Concepts of folly in English Renaissance literature : with particular reference to Shakespeare and Jonson
Chapter 1 considers Barclay's 'Ship of Fools' in relation to other folly literature in English, particularly Lydgate's 'Order of Fools', Skelton's 'Bowge of Courte', and 'Cocke Lorrel's Bote'. Motifs, allegories and the woodcuts of the text are discussed and some are included in an Illustrations section. Chapter 2 discusses Erasmian folly looking back to the Neoplatonic writings of Nicholas of Cusa, and to the debt Erasmian exegeses owe to Origen. Erasmus' own philosophical and theological views are examined, particularly as they are found in his 'Enchiridion', and in the influence of Thomas à Kempis' 'Imitation of Christ'. A close textual analysis of the 'Moriae Encomium' is undertaken in this light. Chapter 3 defines the lateral boundaries of folly, where it blends into madness. In the context of Renaissance psychology sixteenth century medical works are analysed, including Boorde's 'Breviary of Healthe', Barrough's 'Method of Physicke' and Elyot's 'Castel of Helth'. Blurring between madness and sin, the negative judgments on the mad as demon-possessed, and the biblical models from which such judgments largely arose give alternative perspectives on madness and its relation to folly. Chapters 4-6 look at three Shakespearean comedies showing the development of a primarily Erasmian view of folly. This moves from overt references in 'Love's Labour's Lost' to natural folly, the folly of love and theological folly, through carnivalesque aspects of folly and madness in 'Twelfth Night', to an embedded notion of folly which influences and affects the darker comedy of 'Measure for Measure'. Chapter 7 considers satires of Hall, Marston and Guilpin, and looks at Jonson's Humour plays in this context. 'Volpone' and 'Epicoene', and 'The Alchemist' and 'Bartholomew Fair' are discussed in pairs, showing the softening of Jonson's attitude to folly, and his increasing representation of Erasmian folly reaching its full expression in 'Bartholomew Fair'.