When Clarissa calls Lovelace "a perfect Proteus," more variable than the chameleon (II, 82), she points to him as a very icon of the mutability that once meant man's paradoxical potential for creation and destruction. To Erasmus, Vives, Pico della Mirandella, Ariosto, Montaigne, Burton, Spenser, and Shakespeare, the shape-changing seagod Proteus was at once lawmaker and lawbreaker. As Spenser says in the Mutability Cantos, men "their being doe dilate" by their changes. Civilization itself results from their restless aspirations to learning and the creative arts. But when like Proteus in his other manifestations men hide malignity behind a benevolent mask, creative art turns to illusion, verbal distortion, acting, deception, rape, and chaos in civil society.' Lovelace, who parodies Richard III's most famous line (III, 421), might boast like him,
4, Article 3.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/ecf/vol2/iss4/3