The Aspiring Mind of the Elizabethan Younger Generation

The Aspiring Mind of the Elizabethan Younger Generation

The Aspiring Mind of the Elizabethan Younger Generation

The Aspiring Mind of the Elizabethan Younger Generation

Excerpt

One of the most difficult tasks of the historian has always been the analysis of human nature--as it existed in past ages. The cultural gap between humanity today and yesterday is much greater than we like to admit. How many modern men, for instance, are really capable of understanding the medieval fanaticism of the Inquisition, or of empathizing with knight errantry? How far beyond our grasp is even the most civilized man of the Renaissance, with his blood-feuds and superstitions, his passion for the garish and the beautiful, his strange combination of daring innovation and nostalgic traditionalism? No matter how much factual information the historian may accumulate about the past, the motivations and mental processes of past peoples still too frequently escape him.

Even as recently as the sixteenth century, and within the narrow compass of the England of Elizabeth, the picture seems strange and self-contradictory. What were the Elizabethans really like, after all? Were they the chivalrous gentlemen and poets of romantic tradition--or were they at heart the crassly materialistic bribers and takers of Neale Elizabethan Political Scene? Who was the true soul of the age--the cautious, conservative Queen, or her daring sea dogs? Even a single Elizabethan psyche may contain enough contradictions to undermine any generalization and baffle any attempt at synthesis. How is the honest biographer to reconcile Raleigh the heroic empire-builder, the truth-seeker, the patron of scientists and poets, with Raleigh the fawning courtier and the tricky businessman? And can the timeless genius that created Hamlet and Lear and The Tempest really have gloried in the construction of the second largest house in Stratford? Despite all that has been done to improve our understanding, the Elizabethan character remains to a surprising extent a baffling configuration of paradoxes.

The subject of this study is a single, crucial trait of this Eliza-

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