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Title: A study of Arthurian poetry in the English Renaissance, from Spenser to Dryden
Author: Wynne-Davies, Marion
Awarding Body: University of London
Current Institution: Royal Holloway, University of London
Date of Award: 1985
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This thesis traces the development of Arthurian literature through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. A comparison of the Medieval flawed romance king and of the epic warrior of the English histories with Spenser's treatment of Arthur in The Faerie Queene reveals the extent of Spenser's originality. Spenser irreversibly altered the course of English Arthurian literature by rejecting Arthur's traditional human failings and by creating a figure of moral and political idealism. These forms of perfection - intimately connected in the poem to Protestantism, Neoplatonism, nationalism and monarchism - initiated two divergent, but not mutually exclusive, strands of Arthurian literature in the seventeenth century. Spenser's Arthurian idealism manifests itself in the courtly masques, and especially in Ben Jonson's Prince Henry's Barriers (1610) and Prince Oberon (1611), Thomas Carew's Coelum Britannicum (1633) and William Davenant's Britannia Triumphans (1637). The masques affirm the link between Spenserian Arthurianism and moral perfection, but the Spenserian poets soon raised doubts regarding this pure 'idealism'. This group of poets, particularly Drayton, simultaneously imitate and alter Spenser's use of Arthurian material. In Poly-Olbion (1633)Drayton adapts Spenser's concept of Arthur in order to contrast Arthurianism with Christianity and historicity. Spenser's Arthurian concepts of heroism, nationalism and monarchy initiated in The Faerie Queene are prominent in the political panegyrics of the Stuart period, and are fully explored by Ralph Knevett in A Supplement of the Faery Queene (1635). While Knevett proposes an allegorical representation of political idealism in his Arthurian material, he simultaneously evinces an astute awareness of the increasing contemporary demands for greater veracity and realism in fiction. Towards the end of the seventeenth century Arthurian idealism was losing its momentum. Its final demise can be traced in the works of Milton and Dryden. Milton was initially attracted by Spenser's treatment of Arthur, but he followed the Spenserians in utilizing the moral Arthurian material primarily to foreground the higher truths of Christianity in Paradise Lost (1667) and Paradise Regained (1671). By the time Dryden completed King Arthur (1691), the Arthurian tradition could no longer sustain its traditional imaginative appeal.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: English Literature