Early Tudor Poetry, 1485-1547

By John M. Berdan | Go to book overview
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Up to the period of the second literary generation of the writers of the reign of Henry VIII, the literature is easy to analyze because the work has the extreme characteristics that mark all beginnings. The change in the language, due to the long continuance of civil strife, had broken the literary continuity. The works of Chaucer and his contemporaries were no longer available as precedents. Yet the social stability given by the first two Tudor kings stimulated a demand for literature. Under the circumstances those that wished to supply this demand necessarily experimented in literary forms, each choosing that form most consonant to his aims and his predilection. In this new age there was no one dominant literary tradition. Consequently there is apparent confusion. Books were written contemporaneously which yet depend upon entirely different theories and to judge which requires a knowledge of entirely different literatures. Such a statement may seem to imply that it was a critical age, an age in which there was eager discussion of literary theory. But this is untrue. Aside from the humanists there was no literary propaganda,--and with them the stress was upon morality, not upon literature. As in the time of the Judges, each man did what was right in his own eyes. Moreover, as each wrote according to his natural bent, instead of electing one literary type and spurning all the others, actually in his work he may show the result of two quite different forces. This is quite natural. They were alive, and, being alive, each was affected in varying degrees by the literary impulses of his age. Yet in each author one (and only one) impulse is major; the other impulse, (or other impulses) is definitely subordinated. For this reason it is possible, by arranging them according to the dominant impulse, to show the gradual progress and modification of the types. But by so doing a judgment is passed upon them. Great writers cannot be listed according to single traits, because they draw from


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Early Tudor Poetry, 1485-1547


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