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The Discoverie of Guiana by Walter Ralegh. A Necessary Failure: Ralegh and the Redefining of the Poetic Hero

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Vallance Kaitlyn Vallance Honors 101 A Professor Despres 24 October 2012 A Necessary Failure: Ralegh and the Redefining of the Poetic Hero Traditionally, the Renaissance hero?s quest consisted of three things: defeating a villain or obstacle in order to conquer lands and gain riches in the name of a lady of whom the hero wishes to gain the affections. However, Sir Walter Ralegh does not conform to this idea of the Renaissance hero because he fails to conquer lands, gain riches or defeat the Spanish threat. Nevertheless, despite his failure to obtain any of Guiana?s treasures, he reaped the rewards of returning empty-handed, rejoining the court and regaining Elizabeth?s tentative favor. This is made possible through Ralegh?s redefinition of what a ?hero? is and his creation of the ?national? hero. Through transcending the courtly stage of tradition Renaissance heroism and moving to the imperial stage of national heroism, Ralegh also moves from the immediate, short term goals of the former to the developmental, long term goals the national hero pursues. These long-term goals of colonization and empire-building, of which Ralegh himself sows the seeds for through his travels, are what make him necessary to Queen Elizabeth?s court and to England as a national power. In The Discoverie of Guiana by Walter Ralegh, Ralegh?s failure to succeed in conquering Guiana and the native people occurs due to his realization that he must fail in order to ensure his desirability to Queen Elizabeth. This causes him to redefine the characteristics of the ?Renaissance hero? to allow for his failure to be accepted, resulting in the creation of ...read more.


As such, only a virgin leader, like Elizabeth, is appropriate to rule such pristine lands. While Ralegh depicts Guiana as the lady in his national quest, he also establishes his villain as the Spaniards; however, they are less a traditional physical threat to our hero and more an economic threat to the nation as a whole. The physical presence of Spaniards in South America is peripheral compared to the hazards presented to the British crown through their mercantile activity. This weakness of the Spanish inhabitants is due to the fact that they ?are therein so dispersed as they are nowhere strong;? however, despite the decentralization of the settlers in South America, they possess the unifying ?purpose to enter Guiana (the magazine of all rich metals)? and this intense drive to obtain gold is detrimental to the economy of England (Ralegh 47). Ralegh elucidates the ?necessity of attempting Guiana in regard to our own safety,? as mercantilist theory states that the economy is a zero-sum gain: the economy cannot experience growth because a country can only gain wealth when another country loses wealth (Related Documents 138). If the Spanish ?gold endangers us now? and they came into possession of even more South American gold and precious metals, the entire European economy would be tilted in favor of Spain with England struggling to achieve the same power wealth lends to a country (Ralegh 53). The threat that the Spaniards pose to the greatness of England leads Ralegh to create a necessity for English action and for Elizabeth to prove that she ?is not only able to defend her own territories and her neighbors, but also to invade and conquer so great empires and so far removed? (Ralegh 112). ...read more.


Ralegh?s choice to portray himself as a national hero who courteously conquers the natives through slow manipulation of their affections and trust is only successful because he is under the control of a Queen whose persona relies on her meek womanhood. Had Ralegh been the subject of the Spanish monarch, or any other European prince, he would have been expected to destroy and take the lands quickly and ruthlessly; however, in appealing to the Queen?s persona, Ralegh also serves to appeal to his own interests of returning to the court life. A quick conquering in the name of the Queen would have resulted in bloodshed and resentment by the natives and, most importantly, it would not have given Ralegh a means with which to make himself essential and useful to the Queen. It is Ralegh who gained the trust of the natives, he who traversed the lands, and he who knows the manner in which to enter Guiana with the help of a native ruler who would provide assistance. Queen Elizabeth needs Ralegh in order to build her empire and ensure England?s safety from Spanish dominance as badly as Ralegh has needed Elizabeth?s favor in order to stay in her court and escape the isolation banishment provides. By redefining the the Renaissance hero as a national hero, Ralegh redefines his own worth to Elizabeth as more than a favorite of wit and fancy ? he is the sower of the seeds of the British Empire. ...read more.

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