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‘This duncified world’: Chaucer, Spenser and an Elegy on Drake
This paper considers the influence of Geoffrey Chaucer and Edmund Spenser on Charles Fitzgeoffrey’s elegy for his fellow West Countryman Sir Francis Drake, 'Sir Francis Drake his Honorable Lifes Commendation, and his Tragicall Deathes Lamentation' (1596). In the paratextual material accompanying the poem, some stanzas by the historian Degory Wheare praise the elegy’s author in terms that compare his talents to those of Chaucer, imagining him as a new vessel for the ‘auncient’ muse’s temperament: ‘Then sith old GEFFREY’s spirite lives in thee,/ Rightlie thou named art FITZ-GEFFERY’. Fitzgeoffrey’s elegy is written in rhyme royal and is occasionally stylistically redolent of Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde; however, although W. D. (Wheare) identifies Chaucer as the poem’s guiding force, Fitzgeoffrey himself looks to other poetic forefathers, positioning his praise of Drake in the elegy itself in response to other models of masculinity and heroism, beginning with those embodied by the Redcrosse Knight and Guyon in The Faerie Queene. The poem is notable for its evocation of treacherous saline spaces and the unforgiving mutability of the sea, characterising Drake as a second Ulysses and Spenser as one who ‘inharbours Homers soule’, rather than Chaucer’s. Continuing the preoccupation of the elegy’s imagery with watery travails, the speaker of the poem appears towards the end rather like Spenser’s narrator in The Ruines of Time, sitting down ‘Like as some travel-tired passenger,/ By silent-sliding Thames rose-shadow’d side’. Moving between Spenserian and Chaucerian influences then, the paper argues that Fitzgeoffrey’s elegy offers a model of worldmaking and nationalistic panegyric that defy the sleights directed at Chaucer and Spenser by other contemporary authors. Fitzgeoffrey was still a student at the University of Oxford when his elegy was published, and his reading of Chaucer and Spenser seems to be very different from that of his contemporaries at the University of Cambridge (and here I’m thinking of the satirical views expressed in the three Parnassus Plays in which Spenser and Chaucer are dismissed as the darlings of a ‘duncified worlde’).