This article examines a number of the key political and philosophical questions in the poetry, drama, and philosophical treatises of Fulke Greville, first Lord Brooke (1554–1628), arguing that the philosophical complexity and linguistic obscurity for which Greville’s style is known offer an appropriate tool for the examination of some of his enduring intellectual preoccupations: the paradoxes of political power and the rise and fall of empires, examined in the choruses of his Ottoman closet drama Mustapha; and the examination of the mechanisms of idolatry and spiritual servitude that link the erotic poetry of the lyric sequence Caelica to the treatises on monarchy and religion. A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney, Greville’s biography of his long-deceased friend, by contrast, offers a different perspective on political life and freedom, one that is constructed on Sidney’s exemplarity and modeled on the ethics of friendship.
The rich and expanding rhetorical universe of the English Renaissance annexed the expressive possibilities of painting and the plastic arts using a variety of figures and tropes. These—ekphrasis (intense description), blason (anatomizing description), paragone (the contest between the arts), and emblems and imprese (formal verbal-visual symbols)—allowed English writers to press the visual into the service of the verbal, creating powerful rhetorical tools and distinctive literary expression. This article describes the development of these verbal-visual tools from the late medieval period through the early seventeenth century by Italian art theorists and in the exemplary works of Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare.