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Home :: Archive :: 2003 :: August ::
Re: Tillyard (Again)
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1563  Wednesday, 5 August 2003

[1]     From:   Carol Barton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Aug 2003 09:43:13 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 14.1561 Tillyard (Again)

[2]     From:   Hugh Grady <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Aug 2003 10:54:44 -0400
        Subj:   RE: SHK 14.1561 Tillyard (Again)

[3]     From:   Terence Hawkes <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 5 Aug 2003 13:22:31 -0400
        Subj:   SHK 14.1561 Tillyard (Again)

[4]     From:   Edmund Taft <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 05 Aug 2003 14:38:13 -0400
        Subj:   Tillyard (Again!)


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carol Barton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Aug 2003 09:43:13 -0400
Subject: 14.1561 Tillyard (Again)
Comment:        Re: SHK 14.1561 Tillyard (Again)

Gabriel, I come late to this thread, but I do have a concrete example of
Tillyard's "editorializing"---that is, of interpretation through his own
unique and sometimes distorted world view . . . and NOT because it is
fashionable to discredit him at the moment: it comes not from _The
Elizabethan World Picture_ (which has long been challenged for the same
reasons), but from his profoundly inappropriate interpretation of the
final line of Milton's Sonnet XIX ("When I Consider"), "They also serve
who only stand and wait." If I may be forgiven such unabashed
self-promotion (necessary here for the conservation of precious time),
an excerpt from my _Milton Quarterly_ article on the subject to
illustrate:

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
 E.M.W. Tillyard's discomfort with the historically received image of
Milton crouching "in humble expectation, like a beaten dog ready to wag
its tail at the smallest token of its master's attention" at the end of
the poem is thus understandable.  "Considered in relation to the rest of
Milton's works," he writes,

--------------direct quotation: Tillyard-----------------
Sonnet XIX is an extremely difficult and strange poem.  There is in it a
tone of self-abasement found but once again in Milton [presumably, he
means in Samson Agonistes] . . . a passive yielding to God's command.
In view of Milton's normal self-confidence, of his belief in the value
of his own undertakings, I cannot but see in the sonnet signs of his
having suffered an extraordinary exhaustion of vitality.  Yet for all
this weakness the sonnet shows the nature of Milton's greatness . . .
[which] lies in [his] having (at least in this sonnet) overcome his
despair.  He has compounded with his afflictions, and, exacting less
from life than at any other time, has made his bargain with fate.  In an
unusual lowliness, he has found repose . . .
---------------------end

Tillyard is of course right (for the wrong reasons) that by the final
line of the sonnet, Milton has "overcome his despair," but the
resolution thus achieved is in no way a "bargain with fate," and the
speaker's inclination at the end of the poem is toward anything but
"repose."

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

It is relatively simple to prove that "resignation" was a word foreign
to Milton's vocabulary at this or any other time; in fact (to cite
another excerpt from the same article) this was one of the busiest
periods of Milton's life:

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
In the decade following the publication of Sonnet XIX, the same
emotionally and artistically bankrupt individual who in that short poem
showed "signs of his having suffered an extraordinary exhaustion of
vitality" composed and published in rapid succession his translations of
Psalms I through VIII (1653), The Second Defense of the English People
(1654), Defensio pro se and Sonnets XVIII and XX through XXII (1655),
Sonnet XXIII (1658), A Treatise of Civil Power and Considerations
Touching the Likeliest Means to Remove Hirelings Out of the Church
(1659), and The Ready and Easie Way to Establish a Free Commonwealth
(1660); began his work on De Doctrina Christiana and The History of
Britain; and, according to his nephew, Edward Phillips, drafted much of
the ten-book version of Paradise Lost (c.1663), all of this in total
blindness, in the midst of political upheaval (the abortive reign of the
Cromwell Protectorate and the restoration of Stuart monarchy); personal
troubles (the deaths both of his first wife, Mary Powell Milton, in
1652, and of his second wife, Katherine Woodcock Milton, in 1658; of his
only son, John, at fifteen months of age, in 1652; and of his youngest
daughter, Katherine, in infancy, in 1658); and his personal experience
of the paranoia that gripped all unexcluded Commonwealth men in response
to the restored king's gruesome reprisals against his and his father's
enemies, living and dead, exacerbated by the public burning of
Eikonoklastes and Defensio prima by order of the House of Commons in
June of 1660.  He had also more than likely by this time written the
famous invocation to Light that, like Sonnet XIX, begins in the style
and manner of a jeremiad, with the same sad tones of bereavement as
those heavy notes that weight the poet's words at the beginning of the
shorter poem:

Hail, holy Light, offspring of Heav'n first born . . .
 Thee I revisit safe,
And feel thy sovran vital Lamp; but thou
Revisit'st not these eyes, that roll in vain
To find thy piercing ray, and find no dawn;
So thick a drop serene hath quenched thir Orbs,
Or dim suffusion veil'd.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Like many of the best critics, biographers, and editors of his era
(Masson and Parker spring to mind immediately), Tillyard saw nothing
dishonest about what is perhaps a vestige of eighteenth century
sentimentalism/sensibility, the injection of the critic's "feelings"
about what the author might have been experiencing, or meant, or felt
himself into the "facts"---a sin of which the late Christopher Hill is
more often guilty than Tillyard is, and with far more devastating
results---an entire generation of students have grown up convinced that
Satan is Milton, and that Milton wrote the divorce tracts because of his
dissatisfaction with Mary Powell Milton, thanks to him. Tillyard is
capable of what by today's standards is critical sloppiness, but he is
also capable of keen and valuable insight, and it distresses me that,
once again, his young successors seem more than willing to throw the
baby out with the bathwater. He is right more often than he's wrong.

All best,
Carol Barton

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hugh Grady <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Aug 2003 10:54:44 -0400
Subject: 14.1561 Tillyard (Again)
Comment:        RE: SHK 14.1561 Tillyard (Again)

As this last has shown before, E. M. W. Tillyard's little book "The
Elizabethan World Picture" still provokes disagreement, although I would
be surprised if anyone on the list could cite a publication since 1980
which defended the book at any length. I had my say on the subject in a
book chapter (and an earlier article) in my "The Modernist Shakespeare:
Critical Texts in a Material World" (1991), and it was only one of many,
many critiques of Tillyard from the early 70s on--and as Graham Bradshaw
keeps reminding us, there are a few from earlier still. This list cannot
and should not take the place of a visit to a research library. The
articles and books cited therein would provide quite a list of
"errors"--from our own contemporary perspective. For a purely
"scholarly" reply to Tillyard, one using a traditional idiom of source
study and attempting ideological neutrality and therefore perhaps a good
starting point in the answer to Gabriel Egan's question, see H. A.
Kelly, "Divine Providence in the England of Shakespeare's Histories"
(1970) which shows that Tillyard's idea that Shakespeare inflected his
account of the overthrow of Richard II according to the slant of Hall's
"Chronicles" has to give way to a context of multiple, conflicting
interpretations of that salient event. More generally Tillyard is
responsible, more than in other single critic, I believe, of authorizing
the dubious assumption that behind every Shakespearean play is a
religious faith in the natural order of the universe and that tragedy,
in particular, is all about "restoring" that order.

--Hugh Grady

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Terence Hawkes <
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Date:           Tuesday, 5 Aug 2003 13:22:31 -0400
Subject: Tillyard (Again)
Comment:        SHK 14.1561 Tillyard (Again)

Gabriel Egan asks,

' . . . for an example, cited from 'The Elizabethan World Picture', of
an error by Tillyard. '

The main error is the unprobed assumption that the people and the period
constantly referred to as 'the Elizabethans' and 'the Elizabethan age'
were entirely predictable entities; that there were no major  cracks in
the overall world picture which that ideology had not foreseen, no
unaccountable deviations for which it had not made provision, no
possibilities of resistance other than those for which it had allowed.
Thus, 'We should never let ourselves forget that the orthodox scheme of
salvation was pervasive in the Elizabethan age.' --a feature which, when
it came to the rejection of religious belief, necessarily constructed
atheism rather than agnosticism as 'the rule'.

This kind of assertion is then bolstered by 'can't lose' reasoning of
the following sort:

'There are so few references to the Pauline scheme of redemption in the
sonneteers and dramatists that this insistence on its being essential to
the Elizabethan world picture might well be disputed. Yet this very
scarcity is a sign of extreme familiarity . . .' ('The Elizabethan World
Picture', London: Chatto, 1943. p 16).

Breathtaking or what?

T. Hawkes

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Edmund Taft <
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Date:           Tuesday, 05 Aug 2003 14:38:13 -0400
Subject:        Tillyard (Again!)

Gabriel,

I'm happy to respond to your query about Tillyard, though I prefer to
avoid the word "error" and replace it with my own words: "oversimplify
and distort." Below are two examples:

1. You'll note that Tillyard uses Christopher Goodman several times,
especially in discussing God's Providence. The quotations are accurate,
but the choice of author is strange because, while Goodman begins his
first 1558 book believing that God preserves good nations and destroys
bad ones, by the end he is hopelessly mired in endless qualifications
and confusions that no reader could miss. The effect of his writing is
to question God's Providence, not to affirm it.  Likewise, Tillyard
leaves out Renaissance historians such as Juan Harte, _The Examination
of Men's Wites_ (London, 1594), who consistently interprets history in
terms of human reasons and the need for law;and Edmund Bolton,
_Hypercritica _ (1618), who attacks historians for ascribing everything
to the will of God and thereby avoiding the hard, critical work of
analyzing events to discover their sublunary, human causes. Elizabethans
could be much more analytical than Tillyard allows, and if they believed
in God's Providence, many thought it was inscrutable and beyond the
ability of humans to perceive.

2. Tillyard uses Castiglione's _Courtier_ to illustrate Platonic
thought, which is fair enough, but deftly omits the important fact that
the book itself is a Ciceronian dialogue in which all sides are given
the chance to speak, and on important questions such as whether or not
people should be ruled by a prince. Ottaviano says yes, but Bembo
objects; in particular, he objects to the "fable of the bees" that plays
such a prominent role in the council scene in H5 when England decides to
go to war. In effect, the real intelligence of Castiglione's work is
lost to the casual reader, replaced by the single theme of didactic
Platonism.

It seems clear to me that Tillyard wishes to wage war on "humanism" in
the Renaissance by asserting that, in effect, Elizabethans spent their
lives gratefully acknowledging universal correspondences every-where. In
effect, Tillyard's work is reductive and pretends that dissent and
criticism didn't really exist. As such he demonstrates that those who
oversimplify the past actually show a patronizing contempt for it: as if
all  Elizabethans were versions of Sir Politic Would-Be.

Cordially,
Ed

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