William Davenant’s Fishing Giant


“The Giant’s Fishing”

by Sir William Davenant

This day, a day as fair as heart could wish,

This giant stood on shore of sea to fish.

For angling rod he took a sturdy oak,

For line a cable that in storm ne’er broke;

His hook was such as heads the end of pole,

To pluck down house ere fire consumes it whole.

This hook was baited with a dragon’s tail;

And there on rock he stood to bob for whale,

Which straight he caught and nimbly home did pack

With ten cart load of dinner on his back.

William Davenant or D’Avenant (1606-1668) was a contemporary of Izaak Walton’s and lived through the same tumultuous times surrounding the Civil War(s) in England. Davenant, a monarchist and Anglican, who later converted to Roman Catholicism, did not negotiate the social upheavals quite as smoothly as Walton did. He was imprisoned several times, yet he eventually overcame each political difficulty. In fact, he served as a politician himself on several occasions.

The poem above, certainly not Davenant’s most profound work, is part of his masque, Britannia Triumphans. While the poem is lighthearted, Britannia was a serious piece of writing, produced in serious times. It was the first masque to be performed at the Palace of Whitehall, on 17 January 1638, after a two-year suspension of masqueing. King Charles I enacted this suspension primarily because the Banqueting House at the Palace was dirty from consistent use. He may have decided to have masqueing resume, however, for political reasons. The image driven masques were a way of controlling the perception of the monarchy held by those elite persons invited to attend (and perhaps of reinforcing Charles illusions, as well). Notably, the great architect Inigo Jones, who also collaborated (and feuded) with playwright and poet Ben Jonson, designed the scenery and costumes for Britannia. As it happens, he designed the banqueting hall for Charles’ father, James I, as well.

Incidentally, Charles I was executed by the Rump Parliament, in front of the Banqueting House, in 1649. Davenant was imprisoned the following year, and remained in the Tower of London until the Civil War(s) concluded (though he was imprisoned again, later).

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