John E. Curran, Jr.,
Roman Invasions: The British History, Protestant Anti-Romanism, and the Historical
Imagination in England, 1530-1660. Newark: U of Delaware P, 2002.
Sheffield Hallam University
Hopkins, Lisa. "John
E. Curran, Jr., Roman Invasions: The British History, Protestant Anti-Romanism,
and the Historical Imagination in England, 1530-1660". Early Modern Literary
Studies 10.2 (September, 2004) 9.1-2 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/10-2/revhopk.htm>.
- This is a fine, insightful, extremely well-informed, and exceptionally
useful book. Its central argument is that in the early modern consciousness,
Rome was essentially equated with Roman Catholicism, and that this radically
conditions the meaning of the period's various re-tellings and re-stagings
of the 'British history', the legendary story of Brut and his descendants
told most famously by Geoffrey of Monmouth. Curran's principal authors are
Drayton, Spenser, Shakespeare (specifically Cymbeline, which he sees
as unusual in the period in being willing to forgo a Galfridian perspective)
and Milton, though he is also very interesting on works which were not
ultimately written, such as Milton's proposed Arthurian epic and the absence
of a Brutiad, and he traces early modern uses of this Galfridian material
through what he sees as six distinct phases. The first is accounts of the
early ecclesiastical history of Britain. This originally struck me as a rather
unpromising and tangential field of enquiry; in fact, however, it turns out
to be quite fascinating, and absolutely central to the ideological contest
between Rome and Britain, as well as extremely illuminating for the understanding
of plays such as Rowley's A Shoemaker, a Gentleman. It also casts invaluable
light on Spenser and Shakespeare, whose Arviragus is read as figuring Augustine,
the villain of the Galfridian-inspired view of the early English church.
- The second chapter focuses on retellings of the story of Brutus and the
translatio imperii, and very interestingly charts the contest for cultural
authority between Brutus and Romulus, who was generally considered much more
likely to have been a real historical figure. I was particularly pleased to
be introduced to the Samotheans, who surely deserve to be more widely known.
The two subsequent chapters focus on the alleged laws of Molmutius Dunwallo
and on the figure of Caesar, perhaps the single most important Roman of them
all in his dual capacities as invader and historian, and who was often understood
as a type of the papacy. The penultimate chapter is on Tacitus, and the last
one on King Arthur. This final chapter contains the one section of the book
which struck me as unconvincing and unduly speculative, which is Curran's
attempt to read 'The Phoenix and Turtle' in Arthurian terms, relating the
idea of leaving no posterity to the death of Galfridianism. In general, however,
this is an exceptionally solid and interesting account which should be essential
reading for anyone interested in either the British History in general or
in any of the authors Curran discusses.
Responses to this piece intended for
the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
2004-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).