Walter S.H. Lim. The Arts of Empire: The Poetics of Colonialism from Ralegh to Milton. Newark and London: U of Delaware P and AUP, 1998. 275pp. ISBN 0 87413 641 5.
Jim Daems
University of Wales, Bangor

Daems, Jim. "Review of The Arts of Empire: the Poetics of Colonialism from Ralegh to Milton." Early Modern Literary Studies 6.1 (May, 2000): 17.1-6 <URL:

  1. Lim "sets out to...consider the joint places of America and Ireland in the dreams of Elizabethan and Stuart expansionism" (27). While arguing that there was no coherent, systematic colonial policy in either Elizabethan or Stuart England, he demonstrates how England's colonial potential permeates different genres: love lyric, religious lyric, romance, epic, comedy, tragedy, homily, sermon, and travel narrative. Devoting chapters to Ralegh, Donne, Shakespeare, Spenser, and Milton, Lim attempts to show how these writers contributed to the creation of discursive boundaries to facilitate a discourse of "nascent English colonialism" (25).

  2. The first two chapters examine the links between colonialism and subjectivity in the work of Ralegh and Donne. Lim sees, "the motives of expansionism...[to be] inseparable from fantasies to advance the interests of the self" (51). Representations of the Natives of the New World both legitimize English colonial ambitions and discredit Spanish colonial activities; yet, in the case of Ralegh, the colonizer's subjectivity is legitimized through the destruction of Native culture. Lim finds a similar violence in Donne's lyrics, which is the result of representing the New World as a female body ripe for conquest and/or rape: "the more Donne attempts to come to grips with individual and cultural anxieties, the more forcefully he inscribes the allusive presence of America in his writings" (84). Both writers deny Natives and women a voice in this discursive landscape in order to enact fantasies of control over the "wild" spaces of the New World/woman.

  3. In his chapter on Othello, Lim continues to interrogate issues of race and gender through Othello's attempted assimilation into Venetian society. Much like the Natives and women in the work of Ralegh and Donne, females lose their voice in Shakespeare's play. They are destroyed by the tyranny and violence of a patriarchal society. Though evil is clearly located within this white patriarchal society, Lim believes that English colonial activities allow Shakespeare "to represent the structures of domination and submission across the categorical domains of gender and race" (123).

  4. The final two chapters turn to Ireland and the writings of Spenser and Milton. Lim quite rightly points out that Ireland was the prime Tudor colonial objective, and he notes that Spenser's opinions in A View are not paradigmatic of any systematic Tudor colonial plan. Rather, Spenser's militantly protestant attitude towards the Irish, in effect, engages in a critique of Elizabeth's ineffectiveness in suppressing rebellion and "contributes toward defining an emerging anti-royalist discourse" (166). This is an interesting point, yet, unfortunately, Lim does not develop this argument to show just how colonial writings serve an important role in this emerging discourse. In addition, his claim that Cromwell is Spenser's ideal reader is, perhaps, too simplistic in the absence of a fuller development of this point.

  5. Lim is correct, however, in insisting on the significance of Ireland to any discussion of Milton and colonialism. He argues for a continuity between Spenser and Milton's militant protestantism in regards to the Irish question, one which coalesces in Milton's work into a Christian or theological imperialism "predicated on the exclusivist doctrine of the one true God and salvation obtained only through the one true Christ" (195). Lim believes that the demonization of colonialism in Paradise Lost is the result of the republic's political defeat which destroyed, in Milton's eyes, England's colonial mandate. Following the Restoration England's enemy became itself, though a prophetic strain of Christian imperialism remains in Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes.

  6. In conclusion, then, Lim's book largely succeeds in demonstrating the significance of various literary genres in contributing to an emerging early modern English colonial discourse. Yet, more attention could have been paid to Ralegh's relationship with Ireland, as well as to Donne's allusions to Ireland, and to the status of the Celtic fringe, Wales and Scotland, within Elizabethan and Stuart expansionism.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 1999-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).