For lovers of music and poetry the legendary figure of Orpheus probably suggests a romantic ideal. But for the Renaissance he is essentially a political figure. Mythographers interpreted the Orpheus story as an allegory of the birth of civilisation because they recognised in the arts in which Orpheus excelled an instrument of social control so powerful that with it you could, as one writer put it, 'winne Cities and whole Countries'. Dealing with plays, poems, songs, and the iconography of musical instruments, Robin Headlam Wells re-examines the myth, central to the Orpheus story, of the transforming power of music and poetry. In doing so he acknowledges a debt to the New Historicism and its recovery of political meanings that traditional historical scholarship has sometimes been guilty of obscuring. But he is also critical of certain faulty premises in New Historicist criticism which have led to some radical misinterpretations of the period. Elizabethan Mythologies contains numerous illustrations from the period and will be of interest to scholars and students of Renaissance poetry, drama and music, and of the history of ideas.
'Elizabethan Mythologies is a wonderful disquisition on art both as a source of aesthetic pleasure and as a means of social control. Itcontains a wealth of scholarly material and invention ... Wells is unfailingly subtle and insightful ... [he] argues for the importance of art as a philosophical system and a material fact with a winning conviction and confidence.' Shakespeare Survey 'Seasoned, thoughtful, at times provocative, and inevitably astute, Wells imparts a truly interdisciplinary view of Renaissance thought ... his perceptions are robust, independent, and charismatic ... A powerful collection [of essays] delivered with style, deliberation, and intelligence, Elizabethan Mythologies may best serve scholars equally adept in Renaissance music, literature, and art.' Renaissance Quarterly 'Elizabethan Mythologies is a gathering of graceful and learned essays by the accomplished scholar and lutenist, Robin Headlam Wells ... As a musicological scholar Headlam Wells is at his very best when working out the subtle interplay of a lyric and its setting ...' Essays in Theatre/Etudes theatrales 'The most important claim of Wells's book is that Renaissance musical theory and practice provided Elizabethans with a way of thinking about subjectivity that, because of its idealizing cast, has been ignored or prematurely dismissed by critics to whom idealization is anathema. His discussions of this subjectivity ... are important and (to me) often persuasive.' Studies in English Literature 'All these essays demonstrate an impressive acquaintance with Renaissance musical thought, and together they form an exceptional collection. They will be valued especially for what they tell us about the transmission of a particular strain of neo-Platonic idealism from Italy into Elizabethan England.' Modern Language Review '... a slim but dense volume that covers a lot of ground in a thoughtful and thought-provoking manner. Having these essays collected into a single volume together with 41 black-and-white illustrations on high-quality trade paper is a real plus, and the organization into three sections makes dipping in easy enough.' The Lute