Saturday, January 28, 2012
Giants and Pygmies: The Politics of Body Types in Restoration England?
A new work published, John Spurr, ed., Anthony Ashley Cooper, first Earl of Shaftesbury, 1621-1683 (Ashgate, 2011) returns a long overdue spotlight onto the great leader among the CABAL, the country party, and the Whigs. (I say long overdue, but we cover his political career at least extensively in ch. 9 of Robert Bucholz and Newton Key, Early Modern England 1485-1714: A Narrative History, 2nd ed., Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.) The new Ashgate catalog includes the following quote from Mark Kishlansky: "A collection of essays that befits the stature of the Earl of Shaftesbury." That quote sent me on a quest to recall the exact words of John Dryden's hatchet job on Shaftesbury in Absalom and Achitophel: "A fiery Soul, which working out its way / Fretted the Pigmy Body to decay." Even Tim Harris, a contributor to the volume notes in his ODNB biography: "He inherited the short stature of his grandfather and as an adult was markedly below average height." Harris, ‘Cooper, Anthony Ashley, first earl of Shaftesbury (1621–1683)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008)
All of which might make us ask what Prof. Kishlansky was suggesting. A wider question is the politics of physical description. The revamping of the Yorkist Richard III as hunched and crippled by Tudor apologists such as William Shakespeare has long been commented upon (Bucholz and Key, ch. 1). Have we been influenced to do the same to Shaftesbury, the Count Tapski of Tory propaganda? [This thought is influenced by some of the current work of my co-author, Robert Bucholz, on political images of fatness. While that issue doesn't apply in Shaftesbury's case, as Prof. Harris notes "the Habeas Corpus Amendment Act, sometimes known as the Shaftesbury Act..., passed...only because Lord Grey of Warke...decided to count one particularly fat peer as ten, and no one spotted the error."]