Literature and the Concept of Court and Country

As we have already seen, England was split in two during Elizabeth's reign. There was the world of Whitehall (the Court) and the world of the country. This fragmentation was eventually to lead to the disintegration of a once united polity. The court/country split has been seen to have included a cultural rift. The court had their masques while a country literary genre emerged. This was in part a religious dichotomy. The country saw a Puritan tradition establish itself to inherit the Elizabethan style while the opposed court tradition saw itself established around Armenianism. For many this fragmentation led to the passing of the "Golden Age" of William Shakespeare and John Donne.

One major fallacy is that the Puritan tradition of the country was essentially anti- culture. Puritans have always been viewed as enemies of art and popular culture. In truth there were numerous artists amongst the Puritans as well as many more patrons and consumers. The Puritans like so many as the time thought literature to have a moral and social function, thus we have a great flow of Protestant propaganda during this period.

In truth literature at this time was more of a shared experience than this model allows and it became under the Stuarts. Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing shows this clearly: the characters are essentially members of a court. Indeed if any dichotomy exists it is that the court encouraged more great writers. Shakespeare, Sidney and Spenser in various ways attached to the court. The court was the centre of artistic patronage as well as being itself made up of the intellectuals of the time (it is said of Burghley that he would carry copies of Cicero around with him).

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