Time's Purpled Masquers: Stars and the Afterlife in Renaissance English Literature

Time's Purpled Masquers: Stars and the Afterlife in Renaissance English Literature

Time's Purpled Masquers: Stars and the Afterlife in Renaissance English Literature

Time's Purpled Masquers: Stars and the Afterlife in Renaissance English Literature

Synopsis

Alastair Fowler's fascinating study explores the extraordinary prominence of astronomical imagery in Renaissance literature. He describes the forgotten Renaissance beliefs about stellification, an afterlife in the stars through metamorphosis into stellar or angelic substance. The new astronomy of Copernicus and Brahe, far from working against religious beliefs, encouraged hopes of access to the uncorrupted spheres. Fowler's many-faceted book scrutinizes these ideas--both sacred and scientific--as they manifested in literature, masques, architecture, and the pursuit of fame.

Excerpt

This book arises from the eight lectures and seminars I gave at the University of Bristol in 1991, as Read-Tuckwell lecturer for that year. the Alice Read-Tuckwell Trust was established to fund lecture courses on human immortality and related matters. Preparing the lectures gave me an opportunity to explore a feature of Renaissance literature which has probably struck every serious student as puzzling at one time or another: namely, the extraordinary prominence of astronomical imagery. That the stars were important astrologically is at best a partial explanation. I am more concerned here with the impact of astronomical discoveries--particularly their implications for stellification, or translation to the stars. Renaissance astronomical imagery is often seen as no more than a literary repercussion of Copernicus, just as stellification is dismissed as hyperbolic flattery. But for some time I have felt sure that other factors were involved. in the Renaissance, purely objective science hardly existed.

My approach is not quite that of a historian of ideas. Instead, I have studied the imagery of fame and consolation, in an attempt to discover their coherence within metaphoric structures. the story of how scientific discoveries forced great changes in the Renaissance world-picture has often been related in scientific terms--the terms of an interested party. Here, I tell a different story, of changes in fantasies that supplied less familiar passages of the world-picture. Not formal theories or formulated beliefs, but interactions of the new science with individual hopes of life after death. Seventeenthcentury culture was both religious and materialistic. Far from science replacing religion, the literature of the period seems to show a great variety of negotiated reconciliations of the two. Meanwhile, an urge to survive materially after death is squared with new scientific information. There are extreme swings of opinion, strange temporary solutions. How is ascent from the earth to be achieved? the answers are various. Where Leonardo imagines impossible mechanical wings, and we may think of chemical rocket propul-

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