I must have wanton poets, pleasant wits,

Back to Elizabethan times today, with a piece by Christopher Marlowe. I believe this is extracted from his play Edward II, but it certainly stands alone as a nice piece of poetry. Imagine the king’s favourite musing about the best ways to keep the king amused, pliant and presumably distracted from the real affairs of the realm. What better than a bunch of wanton, dissolute poets, musicians and actors…

by: Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593)

MUST have wanton poets, pleasant wits,
Musicians, that with touching of a string
May draw the pliant king which way I please:
Music and poetry is his delight;
Therefore I’ll have Italian masks by night,
Sweet speeches, comedies, and pleasing shows;
And in the day, when he shall walk abroad,
Like sylvan nymphs my pages shall be clad;
My men, like satyrs grazing on the lawns,
Shall with their goat-feet dance the antic hay;
Sometime a lovely boy in Dian’s shape,
With hair that gilds the water as it glides,
Crownets of pearl about his naked arms,
And in his sportful hands an olive-tree,
To hide those parts which men delight to see,
Shall bathe him in a spring; and there, hard by,
One like Actæon, peeping through the grove,
Shall by the angry goddess be transform’d,
And running in the likeness of an hart,
By yelping hounds pull’d down, shall seem to die:
Such things as these best please his majesty.

From <http://www.poetry-archive.com/m/i_must_have_wanton_poets.html&gt;

The intent is clear right from the third line, the king must be kept pliant to allow the favourite full latitude to control affairs of state himself, so bring on the wanton poets, musicians, actors, entertainments, and let them last night and day. You can almost feel the scheming intent of this and know that all will end badly for this king as he is continuously distracted by the wanton poets.

The second half of the poem makes a parallel between the king’s entertainment and the classic myth of Diana and Actaeon, whereby the dancing boys are dressed as girls, appear like Diana bathing in a spring with her serving maids. The onlooking Actaeon is discovered and killed by the goddess Diana’s dogs after being changed into a hart. Such entertainment will please the king, but it seems clear that the king’s role will end up like that of Actaeon.

This poem is a beautiful blend of sweet and harmonious imagery with a dark intent and a sense of looming threat – but all suggested rather than explicit. A hall of mirrors, perhaps…

The Poetry Dude


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