Thomas Sackville’s contributions to A Mirror for Magistrates shows a typical Elizabethan compound of classical, medieval, and “native” elements: Renaissance English literature owes its characteristic variety and vigor to a mixing of sources and styles. Deriving from medieval traditions are the complaint form of tragedy (in which the ghost of a fallen “prince” tells his life story), an interest in the vicissitudes of Fortune, imitations from Dante Alighieri, and use of dream-vision conventions. At the same time, Sackville turns to the classics, notably to Vergil, for the descent into hell as well as for much imagery and many details, and he evokes an atmosphere of classical myth and ancient history through allusion and example. He also employs artful figures of rhetoric in a manner newly stylish in contemporary Tudor letters and uses such “native” elements as archaic diction and syntax to further the effect of synthesis among diverse literary elements. The result is a dignified and serious mixing of richly traditional elements.
In the sentiments and atmosphere of his two pieces, Sackville evokes the brooding, melancholic air of Elizabethan tragedy, anticipating later Elizabethan achievements in drama. (In his exaggerated expression of extreme emotionality, he works, however, in the earlier, mid-Tudor literary style.) He includes themes and images which become popular in Elizabethan drama and lyric, praising sleep, likening life to a...
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