ENGLISH LITERATURE IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY

Book number: 94357 Product format: Hardback Author: C. S. LEWIS

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Bibliophile price £11.00
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This C. S. Lewis classic is based on lectures he gave in 1944 and has remained a benchmark of literary criticism ever since. Excluding drama, the collection of essays is a study of the literature that flourished in the age of Shakespeare. Lewis divides the century into three periods: "Late Medieval", "Drab" and "Golden". There is insight into Spenser, Shakespeare, Tyndale, John Knox, Dr Johnson, Richard Hooker, Hugh Latimer, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Cranmer and many more. The writing of the early 16th century is characterised by a regularity which Lewis judges to be uninspired, with the exception of Wyatt and the Prayer Book. In Scotland, poets such as Dunbar and Lyndsay, the last of the Scottish medieval poets, had more impact, and in England the satirist Skelton revolutionised verse with his "Skeltonic" metre which Lewis notes gives the effect of being the voice of the people. The mid-century is too earnest, but then in the late 16th century comes a burst of fantasy, conceit, paradox, colour and incantation: "Youth returns." Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare and Hooker represent what is almost a new culture. Magic and witchcraft survived from the 15th century, and appear in the works of Pico, Ficino and England's own Dr Dee, leading proponents of the Neo-Platonism which is the dominant philosophy of the time. Lewis dismisses the idea that the astronomy of Galileo or New World geography was the inspiration for a new literary impetus. In Lewis's judgment Humanism and Puritanism both supplied a richer source of inspiration, with Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity defending reason as God-given. Lewis quotes Shakespeare's rejection of the saving power of "merit" in Love's Labour's Lost: "My beauty will be saved by merit! O heresy!". The Puritan-Catholic contest between faith and works became a stock gag in commercial theatre. In the mid-century the English Bible and Book of Common Prayer are a lasting literary achievement, reflecting diverse streams of influence mainly but not exclusively Protestant. Sidney's Arcadia is a work of distillation, saying what a whole generation wanted to say, while Spenser's Faerie Queene draws on masque, pageants, tapestry, carvings, tournaments and the whole panoply of the court. Shakespeare's sonnets are the heart of the Golden Age, and for Lewis they tell a story of a young man's passion both for another man and also for a fickle woman. 744pp, chronology.

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ISBN 9780063222175

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