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The Self in Early Modern Literature

For the Common Good

By Terry G. Sherwood

Publication Year: 2007

This study is a response to a continuing debate stimulated primarily by cultural materialist and new historicist claims that the early modern self was decentered and fragmented by forces in Elizabethan and Jacobean England. The current study enters this debate by rejecting claims of such radical discontinuity characterizing a “contingent” and “provisional” self incapable of unified subjectivity. The counterargument in The Self in Early Modern Literature: For the Common Good is that the intersection of Protestant vocation and Christian civic humanism, in support of the common good, was a stabilizing factor in early modern construction of self that resisted historical and cultural dislocations.

The theoretical issues at stake are examined in an introductory chapter, followed by chapters discussing central aspects of five major early modern writers whose works variously incorporate elements in Protestant vocation and Christian civic humanism. These five writers have been chosen both for their importance in the English literary canon and for their respective roles in early modern culture: “Spenser: Persons Serving Gloriana”; “Shakespeare’s Henriad: Calling the Heir Apparent”; “‘Ego Videbo’: Donne and the Vocational Self”; “Jonson and the Truth of Envy”; “Milton: Self-Defense and the Drama of Blame.” The study ends with a brief postscript on the Bacon family in whom the combined forces of Protestant vocation and Christian civic humanism were uniquely expressed.

Published by: Duquesne University Press


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Front Matter

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. 1-49

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pp. 50-102

Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene begins in medias res. A “Gentle Knight” ( on a “great adventure” given by Gloriana, the “greatest Glorious Queene of Faerie lond,” is silhouetted against a plain. The occasion for his “adventure” rides beside him, a “louely Lady” (1.i.4.1) grieving for royal parents in...

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pp. 103-143

Shakespeare’s Henriad chronicles the experience of Henry V of England, first as the ambivalent heir apparent to his usurper father, Henry IV, then as the kingly victor over the French monarchy. The problematic Falstaff, his summary rejection by the newly crowned king, the relationships between the plays, the dimensions...

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pp. 144-191

In a 1620 Lincoln’s Inn sermon Donne boldly impersonated Job’s voice in affirming the identity of the self at the resurrection. He, too, would stand face to face, person to person, before the resurrected Christ at the resurrection: “Ego, I, I the same body, and the same soul, shall be recompact again, and be identically, numerically, individually...

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pp. 192-258

Ben Jonson’s famous poem on William Shakespeare begins with a disclaimer. Jonson will draw no envy on Shakespeare’s name through inflated praise, even though neither man nor muse can praise Shakespeare’s writings too much. And “’Tis true” that “all...

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pp. 259-319

John Milton’s pride in being chosen to defend the new English republic against attack was unabashed. He welcomed “the glorious task of defending the very defenders” of “civil life and religion.” 1 His A Defence of the People of England (1651)2 earned widespread European approval, and even after the republican...

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pp. 320-330

The intention of Edmund Spenser’s “vertuous lore” is to fashion persons serving the common good. In Spenser, and many other writers with similar intentions, such transforming lore includes the lives of poets as expressed in their works. As Spenser’s admirer, John Milton...


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pp. 331-373


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pp. 375-384

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705132
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820703954

Page Count: 391
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 608098717
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Self in Early Modern Literature

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Subject Headings

  • Self in literature.
  • Common good.
  • Renaissance -- England.
  • England -- Intellectual life -- 16th century.
  • England -- Intellectual life -- 17th century.
  • English literature -- Early modern, 1500-1700 -- History and criticism.
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