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The Cultural Imagination of Early Modern England
Tropes provide access into habits of thought and worldviews—they express a climate of opinion and a hermeneutical context. Focusing on the textual activity of major cultural tropes, this study demonstrates the ways in which they enunciate and transform the cultural imagination on matters of love and power in the world, the body politic, and the rising sphere of personal life in early modern England. In 12 essays, prominent Renaissance scholars extend the theoretical analysis and application of the four tropes identified by Gale Carrithers and James Hardy: theater, moment, journey, and ambassadorship.
Renaissance tropologies and habits of thought are here demonstrated through exegesis of the works of Shakespeare, Vaughan, and especially John Donne, whose writings, because they explore the most provocative issues of his day, are a lens through which one can understand the surrounding culture. The text itself is organized around the four tropes, and their cross-disciplinary approach to cultural phenomenon is part of the move toward a more fully historicized rhetorical analysis of texts.
The Aesthetics of Doubt in the Sonnets and Plays
In this original and compelling new study, Suzanne M. Tartamella casts new light on seemingly quite familiar material — Shakespeare’s Sonnets and a number of his plays, including Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, and Antony and Cleopatra. By placing the Sonnets within the context of the literary history of praise poetry, and exploring the underlying influence of early modern skepticism on Shakespeare’s writing, this book truly enhances our understanding of the subtleties and complexities in all of Shakespeare’s work. In our own contemporary culture of doubt and anxiety, investigating the classical skepticism present in Shakespeare’s sonnets and plays deepens our sense of his relevance, suggesting that he could just as easily have traded ideas with Friedrich Nietzsche as with Ben Jonson or John Donne. To truly consider this Renaissance philosophy of doubt, Tartamella traces Shakespeare’s relations with his poetic precursors, including Petrarch, Dante, and Sidney. During the Reformation, then, an age of radical experimentation and reform, Shakespeare revised conventional methods of praise by doing more than simply mocking or challenging these literary precursors; rather, he transformed a poetics of praise into a poetics of appraisal. Tartamella’s approach here encompasses both new historicism and a wide-ranging history of ideas. As a result, perhaps the most intriguing demonstration of this poetics and its manifestations are Tartamella’s cross-genre examinations of the Sonnets and some of Shakepeare’s best-known dramatic characters, drawing unique and original correlations. The sonnets to the young man, with their melancholy tenor, are linked to the ghost in Hamlet, while the more physical and combative sonnets to the dark lady are related to Katerina in The Taming of the Shrew. These complex relationships, further considered in her final discussion of Antony and Cleopatra and the ways in which it harmonizes the characteristic problems of both sonnet sequences, are truly at the heart of Shakespearean tragedy and comedy. Students of both literature and philosophy will find this book important, as it offers a nuanced analysis of the intersections between literature and intellectual history, a comprehensive examination of Shakespeare’s poetry and plays, the history of epideictic poetry, and an exploration of the impact of skepticism on the whole of Renaissance literature.
Ancient Rhetorical Theory and Contemporary Communication
Rhetoric and the Gift, taking as its starting point the Homeric idea of the gift and Aristotle’s related rhetorical theory, explores rhetoric not only at the level of the artful response but at the level of the call and response. Mari Lee Mifsud takes up a number of questions crucial to thinking about contemporary communication: What does it mean that communication is a system of exchange with others? How are we to deal with questions of ethics in an economic system of power and authority? Can exchange ever be truly generous, and can communication, then, ever be free? Is there a more ethical way of relating and communicating, and might there be a different self-other relationship more conducive to a free people? As a historian of ancient Greek rhetorical theory, Mifsud examines these questions of contemporary significance by turning first to Aristotle’s many citations of and references to Homer in order to discern the emergence of a system of exchange thought to be appropriate for a democratic polis. As she elucidates, the Homeric system of exchange — gift-giving — was used by Aristotle as a metaphor for rhetoric’s function, as he distinguished the gift as a system of exchange within the functioning of the polis, operating between individuals and society to bind people to people and cultures to cultures. These ancient ideas are shown to relate directly to our modern arguments concerning exception and exceptionalism as they play out in politics, law, and culture. Such questions of exchange, thus, are shown to reverberate and continue to circulate through conversations in philosophy and communication, ranging across a great deal of recent study. Mifsud’s discussion of a variety of contemporary thinkers, together with her historical and theoretical approach, offers rich possibilities for new trajectories of relating the self and other, providing the critical, hermeneutical, and theoretical resources for thinking otherwise about rhetorical conceptions of relational ethics in communication, on both a personal and political level.
Fallenness and Poetic Tradition in <i>Paradise Lost</i>
Readers of Paradise Lost have long been struck by two prominent—and seemingly unrelated—aspects of the poem: its compelling depiction of Satan and its deep engagement with its literary (and specifically epic) tradition. Satan’s Poetry brings these two issues together to provide a bold, provocative, and fresh reading of the poem—one that responds to the resurgent interest in Milton’s Satan by examining the origins of conflict and ambiguity in Paradise Lost. Without needing to resolve whether Satan is the hero or the villain, a mastermind or fool, Satan’s Poetry examines the more fundamental role of Satan as the origin of the fallen world, the entity that initiates the poem—perhaps, indeed, that initiates poetry itself. Paradise Lost, like all else in our fallen human existence, is permeated by Satan’s evil, which alters human life in ways that cannot be remedied within the course of human history, but Milton’s epic demonstrates that this generative evil does not ultimately determine what fallen creatures can do with that life. The whole point of the poem, then, can be seen as an attempt to understand what Satan’s fall means for us, the poem’s fallen readers, and only by achieving that understanding and working within our fallenness can our fallen state be resolved in the promise of redemption. Drawing on the philosophical frameworks of Hegel and Adorno, Satan’s Poetry argues that satanic creation, although fundamentally negative, nevertheless exists positively in Milton’s universe by virtue of its dialectical relation to God’s creation. Qualitatively different from God’s creation, producing only fragments, satanic creation is essential for Milton because it is the only mode of creation available to fallen consciousness, and therefore the only kind available to the poem seeking to create itself. So it is unnecessary, St. Hilaire concludes, to assume that sympathy for the devil means implicit agreement with the devil, or that Milton’s narrator must dissociate himself from Satan in order to justify God’s ways. Paradise Lost is Satan’s poetry because it participates in a form of existence that is in need of redemption; it is by embracing this fact that it renders itself fit for redemptive reading.
For the Common Good
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.
The Art of Almost Raising the Dead
This engaging book demonstrates Shakespeare’s abiding interest in the theatrical potential of the Christian resurrection from the dead. In 14 of Shakespeare’s plays, characters who have been lost, sometimes for years, suddenly reappear—seemingly returning from the dead. In the classical recognition scene, such moments are explained away in naturalistic terms—a character was lost at sea but survived, or abducted and escaped, and so on. Shakespeare never invalidates such explanations, but in his manipulation of classical conventions he parallels these moments with the recognition scenes from the Gospels, repeatedly evoking Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
Benson’s close study of the plays, as well as the classical and biblical sources that Shakespeare fuses into his recognition scenes, clearly elucidates the ways in which the playwright explored his abiding interest in the human desire to transcend death and to live reunited and reconciled with others. In his manipulation of resurrection imagery, Shakespeare conflates the material with the immaterial, the religious with the secular, and the sacred with the profane.
Reinterpreting Samson Agonistes
Samson Agonistes is the climax and completion of Milton’s poetic vision. As such, it has become the work at which the critical controversies in Milton studies converge and from which new critical perspectives on Milton’s poems emerge. In 1969, John Carey heralded the birth of new critical perspectives when he contended that Milton’s dramatic poem "is not a drama of inner regeneration," a view that flies in the face of traditional interpretation, which tends to perceive Samson as a hero of regeneration. Carey also focused on Samson’s “tragic sulk” and the “theatre-demolition” at the feast of Dagon. Following Carey’s lead, other critics, notably Irene Samuel, began to question the various elements, large and small, of the traditional interpretation of Milton’s dramatic poem. Milton’s religious and political thinking, his use of prosody and verse, his outlook on tragedy, and the like were all reexamined. Since this revisionist view of Samson Agonistes began to develop, it has unfolded with a decisiveness and momentum that now challenge the traditional view, if not overthrow it. The dramatic poem’s ambiguities highlight Milton’s innovative adaptation of the biblical narrative concerning Samson, undermine the traditional ideas of Samson’s election by God and his redemption, question the typological alignment of the Hebraic and Christian scriptures whereby Samson traditionally is perceived as a “hero of faith” who prefigures the mission and ministry of Jesus, and draw attention to Milton's use of Arminianism, Calvinism, and other theological views. This book contends that there are several Samsons in the dramatic poem and multiple contexts and various traditions that bring to light Milton’s unique rendition of a kaleidoscopic protagonist. To achieve its purposes, this book forges and deploys a new critical vocabulary of paramount importance not only to Miltonists but to critical theorists generally.
Milton, Marriage, and Friendship
This book takes a fresh look at John Milton’s major poems—Paradise Lost, Samson Agonistes, and Paradise Regained—and a few of the minor ones in light of a new analysis of Milton’s famous tracts on divorce. Luxon contends that Milton’s work is best understood as part of a major cultural project in which Milton assumed a leading role—the redefinition of Protestant marriage as a heteroerotic version of classical friendship, originally a homoerotic cultural practice. Schooled in the humanist notion that man was created as a godlike being, Milton also believed that what marked man as different from God is loneliness. Milton’s reading of Genesis—“it is not good for man to be alone”—prescribes a wife as the remedy for this “single imperfection,” but Milton thought marriage had fallen to such a degraded state that it required a reformation. As a humanist, Milton looked to classical culture, especially to Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero, for a more dignified model of human relations—friendship. Milton reimagined marriage as a classical friendship, without explicitly conceptualizing the issues of gender construction. Nor did he allow the chief tenet of classical friendship, equality, to claim a place in reformed marriage. Single Imperfection traces the path of friendship theory through Milton’s epistolary friendship with Charles Diodati, his elegies, divorce pamphlets, and major poems. The book will prompt even more reinterpretations of Milton’s poetry in an age that is anxiously redefining marriage once again.
Milton's Literary Ecclesiology
Ken Simpson’s study, focusing on John Milton’s Paradise Regained, examines the literary ecclesiology of this most subtle and elusive of Milton’s works. While far less critical attention has been given to Paradise Regained over the years as compared to Paradise Lost and others of Milton’s canon, it might be argued that Paradise Regained may be read as a full and culminating expression of Milton’s views on the doctrine of the church, the nature of the Word, prophecy and vocation, and apocalypticism. As Simpson asserts, in Paradise Regained Milton not only continues his critique of the English Reformation by confronting the failures of the Restoration settlement, but he also continues to develop the consistent theology of the church that preoccupied him in his prose during the civil war and Interregnum. Theology, polemics, and poetry were not backgrounds of one another in Milton’s work, nor was theology a set of abstract propositions to which all discourses referred; rather, these were overlapping fields of discourse that offered different opportunities to fulfill the religious imperative to build the church. Simpson examines Milton’s view of the church as a textual community—a group of participants in the church who are each guided by the Holy Spirit in their reading of the Word. The interplay of silence and the Word, then, in Paradise Regained demonstrates that interpretive authority must always defer to the Spirit rather than tradition. This approach also shapes Milton’s construction of ministry, liturgy, and church militancy in the poem. Simpson’s provocative and unique examination of Milton and Paradise Regained will become an indispensable study, offering new views of this somewhat neglected poem.
Deity, Discourse, and Heresy in the Miltonic Canon
In lively, forceful, and at times witty language, Michael Lieb has written an illuminating study of the figure of God as a literary character in the writings of John Milton. Milton’s God has always been a provocative and controversial figure, and Lieb offers a fresh way to look at the relationship between the language of theology and the language of poetry in Milton’s works. He draws into the discussion previous authors on the subject—Patrides, Hunter, Kelley, Empson, Danielson, Rumrich, and others—resulting in a dynamic debate about Milton’s multifarious God. By stressing God’s multivalent qualities, Theological Milton offers an innovative perspective on the darker side of the divinity. Lieb allows us to see a Miltonic God of hate as well as a God of love, a God who is a creator as well as a destroyer. Lieb directly confronts the more troubling faces of God in a manner richly informed by Milton’s own theology. Against the theoretical framework for the idea of addressing God as a distinctly literary figure, Lieb presents Milton in the historical milieu prior to and contemporaneous with his works. More cogently than others, Lieb clarifies Milton’s theology of the godhead and the various heresies, such as Socinianism and Arianism, that informed the religious controversies of the seventeenth century. He does so in a manner that exemplifies how literature and theology are inextricably intertwined.