Vine A (2010) Scott L. Newstok, Quoting Death in Early Modern England: The Poetics of Epitaphs Beyond the Tomb (2009). Review of: Scott L. Newstok, Quoting Death in Early Modern England: The Poetics of Epitaphs Beyond the Tomb (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). Journal of the Northern Renaissance, 2010. http://www.northernrenaissance.org/scott-l-newstok-quoting-death-in-early-modern-england-the-poetics-of-epitaphs-beyond-the-tomb-palgrave-macmillan-2009/
First paragraph: In the second part of Don Quixote (1615) Miguel de Cervantes’s eponymous hero plumbs the depths of the miraculous cave of Montesinos. What the Don sees underground is wondrous indeed: a crystalline palace, an alabaster hall, and finally a marble tomb of exquisite craft, upon which lies not a carved figure, but preternaturally preserved flesh and bones. Don Quixote’s vision in the cave is important for all sorts of reasons. For one thing, it is an early, and remarkable, episode of speluncean literature. For another, it speaks of the author’s interest, sometimes parodic, in fact and fiction, curiosity and wonder, imagination and vision. But it is also important because it centres on a tomb. For tombs in early modern Europe, Catholic and Protestant, were big business. And if tombs were important, the epitaphs carved on them, as Scott Newstok reminds us in his recent book, were even more so. In Don Quixote the tomb is unadorned, as the knight, Durandarte, lies enchanted and perfectly preserved. But in general in the early modern period it was epitaphs that preserved the memory of the dead, not Merlin’s magic or some other enchantment. As William Camden put it in 1600, in an essay on epitaphs from which Newstok quotes, ‘epitaphes have alwayes bene most respected, for in them love was shewed to the deceased, memory was continued to posterity, friends were comforted, and the reader put in mind of humane fraylty’. To paraphrase Propertius, verse preserves, where bronze and marble merely deceive.
Output Type: Book Review
Journal of the Northern Renaissance: Volume 2010