The Truth of Spectacle: A Meditation on Clouds


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

The title of this paper might have been "Of Truth of Clouds," as Ruskin entitled one of the sections in his Modern Painters. But that would be to put the emphasis on romantic representation of cloud phenomena, rather than on clouds as hieroglyphics in the seventeenth-century court masque, which is my immediate subject. Nevertheless, there are points of contact between the two. If the romantic painters, such as Constable, and the romantic poets, such as Wordsworth, studied clouds, it was not solely out of scientific curiosity; we can guess that part of the fascination of them of the ever-changing cloud shapes was, in Goethe's words, to bestow "form upon the formless" and thereby reveal something of the mystery of nature.1 Not for nothing did Wordsworth praise as Sir George Beaumont's supreme pictorial achievement his depiction of clouds:

Praised by the art who subtile power could stay Yon cloud, and fix it in the glorious shape.2

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.