Posthumous LoveEros and the Afterlife in Renaissance England

Posthumous LoveEros and the Afterlife in Renaissance England

Ramie Targoff

Print publication date: 2014

ISBN: 9780226789590

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Posthumous Love explores the boundaries that Renaissance English poets drew between earthly and heavenly love. The idea that love would transcend mortality was central to the Italian tradition that English authors had inherited. Dante and Petrarch each envisioned their future encounters in the afterlife—Dante with Beatrice, and Petrarch with Laura—and Neoplatonic philosophers described in great detail the ladder of love that gently ascended from the earthly beloved to the heavens above. When English poets begin to grapple seriously with this Italian legacy in the early sixteenth century, they almost unanimously refused the idea that love might transcend the grave. The consequence of this insistently mortal conception of love was a new emphasis on endings, and on the pleasure, as well as the pain, that temporal limits bring. Imagining erotic love as mortal produced a range of poetic responses, from tragic dramas to exuberant carpe diem lyrics. But whatever the spirit or mood of the individual work, the inevitability of love’s ending was a nearly universal feature of this period’s literature. The result was not simply a void or lack where there had once been something positive and affirming. Instead, negation brought forth a new mode of poetics that derived its emotional and aesthetic power from its insistence upon love’s mortality. Posthumous Love ultimately shows what English poetry gained by regarding love as finite.