Cavalier Poetry and Drama
Cavalier Poetry and Drama
The term “Cavalier” denotes a literary movement that flourished from 1625 to 1649, characterized by its practitioners' use of lighthearted wit, elegant mannerisms, amorous and sometimes erotic themes, and adherence to upper-class values.
The chief Cavalier writers were Thomas Carew (1594-1640), Sir John Suckling (1609-1642), Robert Herrick (1591-1674), and Richard Lovelace (1618-1657). Critic Thomas Clayton notes that Cavalier literature “is precisely the corpus of poems by these four ‘Cavalier Lyrists,’ and by that measure it is a composite of the qualities abstracted from their collected works.” Characteristically, the Cavaliers were cultured, carefree, behaved as courtly gentlemen, and avoided the overserious. Their works typically celebrate the commonplace and even trivial aspects of daily life.
Sometimes referred to as the “Sons of Ben” or the “Tribe of Ben” in recognition of their debt to Ben Jonson, the writings of the Cavaliers were also significantly impacted by John Donne. Lovelace and Carew were clearly informed by Petrarch. Politically the Cavaliers were Royalists, supporting Charles I against Parliament and the Roundheads in the Civil Wars. Three of the authors—Carew, Suckling, and Lovelace—fought for Charles I. Herrick was not a courtier at all, but an Anglican clergyman. His works show a strong influence by Jonson's adaptations of classical Latin forms.
The light poetry and drama of the Cavaliers has not fared well in general with modern critics preferring more serious material. To many current critics, Alexander Pope's description of the Cavaliers as a “mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease” is justification for a lack of scrutiny. Clayton, however, in his discussion of the lives and works of the major Cavaliers, points out that their purpose in writing was to please the king, not future critics. Manfred Weidhorn discusses Lovelace's reputation and achievements, noting that critical respect for him has fallen over the centuries but also pointing out that, of his poems, “some fifteen to twenty are effective and readable; repay study; change our view of life ever so little; leave us wiser, amused, or moved.” Lynn Sadler examines Carew's life and influences, and asserts that he is at his best when he takes elements from Jonson, Donne, the Elizabethans, and the other Cavaliers and makes something new from the combination. Warren W. Wooden concentrates on Suckling's love letters, in which, according to Wooden, the poet “is both playing and subverting the courtly love game.” Wooden calls for a critical reassessment, contending that the epistles are “more complex, sophisticated, and unconventional than generally assumed.” Geoffrey D. Aggeler provides context for the Cavaliers in his analysis of the plays of the period 1642 through 1660, when theaters were closed by ordinance. Aggeler notes that plays continued to be written, read, and also performed, although typically to small, private audiences. He finds the Cavalier plays of this period full of topical references to politics and religion. Michael H. Markel explores Andrew Marvell's Cavalier poetry, which employs standard Cavalier themes but with the injection of skepticism. Markel explains that Marvell felt the themes addressed by the Cavaliers were more complex than they seemed to realize and that they deserved fuller treatment. Marjorie Swann and Joseph Scodel examine the treatment of women by the Cavaliers. Swann considers how Herrick made objects of women and then either fragmented these objects into constituent anatomical parts or concentrated on adornments such as lace and jewelry in substitution for intimacy. Scodel explains that the ideal woman to the Cavaliers would maintain a delicate balance in her sexual attitude and behavior, neither totally frustrating nor satiating her lover.
The Poems of Thomas Carew with His Masque Coelum Britannicum [edited by Rhodes Dunlap] (poetry and drama) 1970
The Complete Poetry of Robert Herrick [edited by J. Max Patrick] (poetry) 1963
The Poems of Richard Lovelace [edited by C. H. Wilkinson] (poetry) 1953
*The Works of Sir John Suckling 2 vols. (collected works) 1971
*Includes The Non-Dramatic Works [edited by Thomas Clayton] (poetry) and The Plays [edited by L. A. Beaurline].
(The entire section is 71 words.)
SOURCE: Schelling, Felix E. “The Lyric in the Reigns of the First Two Stuart Monarchs.” In The English Lyric, pp. 73-111. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, Inc., 1967.
[In the following excerpt, first published in 1913, Schelling classifies the poetry of Carew, Herrick, and the other Cavalier poets as secular, and stresses its relation to the social life of the period.]
Analogies frequently mislead and disprove what they are invoked to illustrate; and yet the often-repeated comparison of the reign of Elizabeth to the spring, the period of peculiar and rapid quickening, the time of bloom and promise, is as useful as it is obvious and hackneyed. In such an age poetry is careless in form and subject as we have seen, more intent on saying many things than cautious in selection; and the moral significance of art with questions of its mission are things little thought on, and, even if considered, carelessly neglected. There was vice and sin in these old days, and there were serious-minded men who deplored it; but, although the forces of disintegration were already at work, there was as yet no open break between the cult of beauty and the spirit of holiness. With the accession of King James a change came over the English world. First, the national spirit fell slack, with a foreigner come to the throne. As a consequence Puritanism, with its dangerous political aspirations, began to kindle, fanned by the...
(The entire section is 1707 words.)
SOURCE: Clayton, Thomas. Introduction to Cavalier Poets: Selected Poems, edited by Thomas Clayton, pp. xiii-xxii. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.
[In this essay, Clayton presents an overview of the four major Cavalier poets: Robert Herrick, Thomas Carew, John Suckling, and Richard Lovelace.]
Herrick, Carew, Suckling, and Lovelace share a continuing appeal that continues also to change as the times change. They are ‘for all time’, as Ben Jonson wrote of Shakespeare, but they are also much more ‘of an age’; hence their varying critical fortunes with ages and audiences like and unlike theirs. They have always found most favour with those who prefer their poetry first to be poetry (‘creation through words of orders of meaning and sound’, as the late Reuben Brower once put it), and who recognize ‘high seriousness’ as not necessarily to be demanded everywhere in the same measure, kind, and character. Not that these poets don't speak to the human condition. They do. But heirs of the opposing puritans have difficulties with the Cavalier perspective, for reasons suggested by Hume in his assessment of relations between art and society: ‘in a republic, the candidates for office must look downwards, to gain the suffrages of the people; in a monarchy, they must turn their attention upwards, to court the good graces and favour of the great. To be successful in the former way, it is necessary...
(The entire section is 3814 words.)
SOURCE: Scodel, Joshua. “The Pleasures of Restraint: The Mean of Coyness in Cavalier Poetry.” Criticism 38, no. 2 (spring 1996): 239-79.
[In the essay below, Scodel argues that Cavalier poets “playfully and sometimes outrageously” replaced temperance with “a mistress's tantalizing coyness or a man's tantalized desire” as the appropriate middle ground between abstinence and lust.]
Up through the middle ages, Christian attitudes toward sexuality combined an ascetic repugnance toward sinful carnality with a Christianized version of the pagan ethical focus on moderating bodily pleasures. The former celebrated celibacy as the purest state; the latter fostered restrained, temperate sexuality between married couples. With the Protestant Reformation, celibacy was unseated as an ideal and the promotion of moderate conjugal love intensified.1 Like the medieval Scholastics, late sixteenth-century English Protestants often invoked Aristotle's conception of temperance, the mean with respect to bodily appetites, to define proper conjugal sexuality. Temperate sexual relations between married partners were the mean between a sin-producing abstinence and sinful fornication. In his Domesticall Duties, for example, William Gouge argues that proper sexual relations between husband and wife—what he and his fellow clergymen, following Saint Paul, call “due benevolence”—prevent spouses...
(The entire section is 15832 words.)
SOURCE: Swann, Marjorie. “Cavalier Love: Fetishism and Its Discontents.” Literature and Psychology 42, no. 3 (1996): 15-35.
[In the following essay, Swann examines how Cavalier poets fetishized women in their works and discusses what this reveals about masculine anxiety.]
Stephen Greenblatt has argued that the critic who examines Renaissance literature through the lens of psychoanalysis has gone badly astray. Greenblatt maintains that the mode of subjectivity, the “continuous selfhood” of the individual assumed by psychoanalysis was unavailable to men during the Renaissance. In Greenblatt's early modern world of hegemonic power, the community acts as subject, shaping and controlling the individual as object. Identity originates not in the “unique biology” of the individual, but in “the community's determination that this particular body possesses by right a particular identity and hence a particular set of possessions.” Rather than perceiving himself as subject, then, Greenblatt's Renaissance man would consider himself first and foremost as an object, “the placeholder in a complex system of possessions, kinship bonds, contractual relationships, customary rights, and ethical obligations.”1 In this paper, I shall suggest that while our concept of “continuous selfhood” may have been denied to the Renaissance woman, we find a recognizably “modern” male subjectivity...
(The entire section is 6845 words.)
Criticism: Cavalier Drama
SOURCE: Aggeler, Geoffrey D. “The Rebellion in Cavalier Drama.”1Western Humanities Review 32, no. 1 (winter 1978): 53-75.
[In this essay, Aggeler discusses Cavalier drama of the interregnum and notes that it is rich in political and religious content.]
In spite of the great contributions by Hyder Rollins, Leslie Hotson and Alfred Harbage, the history of the drama between 1642 and 1660 remains “perhaps the obscurest chapter in the history of English literature.”2 Students still commonly assume that the ordinance of September 2, 1642, ordaining that “publike Stage-playes shall cease, and bee forborne,” succeeded in halting the activities of playwrights and players for nearly two decades.3 In fact, as Professor Rollins demonstrated long ago, “theatrical productions never ceased, in spite of the active and relentless hostility of the government,” throughout the period of the Great Rebellion. Several London playhouses, including the Red Bull, Salisbury Court, and the Cockpit, presented surreptitious performances regularly during the entire interregnum, and there are records indicating that it was necessary for the authorities in the provinces to exercise considerable severity to enforce the laws against playing.4
Professor Rollins's conclusions were based largely on his examination of newsbooks, pamphlets and broadsides in the Thomason...
(The entire section is 10682 words.)
Criticism: Major Figures
SOURCE: Weidhorn, Manfred. “Reputation and Achievement.” In Richard Lovelace, pp. 160-71. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1970.
[In the essay that folllows, Weidhorn discusses Richard Lovelace's critical reputation and considers his body of work as a whole.]
Lovelace's reputation as a poet begins early indeed—in his twenty-first year. Though he had left Oxford two years earlier, his lines on the Princess Katherine were inserted into copies of a volume of elegies by Oxford students. Similarly, when Fletcher's Wild Goose Chase appeared in 1652, Lovelace's prefatory verses were printed in larger type than the others' and given the place of honor among them. He was evidently prominent in his time.
Another interesting sidelight is the recent discovery, amid sober entries for 1643-44 in an ordnance notebook, of doodles of the first stanza of “The Scrutiny.” It is amusing to think of an ordnance officer or clerk passing the tedious hours by attempting to jot down the stanzas of a brash new poem by a fashionable young poet. Judging from the numerous reprintings this poem underwent in various collections during the rest of the century, “The Scrutiny” became one of Lovelace's most popular. But the best known of his poems was, of course, “To Althea,” referred to as early as 1644-45 and continually reprinted.1
(The entire section is 5185 words.)
SOURCE: Wooden, Warren W. “The Cavalier Art of Love: The Amatory Epistles of Sir John Suckling.” West Virginia University Philological Papers 24, no. 5-1 (November 1977): 30-36.
[In the following essay, Wooden examines John Suckling's love letters and contends that they demonstrate control, awareness, sophistication, and unconventionality.]
To our era as to his own, Sir John Suckling seems the quintessential Cavalier, “the greatest gallant of his time, and the greatest Gamester,” in John Aubrey's phrase.1 Today, however, his reputation rests almost exclusively on the body of lyrical verse—witty, masculine, playfully irreverent—which was collected posthumously in Fragmenta Aurea (1646) and The Last Remains of Sir John Suckling (1659). But both of these volumes contained, in addition to the poetry, separate collections of Suckling's letters set off from the poems and provided with their own titlepage within each volume (“LETTERS To divers Eminent PERSONAGES: Written on several Occasions” in Fragmenta Aurea; “LETTERS TO SEVERAL PERSONS OF HONOR” in The Last Remains). While little read or esteemed today, these letters were very popular in their time (the volumes containing the letters went through seven editions in the seventeenth century, several more in the eighteenth) and combined with the poetry to establish the public perception of the author as...
(The entire section is 3095 words.)
SOURCE: Sadler, Lynn. “Carew's Life and ‘School’ of Poetry.” In Thomas Carew, pp. 11-23. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979.
[In the essay below, Sadler offers a biography of Thomas Carew, considers his reputation, and praises him for showing variety and care in his work.]
As one can see from the Chronology, facts about the life of Thomas Carew are rare. The would-be biographer is further hampered by the confusion and ambiguities that lace such “facts” as do exist. Was he born in 1594 or 1595? Where was he born? Which of the three contemporaries, Thomas Carew/Carey, is the poet? Was his college Merton or Corpus Christi? Did he die in 1638 or 1639 at age forty-four, in 1640 at age forty-five, in 1645 at age fifty, or when he was much older? Did he die of syphilis? Did he receive the Manor of Sunninghill from King James or King Charles, and was it recalled for lack of payment before or at his death? Did he marry a rich widow? Did he marry at all? Did he become Ben Jonson's “research assistant” for a history of Henry V? Which is his authentic portrait? Is there a portrait of Carew? The problems indicated here persist into current criticism, not to mention the disorder among older treatments of Carew.
Only ten poems were published during Carew's life, and some of those lacked his name and his authorization. His masque, Coelum Britannicum, was also published...
(The entire section is 6246 words.)
SOURCE: Markel, Michael H. “Perception and Expression in Marvell's Cavalier Poetry.” In Classic and Cavalier: Essays on Jonson and the Sons of Ben, edited by Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth, pp. 243-253. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1982.
[In the following essay, Markel discusses poetry by Andrew Marvell that engages the Cavalier mode while at the same time exploring its conventions and limitations.]
As Marvell's major lyrics have become better understood, commentators have turned their attention to his later, satirical poetry, in search of the balance and paradox that characterize his more famous works.1 In his curious evolution from encomiast of Lovelace to Restoration satirist, Marvell is the greatest enigma of all English poets. Finding a private man who makes sense as Marvell the poet is likely to pose the ultimate scholarly riddle; his bloodless newsletters from Parliament to his constituents in Hull are as bizarre, in their own way, as the unbridled invective of the satires. In response to the current tendency to categorize the poet, Elizabeth Story Donno argues that he was not a Cavalier, a Puritan, or a satirist, but “the ultimate Renaissance poet,” that is, a poet interested in literary traditions and uninterested in justifying his work on any but aesthetic grounds.2 In a more Marvellian statement that makes essentially the same point,...
(The entire section is 3899 words.)
Bush, Douglas. “Jonson, Donne, and Their Successors.” In English Literature in the Earlier Seventeenth Century 1600-1660, pp. 104-69. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1945.
Traces the currents of Cavalier and metaphysical poetry in the seventeenth century.
Butler, Martin. “Lovers and Tyrants: Courtier Plays 1637-42.” In Theatre and Crisis 1632-1642, pp. 55-83. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Rejects popular notions about English drama in the decade before the closure of the theaters.
Deneef, A. Leigh. “The Courtly Ceremonial.” In “This Poetick Liturgie”: Robert Herrick's Ceremonial Mode, pp. 69-108. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1974.
Analyzes the ceremonial mode in Herrick's courtly lyrics, focusing on either their ‘Cavalier’ or ‘functionary’ voice.
Hammond, Gerald. “Richard Lovelace and the Uses of Obscurity.” Proceedings of the British Academy 71 (1985): 203-34.
Attempts to remove Lovelace's poetry from the “Cavalier” classification by arguing that Lovelace's work embodies the major concerns of mid-seventeenth-century lyric poetry in England.
Harbage, Alfred. “The Cavalier Mode.” In Cavalier Drama: An Historical and Critical Supplement to the Study of the...
(The entire section is 508 words.)