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Raphael Lyne, Memory and Intertextuality in Renaissance Literature
by Daniel Moss

Lyne, Raphael. Memory and Intertextuality in Renaissance Literature. Cambridge UP, 2016. xii + 258 pp. ISBN: 978-1107083448. £64.99 cloth.

In Memory and Intertextuality in Renaissance Literature, Raphael Lyne takes a measured, controlled, but determined step into the busy intersection of cognitive science and literary studies, and his encouraging results just might point the interdisciplinary way forward. This study of ‘how English Renaissance writers imitated, and how they remembered’ (1) offers compelling accounts of poetry and drama by Shakespeare, Jonson, Wyatt, and Milton, yet the book’s ambition and ultimate success lies in the successful modelling of a fair and productive interdisciplinarity. Indeed, throughout the book, Lyne appears slightly more concerned with how poems and the ‘intertextual memories’ they contain might advance our understanding of cognitive processes, rather than the other way around. To be sure, he hopes his project will demonstrate how ‘ways of analysing memory inherited from cognitive science will prove suggestive as ways of better understanding intertextuality’, but his thesis proceeds immediately to the converse and dwells there: ‘At the same time, the literary examples will offer their own perspectives on what memory is — some of them are in a sense “about” this very thing. They are experiments of a sort, to be set alongside scientific experiments… They prove to be probing, sharp-edged examinations of how things are retained or forgotten’ (16). For literary scholars, then, Lyne’s book offers a chance to take the advancement of cognitive science seriously as one goal of literary criticism, yet many of this book’s most rewarding moments are still to be found in the more familiar activity of exploring the poems and plays of the Renaissance (and the prior texts that haunt them) in the company of a learned and thoughtful reader.

Lyne’s introduction provides a helpful survey of key texts comprising and responding to the cognitive turn in literary studies, distinguishing carefully between scholarship on the memory arts and studies of more passive forms of memorial recollection. Lyne positions himself between the two, aligning himself with Garrett Sullivan, Rhodri Lewis, and other recent advocates of a balanced approach to early modern conceptualizations of memory and forgetting. This opening chapter’s well-drawn, self-aware discussion of the cognitive turn is matched by the following chapter’s judicious account of more traditional debates over literary terminology — especially allusion as opposed to intertextuality — which finds Lyne engaging most productively with Gian Biagio Conte, Stephen Hinds, and other classicists willing to relocate some (but not all) of the imitative dynamic from author to text.

As he attempts to map the familiar terminology of imitation, allusion, and intertextuality onto fresh models of cognition and memory adapted from landmark experiments and ongoing scientific debate, Lyne wisely opts for a stereoscopic format: the first half of the book scrutinizes the micro-economies of ‘implicit and explicit poetic memory’, while the second more freely explores larger-scale intertextual processes as instances of ‘the operation of a memorial framework or rationale, a schema’ (126). Essentially, the first section deals with fragments and instances — a phrase or a line in Jonson or Shakespeare unmistakably reminiscent of a prior text, or a series of such reminiscences — while the second section addresses full-scale acts of creative translation, emulation, and adaptation. Both sections, however, present the same format: an introductory chapter on the cognitive models underlying and in some sense justifying the intertextual approach, followed by a series of exceptionally close readings of major literary texts, which manifest in turn various patterns of intertextual memory. The book’s deeper pattern, however, emerges from the sequence of exemplary texts chosen in each of the two phases of the argument, as Lyne begins with texts of limited scope featuring relatively uncomplicated allusions (selections from Jonson’s epigrams and Wyatt’s Petrarchan lyrics, respectively), then jumps to vastly more complex texts bound to exceed any neat explanation (Milton’s ‘Lycidas’ and Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra), before reining the argument in by returning to  simpler examples that again may serve as controlled ‘experiment[s]’ (Shakespeare’s procreative sonnets and Jonson’s Catiline).

The book’s ambitious third chapter — the first devoted to discussions of literature per se — attempts to demonstrate the expansive critical range of an intertextual approach informed by cognitive science’s distinction between implicit and explicit memory. Lyne takes the risk of juxtaposing his initial reconnaissance of several fairly straightforward Jonsonian epigrams with a headfirst plunge into Milton’s famously intricate ‘Lycidas,’ bridging the generic abyss between epigram and super-elegy with a reading of Jonson’s much-discussed ‘Epigram 101: Inviting a Friend to Supper.’ This promising schematic gets off to a slow start, however, due to Lyne’s questionable decision to limit his opening account of Jonson’s eclectic Epigrams to three of the encomia (Epigrams 70 and 99 to Roe and no. 102 to Pembroke), which transmit none of the inherent pleasure of the pioneering volume and little of its intertextual excitement. This is, after all, Lyne’s first major engagement with Renaissance texts, and while it is worthwhile to watch Jonson anchor a poem or two in the bedrock of Seneca, we will only get a just sense of the Epigrams as a vital and various intertextual project if we observe him working in less slavish modes. Of course, ‘Inviting a Friend to Supper’ has always dazzled readers, but Lyne’s pivotal discussion of the famous epigram never quite frees itself from prior criticism. Perhaps Thomas Greene’s landmark reading of Jonson’s poem in The Light in Troy casts too long a shadow for Lyne’s cognitive approach to provide much new light, and his account trails off into the noncommittal observation that ‘within the spontaneous flickering of associative connections, there emerges, and perhaps in Jonson always stirs, the possibility of purposeful deployment’ (56).

That the ensuing foray into Milton’s ‘Lycidas’ proves much more satisfying than the discussion of Jonson, despite the impossibility of arriving at any comprehensive account of so rich a text in a mere half-chapter, is largely due to Lyne’s venturing away from the existing criticism. Although he maps his discussion of ‘Lycidas’ onto John Carey’s annotations in the Longman edition and glances from time to time at helpful scholarship by Stella Revard, Paul Alpers, and others on local cruxes in Milton’s poem, here we finally see Lyne reading Renaissance poetry and its intertexts by his own lights, and the rewards are considerable. As the close reading takes us step by step through several of the most intricately allusive passages in ‘Lycidas’, a pattern develops by which the poet appears at key moments to seize strategic control over the semi-conscious ebbs and flows of intertextuality, as for instance when he relocates the neglectful nymphs of Theocritus and Virgil to the decidedly English landscape of Mona and Deva. We may question, upon each iteration of this pattern, whether the poet has really imposed via ‘explicit memory’ his allusive will on the emergent intertexts of ‘implicit memory’, but after a number of examples (and an instructive glance into the poet’s compositional process via the Trinity manuscripts), we can hardly deny that Milton remains ‘one step ahead at every turn’ of what ‘the tools for intertextual analysis derived from the cognitive science of memory’ can tell us (66). This first peak in the critical framework of Memory and Intertextuality in Renaissance Literature follows from Lyne’s frank and responsible sense that any model of intertextuality is bound to fall short of Milton’s superlative level of control over his poetry’s sources and known analogues. This is not to pretend that Milton exceeds all intertextuality; it is rather to acknowledge that he responds to the workings of the emergent intertexts of his poem’s ‘implicit memory’ by ‘incorporating’ and ‘marshalling’ them, ‘put[ting the poem’s] sources in their places by putting them in its place’ (63, 64). Lyne’s Milton, then, seems instinctually aware of the workings of implicit memory—or in any case aware of the frequency with which potentially unruly intertexts infiltrate his poetry—but he compensates, corrects, and ultimately perfects the intertextual framework of ‘Lycidas’ through an editorial process of unrivalled perspicacity.

After the exhilaration of watching Milton outperform existing critical and cognitive models, the strictly limited scope of the following chapter, treating Shakespeare’s procreative sonnets as a discrete sequence, seems understandable and even urgent as a recuperation of Lyne’s central claim that ‘the distinction between implicit and explicit memory… will offer a way of rethinking the relationship between unintentional intertextuality, and intentional allusion’ (14). For Lyne, the certainty of Shakespeare’s equal debt to Erasmus’s famous letter urging marriage on the one hand and to Ovid’s Narcissus myth on the other provides a perfectly controlled ‘experiment’ in close reading, revealing ‘a restless process of thinking that manoeuvres between and around its available material without really settling on an outcome’ (76). After due consideration of intermediary intertexts like John Clapham’s Narcissus and Shakespeare’s own Venus and Adonis, Lyne embarks on a grand tour of the procreative sonnets, quoting each in its entirety and identifying every flicker of association between the two sources. Each stop on the tour is worthwhile on its own account—Lyne finds as much in the less familiar poems as in nos. 1, 2, 12, and 15—and ultimately the sonnets reveal ‘the traces, and even the presence, of an implicit intertextual memory’ (111). Even so, the chapter is perhaps most valuable for its demonstration of the attritional aspect of too many referrals, however subconscious or implicit, to the same sources. So much time spent with a Shakespeare addicted to Erasmus and Ovid makes us long indeed for the ‘summer’s day’ of Sonnet 18 and the intratextual patterns that dominate the rest of the sequence.

The book’s second section opens with a widening of critical scope, as Lyne proposes a reconciliation between schematic and fragmentary models of memory, which ordinarily compete in cognitive theory, so as to establish a working complementarity for the purposes of intertextual methodology. For Lyne, this move enables the critic ‘to be alert to moments when a schematic rationale (of why certain elements of a source are retained and some are not) recedes in favor of a fragmentary rationale’ (124). Chief among the benefits of this more expansive approach is that it helps us to consider ‘forgetting [as] part of creative imitation’ (120), a concept which forms the basis for the following chapter on Wyatt’s adaptations of Petrarch’s Canzoniere. Seeking to move beyond ‘the imitation/translation, fidelity/infidelity binaries’ (136) that inform but also impede much scholarship on Wyatt, Lyne resumes the extreme close reading of his Shakespeare chapter, mapping Wyatt’s departures from his Italian source onto a ‘personal schema’ that prefers ‘complexity, as if for its own sake’ to translational accuracy (138). The Wyatt emerging from these comparative readings is partly the amorous but sardonic courtier familiar from many critical portraits, but he is also engaged in ‘a meditative experiment’, (136) constantly aware of how much he is forgetting as he translates ‘the delicate balances of Petrarch’ to his own paranoid place and time (140).

As with the book’s earlier jump from Jonson’s epigrams to Milton’s symphonic elegy, the next chapter’s leap from Wyatt’s nuanced variations on Petrarch to Shakespeare’s colossal reimagining of Plutarch in Antony and Cleopatra reads less as a logical transition than as Lyne’s drastic raising of the critical stakes. Once again the result is intertextual criticism at its finest. Lyne dances between the heavy intentionality of traditional accounts of allusion on the one hand and the improbable agentlessness of pure intertextuality on the other, demonstrating that throughout the play ‘the character is apparently the agent involved in remembering and misremembering Plutarch’ (179, italics added). Shakespeare is less the play’s puppet-master than the benign observer and recorder of a ‘work of remembering and forgetting [that] is plural and communal’ (160). This formulation might sound safely noncommittal were it not for the universality of the effect, as Lyne traces it through major and minor figures (Antony himself but also the pirate Menas), earth-shaking and inconsequential events (Cleopatra reconciling herself to the asp but also Ventidius halting his troops), famous and forgettable speeches (‘The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne’ but also ‘Fulvia thy wife first came into the field’). At times, Lyne allows the strangely subjective quality of historical memory in this play to register in real time; discussing the notorious passage in The Life of Antony in which Cleopatra tests her poisons on condemned prisoners, he remarks, ‘This passage of Plutarch seems to me so familiar, so much a part of Antony and Cleopatra, that it is a counter-intuitive surprise that its only presence comes in Caesar’s terse words’ (176). Such personal touches give texture to this powerful account of how ‘memorial activity in literature casts light on memory in general, exploring the ways in which transmission, subjectivity, and preconceptions affect what is retained and how it is valued’ (180).

After the sheer magnitude of Antony and Cleopatra, Lyne’s choice to devote the final chapter of his study to a single speech in Jonson’s Catiline represents a return to scale, matching his earlier step down from ‘Lycidas’ and its library of sources to Shakespeare’s procreative sonnets and their pair of intertexts. Keeping the metamorphic Jonson of the mature comedies offstage, Lyne selects the extreme instance of Cicero’s notoriously long speech precisely because of its ‘lack of deviation, the gruelling closeness of the play to its source’ (213). Once again, Lyne risks depriving us of the Jonson we know and crave in favour of one we can follow more exactly, trusting with self-aware irony that his readers will attend more patiently to Cicero’s speech than the original audience. As it happens, in the case of Catiline the critical yield justifies the sheer attrition of reading a close analysis of the adapted speech alongside the Latin original. Lyne discovers a Jonson who ‘is both assertive and self-effacing. At the same time he gives up the authority to speak in his scene, while he also wrests famous words from their original source and claims them as his own’ (227). By attending so closely to this meticulous Jonson of shading and nuance, Lyne provides new critical access to a play too easily dismissed as sheer miscalculation by a truculent poet.

While this closing account of Jonson the tragedian is tidy and persuasive, it harkens back to the discussion of Jonson’s encomiastic epigrams at the beginning of the book’s critical sequence. In both cases, Lyne relies on texts securely anchored in their sources to provide the controlled ‘experiments’ through which his intertextual approach can contribute as much to cognitive theory as to literary study. The reader, however, is bound to inquire after the unmoored, excited and exciting Jonson of The Alchemist or Bartholomew Fair, whose intertextual risk-taking everywhere threatens to spin out of control, yet remains under or at least returns to control. After all, Lyne has already justified his readers’ quiet but inevitable longing for risk through his rich, provocative discussions of ‘Lycidas’ and Antony and Cleopatra, which offer glimpses of the greatest poets working at levels of intertextual and cognitive complexity far exceeding our present models, whether derived from the laboratory or the library. Perhaps Spenser, from whose Gardens of Adonis Lyne quotes briefly at the end of his discussion of Milton (73), is the perfect candidate for the next book. With his strong intertextual vision augmented and refined by his engagement here with cognitive models of memory, how much might Lyne discover among the intertextual copia of The Shepheardes Calender and The Faerie Queene?


Daniel Moss

Southern Methodist University


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Cite as:

Daniel Moss, "Raphael Lyne, Memory and Intertextuality in Renaissance Literature," Spenser Review 48.1.10 (Winter 2018). Accessed February 20th, 2018.
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