Poly-Olbion. Great Britaine
Michael Drayton (1563–1631) spent his early years in service of Sir Henry Goodere. It is then and there that he may have developed an infatuation with Goodere’s daughter Anne. She is thought to be the lady of interest in a cycle of sixty-four sonnets, published in 1594 under the title of Idea’s Mirror. At the time both Drayton and Shakespeare were composing sonnets and perhaps in some sense, competing. Like other poets of the era, Drayton wrote for the theater, but only from about 1597 to 1602 and only in collaboration with others, including Thomas Dekker and Anthony Munday.
Anne married another, and Drayton became lifelong friends with her and her husband, Sir Henry Rainsford of Clifford Chambers, which is located not far from Stratford-upon-Avon. Later in life Drayton would be well known in Stratford because of his visits to Clifford Chambers. The story of John Ward, one time vicar in Stratford, is that in the spring of 1616, “Shakespear, Drayton, and Ben Jonson had merry meeting, and it seems, drank too hard, for Shakespear died of a feavor there contracted.”
Drayton had keen antiquarian interests. In 1596 he published the historical poems The Legend of Robert, Duke of Normandy and Mortimeriados, a long work on the War of Roses that was further extended and republished in 1603 as The Barons’ War. His most ambitious work was the Poly-Olbion, described in the printed title to the 1613 edition as being “A Chorographicall Description of Tracts, Rivers, Mountaines, Forests, and other Parts of this renowned Isle of Great Britain, With intermixture of the most Remarquable Stories, Antiquities, Wonders, Rarityes, Pleasures, and Commodities of the same.” The first eighteen “songs” were published in 1613. Drayton was not able to find a publisher for the next twelve songs until 1622. The first book was also reissued at that time, and the present copy is an example of it. Poly-Olbion was not a great success.
Poly-Olbion’s intent is made clear in the title page, which depicts a goddess-like woman with a crown and scepter and dressed in a map. The monarch of Great Britain is the land—its features and the traditions of its inhabitants. Each song in the long poem is fronted by a map, engraved by William Hole, of a peculiar sort. No county boundaries are shown and few if any details. Water nymphs spring out of the rivers, shepherds relax in the hills, rural folk grace the plains, and castles mark the often-unidentified towns.
Chrzanowski 1622d *