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Elizabethan Prose

I read Thomas Dekker's "The Wonderful Year 1603".  In this short book, probably a pamphlet originally, Dekker the playwright - who wrote the play "The Shoemaker's Holiday"- writes a vivid eye-witness account of the year in which Queen Elizabeth died, James I came to the throne, Walter Raleigh was involved in a plot, and London was visited by an appalling outbreak of the Plague.   The full title is:-

          The Wonderful Year 1603 - Wherein is showed the Picture
          of London lying sick of the Plague.
          At the end of all (like a merry Epilogue to a dull play) certain
          Tales are cut out in sundry fashions, of purpose to
          shorten the lives of long winters nights, that lie
          watching in the dark for us.  

Dekker's prose is magnificent.  Full of Elizabethan/ Jacobean conceits. It rolls off the tongue - I read some of it out loud. His descriptions of the effects of the plague on the citizens of London are brilliant.  As are his metaphorical accounts of the death of Elizabeth and the arrival of James. The book ends with a collection of anecdotes - not without humour - about how individuals coped with illness and death.  Hugely enjoyable and satisfying.  This is a characteristic section.
A stiff and freezing horror sucks up the rivers of my blood: my hair stands on end with the panting of my brains: mine eye balls are ready to start out, being beaten with the billows of my tears: out of my weeping pen does the ink mournfully and more bitterly than gall drop on the pale-faced paper, even when I do but think how the bowels of my sick country have been torn: APOLLO therefore and you bewitching silver-tongued Muses, get you gone, I invoke none of your names: SORROW and TRUTH, sit you on each side of me, whilst I am delivered of this deadly burden: prompt me that I may utter ruthful and passionate condolement: arm my trembling hand, that it may boldly rip up and anatomise the ulcerous body of this ANTHROPOPHAGISED plague.

It seems, according to his contemporaries, that Dekker was a pleasant good-humoured fellow who avoided controversy.  His play "The Shoemaker's Holiday" (which I have seen twice) is a very pleasant, charming piece set among the ordinary citizens of London.  Rather like Beaumont and Fletcher's "The Knight of the Burning Pestle". Dekker, who has nine poems in The Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse", was the author of the lyric "Golden Slumbers Kiss Your Eyes".

"... this ANTHROPOHAGISED plague..."!

You don't see writing like that too often!  Very Happy

The only prose of that era I can think of off the top of my head are the various prose passages in Shakespeare's plays. Other than that, the earliest prose I think I know are Donne's sermons, and bit sof Milton's pamphlets. (And if you thought Milton's poetry is heavy-going, you really ought to try his prose!)

I seem to remember someone on the old Beeb board sayig that Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy was their favourite book. It's a book I have flicked through in the bookshop, but that's about as far as I've got with it. Another one for that ever-expanding list, I suppose. And does anyone know Bacon's essays? That should be well worth a read, I guess!

I possess a copy of Thomas Lodge's "Rosalynde" which is the source for Shakespeare's "As You Like It".  But I haven't plucked up the courage to read it yet even though it's quite short.  Over the years I've discovered, when reading early prose, and finding it hard-going, the only thing to do is to keep reading, out loud if necessary, and gradually your brain and eye grow more accustomed to the rhythm and punctuation, and it becomes easier and you begin to savour it.  
How about this from the judge at the trial of Raleigh?


And of course the King James's Bible was published in 1611.  How's that for wonderful prose?

Mikeharvey wrote:
And of course the King James's Bible was published in 1611.  How's that for wonderful prose?

Well, I have enjoyed, although yet to finish, William Tyndales translation of The New Testament in the original spelling (New Testatment), from 1526.  Much of which, I'm led to believe, was transported (is that the right word?) straight into the King James Bible.

It's hard work and I've yet to find a dictionary that can accomodate this, so it's mostly guess work but it is more than worth it, and I'm going to wheel it out for my Christmas reading.


Recent and on going reading, but not exactly current, the essays of Sir Francis Bacon still fascinate as they have done since I rescued a small tatty volume from my old Grammar School library cleanout - shame on them!

Apart frm his writing - especially  the radical ideas expressed in 'The New Atlantis,' Bacon never ceases to  fascinate; his scholarship, secret societies, his extraodinary life - though surely not the secret son of Elizabeth and Dudley? his rise and downfall and the honour in which he was held in late years.

He even managed a most unusual death in an experiment to deep freeze a chicken. Look him up on Wiki.

If ever the Beeb needs another costume drama subject of this period, Bacon ought be their man for it.

Anyone else as fascinated?

Regards, P.

I remember trying to read Bacon's Essays some years ago and giving up. I really ought to try again.

I came across the following entertaining passge in Philemon Holland's translation of Pliny's "Natural History" published in 1601.  Cleopatra has prepared chaplets of flowers for herself and Antony to wear and - for a joke! and for reasons best known to herself- dipped the tips of Antony's in poison. They are each to drink a potion made from their chaplets. Cleo drinks hers.

Well, M. Antonie yeelded to pledge her: offe goeth his owne Guirland, and with the floures minced small, dresseth his own cup. Now when he was about to set it to his head, Cleopatra presently put her hand between, and staid him from drinking, and withall uttered these words, "My deare heart and best beloved Antonie, now see what she is whome so muche thou dost dread and stand in feare of, that for thy security there must wait at thy cup and trencher extraordinarie tasters; a straunge and new fashion ywis, and a curiosity more nice than needfull: lo, how I am not to seek of means and opportunities to compasse thy death, if I could find in my heart to live without thee". Which said, she called for a prisoner out of the gaole, whom she caused to drink off the wine which Antonie had prepared for himself. No sooner was the goblet from his lips againe, but the poor wretch died presently in the place.

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