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date: 30 November 2020

Politics, Imagination, and Desire in the Work of Fulke Greville

Abstract and Keywords

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.

Keywords: Fulke Greville, Sir Philip Sidney, Renaissance poetry, poetry and philosophy, obscurity in poetry, closet drama, literary biography, sonnet sequences, sovereignty, Islam in literature


This epitaph, which Fulke Greville wrote for his own funeral monument in St. Mary’s Church in Warwick in 1628, places him within a context, a nexus of affiliations, which has both ensured his endurance and yet entrapped his reputation. In this article, I offer a revision in which both his politics and his poetics may appear the more significant. Born in 1554 to a prominent Warwickshire family with links to several noble families, including the rising Dudleys, he was educated at Shrewsbury School and Jesus College, Cambridge.1 He entered the court of Elizabeth I in 1575, together with his childhood friend, Philip Sidney. While he served the Queen on diplomatic missions and was made clerk of the council of the Welsh marshes in 1583, his career stalled, and both he and Sidney were frustrated in an active role in politics. Sidney was eventually given permission to join his uncle Robert Dudley (now Earl of Leicester) in the Low Countries, but Greville was left behind. When Sidney died in 1586 from his wounds in a skirmish with Spanish troops near Zutphen, Greville became his literary executor, seeing the revised edition of the Old Arcadia (1590) to the press. Due to the influence of the Earl of Essex, to whose faction Greville became allied, he was appointed treasurer of the Royal Navy in 1599. With the accession of James I, Greville was deprived of the office by Robert Cecil. He retired to Warwick Castle, which now underwent an ambitious program of renovation that transformed the ancient military fortress into a pleasure estate with splendid gardens. He resumed active public service in 1614 as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Privy Councillor to James, who named him Baron Brooke of Beauchamp’s Court in 1621. In this later phase of his career Greville allied with figures such as Thomas Howard, Earl of Suffolk, and George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. He died in 1628 after being attacked with a knife by his servant, Ralph Heyward, in what appears to have been a conflict over his master’s will. His death is commemorated in Martin Peerson’s Mottects or Grave Chamber Musicke (1633), which contains a selection of poems from Greville’s lyric cycle Caelica as well as a rather beautiful elegy, “Mourning song of six parts for the Death of the Late Right Honourable Sir Fulke Greville.”

In his own time, Greville was at the center of one of the literary elites, and his work continued to be published throughout the seventeenth century. Later, in the Victorian period, he was valued in the opposite direction, as an outsider within Elizabethan literary culture, the quintessentially un- or anticanonical poet. It was not until the turn of the twentieth century that Greville’s work came under examination on its own terms. A pioneer was Morris Croll in The Work of Fulke Greville (1903), and then in 1936 appeared Una Ellis-Fermor’s beautifully produced edition of Caelica followed in 1945 by Geoffrey Bullough’s critical edition of the Poems and Dramas. If critical attention at first followed the revival of the metaphysical poets, which sought to explore a possible connection between Donne and Greville, the scholar who did most to vindicate Greville’s reputation, the American poet and critic Yvor Winters, chose a radically different interpretation of his poetic style. Winters endorsed Croll’s view of Greville as a philosophical writer but insisted that neither Bullough nor Croll “seems to understand how great a poet Greville really is.”2 Greville mattered vitally to Winters, as a key witness in his attempt to revise the canon of early modern lyric poetry centered on the “native plain style,” in every way antithetical to English Petrarchism: in a striking reversal of C. S. Lewis’s “drab” and “golden” literatures, Winters placed the exponents of the “plain style” (Wyatt, Surrey, Gascoigne, Googe, Vaux, and Raleigh) over Sidney and Spenser, whose “superficially charming graces” had obscured a greater and more important poetic tradition. Winters’s appraisal of Greville thus carried a distinctly polemical edge:

Greville’s later poems are written with a polish equal in its way to that of Sidney’s best songs, and superior to that of his sonnets. They are replete with thought; they are profound in feeling; and there is almost never any graceful exhibitionism. (… ) Some of the poems are faulty, but almost none are trivial or otherwise bad; most of the poems are impressive; many are magnificent. He gives us a great mind in a book that is compact, profound and comprehensive.3

It is hard to overestimate the importance of Winters’s role in furthering Greville’s critical reputation. He inspired a generation of students, and the poets Edgar Bowers, Thom Gunn, and Robert Pinsky, to champion the work of Greville. Thom Gunn’s anthology of 1968 provided a lasting monument, perhaps the most influential edition since the seventeenth century. Yet Winters left an ambiguous legacy. It had the effect of circumscribing Greville’s work within narrow confines, which Richard Waswo, a student of Winters, attempted to undo in The Fatal Mirror (1972), a landmark study within Greville’s twentieth-century reception. Waswo offered compelling evidence for Greville as a master of the Petrarchan, as well as the plain style. He was the first critic to draw attention to Greville’s skillful manipulation of meter and caesura to create powerful and nuanced aural effects, and his use of feminine rhymes to effect a solemnity of cadence.4 He contextualized Greville within the discourses of Renaissance rhetoric and dialectic, as well as the culture of English Protestantism. For Waswo, Greville is ultimately a Calvinist poet, whose preference for the plain style in terms of rhetorical, logical, and prosodic principles was derived from “a conception of experience provided by religious ones.”5

Nonetheless, a vital aspect of Greville’s individual style here slips from sight. While giving consideration to Greville’s use of rhetorical technique and logical exposition, the analysis fails to account for why, so often, Greville’s poems lack transparency: their meaning remains opaque, mysterious, and resistant to immediate comprehension. The vaunted question of Greville’s obscurity here inevitably reasserts itself. The following account, then, links the complexity and difficulty of Greville’s language and style with the way in which his thinking is propounded. His use of grammatical ellipsis, his predilection for abstract nouns, and his use of dense metaphor are not defects, or personal quirks and idiosyncrasies, but self-consciously poetic and metapoetic devices that are philosophically productive.

This relates to the complexity of Greville’s politics and religion. It has proved difficult to locate him firmly on either side of the political spectrum, a situation reflected in the division of scholarly opinion on the topic. Whereas Peter C. Herman views him as a proponent of constitutional monarchy, Deborah Shuger regards him as a perceptive critic of the languages of monarchical authority, and Kenneth Graham discovers in Greville’s style the characteristics of an “absolutist temperament.”6 Rather than resolving these issues one way or another, it may be more compelling to see how a writer caught up in the intense political and confessional struggles of this period might realistically waver between them, and how a style that is difficult and dense might reflect the complex forms of attention that are necessary to come to terms with this. In the argument that follows, I will consider how Greville’s work broaches some of the central issues of early modern England, including the foundations of political authority, absolutism and the limits of royal power, and religious reform and the dangers of idolatry, without necessarily resolving them. Two kinds of philosophical debate will take center stage: one political, involving sovereignty, power, and the arts of empire; the other personal, involving theories of rhetorical affect, poetic imagination, desire, and agency. In the process, I will suggest a new alignment of intellectual and literary history, in which Greville might at last emerge from the shadow of Sidney. Greville’s championing of Sidney has had the effect that Greville himself has struggled to get attention. The alternative is to recognize the astonishing range of his writing, encompassing drama, love lyric, philosophical and religious poetry, biography, and autobiography.

Because the chronology of Greville’s work is often treacherous, the order here follows the publication of his most important work: Mustapha (1609); Certain Learned and Elegant Workes (1633); and The Life of the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney (1651).

Mustapha: Sovereignty and the Arts of Empire

The play deals with the story, familiar from contemporary and near-contemporary sources, of the execution of prince Mustapha, son and heir apparent to Süleyman the Magnificent, following a plot orchestrated by Süleyman’s favorite wife, the Ruthenian-born freedwoman Roxolana (Turkish: Hürrem; in Mustapha: Rossa) and his advisor Rüstem Paşa (Mustapha: Rosten). Süleyman’s reign, a period when Ottoman power was at its zenith, the empire flourishing under an efficient administration, and its wealth, manpower, and famous military discipline still intact, fascinated travelers, historians, and political thinkers alike, while its repeated instances of spectacular, interdynastic violence provided ample material for playwrights, including the anonymous Latin tragedy, Solymannidae (1582); Gabriel Bounin’s tragedy La Soltane (1561), Thomas Kyd’s Soliman and Perseda (1592), and the anonymous The Tragedy of Selimus, Emperor of the Turks (1594).7

Greville’s treatment of the Mustapha story steers away from the sensationalist depiction of courageous but cruel Turks prevalent on the popular stage, using the resources of closet drama to explore the political and philosophical questions raised by the drama of Mustapha’s fall: empire and succession, sovereignty and the limits of royal authority, reason of state, and popular rebellion. It does so, however, in a way that is exploratory and aporetic, rather than moralizing or didactic, and which eschews dramatic and political closure for an examination of what Russ Leo has called the tragic paradoxes of sovereignty.8 Yet while these issues undoubtedly constitute the political and dramatic core of the play, they are nevertheless, as Jonathan Burton has pointed out, framed in an Islamic, Turkish setting and within a narrative of a crisis in the Ottoman body politic.9 The critical neglect of the play’s representation of Islam and of Ottoman culture diagnosed by Jonathan Burton in Traffic and Turning, Islam and English Drama, 1579–1624 is far from having been redressed. Thus far, only Katrin Röder has attempted a systematic comparison of the play with the available historical sources such as Richard Knolle’s General History of the Turkes, Moffan’s Soltani Solymanni, Turcarorum Imperatoris, horrendum facinus … (1555), Johannes Leunclavius’s Annales sultanorum Othmanidarium a Turcis (1588), and Natale Conti’s Universae Historiae Sui Temporis Libri Triginta (1581).10 This is surprising, for not only does Greville approach his Turkish characters in a remarkably even-handed way, he is also, to my knowledge, the only playwright who uses the deliberative function of the chorus to engage in a systematic comparison between Christian Europe and the Ottoman Empire. Not only does Greville’s Mustapha show, in its titular hero and his half-sister Camena, two individuals of seemingly spotless virtue and moral integrity, many of his other characters, such as the priest Heli and the counselor Achmat are depicted in a nuanced way, given both admirable and less admirable traits, and placed in situations of inner conflict.11 In his depiction of Soliman, Greville steers clear of the cruel and lustful Sultan of popular stereotype. Unlike the raving, passion-driven tyrants of much of neo-Senecan tragedy, Greville’s Soliman is depicted as a weak, but not straightforwardly tyrannical, ruler, caught between the contradictory demands of fatherhood and perceived reason of state, sovereignty, and the law of nature, and wavering between the contradictory advice of his counsellor, wife, and daughter.12 The only character that is drawn in an entirely negative, indeed demonic way is Rossa, who owes more to Seneca’s Medea than to the scheming ex-concubine of Latin and vernacular histories and travelers’ reports.13

Greville is certainly capable of producing negative generalizations about Islam. In A Treatie of Warres, he describes Islam as a political expedient, a religion devised to further Mohammed’s political ambitions.14 Yet the context here makes clear that the Ottoman conquerors are by no means exceptional in this: their use of religion merely stands as one example of the general rule pertaining to “great Estates” intent on conquest and glory, where “Religion then to warre/It selfe must fashion (A Treatie of Warres, stanza 16). Greville’s reflections on the Islamic conquest owe more to Machiavelli’s analysis of the relation between Roman religion and civic virtue in the Discorsi, rather than to any anti-Islamic zeal.15 Indeed, in the following stanzas, the Islamic policy of religious toleration is contrasted with the crusader zeal of the Popes, who use the kings of Christian Europe to wage holy war, “and names them Martyrs, that his furies are” (A Treatie of Warres, 18).

Greville’s pervasive pessimism about earthly glory, his insistence on the sinfulness of war, and his otherworldly scepticism about man’s ability to discern God’s providential plan in historical events here work to temper his moderate admiration, shown elsewhere in his work, for the military prowess, order, and discipline of the Ottoman Empire. This attitude of admiration characterized, it should be remembered, the accounts of the Venetian ambassadors reporting home from Istanbul, and trickled down, mixed with hostility towards the “present terror of the earth”, into chronicles and histories.16 Greville is much closer to Bodin and Machiavelli, both of whom view the Ottoman Empire as the successor to the Roman Empire, than to popular stereotypes of Oriental luxury and cruelty.17 Indeed, in the Chorus Secundus of Mahometan Priests, the comparison between Christians and Muslims works (as the comparison between pagan Rome and Christian Europe does in Machiavelli’s Discorsi) as an exercise in comparative political analysis. The Ottoman Empire and Christian Europe are here placed in opposition that brings out the fundamental differences between the culturally more developed, but static, inactive, monarchies of Europe and the rough military virtue of the Ottomans:

  • For Force, not right our Crescents beare in chiefe;
  • Campes, and not Courts are Mappes of our Estate,
  • Where Church, Law, Will, all Discipline in briefe,
  • Establisht are to make Worth fortunate:
  • We scorne those Arts of Peace, that Civile Tether,
  • Which, in one bond, tye Craft and Force together.
  • Of Cell-bred Sciences we chew no cudde;
  • Our food and Garments overloade us not;
  • When one Act withers, straight another buddes;
  • Our Rest is doing; good successe our Lot;
  • Our Beasts are no more delicate than we:
  • This odds have Turkes of Christianitie.

(Chorus of Mahometan Priests, Act II, scene iii, lines 73–84)

Similar holds for the priests’ discussion of the relationship between church and state, royal and spiritual authority: while Islam, the priests agree, is used as an instrument of conquest, the Sultan leaves the interpretation of religious law to the Mufti, unlike the Christians who “take and change faith with their Kings,/Which under Miters oft the Scepter brings” (Chorus of Mahometan Priests, Act II, scene iii, lines 153–154).

Greville’s analysis is interesting in that it leaves out any mention of “oriental despotism,” the idea, derived from Aristotle’s Politics, that the kings of Asia rule over their subjects as over slaves, disposing of their lives and goods at will, an idea that had made a re-entry into European political thought in the late sixteenth century via the work of writers such as Bodin and Botero, and would from there grow into one of the standard elements in early modern and Enlightenment discussions of Oriental monarchy.18 In discussions of Oriental versus European models of kingship, Oriental tyranny increasingly came to be viewed as a consequence of the absence of a hereditary aristocracy that could function as a set of brakes or bridles on the monarch’s authority. Greville, through the chorus of Mahometan priests, acknowledges the absence of both an aristocracy of the blood and of the legal principle of inheritance, yet regards it as the inevitable response to the specific needs of the Ottoman state as a conquering empire. Rather than on the basis of noble birth, the Ottoman Empire selects its elite according to meritocratic principle, favoring military courage and administrative capability, thus fostering ambition and allowing for social mobility (Chorus of Mahometan Priests, Act II, scene iii, lines 127–130).19

By attempting to speak from the perspective of the other, a procedure repeated throughout in the choruses of the play (excepting the third act, which ends with the “Chorus of Time and Eternitie”), Greville creates moments of cultural relativism that not only enable him to analyze the institutions and customs of the Ottoman Empire in a dispassionate way but also permit an attitude of critical scrutiny of elements of his own culture and religion, which would be difficult to accommodate elsewhere. Speaking through the chorus of priests allows him to articulate the essentially Machiavellian argument about Christianity’s emasculation of ancient military virtue in an oblique manner; that is, as something as perhaps not true as such, yet true when viewed in a certain light, from a particular perspective (Chorus of Mahometan Priests, Act II, scene iii, lines 163–168). What it allows for, in other words, is a discussion of the differences between Ottoman and European monarchy in terms of the difference between “Great Estates” and “pettie Kings” (Chorus of Mahometan Priests, Act II, scene iii, lines 169–170). What emerges is not so much an idea of cultural superiority or inferiority, but of different systems of government, social institutions, and warfare. Contrasted with the Ottoman’s swift martial discipline are the Christians’ more complex mechanisms of obedience and control:

  • The Christian bondage is much more refin’d,
  • Though not in reall Things, in reall Names;
  • Lawes, Doctrine, Discipline, being all assign’d
  • To hold upright that wittie Man-built frame;
  • Where every limbe, though in themselves distinct,
  • Yet finely are unto the Scepter linckt.

(Chorus of Mohametan Priests Act II, scene iii, lines 109–114)

Yet this is only part of the story. For the choruses also serve to historicize and contextualize the current crisis in the Ottoman body politic. The chorus of Mahometan priests compares the former military and political successes of the Empire with its weakened present-day state, blaming a failure of military discipline. The “chorus of converts to Mahometanism” that concludes the fourth act continues the narrative of decline, describing how the original unity between Sultanate and priesthood was lost, to be replaced by dissension, schism, and mutual antagonism, by which each “by pulling quils each from the others wings,/They jointly all are cried downe, by letting fall their Kings” (Chorus of Converts to Mahometanism, Act IV, scene iv, lines 113–114). Unlike the chorus of converts, the chorus of priests explicitly argues that cultural contamination through “traffike” with the defeated Christian people’s has undermined the strengths of the Ottoman state:

  • Yet by our traffike with this dreaming Nation,
  • Their Conquer’d Vice hath stained our Conquering State,
  • And brought thinne Cobwebs into reputation
  • Of tender subtilitie; whose stepmother Fate
  • So inlayes Courage with ill-shadowing Feare
  • As makes it much more hard to doe, than beare

(Chorus of Mahometan Priests, Act II, scene iii, lines 85–90)

Greville’s explanation of the decline of the Ottoman Empire is complex and somewhat obscure, containing elements of historical fact, cultural fantasy, wish fulfillment, and theoretical paradigms on the relationship between luxury and empire, and the cultural effects of war as opposed to those of peace found in Livy, Polybius, and Machiavelli.20 Mustapha, it should be remembered, was written almost half a century after the events it dramatizes took place, at a time when the Ottoman Empire, while still regarded as a formidable adversary, was seen as beyond its zenith. The narrative of the decline of the Ottoman Empire, while to some extent a cultural myth postdating the Battle of Lepanto, designed to compensate for the continued dominance of the Ottomans in the Mediterranean, is nevertheless grounded in historical fact, also found in Ottoman sources of the time, who describe the last decade of the sixteenth century as a time of troubles that witnessed dynastic crises, insurrection, and rebellion. This was combined with the view that, under Süleyman, a new style of Sultanate had emerged that was more imperial in style, court centered, in which the Sultan had increasingly withdrawn from military campaigns, leaving day-to-day government in the hands of his Pashas and favorites.21 Greville appears to have some notion of this, and he draws heavily on the contrast between the martial heroism of Mustapha, the darling of the army, and his aging father, who is feared but not loved and whose authority rests on the simulation, rather than the exercise of power. Cross-examined by the paranoid Sultan, Beglerbie, the nuntius, draws out the contrast between father and son:

  • With zele he doth adore the Powers above;
  • With zeale inferior duties paid him are:
  • And, for his ends on publike centers move,
  • His ends are served by every bodies love.
  • His Court, like yours, the image of a Campe:
  • In yours, your Power; in his, Himselfe the Lampe.

(Act I, scene ii, lines 142–147)

The play presents the “thinne cobwebbess of subtility,” that is to say, statecraft, the exercise of sovereignty with which the aging Sultan aims to safeguard his waning power, as the product of a declining age, a game of shadows that cast reflections of a power without essence. We recall how the chorus of Mahometan priests described the Turks’ rough martial vigor as the “odds” they have over Christianity. “Odds” is a resonant term in Greville’s idiom, used here in a characteristically ambivalent way as meaning alternatively gain, advantage, and fortuitous good luck. Its usage in this context is ironic, as the odds on which the success of the Empire turns are also the odds that are stacked against them in their confrontation with the more subtle cultures of Christian Europe (“Yet by our traffike with this dreaming nation …”). The story of Mustapha here serves as a meditation not so much on Fortune and the fall of princes in a generalizable manner, but rather as an examination of the contradictions of an empire whose very success carries in it the seeds of its own undoing: “Thus reeles our present state, and her foundation waves,/By making trophees of times past, of present time the grave” (Chorus of Converts to Mahometanisme, lines 107–108).

Greville’s Mustapha, while it explores the tragic paradoxes subtending the concept of sovereignty, embeds these into a narrative of historical decline that is similarly paradoxical and irresoluble; namely, those that show “in the practice of life,” that is, the more audacity, advantage, and good success these sovereignties have, the more they hasten to their own desolation and ruin (A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney, chap. XVIII).22

Politics, Imagination, and Desire: Caelica and the Philosophical Treatises

Greville has often been viewed as the English Renaissance poet most prone to didacticism, yet a closer examination of his work yields a more complex picture. Poesis, as Kathryn Murphy has argued, is at the heart of Greville’s thinking on poetry and politics.23 What distinguishes him from writers like Sidney and Spenser is not merely a more pessimistic outlook on the possibility of literary and political reform but also a greater awareness of the near-inevitability of self-contradiction and paradox that lies at heart of all human endeavor, and of the fatal imbrication of the imagination in the power structures it seeks to raze and rebuild.

Greville’s lyric cycle Caelica can be viewed as mapping a trajectory that progresses from sensual to spiritual love. Caelica I–LXXXI chart, in alternately Petrarchist and anti-Petrarchist style, the love of the lover for a lady variously addressed as Caelica, Myra, and Cynthia: Caelica LXXVII announces the transition away from earthly love that is completed in the farewell to Cupid (Caelica LXXXIV) and the sonnet on divine love (Caelica LXXXV), which is followed by poems of a more speculative, philosophical nature (Caelica LXXXVI–XCV) that prepare for the turn toward Christ and the poem’s conversion and regeneration (Caelica XCVI–CIII). Yet on closer inspection, Greville’s love poetry appears to share much of the philosophical ground with the poems that examine the mechanisms of spiritual slavery later in the cycle.

Fundamental to Greville’s psychology of love is the idea of love as a species of desiderium, desire, which in the fallen mind is experienced as lack or absence. Human nature, for Greville, is affective, libidinal, driven by passions and therefore in a state of eternal flux (Caelica 10). Reason, weakened by the Fall, has loosened its grip on the passions, which enter into a fatal alliance with the imagination, the creative faculty of the mind, distorting natural perception and staining it with affection:

  • So must th’Imagination from the sense
  • Be misinformed, while our affections cast
  • False shapes, and forms on their intelligence,
  • To keep out true intromission thence,
  • abstracts the imagination or distasts,
  • With images preoccupately plac’d
  • Hence our desires, feares, hopes, love, hate, and sorrow,
  • In fancy make us heare, feele, see impressions,
  • Such as out of our sense they do not borrow;
  • And are the efficient cause, the true progression
  • Of sleeping visions, idle phantasms waking
  • Life, dreames; and knowledge, apparitions making.

(A Treatie of Humane Learning, stanzas 12–13)24

As the closing couplet of the second stanza makes clear, most of what comprises human life falls under the rule of the affective imagination. This lies at the root of idolatry, Greville’s abiding philosophical preoccupation: the process whereby human institutions become invested with spiritual, transcendent value. “Art” plays a central role in this process, and the Treatie of Humane Learning employs a powerful image of artistic poesis to describe this alliance of affection and imagination in the production of idolatry. True science, Greville argues, should contain a true conception of things and ideas yet instead of these “we raise, and mould Trophaes/Formes of Opinion, Wit and Vanity,/Which we call Arts, and fall in love with these,/As did Pygmalion with his carved tree” (A Treatie of Humane Learning, stanza 25). While the dismissive “carved tree” recalls Reformation attacks on saints’ worship, Greville here suggests something more complex than an iconoclastic attack on the idols of the mind. Here, and elsewhere, Greville insists that not art, but the desire for transcendence is the snare that traps us in nets of our own making.25 It is the desire for transcendence that leads to the institution of sovereignty and the arts of power, and it is that same desire that transforms love, which is only “nature’s art” (Caelica LVI) into the arts of courtly compliment:

  • The Heathen Gods finite in Power, Wit, Birth
  • Yet worshipped for their good deeds to men,
  • At first kept station betweene heaven, and earth
  • Alike iust to the Castle, and the Denne;
  • And yet, in show, no rule, but will obeyed
  • Till time and selfenesse, which turne worth to Arts,
  • Love into complements, and things to thought,
  • Found out new Circles to enthrall Mens hearts
  • By Lawes, wherein while Thrones seeme overwrought,
  •       Power finely had surpriz’d this faith of man,
  •       and tax’d his freedome at more than he can.

(Caelica LXXVII)26

This poem from the middle section of Caelica echoes the account of the institution of sovereignty in the Treatise of Monarchy, where it is described as a political Fall that endedthe Golden Age in which “Nature raign’d instead of Laws or Arts” (Treatise of Monarchy, stanza 1), and princes and people alike constituted a “Republick,” (Treatise of Monarchy, stanza 2). Soon, however, envy and ambition began to undermine these ties, leading to conflict and civil war (stanzas 17–18). Out of self-protection, the people invested one man with the power to enforce peace (stanza 24). This is the invention of sovereignty, a human construct erected on human reason (stanza 34). To shore up its frail authority and mask its purely human origins, kings began to look at means to make their power sacrosanct by investing it with spiritual authority, “shewes of everlasting ground,” designed to inspire awe and reverence, and obscure monarchy’s origins in popular institution:

  • To fortify which confident rais’d Throne
  • And keep Mankind with it in Unity,
  • The wit of Pow’r cannot suffice alone,
  • Man is not strong enough to bind Humanity;
  • Therefore above man they that would man bound
  • Still sought some shews of everlasting ground.
  • Hence was pow’rs Zenith raisèd up, and fixt
  • Upon the Base of superstitious rights,
  • Whose visions with the Truth and Error mixt
  • Make humane wisdoms yet seem infinite,
  • By giving vain opinion (born of Sence)
  • Falsly the Sacred stile of Conscience.

(A Treatise of Monarchy, stanzas 36–37)27

Much like Milton and Hobbes were to do much later, Greville exposes sovereignty as a purely human artefact. Monarchy begins its process of decline when this human construct is invested with “ideas of Authority” (A Treatise of Monarchy, 29), when what is a human creation is taken as natural or divine in origin. Divine right theory is one such “Idea” that confuses political with religious duty and reduces subjects to a voluntary servitude.28 Greville’s critique of idolatrous monarchy, unusual for being an early example of an intellectual habit of mind usually viewed as a late seventeenth-century phenomenon, is thorough and differentiated.29 Part of its critique derives from the suspicion of the idolatrous sacralization of power found in the works of Calvinist Monarchomach resistance theory that were, as David Norbrook and others have demonstrated, well known to members the Sidney-Greville circle.30 Like the resistance theorists, Greville takes issue with the use made by the apologists for royal power, of I Samuel 8 as justification of royal absolutism, viewing it instead as an offense to God and a cause of divine displeasure (A Treatise of Monarchy, stanza 25).31 Greville indeed sounds markedly like Milton in his denunciation of Nimrod, the “Man-hunting beast,” as the first to raise up “God-scorning Monarchy” (A Treatise of Warres, 14).

Yet Greville analyzes the process by which monarchy came to aspire to “transcendency”; he sees is not merely as a falling from righteousness into sin but as a surrender of reason and nature to “religion’s name” and art (A Treatise of Monarchy, 47). He examines how rulers use social institutions such as laws and nobility as the arts of power, and he scrutinizes the social and psychological mechanisms through which the people become complicit in their own subjection. Thus, the Chorus of Basshaws or Caddies in Mustapha retells Aesop’s fable about the trees who allowed a forester to use their wood to make an axe to explain the relationship between the nobility and the king. Caelica CVII uses an emblematic image, derived from Alciato’s Asinus portans mysterium, to express the idea of voluntary servitude in the image of a donkey carrying a statue of Isis. Proud of the “glorious furniture” he wears, the foolhardy animal hands over its liberty: “Till wearinesse, the spurre, or want of food/make guilded Curbes of all beastes understood.”32

The erotic poetry of Caelica, while written in a different mode, nevertheless shares philosophical ground with the treatises and the political poems in that it offers a study of the “circles [that] enthrall Mens hearts.” Like Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella, to which a number of its poems directly respond, Caelica gives an account of a love affair that ends, inexorably, in disappointment, failure, and separation. Is stakes, however, rest in the investigation of the nature of love and desire. The poems, which are at once more dispassionate and more frank about the nature of erotic love than those of Astrophil and Stella, place love back into the realm of time, change, and chance, making it subject to the vagaries of Fortune. Neither the lover nor the mistress is in any way constant: she, who is sometimes called Caelica, sometimes Cynthia or Myra, is sometimes chaste and pure and many times unfaithful, sometimes sweet and true, and then again cold and disdainful, while the poet in turn worships her, scorns her, leaves her, and comes back to her. Cupid thus becomes, as Bradin Cormack has it, “Greville’s great figure of desire’s swerves and complexities.”33 Cupid, the capricious little god of desire, changes attributes, his bough metamorphosing into Fortune’s wheel (Caelica LIV). Yet the psychology at work here is rather more complex than the opposition between love, time, and change would appear to suggest. Caelica LXI, a long poem of alternating four- and six-line stanzas, gives a sense of the complicated way in which agency and volition are caught up in the vagaries of desire:

  • Caelica when you do sweare you love me best,
  • And ever loved only me,
  • I feele that all powers are opprest
  • By love, and Love by Destinie.
  • For as the child in swadling-bands,
  • When it doth see the Nurse come nigh,
  • With smiles and crowes doth lift the hands,
  • Yet still must in the cradle lie:
  • So in the boate of Fate I rowe,
  • and looking to you, from you goe.
  • When I see in thy once beloved browes,
  • The heavy marks of constant love,
  • I call to mind my broken vowes,
  • And child-like to the Nurse would move;
  • But Love is of the Phoenix-kinde
  • And burnes itself, in self-made fire,
  • To breed still new birds in the minde,
  • From the ashes of the old desire:
  • And hath his wings from constancy,
  • As mountaines call’d of moving be.

The poet’s closing advice to Caelica to pay his infidelity in kind “For constant faith is made a drudge,/But when requiting love is judge” sounds sardonic, yet the poem’s meditative tone and philosophical density complicates its satirical stance. Part of the answer lies in the way in which the poem employs its metaphors, turning their conventional meaning inside-out. The ship of fate is a familiar Neostoic image to describe the relationship between fate and agency, determinism and freedom of the will. According to the Lipsius, an individual may not be able to alter the course of the ship which is guided by Providence, but she or he is still capable of determining her or his own actions while on board.34 Greville inverts the relationship between will and action by making the “I” an active agent, rowing away from the mistress, even while looking at her, suggesting that, contrary to what the Stoics say, we do make our own fate, but that the relation between our actions and our will, our wishes and desires, is complex, if not contradictory. The metaphor, in other words, illustrates this conflict of the divided self by enacting the contradiction between ostensible meaning and hidden application. Greville here uses metaphor in a way not dissimilar to the way Donne employs the metaphysical conceit, forcing the reader to make the imaginative jump from one stage of the comparison to the next, moving from similar to dissimilar and back.35 That this is the intended effect is made clear by the next image, the phoenix as a metaphor not for eternal life (and hence, in relation to love, constancy), here turned into a symbol of impermanence and change, called constant only in the way that mountains are sometimes called “moving” because of landslides (which, in fact, only happen very rarely).36 “Love is of the Phoenix-kind/And burns itself in self-made fire”: it burns itself with a fire that it has lit itself, or it is a fire that consumes itself, creating new loves (and with latent misogynist joke: women) in the mind “from the ashes of the old desire.”37

These poems offer a glance into the dark complex of relations between imagination and erotic fixation. The love poetry that scrutinizes the relationship between the mistress and the lover in terms of projection and fetishization, on closer inspection, turns out to share the same philosophical preoccupations as the poems that examine the mechanisms of spiritual slavery later in the cycle. Some poems, such as Caelica 39, which, in uniquely Grevillean manner, employs the word “to Babylon” as a verb, explicate the link between courtly love and idolatry. Yet iconoclastic satire is only part of Greville’s gambit. Rather, these poems chart the subtle ways in which the imagination entraps us in nets of our own making. In his chapter of the role of “fantasy” in Protestant literature, Adrian Streete has analyzed the mechanisms through which fantasy, cut loose from its representational shackles, becomes constitutive of subjectivity. At the heart of these concerns is the idea of “extramission,” the psychological explanation for the way in which the idols of the mind take form in the outside world, or the way in which figurative images appear to become “invested with a degree of ontological truth.”38

The conventional view of Greville as a philosophical and religious poet can accommodate the critique of the hypocrisies of courtly love found in some of the Myra- and Cynthia poems, but is less comfortable with the playful eroticism of “Away with these self-loving lads” and “Faction which ever dwells” or the abrasive, openly sexual satire of “All my senses like Beacons flame”—and yet the two cannot really be understood in isolation. Greville is certainly interested in the erotics of idolatry. And yet, I would say, this is only part of his gambit and perhaps not even the most crucial part of it. Greville is certainly not an iconoclast: to say this would be to ignore the way in which Greville’s poetry always moves away from the flesh and back to it.39 And it does so through a kind of philosophical double take, through which an argument is expounded and almost immediately subjected to critique. In this way, the flesh, in Greville’s work, is not merely something which cuts us off and limits us; it is also what enables us. Part of Greville’s issue with courtly love does, in fact, arise from the fact that he believes it to distort the nature of love, shackling it in fictions. Thus, Sonnet LVI satirizes the Platonic notion that the idea of Beauty can be grasped in human form. The poet-lover sees his lady asleep, “naked on a bed of play,” and is transported into increasingly grandiose erotic fantasies: he is Apollo, and she is Aurora, or perhaps, he is Jupiter, and she is Juno. Yet while his contumescent imagination runs away with him, Cynthia’s body turns into water and slips away, escaping his embrace:

  • There stand I, like Articke pole,
  • Where Sol passeth o‘re the line,
  • Mourning my benighted soule,
  • Which so loseth light divine
  • There stand I like Men that preach
  • From the execution place
  • At their death content to teach
  • All the world with their disgrace:
  • He that lets his Cynthia lye,
  • Naked on a bed of play
  • To say prayers ere she dye,
  • Teacheth time to tunne away:
  • Let no Love-desiring heart,
  • In the Starres goe seeke his fate
  • Love is only Natures art,
  • Wonder hinders Love and Hate.
  • No can well behold with eyes,
  • But what underneath him lies

By demystifying courtly love, Greville effectively frees up a space for love as “nature’s art,” a love that is free from stifling conventions and from the straightjacket of fictions that are mere externalizations of mental fixations. (“Sweet Saint ‘tis true, you worthy be,/Yet without love nought worth to me” (Caelica LII). Love, Greville knows as a good Calvinist, is not won through virtuous merit, service, or self-abnegation, but quite the contrary: “Desert is borne out of his bowe/Reward upon his wing doth goe.” Indeed, those who believe they can merit love through their virtue spoil the fun and lose their chances:

  • Away with these self-loving Lads,
  • whom Cupids arrow never glads:
  • Away poore soules that sigh and weep,
  • In love of those that lye asleepe,
  • For Cupid is a meadow-God,
  • And forceth none to kisse the rod

Love, Greville argues, is by nature free and impatient of constraints (“What fooles are they that have not knowne,/That Love likes no Lawes but his owne” [Caelica LII]). For Greville’s insistence on love’s fundamental autonomy also, at times, can be taken to mean that it is, in last resort, at least free from the conventions and constraints of social life—free, that is, to and for all: “And love as well thee foster can,/As can the mighty Noble-man.” If love is indeed nothing more than a game of chance, at least everyone stands an equal chance of winning.

Friendship in a Declining World: A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney

A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney, presumably written sometime between 1610 and 1614, is perhaps Greville’s most original work in terms of generic inventiveness. A history of the reign of Elizabeth as well as a testimony to his long-deceased friend, it combines history writing with panegyric and biography with elements of autobiography, personal memoir, and, indeed, poetics. While the early chapters borrow from Edmund Molyneux’s “memoirs” of Henry and Philip Sidney, chapters XV and XVII borrow extensively from Camden’s Annals.40 It contains an account of the Essex rebellion, which is remarkable for its Tacitean depiction of Elizabeth’s court as a world of shadow games, rumors, and suspicions that offers an arresting parallel with the court setting of Mustapha. Its most important source when it comes to questions of genre, however, is Tacitus’s De vita et moribus Iulii Agricolae, from which it borrows, apart from its generic hybridity and its critique of tyranny (oblique, rather than direct, in Greville’s text), the characterization of the protagonist as an exemplar of virtue and integrity in a flawed political world. The depiction of Sidney, represented as the embodiment of the highest ideals of Elizabethan England, described here retrospectively as a lost Golden Age, is a portrait in counterpoint to the type of courtier favorite that had come to dominate the court of James I, about whom Greville writes with barely veiled loathing.41

Greville uses Sidney “to the end that in the tribute I owe him our nation may see a sea-mark raised upon their native coast … and so, by a right meridian line of their own, learn to sail through the straits of true virtue into a calm, and spacious ocean of human humor.”42 Yet this model of exemplarity is not merely didactic but rhetorical and affective, fostering a political ideal that works through admiration and emulation. In this way, Greville shows his debt to the Renaissance discourse on ideal friendship, incarnated in classic texts such as Cicero’s Laelius sive de amicitia. In Renaissance literature, the idea of perfect friendship is articulated through a stoic philosophical language of self-mastery and self-possession, expressed in a vocabulary of political power: liberty, self-determination, sovereignty, plenary power.43 In Laurie Shannon’s influential account, the topos of the friend being “like another self” had such a powerful hold on the Renaissance imagination because it created a free and autonomous space, either imaginative, affective, or literary for the private subject, the individual not occupying a place in the edifice of offices that constituted political life. In this way, friendship functioned as “A thought experiment generating new positions and modalities for both the formation of persons and the public institution of government.” In this way, “friendship operates rhetorically to construct agentive subjects and respondent kings.”44 Gregory Chaplin has pointed to the parallels between De la Boéthie’s Discours de la servitude volontaire, an antityranny manifesto constructed on the rhetorical opposition between tyrants and friends, and Milton’s The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates to argue for “a theory of popular sovereignty informed by Ciceronian-Stoic friendship.”45 Greville’s work stands in this tradition and connects the radical humanism of the late sixteenth century and civil war contract theory. Where Greville breaks new ground, however, is in the way he connects the need for this frank criticism, or “freedom of speech” as the term parrhèsia is rendered in Philemon Holland’s 1603 translated of Plutarch’s How to tell a flatterer from a friend, with an idea of native or natural right.

Greville’s transposition of the idealized relations obtaining between friends unto a wider political ethic can be deduced from the way he attempts to answer the question of how square the idea of affection and admiration with the hierarchies that govern social life. In Laelius sive de amicitia, Cicero argues that friendship can act as an equalizing principle in the relation between individuals of unequal status, arguing that, within the context of friendship, the superior friend should always downplay his dignity, whereas the inferior should try to raise himself up.46 Similarly, in A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney, admiration channels, rather than obstructs, affection. The economy of Greville’s portrait keeps a fine balance between Sidney’s innate superiority and his humanity, generosity, and egalitarian manner. Indeed, it is this yoking of seemingly opposed values, a combining of fame and superiority with affability and kindness, that makes Sidney a natural leader of men:

with so commanding and yet equal waies amongst men, that wheresoever he went he was beloved and obeyed: yea into what Action soever he came last at the first, he became first at the last: the whole managing of the business, not by usurpation, or violence, but (as it were) by right and acknowledgement, falling into his hands as into a natural centre; by which only commendable monopoly of alluring and improving men, look how the sun draws all winds after it in fair weather—so did the influence of this spirit draw men’s affections and undertakings to depend on him.47

Kindness, generosity, humanity—all of these are qualities associated with the praxis of friendship. Greville, however, is at pains to emphasize that in Sidney such qualities were universal, lacking any narrow private interest. Thus, Greville’s portrait employs the language of friendship but enlarges its boundaries, allowing the reader a glimpse of a more equal political world, reminiscent of the description of the monarchies of the Golden Age described in the Treatise of Monarchy, when love between rulers and ruled was mutually sustaining, “both nurst alike with mutual feeding vaynes,/Transcendency of either side unknown” (stanza 2) and power was coextensive with “justice, labour, love” (stanza 3). Indeed, as if to emphasize that the “obedience” Sidney inspired was of a voluntary nature and hence of a different kind than that which reduces people to base subordination, Greville claims that the authority Sidney inspired was of the kind of “that natural tribute that all free spirits acknowledge to superior worth.” By redeploying the classical language of friendship, Greville thus aims to address one of the central problems of political life, namely how to ensure obedience without servility, service without self-abasement, in other words, how to achieve a balance between the need for order and man’s natural desire for freedom and equality.

Another feature of the Dedication that demonstrates its debt to the discourse of ideal friendship is its insistence on freedom of speech as a right, as well as a political duty. The work frequently employs the word freedom and its adjectives or Latin cognates, such as ingenuous. Often, they appear in relation to the idea of friendship, as, for example, when Greville and Sidney discuss a politically sensitive issue “in the freedom of their friendship” or when Greville grafts his self-assertion as a writer on the commemoration of his friendship with Sidney: “For my own part, I observed, honoured and loved him so much as, with what caution soever I have passed through my days hitherto among the living, yet in him I challenge a kind of freedom even among the dead.”48 This emphasis on freedom of speech, as well as freedom of thought, nevertheless points to a tension in the Dedication, namely the difficulty Greville faces in reconciling the portrait of Sidney with Sidney’s lack of success as a courtier under Elizabeth. Despite his best efforts to style his Sidney as an influential champion of international Reformed Protestantism, the facts of Sidney’s life and career sometimes force him to admit that Sidney’s greatness lay to a large extent inactive, buried, “smoldering,” and that he was “greater within himself than in the world,” receiving, as he adds in a resonant phrase,“no standard at home, because his industry, judgment and affections perchance seemed too great for the cautious wisdoms of little monarchies to be safe in.”49 To put it in plainer terms, Elizabeth did not reward Sidney with the honors and recognition that he and many others with him believed were due to him. Indeed, she seems to have positively disliked him and, as Katherine Duncan Jones has argued, her dislike seems to have been caused by Sidney’s independence of mind and his frankness, which on occasion transgressed—in her eyes—the borders of courtly behavior and speech.50 It is therefore arresting that a number of incidents that could be seen to illustrate Sidney’s failure as a courtier—his letter against the French match, the proposed marriage of Elizabeth to the Duke of Anjou, and the Tennis Court episode, in which Sidney, in full view of the French delegates, quarreled with the Earl of Oxford, a supporter of the match—take up so much of the rhetorical energy of the first chapters of the Dedication. In both cases, Greville manages to steer the presentation of the facts in a way that vindicates Sidney reputation and indeed enhances it. He gives considerable attention to Sidney’s letter to the Queen, stating the arguments against a marriage to a foreign, Catholic prince. That Elizabeth hardly took such unsolicited, semipublic advice kindly is well known, and that Sidney incurred her disfavor because of it is highly likely. But Greville insists that “howsoever he seemed to stand alone, he stood upright; kept his access to her Majesty as before.”51 In fact, Greville makes it appear as if Sidney’s status had increased, rather than diminished through the incident. So while Greville acknowledges Elizabeth’s magnanimity in not punishing those who offer unwelcome advice, it is Sidney who emerges in full glory:

In this freedom, even while the greatest spirits and estates seemed hoodwinked or blind, and the inferior sort of men made captive by hope, fear or ignorance, did he enjoy the freedom of his thoughts, with all the recreations worthy of them.52

This “freedom of thoughts” forms the link between Sidney’s frank advice to the Queen and the Tennis Court incident, which Greville lets follow in its immediate aftermath. In the heady atmosphere of court rivalry, Oxford, at that moment one of the Queen’s most powerful favorites, had summarily ordered Sidney to leave the Tennis Court where he and his followers were engaged in a game. Sidney had refused, insults were exchanged, with Oxford calling Sidney a “puppy,” and only the intervention of the Queen had prevented matters from being solved through a duel. Elizabeth, according to Greville, wanted to remind Sidney of “the difference in degree between earls and gentlemen” and “the respect inferiors ought to their superiors.”53 Sidney’s reply vindicates his own personal liberty and integrity, a liberty embedded in a larger vision of the relation between monarch, the people, and the nobility. He emphasizes that although Oxford is a powerful lord, he is no lord over him “and therefore the difference of degree between free men could not challenge any other homage than “precedency.” Thus, Greville concludes:

This constant tenor of truth he took upon him, which, as a chief duty in all creatures—both to themselves and the sovereignty above them—protected this gentleman (though he obeyed not) from the displeasure of his sovereign; wherein he left an authentical precedent to after ages that howsoever tyrants allow no scope, stamp or standard, but their own will, yet with princes there is latitude for subjects to reserve native and legal freedom by paying humble tribute in manner, though not in matter, to them.54

Greville here stages Sidney as performing an act of parrhèsia, or frank criticism, a rhetorical figure which the textbooks identified as speaking the truth candidly while vindicating this frankness. The idea of parrhèsia as a political right had originated in fifth-century Athens, but with the gradual decline of political liberty in the Hellenistic period, it had been translated into the domain of ethics, where, in Stoicism and Epicureanism, it came to be defined as one of the main “duties of friendship.”55 It was in this guise that the concept reentered the political sphere as honest counsel, and it was in this guise, as David Colclough has argued, that it was revived in the Renaissance. Erasmus’s Latin translation of Plutarch’s essay How to tell a flatterer from a friend, included at the end of the 1516 edition of the Institutio principis Christiani, did much to familiarize European audiences with the benefits—and dangers—of frank criticism, or freedom of speech.56 For early modern audiences, this text, with its subtle exploration of the relation between self-love and flattery and the difficulty to distinguish true parrhèsia from its counterfeit form, presented many challenges. Early modern rhetorical textbooks similarly caution against the dangers of transgressive parrhèsia or licentia, emphasizing the need to balance frank criticism with decorum. Yet Greville’s handling of this problem is rather different, as it appears to be exactly the absence of decorum that draws attention to Sidney’s virtue. Writing from a distance of twenty-five years, Greville manages to transform this somewhat less than impressive incident into a classic example of parrhèsia, in which the parrhèsiastes’s truth claim is validated through the dangers she or he incurs in criticizing a higher power, whereas the moral authority of that power is, in turn, predicated on its willingness to accept the truth speaker’s criticism.57 Sidney’s integrity and moral worth are affirmed by the fact that he is risking the Queen’s anger in asserting it, while, in Greville’s presentation of it, Elizabeth shows herself a good ruler, and not a tyrant, exactly because she is willing to listen to Sidney’s words.

The freedom which Sidney vindicates against Oxford and the Queen is not the status privilege of a gentleman but is emphatically described as a native freedom and as the duty of a good patriot. This is not to say that Greville was secretly an adherent of the idea of popular sovereignty and advocated a theory of natural rights. Greville would indeed be weary of the idea that a monarch or people can claim their abstract political rights from “nature.” Yet the use of “native freedom” nevertheless serves as a reminder that the obedience of subjects is not, as Jacobean divine right theory maintained, natural. Indeed, for Greville, all forms of political authority—and among these he ranks, interestingly, the subordination of wives to their husbands—are human artefacts, human constructs.58 Authority simply is “a commandinge power, which hath relation to the obedience of inferiors,” and by overemphasizing obedience, monarchs who think they shore up their position do in actual truth undermine it.59 A more stable politics is one that obliges rulers to accept a measure of freedom of speech, respects the basic rights of its subjects, and balances the need for authority with a more egalitarian ethos where love and admiration mediate the hierarchies of social and political inequality. It was an ideal of which Greville often despaired it could ever be realized in what he called “this decrepit age of the world” but to which he in his portrait of Philip Sidney nevertheless erected a lasting monument.

Although Greville’s twentieth-century reception as a poet and a thinker has been shaped to considerable extent by the school of Ivor Winters, interpretations of his poetic style have in recent years undergone something of a paradigm shift, away from the idea of a didactic, “plain style” toward a recognition of the formal and philosophical complexity of both his poetry and prose. Formal experiment, in fact, characterizes every genre in which Greville chose to write. The tragedies transform the subject matter of the stereotypical “Turcke plays” into sombre, brooding meditations on the paradoxes of empire, which use the discursive role of the chorus to engage in a sustained a comparative analysis between the Ottoman Empire and the monarchies of Christian Europe.

The argumentative structure of the philosophical poems on monarchy, science, and religion performs a critique and revision of their subject matter that follows from a dialectical understanding of the relationship between art and nature, and belies the simple didacticism implied in the term “verse treatises.” This intellectual double take is mirrored in the Caelica poems, where the critique of the conventions of courtly love prepares the way for a turn toward Christ but also carves out a minimal space for love as “nature’s art.” The erotic poems scrutinizing the relationship between the mistress and the lover in terms of projection and fetishization appear to share philosophical ground with the poems examining the mechanisms of spiritual blindness and idolatry later in the cycle. The complex metaphoricity of these poems often serves to draw attention to the complicity of the imagination in the process of self-enslavement, and the vagaries of the unregenerated will. The Dedication to the Renowned Sir Philip Sidney, lastly, is an expressly experimental literary text that blends political history, biography, memoir, and autobiography, using generic experiment to create a space for a critique of Stuart political culture.

Further Reading

Alexander, Gavin. Writing after Sidney. The Literary Response to Sir Philip Sidney (1586–1640). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Andrea, Bernadette. Women and Islam in Early Modern English Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Burton, Jonathan. Traffic and Turning. Islam and English Drama, 1579–1624. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Classen, Albert, and Marilyn Sandige, eds. Friendship in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Age. Explorations of a Fundamental Ethical Discourse. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2010.Find this resource:

Colclough, David. Freedom of Speech in Early Stuart England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Cormack, Bradin. “In the Labyrinth: Gunn’s Greville.” In Tom Gunn, Selected Poems of Fulke Greville, pp. 161–177. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Croll, Morris, W. The Work of Fulke Greville: A Thesis by Morris W. Croll. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1903.Find this resource:

Cummings, Brian. The Literary Culture of the Reformation: Grammar and Grace Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.Find this resource:

Duncan Jones, Katherine. Sir Philip Sidney, Courtier-Poet. London: Hamish Hamilton: 1991.Find this resource:

Graham, Kenneth. The Performance of Conviction. Plainness and Rhetoric in the Early English Renaissance. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994.Find this resource:

Greville, Fulke. Poems and Dramas of Fulke Greville, first Lord Brooke. Edited by Geoffrey Bullough. New York: Oxford University Press, 1945.Find this resource:

Greville, Fulke. Remains. Poems of Monarchy and Religion. Edited by G. A. Wilkes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965.Find this resource:

Greville, Fulke. The Prose Works. Edited by John Gouws. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.Find this resource:

Hammer, Paul E. J. “The Earl of Essex, Fulke Greville, and the Employment of Scholars,” Studies in Philology 91, no. 2 (1994): 167–180.Find this resource:

Hardin, Richard. Civil Idolatry: Desacralizing and Monarchy in Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992.Find this resource:

Hanssen, Matthew C., and Matthew Woodcock. Fulke Greville: A Special Double Issue, Sidney Journal 19, vol. 1 & 2 (2001).Find this resource:

Herman, Peter C. “Bastard Children of Tyranny: The Ancient Constitution and Fulke Greville’s A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney,” Renaissance Quarterly 55, no. 3 (2002): 969–1004.Find this resource:

Ho, Elaine Y. “Fulke Greville and the Calvinist Self,” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, 32, no. 1 (1992): 35–57.Find this resource:

Irish, Bradley. “The Literary Afterlife of the Essex Circle: Fulke Greville, Tacitus, and BL Additional MS 18638.” Modern Philology 112, no. 1 (2014): 271–285.Find this resource:

Kunt, Metin, and Christine Woodhead. Süleyman the Maginficent and His Age. The Ottoman Empire and the Early Modern World. London/New York: Longman, 1995.Find this resource:

Leo, Russ, Katrin Röder, and Freya Sierhuis. The Measure of the Mind. Fulke Greville and the Literary Culture of the English Renaissance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.Find this resource:

Lochman, David, Lopez, Martire, and Lorna Hutson, eds. Discourses of Friendship in Early Modern Europe, 1500–1700. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2011.Find this resource:

McFaul, Tom. “The Childish Love of Philip Sidney and Fulke Greville,” Sidney Journal 24, no. 2 (2006): 37–65.Find this resource:

Nauta, Lodi, and Detleve Pätzold, eds. Imagination in the Later Middle Ages and Early Modern Times. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2004.Find this resource:

Norbrook, David. “Fulke Greville and the Arts of Power.” In Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance, pp. 140–154. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.Find this resource:

Österberg, Eva. Friendship and Love, Ethics and Politics. Studies in Medieval and Early Modern History. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Philips, James E. “Buchanan and the Sidney Circle.” Huntington Library Quarterly 12, no. 1 (1948): 23–55.Find this resource:

Rebholz, Ronald. The Life of Fulke Greville, first Lord Brooke (1555–1628). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978.Find this resource:

Rees, Joan. Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke (1554–1628): A Critical Biography. London: Routledge & Keegan, 1971.Find this resource:

Röder, Katrin. Macht und Imagination. Fulke Greville’s konstruction Diskreter Autorschaft. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2006.Find this resource:

Rossky, William. “Imagination in the English Renaissance: Psychology and Poetic.” Studies in the Renaissance 5 (1958): 49–73.Find this resource:

Sands, Pauline. Transcript of the Papers of Fulke Greville. Warwick, UK: Brewin Books, 2016.Find this resource:

Schlachter, Marc D. Voluntary Servitude and the Erotics of Friendship. From Classical Antiquity to Early Modern France. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2008.Find this resource:

Shannon, Laurie. Sovereign Amity. Figures of Friendship in Shakespearean Contexts. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Shuger, Deborah. Habits of Thought in the English Renaissance: Religion, Politics, and the Dominant Culture. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Sierhuis, Freya. “The Idol of the Heart: Liberty, Tyranny, and Idolatry in the Work of Fulke Greville,” Modern Language Review 106, no. 3 (2011).Find this resource:

Springborg, Patricia. Western Republicanism and the Oriental Prince. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992.Find this resource:

Streete, Adrian. Protestantism and Drama in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Waller, Gary F. “Fulke Greville’s Struggle with Calvinism.” Studia Neophilologica 44, no. 1 (1972): 295–314.Find this resource:

Waswo, Richard. The Fatal Mirror: Themes and Techniques in the Poetry of Fulke Greville. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1972.Find this resource:

Winters, Yvor. “Aspects of the Short Poem in the English Renaissance.” In Forms of Discovery, by Yvor Winters. Critical and Historical Essays on the Form of the Short Poem in English, pp. 1–20. Chicago: Alan Swallow, 1967.Find this resource:


(1.) For an indispensable work for the study of Greville’s biography, see Ronald A. Rebholz, The Life of Fulke Greville, first Lord Brooke (1554–1628) (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978). See also Joan Rees, Fulke Greville (1554–1628): A Critical Biography (London: Routledge & Keegan, 1971). New material concerning Greville’s will has become available through the publication of Pauline Sands’s Transcript of the Papers of Fulke Greville (Warwick, UK: Brewin Books, 2016).

(2.) Yvor Winters, “Aspects of the Short Poem in the English Renaissance,” in Forms of Discovery, by Yvor Winters. Critical and Historical Essays on the Form of the Short Poem in English (Chicago: Alan Swallow, 1967), 52.

(4.) Richard Waswo, The Fatal Mirror: Themes and Techniques in the Poetry of Fulke Greville (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1972), 204–206.

(5.) Richard Waswo, The Fatal Mirror, 162. See also Gary F. Waller, “Fulke Greville’s Struggle with Calvinism,” Studia Neophilologica 44, no. 1 (1972): 295–314, and Elaine Y. Ho, “Fulke Greville and the Calvinist Self,” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, 32, no. 1 (1992): 35–57. For an account that gives scope to the complexities and aporias of Greville’s religious beliefs, see Brian Cummings, The Literary Culture of the Reformation: Grammar and Grace (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 297–308.

(6.) Peter C. Herman, “Bastard Children of Tyranny”: The Ancient Constitution and Fulke Greville’s A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney,” Renaissance Quarterly, 55, no. 3 (2002): 969–1004; Deborah Shuger, Habits of Thought in the English Renaissance. Religion Politics and the Dominant Culture (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997); Kenneth Graham, The Performance of Conviction. Plainness and Rhetoric in the Early English Renaissance (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994), chap. 3, p. 117.

(7.) For contemporary perspectives on Süleyman’s reign as a Golden Age, see Christine Woodhead, “Perspectives on Süleyman,” in Metin Kunt and Christine Woodhead, Süleyman the Maginficent and His Age. The Ottoman Empire and the Early Modern World (London/New York: Longman, 1995), 164–190, esp. 164–167.

(8.) Russ Leo, “‘Natures freedome,’ the Art of Sovereignty and Mustapha’s Tragic Insolubility: Fulke Greville and Jean Bodin among the Ottomans,” in Russ Leo, Katrin Röder, and Freya Sierhuis, The Measure of the Mind. Fulke Greville and the Culture of the English Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

(9.) Jonathan Burton, Traffic and Turning: Islam and English Drama, 1579–1624 (Newark: University of Delawere Press, 2005), chap. 4, “Traffic in the Streets, Turks in the Closet: Pageant Muslims and Greville’s Mustapha,” 160–195, 184–185.

(10.) Jonathan Burton, Traffic and Turning, 160–195; Katrin Röder, “Ottoman Kingship and Resistance Against Tyranny in Fulke Greville’s Mustapha,” in Russ Leo, Katrin Röder, and Freya Sierhuis, eds., The Measure of the Mind: Fulke Greville and the Literary Culture of the English Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

(11.) See on this point also Burton, Traffic and Turning, 187–189, 193–194.

(12.) Contra Burton, Traffic and Turning, 192–193.

(13.) Bernadette Andrea, Women and Islam in Early Modern English Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 19.

(14.) Geoffrey Bullough, Poems and Dramas of Fulke Greville, first Lord Brooke, volume I (New York: Oxford University Press, 1945), 218. All references to Caelica, Mustapha, A Treatie of Humane Learning, An Inquisition upon Fame and Honour, and A Treatie of Warre are to this edition, unless otherwise indicated.

(15.) Niccòlo Machiavelli, The Chief Works and Others, translated by A. Gilbert, 3 vols. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press), Book II, 228–229, 330–331.

(16.) On the unqualified admiration for the Ottoman Empire in Venetian ambassadorial reports, see Patricia Springborg, Western Republicanism and the Oriental Prince (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992), chap. 20, “Venice and the Sublime Porte,” 176–186.

(18.) Aristotle, Politics, translated by H. Rackham (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1932), pp. 1285a-b. On the idea of Oriental despotism in the late sixteenth century, see Springborg, Western Republicanism, 282–286, and Michael Curtis, Orientalism and Islam, European Thinkers on Oriental Despotism in the Middle East and India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 52–71.

(19.) Greville again seems to share common ground with Machiavelli, who equally does not appear to view the abscence of a hereditary aristocracy as inherently conducive to tyranny, Springborg, Western Republicanism, 280–281.

(20.) Polybius, The Histories, vol. II, books 1 and 2, W. R. Patton, revised by F. W. Walbank, Christian Habicht (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), book 2.25, and vol III, books 5–8, translated by W. R. Patton, revised by F. W. Walbank, Christian Habicht (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), book VI. vii; Machiavelli, The Chief Works, vol. III, Alan Gilbert, ed. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1965), Discourses, I.6; II.20; III, introduction.

(22.) All quotations to A Dedication to Sir Philip Sidney refer to John Gouws, The Prose Works of Fulke Greville, First Lord Brooke (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986).

(23.) Kathryn Murphy, “Greville’s Scantlings: Architecture and Measure in the Treatises,” in Russ Leo, Katrin Röder, and Freya Sierhuis, The Measure of the Mind: Fulke Greville and the Literary Culture of the English Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

(24.) Fulke Greville, Remains: Poems of Monarchy and Religion, G. A. Wilkes, ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965); all references are to this edition. For early modern theories of the imagination, see Murray Wright Bundy, The Theory of the Imagination in Classical and Medieval Thought (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971 [1928]); William Rossky, “Imagination in the English Renaissance: Psychology and Poetic,” Studies in the Renaissance 5 (1958): 49–73; Lodi Nauta and Detlev Pätzold, eds., Imagination in the Later Middle Ages and Early Modern Times (Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2004); John D. Lyons, Before Imagination: Embodied Thought from Montaigne to Rousseau (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005); Eckhard Kessler, “The Intellective Soul,” in The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, Charles B. Schmitt, Quentin Skinner, Eckhard Kessler, and Jill Kraye, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2007 [1988]), 485–534.

(25.) See the article by Ethan Guagliardo, on which this section draws: Ethan John Guagliardo,”‘These Ancient Forming Powers’: Fulke Greville and the Dialectics of Idolatry,” in Russ Leo, Katrin Roder, and Freya Sierhuis, eds., Fulke Greville and the Literary Culture of the English Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

(26.) Compare A Treatise of Monarchy, stanzas 1–34.

(27.) Compare the Treatise of Religion, stanza 26.

(28.) It is necessary to formally distinguish between the “Ideas of Authority” and the arts of power, such as laws, customs, and social hierarchy, through which power is maintained, even though the two are closely linked. See A Treatise of Monarchy, 47–48.

(29.) The association of monarchy with idolatry, which some critics argue only arises in the late seventeenth century, can be traced back, via the treatises and Caelica, to a much earlier phase; perhaps as early as the late sixteenth century. See Eric Nelson, The Hebrew Republic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 28–31; for earlier examples of the critique of monarchical idolatry, see Richard Hardin, Civil Idolatry: Desacralizing and Monarchy in Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992).

(30.) Freya Sierhuis, “‘The Idol of the Heart’: Liberty, Tyranny, and Idolatry in the Work of Fulke Greville,” Modern Language Review 106, no. 3 (2011): 625–646; David Norbrook, “Fulke Greville and the Arts of Power,” in Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000 [1984]), 140–154; James E. Philips, “Buchanan and the Sidney Circle,” Huntington Library Quarterly, 12, no. 1 (1948): 23–55.

(31.) For an absolutist reading of 1 Samuel 8, see James I, The True Law of Free Monarchies, in James I, The True Law of Free Monarchies and Basilikon Doron, edited by Daniel Fischlin and Mark Fortier (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 1996), 56–57, 57–62. For the opposing view, see Vindiciae, contra tyrannos, 20, which adduces an incorrect reference to 1 Samuel 8 in order to emphasize that kings hold their authority only conditionally, as vassals of the Lord.

(32.) See Andrea Alciato, Emblemata (Augsburg, 1531) VII: “non tibi sed religioni,” and George Whitney, A Choice of Emblems (1586), 8; see Bullough, Poems and Dramas of Fulke Greville, vol. 1, 289.

(33.) Bradin Cormack, “In the Labyrinth: Gunn’s Greville,” Selected Poems of Fulke Greville (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 161–177, 170. On the representation of Cupid as a boy, see Tom McFaul, “The Childish Love of Philip Sidney and Fulke Greville,” Sidney Journal 24, no. 2 (2006): 37–65.

(34.) Lipsius, De Constantia, I, 19–20.

(35.) Katrin Ettenhubber, “‘Comparisons Are Odious’: Revisiting the Metaphysical Conceit in Donne,” The Review of English Studies 62 (2011): 393–413.

(36.) According to Bullough and Wilkes Greville was probably thinking of a mountain like Mam Tor in Derbyshire, Bullough, Poems and Dramas of Fulke Greville, vol. 1, 260.

(37.) “bird, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2016. Web. June 30, 2016.—d. A maiden, a girl. [In this sense bird was confused with burde, burd n., originally a distinct word, perhaps also with bryd (e bride n.1; but later writers understand it as fig. sense of 1 or 2.] In mod. (revived) use: a girl, woman (often used familiarly or disparagingly) (slang). Shakespeare, Cymbeline (1623), Act IV, scene ii, line 198: “The Bird is dead that we haue made so much on.”

(38.) Adrian Streete, Protestantism and Drama in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), chap. 4, “Perception and Fantasy in Early Modern Protestant Discourse,” 110–126, 113.

(40.) John Gouws, “Introduction,” The Prose Works of Fulke Greville, xiii–xxxv, xvii–xix.

(43.) Laurie Shannon, Sovereign Amity. Figures of Friendship in Shakespearean Contexts (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2002), 30–38.

(44.) Shannon, Sovereign Amity, p. 22. This, however, is only one way in which the idea of friendship operated in early modern culture, and it is worth pointing out that many of the central elements of the classical ideal of friendship, such as the centrality of virtue, its expressly masculine nature, or its exclusiveness to two individuals of the same status, did go unchallenged in the early modern period. See on this topic a.o. Eva Österberg, Friendship and Love, Ethics and Politics. Studies in Medieval and Early Modern History (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2010); Albert Classen and Marilyn Sandige, eds., Friendship in the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Age. Explorations of a Fundamental Ethical Discourse (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2010); and Daniel Lochman, Martitr Lopez, and Lorna Hutson, eds., Discourses of Friendship in Early Modern Europe, 1500–1700 (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2011).

(45.) Gregory Chaplin, “Milton Against Servitude: Classical Friendship, Tyranny and the Law of Nature,” in Lochman, Lopez, and Hutson, Discourses and Representations of Friendship, 209–223; on Montaigne and La Boétie, see Marc D. Schlachter, Voluntary Servitude and the Erotics of Friendship. From Classical Antiquity to Early Modern France (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2008); David Louis Schaeffer, ed., Freedom over Servitude. Montaigne, La Boétie and On Voluntary Servitude (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998). On La Boëthie’s possible influence on Greville, see Norbrook, “Fulke Greville and the Arts of Power,” and Freya Sierhuis, “Liberty, Tyranny and Idolatry.”

(46.) Marcus Tullius Cicero, On Old Age. On Friendship. On Divination, translated by W. A. Falconer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1923), XIX.69–XX.74; in his account of the friendship between Sidney and the much older Hubert Languet, Greville shows how friendship can function as an equalizing principle, mediating differences of age, rank and status: this ingenious old man’s fullness of knowledge travailed as much to be delivered from abundance by teaching, as Sir Philip’s rich nature and industry thirsted to be taught and manured. This harmony of an humble reader to an excellent teacher so equally fitted them both, as, out of a natural descent both in love and plenty, the elder grew taken with a net of his own thread, and the younger taught to lift up himself by a thread of the same spinning; (…), Fulke Greville, The Prose Work of Fulke Greville, 6.

(50.) Katherine Duncan Jones, Sir Philip Sidney, Courtier-Poet (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1991), 161–163.

(55.) John T. Fitzgerald, Friendship, Flattery and Frankness of Speech. Studies on Friendship in the New Testament World (Leiden: Brill, 1996); on parrhèsia in the early modern period, see David Colclough, Freedom of Speech in Early Stuart England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

(56.) The philosophie, commonlie called, the morals vvritten by the learned philosopher Plutarch of Chæronea. Translated out of Greeke into English, and conferred with the Latine translations and the French, by Philemon Holland (London, 1603).

(57.) For an analysis of parrhèsia and power, see Michel Foucault, Fearless Speech (Los Angeles: Semiotext[e], 2001).

(58.) In the Letter to an Honourable Lady, Greville describes the subjection of women as a post-lapsarian phenomenon that contrasts negatively with the equality that governed the relationship between Adam and Eve in Eden, which is described as a republic. The Prose Works of Fulke Greville, 139–140.