Thomas Dekker: A Study in Economic and Social Backgrounds - Vol. 2

Thomas Dekker: A Study in Economic and Social Backgrounds - Vol. 2

Thomas Dekker: A Study in Economic and Social Backgrounds - Vol. 2

Thomas Dekker: A Study in Economic and Social Backgrounds - Vol. 2

Excerpt

This study is an attempt to apply the economic theory of history to literary criticism. It is based upon the assumption that economic and social forces have a direct bearing upon literature, and that, whether one is considering the work of an individual writer or of an age, the literary historian must take these forces into account. Within a generation, the study of economic and social forces has revolutionized the writing of history, and it bids fair to play a part almost as revolutionary in the interpretation of literature. In so far as a literature is deep and vital, it must take account of the social currents that shape the life of an age. Indeed, to a large extent any literature is itself shaped by these underlying forces and is the result of their complex interaction. Literature, like any other art, is not an inert and passive thing, a mirror hung within the room; rather it is as alive as life itself, taking form and color not only from what falls within its magic scope, but as well from what is excluded therefrom.

This study, then, is deductive. It starts with the hypothesis that the Elizabethan age had conflicting economic and social interests, and that Thomas Dekker, who was a singularly faithful mirror of much of the age, reflected those interests and was shaped by them. That any man of letters of the Elizabethan period was profoundly influenced by conflicting economic and social currents runs directly counter to the great body of criticism, which assumes that such factors do not enter materially into the interpretation of literature, or that if they do, the Elizabethan period was a glorious time when, for a season, ordinary laws were suspended, and mankind lived again in the radiance of the golden age.

As we glance over the history of English scholarship, such an attitude becomes, if not reasonable, at least intelligible. For the most part this scholarship has been so deeply concerned with matters of text, authorship, and source, that quite naturally it has often overlooked the living spirit of the people. Content with the establishment of the text, it has not passed to the further question, of what is this text an expression. Happy in the determination of an authorship, it has not sufficiently concerned itself with the author's relationship to the total society of which he was an expression. In tracing parallelisms in thought and form, it has not taken the one step further in seeking reasons for such similarities in the life of the people. Such neglect of fundamental factors has perhaps resulted necessarily from the deep devotion with which scholars have given themselves to the laborious problems of text, authorship, and source, and we who come in a later day to build on their foundation would indeed be lack-

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