Achsah Guibbory’s Ceremony and Community From Hebert to Milton: A Review

William Laud

William Laud

Achsah Guibbory’s monograph Ceremony and Community From Hebert to Milton: Literature, Religion, and Cultural Conflict in Seventeenth-Century England is a work that discusses several poets, beginning with George Hebert and concluding with John Milton, and how these poets, of varying religious beliefs, navigated England during a tumultuous era that saw a civil war end with the decapitation of one king; the ascent of a wanna-be king who claimed to be opposed to monarchical systems, but who none the less took the authority of a king and handed it to his son; and the restoration of the monarchy.  Needless to say the changing political and religious climate made for difficult times.  The losers would soon be winners only to be losers again.  Guibbory makes a strong case that ceremony was the key element for conformists and dissenters alike and was an integral part of the literature at the time.

This is not a caricature: Robert Herricks' nose was actually that big!

This is not a caricature: Robert Herricks’ nose was actually that big!

The influence of William Laud and Laudism is discussed, laying out the impact it had, while Guibbory also outlines the context of conformity and how nonconformity was treated lightly in the decades leading up to the reign of Charles I, who simply did not have a head for politics.  The likes of poets such as Herbert would find a way to promote the ceremony that was integral to the Anglican Church, but still manage to find support from dissenters.  Robert Herrick, another poet from the era, was like an amalgamation of the young and old John Donne, combining what was considered erotic poetry with spirituals, but alienated (likely intentionally) Puritans during the era.  Sir Robert Browne is also discussed, and though he was an overt supporter of the Church of England and ceremony he promoted peaceable differences between conformists and dissenters.

 

 

The sexy John Milton!

The sexy John Milton!

It is Milton who Guibbory spends the most time on, and justifiably.  She provides some very interesting analysis, taking a look at Milton’s Comus, which details one of Milton’s less famous female characters, named simply ‘The Lady’.  The Lady, like Eve, is isolated by a sinister male figure who seeks to corrupt her but, unlike Eve, The Lady is able to dispel false syllogisms and maintain her virtue.  Guibbory does, of course, speak to Paradise Lost: who could write on Milton without mentioning Paradise Lost?  She is careful to situate the epic as one that rejects the Virgilian model adopted by Spencer and, rather than creating an epic that uplifts the birth of a nation, Milton shares a narrative that speaks to the birth of a faith.

 

Achsah Guibbory

Achsah Guibbory

Because the work speaks to several poets, it is not as comprehensive as it could be in regards to each poet (several volumes could be written on Milton alone), but the work is successful in that it offers a range of the approaches that different poets took in this political and religious setting, most especially focusing on how ceremony was the source of contention for each.  For those who are interested in the Restoration and religion, most especially the analysis of religious writing, this work is perfect, but if such topics are not your interest, the work may seem dry.

 

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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