Mirrors for Rebels: A Study of Polemical Literature Relating to the Northern Rebellion, 1569

By James K. Lowers | Go to book overview

PREFACE

IT IS A TRUISM that no literary artist functions in a vacuum and that the critic's task often is to find out the special circumstances which explain the character of an author's work. Among these circumstances may be the external facts of history. Granted one may read and understand the works of Izaak Walton with little or no need to be informed about the bitter religious and political struggles of his day. But without that knowledge no one may hope to understand the major works of John Milton, Walton's great contemporary. More important than the external facts of history, however, are the dominant ideas which arise therefrom. Thus the critic who would do justice to Robert Sherwood Abe Lincoln in Illinois must be familiar with the oft-repeated arguments for racial equality and freedom for all peoples which were advanced during the 1930'swhen the Western world experienced Nazi threats and aggression.

The present study is concerned with salient events which occurred during the reign of Elizabeth and, more particularly, with the large body of polemical literature composed and circulated as a direct result thereof. The chief event was the Northern Rebellion of 1569. At intervals throughout the remaining years of Elizabeth's reign, new threats to Tudor absolutism led Englishmen to recall the rising and to reëmphasize its importance. The polemical literature, heretofore largely ignored by literary historians and critics, is comprised of numerous ballads, tracts, and pamphlets which appeared between the years 1569 and 1601. Because Elizabethans viewed the Northern Rebellion so seriously early and late, the literature relating to it is a prime source of Tudor ideas on civil obedience. The loyal propagandists repeated the major and minor arguments in ever-new context so that no Englishman at any level of society was likely to be unfamiliar with them. Indeed the cumulative effect of these argu

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