Contents Copyright Maria-Luisa Minio-Paluello, 2005

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A DETAILED PERSONAL ALLUSION TO SIR WALTER RALEGH FOUND IN NASHE'S 'SUMMERS LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT'.



"...himself he did yclepe
The shepheard of the Ocean by name."

So Spenser, in Colin Clouts Come Home Again (65-66), refers to his friend Sir Walter Ralegh, the courtier and poet.

In Summers Last Will and Testament Sol, the principal officer of Summer's Court, enters and is met by Summer's recriminations:

"Hypocrisie, how it can change his shape!
How base is pride from his own dunghill put!
How I have rais'd thee, Sol, I list not tell,
Out of the Ocean of adversitie,
To sit in height of honors glorious heaven."(448 - 452) [1]

The stage direction indicates that Sol enters "verie richly attir'de", and Summer scornfully exclaims:

"...here comes majestie in pompe,
Resplendent Sol, chiefe planet of the heavens:
He is our servant, lookes he ne'er so big." (444 - 446).

"Hypocrisie" is the first word in Summer's attack against him, and it is followed immediately by "pride", as his first accusation.

Sol is a courtier of majestic appearance and is splendidly dressed; he is accused of gross ingratitude and hypocrisy by the Sovereign who had raised him from nothing to the highest position at court. He is also accused by Autumn and Winter of being proud and arrogant; he is persistently reminded of his low origins and is charged with being the God of Poetry and of himself indulging in love poetry. As this picture of Sol materializes the suggestion that "Ocean", of line 451, may be a reference to Sir Walter Ralegh [2]appears as one worthy of serious consideration.

Sir Walter Ralegh, the youngest son of a family neither aristocratic nor rich was raised by the Queen's favour [3] to a position next only to herself in power and influence; he held one of the highest positions at Court until 1592. He had declined in favour for a short period in 1589 (and on that occasion he assumed the poetical name of Ocean) but had soon overcome his adversity and was re-instated in full favour until, early in 1592, he fell into disgrace when the Queen discovered his secret marriage to one of her maids of honour. The richness and splendour of his clothes was legendary, and his pride was proverbial[4], and on at least two notorious occasions he was publicly scorned, because of his low origins, both by the Earl of Oxford - who called him "the Jack, and an upstart"[5] and by the Earl of Essex. Finally he was a poet, and a patron of poets, and both his poetry and his patronage played a part in the vicissitudes of his relationship with the Queen.

It does not come as a surprise then, to find Sol affirming that the real power behind his actions is the power of Cynthia:

"Diana, whom our fables call the moone,
Only commandeth o're the raging mane;
Shee leads his wallowing ofspring up and downe." (559-61)

(Sol had been accused of causing dangerous tidal waves).

Ralegh, in his poems, always calls the Queen Cynthia, or Diana, constantly declaring her to be the prime mover of his actions and the cause of his fortunes.

As regards the name Ocean, it appears in only one of Ralegh's poems - The XIth and Last Book of "The Ocean to Cynthia"[6], and this is of uncertain date. This poem, (which was written as a plea to the Queen during one of the episodes of estrangement), or at least a first draft of it, must be the one alluded to by Spenser [7] when he says that the "Shepherd of the Ocean" sang:

"Of great undkindnesse, and of usage hard,
Of Cynthia the Ladie of the sea." (Colin Clout, 165-6)

The same poem must be the one alluded to by Nashe in this episode.

It is well known that Cynthia - Diana, the chaste goddess of the moon - was commonplace as a representation of Queen Elizabeth in XVI century literature. But it was Sir Walter Ralegh that was chiefly responsible for launching this fashion. Spenser himself adopts the name of Cynthia (or the related one Belphoebe) because of Ralegh's use of it, and he openly declares as much in Colin Clout and in the letter which accompanied the first three books of Faerie Queene in 1589.

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[1] All the quotations from Summers Last Will and Testament are from McKerrow's edition of The Works of Thomas Nashe revised by F.P.Wilson, Oxford, Blackwell, 1958, vol. III.

[2] I owe to Prof. F. Ferrara of Rome, this first suggestion regarding the possibility of an allusion to Sir Walter Ralegh in this passage re "Ocean".

[3]cf. Sir Robert NAUNTON, Fragmente Regalia (ed. by E. Arber, English Reprints, London, 1870, p.47): "she tost him up from nothing, and too and fro to a greatnesse, and from thence down to little more than that wherein she found him (a bare Gentleman)."

[4] cf. M.C. BRADBROOK, The School of Night, Cambridge U.P., 1936, p.31.

[5] Sir Robert NAUNTON, op. cit, p.47

[6] In the following pages we shall refer to this poem with the shorter title - The Ocean to Cynthia.

[7] W. OAKESHOTT, The Queen and the Poet, London, Faber and Faber, 1960, p.84: "Colin Clout shows that in 1589 Ralegh was already composing his poem, or poems, to Cynthia his theme being that of the rejected lover."


The copyright of this thesis belongs to the author Maria-Luisa Minio-Paluello under the terms of the United Kingdom Copyright Acts. Due acknowledgement must always be made of the use of any material contained in, or derived from, this thesis.