Elaine Y. L. Ho – Author and Reader in Renaissance Texts: Fulke Greville, Sidney, and Prince Henry

Author and Reader in Renaissance Texts: Fulke Greville, Sidney, and Prince Henry

Elaine Y. L. Ho

Published in Connotations Vol. 5.1 (1995/96)


The discussion between John Breen and Andrew Hadfield (publ. in Connotations 4) on the authorial responsibility of Spenser’s A View of the Present State of Ireland Elaine Y. Ho sides with Hadfield in seeking the political implications of Spenser’s dialogue. She then goes on to further analyze similar textual strategies of “I-witnessing” in the complex I-narrator of Fulke Greville’s The Life of Sir Philip Sidney and in the text’s historical circumstances between Greville, Sidney and the I-narrator.

The recent discussion between John Breen and Andrew Hadfield on the authorial responsibility of Spenser's A View of the Present State of Ireland has foregrounded issues of genre and context which resonate in other Renaissance texts. Central to the discussion, or so it appears to me, is the epistemological status of the View: are we to take it as autobiographical, an elaborate statement of Spenser's personal position on the Irish question; or as a complex performance of humanist dialogue; or as political rhetoric promoting a radical colonialist project? That there is no easy answer—and perhaps no conclusive answer at all—to these questions is amply demonstrated by the persuasiveness with which Breen and Hadfield argue their alternative positions.

The need to attend to the generic complexity of the View is indisputable. Breen brings into focus the View as humanist dialogue and, through careful analysis of its formal strategies, confirms both its generic heritage and artistic autonomy. But like Hadfield, I too find that he overstates his case against some form of political contextualization. What is difficult and challenging is not the construction of a politics from the View, but to decide in what ways it could be read in order to retrieve a history of the circumstances of its writing. There have been slippages from one to the other in earlier criticism, and as Breen and Hadfield point out, these can take a number of forms. Both distance themselves from biographical identifications of Irenius and his militant colonialist views [→page 35] with Spenser. However, the "historicists" like Greenblatt, Norbrook, and Healy, who Breen thinks have made this identification (Breen 120−21) do not really share the same platform with those "historians," challenged by Hadfield, who appear "superior to literary critics because they … do more work" (Hadfield 240, see also 234). This is a distinction which Hadfield does not make but should have done, especially since his main thrust is to demonstrate the historicity of the View as political rhetoric which an interest in its formal sophistication need not preclude.

It is the "historicists" who sought, in the last decade, to reinstitute politics in formal considerations of texts, to site fiction in Renaissance public institutions and civil society—a project rendered urgent precisely because "historians" of the kind whom Hadfield disputes have always looked upon the View as evidence rather than art, and as one piece of evidence among many rather than as a work of art with its distinctive socio−cultu—ral context. Breen, with his interest in the generic intricacies of the View, would understandably take issue with the reductiveness of some "historicist" readings though his observation on "[t]he paradox of self−promotion and self−effacement that emerges from Spenser's position, and is a typical Spenserian poetic strategy" (122) resonates of Greenblatt's pioneering Sir Walter Ralegh and, of course, Renaissance Self−Fashioning.1) Hadfield's analysis of the political situation of the View belongs even more specifically to that "historicist" lineage which his generalised notion of "historians" obfuscates. While Breen slights this lineage despite his own obvious debts to it, Hadfield refuses it its distinctiveness.

This caveat aside, surely Hadfield is right to argue that the View's artistic manipulation of the dialogue genre is indissociable from its "manipulative rhetoric" (239). Indeed, it is the subtlety of the former, which Breen has analysed in detail, that makes it so effective as the latter: a point of connection which Hadfield clearly demonstrates in his own study of the crucial exchange between Irenius and Eudoxus on how Ireland can be reformed (Variorum ed. 2910−3317). In the genre of dialogue with two fictive speakers, the relationship of the author to the views expressed by the speakers is inevitably vexed and problematic. Spenser wrote no plays, but in an age of vigorous dramatic activity, his relationship with the speakers in the View is comparable to that of the [→page 36] playwright with the characters he creates in a play. This is a situation which Breen hints at when he says that "the authentic voice of the author oscillates between absence and presence for the voice of the dramatic characters is never wholly conterminous [sic] with the voice of the author" (121). What I would like to do in the rest of this essay is to explore the wider issues of genre and history raised in Breen and Hadfield's debate in relation to a kind of writing which exemplifies a transparency of authorial responsibility quite different from Spenser's View. Or so it seems.

In his essay, Hadfield notes an article of mine, "The rhetoric of the `I'−witness in Fulke Greville's The Life of Sir Philip Sidney."2) Greville's work is historical though it speaks of history in a different idiom from that of the View and, through it, Spenser. And unlike Spenser who shadows both his speakers in the View, Greville's authorial presence is enunciated right from the beginning in a singular "I":

For my own part, I observed, honoured and loved him so much as, with that caution soever I have passed through my days hitherto among the living, yet in him I challenge a kind of freedom even among the dead: … I am delighted in repeating old news of the ages past, and will therefore stir up my drooping memory touching this man's worth, powers, ways and designs, to the end that in the tribute I owe him our nation may see a sea−mark raised upon their native coast above the level of any private pharos abroad, and so, by a right meridian line of their own, learn to sail through the straits of true virtue into a calm and spacious ocean of human honour.3)

The "I" speaks with quiet authority and a clarity of purpose suggesting the authentic voice of Greville, Sidney's friend who guards his memory and shares his patriotism. In this brief passage near the opening, the "I" has already moved across multiple literary genres, rendering entirely permeable the boundaries between them: intimate life−writing in the manner of William Roper's The Life of Sir Thomas More (c. 1553) or George Cavendish's The Life and Death of Cardinal Wolsey (c. 1556−1558) and more recently, the account of Sidney's life in Holinshed's Chronicles by Edmund Molyneux, secretary to Sidney's father; elegy and specifically the verse elegies to Sidney of 1587 and 1591−95; and didactic treatise like Thomas Moffet's Nobilis (c. 1594) that urges personal and social reform modelled upon Sidney and harks back to The Mirror for Magistrates.24) The "I" in [→page 37] the Life is generically complex in ways that belie the coherent self which announces its presence from time to time in the narrative. It signals the hybridising of literary modes that enables the Life to contest a place for itself in each of the textual traditions that mediate Sidney's memory. Furthermore, the generic hybridity of the Life enables it to appear as the culmination of diverse textual attempts on Sidney's life and memory, one whose authority is difficult to challenge because it can gather up what has been written, in the forms they have been written, and surpass them all. These are observations on the textual strategies of the Life as they are focalised through the "I" which were not made in my earlier article, and which in the light of John Breen's discussion of the View's generic complexity, seem to be worth spelling out.

The other point I wish to raise here concerns the knotty problem of how to retrieve, or construe, the historical circumstances of the Life, as they pertain to both Greville the author and to his situation in the Jacobean political configuration. The relationship between the "I" in the Life and that figure in history which is Fulke Greville is no less problematic—and provocative—than that between Spenser and his two fictive "I"s, Irenius and Eudoxus. The "I" in the Life seems to speak with a clarity of self−knowledge and purpose but it would be a mistake to see it as the sign of a unified self. In one register, it establishes and maintains its authority as the authentic voice and guardian of Sidney's worth, but this first "I"—the sign of an elegiac self whose self−estimation springs from what it knows and what it can remember about Sidney— has to negotiate with another paradoxical but no less authentic "I" who questions the wisdom of Sidney's radical and militant projects in the light of changing times. The contradictions of the "I" inscribe a complex history of change between the early 1580s, when Sidney was struggling to make his mark in Elizabethan public life and the first decade of the seventeenth century, when Greville appears to think that his own political life is over. And it is to this history to which I will now turn.

"The difference which I have found between times," Greville begins,

and consequently the changes of life into which their natural vicissitudes do violently carry men, as they have made deep furrows of impressions into my heart, so the same heavy wheels cause me to retire my thoughts from free traffic with the world and rather seek comfortable ease or employment in the safe [→page 38] memory of dead men than disquiet in a doubtful conversation among the living; which I ingenuously confess to be one chief motive of dedicating these exercises of my youth to that worthy Sir Philip Sidney, so long since departed … . (3)

The "difference" mentioned here—with a discretion that seems almost coy—has been taken commonly to refer to the transition to Jacobean rule;4) the passage, dominated by the figure of a perilous journey, registers unease with the transition. But the "I" is poised ambiguously as both the passive victim of change—the "heavy wheels cause" him to retire—and the agent who can "seek" alternative "employment" and afford to choose the privilege of safety over "disquiet."5) There is, throughout the Life, an ongoing transaction between an "I" who speaks of Greville the exiled courtier haunted by the departed Sidney, the subject of a double loss, and Greville the seeker after royal favour biding his time as he affirms his own continued relevance through affirming the enduring legacy of Sidney. This doubled and ambivalent "I" points towards the anxieties and desires which constitute Greville's political situation during the period when the Life was written. If Spenser is dispersed between Irenius and Eudoxus, so too is Greville between the "I"s of the Life. From another point of view, Greville the historical figure as he emerges from the Life—for how else do we know him except through his texts—is the hybrid subject whose presence cannot be constrained by exclusive embodiment in a single enunciation or generic mode.

The Life is a work of exile, not least because it was composed, though not published, from 1604 to 1614 when Greville, having been one of Elizabeth's favourite courtiers, found himself without public office under Jacobean rule.6) It is also a work of exile in that it is characterised by a strong sense of displacement, of being outside a political community and a code of ethics which Sidney is seen to embody. With his death, what Sidney exemplifies is irretrievably lost; elegiac in tone and import, the Life also distances itself from the solace of elegy. While it has no doubts about Sidney's sanctification, the "I" seems to see no reprieve for itself from a darkened world. Sidney and his associates bear witness to the "real and large complexions of those active times" against which "the narrow salves of this effeminate age" (7) can only appear decadent. [→page 39] But the elegist's mortal despair is belied, from another perspective, by the exile's unrelieved worldliness; the Life is a work that looks towards replacement and return as it laments displacement and loss. As the "I" in the Life speaks of Greville, it also speaks to an audience. But who is this audience or intended reader? This is the final point which I wish to address here and it will entail retracing some of the steps that Hadfield took, albeit on a different textual site: to consider that aspect of the Life's historicity which moves between construing its author's principled positions as a radical Protestant to a grounded speculation about its political performance as radical Protestant rhetoric.

The observation that in Sidney, "our nation may see a sea−mark raised upon their native coast above the level of any private pharos abroad" (4) seems no more than a general appeal to patriots. But the contrast between the "native" "sea−mark" and "any private pharos abroad" hints at a specific attempt to win back those over whom foreign influences or models might have held sway. The fact that the Life and the dramas it prefaces were not published in Greville's lifetime, and that they contain, in the different manuscript versions, no special dedication to a patron, must make any discussion of readership speculative. One cannot, as Stephen Greenblatt has done in his study of Ralegh's History of the World, demonstrate that the content, structure, and revisions of the Life are influenced by an awareness of an interested patron who, in Ralegh's case, was Prince Henry, James I's eldest son.7) But I think there are good reasons, both external and internal, for arguing that the Life was written, like the History of the World, with Prince Henry in mind.

The dating of the Life to 1604−1614 includes the period of Prince Henry's emergence as a prominent figure in Jacobean politics prior to his death in November 1612. He was described by Henry Peacham, in a contemporary echo of Grevilles native "sea−mark" and "pharos abroad," as "A prodigie for foes to gaze vpon, ⁄ But still a glorious Load−starre" for England.8) Godson of Elizabeth, Prince Henry was regarded, in many ways, as her successor, and the link between the two becomes a tactic of political criticism for those disaffected with the reign of of James I. In the "Dedication" of his play, Philotas, to Prince Henry, Samuel Daniel laments that verse, esteemed in the age of Elizabeth, has suffered a reverse of fortune with dynastic change. The kind of verse which Daniel [→page 40] promotes is that "which may shew ⁄ The deedes of power, and liuely represent ⁄ The actions of a glorious Gouernement."9) Daniel implicitly urges the prince to heed the lessons of statecraft contained in such verse and assume the mantle of Elizabeth as its patron (98−99). It is significant that for Daniel, as for Ralegh, the Prince became a kind of alternative court of appeal.10) And the Prince himself seems to have cultivated an identification with the late Queen: he is described, after his death, as having "ever much reverenced" the "memory and government" of Elizabeth.11)

Like Sidney in the Life, Prince Henry was figured as the defender of the true faith, who would realise the militant Protestant hopes of European continental conquest and the establishment of the kingdom of the godly on earth. The outlines of this mythical persona were already drawn by the time the Prince entered England in 1603. The moment of his birth was greeted with colourful prophecies of future triumphs in humbling Spain—"fastu donec Iberico ⁄ Late subacto sub pedibus premas"—and casting down Rome—"Clarus triumpho delibuti ⁄ Gerionis, triplicem tiaram, ⁄ Qua nunc revinctus tempora Cerberus ⁄ Romanus atra conduplicat face ⁄ De rupe Tarpeia fragores ⁄ Tartareos tonitru tremendo."12) Throughout his short life, the Prince was the intended recipient and reader of a plethora of anti−Roman Catholic tracts.13) These tend to increase in number at moments when the perceived Roman Catholic threat seems to intensify to alarming proportions as, for instance, after the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, and the assassination of Henry IV of France in 1610.14) It would appear that, apart from writers like Daniel and Ralegh who failed to find favour in the Jacobean court, those who believed in confrontation with Spain and Rome looked to the Prince for a sympathetic reader.

One very persuasive reason for thinking of Prince Henry's connection with the Life is that the Prince was seen by his contemporaries not only as the heir of Elizabeth, but of Sidney himself. This Sidney connection is disarmingly commemorated by Arthur Gorges, Ralegh's kinsman and Spenser's sometime patron, when he rewrote his epitaph "Of Syr Phyllypp Sydney" of the late 1580s as the elegaic sonnet "To his Entombed Bodye" on the death of Henry.15) Gorges's friendship with Ralegh blocked his chances of office during the first years of James I's [→page 41] rule. After the Gunpowder Plot, he became vehemently anti−Papist, and his proposal to the Prince for dealing with recusants seemed to have been favourably received, for in 1611, he became Henry's Gentleman of the Privy Chamber.16) Judging from the number of elegies to Henry besides Gorges's which refer directly or indirectly to the Sidney connection, one can safely say that it must have been an outstanding and established received impression of the Prince in his lifetime.17) The Prince inherits Sidney's mantle as radical Protestant hero and standard bearer, and this mythical personation derives greater credibility and generates more eager anticipation because of the Prince's royal status and succession. Here, at last, is a future king who has the power and aggressiveness in what the Life has called "an effeminate age" to carry his religious zeal through to acts of conquest. Or so it seemed to the radical Protestants of the time.

The Prince's martial pursuits fuelled their hopes. An examination of Greville's chivalric representation of Sidney in the Life reveals a surprising number of similarities with the known interests of the prince. Indeed, they are of such a kind that belies the possibility of mere coincidence. Prince Henry was assiduously following a romantic fashion of which Sidney has provided a spectacular Elizabethan example. The Prince's passion for riding, and his patronage of books on horsemanship are widely known, and like Sidney, his chivalric image derives from and is visualised in his participation in tilts and barriers. The Prince made his first appearance in the tiltyard at the age of twelve in 1606, "gallantly mounted, and [with] a hart as powerfull as any, thou that youth denyed strength."18) Henry's active disposition and prowess in the tiltyard revived for many the glorious pageants of Elizabethan Accession Day Tilts, and helped stabilise his image as Sidney and Elizabeth's heir. In fashioning Sidney as chivalric model almost twenty years after his death, the Life appears carefully attuned to the nascent image of the knightly Prince.

Henry was known to be interested in military affairs; like Greville's Sidney, his active disposition looked for satisfaction in war. He had, according to Francis Bacon, "something of a warlike spirit" and "both arms and military men were in honour with him."19) He devoted his energy to the navy and naval reform, especially after his coronation as [→page 42] Prince of Wales in 1610, inspected the navy at Chatham in 1611, summoned all the royal shipwrights to Greenwich to discuss the prospect of building ships in Ireland in 1612, and received advice about naval matters from several people including Ralegh. One of the significant revisions of the Life involves the addition of material about the advantages of maintaining a standing navy. This revision, which occurs in Chap. IX (Gouws 55−56), is inconsistent with its context, which is about Sidney's plan "to carry war into the bowels of Spain" (54).20) It would not be surprising if this new material is Greville's response to the Prince's known interest. With his knowledge of the peculations and corruption in the navy garnered when he was Elizabeth's Navy Treasurer, Greville was well−qualified to offer advice which would complement the technical expertise of someone like Ralegh. The argument for the Prince Henry connection becomes even more persuasive in the light of Sidney's plans for an expedition to the New World (Life, Chap. X) and Henry's enthusiasm for such expeditions. In 1607, Henry sent Robert Tindall to Virginia to survey and report on the land, people and fortifications. In 1609, he became an official shareholder of the Virginia company, and was named Patron of the Virginia Plantation. On his visit to Chatham, he listened attentively to a plan for naval war against Spain in the West Indies, and pursued his advisers with questions about the design of vessels for such a venture. The radical Protestant vision, evident in Sidneys projected expedition, of the New World as a second paradise on earth, peopled by the Christian faithful, provides the religious justification for colonial expansion and a second front in the war with Spain. Henry's apparent willingness to become involved in a New World project fits seamlessly into his martial and heroic image for which the radical Protestants of James I's reign are vocally enthusiastic, amplifying their professed hopes for his succession as the moment when the nation of the spirit extends its reach and becomes an empire.

Greville has revised the chapters on Elizabeth in the Life by adding new material on Elizabeth's relationship with the church, her ministers and Parliament, and rearranging old material so that an account of her foreign policy comes after that of domestic affairs. Through the revision, Greville produces an image of the Queen as moderate in her religious policy, both at home and abroad, early in her reign which then gives [→page 43] way to an aggressive anti−Spanish stance in the years after the defeat of the Armada. According to Greville, at the beginning of the reign, the Queen made

a vow like that of the holy king's in the Old Testament, … that she would neither hope nor seek for rest in the mortal traffic of this world till she had repaired the precipitate ruins of our Saviour's militant church through all her dominions, and, as she hoped, in the rest of the world by her example. Upon which princelike resolution, this she−David of ours ventured to undertake the great Goliath among the Philistines abroad (I mean Spain and the Pope), despiseth their multitudes not of men, but of hosts, scornfully rejects that holy fathers wind−blown superstitions, and takes the almost solitary truth for her leading star.
Yet tears she not the lion's jaws in sunder at once, but moderately begins with her own changelings: gives the bishops a proper motion, but bounded; the nobility time to reform themselves with inward and outward counsel; revives her brother's laws for establishing of the church's doctrine and discipline, but moderates their severity of proceeding… . (98−99, emphasis added)

The figurative devices—Old Testament metaphors and the image of the leading star (already familiar in its signification of Sidney as radical Protestant hope of the nation) establish by implication the Sidney−Elizabeth association, and confirm the Queen's place in Protestant revelational history. Elizabeth is shown to unite power with spirit and put the former in the viable, practicable service of the latter. The retrospective centralization of radical Protestant tradition in national history—she has early made "a vow like that of the holy king's in the Old Testament"—co−ordinates with her reign as the site of the struggles and, eventually, triumph of the cause. Earlier on, I have referred to the identification of Prince Henry with the Queen. It is as the sign of a specific lineage of faith within the royal succession that this identification is forged in the radical Protestant vision of its own centrality in the nation's history. The identification looks back to the past but also forward to the future when the national destiny of England will find its fulfilment in the reign of a radical Protestant Prince as king.

The explanation for the revision Greville offers in the Life is that he was denied access to Council papers by Robert Cecil. In response to Cecil's question as to how he could clearly deliver many things done [→page 44] in that time [i.e. Elizabeth's reign] which might perchance be construed to the prejudice of this [i.e. James I's reign] (131), Greville reports his supposed answer:

… an historian was bound to tell nothing but the truth, but to tell all truths were both justly to wrong and offend not only princes and states, but to blemish and stir up against himself the frailty and tenderness not only of particular men, but of many families, with the spirit of an Athenian Timon… . (131)

Greville's solution to the problem of "truth" contains an offer of self−censorship which obviously did not satisfy Cecil. While the manner of the response is no doubt conditioned by the wish not to offend, the substance of what he says indicates the political constraints that shape the Elizabethan chapters. Thus a study of these chapters as political rhetoric means exploring those strategies that enable Greville to speak the unspeakable under the contemporary dispensation. By mapping the image of Elizabeth in the Life on that of the Prince in other texts, some sense does emerge of what Greville is trying to do within the larger configuration of radical Protestant desires as they are invested in the Prince. Cecil may have been right to be anxious that the Jacobean regime could be embarrassed by a hagiographic—and nostalgic—representation of Elizabeth.

Sir John Holles, in his letter to Lord Gray, observes that "[a]ll men of learning, countryman or stranger, of what virtue soever, military or civil, he [the Prince] countenanced and comforted. He was frugally bountiful … respectfully courteous to all, familiar with those he esteemed honest … wise, just, and secret. [His] excellently composed inside was accompanied with as well a built outside… ."21) The language evokes the notion of balance and moderation—"frugally bountiful," "familiar … secret"—as the key to the prince's character and relations with men. In the eyes of a more dispassionate observer like Bacon, this moderation in character and action becomes a sign of greatness that could never be confirmed because of the prince's early death. Bacon observes of the prince that while "[t]he masters and tutors of his youth … continued in great favour with him," "no one in his court … had great power over him or … possessed a strong hold on his mind." "His passions," Bacon continues, "were not over vehement, [→page 45] and rather equable than great … ," and with characteristic cynicism, adds, "the goodness of his disposition had awakened manifold hopes among numbers of all ranks, nor had he lived long enough to disappoint them."22)

Bacon's cautious appraisal confirms that the princes moderation, or temperateness, was a well−observed fact. Some of these descriptions no doubt owe something to the conventions of royal characterization: it was polite, prudent and perhaps wishful to speak with measured approbation about a king's son. What is significant is that such moderation, just like his active disposition, is registered as a promising sign of his fitness to rule. The Prince's chivalric image, steeped in radical Protestant desires of conquest, inspires hopes of a specific kind for those who identify national and religious revival with war. Samson Lennard, in dedicating to the Prince his translation of Phillipe de Mornays's The Mysterie of Iniquite: That is to say, the Historie of the Papacie (1612) expresses the fervent wish "to march ouer the Alpes, and to trayle a pike before the walls of Rome, vnder your Highnesse standard." "The cause is Gods," he urges Henry, "the enterprise glorious, O that God would be pleased, as he hath giuen you a heart, so to giue power to put it in execution." The Prince promises to become the royal ideal, embodied in Greville's model of Elizabeth, of moderation in religious policy at home and aggressiveness abroad, an ideal whose inconsistency did not strike Greville and his co−religionists, and might not have been inconsistent, in realpolitik, at all.

If Greville intended to use the Life as a statement of his affinities with the young Prince, and through this, to reinsert himself into Jacobean public life, this intention is never explicit, never articulated. My contention is that the revised version of the Life is a document which has Prince Henry in mind, and which is strategically designed to appeal to him and to those radical Protestants who look to the young prince as the focus of their hopes. The project is circumscribed by Greville's usual caution, and his customary sense of hope deferred. In making the Life a preface dedicating his verse dramas to Sidney, dead for almost twenty years, Greville implicitly acknowledges failure to obtain patronage in a new regime without however committing himself, like Daniel and Ralegh, to the notion of an alternative patron who might right the wrongs [→page 46] of monarchical disfavour. Greville's adversity as an exile from court did not make him adversarial. To invoke and fashion the image of Sidney to whom the Prince was regarded as successor, and at a time when the Prince was looked upon by militant Protestants as the new chivalric knight, is the crowning tactic of indirection. In a speech to John Hayward the historian, Prince Henry said, "Wee are carefull to prouide costly sepulchers, to preserue our dead liues, to preserue some memorie that wee haue bene: but there is no monument, either so durable, or so largely extending, or so liuely and faire, as that which is framed by a fortunate penne… ."23) Given these sentiments, and all that the Life contains, the Prince, had he read Greville's work, might well have received it with favour.

University of Hong Kong