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'I will have a grocer, and he shall do admirable things' (The Knight of the Burning Pestle). In what ways do the texts you have read on this module re-create or imagine early modern London?

'I will have a grocer, and he shall do admirable things' (The Knight of the Burning Pestle). In what ways do the texts you have read on this module re-create or imagine early modern London?

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Nuala McKay. Originally submitted for BA (JD) English-French at Queen University Belfast, with lecturer Dr Emma Rhatigan in the category of English Language and Literature
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Nuala McKay. Originally submitted for BA (JD) English-French at Queen University Belfast, with lecturer Dr Emma Rhatigan in the category of English Language and Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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03/18/2014

 
‘I will have a grocer, and he shall do admirable things’ (The Knight of theBurning Pestle). In what ways do the texts you have read on this module re-create or imagine early modern London?
In
Satyre I, On the Famous Voyage
, and
The Knight of the Burning Pestle
, anambivalent image of early modern London is created; a London that is simultaneouslyattractive and repulsive, a mixture of reality and imagination. Donne, Jonson andBeaumont have subjective opinions and paint a specific picture of London. However in their works we often get the impression that they are more concerned withshowing-off their talent than depicting London. Their texts are fictional creations,and emphasise this through self-reflexive statements. In Beaumont’s play thePrologue complains ‘we have never a boy to play him; everyone hath a part’ (L62).This forces the audience to consider theatricality and how the London represented isimaginary. In
Satyre I 
the images of London are permeated through comparisons. In
On the Famous Voyage
classical references neutralise the ‘stench’ (L9) of London’ssewers whilst reinforcing Jonson’s erudition.
The Knight of the Burning Pestle
‘is of the theatre theatrical’ (Zitner 19) and Beaumont manipulates genres to produce ‘avirtuoso play’ (Hattaway xix).
Satyre I 
imagines London via literature as the speaker reflects on his readingwhilst contemplating the city. The speaker imagines who he will meet in the city, before leaving his study. When he considers ‘Shall I leave all this constant company/And follow headlong, wild uncertaine thee?’ (L11-2) he imagines the city as a placeof immorality compared with the virtuous literary world. Yet that he considers the possibility of leaving shows a semi-conscious acceptance that he will go. ‘Histemptation is marked by the pun “fall”’ (Newman 211); he will fall down the moralladder on entering the city, but he is willing to do so. Donne’s satyre, portraying ‘awalk in the street with a wearisome companion’ (Newman 210), re-works Horace’s1
 
Satire IX 
and ‘just like Horace’s satirist, Donne’s is not without some self-irony; hisscholarly confinement is not presented as an idealised retreat invaded by an impetuouswastrel, but is itself wittily portrayed’ (Selden 60). However, Donne differentiateshimself from Horace with his ‘mixed style’ (Selden 60). This mixed style has an‘intensity of perception and feeling’ (Selden 60). Donne’s speaker evokes palpableimages of dress and behaviour which imply the ‘itchie lust’ (L38) of the companion.Images like the ‘muddy whore’ (L40), contrast with ‘God and with the Muses’ (L48)that the speaker also considers. There is a mixture of religious and carnal imagery,‘the serious and the ridiculous are similarly felt to overlap’ (Selden 60). In Horace’ssatire material wealth and sexual appetite are non-existent and apart from the‘plaintiff’ (L3,12) who shouts at the ‘scoundrel’ (L3,14), there is no mention of immorality. Overall the tone in Horace is less serious as the speaker’s annoyancewith his pest is so wittily described. Moreover the speaker is not competing withanyone; in the city he meets ‘a dear friend’ (L2,48) and he acknowledges that inMaecenas’ house ‘there’s a place for everyone’ (L2,32). In Donne’s satire there iscontinual competition as the speaker fears the ‘piert Coutrier’ (L19) and is torn between the moral and the immoral. Donne’s style is ‘marked by an incarnationalconviction’ (Selden 60); that is, an ‘allegorical debate between “spiritual endeavour and physical appetite”’ (Newman 210). The speaker’s temptation to ‘fall’exemplifies this tension between spiritual conscience and physical appetite. Thistension reflects Donne’s innovation, how he adapts the classics to re-create a newLondon. The speaker’s reading,which is presented as opposed to the urban world outside, subtly foreshadowshis walk through the city streets; his books are ‘God’s conduit,’ urban water  pipes as well as figuratively the channels through which knowledge flows, and2
 
the Aristotle to which he refers would seem to be the Politics since it teaches ‘of a cities mystique bodie or the body politic’ (Newman 210-11).The ancient poets shape the speaker’s vision of London; he understands the citythrough these ‘giddie fantastique poets’ (L10), indicating his representation of London will be fantastical. Newman concludes that the analogies between thespeaker’s books and London show that ‘not even the speaker’s study is a safe place of contemplative retreat cut off from the city’ (Newman 211). I disagree with Newman because the reader does not feel threatened in his study; his books provide ‘constantcompany’ (L11). Although he imagines London in his room, he is in total control of the city as he embellishes it with classical analogies; it is only when he leaves hisstudy that he feels really unsafe. Despite the fact that the speaker is himself sinful inhis room because he is imagining the vices, it is only when he is in the streets that heregards himself as immoral; ‘But how shall I be pardon’d my offence/ […] Now weare in the street’ (L65-7). This reflection of the city in his books suggests how thereader describes to us a scene from a city that he has read and re-imagined.Much of the information we get on London comes from metaphoriccomparisons, therefore it seems plausible that the trip is fantastical. ‘The urbansights-Morocco and the elephant are not seen and encountered, but compared to thehumorist,and ‘only in the last twenty-five lines do they meet anyone at all’(Newman 215). It is uncanny just how few people they meet even though in reality‘the streets were densely populated’ (Butler 19); they do not bump into any shadycharacters. Whilst there are references to a ‘plumpe muddy whore,’ and a ‘prostitute boy’ (L40), they only exist in metaphors created by the speaker, to exemplify thehumorist’s weaknesses. Therefore the ‘London streets are purged all but rhetoricallyof the city’s sexual low life […] and its motley crowd, which are not directly3

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