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Riche, Barnabe (1542–1617) - BIOGRAPHY, MAJOR WORKS AND THEMES, CRITICAL RECEPTION

riche’s farewell military thomas

Barnabe Riche was a professional soldier and writer and a paid or, perhaps, voluntary informer. He served at Le Havre during 1562–63 and in the Netherlands briefly sometime between 1572 and 1576, but his primary service was in Ireland. He was there during most of the years 1570–82; he served under Sir Nicholas Malby in the suppression of Desmond’s rebellion in 1581. In 1585, he had charge of 100 men at Colraine, but the command was of short duration because his men were ambushed and killed while he was absent. Riche was in Ireland again 1587–92 and from about 1608 until his death.

Riche’s periods of military service alternated with periods of residence in London. There, he mixed with a literary crowd. For example, he returned to England in 1582 with Thomas North, the translator of Plutarch, he wrote a commendatory poem for Thomas Lodge’s* An Alarum against Usurers (1584), and Thomas Churchyard acknowledged his indebtedness to Riche in his True Discourse Historical of the Succeeding Governors in the Netherlands (1602). In London in 1586, Riche married Katherine Easton, cousin of Sir Edward Aston. They had no children.

Riche’s finances were not secure. He lost whatever land he had as the result of a privateering venture. In 1587, Queen Elizabeth granted him a pension of 2s.6d. a day to be paid out of the Irish treasury, but Riche frequently complained in letters that he had no small difficulty collecting it. At the time of his death he was receiving a smaller pension of 12d. per day.

Riche’s avocation of informer made his life tumultuous. Having provided the Privy Council with information prejudicial to Adam Loftus, lord chancellor of Ireland, and to Thomas Jones, his brother and bishop of Meathe, Riche got into a brawl with Loftus’ servant and then was attacked by six armed men in the employ of Loftus or some other person against whom Riche had informed. In London in 1592, Riche denounced Loftus to the Privy Council, accusing him of being tolerant of Catholics, but Loftus kept his office. In 1604, Riche informed against a fellow dinner guest who, he claimed, had spoken irreverently of King James’ sex life to Riche’s wife, but again the charges were dismissed.

MAJOR WORKS AND THEMES

A prolific author, Riche claimed to have written twenty-six works; twenty-two have survived. They fall into four large categories: military, fictions, social criticism and advice, and anti-Catholic and anti-Irish satires and tracts. The dialogue is one of Riche’s favored forms. The military works often are very practical. Allarme to England criticizes the way the English raised troops, arguing that their method resulted in a ragtag army (I2–I2v), and Faults argues that military success depends on recognition of the financial need of the troops; “the want of pay is the original of all disorder” (51).

Riche’s most influential work was the story anthology His Farewell to Militarie Profession (1581). Elaborate dedicatory letters position the author with regard to women and men readers. Farewell contains five pastiches of numerous Italian novelle and three translations of a single novelle by Giraldi Cinthio. Riche attributes these last to L. B., and they are generally accepted to be his revisions of translations done by Lodovick Bryskett, a friend of Edmund Spenser’s.* The stories combine geographical range, cross-dressing, and magical potions of romance with detailed, realistic representation of middle-class life and worries, a combination that appealed to Shakespeare.*

Riche’s social writings frequently mix the satiric with the straightforward. Faults includes a series of ludicrous portraits—the parasite, the malcontent, the fantasticke—but also the sage military advice quoted earlier. The Excellency of good women defends women with timeworn wit and then gives serious advice about choosing a wife and instructions about wifely behavior.

A Catholicke Conference and the other anti-Irish and anti-Catholic tracts represent Catholics as traitors and do not suggest any sort of accommodation of the Irish or any affection for their land.

Riche brags that he did not have a university education. His works betray the lack. In Faults , he refers to a tragedy by Aristophanes, and throughout his writings he misattributes classical quotations. This inaccuracy is generally taken as a sign that he was relying on a sloppily kept commonplace book rather than on his own reading.

CRITICAL RECEPTION

Contemporary references to his work suggest that Riche was popular in his own day. Gabriel Harvey,* in his Pierces Supererogation (1593), included Riche in a list of vulgar writers in whose works “many things are commendable, divers things notable, somethings excellent” (190–91), and in the dedicatory letter to Have with you to Saffron-Walden , Thomas Nashe* referred to his own hypothetical reader as well versed in Riche’s works. James VI considered Farewell influential enough to make it worth his while to protest the work’s conclusion; in it, in the first three editions of Farewell , there is a story in which a devil possesses the king of Scotland; in the fourth edition, the monarch in question is the Grand Turk.

The frequent use of his stories by dramatists also testifies to his popularity. Shakespeare drew heavily on Farewell for Twelfth Night, or What You Will . He based the main plot on “Apolonius and Silla,” Malvolio’s imprisonment in the dark room on “Two Brethren,” and used several new words from “Sappho, Duke of Mantua.” Parts of The Merry Wives of Windsor are indebted to “Two Brethren.” “Gonsales and Agatha” is the source of the anonymous play How a man may Choose a Good Wife from a Bad and of the subplot of The Old Law by Middleton, Rowley, and Massinger.

Until recently, critics paid Riche scant attention except in source studies because he wrote in marginal genres, and his heavy borrowing led critics, especially Lievsay, to challenge his originality. Schlaugh, an early defender of Riche, asserted that comparison of Riche with his sources would show that “in execution as well as style Rich shows greater independence than most of his peers. He stresses human frailties as mainsprings of action; he creates homely English environments despite his use of exotic proper names; he dwells occasionally on economic motives” (151). So far, no one has substantiated these stylistic and economic claims, but recent critical theorists have provided other sympathetic perspectives. In his edition of Farewell , Beecher argues strenuously that Riche’s assemblages of other people’s parts are worthy of consideration as new works. The recent interest in feminism and gender studies has revived interest in Farewell , which makes a great show of being directed to the woman reader (though I find, on one occasion, an alarming obsession with the prefix “con,” suggesting subterfuge). Relihan offers the results of “reading as a woman” (100). Fleming uses Riche to exemplify her argument that “in displaying their fictions as products of a prodigal phase, Elizabeth’s poets intended their writings first to explore, and then to reject, female power and its most alarming consequences” (178).

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