Robert Southwell

Robert Southwell.

Robert Southwell.

Robert Southwell, a poet and prose writer of William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson’s generation, spent his adolescence and early manhood in Italy. His brief literary career flourished during the years when he was an underground Jesuit priest in Protestant England. It is agreed that Southwell brought with him from Italy the themes and the aesthetics of militant Counter-Reformation piety, although there is disagreement over the terms used to describe the resulting style: baroque, mannerist, metaphysical, meditative, Petrarchan, and contemplative are among the adjectives proposed. There is also disagreement over Southwell’s literary achievement and the extent and significance of his influence. What cannot be doubted is his extraordinary popularity during his brief English career and the forty years following it. Contemporary writers seem to have been impressed by his clear, precise English, by the beauty of its rhythms, and by Southwell’s gift for combining passion with moral and intellectual analysis. There is a strong case to be made for his influence on his contemporaries, among them Thomas Nashe, Thomas Lodge, and Shakespeare.

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Robert Southwell

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