English Mercuries: Soldier Poets in the Age of Shakespeare

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English Mercuries examines war and literature through the writings of veterans who came home from their deployments to pursue literary careers. From their often neglected writings emerges a new picture of the Elizabethan world at war. For centuries Elizabethan England has been characterized by booming patriotism and martial energy, and the literature of this period, epitomized in works like Shakespeare's Henry V, has been seen as celebrating a proud and defiant kingdom unified around its wars with Spain. Beneath...
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2009 Paperback NEAR FINE 9780826516633 This listing is a new book, a title currently in-print which we order directly and immediately from the publisher. *****PLEASE NOTE: This ... item is shipping from an authorized seller in Europe. In the event that a return is necessary, you will be able to return your item within the US. To learn more about our European sellers and policies see the BookQuest FAQ section***** Read more Show Less

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Overview


English Mercuries examines war and literature through the writings of veterans who came home from their deployments to pursue literary careers. From their often neglected writings emerges a new picture of the Elizabethan world at war. For centuries Elizabethan England has been characterized by booming patriotism and martial energy, and the literature of this period, epitomized in works like Shakespeare's Henry V, has been seen as celebrating a proud and defiant kingdom unified around its wars with Spain. Beneath this patriotic veneer, however, was a country withering under the costs of seemingly endless military commitments and ripped apart by doubts about the purpose of war and mistrust of state officials who advanced their own political interests through war at the expense of the people who had to fight and pay for it.

These misgivings are a powerful undercurrent in much of the literature of the period, even the most ostensibly patriotic works, but it is in the writings on war by soldier poets where they are most clearly pronounced. Fashioning themselves as servants of both Mars and Mercury (the god of war and the god of writing), Elizabethan soldier poets focused their war stories on the gritty realities of military campaigning, the price individuals paid for serving the state, and the difficulties of returning to civilian life. The book reconsiders some familiar writers like John Donne and Ben Jonson in the context of their military experiences and provides comprehensive studies of some important but underappreciated soldier poets like Thomas Churchyard, George Gascoigne, and John Harington.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"You may not always agree with McKeown's political and personal asides in English Mercuries, but you'll never see the literature he discusses in quite the same way."
--The Journal of Military History

English Mercuries turns a fresh, incisive, and informed eye on a literature usually read simply as jingoistic, proto-nationalistic paeans to the glory of war. McKeown, a veteran Marine and literature scholar, shows us poets torn by their experiences as soldiers, disenchanted with their queen, disgusted with war, and haunted by their dreams. English Mercuries opens a new and fascinating window on the early modern English culture of war; a view the reader will find surprisingly relevant to our present problems.

--Wayne E. Lee, Associate Professor of History, University of North Carolina

Adam McKeown finds in the writing of Elizabethan soldier-poets a sober and disenchanted counterpoint to the much-trumpeted patriotism of the age. English Mercuries is a work of moral and intellectual clarity, quietly compelling in its determination to peel away layers of historical myth in order to gauge English militarism by attending to the voices of veterans. It should not only reshape our understanding of individual writers from Thomas Churchyard to Ben Jonson, but also sharpen our appreciation of the complex, ambivalent view English citizens had of their government and its wars.

--David Lee Miller, Carolina Distinguished Professor of English & Comparative Literature, University of South Carolina

English Mercuries starts from McKeown's observation of how deeply affected every aspect of Elizabethan life was by war or the fear of war, and how many of the period's canonical authors served as soldiers. From this perspective, McKeown recenters our understanding of both familiar and unexpected texts into what could almost be called a parallel history of the period's literature. Some of the figures in McKeown's new canon are familiar, like John Donne or George Gascoigne; others are less so, like Thomas Churchyard; but McKeown argues convincingly for the importance and above all the richness and subtlety of war-writing in the period.

--William N. West, Northwestern University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826516633
  • Publisher: Vanderbilt University Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/2009
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author


Adam N. McKeown is Assistant Professor of English at Tulane University, where he teaches Shakespeare and Renaissance culture. He is also a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. His course, "Shakespeare in the Desert," taught in Djibouti during Operation Enduring Freedom, was featured on a National Public Radio segment.
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