Andrew McRae. Literature, Satire and the Early Stuart
State. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2004. x+250pp. ISBN 0 521 81495 2.
University of Birmingham
Lockwood, Tom. "Review of Andrew
McRae, Literature, Satire and the Early Stuart State." Early
Modern Literary Studies 12.1 (May, 2006) 14.1-4<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/12-1/revmcra.htm>.
- Andrew McRae's Literature, Satire and the Early Stuart State is
much more than a companion to the online edition of Early Stuart Libels
that he jointly edited with Alastair Bellany (www.earlystuartlibels.net),
but much of what is richest and most suggestive in the book rests on the foundation
provided by the online resource, and much, too, of what is most generous about
the online publication shows strongly in McRae's monograph. Where Early
Stuart Libels provides annotated texts of some 350 manuscript libels grouped
helpfully by theme and chronology, Literature, Satire and the Early Stuart
State draws those materials into an argument that foregrounds particular
crises that attract this kind of writing and (in McRae's words) shows 'at
once how satire adapts to the political and cultural circumstances of these
decades, and how in turn it informs contemporary discourse' (3). After an
introduction that usefully surveys the theoretical and historiographical bases
for the project, the first two parts of the book describe the personal and
public politics of this largely manuscript culture in the first two decades
of the seventeenth century; the third section, 'The Politics of Division',
look forward through the 1630s towards the subject of the Epilogue, 'Early
Stuart Satire and the Civil War'.
- Part I, 'Personal Politics', moves from the satires produced on the death
of Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, in 1612 to the dense network of libels
on James's relationships with his favourite, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham,
and the jubilant texts produced by his assassination in 1628. The story this
material tells, as McRae recognises, is one informed by the 'assumption that
the identity of the monarch, as well as those of his courtiers, might be fashioned
and contested in libels' (82). Thus, to see James in 'The Five Senses' imagined
as captivated and in effect blinded by Buckingham ('I humblie pray | That
thou wilt take the Filme away | That keepes my Soveraignes eyes from vieweing
| The thing that wilbe our undoeing'), is to recognise a specific set of literary
and political pressures being given voice in the poem, the idea and image
of the king being negotiated between opposing representations. It is also
to recognise the force created in this poem by the stripping away of the insulation
that generally separated the monarch from the satiric and libellous criticism
that his courtiers may have attracted; the king's well-known anxiety about
'railing rymes and vaunting verse' are well born-out in McRae's analysis (75-82).
This politics of the body runs right through the material in Part I: it is
crammed with satirical bodies whipped, sliced, hanged, stabbed, misshapen,
stinking, branded, purged, abused, and (sometimes) mourned.
- If some of the material covered in Part II, 'Public Politics', has been
often and well-treated by others - A Game at Chess in particular -
it is invigorating to see it refreshed in and by the specific contexts of
the book. As he adds printed poetry, prose and drama to his admirable body
of manuscript witnesses, McRae's focus expands here: its concern is as much
the broader question of the nature of satire, and its relations to emerging
political events and discourses, as it is the particular treatment of particular
satirical texts. This central section of the book succeeds wonderfully, drawing
out the way in which new kinds of writing articulate 'the ways - complex,
hesitant, yet insistent - in which radical new notions of citizenship were
forged in this period' (107); Chapter 4, 'Discourses of Discrimination', finely
calibrates the shifting nomenclatures and ideologies of the 1620s, and measures
these against the scriptural and classical precedents that contemporaries
sought for them.
- Part III, 'The Politics of Division', takes two exemplary, polarised figures
as its focus; Richard Corbett and William Prynne here stand as emblems of
larger positions identified by McRae's chapter titles as 'royalism' and 'puritanism',
both categories which, in his analysis, he is always able shiftingly to modify
and make provisional. In Corbett's work, as it is presented by McRae, we see
a move away from the binarism of satiric vice and virtue into a new mode of
'contestation between crystallizing political forces and ideologies' (179);
the difficulties Corbett encountered in making panegyric a viable response
for and to the 1630s are brought up against Jonson's earlier and contemporary
deployment of the same mode, and against the similar dilemmas of Carew. McRae
argues that earlier 'literary techniques of praise and blame had been transformed
within the early Stuart political context' (186), and his treatment of Prynne
and his contemporaries gives full weight to the discourse of blame in the
period. McRae remains aware (as he argues the authors themselves were aware)
of the ways in which 'the verbal dexterity exhibited in such texts underpins
a sophisticated attention to the powers and trickeries of language itself'
(192). This is historically informed criticism that nonetheless retains a
keen eye for the habits and patterns of the words used by the writers it studies.
By making available such an important body of primary materials for the study
of politics, textuality and culture, Early Stuart Libels open-handedly
extended an invitation to other researchers; Literature, Satire and the
Early Stuart State will offer those new to that field not only a learned
and approachable guide, but, beyond that, a model of how these texts interact
with one another and the richly described cultures within which McRae situates
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers'
Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
2006-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).