POPE AND THE STAGE METAPHOR
RICHARD FRANCIS ATNALLY
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL OF
THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE
DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
It is a pleasure to acknowledge the assistance
which I have received from the members of my supervisory
committee, Professor Robert H. Bowers, and Professor
Harold A. Wilson.
To Professor Aubrey L. Williams, I owe the debt
of the scholarly example and unfailing kindness which
enabled me to begin and complete this dissertation.
Finally, I thank my wife, Mary, simply for her
The subject of this study is Pope's use of stage
metaphor, and my thesis is that the stage metaphor and
imagery which appear throughout Pope's works reflect
traditional Christian humanist concerns with man's failure
to recognize his own limitations. More particularly,
I argue that in the Dunciad Pope employs stage imagery
to satirize those contemporary scientific millennialist
concepts which tended to transform the traditional
Christian view of the drama of human salvation into the
eighteenth-century concept of man's natural perfectibility.
Since Pope's employment of theatrical imagery contains
ontological and moral implications inextricably linked
to earlier significance of the idea of the world as a
stage, the first two chapters of this study examine the
larger meanings of the classical, medieval, Renaissance,
and seventeenth-century uses of the world-stage concept.
Chapters I and II show how the trope of man the cosmic
actor functioned as an intricate symbolic construct for
views of man's place in the universe--in a world of
evanescent joys and mutable fortunes, of masking deceits
and external values, man's existence was linked to the
"sham," and "outward" reality of the human actor's exist-
ence for various ethical purposes. A basic idea in the
traditional use of the idea of the world as a theatrum
mundi was that man was to act out a divinely assigned role
on God's stage; that role received, however, differing
ontological and moral emphases in the various formulations
of the world-stage concept. In the ethical perspective
of the Platonist and the Stoic, which emphasized man's
grandeur as an essentially spiritual-rational being,
man misplayed his proper role by failing to transcend his
"lower," animal nature through a lack of spiritual and
rational self-perfection. In introducing the new
properties of Grace and Sin onto the cosmic stage,
Christianity envisioned human existence as a brief,
divinely plotted drama in which man the sinner played on
a probationary stage, and was tested by God for his
fitness for eternal salvation. And in the Christian view
of man's dual state of grandeur and misere, man was seen
continually misplaying his proper role through lack of
proper self-knowledge of his own fallen, but redeemable
condition. As both the son of Adam and the heir of heaven,
the Christian acted out his "true" part in God's drama
by recognizing his own imperfections and by trusting divine
wisdom to lead him to his goal of salvation.
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
important alterations in the Christian view of man
gradually arose as the result of a new opmlmism over
human capabilities, an optimism which stemmed primarily
from Platonic emphasis on man as being essentially a
spiritual-rational creature. In the works of such
Platonists as Juan Vives, Henry More and Thomas Burnet,
the world-stage concept came to reflect the idea of man's
power to progressively transcend his "lower," animal
affinities; and in More's and Burnet's scientific
millennialist works, this idea received unique expression
in their notions that the basic "plot" of the divine
drama involved new earthly "scenes" of man's destined
spiritual-rational perfection. Burnet, furthermore,
presented a radically new vision of the Christian drama
of salvation by equating man's supposed spiritual progress
towards a millennial kingdom of the just on earth with
man's increasing natural advances in scientific knowledge.
Throughout this same period, however, such Christian
humanists as Erasmus, Thomas More and Shakespeare also
used the world-stage concept to retain more traditional
Christian views of man's inherited perplexities and
frailties in the divine theatre.
Chapter III shows how the stage metaphor which
appears in Pope's works is closely linked to these latter
Christian humanist views of man's innate limitations on
God's stage. More specifically, Chapter III attempts to
demonstrate how Pope's stage imagery in the first three
books of the Dunciad is subtly formulated to reveal the
dangers inherent in Burnet's scientific millennialist
concept of man's new destiny of perfection in the divine
drama. Through an artful use of stage metaphor by which
activities on the lesser world of the London pantomimic
"show" reveal man's refusal to play his proper role in
the greater cosmic "show" in God's theatre, Pope suggests
the idea of a new perverse plot of progress in the cosmic
"show"--Dulness's destined, and perverse, moral and
social advance towards a new mechanistic and egocentric
order. And Pope's theatrical depiction of this progress,
with its major "scenes" of the conflagration-like uncrea-
tion of the world and recreation of a "new world" of the
"Kingdom of the Dull upon Earth," is shown to contain an
intricate parody of Burnet's notion of man's intellectual-
scientific progress towards perfection.
Chapter IV shows how Pope further uses theatrical
imagery in the fourth book of the Dunciad to reinforce
his attacks on Burnet, and thus produces a rich and unified
satire on the widespread scientific progressivist tendencies
of his own day. Throughout the Dunciad, as in all of his
other works, Pope utilized the traditional view of the
world as a stage as an emblem of man's proper place in
divine order; and at the close of this poem, the last of
his works, we see man's prideful attempt to transcend his
assigned role on God's stage as that which ushers in
One Players on the Cosmic Stage
Two New Scenes on the Cosmic Stage
Three The Brave "New World" of Pope's Dunciad
Four The Curtain Falls on the Divine Stage
One: Players on the Cosmic Stage
The central thesis of this study is that Pope employs
theatrical imagery in the Dunciad (1743) to attack scien-
tific millennialist ideas which were helping to usher in
the eighteenth-century doctrine of man's natural perfect-
ibility. In The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century
Philosophers (1932), Carl L. Becker showed that a crucial
part of the process whereby such eighteenth-century
philosophers as Voltaire and Diderot "demolished the
Heavenly City of St. Augustine only to rebuild it with
more up-to-date materials," consisted in revising the tra-
ditional Christian view of man's role on the stage of the
world. Noting that the medieval Christian regarded human
existence as a 'cosmic drama," composed by God "according
to a central theme," Becker wrote of the Christian concept
of man's part in the drama:
Although created perfect, man had through dis-
obedience fallen from grace into sin and error,
thereby incurring the penalty of eternal damnation.
Yet happily a way of atonement and salvation had
been provided through the propitiatory sacrifice
of God's only begotten son. Helpless in them-
selves to avert the just wrath of God, men were
yet to be permitted, through his mercy, and by
humility and obedience to his will, to obtain
pardon for sin and error. Life on earth was but
a means to this desired end, a temporary proba-
tion for the testing of God's children.
Further on in his study Becker pointed out how the eighteenth-
century philosophers claimed "that the Christian version
of the drama was a false and pernicious one," and sought
to displace the Christian version by "recasting it and
bringing it up to date." In revising the divine drama,
philosophers like Voltaire and Diderot transformed the
idea of Divine Providence into the idea of the automatic
processes of "natural law," and the Christian concept of
spiritual salvation in the City of God into the concept of
man's natural progress towards perfection in a historical
utopia, on earth. Recent studies have stressed the cardinal
place seventeenth and eighteenth-century notions of a
future "scientific" millennial kingdom on earth played in
this revision: in the works of such scientific progres-
sivists as Thomas Burnet, for example, man's spiritual
salvation was recast into an automatic process of intel-
lectual progress towards perfection in the new millennial
world, a process which was depicted by Burnet, in the graphic
terms of drama, as the basic plot in man's destiny on the
In his discussion of the theatrical elements in the
Dunciad, Aubrey Williams has demonstrated how "Pope's
theatrical representation of a world of Dulness . exists
primarily to mirror and measure the broad moral and
cultural upheaval of his own time." And Pope's theatrical
depiction of a "new world" of "the Kingdom of the Dull upon
Earth" satirizes, we will argue, scientific millennialist
distortions of the traditional Christian view of man's role
on God's stage. Because Pope's employment of theatrical
imagery in the Dunciad, as well as in several other of
his major works, contains ontological and moral implica-
tions vitally linked to earlier uses of the world-stage
concept, this chapter will explore the larger significance
of classical, medieval and Renaissance views of the world
as a stage.
Man's view of himself as an actor on a cosmic stage
has primarily represented imaginative expression of his
relationship to divine order; such expression has usually
reflected, in turn, the moral and practical imperatives
by which man confronts the world around him. Important
implications for the use of the world-stage concept
perhaps developed first from a metaphor employed by Plato
for his view of man as a soul, who having once belonged
to the eternal world of Ideas, was now seen entrapped in
a prison-body from which he was in a continual process of
transmigration towards his former mode of existence.
Plato gave his view of man metaphoric expression in his
representation of the cosmos as a divine playworld in which
man played his correct part by following right reason,
thereby transcending the transitory existence of the body.
In the Dialogues (c. 350 B.C.) man is pictured as a puppet
of the "Just gods," dangled on the strings of disordered
May we not conceive each of us living beings to be
a puppet of the Gods, .. .these affections in us
like cords and strings which pull us different and
opposite directions and to opposite actions.
The Gods, however, had ordained that man should not remain
in this state, where, "by reason of all these affections,
the soul, when encased in a mortal body, now, as in the
beginning, is at first without intelligence." For "among
these cords" there was one, Plato noted, "which every man
ought to grasp and never let go, but to pull with it
against all the rest: and this is the sacred and golden
cord of reason." By grasping this sacred cord, man could
gradually "vanquish" the "inferior" principles of his bodily
affections, and fulfill his "superior" role in the global
puppet theatre. Reason, which to Plato could belong only
to the "invisible soul," had been given to men that they
"might behold the courses of intelligence in the heaven,
and apply them to the courses of . heir7 own intel-
ligence, which are akin to them." And in this divine cosmic
show man enacted the "motions" of his true spiritual part
in the creation, thus "renewing his original nature" as
soul, only by transcending his sensual desires, for
God gave the sovereign part of the human soul to
be the divinity of each one, being that part which,
as we say, dwells at the top of the body, and inasmuch
as we are a plant not of an earthly but of a heavenly
growth, raises us from earth to our kindred who are
in heaven ... When a man is always occupied with
the cravings of desire and ambition, and is eagerly
striving to satisfy them, all his thoughts must be
mortal, and, as far as it is possible altogether to
become such, he must be mortal every whit, because
he has cherished his mortal part.
Plato's comparison of man's existence to a puppet's
in order to suggest, paradoxically perhaps, man's ability
to overcome his bodily limitations and return to his former
spiritual existence was artfully reformulated into an
elaborate theatrical metaphor in Plotinus's Third Ennead
(c. 270 A.D.). Seeking to account for the existence of.
evil in a divinely governed universe, Plotinus visualized
God as the Poet-Dramatist of a cosmic play in which souls
display themselves before a cosmic audience as theatrical
performers display themselves before a human audience:
In the dramas of human art, the poet provides the
words but the actors add their own quality, good
or bad--for they have more to do than merely repeat
the author's words--in the truer drama /of life
which dramatic genius imitates in its degree, The
Soul displays itself in a part assigned by the
creator of the piece. As the actors of cur stages
get their mask and their costume, robes of state or
rags, so a Soul is allotted its fortunes, not at
haphazard but always under a Reason: it adapts
itself to the fortunes assigned to it, attunes
itself, ranges itself rightly to the drama, to the
whole Principle of the piece.
In demonstrating how the concors discordia of cosmic pleni-
tude was achieved through the harmony "of a drama torn with
struggle" Plotinus went on at great length to describe how
these souls were tested according to their "personal
excellence or defect" in playing the various parts assigned
them. And as in Plato's playworld, the "whole Principle"
of the divine "piece" in Plotinus's drama centered upon
the soul's present encasement in a mortal body and its
power to gradually raise itself to its kindred souls in
the heavens. For in his world-stage concept, Plotinus
subtly utilized the complex idea of cosmic spectators
viewing the "soul-actors" of the divine drama who, in turn,
viewed performers in the "dramas of human art," to suggest
that if the "soul-actor" properly united itself through
right reason to the higher cosmic view, it would see all
of man's bodily activities to be as transitory and insig-
nificant as the illusory activities on the human stage.
Noting the evil in men which makes them "attack each
other" so that "all is war without a trace," Plotinus says
that the "blame for their condition falls on Matter
dragging them down," and then describes how the soul need
not be affected by these "shadowy" activities of the body:
Murders, death in all its guises, the reduction
and sacking of cities, all must be to us just such
a spectacle as the changing scenes of a play; all
is but the varied incident of a plot, costume on
and off, acted grief and lament. For on earth, in
all the succession of life, it is not the Soul
within but the Shadow outside of the authentic man,
that grieves and complains and acts out the plot on
this world stage which men have dotted with stages
of their own constructing. All this /murders, etc.,7
is the doing of man knowing no more than to live
the lower and outer life . . Anyone that joins
in their trifling and so comes to look on life with
their eyes must understand that by lending himself
to such idleness he has laid aside his own character
/T.e., as spirit.
Viewing man's true cosmic role as a spiritual release from
the material elements of life threatening the good of the
"Soul within," Plotinus admonishes man throughout his Third
Ennead to disengage from the sensual, "lower" vanities of
human existence and to enter into the part of a divine-like
spectator: on the world-stage man's soul should continually
progress into higher spiritual forms until it has completed
its career of metempsychoses by assimilation with the
Divine Dramatist. In explaining that some "soul-actors"
are urged by a warm "desire for unification" with the Divine
Dramatist, and that there is no "grudging in the whole
towards the part that grows in goodness and dignity,"
Plotinus says that these "soul-actors" have a "wide choice
of place" in the drama, and can ultimately, through spiritual
self-perfection, become "parts of the poet" (italics mine).
To Plotinus, man's unhappy imprisonment in the flesh was
alleviated by his innate freedom to transcend his material
nature and, through a series of spiritual reincarnations,
reascend the "great chain of being" to his former god-like
place among the divine spec ators.
In Plotinus's highly influential use of the theatrical
analogy, man's present bodily existence was thus intricately
linked to the illusory existence of the theatrical performer
to suggest man's grandeur in being essentially a spiritual-
rational creature. By subtly comparing the external,
"shadowy" material elements in man's earthly life to the
outward and "unsubstantial" reality of the human actor,
Plotinus admonished man that he must, in whatever lot assigned
him on the cosmic stage, enact his true role as spirit by
a divine-like detachment and transcendence of his bodily
elements. And as other classical thinkers used the theat-
rical trope for similar normative views of man's ability
to overcome the limitations of his bodily nature, the
stage analogy became a favorite vehicle for ethical formu-
lations in the second major school of Greek thought,
By an eclectic fusion of Platonic dualism and
Aristotelian teleology (the concept that the end purpose
of every being was determined by its created status in
nature) Stoicism set forth a highly paradoxical ethics
which saw man's submission to world order as the sine qua
non of human self-autonomy. In The Enchiridion (c. 150
A.D.) Epictetus emphasized this submission by picturing
God as a stage manager, assigning various lots to men:
Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such
a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short,
of a short one, if long, of a long one. If it be
his pleasure that you should act a poor man, a
cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that
you act it naturally. For this is your business,
to act well the character assigned you; to choose
it is another's.
And in The Discourses (c. 150 A.D.), Epictetus further
utilized the idea of the world as a divine show to suggest
man's ability to be a proper "spectator" of the divinely
ordered drama in which he was to play. Mingling the Platonic
notion of the world as a cosmic show with Aristotelian
teleology, Epictetus admonished man to scan the spectacle
of creation closely in order to interpret his true part in it:
unless we act in a proper and orderly manner, and
conformably to the nature and constitution of each
thing, we shall never attain to our true end .
God has introduced man to be a spectator of God
and His works; and not only a spectator of them,
but an interpreter. For this reason it is shameful
for man to begin and end where irrational animals
This passage suggests an important distinction between
Stoic and Platonic anthropology: while the Platonist saw
man innately free to pass to higher spiritual forms, the
Stoic knew him to be limited by his created status in
nature. The Stoic, however, also viewed that created
status as one in which man must eradicate all sensual
desires in order to achieve the serenity of the unperturbed
will. Thus while Platonism stressed man's disengagement
from the irrational elements of the body as part of its
goal of unity with the Divine, Stoicism stressed such
disengagement on behalf of its goal of ataraxia, the inner
tranquility of the virtuous soul and will.
To the Stoic man could play well his assigned lot as
governor or beggar only when he made the will totally
insensible to the material, theatrical-like externals of
the body, and thus became self-autonomous. Such a view
is implicit in Epictetus's description in The Discourses
of the testimony the Divine Dramatist demands from both a
governor and beggar:
"Assume the governorship of a province." I assume
it, and when I have assumed it, I show how an
instructed man behaves. "Lay aside the laticlave
and, clothing yourself in rags, come forward in
this character." What then, have I not the power
of displaying a good voice? How, then, do you now
appear? As a witness summoned by God. "Come
forward, you, and bear testimony for me, for you
are worthy to be brought forward as a witness by
me: is anything external to the will good or bad?"
And throughout The Discourses, Epictetus utilizes stage
imagery to denote the soul's involvement in a playworld
of sensual externalities in order to stress man's rational
power to disengage into an undisturbed freedom of the will.
From his lofty vantage point and with the higher eye of his
imperturbably virtuous will, the Stoic contemplated the
material elements of life as so many vanities, insignificant
as actions on the human stage:
What is death? A "tragic mask." Turn it and
examine it. See, it does not bite. The poor
body must be separated from the spirit either now
or later. .. What is pain? A mask. Turn it
and examine it. The poor flesh is moved roughly,
then, on the contrary, smoothly. If this does not
satisfy you, the door is open /L.e., through suicide:
if it does, bear. For the door ought to be open
for all occasions: and so we have no trouble. What
then is the fruit of these opinions? It is that
which ought to be the most noble and most becoming
to those who are really educated, release from
perturbation, release from fear, freedom.
Stoic use of the stage metaphor to indicate how man
could perform his assigned lot on the world-stage only by
detached indifference to its sensual externalities also
appears in Marcus Aurelius's Meditations (c. 175 A.D.).
In explaining in The Meditations why one need not be
"troubled with that which takes place on the larger stage"
of life, Aurelius says that the soul can prepare itself
for its inevitable separation from the body "without tragic
show," and points out how such preparation can be achieved
through proper philosophical contemplation:
Acquire the contemplative way of seeing how all
things change into one another, and constantly
attend to it, and exercise thyself about this part
of philosophy. For nothing is so much adapted to
produce magnanimity. Such a man has put off the
body, and as he sees that he must, no one knows how
soon, go away from among men and leave everything
here, he gives himself up entirely . with acting
justly in what he now does, and being satisfied
with what is now assigned to him; and he lays aside
all distracting and busy pursuits.
And in Book III of The Meditations, he compares these dis-
tracting pursuits and the "externals" of man's life to
"the idle business" of "plays on the stage .
But the most striking Stoic use of the stage metaphor
to suggest man's need to stand apart from sensual pressures
occurs in Seneca's Moral Epistles to Lucilius (62-64 A.D.).
In Moral Epistle, 76, Seneca, noting how the body's
pleasures only "depress the soul and weaken it, and when
we think that they are uplifting the soul, they are merely
puffing it up and cheating it with much emptiness,'
compares these empty pleasures to an actor's trappings:
None of those whom you behold clad in purple is
happy, anymore than one of those actors upon whom
the play bestows a sceptre and a cloak while on the
stage; . this is the reason why we are imposed
upon: we value no man at what he is, but add to
the man himself the trappings in which he is clothed.
But when you wish to inquire into a man's true
worth, and to know what manner of man he is, look
at him when he is naked; make him lay aside his
inherited estate, his titles, and the other
deceptions of fortune. Let him strip off his body.
And in Moral Epistle, 80, Seneca again uses the stage
metaphor to stress man's power to disassociate himself from
the "play-acting" sensualities of life:
I often feel called upon to use the following
illustration, and it seems to me that none
expresses more effectively the drama of human
life, wherein we are assigned the parts we are
to play so badly. Yonder is the man who stalks
upon the stage with swelling port and head thrown
back. . You may speak in the same way of all
these dandies whom you see riding in litters
above the heads of men and above the crowd; in
every case their happiness is put on like the
actor's mask. Tear it off, and you will scorn
In Platonic and Stoic thought the trope of man the
cosmic actor thus represented an intricate symbolic con-
struct for its views of man's place in the universe--in
a world of external values and masking deceits, of evanes-
cent joys and mutable fortunes, man's existence was linked
to the "sham" reality of the human actor's brief show for
various ethical purposes. Both Platonic and Stoic uses
of the stage metaphor contained the basic idea that God
had assigned men various lots to play on the cosmic stage.
And while the former emphasized an ethics of the soul's
aspiration towards unity with the Divine, the latter
stressed an ethics of the soul's submission to world order
through ataraxia. Confronted with the "spectacle" of the
world, right reason taught both schools that in order to
perform their assigned lots well they must stand apart
from the vanities of lower, sensual existence, for such
vanities constituted an unsubstantial play of counterfeit
joys and passions. Such disengagement, in their schemes,
involved extirpating the animal elements within their nature,
and tearing off all masks of deceit and self-delusion
impeding the soul's interior perfection. These objectives,
suprahuman as they were, inevitably encountered philosophic
In strict opposition to Stoicism, the third major
school of Greek thought, Epicureanism, posited a sensual-
istic ethics: intent on giving the lie to Stoic ideals of
disengagement, Epicureanism stressed the value of man's
sensual drives in the name of an ethics of "right pleasure."
From out of this dialogue over man's nature there gradually
emerged a via media position--a blending of Epicurean and
Stoic doctrines under the banner of a common sense, anti-
rationalistic philosophy. This via media position appears
most vividly in the writings of the second-century satirist,
Lucian of Samosata, whose moral sensibility was rooted in
a highly skeptical view of human capabilities.
In his Dialogue Menippus (c. 165 A.D.) Lucian pictures
his hero descending to Hades in order to learn from Tiresias
how to live well; and Menippus's experiences in the under-
world give him this insight into man's life:
When I saw all this, the life of man came before
me under the likeness of a great pageant, arranged
and marshalled by Chance, who distributed infinitely
varied costumes to the performers. She would take
one and array him like a king, with tiara. bodyguard.
and crown complete; another she dressed like a slave;
one was adorned with beauty, another got up as a
ridiculous hunchback; there must be all kinds in
the show. . The play over, each of them throws
off his gold-spangled robe and his mask, descends
from the buskin's height, and moves a mean ordinary
In portraying life as a stage-like illusion under the
direction of "Chance," Lucian emphasizes throughout
Menippus man's folly in believing he is gifted to remove
himself from the comic incongruities of the human "show."
Near the beginning of the dialogue, he particularly
satirizes a Stoic philosopher, who advises Menippus to
bring "the body under," and to "be filthy and squalid,
disgusting and abusive." And, at the end of the dialogue,
Lucian explains "what is the best life" in this global
pageantry of disguises man finds himself in:
The life of the ordinary man is the best and
most prudent choice; cease from the folly of
metaphysical speculation and inquiry into origins
and ends, utterly reject their clever logic,
count all these things idle talk, and pursue one
end alone--how you may do what your hand finds
By employing the stage metaphor as a vital part of
the dialogue's anti-rationalistic vein of skepticism,
Lucian uniquely utilized the metaphor to qualify earlier
glorification of man as being essentially a spiritual-
rational creature. With the Greek ethos sinking into
extinction before the "Good News" of Christianity, this
kind of classical skepticism advised man to play out the
role which "Chance" had created for him, and to accept
his sensual vanities, as well as the fact that he was,
like it or not, "masked" in pretensions and self-deception.
Classical ethical norms were radically modified within
the Christian scheme of Divine Grace, human corruption
and redemption, for this scheme brought the "foolish" doctrine
that wisdom was the "crucified Christ," whose Grace alone
allowed man to triumph over the "law of sin" which was
ceaselessly "warring against the law of mind" within man
(Romans, 7. 20-3). In introducing these new properties
of Grace and Sin onto the cosmic stage, Christianity en-
visioned human existence as a brief, divinely plotted drama
in which man played for eternal salvation by acknowledging
himself as both the destined heir of Heaven and the son of
fallen Adam. Utilizing a basic theological pattern of
glory, ruin and restoration, an indissoluble bond of human
grandeur and misere was thus presupposed at both the
ontological and moral levels: created perfect, in a dual
state of body and soul, actually fallen, potentially re-
deemed, man remained ambiguously poised between the spiritual
and corporeal worlds, and between eternal salvation and
Christianity also radically refashioned Platonic and
Stoic concepts of a divine and human ordre natural by viewing
human self-glorification as a dead end in man's goal of
salvation. To the Christian, "right reason" was found only
in the self-knowledge of a fallen but redeemable man, who,
remaining a limited part of Nature, was free to forge his
own final destiny of endless joy or misery by acceptance
or rejection of grace. Substituting the virtues of charity
and humility, and the doctrine of reason-within-the-bounds-
of-faith, for Platonic and Stoic ideals of the self-autonomy
of the soul and the self-sufficiency of reason, Christianity
primarily sought to humble fallen man in order to show him
the way to his true restoration in Christ. Christian
medieval uses of the stage metaphor graphically reflect
this altered view of man's ability to overcome his inherited
lot on earth: to the "sinner" on the world stage, restora-
tion from his fallen condition (affecting both his rational
and animal elements) could be achieved only by a humble
awareness of his own imperfections, charity, and patient
trust in Divine Grace directing his complex nature towards
its true goal of salvation.
In his Exposition on Psalm, 128 (c. 395), St. Augustine
thus utilizes the theatrical metaphor to show how man could
perform his role of salvation only through the power of
sanctifying grace and the redeeming forces of humility and
charity. Commenting on the first line of this psalm,
"Blessed are all they that fear the Lord, and walk in His
ways," Augustine points out how man, walking in God's ways
through fear of his own sinfulness and in imitation of
Christ's humility and charity, would be exalted in the
future Jerusalem; and he then compares man's present lot
to a stage-play:
Boys when born speak somewhat like this to their
parents: "Now then, begin to think of removing
hence, let us too play our parts on the stage."
For the whole life of temptation in the human
race is a stage play; for it is said, Everyman
living is altogether vanity. Nevertheless, if
we rejoice in children who will succeed us; how
much must we rejoice in children with whom we
shall remain, and in that Father for Whom we are
born, Who will not die, but that we may evermore
live with Him? These are the good things of
In this portrait of man's "whole life of temptation" on
earth as a "Vanity Fair" stage play, Augustine richly
evokes the pathos of fallen man's inherent frailties,
frailties which could only be overcome by an Imatatio Dei.
In Book II of his De Libero Arbitrio (c. 396),
Augustine, echoing Plato's idea of the world as a divine
show, also suggests how man, the spectator of God's
world, can properly scan the divine spectacle:
O Wisdom /T.e., God7 . thou ceasest not to
suggest to us what and how great thou art. Thy
pleasure is the whole glory of created beings. An
artificer somehow suggests to the spectator of
his work, through the very beauty of the work
itself, not to be wholly content with that
beauty alone, but to let his eyes so scan the
form of the material thing made that he may
remember with affection him who made it.
But, unlike Plato, Augustine stresses, in the following
passages, the goodness and value of man's bodily nature
in the creation: "If, then, we find among the good things
of the body, some that a man can abuse, ... /. /e7 can
not on that account say that they ought not to have been
given, since we admit that they are good .. /and7 could
only have been given by him from whom all good thl,,in
come." And further on in this same work Augustin- also
sets forth the fundamental Christian understanding, jf
man's position in the divine show:
As we are born from the first pair to a mort. ,
life of ignorance and toil because they sinned
and fell into a state of error, misery and
death, so it most justly pleased the most hi i
God, Governor of all things, to manifest from
the beginning, from man's origin, his justice
in exacting punishment, and in human history
his mercy in remitting punishment.
The essential elements in Augustine's view of man's
true role on the world-stage reappeared some six cr'nturies
later, in the work of the medieval Christian humauni:t,
John of Salisbury. Throughout five chapters of hi:o
Policraticus (1159), John makes elaborate use of lh ,atrical
metaphor to show how man could play his part in Go I's
divine drama only through recognition of his own imperfec-
tions and humble submission to Divine Providence. Like
Augustine, John visualizes sinful man engaged in a :tage-
play of vanity:
everything that takes place in the seething mnb
of the irreligious is more like comedy than r-al
life. . "I have seen," says Ecclesiastec,
"all things that are done under the sun, and
behold, all is vanity," and this is because al
things that withdraw from the firm ground of Iruth
become subject to the vanity which so graces
our comedy. ..
And, in noting how man acts in this cosmic comedy in the
"sight of God" and "of his angels," John also strc::-es
fallen man's need for patient trust in God's divin,.
As long as peace is absent from the sons of Adam,
who have been born to labor, prepared for flagella-
tion, conceived in sin, reared in toil, rushing
rather than traveling toward death, than which
there is no sadder sight, patience is necessary,
an effective consolation which, derived from the
balm of joy in the conscience and from the bound-
less clemency of God, fosters and strengthens
those predestined for life by inspiring them with
hope of the future.
But in using the world-stage concept in Policraticus,
John also places a new and crucial emphasis on the role
of self-knowledge in humbling man to recognize his limita-
tions on the cosmic stage. To John, "the life of man is
a comedy, where each forgetting his own plays another's
role" (italics mine), since man, through a prideful lack
of self-knowledge, continually refuses to accept his
assigned role and seeks, instead, a more exalted one.
In observing how the "first task of man aspiring to wisdom
is the consideration of what he himself is," John insists
that true self-knowledge should teach man, first and
foremost, that "without grace we can do nothing" and that
"pride is verily the root of all evils and the fuel that
feeds the fires of death." Such a lack of self-knowledge,
John noted, caused the pagans to be
somewhat careless in that, amidst such light
divinee illumination cast upon things, they
attained to no knowTedge of themselves and lost
the knowledge of the light inaccessible; being
vain in their thoughts and professing themselves
to be wise, they became fools, and their foolish
heart was darkened.
And, in depicting, in Chapter IX of the Policraticus, how
the just and the angels attentively view the world comedy
of life--"They view the world-comedy along with Him who
towers above to watch ceaselessly over men, their deeds
and their aspirations"--Salisbury further illustrated
this lack of self-knowledge in speaking of classical notions
God forbid that any glorieth except him who
glorieth in the Lord; for not he who commendeth
himself or men commend is approved, but he whom
God conmendeth; and this approval is won only by
real virtue, not by its semblance however striking.
This last comprises, I believe, all distinction in
character due to natural endowment and the exercise
of mental power without grace, which philosophers
promise themselves as reward. For this very reason
they become vain in their thoughts . and
professing themselves wise, they become fools.
Thus, while in the ethical perspective of the Platoni.s
or the Stoicman was seen to misplay his true role in the
divine drama as a result of lack of rational-spiritual
self-perfection, to the Christianman misplayed his part
as the result of a lack of proper self-knowledge of his
own fallen but redeemable human condition. An essential
part of the Christian view of man's role on the cosmic
stage thus centered upon humbling proud man through the
process of self-knowledge: in cautioning him against the
despair of playing a less exalted role than that of a
potential inheritor of Heaven, Christian self-knowledge,
rooted as it was in the doctrine of religious humility,
more often operated to admonish man against the ancient
satanic presumption of desiring a more exalted, self-
sufficient role on the cosmic stage.
During the early Renaissance subtle alterations in
the Christian view of man gradually arose as the result
of a new optimism over human capabilities, an optimism
which stemmed primarily from Platonic and Stoic emphases
on man as being essentially a spiritual-rational creature.
The stage metaphor afforded a vehicle for the expression
of this optimism, as well as for the central Renaissance
humanist effort to retain the Christian concept of man's
limitations on the stage of a fallen world.
One of the most imaginative products of this
Renaissance optimism in man's spiritual and rational
capabilities is found in Juan Lius Vives' A Fable About
Man (1518), a work which in its turn was profoundly
indebted to the philosophical concepts of the Italian
humanist, Pico Della Mirandola. In his Oration on the
Dignity of Man (1486), Pico elaborated upon the Plotinian
concept of the soul's freedom to pass through the entire
spectrum of being, from the lowest to the highest forms,
by stressing man's unlimited, Protean-like power of
transformation. God, Pico wrote in his Oration, "took
man as a creature of indeterminate nature" and "addressed
Neither a fixed abode nor a form that is thine
alone nor any function peculiar to thyself have
we given thee, Adam. . Thou shalt have the
power to degenerate into the lower forms of life,
which are brutish. Thou shalt have the power,
out of thy soul's judgment, to be reborn into
the higher forms, which are divine.
In celebrating man's "indeterminate" role in the creation,
Pico, as Paul Oskar Kristeller points out in his intro-
duction to the Oration, placed great emphasis on man's
liberty: "Man is the only creature whose life is determined
not by nature but by his own free choice; and thus man no
longer occupies a fixed though distinguished place in the
hierarchy of being but exists outside this hierarchy as
a kind of separate world." Pico's notion of man's unfixed
place in the hierarchy of being can be seen as an important
shift in perspective from the medieval Christian view of
man's fixed ontological status as an intermediate creature
sharing attributes of both the spiritual and corporeal
worlds; moreover, in Pico's unqualified stress on man's
freedom, as Hiram Haydn notes, "the limiting principle of
the Christian humanist's concept of the only true liberty
being the liberty to go good, which is both God's will
for man and man's distinctive good, is broken down and
replaced by a really autonomous conception of the will,
an unlimited freedom of choice."
This Renaissance Platonic alteration in the tradi-
tional Chrisbian conception of man is graphically reflected
in Vives' portrait of the world as a theatre under the
direction of a divine stage manager (clothed in the mythical
garb of Jupiter) who creates a spectacle for the enjoyment
of a celestial audience:
All of a sudden, at a command of almighty Jupiter,
by whom alone all things are done, this whole
world appeared, so large, so elaborate, so diver-
sified, and beautiful in places, just as you see
it. This was the amphitheater: uppermost, to wit
in the skies, were the stalls and seats of the
divine spectators; nethermost--some say in the
middle--the earth was placed as a stage for the
appearance of the actors, along with all the
animals and everything else.
As in Pico's (and Plotinus's) conception of human nature,
Vives' emphasis is also on man's unlimited freedom to
take new forms of being:
They /The gods7 saw man, Jupiter's mime, be all
things also. He would change himself so as to
appear under the mask of a plant, acting a simple
life without any power of sensation. Soon after,
he withdrew and returned . into the shapes of
a thousand wild beasts: namely, the angry and raging
lion, the rapacious and devouring wolf ..
After doing this, he was out of sight for a short
time; then the curtain was drawn back and he returned
Finally, Vives' "wonder-actor" is seen transcending these
lower "shapes" by means of his rational faculties to
become reborn into the "higher forms which are divine":
The gods were not expecting to see him /ian7
in more shapes when, behold, he was remade-into
one of their own race, surpassing the nature of
man and relying entirely upon a very wise mind.
. Thus man was recalled from the stage, seated
by Mercury among the gods, and proclaimed victor.
As an expression of extreme faith in human reason,
Vives' Fable mirrors sixteenth-century Renaissance tenden-
cies to minimize man's limitations on the cosmic stage.
But while Vives adapted Plotinus's use of the world-stage
theme to suggest the soul's rational powers to divest
itself of its lower bodily forms, "middle-path humanists
like More and Erasmus," also employed the stage metaphor
to uphold the Christian humanist ideal of limitation.
In his Utopia (1516), More thus tempered early Renaissance
enthusiasm for human perfectibility by stressing man's
need to play his assigned part on the stage of an imperfect
world. In More's dialogue the voice of idealistic faith
in man, presented by the persona of Hythloday, is countered
by the cautious voice of More, the Christian realist, who
cannot overlook the effects of original sin upon man. In
rebuking Hythloday in Book I of the Utopia for his refusal
to serve a corrupt court, More points to the only practical
solution a Christian can bring to the problem of evil in
But their is an other philosophy more civil,
whyche knoweth, as ye wolde say, her owne stage,
and thereafter orderynge and behavinge herself in
the played that she hathe in handed, playethe her
part accordingly with coilyenes, utteringe
nothing oute of dewe ordre and fassyon. And thys
ys the phylosophye that you must use. . For
by bryngynge in other stuff that nothing
apperteynethe to the present matter, you must
nedes marre and pervert the play that is in hand,
though the stuff that you brynge be much
better. What part soever you have taken upon you,
played that aswel as you canne, and make the best
of it: And doe not therefore disturbed and brynge
out of ordre the whole matter, because that an
other, whyche is meryer and better, cummethe to
And in More's theatre-world, the whole principle of the
divine piece centers upon man's need to range himself
rightly to his position in a fallen world:
Yf evel opinions and noughty persuasions can not
be utterly and quyte plucked out of their /Kings'7
hartes, if you can not even as you wolde remedy
vices, which use and customer hath confirmed: yet
for this cause you must not leave and forsake the
common wealth. . For it is not possible for
al thynges to be well, onles all men were good.
Which I think wil not be yet this good many
Hythloday's truculent refusal to accept the fact that
the world is full of "craftye wyle" tends to disturb the
divine plot of God's providence for the world; his refusal
mars the "whole matter" of the cosmic play by his desire
to escape from man's imperfect nature. In his role as
the cautious and realistic interlocutor in the Utopia,
More exhibits, then, the Christian humanist's awareness
that as long as the "law of sin" is upon the sons of Adam,
man must play out his role of regeneration in patient
trust that the "whole matter" is in the deeper counsel
In The Praise of Folly (1511), a work which is
generally recognized as the product of one of the most
complex and supple of Renaissance minds, Erasmus also uses
the stage metaphor to qualify Renaissance fervor over
human greatness. Thus in a section near the middle of
the satire, Stultitia employs the Lucianic image of life
as a play to demonstrate that the imprudent man would be
he who sought to strip off all the disguises making up
the fabric of life:
If a person were to try stripping the disguises
from actors while they play a scene upon the
stage, showing to the audience their real looks
and the faces they were born with, would not
such a one spoil the whole play? .. ..
But suppose, right here, some wise man who has
dropped down from the sky should suddenly confront
me and cry out that the person whom the world
has accepted as a god and a master is not even a
man, because he is driven sheep-like by his
passions. . I ask you, what would he get by
it, except to be considered by everyone as insane
and raving? As nothing is more foolish than wisdom
out of place, so nothing is more imprudent than
unseasonable prudence. . The part of a truly
prudent man, on the contrary, is (since we are
mortal) not to aspire to wisdom beyond his station,
and either, along with the rest of the crowd,
pretend not to notice anything, or affably and
companionably be deceived. But that, they tell
us, is folly. Indeed, I shall not deny it;
only let them, on their side, allow that it is
also to play out the comedy of life.
In the following passage, Stultitia identifies her
principal adversary as the Stoic ideal of the emotionless
Thus the Stoics take away from the wise man all
perturbations of the soul, as so many diseases.
Yet these passions not only discharge the office
of mentor and guide to such as are pressing toward
the gate of wisdom, but they also assist in
every exercise of virtue as spurs and goads--
persuaders, as it were--to well doing. Although
that double-strength Stoic, Seneca, stoutly
denies this, subtracting from the wise man any
and every emotion, yet in doing so he leaves him
no man at all but rather a new kind of god, or
demiurgos, who never existed and will never
Erasmus's satirical thrust is aimed here at that type of
"wisdom" espoused by the Stoic-like rationalist, "insen-
sible to any natural sympathy, no more moved by feelings
of love or pity than if he were solid flint or Marpesian
stone." Redefining "prudence" on behalf of Christian
"right reason," and questioning reason's claims in order
to emerge with the wisdom of man's limited role on the
world-stage, Erasmus shows how imperfect man is more
often taken up with disguises than reality, and how no
man can truly become an unconcerned spectator of the human
comedy of life. In using the stage metaphor in The Praise
of Folly, Erasmus richly expresses the central Christian
humanist concern with humbling man in order to show him
where his true ethical objectives lie--in the paradoxical
wisdom of Christian patience and understanding of human
Several critics have recently stressed the large
influence which the concept of the world as a divine stage
had on the Elizabethan mind. Roy W. Battenhouse, for
example, has pointed out how the "Elizabethans were awed
and inspired by the idea that God was a dramatist," and
that "this world was His stageplay"; and Thomas Stroup
has gone as far as to claim that "by the time of Elizabeth
I," the world-stage concept "had come to be a more wide-
spread metaphor for the expression of the Elizabethan
World-Picture than the Great Chain of Being or the bee
hive." During the late sixteenth century in England, as
the result of this pervasive Elizabethan view of the world
as a divine stage-play, the gravid implications of the
idea of the human drama being contained within a larger
divine play were artfully employed on the Elizabethan stage.
By subtly using the idea of the play as a mirror of the
larger world of human existence, Elizabethan drama, at
its greatest, figured forth for its audience the nature
of their own true role in God's divine theatre.
In The Idea of a Theatre Francis Fergusson showed
how the Elizabethan stage was a symbolic representation
of the Elizabethan view of the world as "an ordered
universe arranged in a fixed system of hierarchies but
modified by man's sin and the hope of his redemption."
and was "thus taken both as the physical and the meta-
physical 'scene' of man's life." The "metaphysical
scene" of man's relationship to divine order was, perhaps,
most brilliantly emblemized in Elizabethan drama under
the canopy encircling the scenes of Hamlet (c. 1602).
Here, the idea of the play as a metaphoric reflector of
the "real" world,
. the purpose of playing, whose end, both at
the first and now, was and is, to hold, as 'twere,
the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own
feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and
body of the time his form and pressure,
is artfully used by Shakespeare to symbolize man's limited
role in the mysterious, divine reality governing the "real"
world of human existence. For as the "inner" play of the
Gonzago interlude mirrors the truth concerning the world
of Elsinore, this latter "stage-world," in turn, is made
to reveal the truth of man's proper role in the greater
divine "stage-play" of life.
The world of Hamlet is, as Maynard Mack has cogently
demonstrated, a "world of riddles"; and in this world,
Hamlet, exemplifying the mystery of the "human predicament
* . between the glory of having been made in God's image
and the incrimination of being descended from fallen
Adam," is tested in accepting the fact that he must play
on a stage whose manager has set limits on his ability
to cut through the tangle of human frailties. Hamlet
learns, in short, that he is acting not on his own stage,
but on God's, where, though he is "a little soil'd i' th'
working," there is a higher direction leading him to his
true goal. Mack comments on the basic transformation
which takes place in Hamlet in the last act of the play:
The point is that he /ramlet7 has now learned,
and accepted, the boundaries in which human
action, human judgment, are enclosed. Till his
return from the voyage he had been trying to act
beyond these, had been encroaching on the role of
providence. . Now, he has learned that there
are limits to the before and after that human
reason can comprehend. Rashness, even, is sometimes
good. Through rashness he has saved his life from
the commission for his death, "and prais'd be rash-
ness for it." This happy circumstance and the
unexpected arrival of the pirate ship make it plain
that the roles of life are not entirely self-assigned.
"There is a divinity that shapes our ends, Roughhew
them how we will."
On God's world stage, then, all is right because the quality
of God's grace is not strained, not because man can walk
out of the maze of self-illusions and deceptions which
make up his brief moment in the divine drama.
Shakespeare's central Christian humanist concept of
man's limitations also appears, perhaps in its most vivid
and compelling form, in his last major play, The Tempest
(c. 1612). In an introduction to The Tempest, Frank Kermode
has shown how a major theme in the play involves Prospero's
restoration to divine order:
Prospero, like Adan, fell from his kingdom by an
inordinate thirst for knowledge; but learning is
a great aid to virtue, the road by which we may
love and imitate God, .. and by its means he is
enabled to return.
This restorative "learning" process in Prospero funda-
mentally involves, as in Hamlet's case, an acceptance of
the inescapable, built-in limits of man's role on God's
stage--throughout the play we see Prospero tested to accept
the fact that, as E. M. W. Tillyard puts it, "man for all
striving towards the angels can never be guit utterly of
the bestial, of the Caliban, within him."
In Act I of The Tempest we hear how Prospero "cast"
his assigned lot as Duke of Milan on his brother Antonio:
The government I cast upon my brother,
And to my state grew stranger, being transported
And rapt in secret studies ..
(I, II, 11. 75-7)
The nature of Prospero's "secret studies," and the magic
powers he possesses as the result of his desire for a new
"state" has been also shown by Kermode to be intimately
connected to Neo-Platonic notions of man's ascent to
angelhood. Like Prospero, "whose Art is to achieve
supremacy over the natural world by holy magic,"
The Neo-Platonic mage studies the harmonic
relationship of the elementary, celestial and
intellectual worlds. . His object is to
"walk to the skie," as Vaughan put it, before
death, by ascending through the created worlds
to the condition of the angels. His Art is
supernatural; the spirits he commands are
the daemons of Neo-Platonism.
And in Act IV of the play we see how the angelic-like
powers of Prospero's art make him a kind of divine stage
impresario of his island world, allowing him to "enact
his present fancies" in an impressive masque-like spectacle
of mythological figures. While creating this show "to
bestow upon the eyes" of Ferdinand and Miranda "some
vanity" (IV, II, 1. 40) of his Art, Prospero suddenly
remembers Caliban, and,with a "vex'd"and "troubled"
brain, he lays down his magic arts and dismisses the actors
of his "show":
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex'd;
Bear with my weakness; my old brain is troubled.
(IV, I, 11. 148-159)
Prospero, who until this moment in the play seemed totally
unlimited in his power and freedom to shape his own des-
tiny, now sees that he cannot be "quit utterly of the
bestial, of the Caliban, within him." He now learns, like
Hamlet, that there are limits to human capabilities, and
that man must act on God's stage in a role which is not
In the last act of The Tempest, Prospero is seen
acknowledging his creaturely limitations by acknowledging
Caliban--"this thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine"
(V, I, 11. 275-6)--and thus accepting the proper bounds
in which he must act in God's world. "Restored" through
proper self-knowledge from his false part as the angel-
like creator-spectator of the island world, Prospero now
returns to Milan to take on the more ennobling part of
a man humbly working his way on the world-stage through
the labyrinths of the human mystery towards its Divine
Director. But while the Christian humanist ethos and
its traditional view of the drama of salvationist history
found their deepest expression in Shakespeare's imagina-
tive art, other forces were subtly at work transforming
the meaning of that drama.
1. The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philo-
ophers, 4th ed. (New Haven, Conn., 19bl), p. 31.
2. Ibid., p. 7.
3. Ibid., p. 6.
4. Ibid., p. 123.
5. Cf. Ernest Lee Tuveson, Millennium and Utopia: A
Study in the Background of the Idea of Progress
(New York, 19b4), esp. pp. ix-xii and 154ff. Any
investigation of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-
century scientific millennialist movement follows
in the wake of Tuveson's important study. Further
debt is owed Miss Majorie Hope Nicolson's discussion
of Thomas Burnet in her Mountain Gloom and Mountain
Glory: The Development of the Aesthetics of the
Infinite (New York, 1959).
6. Pope's Dunciad: A Study of Its Meaning (London, 1955),
7. General discussions of classical, medieval and
Renaissance examples of the world-stage concept appear
in Jean Jacquot, "Le Th&etre Du Monde de Shakespeare
a Calderon," Revue de Litterature Comparie, XXXI
(1957), 341-72; Ernst Robert Curtius, European
Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard
R. Trask (New York, 19b3), pp. 130-14h; and Minos
Kokolakis, The Dramatic Simile of Life (Athens, 1960).
8. In his account of The Greeks and Their Gods (Boston,
1956), William Keith Chambers Guthrie explains Plato's
anthropological view: "Plato affirmed that the soul is
indeed to be cherished as the most important part of us,
for it belongs in essence to the eternal world and not
the transitory. It has had many lives, and before and
between them, when out of the body, has had glimpses of
the reality beyond. Death is not an evil for it, but
a release from imprisonment in the body enabling it to
fly back to the world of Ideas with which it had con-
verse before its life on earth. . Philosophy is
'a preparation for death,' in that it fits the soul
to stay permanently in the world of the Ideas instead
of being condemned to return once more to the linita-
tions of a mortal frame" (pp. 346-7).
9. Laws, I, 644, trans. Benjamin Jowett, in The Dialogues
of Plato, in Great Books of the Western W iol, ed.
Robert Maynard Hutchins (Chicago, 1952), vol. VII,
10. Timaeus, 44, trans. Benjamin Jowett, in The Dialogues
of PlaTo, in Great Books of the Western Word, ed.
Robert Maynard Hutchins (Chicago, 1952), vol. VII,
11. Laws, I, 644, p. 650.
12. Cf. Laws, I, 644-5, p. 650.
13. Cf. Timaeus, 46, p. 455.
14. Timaeus, 47, p. 455.
15. Timaeus, 90, p. 476.
17. Third Ennead, Tract II, 17, trans. Stephen MacKenna
and B. S. Page, in Plotinus: The Six Enneads, in
Great Books of the Western World (Chicago, 1952),
vol. XVII, p. 92.
18. Ibid., Tract II, 16, p. 91.
19. Ibid., Tract II, 15, p. 89. In those passages of the
Third Ennead containing the stage metaphor, Plotinus
continually lays the blame for man's "wrong-doing" on
"the attached body with its inevitable concomitant
of desire" (II, 4, p. 85).
20. Ibid., Tract II, 15, p. 90.
21. These passages are replete with such descriptions of
metempsychoses as "the transmutation of living things,"
and the "transformation of living beings one into
another" (II, 15, p. 90).
22. Ibid., Tract II, 14, p. 89.
23. Ibid., Tract II, 18, p. 92.
24. In his An Essay on Man: An Introduction to a Philosophy
of Human Culture (New Haven, Conn., 1962), Ernst
Cassirer notes that the greatest merit of the "Stoic
conception of man lies in the fact that this conception
gives to man both a deep feeling of his harmony with
nature and his moral independence of nature" (p. 8).
25. The Enchiridion or Manual, of Epictetus, in The Moral
Discourses of Epictetus, trans. Elizabeth Carter
(London, New York, 1913), p. 260.
26. The Discourses of Epictetus, Book I, Chapter 6, trans.
George Long, in Great Books of the Western World
(Chicago, 1952), vol. XII, p. 111.
27. Ibid., Book I, Chapter 29, pp. 136-7.
28. Ibid., Book II, Chapter I, p. 139.
29. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, Book XI, 6, trans.
George Long, in Great Books of the Western World
(Chicago, 1952), vol. XII, p. 302.
30. Ibid., Book XI, 3, p. 302.
31. Ibid., Book X, 11, p. 298. Plato's general influence
on Aurelius's concept of putting off the body through
contemplation can be seen in the following excerpts
from The Meditations: "Look around at the courses of
the stars, as if thou wert going along with them; and
constantly consider the changes of the elements into
one another; for such thoughts purge away the filth
of the terrene life. This is a fine saying of Plato:
That he who is discoursing about men should look also
at earthly things as if he viewed them from some higher
place. . ." (Book VII, p. 282); "Remember that this
/Eoul7 which pulls the strings is the thing which is
hidden within: this is life, this, if one may so say,
is man. In contemplating thyself never include the
vessel /body7 which surrounds thee. . ." (Book X,
32. Ibid.. Book VII, 3, pp. 279-80.
33. Moral Epistle, 76, in Seneca's Moral Epistles to
Lucilius, trans. Richard M. Gummere (London, New York,
1930), vol. II, p. 157.
34. Ibid., pp. 165, 167.
35. Ibid., pp. 217, 219.
36. Cf. "Introduction" to The Works of Lucian of Samosata,
trans. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler (Oxford, 1905),
vol. I, pp. xxivff.
37. Ibid., p. 164.
38. Ibid., p. 158.
39. Ibid., p. 167.
40. This Christian use of the theatrical metaphor to under-
line man's need of humility and charity appears also
in St. John Chrysostom's homily, De Lazaro concio, II
(c. 400). In the latter, Chrysostom stresses the prime
importance of charity, and humble obedience to God's
will in man's present life on earth, and then depicts
this life in terms of a global stage play: "Quemadmodum
enim instant vespera, digressisque qui consederant,
ubi fuerint e theatre egressi, habitumque fabulae de-
posuerint: qui prius reges ac duces esse videbantur,
post apparent hoe quod sunt: ita sane et nunc. postquam
mors advenerit, theatrumque dimissum fuerit, cum divi-
tiarum paupertatisque personas deposuerint, ones illuc
profecti' atque ex solis operibus judicati, declarant
qui vere sint divites, qui vere pauperes: qui honorati,
et qui obscuri." De Lazaro concio, II, 3, in S. Joannis
Chrysostomi Opera, ed. Jacques-Faul Migne, Patrologi-e-
Graeca (Paris, 1859), vol. XLVIII, p. 986, col. 2.
CUtee-by Jean Jacquot, "Le The6tre Du Monde de
Shakespeare a Calder6n," Revue de Litterature Compar6e,
41. Cf. Exposition on Psalm, 128, in Expositions on The
Book of Psalms by S. Augustine, trans. C. Marriott, in
A Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church,
Anterior to the Division of the East and the West
(Oxford, 1057), vol. XXXIX, pp. 35-41.
42. Ibid., pp. 46-47.
43. De Libero Arbitrio, Book II, Chapter XVII, 43, trans.
John H. S. Burleigh, in The Library of Christian Classics
(Philadelphia, 1953), vol. VI, p. 0b2.
44. Ibid., Book II, Chapter XVIII, 48, p. 165.
45. Ibid., Book III, Chapter XX, 55, p. 203.
46. Policraticus, Chapter VIII, trans. as Frivolities of
oT Courtiers and Footprints of Philosophers by Joseph
B. Pike (Minneapolis, London, 193b), pp. 171-2, 176.
47. Ibid., Chapter IX, p. 175.
48. Ibid., Chapter VIII, p. 175.
49. Ibid., Chapter VIII, p. 171.
50. Ibid., Chapters II and III, pp. 155-7. "There is,"
John observes in these passages on self-knowledge,
"an oracle of Apollo which is thought to have come
down from the skies; Noti seliton, that is, Know
thyself" (p. 156).
51. Ibid., Chapter II, p. 156.
52. Ibid., Chapter IX, p. 180.
53. Ibid., Chapter IX, pp. 177-8.
54. In her "Introduction" to A Fable About Man, Nancy
Lenkeith points out that Vives' Fable "is directly
based on Pico's conception of the dignity of man"
(The Renaissance Philosophy of Man, ed. Ernst Cassirer,
et al./Chicago, 194b/, p. 3b5).
55. Oration on the Dignity of Man, trans. Elizabeth Liver-
more Forbes, in The Renaissance Philosophy of Man,
56. Ibid., p. 225.
57. Ibid., p. 219.
58. The Counter-Renaissance (New York, 1950), p. 349.
59. A Fable About Man, in The Renaissance Philosophy of
Man, p. 387.
60. Ibid., p. 389.
61. Ibid., pp. 389-390.
62. See Hiram Haydn, The Counter-Renaissance, p. 351.
63. The Utopia of Sir Thomas More: Ralph Robinson's Trans-
lation with Roper's Life of More and Some of His
Letters, ed. George Sampson (London, 1910), pp. 69-70.
64. Ibid., pp. 70-1.
65. Lucian's general influencecn Erasmus, and in particular
his use of the stage metaphor, is noted by Hoyt Hope-
well Hudson in his "Introduction" to The Praise of
Folly (Princeton, 1944): "By 1505 Erasmus and Thomas
More, who may have discovered this author /T.e., Lucian7
before Erasmus did, were at work translating dialogues
of Lucian into Latin, and thirty-two of their versions
(of which twenty-eight were by Erasmus) were printed by
Badius in Paris, 1506. . Some years after he had
published The Praise of Folly he wrote to a friend
that it was Thomas More's fondness for wit and fun,
'and especially for Lucian,' that prompted him to
write this book. The early part is Lucianic in its
scoffing at the gods of mythology; and farther on
Erasmus borrows from Lucian the view. . of the world
.compared to a stage" (pp. xviii-xix).
66. Ibid., pp. 37-8.
67. Ibid., p. 39.
69. Cf. Walter Kaiser, Praisers of Folly: Erasmus, Rabelais,
Shakespeare, Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature
(Cambridge, Mass., 1963), vol. XXV, pp. 61-2.
70. Roy W. Battenhouse, Marlowe's Tamburlaine: A Study in
Renaissance Moral Philosophy (Nashville, Tenn., -941
71. Thomas B. Stroup, "The Testing Pattern in Elizabethan
Tragedy," Studies in English Literature:1500-1900,
III (1963), 17b.
72. E(ustace) M(andeville) W(etenhall) Tillyard. The
Elizabethan World Picture: A Study of the Idea of Order
in the Age of Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton (New
ork, 19), pp. 5-0, quoted by Fergusson in his The
Idea of a Theatre: A Study of Ten Plays, The Art of
Drama in Changing Perspective (Princeton, N.J., 1949),
73. The Idea of a Theatre, p. 116.
74. This "metaphysical scene," had also, of course, been
set forth in both the medieval cycle and morality
plays. In presenting their panoramic sagas of the
Christian history of the race, the medieval cycle plays,
strove, as Anne Righter explains in her Shakespeare
and the Idea of the Play (New York, 1962), to dramatize
the fundamental Christian theological view of man:
"Every moment of the mystery cycle was designed to
affirm the theological involvement of Mankind with the
events represented on the stage, to render each
spectator vividly aware of his inheritance of guilt
and the possibility of his redemption by stressing his
participation in the most significant moments of Biblical
history" (p. 19). As a result of this intimate
involvement, "Adam," "Abraham" and "Herod" of the
cycle play could be seen moving across the scaffolds
of the stage, tested for their fitness for salvation
as all the sons of Adam were tested by the Divine
Dramatist on the larger stage of the world. Professor
Stroup has shown how a similar testing pattern was
developed in the morality play, in which Everyman was
tested to see "whether he might bring himself to sub-
mit to God's will and thus gain His grace and receive
the mercy which would enable him to achieve salva-
tion" ("The Testing Pattern in Elizabethan Tragedy,"
75. Hamlet, Act III, Scene II, 11. 22-7, in The Plays and
Sonnets of William Shakespeare, ed. William G. Clarke
and William A. Wright, in Great Books of the Western
World (Chicago, 1952), vol. XXVII, p. 49.
76. "The World of Hamlet," Yale Review, XLI (1952), 502-23,
reprinted in Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism, ed.
Leonard Dean (New York, 1961), p. 240.
77. Ibid., p. 252.
78. Mack notes how the "radical metaphor" of the play
centers upon the problematic nature of "act" and its
relationship to reality: "What, this play asks again
and again, is an act? What is its relation to the
inner act, the intent? . For an action may be
nothing but pretense. . Or it may be a pretense
that is actually a mirroring of reality, like the play
within the play, of the tragedy of Hamlet" ("The World
of Hamlet," p. 247).
79. Ibid., p. 247.
80. "Introduction" to The Tempest, ed. Frank Kermode
(New York, 1964), p. i. All quotations from The Tempest
will be taken from this text.
81. The Elizabethan World Picture, p. 35.
82. The Tempest, p. xl.
83. Ibid., pp. xl-xli.
Two: New Scenes on the Cosmic Stage
In the beginning of his study of Science and Religion
in Seventeenth-Century England Richard S. Westfall pointed
out an important development in seventeenth-century
A new intellectual current, the achievements of
natural science, were raising questions that could
not be ignored. . With the growing prestige
of science--it achieved immense prestige after
the publication of Newton's Principia--its
reconciliation with Christianity came more and
more to mean the adjustment of Christian beliefs
to conform to the conclusions of science.
A vital part of the process by which the Christian concept
of man became "revised" into the eighteenth-century
doctrine of natural perfectibility involved seventeenth-
century "adjustments" of Christian beliefs to science's
conclusions about man's place in the world. This chapter
will examine the background and implications of seventeenth-
century scientific-theological notions of man's role on
the cosmic stage to show how such notions represented
radically new visions of the Christian drama of salvation.
During the dynamic movement of scientific thought in
the seventeenth century a new optimistic spirit was born,
permeated with the idea of man's increasing powers to
discover and control Nature's operations. A major factor
in the growth of this spirit was the new science's view
of Nature as a machine which could be comprehended by the
exact reckonings of mechanical laws. The leading
seventeenth-century proponent of this mechanical view was
Descartes, who, in demonstrating that the operation of
the universe could be understood by means of a few general
principles of mechanics, laid unprecedented emphasis on
the efficient causality of Nature. In his The Metaphysical
Foundations of Modern Physical Science, E. A. Burtt aptly
noted how in Descartes' view of reality God was "relegated
to the position of first cause of motion" and "the happen-
ings of the universe" seen as eternal "incidents in the
regular revolutions of a great mathematical machine."
In stressing the role of secondary causes in the world,
Descartes also stressed man's great capabilities in this
new mechanical order of reality; thus, in his Discourse
on the Method (1637), he explained how man might be able
to gain mastery over Nature's processes:
we may find a practical philosophy by means of
which, knowing the force and the action of fire,
water, air, the stars, heavens and all other
bodies that environ us, as distinctly as we know
the different crafts of our artisans, we can in
the same way employ them in all those uses to
which they are adapted, and thus render ourselves
the masters and possessors of nature. (italics
While the "Bacon-faced" generation of seventeenth-
century English science generally rejected Descartes'
a priori (from theories to facts) method of scientific
investigation in favor of the experimental method, English
scientists welcomed Descartes' view of man's new scien-
tific capabilities, and gradually adopted the mechanical
philosophy as the most likely hypothesis for their own
experiments. In his Ancients and Moderns R. F. Jones
described how seventeenth-century English scientists,
imbued with new optimism over man's technological skills,
that they were living at a momentous time in
history. "An unusual light," says Sprat, "seems
to overspread this Age" . . Whereas Glanvill
and Boyle had only seen in visions a future
technological paradise, Sprat speaks of the
"wonderful perfection" already achieved by the
Following Bacon's notion that the purpose of learning was
to "endow the condition and life of man with new powers
and works," the experimental philosophers pointed to
mechanical "inventions and discoveries" as the means
through which man could create a new technological para-
dise--in treatise after treatise the experimental philo-
sopher exulted over the manner in which the present
"race of inventors" was altering "the face of all things."
Henry Power's Experimental Philosophy (1664) perhaps most
vividly reflects the manner in which seventeenth-century
science emphasized man's unlimited ability to gain
technological control of the machine-world. After con-
gratulating his contemporary scientists on their efforts
to "unriddle all Nature," Power noted:
This is the Age wherein all mens Souls are in
a kind of fermentation, and the spirit of
Wisdom and Learning begins to mount and free
itself . to find the various turnings,
and mysterious process of the divine Art, in the
management of this great Machine of the World.
One of the most influential figures in the seventeenth-
century English scientific movement was, doubtless, Robert
Boyle, the "Christian virtuoso" par excellence, whose
writings mirror the most dominant intellectual concerns
of the period. A staunch defender of both the Christian
faith and the mechanical philosophy, Boyle epitomized the
new direction Christian rationalism was to take as a result
of the new science's mechanistic, progressivist tendencies.
Boyle's fervent scientific progressivism has been
pointed out by Professor Jones, who observes that Boyle
"foresaw more clearly than any of his contemporaries the
development of machinery . and based his claim for
science not so much on the stage it had reached in his own
day as upon his vision of a mechanical future." In
accepting Descartes' mathematical-mechanical view of
Nature as the most likely "hypothesis" for the experimental
science, Boyle envisioned the "mathematical principles"
of natural philosophy as
truths of a transcendent kind, that do not
properly belong either to philosophy or theology;
but are universal foundations and instruments of
all the knowledge we mortals can acquire.
And in stressing the importance of natural philosophy,
Boyle, as Ernest Tuveson has shown, placed God's "Word"
in a subordinate position to His "Work":
Boyle, in effect, placed revelation in a second-
ary position /to natural philosophy, despite
his fear that men should value natural philosophy
so highly as to neglect the Word: But neither
the fundamental doctrine of Christianity, nor
that of the powers and effects of matter and
motion, seem to be more than an epicycle (if
I may so call it) of the great and universal
system of God's contrivances, . so that both
these doctrines. . seem to be but members of the
universal hypothesis, whose objects I conceive to
be the nature, counsels and works of God.
In championing both the mechanical philosophy and
Christianity, Boyle sought to reconcile that philosophy
with the Christian view of the supernaturalistic role of
providence and miracles in the universe. In his highly
popular and influential Some Considerations touching upon
the Usefulnesse of Experimental Naturall Philosophy (1663),
Boyle visualized the world as a great clock-like machine,
operating in a precisely mechanical fashion, according
to universal laws originally set into the machine by its
Great Engineer, God:
God . having resolved, before the Creation, to
make such a World as this of Ours, . .put them
/Variously figured Corpuscles7 into such Motions,
that by the assistance of his ordinary preserving
Concourse, the Phaenomena, which he intended should
appear in the Universe, must as orderly follow .
as is consistent with the Good of the whole, and
the preservation of the Primitive and Catholick
Laws established by the Supreme Cause. As in the
formerly mentioned Clock of Strasburg, the several
Pieces making up that curious Engine, are so fram'd
and adapted, and are put into such a motion, that
. each performs its part in order to the various
Ends for which it was contriv'd.
That this vision of the mechanical and universal regularity
of Nature's laws caused Boyle the Christian some uneasi-
ness can be seen from the fact that later on in this same
passage, he argued defensively that these "Corpuscles"
moved as "if there were diffus'd through the Universe an
intelligent Being, watchful over the public Good, and
careful to Administer all things wisely for the good of
the particular Parts of it" (italics mine). Boyle's
efforts, however, to leave the door open for an active
and solicitous providential mind in the governance of the
cosmic engine, were, as Westfall notes, completely over-
shadowed by his insistence on the strict regularity of
The order of nature, the unfailing rule of natural
law over brute matter, dominated Boyle's imagina-
tion as no miracle could. . In effect he
/Boyle7 rules out the necessity of divine inter-
vention and defined providence as the maintenance
of the universal and benevolent order--that is to
say, general providence.
This "general providence" formula (in which Provi-
dence was equated with Nature's automatic operations),
assumed, within the context of a new scientific ethos of
man's growing ability to control Nature's operations, great
importance in secularizing the Christian view of the world
as a divinely directed drama in which man enacted his
limited role. As science gradually transferred the func-
tions of an ever-active Providence to Nature's automatic
processes, God's new place in the drama as "Chief Engineer"
grew increasingly remote. And, as science increasingly
stressed man's progressive powers to control the machine-
world, the Christian idea of man's limitations in the
drama underwent a drastic alteration into the idea of
natural perfectibility through scientific advances. An
essential ingredient in this alteration involved a unique
alliance between scientific progressivist notions and
traditional Platonic notions of the soul's rational power
to transcend its bodily limitations on the world-stage.
The remainder of this chapter will show how, by intricately
fusing the mechanist-progressivist views of scientists
like Boyle with the Platonic concepts of Cambridge
Platonists like Henry More, the seventeenth-century scien-
tific theologian Thomas Burnet reshaped the drama of human
salvation into the doctrine of natural perfectibility.
Possibly no seventeenth-century thinker was as
fascinated with the idea of the world as God's stage play,
or wrote more concerning the nature of the cosmic play of
salvation, than the Cambridge Platonist, Henry More;
throughout his numerous works he constantly evoked the
image of God as a Great Dramatist testing individual souls
in the "Tragick Comedy" of human existence. More's use
of the world-stage concept, which was largely derived
from Plotinus's use of it in the Enneads, was firmly
rooted in the Neo-Platonic view of man as a soul who,
having fallen into a body-prison, was in a continual
process of disengagement towards his original spiritual
state. In his study of The Platonic Renaissance in
England, Ernst Cassirer has shown how More sought to
combat the predestinarian tenets of Calvinism by adopting
the Plotinian view of man's innate freedom to strive
towards the divine. Cassirer explains More's fundamental
ethical position in speaking of Plotinus's notion of the
Knowledge of the divine and of the intelligible
world is possible only for that soul which has
achieved within itself the decisive turning
towards and away from the sensible to the intel-
ligible. . This basic thought of Plotinus's
theology . occupies the central position in
Henry More's Enchiridion ethicum, the principle
ethical work of the Cambridge School.
Plotinus's theology also occupied a central place
in More's poetry. In the second stanza of The Prae-
existency of the Soul (1647), More thus called upon
Plotinus to aid him in visualizing the soul's preexistent
I would sing the Praeexistency
Of humane souls . .
Aread thou sacred Soul of Plotin deare
Tell what we mortalls are, --e11what of old we were,
and after describing the soul's fall into "corporeall
sense" from its original spiritual state, More goes on to
imagine myriads of souls awaiting embodiment into the world:
But infinite Myriads undipt as yet
Did still attend each vitall moving sphear,
And wait their turnes for generation fit ..
He then describes how these souls, in entering the world,
must purge themselves of their terrenee thoughts," for
"The purged souls ascent nought may retard; / But earthly-
mindednesse may death foreslow / Their flight . "
In his long philosophical poem, Psychathanasia, or
the Second Part of the Song of the Soul (1647), More also
followed Plotinus in likening man's present bodily exist-
ence to the vain "show" of the theatrical performer in
order to suggest the soul's innate liberty to gradually
transcend its terrenee thoughts." In Book I, Canto I,
of the poem, More began his argument for the soul's
immortality by first rejecting materialism, which, he
says, becomes so immersed in the sensuous life that it
ends up "calling thin shadows true realitie" (I, I, 12).
And throughout the second canto of this poem he celebrates
the soul's unique powers to see beyond the "shadowy"
fancies of the material life; the soul, "when quite heed-
lesse of this earthie world" (I, II, 42), More argued,
. doth herself invest
With rising forms, and reasons all the way;
And by right reason doth herself devest
Of falser fancies. Who can gainsay
But she's self-mov'd, when she doth with self-sway
Thus change herself, as inward life doth feel?
(I, II, 44)
Canto III begins, however, with a different and
despondent mood, in which the poet is seen lamenting
"fading lifes decayes" (Argument to III), and the vain,
brief part he must play on the world stage:
Aye me! said I, within my wearied breast,
And sighed sad, wherefore did God erect
This stage of misery? . .
Thus vex'd I was 'cause of mortality:
Her curst remembrance cast me in this plight,
That I grew sick of the worlds vanity ..
(I, III, 2, 3)
Throughout the first ten stanzas of this third canto, More
utters his "deep sorrow and restlesse disdain" over the
"idle show" (I, III, 3) of man's sensual existence on the
stage of life. In this somber mood he is suddenly visited
by a divine Nymph who chides him for vainly questioning
the ways of God and Nature, and reminds him that man's
true existence lies in the "inward life" of the soul, and
not with "the body sensible so garnished / With outward
forms" (I, III, 26). "Vain shows may vanish that have
gaily shone / To feeble sense" (I, III, 19), the Nymph
explains, but ". . nothing can empair / The inward life
or its hid essence wrong" (I, III, 30). Rescued from his
despair by the Nymph's teaching, More proceeds to demon-
strate how, as a result of "the soul's strange nature,
operation,' and "loose union" with the "frail body"
(II, II, 7), man is free to transcend his "lower," sensual
elements and be reborn into a higher spiritual life.
Finally, in the last book of the poem, after describing
how man can overcome the "low attractions" of his bodily
nature through right reason, More declares:
This proves the soul to sit at liberty,
Not wedg'd into this masse of earth, but free
Unloos'd from any strong necessity
To do the body's dictates, while we see
Clear reason shining in serenity,
Calling above unto us ..
(ITTII, II, 40)
More's Plotinian conception of the soul's liberty
to gradually free itself from the "idle show" of the
sensual life took on more profound dimensions in his
apocalyptic notions of the great "plot" of the divine
drama. Like many other great theological figures of the
seventeenth century, More devoted a large amount of his
theological efforts to deciphering prophecies contained
in the apocalyptic books. Wesbfall has noted how such
seventeenth-century concerns with apocalyptic prophecies
were rooted in a new spirit of confidence:
A new and growing confidence also pervaded
English thought--confidence in human capabil-
ities and confidence in the possibilities of
life. . A new spirit informed interpre-
tations of the biblical prophecies. Where earlier
the prophecies were thought to predict the coming
of Antichrist and the end of the world, they
were now seen to point towards a future millennium
when a new and better life would arise from ex-
More fervently shared this new optimistic reading of the
prophecies, and its notion that a better life would occur
in a future 1,000 year millennial reign on earth as the
result of man's expanding knowledge. Throughout his
biblical interpretations in An Explanation of the Grand
Mystery of Godliness (1660), he formulated an apocalyptic
optimism in terms of the world-stage concept, by portraying
God as a Dramatist presiding over a cosmic play of salva-
tion in which man, the actor, is seen engaged in a struggle
to overcome his "Animal Life." A central thesis in An
Explanation of the Grand Mystery of Godliness was that
man's fallen condition, which More viewed as a wilful
immersion in a lower "Animal Life," was not to last through-
out the entire drama of human salvation. To More, man's
temporary lapse into this animal life was wisely allowed
by the Divine Dramatist,
This Lapse of Men and Angels is their forsaking
of the Divine Life, and wholly cleaving to the
Animal. . And it is but a piece of Wisdom
and Justice in that Great Judge and Dramatist
God Almighty, to permit this to be for a season,
for out of man's struggle with the flesh would arise a
greater triumph of the Divine life:
Now that Wisdom, as I have said, that orders
all things sweetly, is not in the least baffled
by this Misadventure of the fall of Angels and
Men, but looks upon it as fit Fuel for a more
glorious Triumph of the Divine Life.
And thus the divine drama of life is destined to have a
The Kingdom of Darkness, no question by Him
that rules over all is dexterously subordinated
to the greater advantage of the Kingdom of Light,
it yielding a due exercise of all their FacultTes
in the behalf of the Divine Life. . So
that the Period of Ages ought to end (so exact a
Providence attending things) as a very joyful
and pleasant Tragick Comedy.
This triumph of the Divine Life within man in the last
"Period of Ages" would justify Providence, and bring a
fitting climax to the drama:
And it is no wonder that the Stupid world be
much amazed at Providence, till that great
Dramatist, God Almighty, draw on the Period
towards the last Catastrophe, and the Earth
will ring with this Plaudite or Acclamation.
The "Period" before "the last Catastrophe," More argued,
would coincide with the final destruction of Anti-Christ,
and bring about a "most happy Scene of affairs"; that
destruction, as More allegorically interpreted it, involved
the gradual perfecting of men into the condition of Saints:
I am sufficiently satisfied in myself, that this
Destruction is not to be understood necessarily
of any carnal warfare . and that the reign
of the Saints will not be by the invasion of the
rights of Princes . but by the conversion of
Prince and people every where into the condition
More's version of the divine drama thus involved a funda-
mental alteration in the traditional Christian idea of
man playing his role on a probationary stage by knowing
himself both as the son of Adam and heir of Heaven. As
a result of his concept of man's freedom to transcend his
animal life, More "redesigned" the probationary stage to
include new earthly scenes in which man was seen divinely
destined to progressively overcome his fallen state.
While More tailored the divine plot of the cosmic
drama to the religious framework of Christian Platonism,
the task remained of reconciling that framework to the
dominant seventeenth-century mechanical view of the opera-
tion of the drama. More's spiritualist idea of space as
a real entity, and his Platonic notion of a world-soul
out of which all being emanated, point to his rejection
of the dominant scientific tendency to place the corporeal
world on a mechanical basis. In his idea of a "plastic
soul" which acted as the "vice-regent" of God in the
universe, More, indeed, strove to respiritualize the
Cartesian mathematical universe; and his concept of a
"plastic soul" was, in fact, precisely that spiritualistic
view of Nature which Boyle and other proponents of Cartesian
mechanism rejected as a "rvlgarly received notion." One
of the most ardent of those Cartesian proponents was
Thomas Burnet, who as a student and associate of More's
sought to fuse the religious-progressivist structure of
More's thought with the mechanistic, progressivist tenets
of seventeenth-century science.
Recent studies have shown the influential place which
Thomas Burnet's geological-theological works held in the
scientific and theological issues of the late seventeenth
and early eighteenth century. In her Mountain Gloom and
Mountain Glory Miss Nicolson indicates the extent of the
controversy which Burnet's Sacred Theory of the Earth
Today we consider the Principia the most influ-
ential volume of the late seventeenth century.
Six years earlier, however, another book appeared,
publication of which precipitated the first major
battle between science and religion. Much more
than the Principia, which was widely acclaimed,
Burnet's Telluris Theoria Sacra provoked reply,
defense and attack. In England the list of
those who expressed themselves on Burnet's
theories is an imposing one, including in the
period from 1685 to 1715 the names of nearly all
men now remembered in the history of science and
theology as well as those of many who have been
In his Sacred Theory Burnet presented a graphic and detailed
account of the history of the earth in which he attempted
to show how the mechanical philosophy's growing dis-
coveries about the physical universe were in complete
harmony with Scriptural accounts of such major Biblical
events as the Creation, Deluge and the Conflagration.
In a kind of travelogue of sacred history, Burnet
took the reader from Chaos to Chaos, unfolding four major
"stage settings" in God's "great drama of the world," as
he called it: the original "Creation" of an egg-shaped
earth, the "Deluge" producing the present "ruined" earth,
the "Conflagration" with its recreation of the original
earth, and the final "New World" of the Millennial Kingdom.
Convinced that man's present abode was not the world God
had originally created, but was rather a "Great Ruine,"
a "broken and confused heap of bodies, placed in no order
to one another," Burnet concluded that these global
irregularities could have only resulted from the cataclys-
mic action of the Flood. The antedeluvian earth had been,
in Burnet's view, "smooth, regular and uniform," a vast
egg-shaped globe in which man had enjoyed a paradisaical
state. At the time of the Flood, the exterior frame of
the "egg" cracked, and large parts of the earth's surface
fell down, breaking open a "great Abysse" of subterranean
waters. In the course of time, this "ruined" earth would
be destroyed by such natural causes as volcanic fires and
earthquakes, and would dissolve into the same chaotic
state that existed at the beginning of the Creation. The
earth would then arise in its original form to be the
setting of a "New World"--the thousand-year millennial
kingdom on earth. A striking and essential feature of
Burnet's "Christian geology" was the fact that his scien-
tific explanations were based on the Cartesian mechanical
view of the cosmos as emerging from natural principles
inherent in itself. The Creation, Deluge and Conflagra-
tion could be thus seen, in this view of sacred history,
as the results of the inescapable effects .of physical and
Burnet's naturalistic treatment of sacred history
was carried on by subsequent "world-making scientific
millennialists," as Tuveson has rightly termed them, such
as John Woodward and William Whiston. In his An Essay
toward a Natural History of the Earth (1695), Woodward
assumed, like Burnet, that the interior of the earth was
a "great Abyss" filled with water, and that at the time
of the Flood, the contents of the Abyss boiled over and
covered the globe. Woodward then showed how the upper
crust of the earth would dissolve in a precisely mechanical
fashion into different strata according to their specific
gravities. William Whiston, one of Burnet's most ardent
followers, made Burnet's naturalistic accounts more scien-
tifically probable by an ingenious explanation, through
Newtonian principles, of cometary action on the planetary
system. In A New Theory of the Earth (1696) Whiston
argued that a passing comet had created huge atmospheric
disturbances which, in turn, disrupted the earth's sur-
face and broke open the "great Abyss." In time, the same
comet, traveling along its predetermined celestial course,
would automatically collide with the earth and bring about
the Conflagration, and the subsequent millennial kingdom
The idea of the world as a stage on which men play
their parts was a central thematic image in Burnet's
Sacred Theory of the Earth as well as his other major
works: Archaeologiae Philosophicae (1692), De Statu
Mortuorum (1720), and De Fide et Officium Christianorum
(1728). As in Plotinus's and Henry More's sacred play,
Burnet's drama furthermore centered upon the soul's freedom
to transcend its bodily limitations and continually progress
towards its former spiritual life. In a "Preface" to the
Sacred Theory Burnet wrote thus of the soul's present
Reason and Morality would indeed suggest to
us, that an innocent Soul, fresh and pure
from the hands of its Maker, could not be
immediately cast into Prison. . I call
this Body a Prison because it is a confine-
ment and restraint upon our best Faculties
and in presenting his view of the "Tragick-Comedy" of
life, Burnet enthusiastically followed More's notion
that the essential plot in God's drama involved the soul's
progressive spiritual transcendence of this bodily prison.
In his Theory Burnet noted that there was a "Plot
or Mystery," and certain "Grand Issues and Events,"
running through the Providential scheme of creation by
All the Changes of our World are fixt, How, or
how often to be destroyed, and how renewed; What
different faces of Nature, and what of Mankind,
in every part of its Course; what new scenes to
adorn the Stage and what new parts to be acted.
And, like More, Burnet envisioned this cosmic drama ending
in joyous earthly scenes in which men were to act out
new parts of spiritual perfection. Believing that
Providence provided "certain Periods" and "Fulnesses of
Time" for "some great Instauration," he argued that in
the period before the Conflagration man would enjoy a
scene of general righteousness. In that period God would
enlarge men's "Spirits by greater discoveries" in order
to create Witnesses to the divine Truth; these Witnesses,
. are to have their Resurrection and
Ascension: that is, be advanced to power and
Authority. And this Resurrection of the
Witnesses and depression of Antichrist, is that
which will mark the great turn of the World to
righteousness, and the great Crisis whereby we
may judge of its drawing to an end.
Burnet also believed that after the Conflagration, there
would be a final earthly "setting" in which man's spiritual
climb would continue in a thousand-year utopian state.
In this state, the resurrected saints, fitted with more
"glorified bodies," would have greater dominion over the
body and thus enjoy a quasi-spiritual existence on earth;
and this "New World" of the millennial kingdom would be
thus the last act in the great drama of human existence:
And this being the last Act and close of all
humane affairs, it ought to be the more
exquisite and elaborate: that it may crown
the work, satisfied the Spectators, and end in
a general applause. The Whole Theatre
resounding with the praises of the great
Dramatist, and the wonderful Art and Order of
While Burnet thus followed More's view of man's perfection
in new earthly scenes on the world stage, he also radically
transformed the idea of this divinely destined spiritual
progress by equating that progress with advance in scien-
The mechanistic and progressivist spirit of the
seventeenth-century scientific movement totally informed
Burnet's approach to the geological and theological
problems which his theories raised. In his "Swift and
the World-Makers," Tuveson aptly describes Burnet's
mechanical conception of the divine drama:
The drama of human history goes on against the
background of scenes produced by the great
"Wheels and Weights" of the mechanical universe;
and the divine Dramatist is also the Stage
Manager who, however, unlike merely human ones,
need not constantly oversee his creations; once
having made the wheels and weights in certain
forms and given them appropriate motion, He may
be sure that they will of themselves produce the
desired effects at the exactly correct moment.
In visualizing the drama as automatically unfolding its
"scenes" according to a predetermined mechanism originally
set into it by its great "Engineer," Burnet, like Boyle
and Descartes before him, significantly transferred the
functions of an ever-active Providence to the automatic
processes of Nature. And like Boyle, too, Burnet also
placed great emphasis on man's increasing scientific powers
to control Nature's mechanical operations.
Thus, in the beginning chapters of his Theory, Burnet
speaks at great length about the vast progress which recent
"useful inventions and discoveries" have brought about.
The practical arts, he argues, have only recently been
And 'tis in most other practical Arts as in
Navigation, we generally know their Original and
History: who the Inventors and by what degrees
improved, and how few of them brought to any
perfection till of late Ages. All the Artificial
and Mechanical World is, in a manner, new.
And, in the following passages, he also calls attention
to the present stock of geniuses, and their success in
bringing knowledge to its present heights:
How Little hath been discovered till of late,
either of our own Bodies, or of the body of the
Earth, and of the functions or motions of nature
in either? . These are either yet unknown,
or were so at least till this last Age; which
seems to me to have made a greater progress than
all Ages before put together, since the beginning
of the World. . And the whole mass of
knowledge in this Earth doth not seem to be so
great, but that a few Ages more, with two or
three happy Genius's in them, may ring to light
all that we are capable to understand in this
state of mortality. (italics mine)
This scientific ethos of aspiration in Burnet was
to take on large significance in his treatment of the Mosaic
account of the Creation in the Archaeologiae Philosophicae.
In his Theory, Burnet had set forth the idea of a provi-
dential course of knowledge thus:
'Tis reasonable to suppose, that there is a
Providence in the conduct of Knowledge, as well
as of other affairs on the Earth; and that it was
not designed that all the mysteries of Nature and
Providence should be plainly and clearly understood
throughout all the Ages of the World; but that
there is an Order establish for this, as other
things, and certain Periods and Seasons; And what
was made known to the Ancients only by broken
Conclusions and Traditions, will be known (in the
latter Ages of the World) in a more perfect way,
by Principles and Theories. The increase of
Knowledge being that which changeth so much the
face of the World. .
In his Archaeologiae Burnet applied this idea to the
Genesis account of the creation of the world in a radical
fashion, arguing that the Genesis account was not a
"philosophical" one, but a "vulgar" and "popular" one,
fit for "Makers of Bricks whose Breath . smelt of the
Leeks and Onions of Egypt." And, in relating how Moses,
throughout the first chapter of Genesis, had "departed
from the Physical Truth in the Account of Creation,"
Burnet argued that like other "Heathen Philosophers,"
Moses deliberately used this "popular" method of teaching
to keep his contemporaries from the true physical facts
of the creation:
Nor was this Method /T.e., "popular" one7 only
used by the Penmen of the Sacred Scriptures, but
it was Customary for the Heathen Philosophers
to instruct their Young Scholars in a gross and
popular Manner, nor did they admit them to the
interior sense of Things /T.e., true scientific
In explaining why Moses had employed this popular
method of teaching, Burnet further contended that it was
more "Servicable to Religion and least burdensome to the
Understanding of the People" for Moses to depart from the
philosophical and scientific truth about the Creation, for
God makes use of diverse Ways in the Government
of the World; and according to the Nature of the
Times and Peoples, so he changes his Methods,
that thereby he may more effectively promote
the Salvation of all.
Since Divine Providence had provided for the progressive
intellectual unfolding of the secrets of Nature, and
since men have recently gained "a more perfect knowledge
in the demonstrative Science," these secrets, Burnet wrote,
are now to be "considered and understood according to the
Truth of the Understanding. .. ." Furthermore, since it
is the "increase of knowledge which has so changed the
face of the World,"
All Things are to be renewed by the Principles
of Nature and clear Reason, and amended and
established by Solid Theories; so that, when
the End of all things approaches, Truth, being
revived, may shine with double Lustre, as the
Prelude of a future Renovation.
Burnet's idea of the process of God's dispensation thus
led him to view Revelation as a part of man's progress,
but a part which, in the course of time, was to be
reinterpreted, and if necessary, superceded by the demands
of the "Solid Theories" of scientific truth. And, in this
view of progress, religion, as Tuveson has shown, was
seen merely as one step in man's advance towards perfec-
tion, and the Church more as a product of history than
a repository of saving truths.
The interpretation which Burnet also gave in the
Archaeologiae to the Genesis account of man's Fall
graphically shows how Revelation was being tested and
adjusted to the light of "clear Reason." In examining
the story of the Fall, Burnet denied the traditional
moral interpretation of the Fall, for it seemed unreason-
able to him to believe that
A Work /Ehe created world that was six days ere
it could be elaborated and brought to Perfection,
and that by an Omnipotent Architect, /could7 be
thus in a few hours ruined by so vile a beast;
furthermore, the notion of man's Fall and his punishment
seemed to Burnet a
very cruel and very hard thing in this Respect
that God should be said to have tormented, nay
and ruined Mankind for so small a Fault, and that
too committed through the Levity of a Woman's
What, then did the light of Reason have to say of the Fall,
and its meaning in the destiny of man? Burnet argued that
Moses' account of the Fall was a fable, suitable to primi-
tive minds, and that man's moral degeneration consisted
of a long series of historical epochs in which man fell
away from the good, not through some primordial sin which
was transmitted to all men, but through increase of bad
teaching and bad philosophy.
In Book II of his Theory Burnet had stressed the
value of a "Moral or Philosophical History" of the world:
A Moral or Philosophick History of the World well
writ, would certainly be a very useful work, to
observe and relate how the Scenes of Humane life
have changed in several Ages, the modes and Forms
of living, in what simplicity Men begun at first,
and by what degrees they came out of that way, by
luxury, ambition, improvement, or changes in
Nature; then what new forms and modifications were
superadded by the invention of Arts, what by
Religion, what by Superstition.
And, in the Archaeologiae, as Tuveson has demonstrated,
Burnet supplied a far-reaching account of man's moral and
philosophical progress. What Burnet proposed, as Tuveson
shows, was a new vision of the redemption of mankind
through successive stages of intellectual growth which
were equated with spiritual growth. The thesis underlying
Burnet's vision was ingenious--the history of human thought
is composed of two simultaneous actions: the first consists
in the decay of the true (i.e., philosophical) views of
the creation of the world and man's progress in it as a
result of bad teaching and bad philosophy; the second
consists of man's destined moral and philosophical advance
as the result of his increasing understanding of Nature
through reason and science. In Burnet's view of this
advance, God's method of redemption lay in a process of
continuous intellectual improvement of the race in three
defined stages: "Barbarity," "Superstition" and "true
Religion"; and by "true Religion," Burnet meant, as we
have seen, that which was founded upon the "Principles of
Nature and clear Reason." Tuveson notes the basic
ingredients in Burnet's new "theodicy":
Thus it is, that, although the traditional
learning degenerated among the Greeks, the
experimental and theoretical knowledge in-
creased. And it is this experimental learning
which forms the true path of progress whereby
man is recovering from his degenerate state. .
. Burnet, then, was writing a new Paradise
Lost and Paradise Regained. The keynote of
salvation is the unfolding of the human mind;
it is accomplished to a large extent not by
divine intervention or operation of supernatural
grace but by the law of nature.
Burnet's view of man's role on the cosmic stage
assumed profound dimensions in his interpretation of man's
recovery from the Fall as primarily an intellectual-
scientific development through the process of natural law.
For, in Burnet, the Platonic vision of man's spiritual
liberty to progress into a higher life became transformed
into the idea of man's natural transcendence of a
"primitive" animal-like state through increasing rational
growth. The "scene" of general righteousness which Burnet
had envisioned as occurring in the "latter Ages of the
World" through the enlargement of men's "Spirits by
greater Discoveries" was the result, then, of man's in-
creased scientific discoveries and knowledge; and the
"new scenes" which were to adorn the divine stage as a
"prelude to a future renovation" were also ones in which
man was destined to progress towards perfection as "all
things became renewed by the Principles of Nature and
clear Reason." The final "act" of the thousand-year
millennial state could be thus seen as a vital step in
man's progressive intellectual development on earth.
In the Theory, Burnet depicted the millennial state
as a new "paradise restored" in which a community of
philosophers-saints enjoyed an earthly utopia:
the great Natural Character of it /The millennium,
is this in general, That it will be Paradisaical.
Free from all inconveniences, either of external
Nature, or of our own Bodies. . There will
be nothing but Truth, Candor, Serenity and
Ingenuity: as in a Society or Commonwealth of
Saints and Philosophers. In a word, 'twill be
What was of great importance in Burnet's concept of this
state is the primary part played by knowledge of a non-
religious kind. The millennial state was, as Tuvescn
puts it, a kind of "Heavenly City of Virtuosi" in which
the philosophers-saints would continue to expand and
perfect their scientific knowledge and discoveries.
Burnet noted how in the earthly utopia,
The doctrine of the Heavens, fix'd Stars,
Planets and Comets, both as to their matter,
motion and form, will be thus clearly demon-
strated: and what are mysteries to us now,
will become matter of ordinary conversation.
We shall be better acquainted with our neigh-
boring Worlds, and make new discoveries as to
the fate of their affairs;
and in this millennial state, "inventions in Mathematicks,
or Mechanicks, or Natural Philosophy" would also be carried
on and brought to full perfection. Finally, in this last
"scene" of earthly bliss, men were destined, indeed, to
so progress towards a full rational understanding of the
universe they would ultimately have the "Scheme of all
humane affairs lying before them."
Burnet's notion of increasing scientific knowledge
as the path upon which man was inevitably progressing
towards a future utopian state played an instrumental part
in later eighteenth-century millennial thinking. Such
scientific theologians as John Edwards and William
Worthington modified Burnet's notion of the catastrophic
inauguration of the earthly millennial state, arguing
that the utopia would simply be a better state of present
society through the progressive moral and intellectual
perfecting of mankind. In his study of "Anglican
Apologetics and the Idea of Progress," Professor Ronald S.
Crane has shown how these millennialists stressed the
rapid increase of scientific knowledge and growth of
mechanical inventions as proof that the original curse
laid on nature and man was gradually being erased in
preparation for a new utopian state before the end of
the world. To support his contention that God had planned
a progressive religious and spiritual renovation in man,
John Edwards, for example, pointed to the many "ingenious
Inventions" which "hath been improved in these latter
Ages of the World" as evidence that Divine Learning
(which is the choicest of all kinds of Knowledge) will
be yet further advanced." And like Burnet, too, Edwards
bracketed man's spiritual advance in divine learning with
advance in scientific knowledge:
In Natural and Mechanick Philosophy, and all
sorts of Mathematicks who sees not the vast
Improvements that these latter times have bles'd
us with? . Shall Divinity, which is the great
Art of Arts, remain unimproved?
In his An Essay on the scheme and conduct, procedure and
extent of man's redemption (1743), William Worthington
also stressed how the "Curse on the Ground" was being
the Improvements likewise, which in these latter
Ages especially, have been made in Mechanicks . .
and by the happy Investigation of the Laws of
Motion and a dextrous application of the MTchanical
Such improvement, Worthington further argued, demonstrated
that God has planned that mankind shall "at length arrive
at such a Pitch of Proficiency under the Gospel Dispensa-
tion, that there will be no Remains of Sin or Evil of any
In their rhapsodic vision of a new and glorious
future for mankind in a new earthly utopia, millennialists
like Edwards and Worthington thus closely followed Burnet
in equating man's moral and spiritual progress with man's
natural advance in scientific and philosophical knowledge.
And in these concepts lay the seeds of such later and
important eighteenth-century views of human perfectibility
as Joseph Priestley's notion of man's predestined scien-
tific advance towards natural perfectibility in a future
historical age. In his Essay on the First Principles of
Government Priestley noted how, in the "natural course
of human affairs,"
. all knowledge will be subdivided and extended;
and knowledge, as Lord Bacon observes, being power,
the human powers will, in fact, be enlarged;
nature, including both its materials, and its laws,
will be more at our command; men . will grow
daily more happy, each in himself, and more able
(and, I believe, more disposed) to communicate
happiness to others. Thus, whatever was the beginning
of this world, the end will be glorious and para-
During the eighteenth century Burnet's new, "up-to-
date" drama of human salvation encountered great opposition
from contemporary Christian humanists, who in their own
writings proceeded to exploit the world-stage concept to
retain and express traditional Christian views of man's
limited role in the divine drama.
1. Richard S. Westfall, Science and Religion in
Seventeenth-Century England (New Haven, Conn.,
1958), pp. 2-3.
2. Edwin Arthur Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of
Modern Physical Science (New York, 1932), p. 113.
3. Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the
Reason and Seeking for Truth In the Sciences, Part
VI, in Rules for The Direction of the Mind, Dis-
course on the Method, Meditations on First Philos-
ophy, Objections Against the Meditations and
Replies, and The Geometry, trans. ElizaetS.
Haldane and G. R. T. Ross, in Great Books of the
Western World (Chicago, 1952), vol. XXXI, p. bl.
4. Cf. Richard Foster Jones, Ancients and Moderns: A
Study of the Rise of the Scientific Movement in
Seventeenth-Century England, 2nd ed. (St. Louis,
19bl), pp. 1T5-b.
5. Ibid., p. xii.
6. Works of Francis Bacon, ed. James Spedding, R. L.
Ellis D. D. Heath (London, 1879-1890), vol. III,
p. 498, quoted by Jones, p. 59. This zealous scien-
tific desire to bend nature to the purpose of man
was vividly reflected in Thomas Sprat's The History
of the Royal Society of London, For the improving
of Natural Knowledge, 3rd ed. (London, 1722)' The
Beautiful Bosom of Nature will be exposed to our
view: We shall enter into its Garden, and tast of
its Fruits, and satisfy our selves with its plenty"
7. Cf. Joseph Glanvill, The Vanity of Dogmatizing
(London, 1661), reproduced by The Facsimile Text
Society (New York, 1931), p. 182. Beginning with
George Hakewill's An Apologie of the Power and
Providence of God in the Government of the World
(Oxford, lb27), the superiority of the moderns is
attested to by man's growing technological powers.
In his Ancients and Moderns, Jones shows how the
last chapter of Hakewill's'An Apologie is full of
a new emphasis upon the new science's discoveries
and its "many singular artificial inventions, for
the use, ease, delight or ornament of mankind"
(p. 34). John Jonston took up this theme in his A
History of the Constancy of Nature (London, 1657),
with an even greater emphasis upon 'modern dis-
coveries, inventions and science in general" (Jones,
p. 37). Finally Glanvill's The Vanity of Dogmatizing
contains a truly euphoic summary of the new philos-
ophy's achievements; "Methinks this Age seems resolved
to bequeath posterity somewhat to remember it: And
the glorious Udertakers /i.e., virtuosi, wherewith
Heaven hath blest our Days, will leave the world
better provided then /sic7 they found it. And
whereas in former times such generous free-spirited
Worthies were, as the Rare newly observed Stars. a
single one the wonder of an Age: In ours they are
like the lights of the greater size that twinkle in
the Starry Firmament: And this last Century can glory
in numerous constellations" (p.181).
8. Experimental Philosophy, In Three Books: Containing
New Experiments Microscopical, Mercu agnecal.
With some Deductions, and Proobabe Hypotheses, raised
rom them, in Avoachment and Illustration of t.e now
famous Atomical Hypothesis (London, 10b4), pp. 122, 183.
9. Ancients and Moderns, pp. 265-6.
10. Cf. Ancients and Moderns, p. 166, and Burtt, The
Metaphysical Foundations, pp. 172ff.
11. The Works of the Honourable Robert Boyle, ed. Thomas
Birch (London, 1672), vol. VI, p. 711. In The Meta-
physical Foundations, Burtt points out how to Boyle
mathematical principles, like the axioms of logic,
must be ultimate truths superior to God himself, and
independent of revelation" (p. 173).
12. Millennium and Utopia (New York, 1964), p. 107. Tuve-
son cites Boyle's Works, vol. VI, pp. 758-9.
13. (Oxford, 1663), pp. 70-2.
15. Science and Religion, pp. 85-6. In The Metaphysical
Foundations, Burtt also points out that Boyle's
"main argument for God and providence is the exquisite
structure and symmetry of the world--regularity, not
irregularity. . ." (p. 201).
16. Cf. Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations, pp. 292-8,
for a summary of the way in which the "general
providence formula" led to the rise of eighteenth-
century philosophers' views that God was no longer
a necessary "working hypothesis" for the cosmic
engine's operations, since natural law would suffice.
17. Cf. Nicolson, Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory,
p. 138; Tuveson, Millennium and Utopia, pp. 97-8.
18. Cf. Ernst Cassirer, The Platonic Renaissance in
England, trans. James P. Pettegrove (Austin, Texas,
19. Ibid., pp. 27-8. In her Mountain Gloom and Mountain
Glory, Miss Nicolson comments upon More's view of
the soul's impulse to be released from its finite
limitations: "/More's7 Infinity of Worlds was a song
of praise to an infinite universe, created by an
Infinite God, His Nature such that He could never
be satisfied with less than all. In contemplating
Space as in contemplating God, the soul of man was
elated; released from finite limitations, it stretched
its wings and took off into a vast universe of which
there was no end, to seek the inexhaustible
Good. .. ." (p. 136).
20. The Praeexistency of the Soul, Stanza 2, 11. 1-2,
0-9, in The Complete Poems of Dr. Henry More, 1614-
1687, ed. Rev. Alexander B. Grosart (Edinbourgh,
187), p. 119. All quotations from More's poetry
will be taken from this edition. In his "Introduc-
tion" to the Philosophical Poems of Henry More com-
prising Psychioia and Minor Poems (Manchester, England,
1931), Geoffrey Bullough notes how Plotinus was a
dominant shaping force in More's poetical thought:
"The influence of Plotinus on More's mind was greater
than that of any other single writer. .. /nd7 The
Enneads strengthened his aspiration towards a life
of purity and inner harmony. . Above all,
Plotinus gave him an orderly cosmos, the contemplation
of which kindled him for a short time with poetry
filled with wonder at a picturesque, vitalistic
universe" (pp. xxvii-xxviii).
21. Cf. Nicolson, Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory, pp.
22. Westfall, Science and Religion, pp. 8-9.
23. An Explanation of the Grand Mystery of Godliness,
Book VI, Chapter 11, parts 2-3, in Theological Works
of Henry More (London, 1708), p. 167.
24. Ibid., Book VI, Chapter 11, part 1, p. 167.
25. Ibid., Book VI, Chapter 11, part 7, p. 167.
26. Ibid., Book VI, Chapter 11, part 8, p. 167.
27. Ibid., "Preface," p. xiv.
28. Defense of the Moral Cabbala, in Collection of
Several Philosophical Writings, 4th ed. LnEEdn,
1712), p. iii.
29. For More's reactions against Descartes' mechanism,
cf. Ernst Cassirer, The Platonic Renaissance,
30. Cf. Westfall, Science and Religion, p. 84. Boyle's
rejection of the "plastic soul" notion occurs in a
long passage in a work entitled A Free Inquiry
into the Vulgarly Received Notion o Naure, in
The Works of the Honourable Eobert Boyle, vol. V,
31. Cf. especially Ernest Tuveson, Millennium and Utopia.
and Majorie Nicolson, Mountain Gloom and Mountain
Glory. In his The Age of the World: Moses to Darwin
Baltimore, 1959), Francis C. Haber comments upon
the popularity of Burnet's Theory: "One of the most
popular of these attempts to explain Mosaic history
rationally was Thomas Burnet's Sacred Theory of the
Earth, first published in Latin in 1601, expanded
in English in 1684, and often printed in England and
abroad down to the early nineteenth century. Its
author, an erudite English divine, had a robust
style, a vivid imagination, and an ingenious theory.
As long as the Western world remained Biblically
oriented, it was a minor classic, known far and
wide" (p. 71).
32. The Sacred Theory of the Earth, Containing an Account
of the Original of the Earth, and of All the General
Changes Which it Hath already Undergone, or is to
Undergo, Till the Consummation of all Things. All
quotations from Burnet's Theory will be taken from
the 3rd edition (London, 1 977.
33. Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory, pp. 187, 235.
34. Throughout the Theory, Burnet described the world
in terms of a divine stage, and pictured each major
event in its "divine plot" as a kind of "stage
creation." For example, in Book I he describes how
the opening of the "Abysses" of the "Deepe" at the
time of the Deluge and Conflagration would bring
"another face of things, other Scenes and a New
World upon the stage" (pp. 61-2).
35. For general discussions of Burnet's debt to Descartes
see Haber, The Age of the World, pp. 76, 82; and
Katharine Brownell Collier, Cosmogonies of our
Fathers: Some Theories of the Seventeenth and the
Eighteenth Centuries (New York, 1934), p.- 9-
36. In The Age of the World Haber notes how Burnet's
"approach to Providence left Nature quite free of
supernaturalism. . p. 81; and in his The
Eighteenth-Century Background: Studies on the Idea
of Nature in the Thought of the Period (Boston,
1961), Basil Willey comments that in Burnet's Theory
the world was seen ruined by "the operation of
natural causes which, one might suppose, would have
produced their result even if man had retained his
first innocence" (pp. 32-3).
37. The term "world-maker" or "system-maker" was widely
applied to Burnet, Woodward and Whiston by con-
temporaries. Cf. Ernest Tuveson, "Swift and the
World-Makers," JHI, XI (1950), 69. In his Millennium
and Utopia Tuveson uses the term "scientific millen-
nialist" to denote the way in which Burnet, Woodward
and Whiston combined scientific theories with
apocalyptic views of a thousand-year millennial state
38. An Essay toward a Natural History of the Earth:
and Terrestial Bodies, Especially Minerals: As also
of the Sea, Rivers and Springs. With an Account
of the Universal Deluge: And of the Effects that
it had upon the Earth (London, 1695).
39. A New Theory of the Earth, From its Original, to the
Consummation of all Things. Wherein the Creation
of the World in Six Days, The Universal Deluge, and
the General Conflagration, As laid down in the Holy
Scriptures, Are shewn to be perfectly agreeable to
Reason and Philosophy. With a large Introductory
Discourse concerning the Genuine Nature, Stile, and
Extent of the Mosaick History of the Creation, 6th
ed. (London, 1755).
40. Whiston and Woodward also used theatrical imagery,
but much less significantly and profusely than Burnet.
For a typical example, see Whiston's "Introduction"
to A New Theory, 6th ed., where he describes how in
the coming millennium "a better Scene of Nature
(a new Heaven and a new Earth) is to be introduced,
for such better and more noble Creatures" (p. 57).
41. Burnet's Archaeologiae Philosophicae, published in
Latin in 1692, was translated by Thomas Foxton as
Archaeologiae Philosophicae: or the Ancient Doctrine
Concerning the Originals of Things (London, 1729).
Chapters 7 and d of the original Latin text appeared,
however, in translation in Charles Blount's The
Oracles of Reason (London, 1693), pp. 20-76. De
Statu Mcrtuorum, published in Latin in 1720, was
translated by Mathias Earberry as Of the State of
the Dead and of those who are to rise (London, 1728),
2 vols. De Fide et Off-icium Chrlstarnorum appeared
in translation by John Dennis as The Faith and
Duties of Christians (London, 1728). For a typical
use of the world-stage concept in these works see
Archaeologiae Philosophicae, in which Burnet notes
of the new "scene" of the millennium: "the Reader
may fancy (if he pleases) Parts and Scenes /Tn the
millennium/ directly opposite /To those of a
ruined woFld7" (p. 29).
42. Theory, "Preface" to Book IV, p. 86.
43. As with More, the term "Tragick-Comedy" was a
favorite one with Burnet for describing the divine
drama. Thus in Book II, Chapter VI of his Theory,
Burnet noted how the affairs of nations and kings
were but "the little under-plots in the Tragick-
Comedy of the World" (p. 169).
44. Ibid., Book II, p. 221.
45. Cf. Theory, Book III, where Burnet visualizes the
millennial state: "It would be a kind of Immortality
to enjoy that prospect /millennium7 before-hand:
To see . where we sKall act nExt, and what parts.
What Saints and Hero's, if I may so say, will appear
upon that Stage; and with what luster and excellency"
46. Ibid., Book II, p. 221.
47. Ibid., Book III, pp. 26, 28.
48. Cf. Ibid., Book IV, pp. 139ff., where Burnet described
the inhabitants of the millennial state as "purified
49. Ibid., p. 145.
50. "Swift and the World-Makers," pp. 57-8.
51. Theory, Book I, p. 27.
52. Ibid., p. 29.
53. Ibid., Book II, p. 195.
54. Archaeologiae Philosophicae, p. 55.
55. Ibid., p. 51.
56. Ibid., p. 52.
57. Ibid., p. 58.
58. Ibid., p. 80.
59. Ibid., p. 74. The "adjustment" of Christian beliefs
to science's conclusions during the seventeenth
century reaches perhaps its acme of development in
Burnet's notion that "Philosophy is the Interpreter
of Scripture in natural Things. But I do not here
mean a dry and jejune Philosophy, the Figment of an
Idle Brain, but that which is agreeable to the
Apprehensions of Nature . and Solid Reason"
(Archaeologiae, p. 58).
60. Ibid., p. 246.
61. In The Eighteenth-Century Background Willey notes
that, in Burnet, 'Moses must be interpreted so as
not to be 'repugnant to clear and uncontested science'"
62. Cf. Tuveson, Millennium and Utopia, p. 179.
63. Archaeologiae, p. 25.
64. Ibid. The manner in which Burnet completely dismissed
older allegorical interpretations of the Fall can
be seen in his following remarks on the offense of
eating the "Apple": "Who would not fear to violate
the most petty, inconsiderable Precept that comes
in the Name of God, if the eating of one Forbdden
Apple could bring perdition to all Mankind" (p. 25)
65. Theory, Book II, p. 168.
66. Cf. Tuveson, Millennium and Utopia, pp. 153ff.
67. Ibid., p. 170.
68. Ibid., pp. 164, 181.
69. Theory, Book IV, pp. 125, 146.
70. Ibid., Book IV, p. 142.
71. Cf. Theory, Book IV, p. 145.
73. Cf. Tuveson, Millennium and Utopia, pp. 131-52.
74. "Anglican Apologaics and the Idea of Progress, 1699-
1745," MP, XXXI (1933-4), 273-306, 349-382.
75. A Complete history or Survey of all the Dispensa-
tions and Methods of Religion, from the beginning
of the World to the Consummation of all things
(London, 1b99), vol. II, pp. b21-22. Throughout this
chapter in A Complete History Edwards echoes the
catalogue of inventions which Burnet listed in the
beginning chapters of his Theory.
76. A Complete history, pp. 631, 634.
77. An Essay on the scheme and conduct, procedure and
extent of man's redemption, wherein is shewn from
the Holy Scriptures, that this great work is to be
accomplished gradually (London, 1743), pp. 93-4.
78. Ibid., p. 2. In his Essay Worthington also echoed
Burnet's use of the wor Tdstage concept in arguing
that God's great drama "must end with universal
applause" (p. 226).
79. An Essay on the First Principles of Government, and
on the Nature of Political, Civil and Religious
Liberty, 2nd ed. (London, 1771), pp. 4-5.
Three: The Brave "New World" of Pope's Dunciad
In his Lewis Theobald (1919), R. F. Jones suggested
that the Phalaris controversy, the Scriblerian project
against false learning, and Pope's Dunciad formed a
single chain of related events. The three events,
Jones felt, were "only notable battles in a continual
war" waged by the moderns and ancients over "scholarship
and scientific investigation." Ernest Tuveson has
recently demonstrated that Temple's and Swift's works in
the Phalaris controversy were closely related to such
later Scriblerian works as the Memoirs of Martinus
Scriblerus in attacking the "world-making" scientific
millennialists, Thomas Burnet, William Whiston and John
Woodward. The crucial position the "world-makers"
occupied in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century con-
troversy between the "ancients" and "moderns" can be seen
in the fact that Temple's "An Essay upon Ancient and
Modern Learning" (1690), was directly inspired by Burnet's
Theory. In the opening paragraphs of his essay Temple
remarked that he could not read Burnet's panegyricc of
modern learning and knowledge" without feeling "some
indignation, which no quality among men is so apt to
raise in me as sufficiency, the worst composition out of
the pride and ignorance of mankind." A major by-product
of Temple's essay appeared in Swift's Battle of the Books
(1703), in which humanistic values, symbolized in the
figure of the bee, are seen endangered by the moderns'
spider-like rationalizing. Tuveson has shown how Swift
made particular satiric reference to the world-makers'
theories through such imagery in the Battle as that
suggested by the spider's fear "that Nature was approaching
to her final Dissolution." Another future Scriblerian,
John Arbuthnot, voiced his distrust of the world-makers
in An Examination of Dr. Woodward's Account of the Deluge
(1698), where he chided Woodward for his disregard of
Moses' "Relation" of the Creation and Deluge. An
important result of these attacks was the prominent place
the world-makers' ideas later assumed in the Scriblerian
campaign against false learning: almost two dozen Scrib-
lerian works, including the Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus,
Three Hours After Marriage and Gulliver's Travels, were
concerned with ridiculing various aspects of Burnet's,
Whiston's and Woodward's speculations. Pope's close
familiarity with the world-makers' theories has been noted
by several critics, but the vital relationship which
exists between the Scriblerian campaign against the world-
makers and Pope's Dunciad has not as yet been explored.
Aubrey Williams has shown how theatrical elements
pervade the entire Dunciad, and how in Book III, a charged
theatrical metaphor occurs in the vision of the dunces'
conflagration-like destruction of the world and creation
of a "new world" of Dulness. This "single vision (of
uncreation and creation)," Williams comments, "is an
imaginative device whose function is to concretizee'
sweeping alterations in the more intangible world of
values." My thesis is that Pope's theatrical imagery
throughout the Dunciad exists, in part, to mirror the
sweeping alterations of values contained in the world-
makers' scientific progressivist concepts. This chapter
will demonstrate this thesis by examining the background
and significance of Pope's use of stage metaphor in the
first three books of the Dunciad (1743); in the next
chapter we will show how Pope employs stage imagery in
Book IV of the Dunciad to carry on and enrich this
attack on the world-makers.
In tracing the larger significance in the use of
the stage metaphor up to the eighteenth century we have
seen how the metaphor functioned primarily as a symbolic
expression of man's part in divine order. A central idea
in the traditional concept of the world as a divine
theatrun mundi was the idea that man's duty was to act
out his assigned role; that role received, however,
differing ontological and moral emphases in the various
formulations of the world-stage concept. In the ethical
perspective of the Platonist and the Stoic, which
emphasized man's grandeur as an essentially spiritual
and/or rational creature, man misplayed his part by
failing to overcome his "lower," animal nature through
a lack of spiritual and rational self-perfection. But
in the Christian view of man's dual state of grandeur
and misrre, man was rather seen continually displaying
his role by failing to recognize his own fallen, but
redeemable condition; in his inherited role as both the
son of Adam and the heir of Heaven, the Christian acted
his "true" part by recognizing his own imperfections
and by trusting divine wisdom to lead him to his goal of
salvation. During the sixteenth-and seventeenth-cen-
turies, furthermore, the world-stage concept came to
reflect, in the works of such Platonists as Juan Vives,
Henry More and Thomas Burnet, the idea of man's power to
progressively transcend his "lower" animal affinities;
and in More and Burnet this idea received unique ex-
pression in their notions that the "great plot" of the
divine drama involved new earthly scenes of man's
increasing spiritual-rational perfection. Throughout this
same period, however, such Christian humanists as Erasmus,
Thomas More and Shakespeare also sought to retain more
traditional Christian views of man's inherited perplex-
ities and frailties in the divine theatre. The stage
imagery which appears in Pope's works is closely linked
to these latter views of man's innate limitations on
God's stage; Pope's theatrical imagery in the Dunciad,
moreover, is subtly formulated to reveal the dangers
inherent in Burnet's views of man's new destiny of per-
fection in the divine drama.
In an early letter, written to Henry Cromwell on
August 29, 1709, Pope used stage metaphor to comment on
his friend's recent departure from London:
I find you vary your Life in the Scene
at least, tho' not in the Action; for tho' Life
for the most part, like an old Play, be still the
same (, yet) now and then a New Scene may make it
more entertaining. As for myself, (I) wou'd not
have my life a very Regular Play; let it be a
good merry Farce, a G ds (name) and a figg for
the Critical Unities .
Pope then went on to elaborate upon man's "Play" in
the "Great Theatre" of life:
A true modern Life is like a true Modern Play. .
Every actor is much better known by his
having the same Face, then by his keeping the
same Character: For we change our minds as often
as they can their Parts . .
I have dwelt the longer on this argument, because
I persuade myself it might be useful at this
time when we have no other Theatre, to divert
ourselves at this Great one. Here is a glorious
Standing Comedy of Fools, at which every Man is
heartily merry, and thinks himself an unconcern'd
Pope's theatrical imagery here significantly reappears
in his treatment of the relationship of life and art in
an Epistle to Miss Blount, With the Works of Voiture
(1712). After paying tribute to the "gay Thoughts" (1. 1)
of the French poet-letter writer, Vincent de Voiture,
Pope says of himself:
Let the strict Life of graver Mortals be
A long, exact, and serious Comedy,
In ev'ry Scene some Moral let it teach;
Let mine, an innocent gay Farce appear,
And more Diverting still than Regular,
Have Humour, Wit, a native Ease and Grace;
Tho' not too strictly bound to Time and Place:
Criticks in Wit, or Life, are hard to please,
Few write to those, and none can live to these.
In the "Great Theatre" of life, where man constantly
changes his mind and shifts his character, the applica-
tion of certain rules of human behavior can be seen to
be as sterile as the application of the rules of the
unities of "Time and Place" to drama. Throughout his
Epistle Pope shows how, in the midst of the "false Shows"
(1. 47) of a society whose rules of conduct often operate
only to falsify the truth of human passions, "Humor,
Wit, a native Ease and Grace" may provide the necessary
understanding of, and tolerance towards, human frailties.
And at the end of his poem, Pope suggests to Miss Blount
and to his reader how, in the "Standing Comedy of Fools"
in which every man is heartily involved,"Good Humour"
(seen as a proper ordering of the inner self to life's
complexities) teaches "Charms to last" (1. 61), and
binds the heart with ease and strength.
Pope's most significant use of stage metaphor as an
imaginative expression of man's place in the world occurs
in his An Essay on Man (1733-4). In the beginning of the
Essay, the poet proposes to explore the "scene of
Let us (since Life can little more supply
Than just to look about us and to die)
Expatiate free o'er all this scene of Man;
A mighty maze! but not without a plan;
Eye Nature's walks, shoot Folly as it flies,
And catch the Manners living as they rise;
Laugh where we must, be candid where we can;
But vindicate the ways of God to Man.
(Epistle I, 11. 3-6, 13-16)
Pope's allusions to "scene" and to "manners" in this
opening passage of the Essay suggest one of the poem's
principal thematic concerns--to "vindicate the ways of
God to Man" by showing how man can enact his true part
on the divinely planned stage of the world. In his
introduction to the Essay, Maynard Mack, comparing the
tone of Dryden's Religio Laici to that of a man recounting
what he has seen at a play, points out that "Pope's
tone in the Essay is different. It is that of an actor
in the play, shifting with the situation, not only from
grave to gay and lively to severe, but from scorn to
pity. . This tone, which can be seen in Pope's
opening allusion to man's short stay on the world stage,
strongly pervades the whole poem as we see Pope, in the
guise of an actor in a cosmic play, shifting through the
various movements of man's brief show in a divine drama.
In Epistle I of the Essay, Pope shows how man can
play his proper role in that drama only when he first
accepts his orn limitations in the universal scheme of
creation. Throughout this Epistle Pope visualizes man's
desire to leave his appointed sphere, and to soar above
the "scene of Man":
What would this Man? Now upward will he soar,
And little less than Angel, would be more;
Now looking downwards, just as griev'd appears
To want the strength of bulls, the fur of bears;
Such an action in seen, in effect, as a blasphemous
attempt to "uncreate" divine order:
In Pride, in reasoning Pride, our error lies;
All quit their sphere, and rush into the skies.
Aspiring to be Angels, Men rebel;
And who but wishes to invert the laws
Of ORDER, sins against th' Eternal Cause.
(11. 123-4, 128-130)
The second Epistle continues this attack on man's Satanic
hubris by first emphasizing the importance of self-
knowledge in instructing man in the truth of his own
"dual" nature--the divinely ordained duality of soul and
body, reason and passion, within man which makes him
"created half to rise, and half to fall; / Great lord
of all things, yet a prey to all" (11. 14-15). In his
introduction to the Essay, Mack has pointed out that
the kinds of conduct to be repudiated /Tn the
second Epistle7 are all those which tend to
make man glorify himself as a creature of mind
alone. . Typical instances are the pre-
tensions of natural philosophy, of Platonist
metaphysics and of neo-Platonic mysticism,
which fancies it can put off body altogether.
At the end of this second Epistle, Pope makes elaborate
use of theatrical metaphor to reveal the folly of those
natural philosophers who would "mount where Science
guides" (1. 19), or of those who would "soar with Plato
to th' empyreal sphere" (1. 23), or finally, of those who,
with the Stoics, in "lazy Apathy" would "boast / Their
Virtue fix'd . as in a frost" (11. 101-2).
As part of his general argument that the "Ends of
Providence and general Good are answered in our Passions
and Imperfections," Pope places the various, shifting
ages of man's life in a graphic theatrical setting:
Behold the child, by Nature's kindly law,
Pleas'd with a rattle, tickled with a straw:
Some livelier play-thing gives his youth delight,
A little louder, but as empty quite:
Scarfs, garters, gold, amuse his riper stage;
And beads and pray'r-books are the toys of age:
Pleas'd with this bauble still, as that before;
'Till tir'd he sleeps, and Life's poor play is o'er!
Mean-while Opinion gilds with varying rays
Those painted clouds that beautify our days;
Each want of happiness by Hope supply'd,
And each vacuity of sense by Pride:
These build as fast as knowledge can destroy;
In Folly's cup still laughs the bubble, joy.
(Epistle II, 11. 275-288)
This poignant portraiture of man "the child" engaged in
his "poor play" is, of course, a central part of Pope's
purpose of bringing man to a recognition of his own
built-in infirmities. Here man performs, in his role as
the "jest" of the world, in the bauble-spectacle of life;
on the riper "stage" between the "rattles" of youth and
the "beads" of age, man lives in a play world of "scarfs,
garters and gold," a theatre of "painted clouds," whose
gilding beautifies his day. While man's truest "Joy"
resides in this bubble ("deceptive show") of Folly, all
of his self-deceiving vanities are not given in vain,
for, as the lines which close this Epistle remind us,
Ev'n mean Self-love becomes, by force divine,
The scale to measure others wants by thine.
See! and confess, one comfort still must rise,
'Tis this, Tho' Man's a fool, yet God is wise.
Under the direction of a wise God, man's self-serving
vanities and passionate instincts--"mean Self-love"--
can lead to mankind's chief concern, charity; the "Ends
of Providence and general Good" are mysteriously served
by the "Passions and Imperfections" which make up man's
play world. And in the following epistle of the Essay
Pope shows how, ultimately, in the bubble theatre of
all Mankind's concern is Charity:
All must be false that thwart this One great End,
And all of God, that bless Mankind or mend.
(Epistle III, 11. 308-310)
In the fourth and last Epistle of this poem, Pope
visualizes man enacting his proper role in the global
comedy by moving in and through "Self-love" towards
"Love of God and Love of Man" (1. 340). "Act well your
part, there all the honour lies" (1. 194). Pope remarks
near the beginning of this Epistle, and at its end we see
man rising now, not to the heights of boundless pride,
but to the "height of Charity" which exists in the
Self-love thus pushed to social, to divine,
Gives thee to make thy neighbour's blessing thine.
Is this too little for the boundless heart?
Extend it, let thy enemies have part:
Grasp the whole worlds of Reason, Life, and Sense,
In one close system of Benevolence:
Happier as kinder, in whatever degree,
And height of Bliss but height of Charity.
God loves from Whole to Parts: but human soul
Must rise from Individual to the Whole.
Self-love but serves the virtuous mind to wake,
As the small pebble stirs the peaceful lake;
The centre mov'd, a circle strait succeeds,
Another still, and still another spreads,
Friend, parent, neighbour, first it will embrace,
His country next, and next all human race,
Wide and more wide, th' o'erflowings of the mind
Take ev'ry creature in, of ev'ry kind;
Earth smiles around, with boundless bounty blest,
And Heav'n beholds its image in his /man's7 breast.
Where the eye of Heaven earlier surveyed man's timeless
efforts to transcend his assigned role,
Oh sons of earth! attempt ye still to rise,
By mountains pil'd on mountains, to the skies?
Heav'n still with laughter the vain toil surveys,
(Epistle IV, 11. 73-75)
it now beholds with a smile man "rising" to the "Whole"
by taking into his heart every foolish player on the
stage of the world. The "great directing Mind of All"
(I, 1. 266) thus provides for man's restoration not
through any blasphemous effort to set himself apart from
his own nature, but through religious trust that he can
regain within himself the paradise he has lost.
The strong affinity which exists between Pope's use
of the theatrical metaphor in the Essay and earlier
Christian humanists' uses of it is suggested in Pope's
allusion to the role which "Opinion" plays in producing
happiness in man's stage world. Thus, in The Praise of
Folly (1511), Erasmus had Stultitia defend the "pleasures"
of folly by noting how "the happiness of a man .
resides in opinion," and how "the mind of man is so
constructed that it is taken far more with disguises than
with realities." And in picturing how the imprudent man
would strip off all the "masks" which make up the comedy
of life, Stultitia argued that "the part of a truly
prudent man, on the contrary, is (since we are mortal)
not to aspire to wisdom beyond his station. .. .
In using theatrical metaphor to suggest man's folly in
desiring god-like knowledge and virtue, Erasmus insisted
that man play out the comedy of life with all its passion
motivated vanities, for such vanities, when divinely
directed, could lead man to the "foolish wisdom" of
Christian charity and tolerance. Like Erasmus, Pope
also underlines the theme of life as a "Standing Comedy,"
and stresses the value of man's passions as an important
part of the divine scheme to show that man's true ethical
objectives lie in the paradoxical wisdom of Christian
charity and patience. And like the optimism expressed
in the theatrical metaphors of Erasmus, Thomas More, and
Shakespeare, Pope's optimism in the Essay on Man lies
in seeing that "Tho' Man's a fool, yet God is wise"--
though man continually deludes himself in believing that
he can rise above his own imperfections on the world
stage, God wisely directs his complex nature towards its
true goal, the imago Dei.
Pope's Essay on Man stresses the importance of self-
knowledge in humbling man to enable him to recognize his
proper "role" on the cosmic stage, and suggests how man's
union with divine order might be thus realized. In the
Dunciad (1743) Pope shows how a lack of self-knowledge,
a lack leading man to a "self conceit of greater abilities"
results in the "uncreation" of that order. The Dunciad's
vision of uncreation is presented through an artful use
of stage metaphor by which activities on the "lesser"
world of the human theatre reveal man's refusal to play
his proper role in the "greater" theatre of life. By
means of this intricate theatrical perspective, Pope
makes stage anarchy in the pantomimic theatre reflect the
anarchy which the dunces produce in the real world of
human affairs, until finally, at the close of the poem,
we are given a theatrical vision suggestive, in its most
profound dimensions, of the end of the universal drama of
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And Universal Darkness buries All.
(IV, 11. 655-6)
In Book III of the Dunciad this theatrical perspec-
tive takes on its most compelling form when the hero-
dunce Gibber is afforded a vision which is described in
terms of pantomimic stage settings. These stage settings
of the "conflagration-like" destruction of a theatrical
world (III, 11. 235-240), and the "recreation" of a "new
world" (III, 11. 241ff.), function primarily as metaphoric
insinuations of a "larger" destruction of world order,
and a miscreationn" of a new order in which man is seen
to usurp the functions of the divine stage manager. This
usurpation is artfully suggested in Pope's description
of the wonders of Dulness's future reign:
In yonder cloud behold,
Whose sarsenet skirts are edg'd with flamy gold,
A matchless Youth! his nod these worlds controls,
Wings the red lightning, and the thunder rolls.
Angel of Dulness, sent to scatter round
Her magic charms o'er all unclassic ground:
Yon stars, yon suns, he rears at pleasure higher,
Illumes their light, and sets their flames on fire.
Immortal Rich! how calm he sits at ease
Rides in the whirlwind, and directs the storm.
(III, 11. 253-261, 264)
In this vision of Rich's manipulations of his pantomimic
stage properties Pope brilliantly captures, in his use of
theatrical metaphor in the poem, man's blasphemous attempt
to recreate the "Great Theatre" of Life in his own image.
In his study of the Dunciad, Williams has pointed
out the correspondence which exists between Rich's actions
as the "Angel of Dulness," and the Essay on Man's concern
with that reasoningg pride," which makes man rush angel-
like to the skies to "counterwork the Eternal Cause."
Several other parallels between the Dunciad and the Essay
on Man support the idea that Rich's control of his panto-
mimic creations exists to mirror man's pride-ridden
attempt to subvert divine order. The imagery of Rich's
"nodding control" over his "worlds" alludes, of course,
to the general movement of machinery on the pantomimic
stage; but these "worlds" can be seen to have more partic-
ular reference to the preceding image of Rich's creations
of cosmical scenes in which "other planets circle other
suns" (1. 244). In Epistle I of the Essay on Man Pope
argued that only God or an angel could know "What other
planets circle other suns" (1. 26), and, later on in this
epistle, he pictured how man, in his attempts to attain
angelic-like powers, would "break" divine "ORDER" and
have "Planets and Suns run lawless thro' the sky" (1. 252).
Rich's theatrical actions in rearing new stars and suns,
in making rivers rise upward (1. 245), in winging the
red lightning, and directing the storm, find further
counterparts in the Essay in Pope's concern with "The
absurdity of man conceiting himself the final cause of
the creation. . ." This conceit, which is perhaps most
vividly illustrated in the following lines of Epistle I,
Ask for what end the heav'nly bodies shine,
Pride answers, "Tis for mine.
Seas roll to waft me, suns to light me rise,"
(11. 131-2, 139)
impells man to seek an angel-like knowledge of matters
of which only God can know, "Whose hand the lightning
forms, / ho heaves old Ocean, and who wings the storms"
(I, 11. 157-8). The fact that this "conceit" is also a
prime motivating force in the dunces' creation of their
new world is further suggested in Pope's vision, in Book
IV, of the dunces' efforts to "Make God Man's Image, Man
the Final Cause" (1. 478).
Pope's pervasive concern in the Essay on Man with
the way in which, "Aspiring to be Angels, Men rebel" on
God's stage, is also of fundamental importance to the
Dunciad. Pope implies in the latter poem that Dulness