Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry by Isabel Rivers

By Isabel Rivers

A brand new creation and an absolutely up to date bibliography make the second one version of this verified textual content an essential source for college students and academics of English poetry.

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What he derives from me is eternal, beyond the reach of death, and not to be overcome by any flames. ’… Meanwhile Vulcan had stripped Hercules of whatever fire could ravage, and the form of the hero was left, quite unrecognisable, retaining none of his likeness to his mother, but only the signs of his descent from Jove. Just as a serpent renews its youth, sloughing its old age with its skin, and is left fresh and shining with its new scales, so when the Tirynthian hero had put off his mortal shape, the better part of him grew vigorous, and he began to appear greater than before, a majestic figure of august dignity.

Then comes the Divine Mind, whose thoughts are the world of Ideas. Then comes soul, which links the intelligible and the material world; individual souls are part of this greater soul. The individual soul is tripartite (as Plato also believed); one part is concerned with the intelligible and one with the material, while the third is free to turn in either direction. Though the material world is at the foot of the hierarchy it is orderly, beautiful and good. The goal of life is the ascent of the soul to mystical union with the One (2), and Plotinus describes the achievement of this state on the basis of his own experience.

But it is not necessary for twentieth-century readers to have recourse to the handbooks to find out why and in what way a Renaissance poet is using myth. The context should tell them. Briefly, five chief uses of myth can be defined. The first is narrative; the story is told for its own sake, unmoralised, as in Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis (9) and Marlowe’s Hero and Leander. Marlowe is much truer to the spirit of Ovid than innumerable Christian allegorisers. The second is for embellishment and enrichment of meaning; mythological allusion can serve to aggrandise the subject of a poem (16).

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