Richard Lovelace

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Apart from the lyrics published in the two volumes of his poetry, Richard Lovelace wrote two plays, neither of which appears to be extant. The youthful The Scholar or The Scholars, a comedy, may have been produced at Gloucester Hall, Oxford, in 1636, and repeated later at Whitefriars, Salisbury Court, London. The prologue and epilogue appear in the first Lucasta. A second play, a tragedy titled The Soldier (1640), was written during the second Scottish expedition in 1640 but was never produced, according to Anthony à Wood, because of the closing of the theaters. Lovelace also wrote commendatory verses for a number of volumes published by friends or associates, versions of which appear in the collected editions of his poems. In addition, he wrote some lines, engraved under the portrait of Vincent Voiture, prefixed to the translation of the Letters by John Davies in 1657.


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Although chiefly remembered for a handful of exquisite lyrics celebrating what Douglas Bush called the Cavalier trinity of beauty, love, and honor, Richard Lovelace has gradually risen to critical attention. Written for the most part against the somber landscape of England during the Civil War and Interregnum, Lovelace’s poetry asserts more complex concerns and more authentic attitudes than those usually attributed to that “mob of gentlemen who wrote with ease.” Lovelace was decidedly a literary amateur in the Renaissance tradition of the courtier, and his sensibilities were deepened and roughened by the calamities that befell him, his cause, and his king. “To Althea, from Prison,” and “To Lucasta, Going to the Wars” are justly admired along with a few other frequently anthologized pieces, but the achievement is considerably larger than their slight number and scope might suggest. In his ode “The Grasshopper,” for example, written to his friend Charles Cotton, Lovelace fashions from an emblematic examination of the fate of that “poor verdant fool” an affirmation of human friendship that transcends particular circumstance and achieves an authentic tragic tone. In the lines written “To my worthy friend Mr. Peter Lely, on that excellent picture of his Majesty and the Duke of York, drawn by him at Hampton Court,” Lovelace evokes the “clouded majesty” of King Charles I, transforming a typical genre piece describing a painting into a somber elegiac on human dignity and courage in the face of adversity.

Like most of his fellow Cavalier poets, Lovelace was indebted to the poetry of Ben Jonson and John Donne. To Jonson, he owed what graciousness and form he achieved, especially in the choice of classical models. To Donne, he owed some degree of intellectual toughness and delight in what ingenious conceits he could master. To the limitations of both, in different ways, he was indebted for those infelicities of style that came with too much striving and too much care. Among his immediate contemporaries, he was no doubt influenced by his relative, the translator Thomas Stanley, who may have helped him in more substantial matters than verse. Other poets with whom Lovelace shared stylistic affinities and thematic concerns were Robert Herrick, Sir John Suckling, and Andrew Marvell.


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Allen, Don Cameron. “Richard Lovelace: ’The Grass-Hopper.’” In Seventeenth-Century English Poetry: Modern Essays in Criticism, edited by William R. Keast. New York: Oxford University Press, 1962. Examines the rich tradition embodied in the image of the grasshopper, at once the spendthrift, the poet-singer, and the king. Concludes that the indestructible kingdom created at the end of the poem is an inner one created by the poem.

McDowell, Nicholas. Poetry and Allegiance in the English Civil Wars: Marvell and the Cause of Wit . New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. This examination of...

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Andrew Marvell looks at his associates, who include Lovelace. Several of Lovelace’s poems are examined in detail.

Marcus, Leah S. The Politics of Mirth: Jonson, Herrick, Milton, Marvell, and the Defense of Old Holiday Pastimes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986. Couples Lovelace and Andrew Marvell, contemporaries whose poetry concerned cultural survival, and finds Lucasta a treasury of Cavalier political beliefs that Marvell later modified in his own poetry. Marcus accords only one of Lovelace’s poems, “The Grasshopper,” an in-depth analysis, but that discussion is followed by a treatment of Marvell’s Mower poems, which rewrite Lovelace’s original poem.

Robertson, Randy. Censorship and Conflict in Seventeenth-Century England: The Subtle Art of Division. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009. A study of censorship in seventeenth century England that looks at authors such as Lovelace, John Milton, Andrew Marvell, and Jonathan Swift.

Semler, L. E. The English Mannerist Poets and the Visual Arts. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1998. Offers an introduction to the parallel history of the Mannerist poets and artists with specific attention to Lovelace, among others. Includes bibliographic references and an index.

Wedgwood, C. V. Poetry and Politics Under the Stuarts. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1961. Wedgwood traces the disintegration of the defeated Cavaliers through her reading of Lovelace’s famous “To Althea, from Prison,” a poem that prompted many imitations by other Cavalier poets.


Critical Essays