Tuesday, May 29, 2007
ELIOT'S THE LOVE SONG OF J. ALFRED PRUFROCK
The editors of anthologies containing T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" invariably footnote the reference to Lazarus as John 11:1-44; rarely is the reference footnoted as Luke 16:19-31. Also, the reference to John the Baptist is invariably footnoted as Matthew 14:3-11; never have I seen the reference footnoted as an allusion to Oscar Wilde's Salome. The sources that one cites can profoundly affect interpretations of the poem. I believe that a correct reading of Eliot's "Prufrock" requires that one cite Wilde, in addition to Matthew, and Luke, in addition to John, as the sources for the John the Baptist and Lazarus being referenced. Furthermore, the citation of these sources can help explain Eliot's allusion to Dante's Guido da Montefeltro.
By a correct reading of "Prufrock," I mean a reading consistent with the central theme of the poet's belief made mute because the poet lives in a culture of unbelief--that is, the "silence" of the poetic vision in modernity. Prufrock renounces his inherited, romantic role as "poet as prophet" and renounces poetry's role as a successor to religion. The future of poetry may have once been immense, but that future no longer exists for Prufrock, who is faced not only with the certainty of the rejection of his poetic vision but also with a situation in which there are no grounds for rhetoric: "That is not what I meant at all. / That is not it, at all." Fear of rejection leads Prufrock to the ultimate silencing of the prophet and hero within himself, to being "a pair of ragged claws." He cannot share his poetic vision of life: to do so would threaten the very existence of that life. Paradoxically, not to share his light, his "words among mankind," threatens the loss of the wellsprings of his creative force.
I. John the Baptist
Prufrock elaborates the extent of his renunciation of the romantic notion of "poet as prophet": Prufrock is no prophet--neither a John the Baptist, nor a Lazarus, nor is he even a hero.
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in
upon a platter,
I am no prophet--and here's no great matter... (81-83)
The reference is not only to Matthew 14:3-11, but also to Oscar Wilde's Salome, the play upon which Richard Strauss based his opera Salome. In the biblical account, no motivation is ascribed to Salome for wanting John the Baptist killed. In the versions by Wilde and Strauss, however, Salome is passionately in love with the imprisoned John the Baptist, who, because he will not let the temptations of the flesh corrupt his pure love of God, rejects her advances. Wilde's Salome, determined that if she cannot have John no one will have John, asks Herod for the Baptist's head on a platter. John the Baptist spurned Salome's affections while he lived; now that he is dead, Salome lavishes her kisses upon the cold lips of the bloody corpse-head.
Prufrock, too, has had his moments of temptation: he has "known the arms already, known them all-- / Arms that are braceleted and white and bare / (But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)" (62-64). And these very sources of temptation, these "arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl" (67), eventually emasculate Prufrock by rejection: "Would it have been worth while / If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl, / And turning toward the window, should say: / 'That is not it at all, That is not what I meant, at all' " (106-10). Prufrock has seen his "head...brought in upon a platter" (82). Like John the Baptist, Prufrock has fallen prey to the seduction of an impious age. But, unlike John, Prufrock declaims: "I am no prophet--and here's no great matter" (83).
John the Baptist lived in an age of belief: he felt a privileged claim to transcendent knowledge that assured the victory, even in death, of his holy prophecy over the vicissitudes of worldly evil. Prufrock knows that he is subject to the same temptations of the flesh, knows that he ultimately will succumb to the same death at the hands of evil; but Prufrock, if he makes claim to privileged, poetic knowledge, feels no imperative to share that knowledge with a society rooted in unbelief. The martyrdom of prophecy is untenable in a modernity in which "God is dead."
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: "I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all"--
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: "That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all." (87, 90-98)
Prufrock's answer is a clear "No!" If he is not a prophet like John the Baptist, much less is he a Lazarusian savior.
In John 11: 1-44, Lazarus of Bethany is ill and dying, and Jesus promises Lazarus's sisters, Mary and Martha, that he will come and heal him. But Jesus tarries, and Lazarus dies. By the time Jesus and his disciples arrive, Lazarus has been dead four days. Martha laments that Jesus took so long, and Jesus replies, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (25). Martha misunderstands Jesus, thinking he is referring to the Judgment Day, and then Mary comes out and says, "Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died" (32). Jesus "...groaned in the spirit, and was troubled....Jesus wept" (33, 35). Despite Martha's protestations that by now Lazarus must stink, Jesus orders the stone of the tomb rolled away and raises Lazarus from the dead. The chief priests of the Pharisees, hearing of the resurrection of Lazarus, resolve that "Jesus should die..." (51).
This account of the resurrection of Lazarus is what Matthew Arnold, in Literature and Dogma and God and the Bible, calls aberglaube, or "after belief," superstitious accretions to the essentially ethical religious message of the historic Jesus: according to Jesus' own reaction, his weeping, the need to resurrect Lazarus to inculcate belief should have been redundant and is therefore pitiable. This account of Lazarus is irrelevant to "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," except possibly as a foil to Luke's Lazarus; its very "aberglauberish" dramatics are antithetical to the central theme of a recalcitrant Prufrock. Furthermore, John's Lazarus never speaks, nor is he ever really expected to say anything. The account serves to demonstrate man's incorrigible obduracy to truth and to set up Jesus' Crucifixion and Resurrection as Christ, which would be irrelevant not only to the theme of "Prufrock" but, according to Arnold, irrelevant to the essentially moral message of Jesus as well.
The parable of Lazarus found in Luke, on the other hand, is relevant both to Jesus' moral teachings and to the theme of " Prufrock." In Luke 16:19-31, Lazarus is a beggar, "full of sores" (20), who beseeches a rich man that he be allowed to eat "the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table" (21). The rich man sends Lazarus away and sets his dogs on him. Lazarus dies and goes to the comfort of the bosom of Abraham; the rich man dies and is tormented in hell's flames. Seeing Lazarus in comfort, the rich man begs Abraham to allow Lazarus to bring him water. Abraham, however, reminds the rich man that in life he received "good things" and Lazarus received "evil things," and that it is fitting that Lazarus now be "comforted" and he, the rich man, "tormented." Seeing that there is no help for himself, the rich man entreats Abraham to send Lazarus back to life to warn his five brothers so that they will not end up in hell also.
29. Abraham saith unto him [the rich man], They have Moses and the prophets; let them [your brothers] hear them. 30. And he [the rich man) said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one [Lazarus] went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31. And he [Abraham] said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
Prufrock knows that it would be futile to declaim, " 'I am Lazarus, come from the dead, / Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all'--" (95-96). His audience--like the rich man's five brothers (and probably like the audience of Christ's parable)--would be deaf to the claims of any privileged knowledge of transcendent authority. Lazarus, had Abraham returned him from the dead, would have been wasting his breath-his exhalation and his spirit, and Prufrock feels that he, too, would be wasting his breath declaiming to a modern audience that which modernity not only will not accept but will not even allow a forum for refutation: "Neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
III. Guido da Montefeltro
Prufrock's renunciation of any role as "poet as prophet," either martyred or resurrected, climaxes in a resounding "No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be..." (111). Not only is Prufrock not a prophet sent to save the human race, he is not even a hero, destined to purge the state of its ills. Something may be rotten in the state of Denmark, but her redemption rests with someone other than Prufrock. With this renunciation comes the capitulation of that which is most dear to Prufrock: with his renunciation of prophecy and heroism, Prufrock fears the loss of his poetic vision.
Prufrock does affirm the source of his poetic inspirations: "I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each" (124). The mermaids are the source of access to privileged, transcendent belief--to transmogrifying belief. However, Prufrock continues, "I do not think that they will sing to me" (125). The hermeneutic circle--from transcendent inspiration, to poet, to audience, back to worship of that divine source of inspiration-cannot be broken without devastating consequences. However, Prufrock believes that he has no audience, and the consequences of his alienation will ultimately be, he fears, poetic sterility--the loss of the very source of his creative life.
The loss of Prufrock's poetic inspiration might "plain Eliot's cryptic epigraph. The epigraph is taken from Dante's Inferno (27:61-66), where the false counselor Guido da Montefeltro, enveloped in hell's flame, explains to Dante that he will speak freely only because he has heard that no one ever escapes from hell: "If I thought that my reply would be to one who would ever return to the world, this flame would stay without further movement. But since none has ever returned alive from this depth, if what I hear is true, I answer you without fear of infamy." Guido has no fear of answering all of Dante's questions--of letting his flame shine forth. Prufrock, on the other hand, lives with his light entombed in the dark hell of his own fear of rejection: he cannot share his "love song." He says, in effect, A prophet is never honored in his own time; therefore, this prophet shall remain silent. He says, in effect, Lazarus wasn't sent back from the dead--because you already have your prophets. So what need have you of me? The labyrinth of his own "love song" is the hell that Prufrock is certain no one of us will escape. His silence is assured.
DONNE'S HOLY SONNET XIV
Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, 'and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, t'another due,
Labor to 'admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue,
Yet dearely'I love you, and would be lov'd faine,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy,
Divorce me, 'untie, or breake that knot againe
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you 'enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
The analogous language of romantic passion ("I am my Beloved's and my Beloved is mine" [Song Sol. 2.16, New International Version]) and intellectual paradox ("Whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it" [Matt. 10.39, NIV]) has always seemed natural to those seeking to understand and speak of spiritual mysteries. Even so, John Donne's image of the Divine Rape in the "Holy Sonnet XIV," by which the victim becomes, or remains, chaste is at first startling; we are not accustomed to such spiritual intensity. Previous explications have attempted to downplay this figure; for example, Thomas J. Steele, SJ [The Explicator 29 (1971): 74], maintains that the "sexual meaning" is "a secondary meaning" and "probably not meant to be explicitly affirmed." Moreover, George Knox [The Explicator 15 (1956): 2] writes that the poem does not "require our imagining literally the relation between man and God in heterosexual terms" and that "the traditions of Christian mysticism allow such symbolism of ravishment . . . ." However, even granting that the sexual imagery is not intended to be taken literally, but rather symbolically, we still must question Knox, as does John E. Parish: "One must infer that in Knox's opinion such symbolism shares nothing with metaphor in its effect on the imagination" [College English 24 (1963): 299].
In spite of the shocking character of the poem's imagery, the "Holy Sonnet XIV" seems coherent, its language apt; it is metrically jagged, yet traditional; its imagery is anthropomorphic, yet pious. If one may be permitted a commonplace, the poem is certainly a poem of paradoxes, as has been explored more fully in its many explications in these pages (articles appearing in 1953, 1954, 1965, 1967, and 1969, as well as in those mentioned above). However, most of these explications seem to focus on the intensity of religious ardor expressed by Donne's expansion of the boundaries of metaphorical usage within the poem. I will address more directly this metaphorical usage as it relates to Donne's experimentation with metrical freedom within the strictures of traditional sonnet form, as a further inroad to the poem's theme.
Both of these characteristics--the sinewy elasticity of meter and the intellectual contortion of metaphorical conceit--are attributes of the "metaphysical" style of poetry of which Donne is the preeminent representative. These attributes caused the critics of metaphysical poetry to label it the "strong-lined" style. It is, however, difficult to imagine Donne's passionate outpouring being expressed in any other way, since the poet uses the irregularities imposed on the iambic pentameter model to reinforce his unusual, striking imagery.
The poem follows the standard sonnet model of three quatrains, each with separate but related image, and concluding couplet. The first quatrain presents the poet in prayerful pleading to God to "o'erthrow" and "break" him, like some sort of tinker's creation; the second presents the poet as a town "usurpt" from God, its rightful lord; the third presents the poet as a woman who loves God, her suitor, but is engaged to his enemy. In these quatrains, Donne takes the position that reason, though the highest faculty and God's "viceroy" in humanity, is incomplete and flawed, and requires the enlightenment brought about by the intimate revelation of the divine being. The poet, as a fallen human, is "betroth'd" unto God's "enemy," and therefore pleads for God to progressively "break that knot" of attachment to the enemy, "imprison" the poet, "enthrall" him (or her, since the soul is typically feminine in Elizabethan poetry) into freedom, and finally, in the most daring of the paradoxical juxtapositions, "ravish" the poet into the condition of spiritual chastity. The tinker's object is broken and remade, the town is taken, the love affair is irresistibly consummated, even as the paradox of virtue and passion is glowingly resolved.
So the strategy of the poem appears to be that of approaching a dangerous, blasphemous anthropomorphism in the heat of devotion, but deflecting that danger, just in time, by the equation of sensual passion to spiritual virtue; for the concluding couplet declares that true freedom comes when one is imprisoned by God, and that purity of heart comes with God's ravishment (sexual assault, with the double meaning of "ravish" as "to win the heart of" someone). By the poem's conclusion, the conceit of the rape which ensures chastity no longer skirts blasphemy. In fact, in Donne's hands, it even becomes orthodox, an ideal of devotion worthy of emulation.
This resolution of discordant imagery, this stillness after the petitionary storm, is reflected in the poem's metrical pattern as well. Nominally iambic pentameter, as befits a sonnet, the first twelve lines (with the exceptions of lines 3 and 11) are full of irregularities. For instance, the first line opens with a trochee on the violent "Batter my heart," the trochee reinforcing the idea of the crashing blow and response for which the poet prays. This verb also foreshadows the daring imagery to come: the hardened heart is battered ("heart" also being Elizabethan slang for the vagina), even as the tinker's artifact is battered, even as an entry is forced through the closed city gates (through which the poet labors to admit the attacker), even as, finally, a sexual entry is forced.
As the poet grapples with these daring but compressed and contorted images, the poem's meter contorts in response. Several lines have repeated strokes of accent, with two lines having as many as three accents in a row (a far remove from the iambic model:
Line 2: As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
3-4: . . . bend /Your force, to reake, blowe, burn and make me new.
5: I, like an usurpt town, t'another due,
6: Labor to admit you, but oh,to no end (or an alternate reading: Laor to admit you, but oh, to no end),
7: Reason your vicroy in me, me should defend,
8: But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue,
9: Yet dearely I love you, and would be lov'd faine . . .
The violence of these repeated strokes of accent mimics the violence of the poet's attempts to cope with the implications of his central conceit, the divine violation. The reader will note also that the irregularities of Donne's meter would be even greater were it not for the enforced splicing (in the original Elizabethan English) of several words. For instance, the normal iambic pattern of line 3 would also be irregular were it not for the pronunciation of "me' and" as "m' and" or "mand." The same holds true for the iamb "captiv'd" of line 8, in which the accent is shifted to the second syllable of the word; for the iambs "Yet dearely I love" of line 9, in which "dearely'I" becomes "dearl'I" or "dear-lie" ("Yet dear-lie love"); for the iambs "Divorce me,'untie" of line 11, in which "me,' untie" becomes "m'untie"; and for the iamb "you'enthrall" of line 13, which becomes "y'enthfall."
Yet Donne uses this last example for his own purposes as well, for the jarring metrical irregularity of the previous quatrains is suddenly transformed into pure iambic pentameter for the final couplet:
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
The iambic meter here reflects the peace found as the poem finds its spiritual resolution, not necessarily its intellectual solution. The tension still exists, but in a poised state of equilibrium. "Beautifully calculated," as critic William Kerrigan puts it, "the final line . . . presents the word 'chaste' before 'ravish me,' relaxing anxieties an instant before the revelation that focuses them.": The divine assault is now seen fully as a spiritual act. That which is humanly imperfect and even exploitative becomes divinely perfect and fulfilling. The rape preserves, rather than destroys, chastity. God builds up as he tears down, possesses as he frees, is as honorable as passionate--that is, in him all paradoxes find their supra-rational resolution, resolution not only presented in the imagery of the closing couplet, but reflected in the sudden tranquillity of the completely regular iambic pentameter.
Thus Donne links content to form throughout the "Holy Sonnet XIV." His aesthetic presentation of the relationships "implicit in the ancient theological conceit of the righteous soul's marriage to God" is therefore doubly moving.
ELIOT'S THE HOLLOW MEN
Scholars have long endeavored to identify the sources of various images in T. S. Eliot's work, so densely layered with literary allusions. As Eliot himself noted in his essay "Philip Massinger" (1920),
One of the surest of tests is the way in which a poet borrows. Immature poets imitate, mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
In Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men," several sources have been posited for the "hollow men . . . the stuffed men / leaning together . . . filled with straw" (lines 1-2). B. C. Southam notes three: that the "hollow . . . stuffed men" are reminiscent of the effigies burned in celebration of Guy Fawkes Day; that "according to Valerie Eliot, the poet had in mind the marionette in Stravinsky's Petrouchka"; and finally, that the "straw-stuffed effigies are associated with harvest rituals celebrating the death of the fertility god or Fisher King."(n1)
In 1963, some years before Southam's summary, John Vickery had proffered an interpretation similar to the third point mentioned. He noted that "the opening lines of `The Hollow Men' with their image of straw-filled creatures, recalls The Golden Bough's account of the straw-man who represents the dead spirit of fertility that revives in the spring when the apple trees begin to blossom."(n2) Whereas Eliot may well have had any or all of these ideas in mind, I suggest that there is yet another connection to be made, namely between Eliot's "hollow . . . stuffed men" and the Roman ritual of the Argei.
In 1922, a few years before Eliot wrote "The Hollow Men," W. Warde Fowler described the particulars of this ritual, which was to him a "fascinating puzzle" and "the first curiosity that enticed" him "into the study of Roman religion," in his book Roman Religious Experience.(n3) The rite according to Fowler occurs
each year on the ides of May, which is in my view rather magical than religious, though the ancients themselves looked upon it as a kind of purification, [namely] the casting into the Tiber from the Pons Sublicius of twenty-four or twenty-seven straw puppets by the Vestal Virgins in the presence of the magistrates and pontifices. Recently an attempt has been made by Wissowa to prove that this strange ceremony was not primitive, but simply a case of substitution of puppets for real human victims as late as the age of the Punic wars. These puppets were called Argei, which naturally suggests Greeks; and Wissowa has contrived to persuade himself not only that a number of Greeks were actually put to death by drowning in an age when everything Greek was beginning to be reverenced at Rome, but (still more extraordinary to an anthropologist) that the primitive device of substitution was had in requisition at that late date in order to carry on the memory of that ghastly deed. And the world of German learning has silently followed their leader, without taking the trouble to test his conclusions . . . whatever be the history of the accessories of the rite--and they are various and puzzling,--that actual immersion of the puppets is the survival of a primitive piece of sympathetic magic, the object being possibly to procure rain.(n4)
Fowler's contemporary Sir James Frazer, whose work The Golden Bough greatly influenced Eliot, pointed to aspects of the ritual of purification in river water involved in the rite of the Argei. He observed that
it is possible that the puppets made of rushes, which in the month of May the pontiffs and Vestal Virgins annually threw into the Tiber from the old Sublician bridge at Rome had originally the same significance [as the Roman festival Compitalia]; that is, they may have been designed to purge the city from demoniac influence by diverting the attention of the demons from human beings to the puppets and then toppling the whole uncanny crew, neck and crop, into the river, which would soon sweep them far out to sea. . . . This interpretation of the Roman custom is supported to some extent by the evidence of Plutarch, who speaks of the ceremony as "the greatest of purifications."(n5)
Frazer also noted that as far as he could "see, there is little or nothing to suggest that the ceremony had anything to do with vegetation," and instead he suggested that the Argei "may have been offerings to the River God, to pacify him."(n6)
This motif of sacrificial separation and collective departure at a river's edge then provides a clear thematic link between the "hollow . . . stuffed men," who are "gathered on this beach of the tumid river / sightless" (lines 60-61), and the blind, featureless Argei ready to be tossed away by Roman officials standing on the Tiber's banks. The "tumid river" suggests not only Dante's River Acheron and the souls gathered nearby, as noted by Martin Scofield, but also the waters of Rome's greatest river.(n7) For the river into which twenty-four or twenty-seven Argei were hurled on an annual basis was swollen in mid May with spring run-off.
In Rome the ritualized murder of these straw hominids served to absorb evil forces, which rendered them accursed and profane. In Eliot's poem the stuffed men anxiously implore the reader, and "those who have crossed . . . to death's other kingdom" (13-14), to "remember us--if at all--not as lost / violent souls, but only / as the hollow men / the stuffed men" (15-18). Thus the small crowd of rush-stuffed Roman mannikins, who are as clonelike and uniform in their aspect as Scofield once described "the hollow men," find their destiny bound up with a riverside community.
The Gunpowder Plot of 1605 was a desperate but failed attempt by a group of provincial English Catholics to kill King James I of England, his family, and most of the Protestant aristocracy in one attack by blowing up the Houses of Parliament during the State Opening. The conspirators had then planned to abduct the royal children, not present in Parliament, and incite a revolt in the Midlands.
The Gunpowder Plot was one of a series of unsuccessful assassination attempts against James I, and followed the Main Plot and Bye Plot of 1603. Many believe the Gunpowder Plot to have been part of the Counter-Reformation.
The aims of the conspirators are frequently compared to modern terrorists, however, their actions were not designed to merely influence government policy by evoking terror; their real aims were nothing short of a total revolution in the government of England and the installation of a Catholic monarch. This is more consistent with terms like revolution, treason, coup d'etat, or rebellion, so the retrospective application of "terrorist" is likely a political dysphemism. At the time, the word "terrorist" was not in common use; the plot would have been regarded as a treasonous act of regicide. Far from helping their fellow Catholics avoid religious persecution, the plotters put many loyal Catholics in a difficult position. Before this period Catholicism had been associated with Spain and the evils of the inquisition but after the plot it also became thought of as treasonous to be Catholic.
On November 5th each year, people in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Africa, Newfoundland, Canada, Saint Kitts, some parts of the U.S. and formerly Australia celebrate the failure of the plot on what is known as Guy Fawkes Night (also known as Bonfire Night or Fireworks Night).
Catholic conspirators plotted to kill King James I of England and VI of Scotland.
Princess Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of King James, was supposed to inherit the crown and rule as a Catholic.
The conspirators had become angered by King James' refusal to give equal rights to Catholics. The plot was intended to begin a rebellion during which James' nine-year-old daughter (Princess Elizabeth) could be installed as a Catholic head of state.
The plot was overseen from May 1604 by Robert Catesby. Other plotters included Thomas Wintour, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, Thomas Percy (also spelled Percye), John Grant, Ambrose Rokewood, Robert Keyes, Sir Everard Digby, Francis Tresham and Catesby's servant, Thomas Bates. The explosives were prepared by Guido (Guy) Fawkes, an explosives expert with considerable military experience who had been introduced to Catesby by a man named Hugh Owen. Some accounts suggest that Thomas Wintour was the prime mover in all of this, and that Fawkes was the tool towards the ultimate execution of the plot. Huddington Court, home to the Wintour brothers, was host to many meetings held to plan the events.
The details of the plot were well known to the principal Jesuit of England, Father Henry Garnet as he had learned of the plot from Oswald Tesimond, a fellow Jesuit who with the permission of his penitant Robert Catesby had discussed the plot with him. As the details of the plot were known through confession Garnet felt bound not to reveal them to the authorities. Despite his admonitions and protestations the plot went ahead, yet Garnet's opposition did not prevent him from being hanged drawn and quartered for treason.
In May of 1604 Percy leased lodgings adjacent to the house of Lords as the plotters idea was to mine their way under the foundations of the house of Lords to lay the gunpowder. The main idea was to kill James, but many other important targets were to be present. Guy Fawkes as ‘John Johnson’ was put in charge of this building and he pretended to be Percy’s servant while Catesby's house in Lambeth was used to store the gunpowder with the picks and implements for mining. However when the plague came again to London in the summer of 1604 and proved to be particularly severe, the opening of parliament was suspended to 1605. By Christmas Eve they had still not reached parliament and just as they recommenced work early in 1605 they learned that the opening had been further postponed to October 3rd. The plotters then took the opportunity to row the gunpowder up the Thames from Lambeth and to conceal it in their rented house. They learned by pure chance that a coal merchant called Ellen Bright had vacated a cellar under the Lords and Percy and immediately took pains to secure the lease.
Fawkes assisted in filling the room with gunpowder which was concealed beneath a wood store in the undercrofts of the House of Lords building in a cellar leased from John Whynniard. By March 1605 they had filled the undercroft underneath the House of Lords with 36 barrels of gunpowder concealed under a store of winter fuel. The barrels contained 1800 pounds of gunpowder. Had they been successfully ignited, the explosion could have reduced many of the buildings in the Old Palace of Westminster complex, including the Abbey, to rubble and would have blown out windows in the surrounding area of about a 1 kilometre radius.
The Conspirators left London in May and went to their homes or to different areas of the country so that being seen together would not arouse suspicion. They arranged to meet again in September. However, the opening of Parliament was again postponed. The weakest part of the plot were the arrangements for the subsequent rebellion that would sweep the country and provide a Catholic monarch. Due to the requirement for money and arms Francis Tresham was eventually admitted to the plot and it was probably he who betrayed the plot by writing to his brother-in-law Lord Mounteagle. An anonymous letter dropped certain hints about the plot that were less than subtle. The letter read ' I advise you to devise some excuse not to attend this parliament, for they shall receive a terrible blow, and yet shall not see who hurts them.'
According to the confession made by Fawkes on 5 November 1605, he left Dover on about Easter 1605 for Calais. He then traveled to St Omer and on to Brussels, where he met with Hugh Owen, and Sir William Stanley. Next, he made a pilgrimage in Brabant. He returned to England at the end of August or early September, again by way of Calais.
Guy Fawkes was left in charge of executing the plot, while the other conspirators fled to Dunchurch in Warwickshire to await news. Once the parliament had been destroyed, the other conspirators planned to incite a revolt in the Midlands.
During the preparation, several of the conspirators had been concerned about fellow Catholics who would be present on the appointed day, and inevitably killed. One conspirator, possibly Francis Tresham, wrote a letter of warning to Lord Monteagle, a prominent Catholic. Lord Monteagle received it on Saturday, October 26. The other conspirators learned of the letter the following day, but resolved to go ahead with their plan, especially after Fawkes inspected the undercroft and found nothing had been touched. Meanwhile, however, Monteagle had shown the letter to Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, the Secretary of State.
The tip-off led to a search of the vaults beneath the House of Lords, including the undercroft, during the early morning of the 5th of November (according to the Gregorian Calendar). Thomas Knyvet, a Justice of the Peace, and a party of armed men, discovered Fawkes posing as "Mr. John Johnson". He was discovered possessing a watch, slow matches and touchpaper. The barrels of gunpowder were discovered and Fawkes was arrested. Far from denying his intentions during the arrest, Fawkes stated that it had been his purpose to destroy the King and the Parliament.
Fawkes was brought into the king's bedchamber at one o'clock in the morning, where the ministers had hastily assembled. He maintained an attitude of defiance, making no secret of his intentions. When the king asked why he would kill him, Fawkes replied that the pope had excommunicated him, adding that "dangerous diseases require [...] desperate [remedies]" . He also expressed to the Scottish courtiers who surrounded him that one of his objects was to blow the Scots back into Scotland.
Later in the morning, before noon, he was again interrogated. He was questioned on the nature of his accomplices, the involvement of Thomas Percy, what letters he had received from overseas, and whether he had spoken with Hugh Owen.
Top: "Guido" signed under torture
Bottom: Signature 8 days later
He was taken to the Tower of London and there interrogated under torture. Torture was forbidden except by the express instruction of the monarch or the Privy Council, In a letter of November 6, King James I stated:
"The gentler tortours are to be first used unto him, et sic per gradus ad maiora tenditur [and thus by increase to the worst], and so God speed your goode worke."
Fawkes initially resisted torture, but verbally confessed on November 8. He revealed the names of his co-conspirators, and recounted the full details of the plot on November 9. On November 10 he made a signed confession, although his signature was written in a trembling state, having been under torture on the rack.
Trial and executions
On hearing of the failure of the plot, the conspirators fled towards Huddington Court. Heavy rain, however, slowed their travels. Many of them were caught by Richard Walsh, the Sheriff of Worcestershire, when they arrived in Stourbridge.
The remaining men attempted a revolt in the Midlands. This failed, and came to an end at Holbeach House in Staffordshire, where there was a dramatic shoot-out ending with the death of Catesby and capture of several principal conspirators. Jesuits and others were then rounded up in other locations in Britain, with some being killed during interrogation. Robert Wintour managed to remain on the run for two months before he was captured at Hagley Park.
The conspirators were tried on January 27, 1606 in Westminster Hall. All of the plotters pleaded not guilty except for Sir Everard Digby who attempted to defend himself on the grounds that the King had gone back on promises of Catholic toleration. Sir Edward Coke, the attorney general, prosecuted, and the Earl of Northampton made a speech refuting the charges laid by Everard Digby. The trial lasted one day (English criminal trials generally did not exceed a single day's duration) and the verdict was never in doubt. The trial ranked highly as a public spectacle and there are records of up to 10 shillings being paid for entry. It is even reputed that the King and Queen attended in secret. Four of the plotters were executed in St. Pauls Churchyard on the 30th of January. On January 31, Fawkes, Winter, and a number of others implicated in the conspiracy were taken to Old Palace Yard in Westminster, in front of the scene of the intended crime, where they were hanged, drawn and quartered.
According to historian Lady Antonia Fraser, the gunpowder was taken to the Tower of London magazine. It would have been reissued or sold for recycling if in good condition. Ordnance records for the Tower state that 18 hundredweight of it was "decayed". This could imply that it was rendered harmless due to having separated into its component chemical parts, as happens with gunpowder when left to sit for too long – if Fawkes had ignited the gunpowder, during the opening, it would only have resulted in a weak splutter. Alternatively, "decayed" may refer to the powder being damp and sticking together, making it unfit for use in firearms. In this case the explosive capabilities of the barrels would not be greatly affected.
A test using decayed gunpowder carried out in for an ITV programme in 2005 which enacted the explosion (see below) established that the impact of gunpowder's compression in barrels would have counteracted any deterioration in quality. In addition mathematical calculations showed that Fawkes, who was skilled at the use of gunpowder, used double the amount of gunpowder needed. So even if some had deteriorated to the point of unusability (something judged highly unlikely by the experts) the amount of powder in it could still have blown up the chamber and killed all in it.
A sample of the gunpowder may have survived. In March 2002, workers investigating archives of John Evelyn at the British Library found a box containing various samples of gunpowder and several notes that suggested they were related to the Gunpowder Plot:
1. "Gunpowder 1605 in a paper inscribed by John Evelyn. Powder with which that villain Faux would have blown up the parliament.",
2. "Gunpowder. Large package is supposed to be Guy Fawkes' gunpowder".
3. "But there was none left! WEH 1952".
– The programme was shown in the UK on ITV 1 November 2005 at 9.45pm
The plot backfired spectacularly upon England's Catholics. It halted any moves towards Catholic Emancipation: they would have to wait another 200 years until they received approximately equal rights. Some scholars argue that, in London, interest in evil, Satanism, and terror heightened by the Gunpowder Plot partly inspired William Shakespeare's Macbeth.
Bonfires are lit every 5th of November to commemorate the plot.
The fifth of November is variously called Firework Night, Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night. An Act of Parliament (3 James I, cap 1) was passed to appoint 5th November in each year as a day of thanksgiving for "the joyful day of deliverance". The Act remained in force until 1859. On 5 November 1605, it is said the populace of London celebrated the defeat of the plot by fires and street festivities. Similar celebrations must have taken place on the anniversary and, over the years, became a tradition - in many places a holiday was observed. (It is not celebrated in Northern Ireland).
It is still the custom in Britain on, or around, 5th November to let off fireworks. For weeks previously, children make guys - effigies supposedly of Fawkes - nowadays usually formed from old clothes stuffed with newspaper, and equipped with a grotesque mask, to be burnt on the November 5th bonfire. The word 'guy' came thus in the 19th century to mean a weirdly dressed person, and hence in the 20th century in the U.S. to mean, in slang usage, any male person.
Institutions and towns may hold firework displays and bonfire parties, and the same is done, despite the danger of fireworks, on a smaller scale in back gardens throughout the country. In some areas, such as Lewes and Battle in Sussex, there are extensive processions and a great bonfire. Children exhibit effigies of Guy Fawkes in the street to collect money for fireworks.
The Houses of Parliament are still searched by the Yeomen of the Guard before the State Opening which since 1928 has been held in November. Ostensibly to ensure no latter-day Guy Fawkes is concealed in the cellars, this is retained as a picturesque custom rather than a serious anti-terrorist precaution. It is said that for superstitious reasons no State Opening will be held on 5 November, but this is untrue. The State Opening was on 5 November in, for instance, 1957.
The cellar in which Fawkes watched over his gunpowder was demolished in 1822. The area was further damaged in the 1834 fire and destroyed in the subsequent rebuilding of the Palace of Westminster. The lantern Guy Fawkes carried in 1605 is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. A key supposed to have been taken from him is in Speaker's House, Palace of Westminster. These two artefacts were exhibited in a major exhibition held in Westminster Hall from July to November 2005.
Many people at the time believed in various alternative theories to explain the working of the plot. As is the case today, such dramatic events generated various conspiracy theories. Some thought that Cecil's agents had infiltrated the plot early on but allowed it to continue shaping its outcome for political gain and to aid Catholic persecution. Some even believed that Cecil himself had arranged the plot, although these interpretations of the plot lack evidence and motive. They were thoroughly refuted over 100 years ago in S. R. Gardiner’s book ‘What Gunpowder Plot Was’, 1897. However they still retain some currency today as firstly they captured the popular imagination and secondly they contain much which it is impossible to disprove.
Modern plot analysis
A study on an ITV programme broadcast on 1 November 2005 re-enacted the plot, by blowing up an exact replica of the 17th century House of Lords filled with test dummies, using the exact amount of gunpowder in the underground of the building. The dramatic experiment, conducted on the Advantica Spadeadam test site, proved unambiguously that the explosion would have killed all those attending the State Opening of Parliament in the Lords chamber.
The power of the explosion was such that seven-foot deep solid concrete walls (made deliberately to replicate how archives suggest the walls in the old House of Lords were constructed) were reduced to rubble. Measuring devices placed in the chamber to calculate the force of the blast were themselves destroyed by the blast, while the skull of the dummy representing King James, which had been placed on a throne inside the chamber surrounded by courtiers, peers and bishops, was found a large distance away from the site. According to the findings of the programme, no-one within 100 metres of the blast would have survived, while all the stained glass windows in Westminster Abbey would have been shattered, as would all windows within a large distance of the Palace. The power of the explosion would have been seen from miles away. Even if only half the gunpowder had gone off, everyone in the House of Lords and its environs would have been killed instantly.
The programme also disproved claims that some deterioration in the quality of the gunpowder would have prevented the explosion. A portion of deliberately deteriorated gunpowder, at such a low quality as to make it unusable in firearms, when placed in a heap and detonated, still managed to create a large explosion. The impact of even deteriorated gunpowder would have been magnified by the impact of its compression in wooden barrels, with the compression overcoming any deterioration in the quality of the contents. The compression would have created a cannon effect, with the powder first blowing up from the top of the barrel before, a millisecond later, blowing out.
The impact of the test explosion in the specially constructed chamber visually surprised even gunpowder experts. The entire concrete chamber was demolished as if made from wood at the moment of the explosion. Plans to examine the test dummies to see if they could have survived were abandoned due to the force of the blast and the annihilation caused by the explosion.
In popular culture
Guy Fawkes day was used in an episode of The Avengers. In this episode entitled "November Five" the Avengers investigate the theft of a nuclear warhead. The thief plans to detonate it in the Houses of Parliament (London), on November the fifth.
Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details about V For Vendetta follow.
In the dystopian graphic novel, V for Vendetta, V, a mysterious anarchist who disguises and models himself as a latter day Guy Fawkes, finally explodes the abandoned parliament buildings on a future November 5 as his first move to bring down the nation's fascist tyranny. The movie adaptation of the same name draws on several historical allusions, including the popular song in which Britons memorialized the event.
Spoilers end here.
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
the gunpowder, treason and plot,
I see of no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes,
'twas his intent
to blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow:
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip hoorah!
(traditionally the following verses were also sung, but they have fallen out of favour because of their content)
A penny loaf to feed the Pope.
A farthing o' cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we'll say ol' Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah!
The Gunpowder Plot is also the topic of a several songs and ballads—of note, the song "Remember", from John Lennon's album Plastic Ono Band, ends with the phrase "the fifth of November" and an explosion.
The Gunpowder Plot is also the topic of T.S. Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men"