LATE ELIZABETHAN SATIRIC POETRY AND BEN JONSON'S "COMICALL SATYRES"

FRANK M KERINS, Fordham University

Abstract

The volumes of English satiric verse of the late 1590s are generally presumed to heterogeneous collections devoid of formal structure. This belief proceeds from our awareness that many individual satires and epigrams were circulated in manuscript prior to their appearance in printed editions. When we read one of these satiric volumes in its entirety we are often overwhelmed by the great variety of abuses attacked and by the number of satiric techniques employed. All of these reinforce our impression of formlessness, of a lack of artistic design in the volume as a whole. This dissertation questions this prevailing assumption through close reading of the major collections of late Elizabethan satiric verse. In each of the volumes studied the careful arrangement of poems shows the satiric poet attempting to create an overall artistic structure and a satiric plot concerned with the changing perceptions of the satirist, the fictive persona of the work, to the world he excoriates. This analysis of the variety of structures and plots in the contemporary satiric volumes that Ben Jonson would have known sheds new light on Jonson's "Comicall Satyres" and on the nature and extent of his indebtedness to contemporary verse satire.^ The new interest in Roman satiric genres was sparked by the epigrams of Sir John Davies and the verse satires of Joseph Hall. Although these poets revitalized the elegant perspective of Martial and the moral indignation of Juvenal, they failed to acclimate these two modes of assertive satire to a morally self-conscious Christian community acutely aware of original sin.^ Shortly after these works were published a poetic reaction set in--a reaction expressed in the development of an ironic satiric mode which exposed the underlying pretensions of assertive satire and transformed the image of the satirist from a wit or moralist into that of a comical jester and hypocrite.^ To understand Elizabethan ironic satire, this dissertation analyzes the work of Everard Guilpin, long considered merely an imitator of Marston and Donne. Through a close reading of Guilpin's Shadowe of Truth one finds both an original satiric voice and the clearest explication of ironic satire. Guilpin's "Satire I" is seminal for it not only exemplifies the technique of Guilpin and Marston, it also explains their method. An understanding of Guilpin's bifurcated satiric--a satire ostensibly censuring the world while ironically criticizing its own presumption--is essential for the realization of Marstonian satiric structure. A study of Marston's two satiric volumes shows them duplicating the basic structural design of Guilpin, creating a mock-heroic satirist caricaturing the arrogant stance of his assertive predecessors. Marston's ironic perspective is clarified by authorial digressions which overtly criticize Hall for those same sins that Marston's own satirist gleefully commits.^ The analysis of Donne's Satyres demonstrates the first successful integration of the self-conscious perspective of fallen man with the public, social role of satiric verse. Donne's satiric plot defines the limitations of the satirist in the real world and utilizes this awareness as a catalyst to stimulate a reformed satirist and to authenticate his necessary role in society. A reading of Donne's "To Sir Edward Herbert at Julyers" explicates much of Donne's satiric concerns and provides a basis for this study of his Satyres.^ An examination of Jonson's "Comicall Satyres" demonstrates profound indebtedness to Elizabethan Satire. Every Man Out is a dramatic realization of the ironic mode of Marston and Guilpin. In Cynthia's Revels, however, Jonson moves to a Donnean conception of the satirist and his social function. Finally, the Poetaster, Jonson completely rejects the comical, ironic mode and affirms a virtuous image of the poet and his necessary role in a moral community. ^

Subject Area

English literature

Recommended Citation

KERINS, FRANK M, "LATE ELIZABETHAN SATIRIC POETRY AND BEN JONSON'S "COMICALL SATYRES"" (1981). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8123552.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8123552

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