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  • Inventing Polemic: Religion, Print, and Literary Culture in Early Modern England
  • Robert B. Hamm Jr.
Lander, Jesse. M. Inventing Polemic: Religion, Print, and Literary Culture in Early Modern England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0521838541. Pp. 334. $85.00.

This ambitious book argues that polemic emerges as a new and legitimate form of writing in early modern England through a reciprocal relationship of the Reformation and print technology. This new print genre, in turn, helped to shape the emerging literary culture. Of course, earlier periods witnessed contentious or polemical exchanges. But the printed book, Lander asserts, with its ability to reach a wide and diverse public readership, fundamentally altered polemic and distinguished it from these earlier forms. Understanding the influence of this hostile and combative form of writing on a range of discursive forms reveals the polemical nature of early modern England. As Lander puts it (p. 5):

In the first instance, I seek to demonstrate the way in which polemical concerns mark even those texts from the period that we have found most emphatically literary. In the second instance, I hope to show how the modern notion of 'the literary' is in part constituted through a repudiation of polemic that imposes a historical amnesia, a willful forgetting of the polemical engagements of the past.

Each of chapters one through five offers a case study of a particular publishing event, and together this group or "constellation" of texts, Lander argues, reveals how polemic influenced the literary culture of early modern England (5).

Chapters one through three emphasize the roles of publishers and printers in the production of the respective texts. Chapter one, "'Foxe's' Books of Martyrs: printing and popularizing the Actes and Monuments", analyzes the [End Page 159] process by which this ecclesiastical history, one of the most influential texts of Elizabethan Protestant culture, became institutionalized at the end of the sixteenth century. Through a close examination of the publishing history of the text—in particular, the edition of 1576 and the 1589 Abridgement prepared by Timothy Bright—Landers usefully demonstrates that the book had neither a single author nor singular identity. Understanding the place of Actes and Monuments in Elizabethan England's religious culture, he insists, requires us to examine its complicated material history. Chapter two, "Martin Marprelate and the fugitive text", takes up theological controversy and examines the series of anti-Episcopal tracts written by an anonymous writer or group of writers between October 1588 and September 1589. Lander first examines Marprelate's attacks on the materiality of certain books produced in support of the episcopacy and demonstrates that the tracts themselves exploit an innovative range of print conventions in an attempt to sway a wider readership. He then focuses on the tracts' arguments and the strategies by which they "attempt to forge a collective identity through polemical engagement with both the bishops and the puritans" (83). Marprelate's tracts, Lander argues, "succeeded in popularizing polemic" (108). Chapter three, "'Whole Hamlets': Q1, Q2, and the work of distinction", examines the role of polemic in a distinctly literary genre, tragedy. Lander follows recent scholarship that sees Q1 and Q2 as coherent texts, yet rather than focusing on Shakespeare or the theater to explain the differences between the two, he considers how each produces a distinct readership. In contrast to Q1's advertised connections to performance, Q2 offers a longer and more "literary" work, one unmediated by the theater, aimed at the solitary reader of taste. While neither of the two quartos is a polemic, a close comparison of their textual differences leads Lander to conclude that Q2 "both dramatizes and repudiates polemical culture", a key difference that, for Lander, "anticipates the establishment of literature" (141, 144).

While publishers and printers are prominent in the previous chapters, chapters four and five pay greater attention to authorial intentions. While critics typically present a "manuscript Donne", one who resisted print culture, in chapter four, "Printing Donne: poetry and polemic in the early seventeenth century", Lander convincingly argues for a reassessment of both his relation to print culture and polemic. The publication of Pseudo-Martyr, Donne's religious polemic, reveals "the growing prestige of printed polemic offered the possibility...


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