the result of recent research and a more complex understanding of human sexuality, Richard Barneield's reputation has had the most radical reappraisal of all 16th-century poets. Earlier critics such as C. S. Lewis were often dismissive of Barnfield, based on an overt expression of same-sex desire, an element that was also observed in the 16th century. The Affectionate Shepherd (1594), for example, presented the often homoerotic love complaints of Daphnis for Ganymede, following the classical tradition of male-male desire.
Barnfield's Cynthia reflects the established tradition of the pastoral, but the 20 sonnets in this sonnet sequence also unmistakably represent same-sex desire that remains unrequited. Some critics insist that the poems represent only male friendship, which was valued above married heterosexual love. Attempts to dismiss the poems as representing male-male desire, however, are no longer the norm.
The published volume of 1595 includes Cynthia, Certain Sonnets, "An Ode," and Cassandra. Cynthia, written in a form that seems most clearly allied with the medieval dream vision, is a poem of praise for Queen Elizabeth I. In the poem, Barnfield shows his debt to Edmund Spenser's stanza format. The rising of Cynthia, the moon, calls the pageant of gods and goddesses to appear in a beautiful place to which the dreamer/poet/ recorder is directed. In this scene, the judgment of Paris to determine the fairest among Venus, Pallas Athena, and Minerva, with each promising to bestow good upon Paris, is itself put on trial. His decision to select Venus is appealed before the court of Jupiter, who, rather than overturning the verdict, pronounces the failings of each participant in light of one who is greater than them all.
Referred to as the "Fayrie Queene" (l. 144), a code word for Queen Elizabeth also observed in Spenser's The Faerie Queene, this ruler exceeds all and serves as one to right wrongs herself. Jupiter orders a pearl to be sent to this "second Judith" (l. 161), a seeming anomaly that fuses both Greek and Hebrew traditions. Mercury is summoned to deliver the gem to Elizabeth, and the poem ends with the dreamer awakened by the rising of the sun. The dreamer/poet, deeply affected by the beauty of this vision, "gan almost weep" (l. 171).
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