Renaissance Magic and the Return of the Golden Age: The Occult Tradition and Marlowe, Jonson, and Shakespeare

Renaissance Magic and the Return of the Golden Age: The Occult Tradition and Marlowe, Jonson, and Shakespeare

Renaissance Magic and the Return of the Golden Age: The Occult Tradition and Marlowe, Jonson, and Shakespeare

Renaissance Magic and the Return of the Golden Age: The Occult Tradition and Marlowe, Jonson, and Shakespeare

Synopsis

For all their pride in seeing this world clearly, the thinkers and artists of the English Renaissance were also fascinated by magic and the occult. The three greatest playwrights of the period devoted major plays (The Tempest, Doctor Faustus, The Alchemist) to magic, Francis Bacon often referred to it, and it was ever-present in the visual arts. In Renaissance Magic and the Return of the Golden Age John S. Mebane reevaluates the significance of occult philosophy in Renaissance thought and literature, constructing the most detailed historical context for his subject yet attempted.

Excerpt

This study is founded on the premise that literature, history, and philosophy must forge interrelationships which are symbiotic rather than predatory. One of its major purposes is to construct for Renaissance plays on magic a more detailed and genuinely illuminating historical context than has previously been provided; at the same time, I have avoided treating the plays purely as historical allegories or simple ideological statements, seeking instead to explore the dramatists' responses to historical and philosophical currents in a manner which enhances our awareness of the plays' artistic sophistication. Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and William Shakespeare were thoroughly familiar with the symbolic importance of occult philosophy in the intellectual history of their own era, and the opening chapters provide information which deepens our understanding of the moral, philosophical, social, and political issues to which the playwrights were responding. Simultaneously, the earlier chapters are ends in themselves, and the book as a whole traces a historical movement from its roots in civic humanism through a process of radical development in the Hermetic/Cabalist tradition to its culmination in the birth of science and in attempts to promote radical social and religious reform. In addition to seeking to enhance our appreciation of Renaissance plays in purely aesthetic terms, the study as a whole is intended to reassess our current understanding of ethical and philosophical issues which are central to the Renaissance and which have contributed to the development of modern values and institutions.

A complete theoretical defense of my attempt to reconstruct the mental outlook, values, and emotions of Renaissance philosophers . . .

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