Poets and Politics: Reaction and Continuity in Irish Poetry 1558-1625 - Critical Conditions: Field Day Essays & Monographs S. v. 8 (Paperback)

by Marc Caball

Format: Paperback 280 pages

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A re-evaluation of the response of the intellectual elite of Irish bardic poets to the political, social and religious changes experienced during the Stuart period. In the absence of Gaelic administrative records, historians of early modern Ireland are fortunate to be able to draw upon a relatively large range of literary material in Irish from which to reconstruct contemporary mentalities and to investigate the nature of Gaelic reaction to the English crown's conquest and colonization of the island. During this period of upheaval, when the scene was set for a series of historical developments whose impact continues to reverberate today, bardic poets initiated a process of ideological re-evaluation which redefined indigenous notions of ethnicity, culture and religion. Modern scholarship has largely depicted the bardic elite as a static intellectual phenomenon and uncomprehending in the face of clearly modern English agrandissement. In the present study, an interpretative distinction is made between the formal bardic professional apparatus, which was conventional and formulaic in expression and outlook, and the influence of a modern dynamic evident in the work of some poets. While the continuity of the bardic tradition is acknowledged, this book highlights significant elements of intellectual and cultural reappraisal in bardic poetry of the period. It is demonstrated how two revolutionary concepts, those of faith and fatherland and the posited merger of Gaelic and Old English identities in a common Irish nationality, are developed by "fileadha" or by poets from a bardic background. It has become an axiom of Celtic scholarship to view James VI and his reign as the point of termination for the bardic tradition and, by extension, aristocratic Gaelic literary culture. Such thinking is challenged in the present study. It is more correct to speak of a fundamental refocusing of the cultural and social assumptions underlying Gaelic poetry. The continued vitality of themes first broached by bardic poets in the work of a new generation of non-professional gentlemen poets testifies to the modernisation of a medieval elite. This work is an original analysis of one of the core debates in Irish literary history that will appeal to academics and students of medieval Irish literature and Irish cultural studies.

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University of Notre Dame Press


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