Other literary forms
Almost immediately after his execution in 1618, the reputation of Sir Walter Ralegh (RAWL-ee) as a patriotic and courageous opponent to James I developed, and as opposition to James and Charles I increased, many prose works were attributed to Ralegh from about 1625 through the end of the seventeenth century. Of those certainly written by Ralegh, there are two pamphlets, A Report of the Fight About the Iles of Açores (1591) and The Discoverie of the Large, Rich and Bewtiful Empyre of Guiana (1596), which express the aggressive buoyancy of Elizabethan imperialist designs on South America and of the control of trade to the New World. Ralegh’s major work outside his poetry is the monumental, unfinished The History of the World (1614), dedicated to and yet containing scarcely disguised criticism of King James, who had him imprisoned between 1603 and 1616, and who (after Ralegh’s hopeless expedition to Guiana to find El Dorado) had him executed. The History of the World was part therapy, part histrionic pique and, like most of Ralegh’s career, significant far beyond its surface ambiguities and chronological contradictions. Torn between being an account of the “unjointed and scattered frame of our English affairs” and a universal history, it is a tribute as well to the dead Queen Elizabeth, “Her whom I must still honour in the dust,” and an indictment of what Ralegh perceived as the corruption of the Jacobean court. For Ralegh, in The History of the World as much as in his poetry, the court was his stage, a place of “parts to play,” in which survival depended on “fashioning of our selves according to the nature of the time wherein we live,” and the power of which dominated his language and, in the most absolute sense, his life. Like his poems, The History of the World is a moving and (far beyond his knowledge) revealing document of the power of the court over the men and women who struggled within it.