1603
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

The Barrons Wars.

The Barrons Wars in the Raigne of Edward the Second. With Englands Heroicall Epistles. By Michael Drayton.

Michael Drayton


Spenser's influence has been noted in this historical poem, revised from Mortimeriados (1596). Drayton himself mentions Spenser in his preface: "The Italians use Cantos, & so our first late great Reformer Ma. Spenser, that I assume another name for the sections in this volum cannot be disgratious, nor unavowable" To the Reader, Sig. A 3v.

Edmund Bolton, 1618 ca.: "Michael Draiton's Heroical Epistles are well worth the reading also, for the Purpose of our Subject; which is; to furnish an English Historian with Choice and Copy of Tongue" Hypercritica (1722) 236.

Oliver Elton: "Most of the classical tags and crude strokes of Mortimeriados disappear. But the writer has also left some of his youth behind him, he has passed from the land of Marlowe and Spenser into that of Daniel and the Histories of Shakspere; which indeed he must have carefully read. And he seems to feel that the staple of an historical poem should be grave, gnomic, perhaps a little dull; and one of the few and fortunate remnants of his earlier freshness is visible in the final interview, full of perfume and misty colour of luxury, and of invading bloodshed, between Mortimer and Isabel. Others are the half-Virgilian, half-Spenserian pictures of Mischief creeping into the bosom of the king (Barons' Wars, ii. 5); the dreams of the king in his prison (v. 43); the gracious picture of the nymphs (vi. 38); and the simile of the fleet-winged haggard stooping among the mallards (vi. 64). But Drayton is no great narrator, much as he narrated" Introduction to Michael Drayton (1895) 22-23.

George Saintsbury: "That this mass of work should possess, or should, indeed, admit of the charms of poetry which distinguish The Faerie Queene would be impossible, even if Drayton had been Spenser, which he was far from being. But to speak of his 'dull creeping narrative,' to accuse him of the 'coarsest vulgarities,' of being 'flat and prosaic,' and so on, as was done by eighteenth-century critics, is absolutely uncritical, unless it be very much limited. The Baron's Wars is somewhat dull, the author being too careful of a not particularly interesting subject, and neglecting to take the only possible means of making it interesting by bringing out strongly the characters of heroes and heroines, and so infusing a dramatic interest. But this absence of character is a constant drawback to the historical poems of the time. And even here we find may passages where the drawback of the stanza for narrative is most skilfully avoided, and where the vigour of the single lines and phrases is unquestionable on any sound estimate" History of Elizabethan Literature (1909) 143.

Richard F. Hardin: "His Mortimeriados (1596), on the civil wars of Edward II (recast as The Barons Warres in 1603), portrays the adulterous love of Queen Isabel and Roger Mortimer in a tower bedroom decorated with mythological paintings (2311-94, 2521-41). The pictures comment on the action much as do the tapestries of Castle Joyous or Busirane's house (FQ III i 34-8, xi 29-46) or, following the comparison to 'Arachnes web,' the tapestries in Muiopotmos (273-336)" Spenser Encyclopedia (1990) 225.



What time the Sunne, with his day-labouring teames
Is dryving downe unto the West apace,
T' refresh his cauples in the Ocean streames,
And coole the fervor glowing in his face,
Which now appeares by his hie-coloured beames,
To rest him from our Hemisphere a space,
Leaving foule darknes to possesse the skies,
The fittest time for bloody tragedies.

With torches now attempting the sad Cave,
Which at their entrance seemeth in a fright,
At the reflection that the brightnes gave,
As till that time it never saw the light,
Where light and darknes, with the power they have,
Strongly for the preheminence doe fight,
And each confounding other, both appeare
As to their owne selves they contrary were.

The craggy cleeves which crosse them as they goe,
Make as theyr passage they would have denyde,
And threatning them their journy to forslow,
As angry with the path that was their guide,
As they their griefe, and discontent would show,
Cursing the hand that did first devide.
The combrous falls, and risings seeme to say,
This wicked action could not brooke the day.

The gloomy lamps this troope still forward led,
Forcing the shadowes follow on their backe,
Are like the mourners waiting on the dead,
And as the deede, so are they ugly blacke;
Hate goes before, confusion followed,
The sad portents of blood-shed, and of wrack,
These fain dym-burning lights as all amazed,
At those deformed shades whereon they gazed.

The clattering Armes their Maisters seeme to chide,
As they would reason wherefore they should wound,
And striking with the poynts from side to side,
As though even angry with the hollow ground
That it this vile and ruthlesse act should hide,
Whose stony roofe lock'd in their dolefull sound,
And hanging in the creekes, draw backe againe,
As willing them from murther to refraine.

[pp. 138-40 (6:49-53)]