Munday, Munday (Da Daaa ... Da Da Da)
|The other day I discovered that, in the very recent past, someone has written a book on Anthony Munday. Let me repeat that, without links and other distractions. A book. Anthony Munday.|
Subsequently, I found that someone else has written another book on Munday, also very recently. Two whole monographs on Anthony Munday, in the last few years. This in fact doubles – as far as I’m aware – the Sum Total Of Books About Munday Written At Any Point Throughout All Time. (The only previous one appeared in the 1920s with the charmingly period title, “Anthony Munday, Man of Letters.”)
But wonders have not yet ceased. Just last year, Ashgate published a new edition of Anthony Munday’s translation of – wait for it – Amadis de Gaule. In case this doesn’t mean much, this is perhaps the most reviled of the whole genre of Iberian romances – a character in The New Inn mentions it among a list of other “publique Nothings; / Abortiues of the fabulous, darke cloister”; actually, Jonson seems to have been a little obsessed with Amadis, since he has Truewit (!) single it out, and then mentions it again in his “Execration against Vulcan,” saying that had his library contained books about Arthur and Amadis, he could understand a little divinely-sent fire. A letter from William Cecil in 1568 uses Amadis as a byword for stories that can’t possibly be believed.
This particular edition – weighing in at a sprightly 1,033 pages – appears in the Ashgate series, “Non-Canonical Early Modern Popular Texts.” Indeed.
At any rate, we’re faced with a real Anthony Munday Renaissance. We might need to declare an Anthony Munday day. Maybe on a Monday.
I find several things odd about this. First of all, when I arrived in grad school, I was repeatedly told, don't write your dissertation on a single author, nobody publishes single-author books anymore, no single authors. It was clearly the kind of thing people were saying at around that time, because one of my undergraduate professors said exactly the same thing to me the year before. But apparently it isn't true. And we're not just talking about some book about Will, Edmund, or John here. Anthony Munday. The man who several teachers of mine, over time, independently, have in passing referred to as the perfect example of a very, very bad writer. The word “hack,” in fact, comes up with a surprising regularity when Munday’s name is mentioned.
The thing is, reading these books, I’m almost convinced that Anthony Munday is the early modern author we should all know more about. First of all, he had an underground life that’s pretty fascinating: Hamilton insists that he was a recusant – largely, I think, on the basis of his connections to various Catholic families and because of a perhaps suspicious trip to Rome in 1579 – but this in the face of clearly documented evidence that, from the early 1580s to at least 1612, he was working as a pursuivant, bringing Catholics and puritans to Topcliffe for a little water-boarding and associated other torments. If he was Catholic, he was clearly a conflicted one. (Hamilton blurs this over by arguing that he was a strong loyalist, but that hardly seems to cut it – it’s one thing to decide to fight Philip II, say, but another to turn ordinary people over to the authorities, especially to as notorious a character as Topcliffe). For another thing, he was a voluminous writer in a burgeoning print marketplace, a real example of Lori Newcomb’s category of “popular authorship,” contributing vitally to a number of print genres or subgenres – newsbooks, prose romances, popular drama, etc. He single-handedly seems to have translated all the major Iberian prose romances into English, in two spurts in the 1590s and again 1618-9. And, as Hill’s book demonstrates, he was closely connected to the developing civic culture of London in the period. All of which makes him perhaps interesting, though still, perhaps, a hack.
In the spirit of this Munday Renaissance, I want to offer up an image that appears at the end of his account of his 1579 trip to Rome, The English Roman Life (where, incidentally, he says that he went to Europe merely to see the world – though he does seem almost immediately to have fallen among the English Catholics abroad, including living for a fairly extended time at the English College in Rome). At several moments in the main body of the text, Munday engages in a little war over martyrdom – he points out that at dinner at the English College, someone will often read aloud from a book of martyrs which includes, along with the grisly deaths of various saints, the much more recent grisly deaths of various Catholics executed by the Elizabethan government; later, he remarks that while executed Catholics die begging and pleading for mercy, Protestant martyrs die in the calm confidence that their deaths testify to God’s truth. Etc.
Then, after the story of his trip, he appends a brief narrative of an Englishman who went to Rome for the express purpose, it seems, of being martyred. On the first day of his arrival, this person accosted a priest carrying the consecrated host through a street; but while grabbing for it, he missed, and the bystanders misinterpreted the whole event as a piece of over-enthusiastic worship, not an attack. So he went back to his lodgings. The next day, he appeared at St. Peter’s and mounted a much more successful attack, emptying out the wine and grabbing for the wafer, while a crowd tried to beat him back. He was taken away, questioned, confessed that he had come to St. Peter’s exclusively for a little eucharist-grabbing, and was executed. Here’s the woodcut, which gives you the whole story in four scenes:
It’s not great quality, but in panel 2 you can see the attack on the elevated host, and the group of fists raised above him in the background. Notice that he seems to have decided to show a fair amount of leg, for this particular occasion.
Not quite as funny as a captioning contest, but there it is. Anthony Munday.
One thing that none of these books explain is why, in 1991, the Violent Femmes would decide to set an Anthony Munday poem as a rock song. Check out this album, track 5. How did they even come across it? There's no album credit, explanation, or comment that I'm aware of. I just happened to be taking an undergraduate survey of sixteenth-century poetry when I heard the song ...