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News from Gravesend: Sent to Nobody
Thomas Dekker, Thomas Middleton
Published as a "pamphlet," a form of publication that the study of Shakespeare's work will not even reveal the existence of, this is a poem about the plague, prompted by the outbreak of 1603, which was a particularly severe one for the period. It is prefaced by an "Epistle Dedicatory" of unprecedented length, taking up nearly half the pamphlet. The dedicatee is "Nobody" a symbolic personage who is specifically not any real person. The reason for this is explained in the Epistle as a plea for a change from writers currying favour from rich patrons in order to earn a living to some other method. This and the subsequent attack on the wealthy members of the legal professions for abandoning London to its fate in favour of Winchester during plague outbreaks is all rather political and I'm surprised that it passed the censors. There's nothing directly attacking the King or the institutions of the Monarchy so perhaps they were not too bothered.
I'm not much familiar with the lyric poetry of the period. I've read Shakespeare's contributions and nothing else to speak of. Being neither a narrative poem, nor the sort of personal topics addressed in the sonnets, but instead a discursive examination of a topical subject with moral, political and philosophical implications, this was again unique in my experience. It's also good, with some exceptionally vivid imagery (buboes like purple grapes sticks in my mind) although the science of disease is entirely discredited, now, as is the notion put forward by the authors that it is really a God-sent punishment of the immoral.
A very interesting read from the perspective of learning about the Jacobean literary world and on its own terms as a literary work.