Yates, Frances. The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age. London: Routledge, 1979.

(excerpted by Clifford Stetner)


PART II: The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age.



The Elizabethan world was populated, not only by tough seamen, hard-headed politicians, serious theologians, it was a world of spirits, good and bad, fairies, demons, witches, ghosts, conjurors. This fact about the Elizabethans, reflected in their poetry, is too well known to need elaboration. The epic poem in which the aspirations of the age found expression evolved around a ‘fairy’ queen; one of the most significant figures in the poem is an enchanter. And the greatest plays of the greatest poet of the age are suffused in the atmosphere of the occult. Macbeth meets witches; Hamlet is haunted by the ghost. Was this preoccupation with the occult derived solely from popular traditions or influences? Or did it have some deep-seated connection with the philosophy of the age?


…the dominant philosophy of the Elizabethan age was precisely the occult philosophy, with its magic, its melancholy, its aim of penetrating into profound spheres of knowledge and experience, scientific and spiritual, its fear of the dangers of such a quest, and  of the fierce opposition which it encountered.

            The characteristic philosopher of the Elizabethan age was John Dee…



As a representative of the inspired melancholy with its three stages of insight as expounded by Agrippa, he would see Christian Cabala, the ‘more powerful’ philosophy which was to supersede scholasticism, as potentially a world-wide movement of reform, to be applied not only in Elizabethan England.


…truly a man of the late Renaissance developing Renaissance occult philosophy in scientific directions, involved in the religious and reforming side of the movement, but overtaken by the reaction of the later sixteenth century.


…on the continent, the reaction against Renaissance Neoplatonism and its associated occultisms was growing greatly in intensity as part of the counter-Reformation…


The building up of Queen Elizabeth I as a Neoplatonic heroine by Spenser was in itself a challenge to the Catholic Counter-Reformation powers and their attitude to Renaissance philosophy.



Spenser’s Neoplatonism is of the Hermetic-Cabalist variety, expressive (so I shall argue) in poetic form of the Dee outlook and the Dee patriotic occultism. I believe that a major influence on Dee and Spenser may have been the work of the Cabalist Friar of Venice, Francesco Giorgi.

            This second part of the book opens with an account of John Dee and his thought, divided into three parts to correspond to the three main periods of Dee’s life. I then pass  to a re-examination of Spenser’s Neoplatonism, as presented in his poetry, endeavouring to bring out the occult influences on The Faerie Queene.

            Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is seen as belonging to the reaction, to the atmosphere of the witch crazes and the attacks on Agrippa. With the assault on occult philosophy in Faustus was associated the anti-Semitism of The Jew of Malta. Chapman’s Shadow of Night, on the contrary, defends the occult philosophy, and, by implication, the Dee-Spenser point of view, through its subtle exposition of the ‘Saturnian’ inspired melancholy.

            Within this framework of the occult philosophy in the Elizabethan age and the controversies it aroused, new approaches are made to Shakespeare. The Merchant of Venice is believed to allude to the contemporary issue of the conversion of the Jews by Christian Cabala, and to echo the work on universal harmony by the Cabalist Friar of Vernice, Francesco Giorgi. Hamlet’s melancholy is the inspired melancholy with its prophetic visions. Shakespeare’s preoccupation with the occult, with ghosts, witches, fairies, is understood as deriving less form popular tradition than from deep-rooted affinity with the learned occult philosophy and its religious implications.

            King Lear , written during Dee’s third period, the time of his disgrace and poverty, is seen as reflecting Dee himself as an old and broken man, ill-rewarded for having devoted his life to the interests of ‘British Monarchy’, his occultism alluded to through Tom o’ Bedlam’s supposed possession by devils.

            In The Tempest, written after Dee’s death and during the period of ‘the Elizabethan revival within the Jacobean age’, Dee is shadowed through Prospero in this most daring play which presents a good conjuror at a time when conjuring was a dreaded accusation of the propaganda of the reaction.

            The theme of this part of the book is thus, in many ways, novel and challenging. My aim is to try to penetrate into the Elizabethan age and its philosophy as a period of thought which can be identified and its origins assessed.


Chapter VIII John Dee: Christian Cabalist



…his missionary journey to Bohemia had enormous repercussions…


Dee’s First Period(1558-83): The Leader of the Elizabethan Renaissance



He was particularly close to the Dudley family, strong adherents of radical reform.


He was of Welsh descent, and believed himself to be descended form an ancient British prince, even claiming some relationship to the Tudors and to the queen herself. He associated himself intensely with the Arthurian, mythical, and mystical side of the Elizabethan idea of ‘British Empire’.

            Among the thousands of books in Dee’s library were the writings of the authors with whom we have been concerned. He had a considerable collection of Lullsit works. He pssessed the works of Pico della Mirandola and of Reuchlin. He owned several copies of Agrippa’s De occulta philosophia.  He had the 1545 edition of the Latin version of Giorgi’s De harmonia mundi.


This library was at the disposal of friends and students. Here came courtiers and poets, like Sir Philip Sidney (nephew of the Earl of Leicester), navigators, and mathematicians, historians and antiquaries…


The manifesto of Dee’s movement was his preface to Henry Billingsley’s translation of Euclid, which was published in 1570.


…opening invocation to ‘Divine Plato’…


…importance of number and of mathematical sciences, and this is confirmed by quotation form one of Pico della Mirandola’s Mathematical Conclusions: ‘By number, a way is had to the searching out and understanding of every thing, hable to be knowen.’



Dee’s Neoplatonism is associated with Renaissance Cabala, for the outline of the Preface is based on Agrippa’s De occulta philosophia on the three worlds. Like Agrippa, Dee thinks of the universe as divided into the natural, the celestial, and the supercelestial spheres.


Dee follows Vitruvius on architecture as the queen of the sciences and the one to which all other mathematical disciplines are related.


Giorgi’s architectural symbolism was related to his knowledge of Italian architectural theory. As we have seen he applied the theory of architectural harmony to the play for a Franciscan church in Venice. Dee however, refers for the theory of proportion to the German artist and theorist Albrecht Durer.



…Dee believed that he ad achieved, with his associate Edward Kelley, the power of conjuring angels.


A pious Christian Cabalist is safe in the knowledge that he is conjuring angels, not demons. This conviction was at the centre of Dee’s belief in his angelic guidance, and it explains his pained surprise when alarmed and angry contemporaries persisted in branding him as a wicked conjuror of devils.


…undoubtedly a follower of Cornelius Agrippa and attempted to apply the ‘occult philosophy’ throughout his life and work.

            Another very important aspect of Dee’s mind was his belief in alchemy.



Kelley was an alchemist…


Was there a Cabalist alchemy, or an alchemical Cabala, which represented some new kind of combination of such interests already formed in the time of Agrippa?


A curious diagram, to which Dee attached the greatest importance as a statement of his whole philosophy, was the Monas hieroglyphica, published in 1564 with a dedication to the Emperor Maximilian II, and an explanatory text which leaves the reader thoroughly bewildered. Dee’s monas is a combination of the signs of the seven planets, plus the symbol for the zodiacal sign, Aries, representing fire. It must have some astral significance; alchemical operations seem implied through the fire sign; it is also some kind of mathematics or geometry; but above all it is Cabala. It is related to ‘the stupendous fabric of the Hebrew letters’. It is a ‘Cabalistic grammar’. It can be mathematically, cabalistically, and anagogically explained’. It is a profound secret which Dee wonders whether he has sinned in publishing.



I would suggest that an important source in which to study the mod of thought out of which Dee evolved his monas sign is Giorgi’s De harmonia mundi. Here he would have found numerological theory combined with Cabalist theory as the double key to the universe in a manner which is closely analogous to the double meaning of the monas, numerological and Cabalist. Giorgi begins with the One, or the monas, out of which as expounded in the Timaeus, the numbers one to twenty-seven proceed to form the universal harmony in both macrocosm and microcosm. Combining Pythagoro-Platonic theory with Cabalist letter-mysticism, Giorgi arrives at his synthesis. Dee’s mind would work in a similar way in the monas. His composite planetary symbol would imply a composite Cabalist symbol. Behind its planetary cosmology would be the ‘tremendous structure’ of the Hebrew alphabet.

            The monas symbol includes a cross. It is a Christian Cabalist symbol, no doubt believed by its creator to have great magical power.


Dee was not only an enthusiast for scientific and mathematical studies, in the strange contexts in which he saw them. He wished to use such studies for the advantage of his countrymen and for the expansion of Elizabethan England. Dee had a politico-religious programme and it was concerned with the imperial destiny of Queen Elizabeth I.

            I have discussed in my book, Astraea. The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (1975) the nature of Elizabethan imperialism. It was not only concerned with national expansion in the literal sense, it carried with it the religious associations of the imperial tradition, applying these to Elizabeth as the representative of ‘imperial reform’, of a purified and reformed religion to be expressed and propagated through a reformed empire, the empire of the Tudors with their mythical ‘British’ association. The glorification of the Tudor monarchy as a religious imperial institution rested on the fact that the Tudor reform had dispensed with the Pope and made the monarch supreme in both church and state. this basic political fact was draped in the mystique of ‘ancient British monarchy’, with its Arthurian associations, represented by the Tudors in their capacity as an ancient British line, of supposed Arthurian descent, returned to power and supporting a pure British Church, defended by a religious chivalry from the evil powers (evil according to this point of view) of Hispano-Papal attempts at universal domination.

85        Though these ideas were inherent in the Tudor myth, Dee had a great deal to do with enhancing and expanding them. Believing himself to be of ancient British royal descent, he identified completely with the British imperial myth around Elizabeth I and did all in his power to support it.

            Dee’s views on the British-imperial destiny of Queen Elizabeth I are set out in his General and rare memorials pertaining to the Perfect art of Navigation (1577). Expansion of the navy and Elizabeth expansion at sea were connected in his mind with vast ideas concerning the lands to which (in his view) Elizabeth might lay claim through her mythical descent or King Arthur. Dee’s ‘British imperialism’ is bound up with the ‘British History’ recounted by Geoffrey of Monmouth, based on the myth of the hypothetical descent of British monarchs form Brut, supposedly of Trojan origin and therefore connecting with Virgil and the Roman imperial myth. Arthur was the supposed descendant of Brut, and was the chief religious and mystical exemplar of sacred British imperial Christianity.

            In the General and rare memorials there is a complicated print, based on a drawing in Dee’s own hand, of Elizabeth sailing in a ship labeled ‘Europa’, with the moral that Britain is to grow strong at sea, so that through her ‘Imperial Monarchy’ she may perhaps become the pilot of all Christendom. This ‘British Hieroglyphick’, as Dee calls the design, should be held in mind at the same time as the Monas hieroglyphica, as representing a politico-religious expression of the monas in the direction of a ‘British imperial’ idea.



I suggest that the contemporary role which would exactly fit Dee would be that of the ‘inspired melancholic’. According to Agrippa, and as portrayed by Durer in the famous engraving, the inspired melancholic was a Saturnian, immersed in those sciences of number which could lead their devotees into great depths of insight. Surely Dee’s studies were such as to qualify him as a Saturnian, a representative of the Renaissance revaluation of melancholy as the temperament of inspiration. And after the first stage of inspiration, the inspiration coming form immersion in the sciences of number, Agrippa envisages a second stage, a prophetic stage, in which the adept is intent on politico-religious events and prophecies. And finally in the third stage, stage of inspired melancholy, the higher insight into religion and religious changes is revealed.


…I select the following titles of lost writings by Dee:


Cabala Hebraicae compendiosa tabella, anno1562.

Reipublicae Britannicae Synopsis, in English, 1565.

De modo Evangelii Iesu Christi publicandi . . .inter infidels, 1581.

The Origins and chiefe points of our auncient British histories.



through these lost titles, we catch a glimpses of Dee studying Cabala, immersed in his ‘British History’ researches, and interested in missionary schemes for publishing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the heathen.


Dee’s Second Period (1583-9) : The Continental Mission


In 1583, John Dee left England and was abroad for six years, returning in 1589. during these years on the continent Dee appears to have been engaged in some kind of missionary venture which took him to Cracow, in Poland, and eventually to Prague where the occultist emperor Rudolf II, held his court. It is possible, though there is no evidence for this, that when in Prague, Dee was in contact with the Rabbi Loewe, famous Cabalist and magician, who once had an interview with Rudolph (see The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, p. 228). Dee stayed for several years in Bohemia with a noble family the members of which were interested in alchemy and other occult sciences. His associate, Edward Kelley, was with him, and together they were fervently pursuing their alchemical experiments and their attempts at angel-summoning with practical Cabala.



In the context of the late sixteenth century in which movements of this kind abounded, Dee’s mission would not have seemed incredible or strange. Enthusiastic missionaries of his type were moving all over Europe in these last years of the century. One such was Giordano Bruno, who preached a mission of universal hermetic reform, in which there were some Cabalist elements. Bruno was in Prague shortly after Dee; he had been in England preaching his version of Hermetic-Cabalist reform, and was to go on into Italy, where he met the full force of the counter-Reformation suppression of Renaissance Neoplatonism, and its allied occultisms, and was burned at the stake in Rome in 1600. Dee was more cautious, and was careful not to venture into Italy.


The emperor did not enthusiastically support Dee, and when he returned to England in 1589 it must have been far from clear to the queen and her advisers whether he had accomplished anything at all, beyond making extremely dangerous enemies.

            However he had sown powerful seeds which were to grow to a strange harvest. It has been shown that the so-called ‘Rosicrucian manifestos’, published in Germany in the early seventeenth century, are heavily influenced by Dee’s philosophy, and that one of them contains a version of the Monas hieroglyphica. The Rosicrucian manifestos call for a universal reformation of the whole wide world through Magia and Cabala. The mythical ‘Christian Red Cross’ (Christian Rosencreuz), the opening of whose magical tomb is a signal for the general reformation, ay perhaps in one of his aspects, be a teutonised memory of John Dee and his Christian Cabala, confirming earlier suspicions that ‘Christian Cabala’ and ‘Rosicrucianism’ may be synonymous.


Dee’s Third Period (1589-1608) : Disgrace and Failure



on the other hand, the Earl of Leicester’s movement for landward extension of the Elizabethan ethos in his military expedition to the Netherlands in 1586 had failed; his nephew Philip Sidney lost his life I that expedition; and the whole enterprise was checked by the queen who withdrew Leicester from his command in disgrace. Leicester never got over this: he quietly died in 1588. thus Leicester and the Sidney circle, Dee’s supporters in the old days, were no longer there except for some survivors, such as Edward Dyer, Sidney’s closest friend…



The reality of witches and witchcraft was being forcibly maintained in these years by no less a person than the King of Scotland, soon to succeed Queen Elizabeth as James I. in his Demonologie (1587), James is profoundly shocked by the ‘damnable error’ of those who, like Weyer, deny the reality of witchcraft. He refers the reader to Bodin’s Demonomanie where he will find many examples of witchcraft collected with great diligence. And for particulars about the black arts the reader should consult ‘the fourth book of Cornelius Agrippa’. This was the spurious fourth book of the De occulta philosphia which James accepted as genuine (Weyer had said that it was not by Agrippa). James has much more to say about ‘the Divel’s school’ which thinks to climb to knowledge of things to come ‘mounting form degree to degree on the slippery scale of curiosity’, believing that circles and conjurations tied to the words of god will raise spirits. This is clearly ‘practical Cabala’ interpreted as a black art, a fruit of the tree of forbidden knowledge of which Adam was commanded not to eat.



…Dee… ‘Some impudent and malicious forraine enemie or English traytor. . . hath affirmed your Maiesties Suppliant to be a Coniuror belonging to the most Honorable Priuie Counsell of your Maiesties most famous last predecessor . . . .” Note that Dee suspects foreigners or traitors of fomenting the rumours against him, and that he hints that such rumours might implicate the late queen and her council.

            All was in vain. Dee was not cleared. He died in great poverty at Mortlake in 1608.

            The last act of Dee’s extraordinary story is tee most impressive of them all. the descendant of British kings, creator (or one of the creators) of the British imperial legend, the leader of the Elizabethan Renaissance, the mentor of Philip Sidney, the prophet of some far-reaching religious movement, dies, an old man, in bitter neglect and extreme poverty.


What happened in Dee’s lifetime to his ‘Renaissance Neoplatonism’ was happening all over Europe as the Renaissance went down in the darkness of the witch-hunts. Giordano Bruno in England in the 1580s had helped to inspire the ‘Sidney circle’ and the Elizabethan poetic Renaissance. Giordano Bruno in 1600 was burned at the stake in Rome as a sorcerer. Dee’s fate I England in his third period presents a similar extraordinary contrast with his brilliant first, or ‘Renaissance’, period.

            The Hermetic-Cabalist movement failed as a movement of religious reform, and that failure involved the suppression of the Renaissance Neoplatonism which had nourished it. The Renaissance magus turned into Faust.


Chapter IX Spenser’s Neoplatonism and the Occult Philosophy: John Dee and The Faerie Queene




Of the Elizabethan poets the one who has been placed within a recognizable thought movement is Edmund Spenser, usually described as a Neoplatonist. This label, as formerly used, left out the Hermetic-Cabalist core which modern scholarship has revealed within Renaissance Neoplatonism, as formulated by Ficino and Pico. Notwithstanding the immense literature on Spenser, his Neoplatonism has not yet been tackled on modern lines, though much has recently been brought to light of which the older Spenser criticism never dreamed. Alastair Fowler has argued for intricate numerological patterns in The Faerie Queene , and for an astral or planetary pattern in its themes. Angus Fletcher has drawn attention to the Hermetic-Egyptian setting of Britomart’s vision in the Temple of Isis. Thus there are movements stirring towards new solutions of Spenser’s philosophy, if one can use that word of his outlook.

            In this chapter, I make the attempt to place Spenser’s though within the history of the occult philosophy, as outlined in this book.  I want to suggest that Spenser inherited much more than Neoplatonism as formulated by Ficino and Pico. He inherited the movement towards reform in later Christian Cabalists, like Reuchlin, Giorgi, Agrippa. He inherited the intensified Cabalist-Neoplatonism, or Cabalist-Neopythagorism, with its emphasis on number, of which John Dee was a leading representative. The inherited the thought of a ‘more powerful philosophy’, leading to a world-wide reforming movement, with Queen Elizabeth I in the leading role in which Dee saw her.

            To a very serious Puritan like Edmund Spenser, the reforming side of the occult philosophy would have been likely to make a strong appeal. It will be argued in this chapter that a major influence on Spenser was the De harmonia mundi by the Christian Cabalist and Platonist, Francesco Giorgi.



The French poets of the period had found Giorgi a most congenial philosopher; his influence would naturally extend to their contemporaries, the Elizabethan poets.

            The first three books of The Faerie Queene were published in 1590 but the poem had been begun more than ten years earlier, as we know form letters exchanged between Spenser and Gabriel Harvey, printed in 1580. at that time, Spenser was in contact with John Dee’s pupils, Philip Sidney and Edward Dyer, both of whom are mentioned in the Spenser-Harvey letters. He was thus in touch with the leading poets of the Dee circle and could have become aware in this way of Giorgi’s work.


In the Hymne of Heavenly Beauty, the poet rises through the three worlds; the elemental world; the celestial world, that round ‘sown with glittering stars’ wherewith God has encompassed this All; the intellectual world where the Platonic ideas merge with the angelic hierarchies. In the Hymne of Heavenly Love, he descends through the three worlds, beginning at the top where the Trinity reigns over a host of angels bright. The Hymnes culminate in outpourings of Christian devotion, in a rendering of the Gospel story in poetic language.



Spenser’s description of the House of Alma (The Faerie Queene, Book II, ix, 22)…


The frame thereof seemed partly circulare,

And part triangulare, O worke divine;

Those two the first and last propotions are,

The one imperfect, mortall, foeminine:

Th’other immortall, perfect, masculine,

And twixt them both a quadrate was the base

Proportioned equally by seven and nine:

All which compacted made a goodly diapase.


The actual figure which Spenser is here describing is difficult to determine, but he general meaning would appear to refer to the three worlds. The cube, or quadrate, is the elemental world of the four elements; the seven is the celestial world of the seven planets; the nine is the supercelestial world of the nine angelic hierarchies, which form into the triangle of the Trinity. All three worlds are present in man as well a in the universe. Hence the geometry and architecture of the House of Alma would be an expression in architectural terms of the little world of man. the geometry of the house as a whole formed a ‘goodly diapase’ or octave. The stanza is fundamental for Spenser on the universal harmony, and for his understanding of its allegorical expression in architecture. Fowler has wrestled with this stanza, using Giorgi in his attempts to interpret it. Those who understand hot to philosophise and Pythgorise by mathematics should be able to see the proportions of the Temple of Solomon rising behind it.

            By a remarkable effort of the imagination, Spenser had absorbed the framework, the groundwork of the type of thought which in the Italian Renaissance was productive of great creative works of art an architecture, the world in which Francesco Giorgi had lived. He expresses these ideas creatively through his poetry. It is his grasp of the basic ideas, his understanding of the numerology of universal harmony, of the perfect templar proportions of the great world of the universe and the little world of man, which gives that Renaissance quality of harmony to Spenser’s poetry.



Spenser’s unfinished seventh book would presumably have been the missing Jupiter book. The full twelve which were planned must surely have had reference to the twelve signs of the zodiac which shine in the sphere of fixed stars to which corresponds, in Giorgi’s list, the angelic hierarchy of the Cherubim.

            But how are we to reconcile this astral interpretation wit the fact that Spenser himself states in the letter to Raleigh printed with the first instalment of The Faerie Queene that he intended the twelve books to portray the twelve private and oral virtues, as defined by Aristotle, and that if these books were well received he might go on to write twelve more on Aristotelian political virtues? These Aristotelian virtues have always given trouble to the critics; Holiness an Courtesy are not Aristotelian virtues; it is not easy to see how this Aristotelian scheme was to be fitted in to the scheme of the poem

            The operative word is ‘twelve’. Spenser is thinking numerologically. As Giorgi recounts, following numerological tradition, twelve can include with the signs of the zodiac many other dozens, such as the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and the Twelve Apostles. Why not twelve Aristotelian virtues?

            Moreover, the appearance of Aristotelian virtues within Spenser’s Neoplatonic an numerological schemes is consistent with Giorgi’s exposition, in the De harmonia mundi of his manner of reconciling the philosophy of Aristotle with that of Plato.



The suggestion that I would make is that the planetary themes of the poem should be seen as arranged, not in the fixed order of the planetary week (as Fowler has argued) but in an order deliberately selected to express the idea and purpose of the poem, the presentation of an ideal portrait of a religious and moral leader, of Queen Elizabeth I and her imperial reform. That portrait has a variegated planetary and angelic colouring. Lighted by a Sun of Christian religion and Christian Charity (Book I), it includes red glints of Martial firmness (Book II). The white Chastity of the Moon (Book III) expresses the purity of the Virgin Queen’s reform. Mercury (Book IV) includes all colours and can reconcile opposites with spiritual alchemy. The justice of Saturn (Book V) represents the wise rule of Astraea. And with Venus (Book VI) this complex movement, or religion, or personality, takes on the colouring of a courtly cult, a court ruled over by the messianic figure whom the poem as whole celebrates.


The Giorgi influence must somehow have merged with an Arthurian-British element to form a kind of ‘British Israel’ mystique. Such a linkage would be quite possible in the highly charged atmosphere of sacred destiny, of religious mission, with which Elizabethan Englishmen maintained their morale in their dangerously isolated position. And it seems obvious that the circle whence such ideas could have emanated can only have been the circle of John Dee.



…at about the same time that Spenser was writing his Shepherd’s Calendar, John Dee was exercising his mathematical, astronomical, and astrological knowledge on the project of the reform of the calendar. It seems probable that Spenser was in contact with Dee or members of his circle when composing his Shepherd’s Calendar, absorbing the fund of scientific knowledge which he was to use in The Faerie Queene , and evolving its astral ad numerological allegories.

            Seen as a whole, the argument which I am putting forward is that Spenser’s philosophy was based on the Neoplatonic Christian Cabala of Giorgi and Agrippa, but that this had been modified by passage through the influences of the Tudor Reformation. Basically, it was a reflex of the philosophy of John Dee who had expanded these influences in new scientific and politico-religious directions. Dee was the true philosopher of the Elizabethan age, and Spenser, as its epic poet, reflected that philosophy

            It been said of Spenser’s epic that it expresses a ‘prophetic moment’, after the Armada victory, when the queen appeared almost as the symbol of a new religion, transcending both Catholic and Protestant in some far-reaching revelation, and transmitting a universal Messianic message. It would seem from the present investigations, fragmentary and incomplete though they are, that an influence of Christian Cabala underlies the profound seriousness of the courtly Puritanism which was Spenser’s religion…



Whilst in England (when Dee was abroad) Bruno preaches a Hermetic-Cabalist philosophy which ahs some reference to a Messianic role for Elizabeth. Dee and Bruno both visited Prague, whence Bruno went to Rome to his death, and Dee eventually returned to disgrace in England.


…which would also be important for assessing the possibility of an influence of Bruno on Spenser.



I believe that much in the chilly reception of The Faerie Queene can be explained if it is realised that the poem expressed Dee’s vision for Elizabethan England, an expansionist vision which had become too dangerously provocative by the time it was published. After Dee’s activities abroad, he received no reward on his return home, and was never adequately rewarded for his outstanding contribution to the greatness of Elizabethan England. semi-banishment, ill-success and poverty were to be his fate in his third period. No wonder that a similar fate befell the author of The Faerie Queene.



the hopes of some vast all-embracing reform through Hermetic-Cabalist influence and particularly through the influence of Christian cabala, belonged to the earlier sixteenth century, though they were never forgotten nor completely discarded amid the disappointments of the later sixteenth century.


The Faerie Queene  is a great magical Renaissance poem, infused with the whitest of white magic, Christian Cabalist and Neoplatonic, haunted by a good magician and scientist, Merlin (a name sometimes used of Dee), and profoundly opposed to bad magicians and necromancers and bad religion.



The label, in terms of European treads which seems to me most applicable to The Faerie Queene  is ‘Rosicrucian’, the movement representing the late form of Renaissance Magia and Cabala, of which Dee had been an exponent and which he had been preaching on the continent whilst Spenser was writing his poem. It is not for nothing that the poem opens with Red Cross and Una (the monas). German Rosicrucian writers of the early seventeenth century were aware of deep-rooted connections with De’s monas, and some echoes of Spenser’s chivalric formulation can be detected in that literature.


Chapter X Elizabethan England and the Jews



…howls of a violently anti-Semitic mob. I have no intention of trying to enter here the dark labyrinth of the Lopez case, though I would suggest that perhaps the case has been studied too much as a local Elizabethan issue, and with too little reference to the general picture of the marrano diaspora.

            In contrast to the tragic story of Doctor Lopez,  a more pleasing picture of the reception of marrano refugees in Elizabethan England is extant. Unfortunately the story derives form late sources and must be discounted as partly legendary, though Cecil Roth thought that the legend contained an element of truth.

            The story relates that in the year 1593 a brother an sister, Manuel Lopez Pereira and Maria Nunez, whose parents had been victims of the Inquisition, left Portugal with their uncle, Miguel Lopez, and a large party of marranos to seek a refuge in northern lands. Their ship was captured by an English ship and brought to an English port. An English nobleman fell in love wit the beautiful Maria Nunez and sought to marry her. Queen Elizabeth, on hearing the story, expressed a wish to see the lady, and was captivated by her beauty. She invited her into the royal coach, drove about in London with her, and ordered her ship and all its passengers to be set free. In spite of this flattering welcome, Maria would not accept the tempting offer she had received. ‘leaving all the pomp of England for the sake of Judaism, as the old record puts it, she pursued her way with her companions to Amsterdam.’ Here in 1598 they were joined by her mother and other members of her family and the famous Amsterdam Jewish community grew in part for this foundation.

            This legend is worth pondering over. Queen Elizabeth was not in the habit of putting other ladies forward to her public as beauties, of promenading with them through London as (almost) equal in beauty to herself. The legend does not quite make sense as personal reminiscence, but it would make sense as allegory of philosemitic tendencies in the English queen, of a Jewish spiritual beauty associated with that of the reformed Imperial Virgin.


The most liberal of the northern Protestant countries in its reception of the Jewish refugees was Holland.




it is not impossible that the reception of the Jews may have been mooted in Elizabethan times by secretly philosemitic influences, but rejected owing to the growth of unfavourable attitudes.



Were there any Jews in Elizabethan England? the answer is that there certainly were, though probably not very many. If they maintained the practices of their religion, this could only have been done in the utmost secrecy. They would have to have been crypto-Jews, marranos, publicly professing the public form of Christianity in England.


Yet it can be pointed out that Elizabethan England was a power which resisted the persecutors, and that the Elizabethan imperial reform included Christian Cabala as an ingredient of the Elizabeth cult, perhaps making possible for a patriotic English Jew an easy transition to the religion of his adopted country.


Chapter XI The Reaction: Christopher Marlowe on Conjurors, Imperialists and Jews



In an earlier chapter we saw that Jean Bodin in his Demonomanie associated his attack on witches with his violent disapproval of Pico della Mirandola and Cornelius Agrippa for having made what he considered a bad use of Cabala. Marlowe definitely presents his Faustus as a student of Agrippa. His play belongs into the reaction against Renaissance magic, particularly as formulated by Agrippa.