Elizabethan and Jacobean

Elizabethan and Jacobean

Elizabethan and Jacobean

Elizabethan and Jacobean

Excerpt

Like many a writer who chooses a subject at what seems a comfortable distance from the time of performance, I have often had reason to regret the rashness of my choice. To state or even to suggest some of the main differences between Elizabethan and Jacobean literature in a few hours is a task that might appal a man with more learning and a better gift for generalization than I have. There are two dangers into which it is easy to fall and from which I cannot hope to have escaped. The one is to be tied too narrowly to the literal meaning of the label which I have chosen. The words Elizabethan and Jacobean as I use them in these lectures are only a convenient means of referring to the prevailing modes of the literature written under Elizabeth and under James. They do not imply that Elizabethan literature or Jacobean literature is all of a piece, or that there is any easy common denominator to be found between Hooker and Lyly, Ascham and Nashe on the one hand, or between Jonson and Webster, Donne and Andrewes, Bacon and Burton on the other. And they do not exclude the fact that some Elizabethans continued to write under James much as they had done under Elizabeth. Above all, these labels would be misleading if they implied that the qualities which we recognize as Jacobean rather than Elizabethan are not to be met with before 1603. Epochs of literature do not wait upon the deaths of kings and queens, and it was in the fifteen-nineties, while The Faerie Queene was fresh from the press, that the chief modes of Jacobean literature became apparent. In that decade Donne, Jonson, and Bacon first declared themselves, and before the death of the Queen, Shakespeare wrote his Hamlet.

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