Fulke Greville Analysis

Other literary forms

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Fulke Greville (GREHV-ihl) wrote three verse dramas modeled on Seneca: Mustapha (pb. 1609), Alaham (pb. 1633), and Antony and Cleopatra. He destroyed Antony and Cleopatra because he feared that it contained material “apt enough to be construed, or strained to a personating of vices in the present Governors, and government.” Mustapha exists in three different versions: one published without Greville’s permission in 1609, two identical manuscripts that seem to have been written before the printed edition, and the 1633 version, which appeared along with Alaham in the collection of Greville’s works titled Certain Learned and Elegant Workes of the Right Honourable Fulke, Lorde Brooke. It was probably the translation of Robert Garnier’s Marc Antoine (1592) by Sir Philip Sidney’s sister, Mary, the countess of Pembroke, that initiated the fashion of the “French Seneca” to which Greville’s plays were a contribution.

Of Greville’s titled prose works, the two most important are A Letter to an Honourable Lady (1633) and The Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney (1652), containing a survey of international relations in the 1580’s and a history of Elizabeth’s reign as well as an account of Sidney’s life. Of particular interest to the literary historian is Greville’s discussion of the difference between his view of poetry and that of Sidney.


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Fulke Greville’s reputation as a poet has grown appreciably. In Poetry (1939), Yvor Winters announced that Greville was “one of the two great masters of the short poem.” Commenting on the great lyrics of the sixteenth century, Winters described them as “intellectually both profound and complex . . . restrained and direct in style, and . . . sombre and disillusioned in tone.” While more recently critics have questioned the appropriateness of using the term “plain style” to describe Greville’s verse, the poems in Caelica, his sonnet sequence, are now highly regarded.

His verse treatises, with the exception of G. A. Wilke’s perceptive and informed comments (Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke, the Remains: Being Poems of Monarchy and Religion, 1965, G. A. Wilkes, editor), have received little attention. Didactic in tone, they are sententious and restrained in diction, but their very austerity can be moving to a reader interested in intellectual verse. Summarizing his own aesthetics in A Treatie of Humane Learning, Greville describes poetry and music as “things not pretious in their proper kind,” but he adds that they can function “as pleasing sauce to dainty food . . . [c]ast upon things which in themselves are good” (stanza 12).

Greville has found some appreciative readers among men of letters and poets: Charles Lamb surprised his friends at a dinner party by selecting Greville and Sir Thomas Browne as the two writers whom he would most have liked to meet; Algernon Charles Swinburne, T. S. Eliot, and Theodore Roethke have praised Greville’s works, but Samuel Taylor Coleridge paid him an especially high tribute when he imitated Caelica, “LXXXIV” in “Farewell to Love.”


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Alexander, Gavin. “Fulke Greville and the Afterlife.” Huntington Library Quarterly 62, nos. 3/4 (2001): 203-231. Alexander discusses Greville’s preoccupation with his posthumous influence. It is characteristic of Greville to look back to the dead, but it is equally his habit to think forward beyond his own death.

Greville, Fulke, Baron Brooke. The Complete Poems and Plays of Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke (1554-1628). 2 vols. Edited by G. A. Wilkes. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2008. This collection, edited by a prominent Greville scholar, presents a detailed examination of Greville’s sonnets, verse plays, and treatises.

Hannay, Margaret P. Philip’s Phoenix: Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Greville regarded his close friendship with Sir Philip Sidney as a major influence on his life. This biography of Sidney’s sister, Mary Sidney Herbert, countess of Pembroke, comments upon Greville and his contributions to and participation in the literary interests of the Sidney circle.

Klemp, P. J. Fulke Greville and Sir John Davies: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1985. Presents a chronological bibliography of works by and about Greville from 1581 to 1985. Each entry in the bibliography has been annotated. General studies of the political and...

(The entire section is 520 words.)