How does the language of the dedication support a reader-response interpretation? How might it be said that Browne is to the urns as we are to his text? And what are the implications for our approach to the rest of the work? In particular, what do you make of the moments where the author is “reading” the urn-text?
Page 490, left column, full par. 1: The first sentence here is difficult. See if you can decipher and paraphrase it. From there, you might comment on the structure, content, and style of the whole paragraph. Can you make a connection to anything else in the excerpts that follow? For example, what sense of the human race emerges?
Chart the currents in the two paragraphs excerpted from Chapter 1.
Search 490-91 for anything that suggests uncertainty. What is the rhetorical effect of the kind of heavy qualification that Browne builds into his text? Is there a connection to the theme of earthly mutability? As the text is uncertain, so the world/human life is mutable? Does the text enact its meaning? Is there a connection to the theme of earthly mutability? As the text is uncertain, so the world/human life is mutable? Does the text enact its meaning?
Here is something from Chapter 3 (not in your text): “The common form with necks was a proper figure, making our last bed like our first; nor much unlike the Urnes of our Nativity, while we lay in the nether part of the Earth, and inward vault of our Microcosme….” So the urn symbolizes both death and birth. Does anything on pages 495-97 that suggest the same paradox?
We need to discuss 493, right column, the middle par. (“If the nearness….”). You could write a great response paper about the biblical references here. You could also relate the paragraph to the ars moriendi tradition: do you find any of the deathbed temptations here? Is there any connection to be made between that tradition and the urns? Finally, do you hear an echo of one of Hamlet’s soliloquies?
Someone might investigate the notion that Browne’s imagery in Hydriotaphia is dualistic (i.e., images as well as concepts appear in paired oppositions). See how many you can find. Then speculate on what their presence adds to Browne’s prose style.
How is Hydriotaphia a forerunner of P. B. Shelley’s sonnet “Ozymandias"? See especially 495, left column, middle par. (“But the iniquity of oblivion…”).
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, yet mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".
9. What conclusions does Browne reach in Chapter 5?