The Aspiring Mind of the Elizabethan Younger Generation

By Anthony Esler | Go to book overview
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VI. Grand schemes, impossible to accomplish

The extravagant ambitions of the Elizabethan younger generation apparently knew no bounds. This is not surprising, considering their own ardent natures, and the nature of the world they lived in. The life of a country squire, with its local power and county-wide prestige, was not enough for such men as these, living in such an age of opportunity. They bustled off to the wars to seek undying honor and glory; they thronged to the court to vie with their peers for ultimate power. For the leaders of the generation of 1560, nothing less than immortal glory or absolute sovereignty would do. They were, in short, extremists. For a real understanding of the mind of this generation, some special attention must be paid to the nature of this extremism, to the ultimate heights to which these men dared to aspire.

i. Elizabethan aspiration writ large

In the 1580's and '90's a number of the greatest of the Elizabethan younger generation embarked upon ambitious projects of breath-taking scope and grandeur. Some of these dazzling schemes got no further than extravagant prospectuses; others, through great effort and at considerable risk to their promoters, were translated into equally extravagant reality. So distinctive were these great adventures in their sheer magnificence that they seem to deserve a particular descriptive appellation. Let us call them "grand schemes." And let us make use of them to improve our understanding and broaden our feeling for the Elizabethan aspiring mind. For in these grand schemes Elizabethan aspiration was inscribed in characters large enough to be clearly read even at this distance in time. Through these grandiose ventures, we may study the aspiring mind, not only in action, but strained to the utmost, its effects many times magnified.

The Elizabethan grand scheme took many forms. Some of these ambitious young men, for instance, poured their family fortunes into vast military expeditions. They sold their lands and bor


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