Thomas Lodge Poetry: British Analysis - Essay

Thomas Lodge Poetry: British Analysis

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Perhaps Thomas Lodge’s most famous work is the prose romance Rosalynde, the source for William Shakespeare’s As You Like It (pr. c. 1599-1600) and a lively piece of writing by itself. Although the prose narrative of Rosalynde lies outside the bounds of this analysis, it does contain lyrical poems that, for their excellence, rival the best of Lodge’s work. Their beauty was appreciated by Lodge’s contemporaries, and many reappeared in England’s Helicon (1600). Containing simple and even homely images and language, they explore the paradoxes of the Petrarchan lover without being excessive; as usual, Lodge is a master of metrics and many of these lyrics are presented as songs. “Rosalynds Madrigal” is an especially good example of Lodge’s success as a lyricist. The poem alternates long and short lines in the first quatrain of each stanza; the stanzas close with four consecutive rhyming lines and a final line that may or may not rhyme with one of the lines in the first or second quatrain. Lodge’s craftsmanship is evident in the way he can alternate long and short lines and use intermittently rhyming final stanza lines to achieve a musical effect. The homely images—love builds a “neast” in Rosalynd’s eyes—also give the poem a certain lightness of tone. Many of the poems he wrote for the miscellanies show the same light touch and metrical skill:

My bonnie Lasse thine eie,So slie,Hath made me sorrow so:Thy Crimsen cheekes my deere,So cleere,Hath so much wrought my woe.

Phillis with the Tragical Complaynt of Elstred

When Lodge’s lyrics fail, they do so because they lack lightness and are not really profound enough to carry their serious, heavy tone; often they simply catalog the complaints of the Petrarchan lover and use balanced euphuistic lines to achieve a stately emphasis. Such emphasis seems misplaced, however, since the situations Lodge describes are often derivative. The sonnets in Phillis with the Tragical Complaynt of Elstred vary in quality. Some of them have the light touch of Rosalynde, although even in these Lodge is not consistent. Sonnet 13 opens by comparing Cupid to a bee: “If I approach he forward skippes,/ And if I kisse he stingeth me.” The images describing love become more conventional as he goes along—tears, fire—and the poem ends with a conventional statement of constancy: “But if thou do not loue, Ile trulye serue hir,/ In spight of thee, by firme faith deserue hir.” Sonnet 37, containing heavy hexameter lines, lacks even the intermittently light tone of Sonnet 13.

The Phillis with the Tragical Complaynt of Elstred sequence closes with a long medieval complaint, “The Complaint of Elstred.” Although hardly an inspired poem, it does show Lodge’s affinities with pre-Renaissance verse. “Truth’s Complaint over England” is also medieval in feeling and recounts Truth’s lament over the condition of Lodge’s England. Lodge’s concept of satire seems mixed in his early works. “Truth’s Complaint over England” achieves its social criticism through moralizing sentiments reminiscent of medieval complaint; Lodge’s A Reply to Gosson, however, seems to show an awareness of different satiric possibilities. Confusing the etymology of satire and satyr—as most Renaissance writers did—Lodge gives a history of drama in which he asserts that tragedy evolved from satyr plays. The widely accepted Renaissance belief was that these plays allowed the playwright to scourge his audiences for their vices by having a satyr denounce them. In this way English writers came to think of satire as a harsh, uncouth form: Juvenal as opposed to the more urbane Horace. Lodge himself follows Scillaes Metamorphosis by a poem titled “The Discontented Satyr,” a paean to discontent, the best emotion one can feel in a corrupt age.

A Fig for Momus

By the time he wrote A Fig for Momus, Lodge seems to have adopted this harsher Juvenalian mode of satire. This series of poems opens with a satire of flatterers and hypocrites, and Lodge is at his best in the imaginary characters and situations he evokes. Meeting an innkeeper with “a silken night-cap on his hed,” the narrator is told that the man has had “An ague this two months.” The narrator comments sardonically that “I let him passe: and laught to heare his skuce:/ For I knew well, he had the poxe by Luce.” Lodge’s second...

(The entire section is 1934 words.)