Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
W. G. Roebuck
Throughout his reign, King James acted as a lucrative loadstone; writers pointing true north were headed in the right direction. Head of the Church and state, King James remained powerful and symbolic enough to raise the pens of poets, political writers and preachers in his praise and defence. James' ideas and actions were lauded and emulated not through any merit of their own (though some were meritorious), but through the fear and awe which the title of their originator, King, still carried.
This inherited power was further directed by James'own literary pursuits: by his treatise on poetry; his own poems; his speeches, tracts and "paper bullets". Those vying for the approval or patronage of the King found in James' written word a broad base in which to plant their ladder to success.
Did King James' preference for those who praised him as "best of poets", "best of Kings" sway the direction of the literature in his reign? The King's desire to see John Donne in an ecclesiastical rather than a secular employment may have occasioned more in the style of Essays in Divinity at the expense of a few more "Songs and Sonnets". But this can only be speculation. What is more certain is that the King's rejection of Alexander Montgomerie for political and religious reasons resulted in the virtual disappearance of Montgomerie"s poetry. Certainly James' preference of Ben Jonson as court masquer lengthened that dramatist's repertoire. Although Drummond of Hawthornden was one of the self-sufficient few who managed without James, he too found occasion to lament the plight of the isolated.
King James may not have been the Castalian spring whence his kingdom's poetry sprung, but he certainly provided a dam or two.
Bell, Sandra J., "Perspectives on King James VI and I's Influence on the Literature in his Reign" (1989). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 5842.
McMaster University Library