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This review is taken from PN Review 31, Volume 9 Number 5, May - June 1983.

MICROCOSM OF CHANGE? Clark Hulse, Metamorphic Verse: The Elizabethan Minor Epic (Princeton University Press), Illustrated, £15.80

In this book, Clark Hulse claims a major role for the minor epic in the 'Elizabethan literary system'. He defines this system as a network of genres, constantly in flux, which offered a series of choices about form and content to the Elizabethan writer. In his view, the minor epic was a microcosm of the changes taking place in that system; it was a mixed, flexible, protean genre which combined elements of prophetic, satiric, narrative, lyric and dramatic verse, and shared approaches with painting and the Writing of history. It served to assimilate major strands of Continental Renaissance culture and bridge the gap between public and private worlds (especially in regard to erotic experience), and it offered scope for the poet to learn his craft and to experiment. Its major archetype was Ovid's Metamorphoses.

These are bold claims: to support them, Hulse takes us on a fascinating journey, which will appeal to the common reader as well as the specialist, through some lesser-known areas of Elizabethan literature. Especially interesting is his account of Marlowe as an 'inspired' poet-a term, Hulse suggests, which, in Marlowe's time, denoted quite specific poetic characteristics- and his analysis of Hero and Leander is a portrayal of erotic 'madness': this produces that 'combination of delight and strangeness' which gives the poem continued appeal. He calls Shakespeare's Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece 'painter's poems', pointing, for example, to the mixture of the iconic and discursive modes in Venus and Adonis, and ...


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