Emily Buffey – Making the Middle Ages

Emily Buffey’s blog discusses the perception and conception of the ‘medieval’ in the ‘early modern period’ and beyond…

 ‘Ode to an Eyeball’: Robert 2nd Duke of Normandy

Poore teare, dim’d taper which hast lost thy brother
And thus art lest to twinkle here alone,
Ah might’st thou not haue perrisht with the other,
And both together to your set haue gone,
You both were one, one wanting, thou not one,
Poore twins which like true friends one watch did keepe,
Why seuer’d thus yt so you shold not sleepe.

And thou pore eye, oh why sholdst thou haue light,
The others black eclipse thus soone to see,
And yet thy fellow be depriu’d of sight,
For thy sad teares the while to pitty thee,
Equall your griefes, your haps vnequall be:
Take thou his darknes, and thy sorrow hide,
Or he thy light, his griefe so well espied.

Let that small drop out of thy iuicie ball,
Canded like gum vpon the moist’ned thrid,
There still be fixed that it neuer fall,
But as a signe hang on thine eyes staind lid,
A witnes there what inward griefe is hid:
Like burning glasses sired by the Sonne,
Light all mens eyes to see what there is done.

[…] Good night sweet Sunns, your lights are cleane put out,
Your hollow pits be graues of all your ioy,
With dreadfull darknes compassed about,
Wherein is cast what murther can destroy,
That buried there, which did the world annoy,
Those holy Fanes where vertue hallowed stood,
Become a place of slaughter and of blood.

Poure downe your last refreshing euening dew,
And bathe your selues in fountains of your tears,
The day no more shall euer breake to you,
The ioyfull dawne no more at all appears,
No cheerfull sight your sorrow euer cheers:
Shut vp your windows ere constraint compell,
Be-take your selues to nights eternall Cell.

These are the words of the ghost of Robert Curthose, 2nd Duke of Normandy (c. 1051 –1134), the eldest son of William the Conqueror. Nineteen stanzas make up his ‘mone’, a drawn-out apostrophe to his eviscerated eyeballs and a lament over his inability to form proper tears. The complaint is so ludicrous, that even the goddess Fortune cannot suppress her ‘girlish’ giggles.



Robert ‘Curthose’, Duke of Normandy

Drayton’s poem falls within the structural and thematic scheme of the Mirror for Magistrates a tragic vision of English history made immensely popular (though finally exhausted) by a fifty year print-run. The poem provides the equally tragic foresight that Robert – appearing here as a ghost flanked by Fame and Fortune – must return once again to the depths of obscurity: ‘Vnknowne in heauen, & vnperceiu’d on earth’.

Unlike many of the Mirror’s protagonists, Robert’s tomb at Gloucester was saved from demolition by the iconoclasts. The tomb of Rosamond Clifford (immortalized in Samuel Daniels’ ‘Complaint of Rosamond’, 1592) however, was removed from Godstow Abbey during the Dissolution (‘Where yet as now scarce any note descries,/Vnto these times, the memory of me’). Drayton’s poem thus raises the plausible notion that Robert’s tomb will suffer a similar fate, and therefore strives to resurrect his memory before it is too late.

Samuel Rowlands: Reading (and dreaming) the Medieval in Early Modern England

Samuel Rowlands was a prolific and controversial author, and his subjects extremely diverse, ranging from the cony-catching debates of the 1590s, to the anti-feminist pamphlet, ‘Tis merrie when gossips meete (1602), to chivalric romance in his popular retelling of The Famous Historie of Guy Earle of Warwick (1609).

Rowlands Guy of Warwick

Rowlands’ Guy of Warwick was immensely popular amongst an early modern reading public, enjoying a print run spanning almost one hundred years. But Rowlands’ main interests lay in the humours, the causes and effects of melancholy, and its manifestation in various forms of ‘knavish’ behaviour. Rowlands’ boldest statements against this fashionable vice appear in a 1615 dream vision, The Melancholie Knight.

melancholy knight-1

The Melancholie Knight follows a conventional visionary structure in which the poet falls asleep and meets a mysterious figure, whom we soon recognize to be the ‘knight’ of the poem’s title. The man is attired in the latest fashions shown in the frontispiece above: a ‘french doublet without gowne or cloake, / His hose the largest euer came to towne’ ‘his hat pull’d downe’ (A2r). The ‘knight’ occupies the standard position of the melancholy lover found in such poems as Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess and Lydgate’s Complaynt of a Lovers Lyfe. But his melancholy stems not from the absence of the female beloved, but the absence of fame, a product of his reading rather too much in the way of chivalric romance:

I haue red ouer (while youths glasse did run)
Sir Lancelot of the Lake, the Knight of th’Sun,
Sir Triamour, Sir Beuis, and sir Guy,
Fowre sonnes of Amon, hors’d so gallantly,
And all the old worlds worthy men at armes,
That did reuenge faire Ladies wrongs and harmes,
The Monster slayers, and the Gyant killers,
With all the rest of Mars his braue well-willers,
Which to rehearse I neuer shall be able,
The Worthis Arthur had at his round Table;

And how in Chronicles those dead ones liue,
By breath that Fame doth from the Trumpet giue. (B1v-B2r)

Such quixotism leads only to disappointment, and the knight concedes that he will never receive anything near the recognition awarded to his fictional antecedents, neither ‘In Golding lane, nor yet in Siluer streete’ (B2r). Unlike Lancelot, Bevis of Hampton and Guy of Warwick, he shuns the prospect of battle (unless he ‘cannot chuse’: C4r), preferring to sit around all day, dreaming of ‘Castles, Towers, and Townes’ (B2v) and smoking his ‘stinking’ pipe (A2r).

The irony is fairly apparent: James I’s decision to award an unprecedented number of knighthoods on the day of his coronation in 1603 led to fears that the order was losing its exclusive function. James’ rule was also a time of peace, though fiercely contested by many. The poem was later reprinted in 1654 by ‘C.R’ under the new title of The Melancholy Cavalier or Fancy’s Master-Piece. Though Rowlands’ name appears to slip from view, the social and political threat posed by quixotic behaviour and the fashion for melancholy seems to have lived on in the reign of Charles I and the Interregnum. The poem is not so much nostalgic of a medieval past, as comically subversive in its portrayal of a noble ideal which, under the Stuart kings, appears to have gone horribly wrong.  


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