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Caro

Jacobean drama, poetry and attitudes

I have said earlier that I am reading Peter Ackroyd's Civil War and he has a chapter called An Interlude which discusses the Jacobean mood (mostly melancholic) and how it is shown in literature and music.  He says that it was the age of music, and that 'no epoch in the history of English music can excel the diversity of genius that flourished in this period'.

Then he goes on to discuss The Tempest as a play that owes much of its ritual and sweet melody to the masques of the court.  And Shakespeare's major plays were written in the time of James I who was much more interested in drama than Elizabeth I had been.  

Then he discusses The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster, calling it 'a defining drama of the period'.  "Since it is the only literary genre that carries the name of the age {Jacobean drama], it may be of some importance for any understanding of it.  It signifies melancholy, morbidity, restlessness, brooding anger, impatience, disdain, and resentment; it represents the horror of life.  The exuberance and optimistic inventiveness of the Elizabethan years have disappeared.  The joy has gone.  The vitality has become extremity and the rhetoric has turned rancid."

I studied this play at university but don't remember much about it, though I remember it was rather gruesome. Ackroyd discusses it for several pages, focusing on its melancholic atmosphere mostly. I should read it again - and The Tempest. I first read that at school just after our very engaging teacher had inspired us with his teaching of Hamlet, and we weren't so enamoured of The Tempest.  Maybe we were too young for it at 16.  

He then talks about Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy which is more than 1200 pages long and which I have not heard of before as far as I know, but which seems to be an important book of its time, going into great detail about 'the declensions and divisions, intervals and digressions' of melancholy.  

Then he is off to the sermons of Lancelot Andrewes and John Donne.  The erudition of this book is amazing.  I suppose I should have put all this under non-fiction, Peter Ackroyd, but I thought it would be good to discuss this era of literature (and perhaps music).

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