Images and Ideas in Literature of the English Renaissance

Images and Ideas in Literature of the English Renaissance

Images and Ideas in Literature of the English Renaissance

Images and Ideas in Literature of the English Renaissance

Excerpt

During the early Renaissance in England, poets like Spenser 'believed in' their images. They established by second nature a correspondence between the meaning of images and the material substance of things they depicted. Such correspondences grew out of an Augustinian tradition in which the continuity of matter, image and transcendent Idea was assumed, and in which the images of rhetoric were a means of directing us through everyday experience to contemplation of eternal truth.

With the rise of science, and especially during the seventeenth century, the widespread acceptance of a quantitative view of matter caused a crisis for this older theory by encouraging a conflict between the traditional view of corporeal nature and a Cartesian, deistic observation of the world of objects. One consequence was that the new philosophy opened a breach between mental images and the divine Ideas which, traditionally, God had used as a blueprint in creating the world.

Whether or not they knew the philosophers in detail, poets of the period dwelt in a world of linguistic discourse profoundly in process of change, and throughout the seventeenth century, literary men as never before came to suspect the usefulness of images for depicting the true nature of the material world. As early as Shakespeare in The Tempest the old habits were subject to a contrary movement, and Milton and the later Metaphysicals show a direct response to the challenge offered . . .

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