The Scottish literary renaissance reborn: a re-evaluation of the cultural directives of King James VI, as defined in his 'Essayes of a Prentise in the Divine Art of Poesie' (1584).
MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.
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In her pioneering summation of the abundance of literary discourse predicated upon the literature of the Scottish Jacobean period, Bawcutt (2002) calls particular attention to the ubiquity and continued misapplication of the concept of the ‘Castalian Band’. Helena Mennie Shire’s contention (1969), through which the appraisal of physical coterie dynamics is valued above the evaluation of the demonstrable thematic and aesthetic concerns of each distinct author, provides modern criticism with a nuanced, yet ultimately misleading, critical lexicon with which to analyse James VI’s cultural revival. Bawcutt condemns the imprudent scholarly acceptance, and the ensuing promulgation, of Shire’s ‘Castalian Band’ theoretic as nothing more than a fabrication of a scholarly fiction which culminates in a widespread fundamental misunderstanding of the literary pre-occupations of the age. In the conclusion of her article, Bawcutt attempts to instigate a critical renaissance, setting up avenues of literary-critical enquiry.
This thesis seeks to evolve recent scholarly re-evaluations of the Jacobean Renaissance period, and takes as its logical starting point a re-reading of King James VI’s Essayes of a Prentise, a document which has previously been considered as important primarily because of its accommodation of a poetic ‘rule book’. In recent publications, critics have been keen to re-address the ‘Castalian myth’ (as Bawcutt defines it), yet no one critic has considered a re-reading of the Essayes of a Prentise as a complete ‘collection’, and highlighted the clear thematic consistency which threads the works together. Within the present thesis, just such a re-reading will be undertaken, foregrounding the Essayes as much more than merely a simplistic poetic rule book for the members of the ‘Castalian Band’ to adhere to in the composition of verse. Rather, a close thematic reading of the collection shows it as a complex weave, a carefully contrived gathering of texts in which the author, under an explicit pretence of modesty, explores thoroughly the concepts of authority and authorship, both from a literary and political perspective. James sets out Christian-humanist paradigms for both his reading audience and aspiring poets to embrace, with a heightened importance residing within James’ translation of Du Bartas’ L’Uranie. In order to give credence to this claim, Thomas Hudson’s History of Judith has also been critically examined within this thesis in a comparative reading. Hudson’s text, published in the same year as the Essayes of a Prentise, is regarded in this study as a ‘sister’ text to James’ Essayes, evidencing the first and most explicit embodiment of the monarch’s religio-political and cultural directives.
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