Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Harlequin-Horace or Authorship In A Nutshell

Have just finished re-reading James Miller's 'Harlequin Horace, Or The Art of Modern Poetry'. Written in the early 1700's, Miller satirizes what he terms the modern fashions of the stage. John Rich, owner of the Theatre Royal Covent Garden appears to be his special target. (Can't seem to manage a link on this IPad.)

Ben Jonson was fond of the idea of the world turned upside down, and used it in his criticism of a Shakespearean-type dramaturgy in the prologue to Bartholomew Fair where he criticized those who wrote of tales and tempests, and assured the audience that he, Ben, was loathe to mix his head with other men's heels.

Miller reminds the reader of the 'Rule of Reverse' - a law that I believe should govern the reading of Ben Jonson's First Folio encomium. In Miller's time the 'Horatian aegri somnia/sick men's dreams' still pleased, and the love of spectacle had not yet been purged from the 'diseased' waters of England (Jonson on Shakespeare - 'What a SIGHT it were/To SEE thee in our waters yet appear')".

Miller plays the part of a modern Horace, just as Jonson did before him. Miller's descriptions of the unauthorized practises of the ill poets of his day draw together in a small place many of the arguments that Jonson launched against Shakespeare and help to contextualise many other enigmatic comments directed at Shakespeare.

Yet, for an Oxford/Shakespeare, whose early exposure to Castiglione's 'Courtier' appears to have inspired in him the gracious ideal of the Self as a work of Art - these criticisms may have extended beyond the bounds of the poetic and become very personal indeed.

I wonder if Oxford had a 'Lun/Harlequin' persona -as did John Rich. Was his 'motley' more than figurative?

Lucky to be writing this from Rushley Green Farm with a view of Hedingham Castle/Keep. According to a flyer in The Bell, there will be a presentation of Last Will. & Testament in the Banquetting Hall tomorrow night. Fortunate timing!