chapter  III
3 Pages

III.1 Poetry


Early modern poets strove to replicate the emotions associated with classical poetry. Ovid’s Heroides, Virgil’s Aeneid and Eclogues, and Horace’s Odes, for instance, were widely translated and imitated. Let us consider the example of Ovid’s Heroides which was adapted by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-76) and Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) in the fourteenth century; in the sixteenth century it was translated into English by George Turberville (c. 1540-97) and into French by Octavien de Saint-Gelais (1468-1502).1 The process continued through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Heroides represented a locus classicus for the emotions – love, desire and heroic fortitude – of oppressed women. Poets admired the emotional force with which Ovid’s eloquent heroines complained of their violation at the hands of the heroes of classical legend. They recognized the heroines’ passionate complaints as the antithesis of the emotional control intrinsic to the masculine heroic values such as valour and pietas, celebrated in epic poetry. By imitating this emotional pose poets signalled their own relationship to an overbearing tradition. First published in 1559, The Mirror for Magistrates was an influential collection of complaints adapted to English history. The 1563 edition included ‘Shore’s Wife’ (1563) by Thomas Churchyard (c. 1520-1604). In direct first-person speech Jane Shore, the goldsmith’s wife who became mistress to Edward IV (1442-83), relates ‘[Her] great mischaunce, [her] fall, and heavy state’ (l. 5) and offers a moving critique of the abuses of sovereign power which she describes as ‘The maiestie that kynges to people beare, / The stately porte, the awful chere they showe’ (ll. 78-9). She asks ‘Who can withstand a puissant kynges desire?’ (l. 89), drawing readers to recognize her plight as symptomatic of the condition of commoners.2