The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 14.1576 Friday, 8 August 2003
From: Gabriel Egan <
Date: Thursday, 7 Aug 2003 12:37:10 +0100
Subject: 14.1563 Re: Tillyard (Again)
Comment: Re: SHK 14.1563 Re: Tillyard (Again)
[WARNING LONGISH POSTING FOLLOWS--A BIT OF A DEFENCE OF TILLYARD'S EWP]
I'm most grateful to those who responded to my request for examples of
Tillyard being wrong.
Carol Barton: your example is interesting, but as I said it's scholarly
responses to the Elizabethan World Picture (EWP) book I'm particularly
interested in. Thanks, though.
Hugh Grady: Likewise on Tillyard on the history plays; I'm quiet happy
to accept that Tillyard was one-sided. As Philip Brockbank pointed out,
he's all Providence and no Machiavelli. But it's EWP I'm interested in.
Hugh also wrote "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."
Well, yes, that's what he stands accused of. It just doesn't square with
my rereading of EWP.
Terence Hawkes makes essentially the same charge:
"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."
Let's see what Tillyard says. Tillyard emphasized a disjunction between
inherited medieval ideas (especially the religious injunction to contemn
the world) and the humanism emerging since the twelfth century: 'The two
contradictory principles co-existed in a state of high tension'
(Tillyard 1943, 2). Thus Tillyard saw contradiction rather than a
monolithic model at the heart of the World Picture, and importantly it
was the site of ongoing contestation as the work of Machiavelli and
Copernicus (Tillyard 1943, 73) provided new reasons to reject
traditional ideas and the ruling dynasty sought to marshal ideological
support for its own rule: 'Somehow the Tudors had inserted themselves
into the constitution of the medieval universe' (Tillyard 1943, 6). This
is all far from the stable and monolithic view that Tillyard's critics
claim that he promulgated.
The important matter is human agency: Tillyard is widely decried for
leaving it out of his model (especially subversive agency) yet an
examination of what he wrote shows it to be there. A prime example is
the stars as supposed intermediaries between Fortune and human affairs,
obeying God's changeless order yet responsible for the vagaries of luck
in the sublunar realm. This would seem a pessimistic view of things, and
hence once serving conservatism, had not Tillyard insisted that '. . .
the prevalence of the doctrine . . . that the stars' influence can be
resisted may not be sufficiently recognized' and hence, although
Tillyard did not use this example, Romeo's 'I defy you, stars' (5.1.24)
is not merely adolescent bravado (Tillyard 1943, 53, 55).
Tillyard made it clear that the World Picture he described was under
attack in Shakespeare's time, and as its tidy categories increasingly
failed to fit reality the 'equivalences shaded off into resemblances';
nonetheless the model was used 'to tame a bursting and pullulating
world' (Tillyard 1943, 93). This sense of the World Picture as part of
the intellectual equipment with which one might make sense of a rapidly
changing, confusing world is something that one does not get from
In closing Tillyard insisted on the Picture as ideology put to work 'by
the Tudor regime', and far from identifying himself with the Picture,
Tillyard characterized its ideas as 'very queer' and, in an oblique
reference to 'certain trends of thought in central Europe' compared its
strangeness to Nazism and Fascism; just because these things strike us
as crazy is no reason to ignore them, as 'scientifically minded
intellectuals' have tended to do (Tillyard 1943, 101-02).
Terence Hawkes DOES catch Tillyard in what we might consider an error:
>This kind of assertion [that the Picture was pervasive]
>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?
Isn't it rather a version of the familiar historians' problem that we
might read a particular act (say, a repressive law) in one of two
opposing ways. We might say that there couldn't have been much
occurrence of 'crime x' because there were such strict and frequently
revised laws against it, or alternatively we might argue that there must
have been a great deal of 'crime x' on precisely the same evidence: look
how many laws they had to pass in their (obviously failing) attempts to
Ed Taft catches Tillyard in over-simplification and one-sidedness.
Indeed, that's admitted by all commentators, but reductivism isn't a bad
thing in itself. Don Allen Cameron's review of EWP says that Tillyard
has 'done an immense service in reducing a certain point of view to its
minimum essentials' but cautioned that such a condensation necessary
leaves much out: 'this is not the Elizabethan world picture but only one
corner of it' (Allen 1945).
Ed also says "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
This is easily countered with my quotations of Tillyard above, about
humanism being in tension with older ideas (2) and how "equivalences
shaded off into resemblances" (93), and Tillyard's repeated assertions
that the official model was an ongoing project of ideological
I'm entirely prepared to accept that Tillyard's book was reductively
READ by people who went on to teach the Picture as a static zeitgeist.
(After all, Don Cameron Allen makes a remarkable gaffe in understanding
Tillyard to say that we mustn't think the Elizabethans as "queer" [read,
strange to us], which is precisely what Tillyard says we must think
them.) Indeed, my suspicion is that bad teaching of Tillyard is what the
post-1980s attacks on him have really been reacting to.
Allen, Don Cameron. 1945. "Review of E. M. W. Tillyard The Elizabethan
World Picture (New York: Macmillan, 1944)." American Journal of
Philology. 66. 434-36.
Tillyard, E. M. W. 1943. The Elizabethan World Picture. London. Chatto
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