Preface: The Long 1590s

Annaliese Connolly and Lisa Hopkins
Sheffield Hallam University
A.F.Connolly@shu.ac.uk L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk

Annaliese Connolly and Lisa Hopkins "Preface:The Long 1590s". Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 16 (October, 2007) 1.1-7<URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/si-16/foreword1.htm>.

  1. The intellectual validity of the concept "long eighteenth century" has long since been accepted.  Collectively, the essays in this special issue put the case that the 1590s cry out for similar treatment.  The period between the defeat of the Armada in 1588 and the death of Elizabeth in 1603 saw a heady mixture of euphoria, panic, an unprecedented flowering of literary talent, plague, bad harvests, and fin-de-siècle malaise.  Most notably, it was the formative decade for the shaping of English literary and historiographical self-consciousness, and left an aesthetic legacy that underpinned literary endeavour and notions of literary value for well over a century.  It saw a battle for the hearts and minds of England's poetic, dramatic and historiographical enterprises, as well as political and social unease as the country prepared for an imminent change of régime.  In this wide-ranging collection, the extraordinary dynamism and resonances of this period are explored.

  2. The first four essays in the collection focus upon the life and works of some of the most influential political and literary figures of the decade, including Queen Elizabeth I, King James VI, the earl of Essex and Mary and Philip Sidney.  In the first of these Rayne Allinson provides an overview of the correspondence between Queen Elizabeth I and James VI of Scotland to examine the different rhetorical strategies employed by each monarch in their exchanges at various political pressure points during the 1590s. The ways in which Elizabeth utilised her persona as a learned prince with a humanist education during times of political crisis and its effect upon her courtier-counsellors such as the earl of Essex are explored in Linda Shenk's article. Here Shenk examines the ways in which the earl appropriated the queen’s learned persona in the 1595 Accession Day device Of Love and Self-Love in an attempt to convince the queen of his own intellectual credentials and thereby persuade her of his readiness to submit to her political judgement.  The device attempts to achieve this by alluding to a passage from scripture 1 Corinthians 2:9, which Elizabeth herself had used in an Latin oration at the university of Oxford in 1592 in which she had praised the university officials for their loyalty to her.

  3. The next two essays offer very treatment of the two editions of the prose romance by Philip Sidney, the Old Arcadia edited by Fulke Greville and the New Arcadia edited by his sister Mary Sidney Herbert.  Richard Wood begins by tracing the philosophical differences of the two editors of Sidney's romance to argue that Sidney Herbert’s neostoicism, rather than signalling a break with the Tacitean ethos of the Essex circle, does in fact reveal a series of significant associations with Essex and the rebellion of 1601. Claire Jowitt turns to the representation of pirates in both the Old and New Arcadias and in Lady Mary Wroth's Urania to outline the ways in which their characterisation is influenced not only by competing models of behaviour from classical and romance sources, but also by shifting foreign and domestic policy and by Philip Sidney's own political allegiances. The theme of sea-faring and adventure are further attended to in Michael Lee Manous’s essay on Richard Ferris's account of his wager-based sea voyage from London to Bristol in 1590. Manous counters Fynes Moryson's assessment of journies like Ferris’s as a "ridiculous adventures" and instead outlines its political and cultural significance explaining that Ferris "ties his enterprise to England's recent military successes, encouraging the notion that his wager-voyaging triumph is, to some degree, a manifestation of God's support for England in the war with Spain".

  4. The following five essays in the collection are a testimony to the ways in which the dramatic works of Christopher Marlowe continue to exercise literary scholars.  In the first of these Andrew Duxfield begins by offering an incisive account of the varied critical responses to Doctor Faustus as part of his wider discussion which is concerned with the play’s ambiguous quality.  Duxfield points out that although Faustus may be distracted from his initial aims of world domination, he remains fixed upon achieving a unified understanding of the universe and its creator and yet this is in fact a "reductive goal" since it is "doomed to failure by the ambivalent world in which he exists".   

  5. Kirk Melnikoff’s essay turns to the figure of the Elizabethan clown in Marlowe's plays with the aim of redressing a critical tradition which has tended to overlook the figure of the clown on the early modern stage and which has also encouraged the notion that Marlowe refused to write festive comedy, based partly on the evidence from the prologue to Tamburlaine Part One.  Melnikoff’s detailed analysis of the comic elements of The Jew of Malta and the comic subplot of Doctor Faustus offers an alternative perspective and argues that Marlowe is in fact indebted to the dramaturgy of Elizabethan clowns.

  6. The next two essays provide a repertory-based approach to two specific groups of plays written and performed during the Long 1590s, namely biblical plays and "Turk plays".  Annaliese Connolly uses Henslowe's Diary to build on recent scholarship concerning the repertorial strategies employed by Elizabethan theatre companies to argue that Peele's David and Bethsabe, together with a significant number of other lost biblical plays, was commissioned specifically to replicate the motifs of Marlowe's plays such as Tamburlaine and The Jew of Malta and to offer a comparable role for Edward Alleyn. Mark Hutching's essay looks at the influence of Anglo-Ottoman relations and Marlowe's Tamburlaine which inspired a series of plays including Alphonsus, King of Aragon, Selimus, 1 & 2 Tamar Cham which were concerned with staging "the Turk".  Hutchings examines the place of these "Turk plays" within the repertories of rival companies to argue that the success and longevity of these plays was the result of competition between the Admiral's and Queen's Men. The ambiguous position of Ireland in Edward II is the focus of Marcie Bianco's essay in which she explores the ways in which the unknowable quality of England’s neighbour makes it a powerful force in the play.  Ireland's power in the play, Bianco argues, is "actualised through metonymy and synecdoche: Ireland materialises in the figure of Gaveston, who as governor of Ireland, comes to embody the dangerousness that Ireland poses to the sanctity of the English nation and to the purity of English national identity".

  7. Finally, Stephen Guy-Bray's essay provides a useful coda for the collection as he turns to one of Shakespeare's early comedies Two Gentlemen of Verona  which he suggests offers a portrait, not only of Shakespeare's development as a dramatist, but also of the sexual development of its eponymous characters. Guy-Bray then considers the ways in which heterosexuality and love between the sexes is presented as a process which involves "an apparently never-ending process of substitutions". Together, then, these essays bear rich testimony to one of the most fascinating decades in English literary history.

© 2007-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).