A Short History of English Literature by Harry Blamires

By Harry Blamires

`It is nice to work out a reprint and whole updating of this recognized historic travel de strength, with its proof of massive interpreting and actually hundreds of thousands of precious facts.' - instances academic complement

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    Humour and quiet irony pervade his stories, but the social and moral conscience evident in his implicit and explicit commentary is a deeply concerned one. Henryson knows intimately the world he is writing about; the animals, the people, the country, the weather: he has got the feel of them and can convey it: The wynter come, the wickit wind gan blaw, The woddis grene were wallowit with the weit, Baith frith and fell with froistys were maid faw, Slonkis and slaik maid slidderie with the sleit. Such descriptions, like the wintry landscapes in Sir Gawayne and the Green Knight, are refreshingly different from the standard May scenes of medieval poetry.

    A Midsummer Night’s Dream marks the change to maturity. The workmanship is deft, the poetry almost unfailing. Three strands of action are skilfully woven together, the first a crossed pattern of love between two pairs of lovers who are brought together in a wood at night. Here their story is interwoven with that of the fairy king Oberon and his queen Titania, who are quarrelling. A misapplied fairy love-juice complicates the entanglement of the human lovers further. The third strand in the plot is supplied by Bottom and his fellow tradesmen who are rehearsing a play for the wedding of the 50 A Short History of English Literature Duke of Athens.

    And the general message had special contemporary political implications in drawing attention to the dangers of disputed succession at a time when Queen Elizabeth was being urged to marry. The influence of the Morality play is evident. Ferrex stands listening to the alternating advice of good and evil counsellors, Dordan and Hermon, the one urging restraint, the other inciting to strife by flattery and slander. Porrex too stands between a wise counsellor, Philander, and a parasite, Tynder. The fusion of classical form with native legendary history and features of medieval dramatic presentation is interesting, and the play’s blank verse, if it lacks all variety, does not lack force or dignity.

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