"Carew's Monarchy of Wit,"

Critic: Diana Benet
Source: "The Muses Common-Weale": Poetry and Politics in the Seventeenth Century, edited by Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth, University of Missouri Press, 1988, pp. 80-91.
Criticism about: Thomas Carew (1595?-1640)

[(essay date 1988) In the following essay, Benet contends that Carew appropriated the absolutist rhetoric of Kings Charles and James in envisioning himself as sole arbiter of aesthetic judgment.]

Nothing seems further from reality than poetic compliments whose extravagance time has exposed as pure friendship. Beyond the poet's affability, however, some of Thomas Carew's poems to or about fellow authors disclose important aspects of his cultural perspective. Reading these poems in the context of the writings and speeches of Kings James and Charles, one has the sense of witnessing a new social phenomenon resulting from the convergence of political and cultural currents. These currents are complex, but the immediate effect of their confluence seems startlingly simple: the populace has discovered its voice and is using it as never before. Though this development sounds innocuous, neither Thomas Carew, courtier and coterie poet, nor the Stuart kings are pleased to hear the murmurings from below. To the kings and the poet, the new voice signals social upheaval: they see a conflict emerge between an authoritative voice and a dissident voice raised to usurp its hegemony.

James and Charles reacted to this phenomenon by reiterating certain principles, convictions arising from a master idea and meant to silence their people and, especially, their parliaments. In the political context, such a reaction, though repressive, is not surprising; in the literary domain, however, it is remarkable. A number of Thomas Carew's poems transfer his monarchs' principles into the world of letters, reflecting the royal attitude that the public voice threatens the usurpation of rightful authority. Consistently in these poems, Carew appropriates the language and the categories of the existing political and social orders, reorienting them to construct a monarchy of wit based on absolutist Stuart principles. Imitation is supposed to be a sincere form of flattery: Carew's appropriation of James's and Charles's rhetoric and political strategies would seem to be a valorization of their state. However, since the kings' absolutist stance depends on their claims of being unique sources of authority, imitating them produces a challenge to, rather than an affirmation of, their rank and governance. Covertly, Carew's poems subvert the state of his Stuart kings by positing an alternate order of authority governed by poet-kings.

In the realm of literature, two of the major factors that contributed to the emergence of a diverse public ready to express its views are well known: the growth of the popular theater and the increasing readiness of authors to publish their work made everyone a potential commentator. Even King James realized that the publication of Basilikon Doron made the royal book "subject to every mans censure, as the current of his affection leades him."1 In the political world, also, the general public gained access to materials bound to provoke discussion. The first coranto was published in December 1620 and, though the publication of domestic news was illegal during this period, ways of leaking State information were devised. Parliamentary deliberations were supposed to be secret, but members circulated manuscripts of their own speeches. When these were pirated and offered for sale, they achieved a wider circulation, as did summaries of debates and other parliamentary business. Given such stimulation, it is hardly surprising that the "rabble," as Thomas Carew styled it, seemed to grow loquacious. In 1621, James twice issued proclamations intended to stop public discussion of state affairs, complaining, "There is at this tyme a more licentious Passage of lavish Discourse and bould Censure in matters of State than hath been heretofore or is fitt to be suffered."2

The freedom and limitation of speech had long concerned the English monarchy, inspiring Henry VIII in the 1530s to extend "the definition of treason to cover the spoken word."3 Elizabeth and James expected their parliaments to speak only on subjects they specified and prohibited parliamentary discussion of foreign affairs and religion. James especially emphasized the impropriety, not to say the illegality, of discussion of his regal power: "As to dispute what God may doe is Blasphemie. ... So it is sedition in subjects to dispute what a King may do in the height of his power." At different times, he reminded his people of God's law that "Thou shalt not rayle upon the Judges, neither speak evill of the ruler of thy people" and told a parliament that "Men should bee ashamed to make shew of the quicknesse of their wits here, either in taunting, scoffing, or detracting the Prince of State in any point."4 Charles was as attentive as his predecessors to the liberties and limits of his subjects' speech, but the three rulers faced a losing battle. In Elizabeth's day, the House of Commons "moved from a position of asking to speak their minds on issues put before them without fear of punishment, to a position of demanding the right to initiate discussion and influence policy on any issue they chose." Lawrence Stone remarks that by the 1620s the House of Commons had progressed from the desire to moot particular subjects to the basic question of freedom of speech.5 It is no wonder that, as James and Charles heard their subjects encroaching on territory they deemed their own, they articulated a full complex of attitudes about speech in relation to authority.

Regardless of the issues that elicited them, the statements of the kings from whose courts Carew wrote reveal some consistent assumptions about speech and authority. These are implicit in the ancient political metaphor of head and body, which James used in The Trew Law of Free Monarchies: "As the discourse and direction flowes from the head, and the execution according thereunto belongs to the rest of the members, every one according to their office: so it is betwixt a wise Prince, and his people."6 Since only the head has a tongue, only the head is gifted with the power of genuine speech. And "direction" as well as discourse belongs to the head of the body politic, again, because the mind resides in the head. As far as James and Charles are concerned, authority in the State belongs only to the voice of the king; secondarily, authoritative speech belongs to those officials whom the king empowers with his singular authority. Occasionally, he empowers a group such as parliament to discuss certain topics; but such discussion in the absence of royal authority he regards as political insubordination. It seems as perverse to him as if talk were to issue suddenly from his leg. From this self-serving cluster of kingly ideas followed the corollaries whose aim was to silence the free and unwelcome expression of popular and parliamentary views: the denial that unauthorized voices are based on understanding or vital knowledge and the charge that they subvert a hierarchy based on the indisputable power and wisdom of the king.

Fundamental to the royal view of authoritative speech is the equation of comprehension with rank; explicitly or implicitly, the Crown maintained that understanding and, therefore, responsible discourse are related to status in the government hierarchy. King James's insistence on his subjects' inability to understand the essence of his power is well known: "If there fall out a question that concerns my Prerogative or mystery of State, deale not with it," he ordered the judges in the Star Chamber, "for they are transcendent matters." Charles's attitude echoed his father's. Responding to a parliamentary remonstrance in 1628, he claimed that the ability to understand key issues belonged to him alone: "Now I see you are fallen upon points of state which belong to me to understand better than you, and I must tell you that you do not understand so much as I thought you had done."7 The equation of rank with understanding is given a clever twist and translated into the world of letters by Carew in "To my much honoured friend Henry Lord Cary of Lepington upon his translation of Malvezzi."

This poem elicits little attention today since neither Malvezzi's Romulus and Tarquin nor Henry Cary himself is of interest to literary criticism. Indeed, even in his own day the poet believed the translator could hope only for a small audience. It seems, at first, that in his poem Carew attributes the limited appeal of his friend's translation to its subject: Malvezzi had to learn "vulgar Italian," the demotic idiom, before he wrote his book. Even so, his material is "so sublime," his mode of expression "so new," that he is "by a good / Part of his Natives hardly understood." It stands to reason that an excellent translation will duplicate the sublimity and novelty that puzzled the Italian public and have the same effect on the English.

But Carew's consoling explanation to his friend is more complex, and typical of his attitude toward the public world at large:

You must expect no happier fate, 'tis true
He is of noble birth, of nobler you:
So nor your thoughts nor words fit common eares,
He writes, and you translate, both to your Peeres.

(ll. 13-16)8

At first it seems that the poet locates the problem of the work's reception in the social class of its author and translator. With considerable cleverness, he seems to have "proved" that understanding is a function of social rank: the English lord, because he is a peer, understood the Italian marquesse while most of his compatriots did not, though he condescended to write in their ordinary speech. Similarly, Lord Cary's translation will not be generally understood; because of his social status he, like Malvezzi, speaks a language different from the language of common people. Only his peers, for whom the poet speaks, can understand him.

But the latter statement brings us up short, of course, and apprises us of the poet's covert agenda: he appropriates the terminology that defines the existing social system to posit a rival, challenging system. As one who understands Malvezzi and Henry Cary, Thomas Carew speaks for their "Peeres"; obviously, then, peerage in this system of aristocracy is not a matter of social rank. The true nobility of Malvezzi and Cary, the poet suggests, consists of the novelty, sublimity, and elegance of their thoughts and words; his own nobility consists of his understanding and appreciation. Their important titles are not lord or marquesse, but translator and author--titles that Thomas Carew, as poet or author, can match. The lower classes in the caste system the poet creates are all those, titled or untitled, who do not understand, at least, the talents or achievements of their superiors: certain "thoughts and words" are too large, literally, for ears of congenital smallness. Initially, it seems as if the poet's emphasis on nobility is a crude compliment to Henry Cary's social rank; in fact, it is a subtle compliment to his native talent and to his accomplishment as a translator.

The common public will not praise Lord Cary's work because they will not understand it, but this judicious discretion was not typical in state affairs. More often, Carew's kings stressed their subjects' ignorance as a compelling argument for their silence. James sought to control his people's discussion of political business because it was "of high Nature unfit for vulgar Discourse," "Matter above the Reach and Calling that to good and dutiful Subjects appertaineth."9 Charles tried to stop the impeachment of Buckingham in the House of Commons by arguing his superior knowledge against the members' supposed ignorance: he "himself doth know better than any man living," he declared, the character of the Duke.10 When dissidence persisted, the kings protested, as an offense against the reasonable established order, the lifting of unqualified voices against those invested with authority. James warned one of his parliaments that they should "not meddle with the maine points of Government; that is my craft. ... I must not be taught my office." Charles complained in 1626 that eminent state counselors had been "censured and traduced in this house [of Commons], by men whose years and education cannot attain to that depth." Three years later, he professed astonishment that "young lawyers" in the House "take upon them to decry the opinions of the Judges."11 This kind of hierarchical transgression, a topsy-turvy state of affairs wherein ignorance questions or contradicts wisdom, figures significantly in Carew's poems to Ben Jonson and to William Davenant.

Carew's poem to Jonson, "Upon Occasion of his Ode of defiance annext to his Play of the new Inne," opens with an image of authority and points to its attempted usurpation:

Tis true (deare Ben:) thy just chastizing hand
Hath fixt upon the sotted Age a brand
To their swolne pride, and empty scribbling due,
It can nor judge, nor write.

By virtue of his "just chastizing hand," Jonson is a judge who has fairly deliberated and meted out punishment. His decision to mark the offenders by branding discloses their status, since that form of punishment was reserved for criminals of the lowest class. The crimes that revealed their true nature (despite the status they might claim in society) and merited the humiliating chastisement are obvious: they attempted the usurpation of functions properly undertaken by their superiors. Empty scribblers have presumed to write, and "sotted" heads, minds "foolish, doltish, and stupid" (OED), have presumed to judge. If Charles was shocked that young lawyers offered their opinions against experienced judges, we can only imagine his consternation if convicted malefactors had spoken out to judge their judges. Such an instance of insubordination Carew perceives in Jonson's situation. The entire age has meddled in matter above its reach and calling. The populace has tried to usurp the authority belonging only to those who can judge and write.

Carew's contempt for the public voice is evident in the way he hides his agreement with its appraisal of The New Inn. The age cannot judge or write,

                                              and yet 'tis true
Thy commique Muse from the exalted line
Toucht by thy Alchymist, doth since decline
From that her Zenith, and fortells a red
And blushing evening, when she goes to bed.

(ll. 4-8)

As far as the poet is concerned, the benighted public has no right to express its views even if, as it happens, they coincide with his own and are, therefore, correct. Carew cleverly manages not to identify his evaluation with that of the incompetent public: by not commenting at all on The New Inn, he avoids echoing the voice he has discredited. In spite of this maneuver, however, his criticism of Jonson's entire dramatic work aims at its present nadir, his reference to a "blushing evening" clearly indicating the shame of a humiliating failure, despite the compliments that follow.

Carew's magisterial remarks on the "sotted Age," his confident overview of Jonson's work, and the reasonable distinctions he perceives among his friend's plays all declare an authority equal to the "just chastizing hand" of Jonson. But when he suggests that he is a better judge than the emotionally involved father of the works under discussion, his claim to power is complete. He urges Jonson to accept from his superior a version of what he would not accept (quite properly) from his inferiors: that his plays, "though one brain strike / Soules into all ... are not all alike. "Having asserted his authority, Carew proceeds to judgment:

Why should the follies then of this dull age
Draw from thy Pen such an immodest rage
As seemes to blast thy (else-immortall) Bayes,
When thine owne tongue proclaimes thy ytch of praise?
Such thirst will argue drouth. No, let be hurld
Upon thy workes, by the detracting world
What malice can suggest.

(ll. 23-29)

If the thickheaded public tried to usurp the judicial office, Jonson's fault was to acknowledge the decision handed down from a kangaroo court. Worse, his "ytch of praise" ceded to the "dull age" the power to grant or withhold something he prized. In effect, and for all his "defiance," Jonson submitted to a body whose judicial capacity he and the poet deny.

Carew goes on to demonstrate that Jonson can never hope to be justly valued by the pugnacious crowd: while the mob scorns the playwright as a plagiarizer, the poet honors him as a conqueror of foreign powers bringing home "rich spoyles" (ll. 33-42). Carew's language, making Jonson a king winning trophies, demonstrates that in thought, language, and discrimination, a major chasm separates the general public and true poets. Since the chasm exists, Carew advises Jonson to look to the future. "Let others glut on the extorted praise / Of vulgar breath, trust thou to after days":

Thou art not of their ranke, the quarrell lyes
Within thine owne Virge, then let this suffice,
The wiser world doth greater Thee confesse
Then all men else, then Thy selfe onely lesse.

(ll. 47-50)

He enjoins Jonson to acknowledge the distinctions separating him from vulgar writers, and "the wiser world" from vulgar audiences. A surfeit of praise is available to scribblers of the hastily written trash enjoyed by the ignorant public. But the hunger for commendation that Jonson revealed in his "Ode" should be satisfied by the esteem of the "wiser world." How the elder poet must have hated Carew's imitation of his own manner: the seamless combination of criticism, praise, and advice is delivered in accents as measured, deliberate, and conclusive as any of Jonson's.

In Carew's view, there can be no such thing as universal acclaim: the gap between the vulgar and the wiser worlds is so wide that they cannot approve or applaud the same things. He concedes that the louder voice belongs to the witless rout. But ultimately, he asserts, the truly powerful voice belongs to Jonson's (and his own) small class, whose authority will be upheld by "after dayes," long after the applause of the mob has been forgotten. The poet stresses the ignorance of the public and its incapacity to judge, not to suggest that Jonson is above appraisal, but to assert his own claim to deliver the authoritative verdict. Displacing the public voice that would usurp the privilege of making literary judgments, he claims a unique authority for those who can judge and write, for true poets.

When Charles ordered the House of Commons to stop prying into Buckingham's affairs, he suggested that in a well-ordered state, people who do not understand should acknowledge their limitation and allow themselves to be guided; therefore, he told the Commons to "cease [its] unparliamentary inquisition" and to "commit unto his Majesty's care, and wisdom, and justice" any necessary reformations.12 In "To my worthy Friend, M. D'Avenant, Upon his Excellent Play, The Just Italian", Carew exalts as desirable a similar popular docility in literary affairs and appropriates his monarch's all-knowing and angry paternalism. He dispatches quickly with the great merit of Davenant's play to concentrate on his real subject, the public who disliked it. The age, Carew believes,

Requires a Satyre. What starre guides the soule
Of these our froward times, that dare controule,
Yet dare not learne to judge? When didst thou flie
From hence, cleare, candid Ingenuitie?
I have beheld, when pearch'd on the smooth brow
Of a faire modest troope, thou didst allow
Applause to slighter workes; but then the weake
Spectator, gave the knowing leave to speake.
Now noyse prevailes, and he is tax'd for drowth
Of wit, that with the crie, spends not his mouth.

(ll. 4-14)

From the beginning, the poem's diction suggests political confrontation: though "Garlands" "crowne" Davenant's "triumphant worke" (ll. 2-4), the times "dare" to criticize it. The age's preference for satire is only one indication of its contentious nature. Calling the times "froward," Carew accuses his obtuse contemporaries of being refractory or ungovernable, a trait whose relevance to theater-going is not immediately clear. The people challenge and criticize freely, without any knowledge of standards for judgment, as a consequence merely of their malevolent disposition to belittle and censure. This verbal aggressiveness Carew describes as a new attitude, contrasting the present public with a past audience characterized by "Ingenuitie." The word means "straightforwardness" and "sincerity," but in the seventeenth century, its primary sense was related to social class. The first definition the OED cites is "the condition of being free-born; of honourable extraction or station." As he did in the poem to Jonson, Carew implies that the public behaves like the social dregs. The vanished audience he misses was "a faire modest troope," its gentility and modesty evident in the applause it gave to plays "slighter" than Davenant's. But primarily the audience was genteel and modest, as far as Carew is concerned, because it knew and kept its humble place; the "weake Spectator," acknowledging his limitations, deferred to the opinion of the "knowing." Meekly accepting the judgment of his betters, he kept his lowly mouth shut.

But now the public forgets its well-deserved modesty, pretends to have wit, and produces "noyse"--an annoying and meaningless eruption of sound. Carew expatiates on the public ignorance and tastelessness with a zest exceeding the "scorne, and Pity" he declares it merits (ll. 15-32). In the final consolation he offers Davenant, he explains his vehemence:

Repine not Thou then, since this churlish fate
Rules not the stage alone; perhaps the State
Hath felt this rancour, where men great and good,
Have by the Rabble beene misunderstood.
So was thy Play; whoose cleere, yet loftie straine,
Wisemen, that governe Fate, shall entertaine.

Obviously, Carew wishes he could organize his world according to the ideal scheme also favored by his monarchs: a public accepting the guidance of a few "understanders," trusting the judgment of that overclass entirely. It is against this ideal hierarchy that the "froward" audience of Davenant's play rebelled. Perhaps the unspecificity of Carew's remarks about the "great and good" statesmen reflects a necessary discretion; certainly, it facilitates his equation of literary and governmental affairs. The criticism of Davenant's play as an "impious reach" or conception (l. 23) is the equivalent of the criticism of blameless state officials when their "reach" or "policy" (OED) has been misunderstood. As the weak spectator tries to usurp the critical function of the knowing in the theater, the rabble tries to usurp the evaluative capacity of men able in governmental matters. Carew makes the acts of rebellion seem equal. But, as if the elevation of literary affairs to the level of government were not subversive enough, he suggests that the authorities facing the insurrections are not equal. "Men great and good" may be on a par with "Wisemen"; but the first rule only the State while the second "governe Fate." The stage, a relatively small and insignificant sphere, is left to the churls. In this poem, Carew almost admits that the theater is part of the only state whose power concerns him; he almost declares the supremacy of the literary domain governed by wise men like himself.

James objected to his subjects' unrestricted speech as a direct challenge to his authority, as a "breach of prerogative royal," and Charles was equally alert to the threat: "under the pretense of privilege and freedom of speech ... [the Commons] take liberty to declare against all authority of Council and Courts at their pleasure."13 But ultimately, as dissidents insisted on their ability to understand and their right to speak, Charles could respond only with renewed and more specific restrictions. When the parliament of 1628-1629 persisted in discussing the Church's Articles, he had them printed with a declaration stating his intention to silence "any unnecessary disputations, altercations, or questions ... which may nourish faction both in the Church and Commonwealth." To avoid the peril of faction, the king restricted all deliberation on the Articles to authorized Convocation. His aim, he explained later, was to "tie and restrain all opinions to the sense of those Articles, that nothing might be left for private fancies and innovations."14 Like his monarchs, Carew saw danger in the expression of "private fancies." Imitating the autocratic urge to control unauthorized interpretation, in "To the Reader of Master William Davenant's Play", he reveals a desire to impose his judgment that parallels his monarchs' desire to rule absolutely.

Addressing the member of the public, the poet takes the talkative bull by the horns to instruct him on how to read Davenant's The Witts:

It hath been said of old, that Playes are Feasts,
Poets the Cookes, and the Spectators Guests,
The Actors Waitors: From this Simile
Some have deriv'd an unsafe libertie
To use their Judgements as their tastes, which chuse
Without controule, this Dish, and that refuse:
But Wit allowes not this large Priviledge,
Either you must confesse, or feele it's edge.

Carew substitutes, for an image of unrestricted sociability, an image of political power. The trouble with Ben Jonson's simile, according to him, is that it inspired some people to confuse taste with judgment; it caused them to confuse a social situation in which compulsion is irrelevant with an intellectual situation in which certain strictures must apply. This misunderstanding has resulted in "an unsafe libertie." Carew's use of "unsafe," surely a word too strong in this context, may hint at a concern with a situation far more important than current approaches to the stage; it suggests that he sees liberty "without controule" in any sphere as a threat to desirable order. Against the potential anarchy of individual freedom, he introduces the powerful figure of a monarch. Wit is personified as a stern king who does not grant individuals the right to deny his power. He demands that it be acknowledged, if not appreciated. The phrase "feele it's edge" suggests that too much liberty is "unsafe" because this king has a sharp punishment for rebels who resist his control.

It is the poet, of course, who tries to curb the excessive freedom assumed by incompetent readers who think they can judge literary work as they judge sausage. As the dictator of rules for aesthetic judgment, Carew insists that everything is not open to individual interpretation but has a character or quality that is indisputable, given perceptive powers acute enough: "Things are distinct, and must the same appeare / To every piercing Eye, or well-tun'd Eare" (ll. 11-12). He will permit individual taste and personal preference only so long as "the Good / And Bad, be by your Judgment understood" (ll. 19-20). Finally, after devoting twenty lines to these stern, restrictive cautions to the reader, Carew turns to the play that occasioned the poem:

But if, as in this Play, where with delight
I feast my Epicurean appetite
With rellishes so curious, as dispence
The utmost pleasure to the ravisht sense,
You should professe that you can nothing meet
That hits your taste, either with sharpe or sweet,
But cry out, 'tis insipid; your bold Tongue
May doe it's Master, not the Author wrong;
For Men of better Pallat will by it
Take the just elevation of your Wit.

(ll. 21-30)

Claiming superior powers of discrimination, Carew assures the reader that even if he exercises only his taste, he will find something in Davenant's play to his liking. The reader need not concern himself with evaluation; the poet gives him the authorized judgment. In spite of the dicta of Wit, the reader may still think he has the freedom to judge the merit of this work published to the world at large. But Carew "allowes not this large Priviledge" and threatens accordingly. The reader is free only to agree with him, the monarch whose authority in the domain of wit is unquestionable. The bold tongue that dares to disagree can hurt only its own master by revealing his dim-witted inferiority. Using his "edge" to threaten readers with their exposure as tasteless and indiscriminate, Carew devises a way to "controule" public liberty.

The writings of James and Charles suggest that, in spite of how often they were challenged, they assumed a society divided into two classes: the small elite they headed, whose power and authority derived from the royal rank, knowledge, and wisdom; and a huge underclass, whose submissiveness should logically follow from their station and their presumed ignorance. Such a perspective came naturally to men who believed they ruled by divine right. When dissident voices angered the Stuarts, subjecting them to criticism, hampering their freedom to act, or trying to define and therefore circumscribe their power, the kings tried to suppress them as threats to their authority. The poems I have discussed suggest that Thomas Carew also assumed a two-class division: the small elite of fine authors that he headed (in his own estimation), king-authors endowed with knowledge, wisdom, and taste; and the rest of the populace, good subjects when they permitted themselves to be guided, bad when they expressed their own unfounded opinions.

Assuming that authority should be the natural right of a talented and intellectual elite, Carew responded to, or even anticipated, the popular voice raised in criticism against his friends. Jealously protecting the hegemony in literary affairs that he believed should belong to himself and his artistic peers, he wrote poems that are political statements as much as they are consolations or compliments. These reveal a strong contempt for a socially heterogeneous public expressing its views despite its supposed ignorance; simultaneously, they disclose a covert hostility toward the Stuart sociopolitical system. Two opposed groups confront each other in Carew's poems: the commons and the peers; those who cannot judge or write and the wiser world; the weak and the knowing spectators; the rabble and the wisemen; the indiscriminate and the men of better palate. The poet points to the attempted overturning of the hierarchical distinctions implied by inferior and superior, ignorant and wise, the rabble and the great with images of social insubordination that are themselves gestures of rebellion: low-class offenders censure their judge, the mob criticizes men "great and good," and libertines defy a king. But for Carew, the rout and the rabble who rebel against their betters are the ignorant and indiscriminate in every social echelon. Their superiors are the talented authors.

The complex reasons why Carew would wish to undermine, in however abstract a fashion, the social structure on which he depended cannot be determined fully. But we know that he was dismissed in 1616 by Sir Dudley Carleton, his patron, for having "foolishly put to paper certain aspersions" on the character of Carleton and his wife. At least once, in other words, Carew had responded with a form of verbal aggression to a situation in which he felt at a disadvantage. He was certainly at a social disadvantage as a courtier. He "came of good family," but the recent knighthoods of his father and his elder brother would have been unimpressive at the Stuart court. The poems discussed above suggest that he was very conscious of the difference between the superiority he assumed for himself as a poet and the inferiority others assumed for him in the social hierarchy. The poems also demonstrate that, between the time Carleton dismissed him and the time he wrote these poems, Carew improved his "talent for adroitly managing his own repressed competitiveness, for making gestures that covertly challenge the powerful, even while they gratify them."15 It must have delighted Carew to flout the intellectual and aesthetic inferiority of people who assumed social superiority to himself, and to get away with it.

Speaking for his author-peers, the wiser world, and the discriminating, Carew claimed absolute authority in the world of letters. In this regard, he was bound to be more successful than his rulers. Carew appropriated the absolutist rhetoric of his kings to create a monarchy whose power surpasses theirs. As James's and Charles's repeated complaints and warnings show, a king cannot always control his subjects. But a poet, it seemed to Carew, can control his subjects absolutely: against the rebellious outbursts directed at his friends, he triumphed. He managed in his poems to discredit his subjects' dissenting voices and to supplant their unauthorized views with his own. Against their usurping clamor, he managed to have the last word. It is appropriate that Carew reserved his highest praise for John Donne. As Carew described Donne's kingdom, the poet-king did as he liked and not a peep was heard from the passive subjects upon whose wills he "Committed holy Rapes." Whatever the reality, in the elegy Carew made Donne's dominion total: only after his death do libertines dare to rebel against his "strict lawes," using stories that Donne had "silenc'd" absolutely. Carew appreciated that kind of power, especially because he could create and wield it himself. Manners and good sense forced him to suggest that his author-friends share his status, but one feels that theirs are courtesy-titles. Carew's poems exalt and preserve his taste, his judgment, his word, his authority. His compliments notwithstanding, Thomas Carew is the king, the sole and absolute ruler of the monarchy of wit that he created.


1The Political Works of James I. Reprinted from the Edition of 1616, intro. by Charles Howard McIlwain (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1918), 5. In quotations from this text, typographical conventions are modernized.

2Perez Zagorin, The Court and the Country: The Beginning of the English Revolution (New York: Atheneum, 1970), 108, 106.

3Lawrence Stone, The Causes of the English Revolution, 1529-1642 (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972), 59.

4James, 310, 60, 289.

5Causes of Revolution, 93.

6James, 65.

7James, 332; Conrad Russell, Parliaments and English Politics: 1621-1629 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 385.

8All quotations of Carew's poems are from The Poems of Thomas Carew, With His Masque Coelum Britannicum, ed. Rhodes Dunlap (1949; rpt. London: Oxford University Press, 1970).

9Zagorin, Court and Country, 107.

10Samuel Rawson Gardiner, ed., The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution, 1625-1660, 3d ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906), 4.

11James, 315; Constitutional Documents, 5, 93.

12Constitutional Documents, 5.

13Russell, Parliaments and Politics, 135; Constitutional Documents, 94.

14Constitutional Documents, 75, 89.

15Rhodes Dunlap, "Introduction," in The Poems of Thomas Carew, xxi, xiii. The remark about "repressed competitiveness" I appropriate from Katharine Eisaman Maus's discussion of Ben Jonson, Mosca, and Jeremy in Ben Jonson and the Roman Frame of Mind (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 9.

Source: Diana Benet, "Carew's Monarchy of Wit," in "The Muses Common-Weale": Poetry and Politics in the Seventeenth Century, edited by Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth, University of Missouri Press, 1988, pp. 80-91.