The Aspiring Mind of the Elizabethan Younger Generation

By Anthony Esler | Go to book overview
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III. A generation of phoenixes

In practice, the Elizabethan younger generation all but ignored orthodox denunciations of ambition. This is not surprising: their parents had done so too. The significant difference between the generations was that the younger Elizabethans rejected orthodox condemnations of ambition in spirit as well as in fact. These young men accepted high aspiration wholeheartedly, not only in practice, but internally, at the level of thought and emotion. For the prudent compromise and politique evasion of their parents, the generation of 1560 substituted a passionately affirmative mood--the aggressive, extremist mood of the Marlovian aspiring mind.

Two processes seem to have operated simultaneously in the development of this Elizabethan younger generation during the 1570's and early 1580's. First, there was a gradual process of alienation from the ideals of their fathers. Among the consequences of this alienation was an emotional rejection of the older generation's strictures against ambition. Secondly, there was a restless search for new values in a world of new and changing facts. Among the results of this quest for new ideals was the growth of a mood of high aspiration so intense and so all-pervading as almost to constitute a secular religion. These complementary processes and the resulting mood of high aspiration are the subject of this chapter.

In attempting to understand the early development of the generation of 1560, it will be well to begin with a brief outline of the upbringing of a fairly typical member of that generation. Such a biographical approach will have a number of advantages. In the first place, it will provide a few concrete facts about the youth of these young men to balance the heavy theoretical emphasis inevitable in such a study as this. In addition, a biographical profile will make possible a much closer examination of an exemplary member of this generation, a detailed analysis which should make much clearer some of the generalizations to follow. Most important, this approach will bring us into closer contact with the lives of these young aristocrats of


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