sostentamento nei finanziamenti dei protettori e
nel pagamento del biglietto d'ingresso a teatro, quelle minori potevano configurarsi in due modi:
stabili o itineranti. Mentre le prime si affidavano, come nel caso di Killigrew e Davenant, alla
protezione di signori locali, le seconde vagavano per le province dividendosi gli introiti ricavati
dalle rappresentazioni date non sempre nei luoghi deputati. Tra le compagnie stabili sappiamo
essere esistite e aver operato quella del duca di Norfolk a Norwich, quella del duca di Grafton a
Bath e Bristol, quella del duca di Southampton a Richmond pi, successivamente, altre a
Canterbury e a Newcastle[34]. Il repertorio era sempre quello di Londra, dando cos origine a una
scarsa produzione teatrale regionale.
Le compagnie itineranti, che contavano ormai una dozzina di individui di sesso misto e che
vivevano della suddivisione dei beni, erano spesso costrette ad allestire serate di beneficenza nelle
quali un attore o un'attrice si recava nelle citt pi grandi tentando di allettare il pubblico ad
assistere ai lavori della propria compagnia. La pratica, spesso umiliante e a scopo promozionale,
permetteva all'artista di incamerare il denaro che gli astanti lasciavano come mancia simbolica oltre
ad aver pagato il prezzo del biglietto, che di norma intascava l'impresario del teatro ospitante[35].
Gli spettacoli iniziavano verso le 16 del pomeriggio e nacque la moda del cartellone, con il quale si
pubblicizzava l'evento in corso: il pi antico cartellone sembra essere un annuncio di un burattinaio
italiano che esercitava a Charing Cross nel 1672[36]. Il colore tipico dei teatri sembrava essere il
verde, che padroneggiava nei rivestimenti delle poltrone e nei toni del sipario: forse da qui che
deriva il termine "green room", con il quale si indica la sala nei teatri - il camerino - in cui si
raccolgono tuttora gli attori in procinto di entrare in scena o dove accolgono i loro ospiti[37][38].

La drammaturgia
Colley Cibber
Nel quarantennio che corre tra il 1660 e il 1700 vennero prodotti all'incirca 560 drammi, di cui 120
appartenenti al vecchio repertorio e 440 di nuova fattura[39]. Gli autori del passato che trovarono
maggiore rappresentazione furono Francis Beaumont, John Fletcher, William Shakespeare e Ben
Jonson, sebbene molte opere furono rivisitate e adattate al gusto moderno, soprattutto tramite
l'eliminazione del finale tragico.[39] Carlo II, pi del successore del fratello Giacomo II Guglielmo
III, am circondarsi di letterati, il che spiega la provenienza aristocratica della nuova leva di
La nuova produzione spazi in diversi generi, dei quali due in particolari divennero caratteristici
dell'epoca, sebbene fossero mutuati da alcuni esempi del passato: la tragedia eroica (heroic tragedy)
e la commedia di maniere o di maniera (comedy of manners).
John Dryden
La tragedia eroica si configurava con elementi esotici e lontani, rappresentanti un mondo di
sentimenti altri che sfociavano a volte in un'eccessiva pomposit dialettica e retorica[40]. Il blank
verse della drammaturgia elisabettiana venne rimpiazzato dall'heroic couplet o distico eroico,
composto da coppie di decasillabi a rima baciata: di probabile derivazione dal verso alessandrino
delle tragedie francesi, permise al linguaggio un naturale distacco dalla lingua del quotidiano[40].
Contrariamente alle tragedie antiche, il finale non era obbligatoriamente triste, in quanto la
"giustizia poetica" permetteva il finale lieto. Lo scopo che si prefiggeva la tragedia eroica, infatti,
non era tanto di ispirare piet quanto quello di suscitare ammirazione per il comportamento e i
sentimenti dei protagonisti[40]. Il creatore di tale genere tragico fu un irlandese, Lord Orrery al
secolo Roger Boyle, autore di sei tragedie delle quali la pi celebre la Mustapha del 1665 su
richiesta di Carlo II che voleva che gli spettatori fossero ispirati dalle alte gesta e dal
comportamento nobile dei protagonisti. La figura di maggior rilievo del secolo fu per il poeta
laureato John Dryden che, dopo le prime tragedie di gusto altamente retorico e magniloquente seppe
individuare i mutamenti di gusto del pubblico per indirizzarsi verso una pi moderata ricerca
formale tramite una revisione dei contenuti e il ripristino del blank verse. Tra gli altri autori vanno
ricordati l'avversario di Dryden, Elkanah Settle, e John Crowne oltre John Banks e Thomas
Southerne. Di estrazione non aristocratica furono invece Nathanael Lee e Thomas Otway, entrambi
ex attori morti in miseria. Lee in particolare, con la sua dozzina di tragedie, si allontan anch'egli
dalla tragedia eroica regolare e, a causa di un'esistenza abbastanza travagliata che lo vide trascorrere
diversi anni in manicomio, si avvicin al sentimentalismo scenico dei secoli successivi, affidando al
logorroico ed esasperato pianto delle protagoniste femminili lo sfogo di un'infelice esistenza; ci gli
permise di trovare una fortuna scenica anche negli anni successivi.
Aphra Behn
La commedia di maniere rappresentava un contraltare degli alti ideali della tragedia eroica. Come
nella storia dei generi teatrali, mentre il genere tragico dava voce alle aspirazioni umane, la
commedia rivelava una contemporaneit svelando alcuni tratti della coeva societ. Ambientate nella
Londra contemporanea erano costituite da un esile intreccio in cui spiccava la figura del wit, colto
aristocratico nullafacente che era solito parlare per aforismi mettendo in ridicolo i repubblicani e i
borghesi. I personaggi femminili, liberi e licenziosi, acquisirono importanza e sostanza, mentre
frequenti erano i riferimenti spregiudicati al sesso e al libertinismo; quest'ultima caratteristica non
permise il perpetrarsi delle rappresentazioni negli anni successivi se non a costo di una pesante
edulcorazione dei contenuti licenziosi. La produzione delle commedie di maniere fu esigua, e vi si
esercit Dryden in prima persona, con esiti dubbi. Sir George Etherege produsse solo tre opere,

delle quali va ricordata The Man of Mode del 1676; pi moralista fu William Wycherley, autore di
quattro pices tra le quali vanno menzionate The Country Wife del 1675 e The Plain Dealer del
1676. Altri autori furono Sir Charles Sedley, Thomas Shadwell, Tom D'Urfey e Thomas Southerne,
irlandese di nascita ma che si produsse sempre nella capitale inglese.
Un discorso a parte va fatto per Aphra Behn, prima donna a scrivere per denaro senza servirsi di
uno pseudonimo maschile tanto da attirarsi le critiche dei contemporanei. Nelle sue opere teatrali,
che spaziano dagli intrecci cavallereschi dell'unica tragedia della quale fu autrice - l'Abdelazar del
1676 - ai pi frequenti e complessi intrighi comici della produzione di maniera, spicca una critica
feroce contro la condizione sottomessa della donna all'uomo, soprattutto al riguardo di matrimoni

La fine
Richard Steele
Il periodo della Restaurazione fu caratterizzato da una maggiore licenziosit dei costumi teatrali,
che si riversarono in opere di pi ampia "modernit" rispetto ai periodi precedenti. Tuttavia il
passaggio alla successiva et dei lumi si caratterizz per una virata restrittiva della morale comune,
istigata nel campo teatrale dal vescovo e critico Jeremy Collier che, col suo trattato Short View of
the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage condann il teatro quale luogo di pubblica
dimostrazione della corruzione umana tramite l'instillarsi del vizio nella societ[31].
Gi William Congreve, irlandese di nascita, autore di quattro commedie e una tragedia, sebbene
figuri tra le personalit sottoposte al severo giudizio di Collier si distinse per uno stile meno colorito
e sboccato dei suoi predecessori.
Sono da ricordare poi Sir John Vanbrugh e John Farquhar. Il primo, architetto di fama e amico di
Congreve, chiuse l'epoca della commedia di maniere mentre il secondo inserisce dei personaggi
distanti dallo humour wit e meno licenziosi dei precedenti, ambientando le scene nella provincia
Tra gli ultimi autori della commedy of manners vi furono il poeta laureato Colley Cibber, gi
direttore del Drury Lane ed ex attore comico, che si produsse in numerose commedie di una certa
licenziosit dalle quali per traspare gi una maggiore attenzione alla morale del tempo come per i
suoi predecessori, e Susanna Carroll Centlivre, altra donna scrittrice e autrice di commedie sia
mutuate da esempi stranieri che originali.
Sir Richard Steele, personaggio poliedrico apertamente favorevole alle idee di Collier, segna un
periodo di transizione piuttosto evidente: le sue commedie, nelle quali agiscono personaggi
dignitosi e dal comportamento sobrio, tendono non pi al riso ma alla commozione, inaugurando la
commistione dei generi tragico e comico caratteristica dell'et successiva[41]. Inoltre non di rado
ogni suo lavoro trattava un tema specifico dal quale si impartiva un insegnamento etico alla societ.

Il Settecento
Il primo ministro Robert Walpole, che indisse il Licensing Act contro le dissolutezze del teatro.
A seguito della gloriosa rivoluzione e dell'istituzione della monarchia costituzionale sotto
Guglielmo III d'Orange, la classe borghese acquis maggiori poteri. Tra le trasformazioni sociali vi
fu una conseguente maggiore richiesta da parte di questa classe sociale rampante di sempre pi
numerose forme di spettacolo: incrementarono i locali adibiti a questo scopo, con il conseguente
assottigliarsi del duopolio delle due compagnie teatrali maggiori, la King's Company e la Duke's
Company, per un periodo guidate all'unisono da Thomas Betterton. L'ordine fu ristabilito da

un'ordinanza dell'allora Primo Ministro Robert Walpole, che nel 1737 impose la chiusura dei locali
clandestini ripristinando la primaria supremazia delle due formazioni con il famoso Licensing Act.

L'architettura e la scenografia
Il gusto aristocratico era andato via via spostandosi verso il melodramma o opera lirica, che
richiedeva spazi teatrali sempre maggiori e complessi a causa della sempre pi sofisticata
macchineria teatrale. Il proscenio tipico dei palchi britannici and progressivamente scomparendo,
inghiottito dall'arco scenico che incorniciava ora una scena molto pi profonda nella quale agivano
quinte prospettiche che garantivano uno spazio recitativo differente: non si recitava pi di fronte
alla scena, ma all'interno di essa. Sul finire del secolo le novit introdotte in Italia da Ferdinando
Galli da Bibbiena sul versante scenografico raggiunsero l'Inghilterra: la scenografia a punto di fuga
prospettico unico venne presto soppiantata da quella a doppia prospettiva[42]. La platea, con
l'eliminazione del proscenio aggettante, acquist spazio tanto che le panche per il pubblico vennero
spostate pi avanti per una maggiore capienza della sala.
Sul finire del secolo vennero introdotte le lampade Argand al posto delle candele di sego dei
lampadari, che permettevano sebbene con maggior costo, l'utilizzo dell'olio e una potenza di
illuminazione decuplicata[43]. Dal punto di vista del trucco, valse l'uso di dipingersi la faccia di
bianco grazie all'ossido di piombo o al gesso: oltre a rispecchiare la moda dei visi incipriati, la
tecnica era usata poich i visi pallidi erano maggiormente visibili negli ambienti di solito
scarsamente illuminati dei teatri[44].

David Garrick in un dipinto di Angelica Kauffman
Sarah Siddons ritratta da Sir Joshua Reynolds
L'innovatore del secolo fu considerato David Garrick, passato alla storia come uno dei pi celebri
attori dell'epoca, che fu da spunto per il celebre saggio di Denis Diderot sull'arte drammatica
intitolato Paradosso sull'attore. Divenuto famoso per la sua interpretazione dello shakespeariano
Riccardo III, fu anche drammaturgo e impresario teatrale; sul versante attoriale, Garrick sradic
l'artificiosit della recitazione pomposa di stampo francese per indirizzarsi verso toni pi naturali e
meno enfatici[45] ma non fu amante della ricercatezza storica dei costumi, ai quali prefer abiti di
foggia contemporanea. Garrick fu per anche riformatore delle convenzioni sociali use a teatro fino
ad allora: estremamente preciso e puntuale tanto da pretendere lo stesso dai suoi attori[46], tent di
eliminare l'usanza di far pagare il biglietto a coloro che entravano solo per assistere alla fine delle
rappresentazioni[45]. Anche gli spettatori che erano usi assistere agli spettacoli sedendosi
direttamente su appositi sgabelli sul palcoscenico, usanza mutuata dal teatro elisabettiano, videro
tale privilegio eliminato grazie all'opera di Garrick[47], sebbene vi fossero stati dei precedenti[48].
Dal punto di vista del dcor teatrale Garrick si mosse pagando 500 per aggiudicarsi come
supervisore della scenografia l'artista di origine francese Philip James de Loutherbourg, mentre per
l'illuminotecnica utilizz lampade a olio per illuminare dai lati e dal basso la scena[45]. Il repertorio
che promosse fu sempre raffinato, in linea con la scelta di rendere i teatri dei luoghi signorili e di
buon gusto.
Tra le attrici si ricordano la celebre Sarah Siddons, definita la regina del teatro tragico inglese[49] e
Elizabeth O'Neill conosciuta come Lady Becher, nella quale i critici vedevano un'emula della
grandezza della Siddons[50].

Il sistema teatrale
Col duopolio delle compagnie autorizzate a rappresentare si era creata una strana situazione: poich
vi era la possibilit - combattuta aspramente da Garrick che non riusc ad eliminarla - di assistere al
finale delle rappresentazioni teatrali, la maggior parte del popolo si riuniva nelle sale a fine
spettacolo con la voglia di garantirsi momenti di evasione ludica[51]. Fu cos che le platee vennero
ampliate ed i teatri si riempirono di gente che volentieri assisteva chiassosamente alle
rappresentazioni, allontanandosi dalla raffinatezza tanto ricercata del maggior attore dell'epoca.
Tale virata di gusto, che impose spettacoli a volte dozzinali con numerose attrazioni come animali e
persino leoni[52], coincise anche con altre cause che crearono un generale decadimento dell'arte

La drammaturgia
John Gay, tra le figure pi celebri del Settecento teatrale inglese.
Il Settecento teatrale inglese non impose grandi nomi alla storia letteraria mondiale per una serie di
molteplici ragioni. Non ultima fu la fortuna del romanzo, che ben presto soppiant l'opera teatrale in
quanto maggiormente redditizio e sempre pi diffuso[53].
Ispirati alla moralit e all'austerit, i drammaturghi settecenteschi compirono una fusione tra i
generi: mentre la commedia si ven di sentimentalismo, la tragedia accenn toni patetici divenendo
cronaca delle sventure quotidiane. L'accesso di una pi ampia classe sociale alle rappresentazioni, la
borghesia nella fattispecie, permise la nascita del minidramma satirico mentre fecero il loro ingresso
in scena la ballad opera e la pantomima. Quest'ultima, di derivazione dal masque elisabettiano, fu
molto in voga all'inizio del secolo, comprendeva l'utilizzo di musica, effetti speciali e molti
macchinari di scena. Il plot, di genere basato su un singolo avvenimento, comprendeva personaggi
mutuati dalla Commedia dell'arte italiana come Arlecchino o Pantalone, trasfigurati e trasformati in
prodotti nuovi[54]. Il pi celebre interprete del genere fu John Rich, al quale si deve l'introduzione
della maschera di Arlecchino in Inghilterra[55].
Henry Fielding
La ballad opera si configurava come una storia con personaggi di bassa estrazione sociale, di
carattere satirico ed inframezzata da brevi canzoni. La pi celebre fu The Beggar's Opera di John
Gay del 1727, che fu un successo strepitoso per l'epoca e che sarebbe stata ripresa due secoli dopo
dal tedesco Bertolt Brecht. Tra gli autori di teatro leggero vi fu poi Henry Fielding, autore di city
comedies che vir poi verso farse brevi e burleschi. George Colman, gestore del Covent Garden e
dunque avversario di David Garrick con il quale pure collabor per la stesura della commedia The
Clandestine Marriage del 1766, basata su un'opera di Domenico Cimarosa, si produsse in
commedie e afterpieces.
Richard Cumberland
Samule Foote, che ebbe il permesso di fare rappresentazioni nel periodo estivo al di fuori del
duopolio delle compagnie del Covent Garden e del Drury Lane, fu autore di pungenti satire che
avevano tra i protagonisti personaggi dell'alata societ inglese: non di rado alcuni gentiluomini
facevano ritirare il testo riconoscendosi tra loro, come accadde con la commedia The Author del
Le commedie sentimentali dette weeping comedies, cugine della comdie larmoyante francese,
ebbero i loro massimi esponenti in Hugh Kelly, Richard Cumberland e Elizabeth Inchbald[57].
Irlandesi di nascita furono invece Oliver Goldsmith e Richard Brinsley Sheridan, le cui opere

trovarono fortuna anche nel periodo successivo.

Sul versante drammatico, la tragedia non registr molto seguito nonostante i fallimentari tentativi di
Joseph Addison di ristabilire l'austerit del modello classico di canone tragico, senza per avere
seguito. Nicholas Rowe interpret bene lo spirito del tempo venando di sentimentalismo il teatro
tragico: Rowe riscosse un certo successo per essere stato autore delle "she-tragedies", o tragedie al
femminile, nelle quali le protagoniste assumevano un'importanza maggiore rispetto alle opere dei
predecessori: inevitabilmente, per, queste opere risentivano di eccessivo sentimentalismo che era
ben lontano dal canone classico della tragedia propriamente detta, avvicinando quindi questi lavori
pi al dramma borghese. A Rowe si deve anche la divisione dei lavori di Shakespeare in atti e scene,
divisione tuttora in uso. Maggiormente affine al domestic drama (antesignano del dramma
borghese) fu il lavoro di George Lillo, rappresentato dalle opere pi celebri The London Merchant
del 1731 e Fatal Curiosity del 1736, mentre minor successo riscossero James Thomson e Edward