Title: Pope and the stage metaphor
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00097821/00001
 Material Information
Title: Pope and the stage metaphor
Physical Description: vii, 208 leaves ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Atnally, Richard Francis, 1935-
Publication Date: 1967
Copyright Date: 1967
Subject: English thesis Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis - University of Florida.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 196-208.
Additional Physical Form: Also available on World Wide Web
General Note: Manuscript copy.
General Note: Vita.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00097821
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000559299
oclc - 13458017
notis - ACY4749


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June, 1967


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

universal darkness.




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

Works Cited

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

divine stage.

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?"
(italics mine)

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
to do.

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

eternal damnation.

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

of self-glorification:

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
him thus":

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
a man.

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

the world:

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
your remembraunce.

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

of Heaven.

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

"entirely self-assigned."


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),
p. 9b.

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,
p. 650.

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,
p. 454.

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.

16. Ibid.

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,
p. 301).

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,
p. 354.
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,
pp. 224-5.

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.

68. Ibid.

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
p. 124.

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),
p. 11b.

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,"
p. 178).

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

religious thought:

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
mine) 3

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
"mechanical Arts."

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

nature's operations:

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 ..
(11. 100-102)

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 . "

(11. 142-4).

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-
panding knowledge.

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

joyful ending:

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
of Saints.

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
(1681-90) produced:

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
mechanical laws.

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

on earth.

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

bodily "imprisonment":

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 Capacities;

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,

he noted,

. 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
the composition.

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-

tific knowledge.

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
Paradise restored.

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

altered by

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-
disaical ..
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"
(p. rm7-

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.

14. Ibid.

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,
1953),Tpp. 65ff.

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,
pp. 143-4.

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,
p. 162.

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
on earth.

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"
(p. 3).
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'"
(p. 34).

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)
(italics mine).

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.

72. Ibid.

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
Spectator ..

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;
(11. 173-6)

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

"boundless heart":

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.
(11. 353-372)

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

existence itself:

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

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