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Imitatio Christi

The Poetics of Piety in Early Modern England

Nandra Perry

Publication Year: 2014

In Imitatio Christi: The Poetics of Piety in Early Modern England, Nandra Perry explores the relationship of the traditional devotional paradigm of imitatio Christi to the theory and practice of literary imitation in early modern England. While imitation has long been recognized as a central feature of the period’s pedagogy and poetics, the devotional practice of imitating Christ’s life and Passion has been historically regarded as a minor element in English Protestant piety. Perry reconsiders the role of the imitatio Christi not only within English devotional culture but within the broader culture of literary imitation. She traces continuities and discontinuities between sacred and secular notions of proper imitation, showing how imitation worked in both contexts to address anxieties, widespread after the Protestant Reformation, about the reliability of “fallen” human language and the epistemological value of the body and the material world. The figure of Sir Philip Sidney—Elizabethan England’s premier defender of poetry and internationally recognized paragon of Christian knighthood—functions as a nexus for Perry’s treatment of a wide variety of contemporary literary and religious genres, all of them concerned in one way or another with the ethical and religious implications of imitation. Throughout the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods, the Sidney legacy was appropriated by men and women, Catholics and Protestants alike, making it an especially useful vehicle for tracing the complicated relationship of imitatio Christi to the various literary, confessional, and cultural contexts within and across which it often operated. Situating her project within a generously drawn version of the Sidney “circle” allows Perry to move freely across the boundaries that often delimit treatments of early modern English piety. Her book is a call for renewed attention to the imitation of Christ as a productive category of literary analysis, one that resists overly neat distinctions between Catholic and Protestant, sacred and secular, literary art and cultural artifact.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

I set out to explore the roots of early modern literary culture in the dream of a transcendent Word, only to become caught up in a story about the inextricability of human meaning making from the gritty mysteries of incarnation. That same trajectory has marked my behind-the-scenes process...

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pp. 1-16

In the introductory epistle to his 1580 translation and Protestantization of Thomas à Kempis’s devotional treatise Imitatio Christi, Thomas Rogers makes a case for the continued relevance of this Continental, latemedieval text to his English Protestant audience: “A shame were it therefore...

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Chapter 1: The Church Eloquent

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pp. 17-64

The parallel careers of Thomas Rogers (ca. 1553– 1616) and Philip Sidney (1554– 86) offer a useful starting point for exploring the major intersections between devotional and literary models of good imitatio in early modern England. Sidney’s biography is far and away the more familiar. A...

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Chapter 2: The Sound of Silence

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pp. 65-106

Elizabeth Tanfield Cary, author of The Tragedy of Mariam (1613), was the first female playwright to be published in England. She is also the subject of one of the earliest extant biographies of an Englishwoman, The Lady Falkland: Her Life by One of Her Daughters.1 This coincidence has...

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Chapter 3: The “Book of Virtue”

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pp. 107-156

Let us begin with a literary miracle tale. Shortly after Charles I’s January 30, 1649, beheading outside the Banqueting House of Whitehall Palace, he was resurrected—not in his mundane human form, but in a glorified textual body, a compendium of political commentary and pious meditations...

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Chapter 4: The Church (P)articulate

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pp. 157-200

Charles’s bid for martyrdom may have precipitated Milton’s break with the “Sidnean” aesthetic of Protestant imitatio, but the breadth and depth of that rupture are perhaps better appreciated by way of an earlier Puritan Passion narrative. On June 30, 1637, John Bastwick, William Prynne, and...


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pp. 201-242


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pp. 243-266

Index, About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 267-280

E-ISBN-13: 9780268089764
E-ISBN-10: 0268089760
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268038410
Print-ISBN-10: 0268038414

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 3 halftones
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 880236317
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Imitatio Christi

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
  • Piety in literature.
  • Imitation in literature.
  • Christianity and literature -- England -- History -- 16th century.
  • Christianity and literature -- England -- History -- 17th century.
  • Imitatio Christi.
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