'Bugbears in Apollo's Cell': Metamorphoses of Character in Drayton's Idea and Daniel's Delia
Kambaskovic-Sawers, Danijela, Parergon
Literary subtext plays an important part in the generation of meaning. It is a device supremely adaptable to the reader: if it goes unnoticed, the text can still be enjoyed at face value; once recognized, it allows the text to achieve its full effect. Studies of Ovidian echoes in major Renaissance sonnet sequences are a fertile field. Nevertheless, Michael Drayton's and Samuel Daniel's play with Ovid in Idea and Delia, often unconventional and interesting, lacks thorough critical attention. (2) In this essay, I hope to offer a fresh perspective into character building in sonnet sequences by showcasing Daniel's and Drayton's creative use of Ovid and relating it to the poets' cultural context--the work of contemporary mythographers, themes of contemporary narrative genres and, in Drayton's case, astrology--a pursuit relevant to this discussion on account of its semantic use of figures of Roman mythology.
Studying Idea and Delia, I noticed that the way Drayton and Daniel remodel figures of Ovidian myth to characterize their speakers seems bent on engaging the reader in a mental debate. On one hand, there is nothing unusual about Ovid's Metamorphoses being used as a hunting ground for subtext; it not only offers stimulating stories to remodel, but also, on account of its popularity and recognizability, maximizes the chances of interactivity. On the other hand, the poets twist the well-known figures to provoke agreement, disagreement, identification, outrage, or delight, positively drawing attention to the discrepancies between the original stories and their creative remodeling. A few questions present themselves. Can the way the character of a speaker is built promote a reader's sense of involvement? Specifically, can subtext have a role to play in maintaining the interest of sonnet sequence readers? If so, how is this achieved? This essay will argue that Drayton's and Daniel's play with Ovid in Idea and Delia, brilliantly original and often humorous, offers a space in which these questions may be addressed.
Why is interest in the character important? Like most Petrarchan sequences, Idea and Delia tell stories of amorous pursuit, yet have little concrete story to tell; with the possible exception of Spenser's Amoretti, this fundamental duality characterizes the genre. True, there are, of course, many reasons to read individual sonnets. But a reader's willingness to read a sonnet sequence from beginning to end, in the way Petrarchan sequences were meant to be read, depends at least in part on the level of interest a speaker generates. 'Speaker' or 'persona', the terms which the critical convention uses to refer to the main character in a sonnet sequence, have been introduced to acknowledge the character's fictionality and discourage biographical interpretations. Yet the same terms also act as code for 'narrator' and 'character', denying that sonnet sequence could also be seen as integral works. (3) The lyrical nature of the individual sonnets, easily anthologized and studied out of context, has routinely overshadowed the question of sonnet sequence integrity. As a result, the way sonneteers develop fictional uses of the first-person voice has received less focused critical attention than it deserves. When analyzing 'interest' I am concerned with dualities incorporated into the characters of the sonnet speakers in a way which holds our attention. I propose a reshaped Empsonian model: while Empson saw ambiguity as necessary for the creation of beauty, (4) I think it necessary for the creation of complex first-person speakers capable of captivating their readers' attention.
Drayton opens his Heroicall Epistles by referring to Ovid as a poet whose imitator he partly professes to be. Some critics (those who believe that reader-interest has no place in a compendium of lyrical poems) may take this to mean that Drayton sees himself as a 'non-Virgilian', and therefore a 'non-epic' poet; (5) but in the same breath, Drayton also states that he named his work 'Heroicall' because this is a word 'properly understood of Demi-gods, as of Hercules and Aeneas . …