Heraldic imagery in seventeenth-century English poetry
The significance of heraldic references in literature has been the subject of both antiquarian interest and recent scholarship. In the field of seventeenth-century poetry, there exists a small body of published work concerned with the use of heraldry by William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson and Jolin Cleveland. The aim of this thesis is to demonstrate the existence and significance of heraldic references in a wider range of seventeenth-century verse and poetry. It eschews assumptions regarding the use of heraldry by, or with reference to, a narrow social elite, and examines heraldic references published in broadsheets and used in songs, as well as in the privately- circulated manuscripts of the nobility. Chapter One offers a critical examination of a range of current scholarship concerned with heraldic readings of literature. Chapter Two demonstrates that formal heraldic references, affirming or celebrating their subject’s identity, were used in diverse genres, including dedicatory verses, encomia, epitaphs, elegies, epithalamia and anagrams. Chapter Three determines the social implications of the use of heraldry, with particular reference to epic and satirical verse, arguing that heraldic references in this period develop beyond their traditional, chivalric associations. Chapter Four discusses those works that include heraldic references as expressions of authority or political power, and considers their use in different contexts to affirm or undermine the position of individuals and groups within society. Chapter Five establishes the use of heraldry within religious or spiritual poetry and addresses whether its vocabulary was regarded as an expression of particular Christian values. Chapter Six explores the engagement of women writers with heraldry and considers how far their use of the language offered a challenge to the prevailing patriarchal culture. The Conclusion draws attention to the significance of the evolution of heraldry from the seventeenth century to the present day.