UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Consideration of the mannerist characteristics of Lycidas as a means of solving some of the poem’s "problems" le Nobel, Joan


The wide spectrum of scholarly opinion on various facets of Lycidas suggests the need for a different critical approach. Mannerism offers a possible new approach. Mannerism originated in Italy during the early sixteenth century. Two sets of criteria exist for distinguishing mannerist characteristics; one emphasizes maniera or style in the absolute sense; the other inner tension. The two aspects are not necessarily antagonistic but can exist in the same work as instanced in Bronzino's London Allegory. All critics agree that mannerist art is subjective. The style resulted in part from impact on sensitive personalities of unstable local conditions and uncertainties arising out of world developments. Milton's vulnerability was doubtless influenced by his personal life. Lycidas expresses not only conventional grief but Milton's deep-rooted uncertainties. Deaths significant to Milton marked 1637. He was under serious prolonged strain when he wrote Lycidas. The invitation to contribute to a memorial volume provided an opportunity to express his thoughts. Milton created a uniquely personal poem while incorporating motifs from earlier pastorals spanning the whole history of form. Three poets played major influential roles: Theocritus, Virgil, Spenser. Milton based his choice of pastoral on current popularity of form and implicit promise therein of resurrection. Deceased fitted perfectly the shepherd-poet-pastor role traditionally assigned to the subject of a pastoral elegy. The question of Lycidas' subject evokes various, sometimes conflicting answers, indicating central ambiguity characteristic of mannerist works. Rejection of Lycidas as subject rests partly in matter of perspective and scale. Lycidas is always seen as small-scale, far-off figure. Diminution of central figure is literary manifestation of recurring practice in mannerist painting. Lycidas is relegated to the background, while the foreground is peopled with figures more interesting to Milton. Milton allows his own concerns to take precedence over the poem's nominal subject, demonstrating a practice common to mannerist artists. Familiarity with pastoral tradition makes the reader aware of Milton's unfamiliar usage. He demonstrates principle of disegno interno, making abundant references to his predecessors but presenting them in a form totally different from that sanctioned by tradition. He makes his own rules for Lycidas' versification out of his knowledge and enjoyment of the strictest Italian practice. His juxtaposition of six- and ten-syllable lines creates a psychological effect comparable to that generated by Michelangelo's treatment of classical architectural elements in the Laurentian Library anteroom. The strength of Milton's emotion is unescapable, unalienated by soothing effect of rhythm and rhyme. The question of unity in Lycidas is troubling. Scholarly discussion divides the poem into parts but does not explain discrepancies in mood, scale and subject matter within divisions. Such shifts encourage the notion of Lycidas as mannerist. Mannerism depends in part on "violent yoking together of apparently unrelated elements." The few scholarly discussions of Lycidas which address themselves directly to the question of the poem's unity suggest a kind of unity which accords with mannerist criteria. Lycidas fulfils criteria of virtuoso performance. Milton invests old poetic form with new vitality, making it memorable with passages of pathos and beauty. He joins sound and sense to achieve powerful, expressive effects. Presence of inner tension in poem is significant mannerist element. Concluding eight lines of Lycidas differ in form, mood and point-of-view from lament proper. Mood of cheerful confidence is attributed to poet's natural sense of satisfaction at successful conclusion of task undertaken reluctantly. Milton has transcended the problems that King's death forced him to confront. His self-preoccupation in the final stanza reflects self-conscious concern of mannerist artist with the practical side of his own techniques. Mannerist criteria can reconcile disparate points of view on various facets of the poem.

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