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A Mirror to Nature

A Mirror to Nature: Transformations in Drama and Aesthetics 1660--1732

Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    A Mirror to Nature
    Book Description:

    In this provocative study Rose Zimbardo examines a crucial revolution in aesthetics that took place in the late seventeenth century and that to this day dominates our response to literature. Although artists of that time continued to follow the precept "imitate nature," that nature no longer corresponds to the earlier understanding of the term. What had been in essence an allegorical mode came to be a literal one.

    Focusing on the drama of the period as an exemplary form, Zimbardo shows how it moved from depicting a metaphysical reality of idea to portraying an inner reality of individual experience. But drama is constrained in expressing the inner experience since its medium is limited to human action. The novel arose to replace drama as the popular literary form, Zimbardo argues, because it could better and more freely convey man's inner world and thereby imitate the "new" nature.

    The study concluded that the changes which took place in drama during this period and which led to the invention of the novel resulted not from any "change of heart" or sensibility but from a fundamental change in the understanding of the nature which art was thought to imitate. Neither the drama of the 1690s nor the early novel, Zimbardo finds, was in the least "sentimental."

    A Mirror to Naturebrings a new critical perspective to bear on literary developments at the end of the seventeenth century -- one that must be considered by critics and historians of the period.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6498-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-14)

    As Lovejoy showed us so long ago, “nature” is always a slippery aesthetic norm,¹ and nowhere is it more elusive than in the late seventeenth century, when our most fundamental conceptions of knowledge, reality, and epistemology were being radically transformed. The period from 1660 to 1732 in England marks a transition from the basically Medieval/Renaissance aesthetic, which understood poetry as the representation of an Ideal, or ideational, reality that is not available to ordinary perception, to the basically modern aesthetic, in which art is thought to mirror human experience—most particularly,innerpsychological experience, the “interior space” that philosophers like...

  5. ONE The Four Stages of Dramatic Imitation 1660-1732
    (pp. 15-35)

    The transition in dramatic imitation of nature from the imitation of Ideas to the imitation of interior human nature and the emulation theory consequent upon it occurs in four stages. These stages are only roughly datable, since the progression is, of course, a continuum.

    In Stage 1 (circa 1660-70), as a derivation from earlier seventeenth-century thinking, drama imitates nature as the Ideal. It is a shape of reality seen whole, the design of a microcosmic order that may be envisioned either as the Neoplatonic scale of Caroline drama set in motion or as the old three-tiered medieval universe secularized and...

  6. TWO Imitation of Nature as Idea
    (pp. 36-75)

    Ideas have their causal being in God, their formal in the first Mind, their participated in the rational Soul. In God they are not, but produced by him in theAngelicknature, through this communicated to the Soul, by whom illuminated, when she reflects in her intellectual parts, she receives the true forms of things,Ideas. . . . Those employed in corporeal office [human beings] are depriv’d of Contemplation borrowing science from sense, to this wholly enclin’d, full of errors: Their only means of release from this bondage, is the amatory life; which by sensible beauties, exciting in...

  7. THREE Imitation of Nature as “The City Between”
    (pp. 76-104)

    As we have seen, the shape of microcosmic reality in the 1660s drew disparate images of nature or ways of envisioning nature into concord. Man the hero, man the clown, and man the grotesque sounded, each on his own ground, a single strain of the great discordia concors. The theme, played in three different keys, comprised a whole greater than the sum of its parts, an Idea of comic/cosmic truth. In Stage 2 of the evolution we arc charting, truth and reality become a matter of perspective. Ways of envisioning are brought together to express not union but divorce, not...

  8. FOUR The Varieties of Dramatic Satire in the 1670s
    (pp. 105-127)

    In “An Essay upon Satyr” Dacier says, “This the reader may observe, that the name of Satyr in Latin is not less proper for Discourses that recommend Virtue than for those which are design’d against Vice.”¹ We might think of this observation as marking one extreme of the satiric spectrum, where “gentile satyre” recommends virtue and laughs at the silliness and affectation that make us deviate from standards “so easy to be kept.” Here satire is almost indistinguishable from comedy. At the other end of the spectrum is the satire that Alvin Kernan describes, “Somewhere in his dense knots of...

  9. FIVE Nature as the Experiential Actual, 1680-1700
    (pp. 128-163)

    Hume has quite rightly observed that because there is no sharp break in the continuity of theatrical history from the 1670s through the 1680s, we have been led to underestimate the drastic changes that occurred in drama in this decade: “The full extent of the change during the eighties is apparent only when the plays of 1678 are set against those of 1688. One can, of course, similarly contrast the plays of 1668 with those of 1678, but with this difference: in the seventies the drama seems to be fulfilling an inherent potential, working in a natural direction from the...

  10. SIX Imitation of the Inner Arena: Sentimental, Pornographic, or Novelistic?
    (pp. 164-203)

    In the course of writing this book, I have often thought that it would be quite possible to chart the revolution in dramatic imitation I describe had we no other works available but those of Behn and Dryden, so clearly does the outline of change appear in their canons. InDon Sebastian(1690) Dryden has left the old imitative mode behind entirely. I do not subscribe to Hume’s view that this play orCleomenesis a throwback to the heroic drama. There is little trace in them of either the methodology or the aesthetics of the sixties.Don Sebastiansteps...

  11. SEVEN Emulation: The Early Eighteenth Century
    (pp. 204-225)

    Emulation theory, wherein the traditional equation “art imitates nature” is reversed, did not spring into being full blown in 1700. It evolved gradually over the decades we have been considering, but not until the turn of the century did all the elements that went into the finished conception cohere. Hume argues that the appearance of exemplary models is a phenomenon of the nineties:

    Characters who serve as moral examples are increasingly introduced between 1688 and 1710 into plays which otherwise . . . preserve what John Loftis defines as the “Restoration Stereotypes” ... “The Fine Gentleman”—as Steele once thought...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 226-242)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 243-248)