“The Sad Prophet Jeremiah” as an Icon of Renaissance Melancholy


“The Sad Prophet Jeremiah” as an Icon of Renaissance Melancholy

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Although scholars have referred to the biographical aspect of The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, it is of course not biography in the modern sense of the term. Yet via the text’s disjunctive narrative arc the reader can follow a character unlike any other prophet in the Old Testament, a fully rounded character whose melancholy is moving and understandable. During the Renaissance, references to The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah and to Lamentations abound in popular and mainstream culture: poetry, emblem books, Bible illustrations, song books, musical transcriptions, jeremiads, sermons, theological treatises, woodcuts, etchings, engravings, paintings, and sculptures. While the reasons for this prophet’s seeming omnipresence may be varied, early in his prose-writing career Milton suggests why he considered Jeremiah so important: This is that which the sad Prophet Jeremiah laments, Wo is me my mother, that thou has borne me a man of strife, and contention. And although divine inspiration must certainly have been sweet to those ancient profets, yet the irksomenesse of that truth which they brought was so unpleasant to them, that every where they call it a burden. (The Reason of Church Government, 1642, 1.802–03)

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This study is a response to a continuing debate stimulated primarily by cultural materialist and new historicist claims that the early modern self was decentered and fragmented by forces in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. The current study enters this debate by rejecting claims of such radical discontinuity characterizing a "contingent" and " provisional" self incapable of unified subjectivity. The counterargument in The Self in Early Modern Literature: For the Common Good is that the intersection of Protestant vocation and Christian civic humanism, in support of the common good, was a stabilizing factor in early modern construction of self that resisted historical and cultural dislocations. The theoretical issues at stake are examined in an introductory chapter, followed by chapters discussing central aspects of five major early modern writers whose works variously incorporate elements in Protestant vocation and Christian civic humanism. These five writers have been chosen both for their importance in the English literary canon and for their respective roles in early modern culture: "Spenser: Persons Serving Gloriana" "Shakespeare's Henriad: Calling the Heir Apparent" "'Ego Videbo': Donne and the Vocational Self" "Jonson and the Truth of Envy" "Milton: Self-Defense and the Drama of Blame." The study ends with a brief postscript on the Bacon family in whom the combined forces of Protestant vocation and Christian civic humanism were uniquely expressed.
Renaissance Self-Fashioning is a study of sixteenth-century life and literature that spawned a new era of scholarly inquiry. Stephen Greenblatt examines the structure of selfhood as evidenced in major literary figures of the English Renaissance—More, Tyndale, Wyatt, Spenser, Marlowe, and Shakespeare—and finds that in the early modern period new questions surrounding the nature of identity heavily influenced the literature of the era. Now a classic text in literary studies, Renaissance Self-Fashioning continues to be of interest to students of the Renaissance, English literature, and the new historicist tradition, and this new edition includes a preface by the author on the book's creation and influence. "No one who has read [Greenblatt's] accounts of More, Tyndale, Wyatt, and others can fail to be moved, as well as enlightened, by an interpretive mode which is as humane and sympathetic as it is analytical. These portraits are poignantly, subtly, and minutely rendered in a beautifully lucid prose alive in every sentence to the ambivalences and complexities of its subjects."—Harry Berger Jr., University of California, Santa Cruz
The Prophet Jeremiah
  • See Joseph Antenucci Becherer
Milton’s House of God: The Invisible and Visible Church (Columbia: U of Missouri P
  • R Honeygosky
Rethinking the Turn to Religion in Early Modern English Literature: The Poetics of All Believers
  • Gregory Kneidel
Chapman and Dürer on Inspired Melancholy
  • Frances Yates
Of the 146 illustrations presented in the back of the book, 25 of them are images of melancholy angels or women. The following is the list of the numbered images, all 25 composed during the Renaissance
  • Raymond Klibansky
  • Erwin Panofsky
  • Fritz Saxl
  • Melancholy Saturn