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“Rude Uncivill Blood”: The Pastoral Challenge to Hereditary Race in Fletcher and Milton

  • Jean E. Feerick

Abstract

In his exposition on modern sexuality, Foucault famously emphasizes the uniqueness of modern cultural forms by seizing on the Renaissance as a point of contrast. This earlier era, he avers, was defined by a distinctly pre-modern episteme in being riveted not by sex but by “the blood relation.” In that period, he maintains, “the value of descent lines were predominant” and “blood constituted one of the fundamental values.”1 Foucault was right to draw attention to the signifier of blood for the pre-modern world. At once a material substance—one of the four humors that flowed beneath the skin—blood was also a signifier infused with metaphysical properties, a conduit of quasi-immaterial essences transmitting lineal identity from one generation to the next. In the absence of a theory of genetic transmission, the mechanisms understood to govern the exchange of attributes carrying degrees of gentility were diffuse, thought to be mediated by airy animal spirits that conjoined the material body with a transcendent order. But they nonetheless held a powerful grip on the period and would cast a long shadow over subsequent race systems, which bore the imprint of this pre-modern hereditary order in granting the signifier of blood a position of primacy.

Keywords

Modern Sexuality Pastoral Mode Earthly Life Pastoral Drama Italian Court 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (London: Penguin, 1978), 147.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Carey describes the play as “a Platonic pastoral drama”; see Milton: The Complete Shorter Poems, ed. John Carey (London and New York: Longman, 1971), 170. All future citations of Comus are to this edition and will appear in the text with reference to line numbers.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    But see Robert Henke’s discussion of tragicomedy’s links to pastoral in “Pastoral as Tragicomedic in Italian and Shakespearean Drama,” in The Italian World of English Renaissance Drama: Cultural Exchange and Intertextuality, ed. Michele Marrapodi (Newark and London: University of Delaware Press, 1998), 282–301.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    For this argument, see David Norbrook, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance (London: Routledge, 1984), ch. 10.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Paul Alpers states that “The most widespread view of pastoral is that it is mere wish fulfillment”; see The Singer of the Eclogues: A Study of Virgilian Pastoral (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 4–5.Google Scholar
  6. For a discussion of the “self-consciousness” of the pastoral mode, see Alpers, What is Pastoral? (University of Chicago Press, 1996), 16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    For a discussion of pastoral’s social efficacy, see Annabel Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation: The Conditions of Writing and Reading in Early Modern England (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    George Puttenham, The Art of English Poesie, ed. G. D. Willcock and A. Walker (Cambridge University Press, 1936), 38, as quoted in Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation, 37.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    For this view of Fletcher, see Philip J. Finkelpearl, Court and Country Politics in the Plays of Beaumont and Fletcher (Princeton University Press, 1990).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Gordon McMullan, The Politics of Unease in the Plays of John Fletcher (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994).Google Scholar
  11. For Milton, see Norbrook, Poetry and Politics; and John Creaser, “‘The present aid of this occasion’: The Setting of Comus,” in The Court Masque, ed. David Lindley (Manchester University Press, 1984), 111–34.Google Scholar
  12. 10.
    For Milton’s decorousness, see Barbara Breasted, “Comus and the Castlehaven Scandal,” Milton Studies 3 (1971), 201–24, esp. 202. For the masque as a “conditional” compliment, see John D. Cox, “Poetry and History in Milton’s Country Masque,” ELH 44.4 (1977), 622–40, esp. 623.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 12.
    Alfred Guy Kingan L’Estrange, Life of Mary Russell Mitford … Told by Herself in Letters to Her Friends, 11 October 1827 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1870), 1: 274.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Walter W. Greg, Pastoral Poetry and Pastoral Drama: A Literary Inquiry, with Special Reference to the Pre-Restoration Stage in England (New York: Russell & Russell, 1959), 1–2.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Henke, “Pastoral as Tragicomedy/” in Italian World, ed. Marrapodi, 286. For analysis of Italian pastoral drama, see Louise George Clubb, Italian Drama in Shakespeare’s Time (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1989).Google Scholar
  16. 23.
    Less Bliss, “Defending Fletcher’s Shepherds,” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 23.1 (1983), 295–310, esp. 302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 27.
    Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation, 181. See also Barbara K. Lewalski, “Milton’s Comus and the Politics of Masquing,” in The Politics of the Stuart Court Masque, ed. David Bevington and Peter Holbrook (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 296–320, esp. 302–3.Google Scholar
  18. 33.
    Leah S. Marcus, “John Milton’s Comus,” in A Companion to Milton, ed. Thomas N. Corns (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001), 232–45, esp. 240.Google Scholar

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© Jean E. Feerick 2014

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  • Jean E. Feerick

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