Although "The Lie" may seem to be simple, the meaning of the poem is complex because the poem itself arose out of complexity. Complexity existed because of:
- Ralegh's life situation c. 1592-1594 when he wrote "The Lie."
- The objective he intended when writing the poem.
- The ironic contrasts with which he blasts the institutions of his day.
- The double and triple archaic definitions of now commonplace words.
All these factors deserve thoughtful exploration, but the meaning of "The Lie" can first be briefly stated. Possibly writing while imprisoned in 1592 by England's Queen Elizabeth I, Ralegh blasts the supposed righteousness and might of England's governing and socio-cultural institutions. These institutions are those that permitted him to be imprisoned by his sovereign--whom he believed he had dutifully served--and others that failed to come to his defense. These governing and socio-cultural institutions range from Queen Elizabeth I's royal court to her courtiers "who brave it"--chiefly...
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