The Elizabethan Era: Its People and Perspective

The Elizabethan Era is known for significant military action and great accomplishments in the liberal arts.  When this era is referenced it commonly delves into Shakespeare’s plays or Queen Elizabeth’s political prowess.  But there is an ignored part of this history; for instance when historians take a look at the French Revolution the mythology, beliefs, philosophy and religion secure the most attention.  They dissect every last “cause and effect” scenario and publish whole books about their findings and theories.  Strangely, only certain eras have merited this treatment by modern society.  One neglects to dissect the Elizabethan Era.  There are, of course, anthropological studies and other trends in this era, but the world view or “zeitgeist” has been paid little attention.  One writer, Eustace M. W. Tillyard published a work in 1972 titled The Elizabethan World Picture.  In this piece, Tillyard explores the idea of order in the minds of writers such as Shakespeare, Donne and Milton.  Though it is not difficult to find quotes in these authors that expound their idea of the universe, this book limited itself to the manifestations of ideas in the poetic minds of the day.  It does not consider the common man’s experience or how these ideas may have shown in the inane and frivolous.  Consequently, when one thinks of Queen Elizabeth’s reign images of writers or explorers flood the mind and satisfy the historical concepts.  There is so much more left untapped, such as the explorer, poet, statesman, soldier that was Sir Walter Raleigh (1554-1629).  Raleigh is exemplary of a man who completely reacts instinctually to the tide of the times while maintaining his own critical thought.  This man and his contemporaries were like any French or American revolutionary; they were beasts of their age.   His views as to the order of the cosmos may have been indispensable from the average Elizabethan.  After all, many popular figures in Elizabethan lore are common men by birth and rose to notoriety based on their exceptional work.  Though it may not seem so, the Elizabethan Age was dominated by this unique and peculiar design for the universe and it bleeds from many areas of business.  The design is one of Order; the Four Humours and the Divine right of Kings.  The opposition, like Beatrice Groves, believes otherwise.  She asserted in her book Texts and Traditions: Religion in Shakespeare 1592-1604, that, “Shakespeare does not commit the same ideological elisions of which many of his contemporaries were guilty in their discussions of a biblically based government”.[1]  Along with Raleigh, Francis Bacon’s (1561-1626) essays are ripe with data to support the world view of the Elizabethan.  Bacon approaches philosophically the scheme of this order for which Tillyard so adequately gave evidence.  Finally, Shakespeare (1564-1616) will also be used as another source to perhaps paint the minds of the common man.  These men, their actions and their writings should finally reveal what the Elizaethan world view was.
A Measure of Shakespeare
Who better to approach first than the undisputed greatest playwright that ever lived William Shakespeare?  He was born and baptized in the town Stratford-on-Avon to a glover, John Shakespeare and his wife Mary Arden in 1564.  Living a plain life under plain circumstances did not prevent Shakespeare from receiving a standard education.  It has been supposed that he actively started pursuing the theater in 1592.[2]  His plays have become immortal since then.  When one presumes that William Shakespeare was a real man as opposed to a conspiracy, the question comes: What gave this man his clairvoyance to pen these masterpieces with only the use of a menial free education?  His plays may answer this question for us.  Stephen Greenblatt points out that Shakespeare found himself searching for what other playwrights had not yet done.  So he writes of fools and presumably honorable men getting drunk and disorderly.  Greenblatt says of Sir Toby and Falstaff, “They do for a limited time overturn sobriety, dignity and decorum”.[3] In Julius Caesar Shakespeare inserts and references classical imagery that could not have come from a standard education; he obtained this knowledge from his society.  In Act I, Scene iii, Casca, a conspirator meets Cicero in the night.  He described the setting and wrote that there should be “thunder and Lightning” as this is what the topic of the scene required.  This use of weather was not a device to communicate devious behavior, rather it was suggesting that along with the dialogue that there was a disturbance in the cosmos.  Casca says early on, “Either there is a civil strife in heaven/Or else the world, too saucy with the gods/incenses them to send destruction”.[4] 
Why does this mean anything about the common Elizabethan world view?  Tons of authors have referenced the gods at one point or another.  Elizabethans had a keen sense of hierarchy.  In the Monarchy they assert that the king or queen is God’s Anointed.  This is what Tillyard calls (and used as a chapter title) the chain of being.  God delegates power to his subjects, and they must not be questioned.  C. S. Lewis describes this in his Preface to Paradise Lost saying, “Everything except God has some natural superior; everything except unformed matter has some natural inferior”.[5]  So, in the case of Julius Caesar, although he was technically a dictator, qualified as “God’s anointed”; which meant that the conspiracy caused a storm in the cosmos, creating chaos and disarray.  Brutus and Cassius planned to assassinate Caesar and this was not conducive to a peaceful world.  Of course, modern scholars have written of Shakespeare’s strange representation of political intrigue.  The notion of hierarchy is so prominent amongst Elizabethans that modern sensibilities cannot handle to the torque.  In Taming of the Shrew Katharina’s eventually submitted and gave a speech that drove modern historians to think that Shakespeare wrote it ironically.[6]  Many strange sights were observed and reported, such as men walking about engulfed in fire.[7]  Casca knew he was up to no good, testing his boundaries with the questionable Cicero.  Casca relates these things to Cassius later hoping for consolation saying, “But wherefore did you so much tempt the heavens? / It is the part of men to fear and tremble / When to the most mighty gods by tokens send / Such dreadful heralds to astonish us”.[8]  Tillyard quotes John Fortescue saying, “In this order hot things are in harmony with cold, dry with moist, heavy with light, great with little, high with low.  In this order angel is set over angel, rank upon rank in the kingdom of heaven; man is set over man, beast over beast . . .”.[9]  This quote nicely sums up the general thesis of the Elizabethan era which promotes order and rank (divine right).  The humours are mixed in but only appear as a subset of the over arching order.
One cannot really be sure of what motivated Brutus to assassinate Caesar, but the fashion that Shakespeare wrote it was that Brutus was an “honorable man”.[10]  He deeply lamented having to put to death his good friend, but figured the ends justified the means.  When Antony turns the people against Brutus, Cassius, and the rest of the conspirators, Brutus becomes panicky; he tries to patch things back to normal and justifies his actions.  Of course no matter how much mental gymnastics he does he is visited in the night by Caesar’s ghost.  Being approached by the ghost he says, “I think it is the weakness of mine eyes . . . art thou some god, some angel, or some devil?”.[11]  This is not merely a send up of Greek mythology, because if it were Brutus would have spoken of fates, furies and gods by name.  Perhaps, Shakespeare was following up on Dante Alighieri’s suggestion that Brutus (guilty of regicide) was a man just as wicked as Judas (Guilty of killing God).  These actions are significantly different in scope, but the suggestion is that they are one and the same.
One major part of the Elizabethan world view was the four humours.  The general idea was since food was a necessary part of our living, it was integral to our being.  As food passes through our system it converts to four bodily liquids which were phlegm, melancholy, blood and choler.[12]  All of these corresponded to four elements which were water, earth, air and fire.  This was the science of the day and this is what was referenced in matters of health.  This is a sub-order of the grand order of the complete cosmos; it merely has to do with man.  In Julius Caesar Antony speaks of Brutus at the end of the play saying, “His life was gentle, and the elements / so mix’d in him that Nature might stand up / and say to all world, ‘This was a man!’”.[13]  This is a prime example: not only does it apply to the soft science of the world, but also to a man’s general position of the cosmos to the point where an anthropomorphized nature speaks well of a man to have these humours balanced.  This is not merely poetry; this is orthodoxy.  Shakespeare was not a doctor, but a simple man of the theater.  One must also notice the fact that the word “nature” is capitalized.
A Measure of Francis Bacon
Francis may not be as interesting a man as Shakespeare was, but he may provide a greater wealth of world view evidence.  He was an informal theologian who was not all that “churchy” but was willing to defend it mightily.  Atheism was at this time gaining believers, so naturally Bacon stepped in.  Tillyard, in his chapter on sin said, “Atheism not agnosticism was the rule.  It was far easier to be very wicked and think yourself so than to be a little wicked without a sense of sin”.[14]  Not only did agnosticism doubt God’s existence, but it forgot the entire order of the universe and their personal role inside it.  This was socially unacceptable and so naturally pagans, heathens and atheists were more acceptable for their mere validity, because they at least had a design.  Heathens served a false and valid god while atheists served the “god self”, which is just as valid as any pagan deity.  The acceptance of a grand order to the universe was incredibly important to the Elizabethan.   Still, in the eyes of Bacon, atheists were sorely mistaken; so much he wrote an essay on atheism.  The opening lines go, “I had rather believe all the fables in the legend, and the Talmud, and the Alcoran, than that this universal frame is without mind”.[15]  Not only is this an apologetic, but this claim also asserts that order is necessary, and to forget inserting order into your world view is down right absurd.  Bacon argues from the perspective that Tillyard called the “chain of being”.[16]  He granted that a little philosophy “inclineth a man’s mind to atheism” but that when one delves deeper into the whole business he is eventually brought about to religion.[17]  Bacon spoke almost directly of the chain of being saying, “But when it beholdeth the chain of them [events] confederate, and linked together, it must needs fly to providence and deity”.[18]  Simply, he says that when a man does not see the bigger picture he will not believe in god, but examining his world and his place inside it he will quickly resort to religion.  In hindsight, Bacon points out that Protestantism fueled the fire for this belief.  He tracks the lack of atheism to a little division in the church; the Protestant Reformation though large boiled down to two opposing doctrines of salvation.  As the Reformation continues one notes the amount of division in Protestants, and with much division in religion atheism gains power.  This perfidiousness of people, mixing in the apparent chaos, gave reason to believe that there is no god.  “Where is he?” they ask.
As mentioned before Bacon saw order as necessary, but along with that order came a delightful Elizabethan notion of hierarchy.  Not only hierarchy, but monarchy was his favorite given that Yahweh is himself a monarch.  He said with great Solomonic fervour, “A king is a mortal God on earth, unto whom the living God hath lent his own name as a great honor”.[19]  He believed in divine right of kings, because it was another puzzle piece to hold everything together.  He did have other instructions for monarchs but most of all, in a very un-Lockeian way, the king must be obeyed. 
To relate this to commoners one must know that poets were, in fact, the rock stars of that day.  Poetry was the easiest means of creating and sharing art in those times, so naturally poetry circulated in and out of the courts and into the streets.  Sir John Davies wrote a poem upon seeing the Virgin Queen in her majesty.  He was stricken to the point of writing, “Her brighter dazzling beams of majesty”.[20]  Tillyard quoted this poem, but used it in a different effect.  He wanted to point out the fabled cosmic dance that exemplified itself inside the court.  This poetry resonated with the people; not only did they enjoy the sight of the queen, but they enjoyed the sheer cosmic order.  For one’s country to gravitate towards prosperity is a good thing, but for there to be no war in heaven is encouraging to say the least.  Hence, atheism during this time was unfashionable, even if tolerated.  Dancing (an ordering of bodily movements) was a very popular entertainment for Elizabethans, as well.  It, like poetry, was easy to accomplish with minimal resource.  Even though Bacon was not fond of dancing himself said, “Dancing to song, is a thing of great state and pleasure”.[21]
It should be noted that Francis Bacon is known as the father of the modern scientific method.  Bacon wrote very clearly his ideas on how to obtain empirical knowledge about our world.  What had inspired him to create this plan of science.  The general idea was to let Nature (that is with a capital “N”) speak and argue for itself.  He considered it conceited to propose a hypothesis and attempt to prove it.  Who was man that he can measure nature so precisely?  Rather, he wanted man to create a hypothesis and attempt to disprove it.  He said in his essay Of Truth:
“Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men’s minds vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of men poor shrunken things, full  of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves?”.[22]
Scientists based their science off of religion.  If religion had not been customary advanced science would have been drastically slowed down.  C. S. Lewis points out in his book Miracles that “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in a legislator”.[23]  Lewis suggests that when religion begins to leave a society science will cease advancing.  He also said agreeing with Bacon, “Science itself has already made reality appear less homogenous than we expected it to be”.[24]  This suggests that human nature tends to think that there is more order in the universe than for which we have visible proof.  Unknown forces have arranged the universe.
A Measure of Sir Walter Raleigh
All this is only a fraction of how Elizabethans functioned.  Of course, when analyzing the intellectuals of the era there will be different suggestions left and right.  Sir Walter Raleigh, a prime poster child of the Elizabethan commoner, will shed more light upon the zeitgeist of the people.  Raleigh was a commoner despite his time as a statesman, soldier, and writer.  He was a Protestant born into complete obscurity as we have almost no information about his early life.  What Lewis said about his poetry, the same may be said about his life that “Raleigh has happy moments but seldom gets through a longer piece without disaster”.[25]  But out of secluded life he came and ascended into prominence, and noted by Queen Elizabeth.  Loved by the people he had a significant discipleship (ship mates, mostly) allowing him to settle the Americas and do a little pirating of Spanish vessels on the side.
He had a significant amount of poetry to go along with his personality.  He wrote one twelve line poem titled De Morte which interpreted man’s life as a standard play; this has underlying tones of cosmic order.  In his Excellent Observations and Notes Concerning the Royal Navy and Sea Service he mentions to the Queen, whom he was writing to, certain thanks.  He says, “I confess that peace is a great blessing of God, and blessed are the peacemaker, and therefore doubtless blessed are those means whereby peace is gained and maintained”.[26]  This is not just Raleigh being devout, but it also is concluding argument to his piece.  He appeals to Queen Elizabeth through ethos; it would be right for her to follow through with Raleigh’s ideas.
             One of the more striking pieces he wrote was his letter to King James I.  Formerly, he was locked away in the tower for fourteen years for suspected treason against the king.  But he was let out for one last voyage to Guiana to mine gold.  Along the way Spanish ships ambushed him, and twenty-six of his men along with Raleigh’s own son were murdered.  His men mutinied, but not against their captain but for the sake of their captain; they knew if he was to return home then the King would send him to the scaffold.  He ended up writing a letter to King James saying:
“My mutineers told me that if I returned for England, I should be undone, but I believed in your Majesty’s goodness, more than in all their arguments.  Sure I am the first that being free and able to enrich myself, yet hath embraced poverty and peril.  And as sure I am that my example shall make me the last: but your Majesty’s wisdom and goodness I have made my judges, who have ever been and ever shall be”.[27]
This is a very bizarre statement.  First, his mutineers were not revolting against their captain, but for their captain.  Raleigh manages to convince them of his world view to let him return to England.  These sailors were the “undocumented” Elizabethan, but they shared a sense of hierarchy and order, however misplaced that it is.  Second, it is important to remember that the Enlightenment age was imminent.  This letter is deeply disturbing for many who do not share the Elizabethan world view.  Raleigh was so devoted to the Divine Right of Kings that he submitted himself to someone whom he very well knew wanted him dead.  King James the First despised Raleigh.  The last line of the letter said that he would forever remain faithful to the cause of the monarch.  Lewis describes the matter of degree and office nicely and gives us a reason why it is important for these men.  He wrote, “If you take ‘Degree’ away ‘each thing meets in mere opugnancy,’ ‘strength’ will be lord, everything will ‘include itself in power’ . . . .  The real alternative is tyranny; if you will not have authority you will find yourself obeying brute force”.[28]  Simply, you either submit willingly, or you have submission forced on you.  This is what Raleigh’s policy was.  In a letter Raleigh wrote to his wife on the night that he was expecting to go to the scaffold he does the same thing.  He praised his God and recommended that his wife do the same.  Lastly, in a letter to his son he wrote, “Serve God: let him be the Author of all thy actions”.[29] 
            Perhaps one of the most significant moments in English history was the Spanish Armada being destroyed.  A decisively embarrassing event for Spain and almost quite literally a God send for the English.  Raleigh, after the fact, noted that there were multiple propaganda pieces being put out by the Spaniards. They attempted to cover up the shame of their loss through lies and spin.  So he counteracted them and wrote his own account just for the Queen to examine.  He began saying, “The Spaniards according to their vainglorious vaunts, making great appearance of victories, when on the contrary themselves are most commonly and shamefully beaten and dishonored”.[30]  Paraphrased he says, “Let me inform you, Queen of the truth.”  Near the end of the account he references the storm that occurred and as the world view would have it, he brought God in to the equation.  He wrote, “Thus it hath pleased God to fight for us . . . .  A manifest testimony how unjust and displeasing their attempts are in the sight of God . . .”.[31]  He says this while at the same time he refers to a traitor in this way, “To be unnatural to his own country that bred him, to his parents that begat him, and rebellious to his true prince to whose obedience he is bound by oath, by nature and by religion?”.[32]  Raleigh not only condemns the traitor by his Christianity, but also condemns by the Law and Order of Nature.
            Tillyard makes it clear through Raleigh’s History of the World that he was convinced of this order of degrees in God’s Kingdom.  He wrote, “For that infinite wisdom of God, which hath distinguished his angels by degrees . . . .”.[33]  He points towards the cosmic hierarchy in this as he continues to list the orders of kings, dukes, magistrates and judges.  For such a fantastic description of the universe Raleigh has an easy time asserting it.  Again it must be pointed out that Raleigh is a good measuring stick for how the average Elizabethan thought.  He arose out of the people, got fame, got slandered multiple times, and maintained his firm beliefs all the way up to his unjustified death; in spite of all the things he was (poet, soldier, statesman, explorer) he was not a philosopher.  Raleigh was just a man who lived what he believed.  Tillyard said, “Raleigh’s life had been in part as secular as one can conceive . . . he must have known disorder at its most horrible . . . .Yet it is the same man who can see the glory of God”.[34]
            Raleigh shared more than tobacco with Francis Bacon (They were, at least, acquaintances).  He wrote of atheism in a four line poem; the last two lines went, “Raw is the reason that doth lie within an atheist’s head. / Which saith the soul of man doth die when that the body’s dead”.[35]  This was not enough to keep rumors from building. Agnes Latham noticed that once a judge had been employed to determine whether Raleigh was an atheist.  The reason might be discovered by an anonymous comment after his execution regarding his speech, which went, “He spoke not one word of Christ, but of a great and incomprehensible God, with much zeal and adoration.”  The accusation was just a case of mudslinging as the judge read his History of the World and said, “I am resolved you are a good Christian”. [36]  Latham said of it, “Raleigh is concerned with the source of ultimate power and ultimate order rather than with saving grace, but it is a question of emphasis, not of orthodoxy”.[37]
            When one thinks of the importance of order, hierarchy, and the four humours inside the Elizabethan era it may seem confusing to those who look forward to the Enlightenment, the French Revolution and the American Revolution.  The Enlightenment claimed to be built for reason, and about reason; it would trust no other empirical source of truth other than reason.  The French Revolution was chaotic anarchy devoid of order and the American Revolution was a rebellion against the “divine right of kings” whether they knew it or not at the time.  One wonders how this shift in attitude happened so suddenly and that it happened at all.  Tillyard wanted his readers to realize that the Elizabethan era, although short, was the golden age as opposed to his contemporaries who thought it was the metaphysical poets.  He greatly admired the Elizabethans and said of them, “It is precisely the basic simplicity and strength of the greatest Elizabethans that we need to perceive if we are not to reduce the norm of their age to mere pageant-making and minstrelsy”.[38]  This age is due more than we give it, and we neglect several parts of its zeitgeist whether it is in the literature, letters or essays.  The ethos, pathos and logos comes out of every nook and cranny.  It must not be ignored for long.

1. Tillyard, Eustace M. W. The Elizabethan World Picture. New York: Vintage Books. Print.
2. Shakespeare, William.  Julius Caesar.  London: Oxford University Press, 1957. Print.
3. Raleigh, Sir Walter.  Letters, Poems and Essays.  New York: J.M. Dent & Sons. Print
4. Bacon, Francis.  Essays.  New York: The Henneberry Company. Print.
5. Lewis, C. S. Miracles.  New York: The Macmillan Company.  Print
6. Lewis, C. S.  Preface to Paradise Lost.  London: Oxford University Press.  Print
7. Greenblatt, Stephen. Will in the World.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004.  Print.
8. Groves, Beatrice. Texts and Traditions: Religion in Shakespeare 1592-1604. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.
9. Agnes, Latham.  Sir Walter Raleigh. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1964. Print.
10. Lewis, Clive S. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954. Print.

[1]Beatrice Groves, Texts and Traditions: Religion in Shakespeare 1592-1604 (New York: Oxford Univeristy Press, 2007.), 183.   Groves also argues that Shakespeare was a closet Catholic.  Tillyard who was a Catholic and co-wrote a book of theological arguents with C.S. Lewis called A Present Heresy seems to miss Grove’s point in his own research.  He seems to believe that Shakespeare was solely protestant.
[2] Stephen Greenblatt, Will in the World (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004).
[3] Greenblatt, Will in the World, 41
[4] William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (London: Oxford University Press, 1957), 16.
[5]C. S. Lewis, Preface. (London: Oxford University Press, 1946), 72.
[6] Groves, Texts and Traditions, 154. Groves argues this particular point by pointing to Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.  She believes that Shakespeare was questioning the divine right of kings and above all was an early enlightenment figure.
[7] Julius Caesar 1. 3. 15-31.  Along with men walking around on fire there were other oddities that Casca heard reported.  There was a slave whose hand burned like twenty torches and left unscathed, a lion wandering the capitol building and owls “hooting and shrieking”.  Shakespeare battled the naturalist notion further when Casca warned Cicero saying, “Do so conjointly meet, let not men say, / “These are their reasons, they are natural.”
[8] Julius Caesar 1. 3. 51-56
[9] Eustace Tillyard, The Elizabethan World Picture (New York: Vintage Books, no date), 26-27.
[10] Julius Caesar 3. 2. 88.
[11] Julius Caesar 5. 1. 275-278
[12] Tillyard, Elizabethan. 69
[13] Julius Caesar 5. 5. 73-75
[14] Tillyard, Elizabethan, 18
[15] Francis Bacon, Essays (New York: The Henneberry Company, no date), 68.
[16] Tillyard, Elizabethan, 25
[17] Bacon, Essays, 68
[18] Bacon, Essays, 68
[19] Bacon, Essays, 215
[20] Tillyard, Elizabethan, 105
[21] Bacon, Essays, 146
[22] Bacon, Essays, 17
[23] Lewis, Miracles, 128
[24] Lewis, Miracles, 35
[25] Lewis, Sixteenth Cent., 519
[26] Sir Walter Raleigh, Excellent Observations and Notes Concerning the Royal Navy and Sea Service, (New York: J.M. Dent & Sons, no date), 171.
[27] Sir Walter Raleigh, Return From Guiana, (New York: J.M. Dent & Sons, no date), 205
[28] Lewis, Preface, 74
[29] Sir Walter Raleigh, Instructions to His Son, (New York: J.M. Dent & Sons, no date), 182
[30] Sir Walter Raleigh, The Last Fight of the “Revenge” at Sea, (New York: J.M. Dent & Sons, no date), 73
[31] Raleigh, “Revenge”, 88.
[32] Raleigh, “Revenge” ,89.
[33] Tillyard, Elizabethan, 11.
[34] Tillyard, Elizabethan, 24.
[35] Raleigh, Poems, 59
[36] Agnes Latham.  Sir Walter Raleigh.  (London: F. Mildner & son, 1964), 32.  “Raleigh was interested in the problems propounded by the nature of God, of creation and of the image of God in man. . . . It is peculiarly liable to be misconstrued by narrow minds.  Raleigh had a dangerous kind of disengagement, a tolerance when confronted with alien ideas and an intellectual boldness.”
[37] Ibid., 32
[38] Tillyard, Elizabethan, 108.


A Discourse on Whose in Charge Here

Rendering our hearts and minds to business we value most,
A proverbial relative personal holy ghost.
Chin up and clenching fist; cold heart and soothing mist,
That devil, of too much power did he boast.

Unchanging, and always breathing, this cancer is a test,
To discern who is who, to wear freedom’s crest.
O freedom, my freedom reigns; O fiend, you fiend it pains,
Plagues this home, this best abode, a sad forgotten nest.

But ponder more, soul those clumsy rights I wrought,
By whose authority my life untimely brought.
Birthed right once before, to die wrong twice the more,
Our worst actions reveal what we always thought.

He that is, if he is, king of all that I survey,
Will not be me, by my monthly servant’s pay.
Controlled, to one knee; avert mine eyes so he,
May rule accordingly, alive the suppliants pray.


Boring Book Critique on Foucault's "The History of Sexuality"

Michael Foucault puts forward a descriptive theory on the nature of power and sexuality’s relation to it in his book The History of Sexuality.  He does not try to prescribe any suggestions, but rather assumes man’s immovability and resigns himself to the ambitious leaders.  Relativity is the game and post-modernism is its name.  Foucault claims that our traditional ideas of where power comes from are mistaken.  These traditional ideas include hierarchy and the top-down relationship of delegated authority.  Instead, he asserts that our government’s best way to “lean forward” in the world is to control the people’s sexuality.  A government either represses its people or encourages its people, but either way control must be maintained.  Not only is it for the internal affair of keeping your citizens in check, but it is used for external affairs as well.  Control of the sexuality of your people has a benefit of a larger future military.  With a larger future military, a nation can campaign or at least defend its borders more efficiently.  In short, he opposes Mao Ze Dong’s “power comes from the barrel of a gun” quote, Foucault says that power comes from culture and its sexuality.  As a side note he contradicts the notion of the sexual revolution of the sixties when he says, “ . . . if power is seen as having only an external hold on desire, or, if it is constitutive of desire itself, to the affirmation: you are always – already trapped” (83).  Leaving post-modernism behind, both academically and culturally at present, there is a wide open door to critique this theory and Foucault’s argument.  Normally, when a thesis proposal lacks an argument against the opposition, it gains a point of demerit.  Not so with Foucault, since he pleads ignorance by the end of the book.  The real mistakes lie in over application and (like Weber) his failure to falsify his own points.  Foucault was not compelled, even in his post-modernistic thoughts of doubt, to disprove his own ideas.
Foucault believed that “power comes from below” and that there is no “all encompassing opposition between rulers” (94).  By this he meant that power is not a characteristic that one man possesses by himself to compel those below into submission.  Rather, power is something accepted by one man on the condition that there is a willingness to enforce it.  This is a bottom-up power relation and not a top-down power relation.  This is one example where he does not disprove anybodies ideas.  Undoubtedly, there are people that disagree with this claim and desire that Foucault at least make the attempt to find an example of a top-down power relation.  Traditionally, humankind asserts that power comes from the top; God creates the world and he delegates power to the governing authorities to “execute his wrath on the wrong doers”.  All that Foucault said was, “We must at the same time conceive of sex without the law, and power without the king” (91) and then later that power was “not an institution” (93). Whatever he believed personally about God he should have started the conversation there rather than in media res.  It is a bold move to suggest a descriptive philosophy without invoking God in a culture that is only barely separating itself from deities.
Foucault argued saying our culture, obsessed with sex, is evidence that sexuality is a fuel for power in the world.  This idea is mocked using the reductio ad absurdum.  Yes, the culture is obsessed with sex, but also obsessed with many other things.  The internet plays a huge role in society, along with media references, politics, money, pets, family values and humanitarian aid.  In other words, our attention directs towards all things both serious and frivolous.  One could make the same argument that Foucault does except replacing sexuality with memes or the economy like Marx already had done.  He over applies an argument which leads to proof for all, meaning proof for none.  What Foucault correlates and connects is invalid.  Eventually, he did validly argue that ending oppression would not open up sexuality.  He reveals that there has not been a direct repression of sex.  Foucault says, “power is tolerable only on condition that it masks a substantial part of itself.  Its success is proportioned to its ability to hide its own mechanisms” (86).  In this quote he means if a citizenry knew every last detail as to what the government was legislating and enforcing then very soon, there would be a revolution.  When human nature postures individuality one can be very disturbed if they see how many areas of life that the governing authorities control.  Man has always been obsessed with sex and the only distinctions were the level of prudence regarding it, which Foucault might suggest, the government attempts to dictate.  At one point in history we were very open in conversation about sex and then it got awkward in the middle ages.  But afterwards, it opened up again.  But, it must be pointed out that just because one does not want to talk about sex that they do not think about it constantly.
Foucault was a post-modernist.  This means that whatever he says, he says with reservations.  It is all relative and we cannot really know objective truth because our flawed perceptions inevitably get in the way.  This does not stop him from making assertions.  One deals with a man that develops a whole philosophy of how human civilization and empires work and then tells us that he is not sure about it.  But he spoke with such assurance through out the whole book.  Whatever his claims were, true or false, he acted as though it were clear and simply rational with all the data gathered.  Why ought anybody listen to him even if he cannot be sure of himself?  All that this leads us to, and the bulk of post-modernism does, is a pointless endeavor to discover that we are all ignorant.  Understandably, to plead ignorance gives points towards humility.  The world of academics demands that one argue a thesis with certainty, but Foucault does not want to be executed with his ideas if they are proven incorrect.  Perhaps he is not culpable for this mistake, but it fails in present society.
So, Foucault fantastically observes human nature.  Like Weber, he does a good job of describing small isolated incidents.  His follies were many and can be summed up in his failure to disprove any argument and his over application and his contentment of post-modernism’s contradiction with his argumentative voice. Largely, this is an over-rated book and should be ignored for its inability to properly discuss such serious topics.