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An assessment of recent scholarly work treating the literature of the English Renaissance and some general observations on the state of the profession. A full bibliography and price list of works received by SEL for consideration follow.

Since this year's review considers books published in the twelve months from the autumn of 2017—pretty well exactly five hundred years since Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517—one might expect the quincentenary of the Reformation to be marked by a corresponding spike of books on the subject. Sure enough, a sizeable number of this year's batch are in one way or another concerned with the religious upheavals of the period. The obvious place to begin, therefore, is with The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern English Literature and Religion, edited by Andrew Hiscock and Helen Wilcox, which, although extending from the beginning of Henry VII's reign to the end of Queen Anne's, is effectively a handbook of the Reformation. In keeping with the series format, the volume is both exhaustive and inclusive. Its longest section, for example, on "Interpretative Communities," covers topics such as lay households, convents, sectarian groups, and various exilic communities including the Jewish diaspora, Muslim groups, and Puritan settlers. The volume is also particularly attentive to women and to the enlarged and empowered roles as writers, preachers, martyrs, scientists, translators, visionaries, prophets, mystics, and nuns that the Reformation and Counter-Reformation [End Page 203] allowed them. Wary of any simplistic periodizing schemes that do little but provide "historiographies of triumph" for one religious constituency or another, the opening essay by Stephen Kelly sets the tone by attending instead "to 'circumstance': to those moments when fifteenth- and sixteenth-century writers reflected on the religious tensions of their own times without capitulating to narratives of supersession" (p. 26). History, that is to say, is here presented synchronically, and "literature" understood not as some rarefied category implying "standards of quality, aesthetic superiority, artistic intention, and a distinction from more mundane and uninspired sorts of writing," as Hannibal Hamlin puts it (p. 560), but rather as the entire textual production of the given moment under scrutiny.

This deprivileging of the aesthetic, of course, is a key feature of what Torrance Kirby calls the "new hermeneutics" (p. 59) of the Protestant Reformation, which, by insisting on a clear distinction between signifier and signified, effectively devalued human language in relation to God's Word—verba in relation to res—and led, among other things, to the Reformers' typical love of plainness and horror of idolatry. In Common: The Development of Literary Culture in Sixteenth-Century England, Neil Rhodes considers at length the ways in which the antiliterary bias of the Reformation held back the development of the Renaissance in England, delaying its full literary flowering until the 1590s. Discussing Cornelius Agrippa's De incertitudine et vanitate scientiarum et artium (1530), for instance, he notes that "nothing written during [the Reformation] era encapsulates more completely the paralysing conflict between humanist learning and radical evangelical contempt for all the products of human creativity" (p. 102). With the appearance of Tottel's Miscellany in 1557, "[y]et again we can see the arrested development of literary culture in this period" in terms of "an antipathy towards the dangerous lure of the aesthetic" (p. 172): a situation rescued only by Philip Sidney's defense of poetry against such evangelical attack, and by the making of literature and language "common"—in the dual sense of "universal" and "base"—by means both of translations of secular literature into the vernacular and of Spenser's common touch.

The contributors to What Is an Image in Medieval and Early Modern England?, edited by Antoinina Bevan Zlatar and Olga Timofeeva, similarly explore the impact this Reformation iconophobia had on artistic production, and tease out what Alexandra Walsham and Andrew Morrall both describe as the distinctly "Protestant aesthetic" (pp. 84 and 234) to which that very iconophobia [End Page 204] gave rise. Thus, while three-dimensional images were proscribed, contrastingly flat and pictorial representations were permitted and even encouraged, preferably when accompanied by text, as in the illustrations to John Foxe's Actes and Monuments (1563) or micrographic portraits where the sitter's face was constructed entirely from tiny lines of (usually biblical) transcription. In aiming to promote representations that manifestly pointed beyond themselves, such art forms emerged directly from the Reformers' attempt to neutralize idolatry by means of subordinating image to text.

Walsham's essay in this collection also provides a fascinating account of the way Protestant and Catholic ideologues alike made (paradoxical) images of image-breaking in order to present the violent iconoclasm of the period as respectively heroic or destructive, in both cases using the visual image to distort history while professing to document it. Like the rest of Walsham's work, this serves to remind us of the revisionist history that has brought the Catholic experience of the Reformation in from the cold where, as James E. Kelly and Susan Royal, the editors of Early Modern English Catholicism: Identity, Memory, and Counter-Reformation, note, it languished "just ten years ago" (p. 1). As with a number of other publications from Brill, this collection advances the revisionist agenda and includes essays by Eamon Duffy on private prayer (the little-known flood of devotional writings entering the country with the first arrival of seminary priests in the 1570s), by Susan-nah Brietz Monta on public prayer (in the form of John Austin's 1668 Devotions), and by Elizabeth Patton and Earle Havens on the cosmopolitan and polyglot nature of the Counter-Reformation (discussing a manuscript inventory of 1587 that records the distribution and receipt of over 600 illicit Catholic imprints in England). This latter theme is also the subject of the collection Publishing Subversive Texts in Elizabethan England and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, edited by Teresa Bela, Clarinda Calma, and Jolanta Rzegocka, in which essays by Walsham and Havens again stress that the evidence of Catholic devotional works in Elizabethan England suggests "the internationalism of the British Counter-Reformation and its book trade" (p. 131) and "a far sharper emphasis on international Catholic identity and confessional cosmopolitanism than has been generally acknowledged or explored" (p. 219). Spencer J. Weinreich's English translation of Pedro de Ribadeneyra's Ecclesiastical History of the Schism of the Kingdom of England—itself a translation into Spanish of Nicholas Sander's De origine ac progressu schismatis anglicani (1585)—provides [End Page 205] another example of revisionist scholarship that has seen "a marked rise in the appreciation of the sophistication of Catholic textual practice in the Reformation" (p. 101). Published in 1588, Ribadeneyra's text used Sander's to make the case for Spanish military action against England, thereby resonating with "the ongoing scholarly conversation about the European and global dimensions of the English Reformation" (p. 105).

By far the most ambitious book within this grouping, however, is Paul Cefalu's magnificent The Johannine Renaissance in Early Modern English Literature and Theology, a major revision of an already robust revisionist history which has steadily eroded any residual, monolithic model of "Protestant poetics" such as may still survive by means of a growing number of sacramentalist readings of Reformation theology and literature. Cefalu's powerful intervention is to show how a distinctively Johannine theology—indeed, a distinctive "Johannine sacramentalism" (p. 37)—is intrinsic to this development. He describes the surprising absence of work on Johannine themes in seventeenth-century poetry as "a notable omission" (p. 10), one that owes much to the traditional emphasis on Pauline theology in Reformation studies. The problem—that "we have been looking too intently at Paul and not closely enough at John" (p. 23)—is what this book sets out to remedy. Against ongoing assumptions that the Pauline theology of justification by faith is central to the religious poetry of the period, Cefalu proposes in the Johannine writings—high, Platonic, ecstatic, and rhetorical—a quite different model: one in which dour themes of atonement and expiation are replaced by those of revelation and love. Indeed, the rhetorical and stylistic features of John's writings are key to Cefalu's case. Compared with the Synoptics, John's Gospel "offers the most poetic and dramatic depictions of Christ's ministry" by making use of such literary devices as stable/unstable irony, chiasmus, anaphora, symbolism, lexicalization, and the production of an enigmatic, riddling "anti-language" (p. 11, emphasis original). Being "hymnic, densely troped and symbolic, structured, inspired," the Johan-nine literature is "so richly literary" (p. 28) that poets of the period were moved to emulate its style as much as its content, and were particularly drawn to its illocutionary aspect as a speech act in which the (Socratic) use of irony, misunderstanding, and indirection served the pedagogic purpose of arriving at truth. The poetry that imitated this style and address (and poems by John Donne, George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Henry Vaughan, Thomas Traherne, and Milton are among those discussed) thus [End Page 206] constituted a "revelatory poetics" (p. 29) that transcended confessional divisions as well as holding a special appeal for radical sectarians. In the course of his study, Cefalu also strongly revises the Weberian "disenchantment" thesis—that the Reformation was the point when "God left the world," as Regina Schwartz put it (Sacramental Poetics at the Dawn of Secularism [2008])—by arguing that, in Johannine theology, the nature of God's hiddenness is relative to what he reveals, and the deus absconditus precisely what necessitates a spiritual as opposed to a material relation. As a result, he argues, the Reformation brought with it a heightened, not a reduced, sense of supernatural forces at work in the world. "Far from removing divine presence, early modern Protestant culture paradoxically intensified that presence," and the Johannine Renaissance contributed "in profound ways to an enchantment narrative that typically exalts sacred presence" (p. 313).

Cefalu's book brings dazzling focus to a now swelling revisionist history of Reformation theology, culture, literature, and poetics by drawing attention to the missing link—the occluded chapter, hidden in plain sight—namely, the evangelical writings of John. By comparison, Abraham Stoll's Conscience in Early Modern English Literature seems to revert to certain prerevisionist assumptions when it claims that "[c]onscience must be theorized … because it has come to occupy such a central position in the theology of the Reformation" (p. 12), Luther's famous tower conversion serving as model for the exemplary Protestant crisis of conscience. Tracing a shift toward the public and political discourses of conscience in Thomas Hobbes and Milton, the book begins by characterizing the Protestant conscience as being, by comparison with its Catholic forebear, inward and authentic: in the case of Shakespeare's Richard III, for example, the poetry "brings us to a faculty which finds authenticity in deep inwardness" (p. 6). Timothy Rosendale's Theology and Agency in Early Modern Literature takes a similarly Protestant line by offering an avowedly Calvinist reading of the "agency problem" (p. 19), the age-old struggle between free and divine will. In many of the texts discussed (by Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, Shakespeare, John Ford, Donne, and Milton), this problem finds itself resolved in the willing surrender of the human will to God. In the case of Shakespeare's Hamlet, for example, the prince fails to act so long as he assumes autonomous agency and it is only when he resigns this to a higher power that the play is unblocked and action made possible: "[o]ne logic [i.e., revenge] demands balance and reciprocity in the name of justice, while the other inverts that into the gloriously unjust asymmetry [End Page 207] of grace" (p. 133). In the case of Donne, the poet's lifelong struggle with renouncing agency is only resolved in the last months of his life: "only at the very end was he able to experience surrender, not as defeat, but as peace" (p. 183).

Just as Rosendale argues that we will never understand the literary texts of the period "if we decline to attend deeply and openly to the theological principles and problems" that frame their world view (p. 10), so P. M. Oliver makes a compelling case in Donne's God (the best of the books to be published in the Routledge Studies in Renaissance Literature and Culture series this year) that it is impossible to understand Donne's religious writing without a "basic knowledge of the main threads of Christian theology" (p. xiii). This book is more obviously revisionist than Rosendale's, however, as its nod to William Empson suggests, although it is not hostile to Christianity as Empson's study of Milton famously is. Instead, Oliver has produced a serious and densely informed book on Donne's theology—in the prose primarily and the sermons above all—as it relates to the poet's conception of God. While Reformed Protestantism remains the most important context for these texts, Oliver is at pains to explode the still prevailing myth that Donne's theology was in this respect "orthodox" (p. 6). His contention is that Donne was as original and creative a thinker in his theology as he was in everything else, and Oliver demonstrates this by paying particular attention to Donne's thinking on the Trinity (especially the role of the Holy Spirit therein) and to his notable stress on God's mercy as opposed to judgment. All this is expertly historicized in relation to theological debates of the period and the scholastic and patristic debates on which they drew, making thoroughly persuasive the book's conclusion that, in his theological writings, "Donne did something truly remarkable: he enabled the Reformed God to appear as loving and merciful. He made Reformed soteriological doctrine attractive" (p. 191).

The Reformation and religion also seem suitable headings under which to gather the numerous books on Milton published this year, the largest number of single-author studies by far. Paul Hammond's Milton's Complex Words, for example (another nod to Empson), comprises thirty-one essays on forty words—including the prefixes "re-" and "self-" and the punctuation mark "?"—that are key to Paradise Lost (although Paradise Regained, Samson Agonistes, and Comus are regularly referred to as well). Arranged alphabetically, the essays average at ten pages each, although "God" gets three times that and "Free" even more. The [End Page 208] book's subtitle calls them Essays on the Conceptual Structure of "Paradise Lost," but the preface describes them more modestly and accurately as "extended annotations to words whose meaning often seems to appear too obvious to merit glosses in editions of the poem" (p. viii). "God" gets thirty pages because it is "complex in an unusual way," on account not of its rich, varied, or contradictory semantic field or etymology but because the word "is, or should be, a perpetual reminder of its own failure" (p. 203) and what follows is largely a meditation on theology's apophatic tradition. Although Hammond acknowledges (in the essay on "I") that poetry adds depth and strangeness to language "by exploiting the resonances of words through exfoliating the history which is enfolded into our vocabulary" (p. 257), the book as a whole is not driven by a historicist or even a historical agenda. William Poole's Milton and the Making of "Paradise Lost" presents itself partly as a biography of Milton-the-scholar (through a reconstruction of his extensive reading), and partly as a "biography-of-a-poem" (p. xi, from inception to reception to becoming a classic). The "emotional core" (p. xii) of the book is Milton's loss of sight and the way this made him an oral poet—"a bard because he was blind" (p. 193)—but its intellectual core is the genesis of the poem: the way it emerged from its long heritage and its immediate intellectual environment in Milton's deep immersion in the Bible and theology. Describing itself as "an accessible introduction" (p. xi), the book is quite untroubled by any theoretical or methodological concerns. It carries no polemical agenda and indeed seems fairly hostile to such things: where previous readers "have relished the artistic effects of tension or ambiguity, 'energies' running counter to the stated purposes of the text," and even located "their version of literary value in such 'energies'" (p. 265), Poole clearly declines to do so. Instead, he chooses to read Paradise Lost on its own terms, claiming ultimately to have defended the poem "from a theological point of view" (p. 295). The book has the old-fashioned feel of a scholarly source study about it. Milton in Translation, a large collection of essays edited by Angelica Duran, Islam Issa, and Jonathan R. Olson, is important for bringing to notice the existence of over 300 translations of Milton into fifty-seven languages, and the fact that there have been more such translations in the last thirty years than the preceding 300. The emphasis here is less on religion than on politics (where these are separable), and it is fascinating to read, across a number of essays, of Milton's appropriation as a revolutionary in, for example, the Protestant colonies of North America (Thomas N. Corns), the Catholic colonies [End Page 209] of postindependence Latin America (Mario Murgia), and in both Maoist and contemporary China (Bing Yan).

Ronald Corthell and Corns's collection, Milton and Catholicism, offers a more pointedly revisionist take on Milton, identifying as it does with the recent projects that have "reshaped and complicated our understanding of Catholicism's place in early modern English religious history, as well as demonstrated the interdependence of Catholicism and Protestantism as ideological mirrors in fashioning religious identities and politics" (p. 7). Given Milton's lifelong intolerance of popery, the volume's ambitions necessarily remain modest—a matter of "picking open latent tensions and contradictions, exploring the nuances" (p. 12) rather than proposing any radical rereading—but we do learn here of Milton's anti-Catholicism as a strategy for reuniting otherwise divided reformers (Corns), of his occasional ability to distinguish the country and culture of Spain from its Catholic allegiance (Duran), and of his ability to represent the Virgin Mary in Paradise Regained in ways that are not as rabidly anti-Catholic as one might have expected (John Flood).

Immortality and the Body in the Age of Milton, edited by John Rumrich and Stephen M. Fallon in honor of William Kerrigan, carries a similarly revisionist agenda: on this occasion, the argument for Milton's monism, mortalism, and materialism. Departing from the Calvinist view of the utter degradation of the body and the bodily, these doctrines all suggest that the human body is not, or not only, a liability but also an opportunity for heroic striving, and both aspects are explored here in essays on Milton and others. Pursuing the same agenda is Naya Tsentourou's Milton and the Early Modern Culture of Devotion: Bodies at Prayer, which argues that Milton saw prayer as an embodied and psychosomatic phenomenon (one that, pace Paul, escaped "dualist divisions between body and mind or body and soul"), and which goes on to demonstrate this by means of an "anatomy of devotion" (p. 2) that explores posture, gesture, dress, sighs, tears, groans, and images of eating and intercourse as they pertain to the seventeenth-century practice of devotion. The theme of prayer as eating becomes the subject of a book-length study in Emily E. Stelzer's Gluttony and Gratitude: Milton's Philosophy of Eating. Drawing on an impressive range of sources (pre-Socratic, classical, patristic, scholastic, medieval, and Renaissance), this book uses gluttony as the portal through which to examine codes of temperance that extend from the physical up to the philosophical: an ascent that is ultimately emblematized by models of sublimation. Drawing [End Page 210] on Raphael's advice to Adam that "flow'rs and thir fruit / Man's nourishment, [are] by gradual scale sublim'd," such that "from these corporal nutriments perhaps / Your bodies may at last turn all to spirit" (Paradise Lost, 5.482–3, 96–7), Stelzer traces such sublimations from bodily digestion—the means by which, especially as theorized by Galen, food gets transformed into energy—to similar processes by means of which the taking of something in (knowledge, for example) likewise gets transformed into something purer and higher (wisdom, love, and the writing of inspired poetry, for example). Eating thereby becomes a metaphor for humanity's potential to become like the angels and to ascend toward theosis. The opposite of this ideal transformation is represented by Death who—visualized as a voracious hell-mouth whose sole aim "To stuff this Maw, this vast unhide-bound Corpse" (Paradise Lost, 10.601) is never satisfied—becomes the monstrous incarnation of gluttony: the ultimate sin not of overeating but of intemperance and ingratitude. In always wanting more, gluttony is the biggest obstacle to sublimation, which is why Satan and his crew are unceremoniously excreted from Heaven as noisome waste.

This year's group of Milton books undoubtedly peaks, however, with Tzachi Zamir's marvellous and mind-expanding Ascent: Philosophy and "Paradise Lost," a book at the interface of philosophy and literature that, by insisting on the difference between the disciplines and dismissing the "superficial interdisciplinary sentiment that celebrates the ways in which everything bleeds into everything else," succeeds in achieving "a more self-critical interdisciplinarity, aware of the fuller play of attraction and repulsion among competing thoughtful orientations" (pp. 2–3). The book is structured as a metaphorical climb undertaken by a philosopher and a believer as they work their way through the poem, exploring areas where they are able to agree and those where they are not. One of these areas is the question of knowledge—for the philosopher the possession of verifiable truths, for the believer a momentary hosting of wisdom—two competing metaphors that illuminate, in turn, the ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry. Where philosophy prizes clarity and "presupposes the referential adequacy of words and concepts," poetry seems "intent to bring out the opacity of language" and, in doing so, conveys not mastery but rather the "epistemic humility" that arises when readers are reminded that they are not reading an informative report or being granted full knowledge (p. 60). If, for the philosopher, knowledge properly leads to belief, for the believer it is the other way round, where belief is an attitude—a way of life—and where [End Page 211] knowledge is an ongoing process of perception and wonder, not the acceptance of "verified statements corresponding to clusters of facts" (p. 94). Between them, poetic language and poetic form make plain that poetry is aiming not for propositional truth, as philosophy is, but rather for meaningfulness, even where meaningfulness can be extended to things that, strictly speaking, are false (like fiction or myth, as Sidney pointed out). If the tension between the philosopher and the believer is ultimately between truth and meaningfulness—where truth is correctness, and meaningfulness the living of a meaningful life, the putting of belief into action—then poetry (and Milton's poetry above all) comes down firmly on the side of the latter: "'You are probably right in your belief that the unexamined life is not worth living,' Milton would tell Socrates. 'But,' he would (Socratically) add … 'let us first agree on what we mean by life'" (p. 120, emphasis original).

In Zamir's analysis, the meaningful life for Milton entails the recognition that "one lives within a gift" (p. 122), and perhaps the most important thing to take away from this book is its dazzling revision of gift theory. Going beyond Marcel Mauss, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-Luc Marion, Zamir builds on the polarities already discussed to differentiate between two ways of responding to a gift. The first, being economic and reward-based, focuses on the gift itself. In Paradise Lost this position is articulated by Satan in his calculation that any gift must be repaid, balanced out, or neutralized by means of a counter-gift, however practically unpayable: "The debt immense of endless gratitude, / So burdensome, still paying, still to owe" (4.52–3). The second, being uneconomic and acknowledgment-based, focuses instead on the giver, and is glimpsed in Satan's all too momentary recollection of this as an alternative:

Forgetful what from him I still received,And understood not that a grateful mindBy owing owes not, but still pays, at onceIndebted and discharged.


Adam and Eve's test—which takes the form (in the forbidden fruit) of a part of God's gift being withheld—is to focus on the giver, not on the gift: a test, of course, which they fail but which, in their postlapsarian condition, they and their readers are given an opportunity to reattempt by adopting the religious attitude [End Page 212] that chooses to perceive this world and our life in it as a gift and not a given.

By attending to the difference between poetic and philosophical modes of justification, Zamir focuses on the things that literature, and specifically religious poetry, is able to do that philosophy is not, and over the course of the book he suggests that Milton's dramatizations of knowledge and gratitude are capable of teaching philosophy something, if only to know its place. It is precisely because justifying the ways of God to men did not entail for Milton the "airtight conceptual moves" (p. 189) a professional philosopher might make that Paradise Lost is something from which philosophy can learn.


Zamir's book, I venture, is also something from which literary criticism might learn, for one of the most refreshing things about it is that, unlike virtually every other book I will be discussing in this review, it clearly sees no need whatsoever to relate itself to current methodological practices within the discipline, the most dominant of which remains historicism. No alignment with such practices, no attempt at a variation of them, no declared opposition to them, no justification for differing from them. These days, it seems, only a philosopher can write an entirely unhistorical book about a poem and suggest that the poem's position within history, however interesting or important that might be, is not the only thing that can be said about it. Given that the Reformation has served as the (very general) heading under which I have gathered the books discussed so far, this reflection puts me in mind of a certain parallel with our discipline in its current instantiation; and, since it is the burden of this annual omnibus review to reflect on the state of the union, so to speak, I will, if the reader permits, briefly indulge this parallel a little further. For the discipline underwent little less than a reformation nearly forty years ago with the powerful intervention of a charismatic figure who swept away the old faith—which could certainly be charged with sophistries and excesses of its own—in the name of a new model that revolutionized the field with amazing speed and proceeded to outlaw the old practices with an energy and thoroughness not so very far from iconoclasm. Rapid technological developments in the accessing and disseminating of information no doubt helped it on its way. The rest, as they say, is historicism. And here we are, several decades on, with the new faith firmly established, [End Page 213] the orthodoxy, no less, but breaking up, nonetheless, into ever-multiplying specializations and ever-smaller subfields (the result, usually, of some declared "turn" or other), with members of the community finding it necessary to identify their particular position, whatever it is—allegiance to the faith in its pure form or to some sectarian version of it—as the required preamble to whatever argument they are proposing or whatever text they are writing about. Zamir's book, however, makes it clear that a thoughtful and illuminating response to such a text is perfectly possible without any of this, and even hints that such pieties might impede a certain freedom, boldness, and originality of thought (though not, of course, in every case, as we have seen).

In what follows I propose to use this perhaps irreverent analogy as a way of taking the temperature of the discipline, with a view to assessing where it has got to and where it might be going, and to do this I will take my orientation from another volume in the Oxford Handbook series: in this case, The Oxford Handbook of English Law and Literature, 1500–1700, edited by Lorna Hutson. Like its sibling volume discussed at the start of this review, this too is exhaustive and inclusive. Also like the latter, its key term (though in both cases absent from the title) is History—as the editor points out, "there are not two disciplines cohabiting here, but three: they are law, literature, and history" (p. 2, emphasis original)—this term being key, perhaps, to the volume's self-consciously registered and variously differentiated methodologies. These might be listed as: 1) historicism, with its characteristic attention to the distinctiveness of the past and to the record of change through time (essays by Christopher Brooks, James Sharpe, and Tim Stretton on the explosion and enforcement of private litigation in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries might be taken as examples here); 2) new historicism, a variant on the previous that specifically attends to the way texts are mutually "shaped by and helping shape … contemporary political culture" (Alastair Bellany, p. 563) and might be taken as "historically situated symptomatic responses" (Joshua Phillips, p. 306) or not ("there may be a limit," Luke Wilson notes, p. 393); 3) explicit critiques of new historicism's cult of power and a readiness to consider more diverse constructions of the polity (as in Henry S. Turner's emphasis on "collective, public forms of political power," p. 469); and 4) calls to historicize historicism, old and new, in order to arrive at "a more expansive, generically sensitive historicism" (p. 710) as urged by Christopher N. Warren. [End Page 214]

I dwell on the latter's essay in particular because of its highly thoughtful analysis of the way literature and law necessarily interrogate historicism (of both varieties). In Warren's analysis, where historicism (with its concern to contextualize, to preserve the otherness of the past, and to stave off the threat of anachronism) tends toward the synchronic axis, the interpretation of the law and of literature tends more toward the diachronic. Lawyers and judges use the past instrumentally to determine the case in hand, while literary critics—whether or not they might identify as "formalists, presentists, and others"—emphasize themes such as "continuity, tradition, aesthetics, cross-temporal dialogue, and deep time" (p. 712). Both groups, this is, look to the past for its ongoing meaningfulness and relevance to the present. Warren goes on to read the law treatises of Alberico Gentili alongside Henry V to argue that, unlike strict historicism, these genres specifically allow for the interpenetration of present and past in order to mobilize judgment: i.e., to add an ethical dimension to what would otherwise be the "bare was" of history (p. 714), as Sidney described it (in his treatises Gentili calls the historical Henry V out for his unlawful execution of prisoners, comparing him unfavorably to the barbarous Turk). "Using historicism's own lens, we can begin to see evidence of early modern literature and law resisting the partition between past and present posited by historicism," Warren notes, adding that "Shakespeare and Gentili, writing at the dawn of historicism, deployed genres that facilitated meaning-making along both the synchronic and diachronic axes" (p. 715). Judgment—whether of a war criminal or of a literary text depicting one—"indicates a juridical approach to the past rather than a strictly historicist one" (p. 718), and no one is in any doubt that Henry V is "an artefact prompting judgement" (p. 719).


In what remains of this review I will use this brief account of Hutson's volume, and of Warren's essay in particular, as a way of organizing the various books still to be considered, by classifying them as various exemplifications of and responses to historicism and by measuring them against this notably judicious model. I will begin with those that give a special emphasis to what Louis Montrose long ago described as the historicity of texts, and two books which do exactly that are Premodern Scotland: Literature and Governance, 1420–1587, edited by Joanna Martin and Emily Wingfield, and The Literary Culture of Early Modern Scotland: [End Page 215] Manuscript Production and Transmission, 1560–1625, by Sebastiaan Verweij, both of which focus on setting literary texts firmly within their historical context. The former volume, dedicated to Sally Mapstone, examines the speculum principis tradition as it was understood and practiced in its own time. Martin's essay, for example, looks at how William Lauder's contribution to this tradition emerged from the distinct period of transition that was marked by the regency of Mary of Guise and the short reign of Mary Queen of Scots, while Verweij's contribution considers the topicality of Sir William Alexander's Senecan drama, Darius, in relation to James VI's accession to the English throne.

This easily recognized emphasis on contextualization is taken considerably further in Margaret J. M. Ezell's The Oxford English Literary History, Vol. 5: 1645–1714: The Later Seventeenth Century, a volume that describes itself as focusing not on literature but on "[l]iterary life" (p. xvii), by which is meant neither biography nor such concepts as the Age of Dryden but rather "what was available to be read, viewed, and written about" (p. xx) during selectively representative years. Ezell's remit extends, therefore, well beyond poetry, plays, and romances to include news books, schoolbooks, how-to books, emblem books, recipe books, proclamations, confessions, sermons, speeches, prophecies, ballads, letters, lampoons, diaries, and so on, this massive expansion of the field being justified as closer to the seventeenth-century view of what the "literary" might constitute. The emphasis on context is just as much in evidence—Ezell offers "a contextual description of the ways in which literary culture responded to changing times" (p. xx)—but, by comparison with the relatively "old" historicism of the previous two examples, the relation between literature and history here tilts noticeably in favor of the latter term. (The same shift is evident in the renaming of the series to which this volume belongs from The Oxford History of English Literature to The Oxford English Literary History.) Ezell's stated purpose is to situate mid- to late seventeenth-century texts "back into the social matrix whence they arose" (p. xxi) and to place canonical authors "back in the textual conversations of their contemporaries" (p. xxii), the implication being that both had somehow strayed. Downing the Dagons of Author and Canon, the project sets out to return literature to its proper place as an element within history and to turn the critical gaze away from the literary and imaginative back to the actual and factual. The same tendency might be exemplified by Abraham Cowley, one of the figures Ezell discusses, who, on becoming Fellow of the Royal Society, rejected the reading of [End Page 216] literature and "Romances" in favor of "the true Apprehension & Judgement of Things" (qtd. p. 172) and who, in his poem "To the Royal Society," lionized Francis Bacon for redirecting the scientific gaze "From Words … To Things" (qtd. p. 175). The Reformers' characteristically de-aestheticizing and disenchanting move from verba to res is once again in evidence, with the result that the literary gets treated almost as if, like some reliquary or chantry, it were the tabooed object of a superstitious past. The discussion of Paradise Lost on pp. 199–204, for example, considers the composition, publication, and reception histories of Milton's poem but avoids any mention of its qualities as a literary text.

This is an extreme but by no means an isolated case. The same tilt toward history is evident in a number of studies that consider how the disciplines of history and of Renaissance literature themselves came into being, as if (although this is not their explicit aim) the question of how it is we find ourselves in this position somehow requires explaining. Thus, Harriet Archer's Unperfect Histories: "The Mirror for Magistrates," 1559–1610 looks to the multiple editions of and additions to this famous text for evidence of the way historical writing developed specifically in contradistinction to the poetic, providentialist, and exemplary models of the de casibus tradition, leading to the gradual separation of the disciplines in the period. The "peeling away of historiography from imaginative literature" (p. 3) gradually saw the "emergence of evidence-based historiography, and autobiography" by the early seventeenth century—as "prosopopoiea quickly became outmoded in favour of real memoirs" (p. 143)—this being a direct result of the "anxiety and scepticism … about the validity of poetic invention as a substitute for historiographical records" (p. 147). While it is Archer's project to historicize this development, it is hard not to see the same "anxiety" lying behind the current privileging of history over literature in contemporary criticism. For his part, in Editors Construct the Renaissance Canon, 1825–1915, Paul Salzman considers the "history of how editing brought into being a concept of the Renaissance as a literary/cultural field" (p. 5). This was the result, he argues of the Georgian and Victorian amateur editors (Alexander Dyce, Alexander Balloch Grosart, James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps) who took a much more comprehensive and generous (i.e., historical) approach to their subject—making available the work of a surprising number of early modern women writers, for example—than the later professionals of the New Bibliography (Ronald B. McKerrow, W. W. Greg, Fredson Bowers) with their narrowing, canonizing tendencies. In this respect, [End Page 217] although belittled by the latter, the amateurs were closer to, if not anticipatory of, the materialist and disintegrationist turn in current editorial theory and practice. Kirk Melnikoff similarly historicizes the formation of a distinctively English Renaissance literature in Elizabethan Publishing and the Makings of Literary Culture, showing the extent to which the publishing houses of the sixteenth century contributed to this development through acquiring, commissioning, compiling, altering, translating, reis-suing, and distributing texts.

Where the issue is less the place of literary texts within their historical context than literature as primarily a historical phenomenon, it is a natural next step to bring in literary texts to document or illustrate some aspect of the past. This happens, to varying degrees, in Jane Partner's Poetry and Vision in Early Modern England, which considers how "evolving practices of poetic writing intersected with changing concepts of sight" (p. 43) in the second half of the seventeenth century, although it does admittedly argue for the ultimate superiority of poetry's "metaphorical lenses" (p. 261) over the optical science and technology of the period; Alex Garganigo's Samson's Cords: Imposing Oaths in Milton, Marvell, and Butler, which shows how a text like Samson Agonistes "reproduces the crises of conscience and strategies of evasion associated with takers of state-mandated loyalty oaths in Stuart Britain" (p. 98); and the collection Performing Animals: History, Agency, Theater, edited by Karen Raber and Monica Mattfeld, which treats the literary text as but one element within a larger cultural field. As part of the Edinburgh Critical Studies in Renaissance Culture series, Virginia Lee Strain's Legal Reform in English Renaissance Literature remains faithful to the opening statement made by the series editor, Lorna Hutson, regarding "the now widespread assumption that the 'literary' is not isolable, as a mode of signifying, from other signifying practices that make up what we call 'culture'" (p. vii). Strain considers the way legal reforms proposed by figures such as Nicholas and Francis Bacon and Edward Coke find themselves illustrated in texts like book V of The Faerie Queene, the Gesta Grayorum, Donne's "Satyre V," Measure for Measure, and The Winter's Tale. The relation between literature and history, however, is unnecessarily oversimplified. We hear, for example, that "Britomart's re-enactments of [Artegall's] battles re-present the activities of legal reform and governance as ongoing tasks requiring consistent magisterial presence and attention" (p. 20), as if "representation" were not a highly overdetermined word. Similarly, Edel Lamb's Reading Children in Early [End Page 218] Modern Culture looks at how childhood was constructed in the period through an analysis both "of literary representations of children as readers and of historical evidence of the reading experiences of those defined as 'children' in early modern society" (p. 2), for all the world as if "literary representations" and "historical evidence" were one and the same. Consistent with this reduction of the literary to the documentary is the admission that diaries, letters, and memoirs are among Lamb's "most rewarding sources" (p.17), as if literary texts were implicitly less so for her purposes, but also as if such nonliterary materials somehow provided a kind of transparent and unmediated window onto the past. In If I Lose Mine Honour I Lose Myself: Honour among the Early Modern English Elite, Courtney Erin Thomas draws entirely on the evidence of family papers—"collections [which] include materials such as letters, commonplace books, diaries, and various forms of documentation generated within the context of the management of the household" (p. 20)—for her analysis of honor among the elite classes between 1540 and 1640, literary material extending no further than the quotation from Antony and Cleopatra that forms her title. It is hard to see why this should not be classified among books on history rather than studies in English literature, and indeed one wonders why it was sent to a journal with that name. Equally typical of this development is Translating Early Modern Science, edited by Sietske Fransen, Niall Hodson, and Karl A. E. Enenkel, which declares in its mission statement that translation is important across "all fields of historical research, whether in literature, science, or theology" (p. 8), as if it were now universally accepted that literature (not to mention the other fields) were subsidiary to the master discipline of "historical research." No literary texts are discussed within the volume.

This is what historicism looks like when taken to its logical conclusion and when the reformation of the discipline has been sufficiently thorough as to convert it into a different one. Not all examples are as purist as these, however, and those I will consider next revert to the formulae of the founding father, such that (holding to my fanciful analogy for a moment), if the pure historicism just described might be thought of as approximating to hard-line Calvinism, the examples to be considered next might be thought of as closer to Luther. There is scope for greater flexibility and accommodation when literature is treated not as subordinate to history but in dialectical relation to it. The prime example in this case is Richard A. McCabe's "Ungainefull Arte": Poetry, Patronage, and Print in the Early Modern Era, which looks at the compromises [End Page 219] entailed by the patronage system and the rhetoric by means of which it was negotiated: a rhetoric that displays "the remarkable self-reflexivity, not to say self-consciousness, of Early Modern verse" (p. 6). Key to McCabe's discussion is the tension between two different economies: courtesy (with its flattering dedications, appeals to amicitia, and so forth) and commerce (with its expectations of recognition, requital, and reward). In one example of the liabilities that necessarily attend a system of unequal power relations, McCabe describes an exchange of Latin verses between the laureated German poet, Paul Melissus, and Queen Elizabeth. Responding to the former's petition for the post of queen's poet, Elizabeth modestly professes to become subject to the poet when he takes her as his theme—"ego vati subdita" (qtd. p. 172)—in return generously offering him the creative and artistic freedom no bond-slave could enjoy (denying his request, that is). As McCabe describes this negotiation, "Elizabeth cunningly deflected Melissus's appeal for patronage by returning verse for verse, not the form of 'exchange' he anticipated … She too was a poet, and by writing about Melissus's desire to write about her, 'subjected' him once more, restoring the hierarchy she represents as overturned" (p. 173). With this classic account of the circulations of power, in other words, we are recognizably back in the world of Renaissance Self-Fashioning, new historicism's equivalent of the ninety-five theses.

Notwithstanding their various declarations of independence from it, the next three examples all remain faithful to new historicism's founding doctrines. In Emotion in the Tudor Court: Literature, History, and Early Modern Feeling, Bradley J. Irish claims to take these doctrines in a "new direction" (p. 4) with the appropriation of cognitive studies, but what emerges from his book is a set of concerns that are readily identified with orthodox new historicism: namely, the ubiquity of power relations, career management, strategies of self-fashioning, and a recuperative narrative whereby positions of weakness are invariably turned around and redeemed as masterly (on the part, it has to be said, of exclusively male subjects). For all the application of cognitive data (as provided, for example, by TMT or terror management theory), we do not seem to have moved very far away from well-established conceptions of the Court as "a social arena dominated by the mechanics of competition and rivalry" (p. 16). In Pirates, Traitors, and Apostates: Renegade Identities in Early Modern English Writing, Laurie Ellinghausen considers how the figure of the renegade in the period was constructed dialectically from official and state-sponsored [End Page 220] narratives of criminals, reprobates, and masterless men, on the one hand, and more positive narratives of aspiration, heroism, adventurism, and privateering, on the other: a complex matrix in which the latter's models of freedom, economic independence, and support for families and neighbors could, in turn, be seen to critique such chronic social problems as unemployment and the absence of charity. With its analysis of the pirate figure, in particular—at once dangerous enemy and true Englishman—the book shows how such competing representations provide "a testing ground for a subversive cultural imaginary" (p. 16). In Other Englands: Utopia, Capital, and Empire in an Age of Transition, Sarah Hogan historicizes the genre of the utopia by looking at its instantiations from Thomas More to Milton. The book claims to out-historicize new historicism (which classically rejects grand totalizing narratives in favor of synchronic and micro histories) by mobilizing a number of Marxist frameworks—world systems theory, in particular—to read the utopia as a future-oriented genre that contributes to the capitalist formations it ostensibly critiques. In More's case, for example, the Utopians' tendency to expropriate native land necessarily curtails the text's critique of capitalism, thereby suggesting that More "is not in the end so resistant to depopulating enclosures" (p. 59). Similarly, Bacon's New Atlantis "embodies the ideal capitalist-imperialist relation between the nation and the world system" (p. 83), while Spenser's blueprint for Ireland in A View confirms that "utopia can be capitalist" (p. 92). Although expanding on classic new historicist accounts of the subject, the book ends up reiterating their view that, beneath the surface, utopia fundamentally manifests "'the logic of capital itself'" (p. 59, quoting Richard Halpern).

Forms of Hypocrisy in Early Modern England, edited by Lucia Nigri and Tsentourou, similarly claims to "[depart] from existing scholarship" (p. 8) on the subject—in this case, the model of self-fashioning that presupposes agency and self-consciousness on the part of the dissembler—while remaining for the most part embedded within the historicist/cultural materialist paradigm of the 1980s and 1990s. As a result, it rehearses some now very familiar maneuvers: "[t]his dialectic [sic] relationship between order and hypocrisy is a clear manifestation of the tension" that exists between "strategies of subversion (political, religious, rhetorical) that destabilise social order while, paradoxically, preserving and restoring it" (p. 6). Markku Peltonen's essay, for example, is described as showing how, as part of their rhetorical training, [End Page 221] "schoolboys were taught in the values of dissimulation, fraud, and hypocrisy as a way of participating, and exercising, political power" (p.10). Silvia Bigliazzi's essay considers the uncomfortable compromises entailed by the patron/client relationship, reading Donne's various epistles to the Countess of Bedford as instrumental, transactional, and entirely conscious of the fact. The only essay in the collection to submit these orthodoxies to any scrutiny is that by Michael Durrant, who queries these notions of agency and power by locating hypocrisy, instead, in the archive. Focusing on the printer-publisher Henry Hills—a figure notorious for serving on both sides in the Civil War and labeled "Hypocrite" as a result—Durrant explores a case that strongly resists "recent calls for a return of the human agents into bibliography and the history of the book" (p. 140). Reading printed accounts of Hills's life with all due scepticism, Durrant raises methodological questions about the dubious reliability of such materials, and chooses rather to treat the imputedly hypocritical behavior of this individual as "a useful metaphor for ambiguities associated with the documentary evidence" (p. 139). "Much like the figure of the hypocrite," he concludes, "archival evidence can be understood as potentially double, at least in terms of the fact that evidence might not tell us 'the plain truth, the whole truth,' and neither is the evidence always to be treated as 'transparent'" (p. 152, quoting Catherine Belsey).

I emphasize Durrant's intervention here because it exemplifies the second half of Montrose's celebratedly chiastic formulation (all too rarely attended to): namely, the textuality of history. A book that wonderfully fulfils new historicism's early promise to read history as literature and not only vice versa is Andrew Hadfield's Lying in Early Modern English Culture: From the Oath of Supremacy to the Oath of Allegiance. The book takes as its starting point the inherent literariness of the archive: "what if much of the information we use when constructing any history is not actually true? … what seemed once to be evidence is really conjecture, hearsay, retrospective reconstruction, or simply falsification … we have to start thinking about modes of untruth as well as truth: fictions, errors, falsifications, misunderstandings, misreadings, distortions, and, of course, lies" (p. 3), for, as Natalie Zemon Davis pointed out (also long ago), "there is all too often fiction in the archives when there is assumed to be fact" (p. 4). As Hadfield compellingly argues, we badly need a strategy for questioning the historical events that are known to us "through documents full of lies," and the only way to do this is to understand [End Page 222] the period's pervasive culture of lying since this alone will properly determine "what we uncover in the written records left behind" (p. 4). Setting its discussions within the context of the 1534 Treason Act (which made seditious words as liable to punishment as seditious acts) and the Reformation (which encouraged specific modes of equivocation), the book proceeds to a series of case studies as it takes in works by William Baldwin, Ben Jonson, Foxe, Robert Southwell, Spenser, Donne, Michel de Montaigne, George Puttenham, Sidney, Marlowe, Thomas Nashe, Shakespeare, and others. One such case study is the notorious divorce trial of 1613 in which Frances Howard sued Robert Devereux on grounds of impotence so that she might be free to marry her lover and the king's favorite, Robert Carr. Hadfield bases his analysis on the "extraordinary testimony" (p. 103) left by George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury, who—steeped in canon law, a recognized expert on Jesuitical casuistry, and a "warrior for truth" (p. 111)—considered the case for annulment fraudulent and insisted on the need for sufficient (and not fabricated) evidence, only to have his scrupulous opposition overruled by James and attributed by the latter to career-damaging motives of self-interest and a personal animus against Carr (rationalizations that have "often been taken at face value by historians," p. 108). The case, Hadfield comments, provides a good example of "why we need to look in less obvious places if we are to understand the real story of truth and lies" (p. 111). It also "shows us why it is so hard to get at the truth and expose lies and how, paradoxically, the truth/lying issue is often the least interesting aspect of any such case … What matters more is why certain lies are significant at that particular historical moment" (pp. 111–2). What matters, in other words, is power.

David Randall's The Concept of Conversation: From Cicero's "Sermo" to the "Grand Siècle's Conversation" is an ambitious and arresting study of the history of conversation from antiquity to the Enlightenment (a sequel volume promising to continue the story thereafter), where conversation or sermo is understood as a form of speech classically distinct from if not oppositional to power. Unlike oratory (juridical, agonistic, public, and designed to persuade the jurors, to win the case), conversation is demonstrative and deliberative: a private, open-ended, nondogmatic, and noncombative form of discussion in which issues can be debated in utramque partem and multiple viewpoints shared. The shift Randall traces is thus "from oratory, the speech aimed at victory, to conversation, the speech aimed at truth" (p. 73), and [End Page 223] in the sixteenth century the latter typically took the form of the humanist letter, dialogue, conversation, and essay (Petrarch, More, Baldassare Castiglione, and Montaigne providing examples along the way). What the book goes on to do is trace the historical development whereby this traditionally private and unofficial mode of speech—once a tactical refuge from tyranny—came to be a different kind of public speech: an alternative to thumping oratory that (as evidenced, for example, in the salon and the newspaper) was better able, it turned out, to speak truth to power. Randall argues persuasively that the development of this Habermasian public sphere was not the result of some spontaneous "coagulation in print of disembodied reason" (p. 172) but of the history of conversation he tells.

Rebecca Lemon's Addiction and Devotion in Early Modern England pays a similar attention to the textuality of history by taking as its starting point the etymology and semantic field of "addiction." Deriving from Latin ad + dicere, the word connoted being "sentenced" or spoken for (assigned by decree, made over, or bound), such that, when it entered sixteenth-century English, concepts originating in Roman contract law came to be associated with ideas of service, debt, and pledged dedication. This lexical history opens up a side of addiction otherwise obscured by modern understandings of pathology, and, most illuminatingly, it comes here to refer to a loss of self—a challenge to sovereign subjectivity—as witnessed, for example, in states of extreme devotion, whether to another or to a particular calling. Drawing on the methodologies of Roland Greene and Jeffrey Masten, Lemon shows how, with its variously legal, devotional, and medical layers of meaning, addiction comes to serve as the kind of "semantic palimpsest" that constitutes "the history of and in a word" (p. xii, emphasis original). With the field of addiction studies "arguably short on history," Lemon aims for the longue durée that linguistic and literary analysis allows her, as she sets out to uncover "a longer history of views on addiction and an alternate understanding of addiction as an achievement" (p. 2). To this end, she selects for her analysis "texts that pose the broader philosophical issues at stake in invocations of addiction, drawing particularly on the imaginative richness afforded in the study of literary texts" (p. 19). There is no subordinating of literature to history here. Rather, literature leads, without leaving history behind, as the fate of the sovereign subject that seeks to be ravished by a higher power (for good or ill) is explored in Dr Faustus (with its anatomy of a self-defeating addiction to study), Twelfth Night (with its portrayal of [End Page 224] the self-negations that come with devoted love), the Henriad (with the "dispersal of roles" shown by the loyal Falstaff, p. 80), and Othello (with its account of how, in loving Desdemona, Othello "addicts and shatters himself," p. 105).

Chris Barrett's Early Modern English Literature and the Poetics of Cartographic Anxiety similarly deploys a classically new historicist methodology with a view not simply to reiterating that methodology with some modification or other but to probing its very core. Here The Faerie Queene, Poly-Olbion, and Paradise Lost are set "alongside a genre of cartographic discourse [surveyors' manuals, atlases, maps, and so forth] so that their mutual transactions and skepticisms can heighten the fundamental questions of representation that vex them both" (p. 41). By attending so closely and at such length to the very mechanics of representation, Barrett neither reduces it to some transparent window onto the past nor treats all discourses alike as if they were equal elements within some vast and undifferentiated cultural soup (as some of the examples considered earlier were prone to do). Instead, she analyzes the representational strategies of the two fields under examination to show how the first (the literary) effectively deconstructs the second (the cartographic): "literature exploited the opportunity to distinguish itself from the map" (p. 3). The "anxiety" of which she speaks relates in part to violence (maps were largely necessitated by the fifteenth-century arms race, war, conquest, colonialism, and empire) but primarily to a deep sense of insufficiency, for given the impossibility of any 1:1 correspondence, maps pose "uneasy questions … about representation itself" (p. 18). Maps are more like metaphor or allegory in that they draw attention to the difference between vehicle and tenor, signifier and signified, and thus pose the kind of aesthetic and ethical concerns central to poetics and poesis. "Each of the poems considered in this book skeptically interrogates cartographic protocols by examining literary representational techniques that, like the map, require and posit an identity between two unlike elements, one immanent or material, the other figurative or abstract" (p. 158). Literary texts protest against the compression and abstraction of the map and its "cartographic logics" but also against the distortions of "literary logics, too" (p. 3). Epic, in particular, with its idealizing distortions of history (turning the "bare was" of history into "what may be and should be," as Sidney puts it) reveals a special tension between the literary and the literal, and the three heroic poems discussed are shown to "channel their cartographic anxieties into reflection on the (im)possibility of representation itself, in any medium" (p. 44). [End Page 225]

What emerges from Barrett's book is a sense of the cartographic as being "representationally insufficient, while claiming a kind of representational sufficiency pretending to the objective" (p. 18). A similar skepticism toward objectivity surfaces in Anna-Maria Hartmann's English Mythography in its European Context, 1500–1650, a book that recognizes how important it is for the historicist to self-historicize. "If all acts of reading are situated, this includes my own" (p. 15), Hartmann writes, going on to quote Hans-Georg Gadamer: "Real historical thinking must take account of its own historicity. Only then will it cease to chase the phantom of a historical object that is the object of progressive research, and learn to view the object as the counterpart of itself and hence understand both. The true historical object is not an object at all, but the unity of the one and the other" (qtd. pp. 15–6). As with the previous four examples, this book succeeds in being thoroughly historicist without finding it necessary to subordinate literature to history or reduce it to a cultural element. Instead, Hartmann describes her "leading discipline" as "literary studies," and goes on to detail how the reception of myth in the period might prompt new interpretations of English literature and poetics as well as making available the "conceptualizations and applications of myth that were circulating in English literary circles" (p. 15). She shows how the mythographies of Stephen Batman, Abraham Fraunce, Francis Bacon, Henry Reynolds, and Alexander Ross differ from those of their European counterparts. Rather than writing encyclopaedic texts like Lilio Gregorio Giraldi, Vincenzo Catari, and Natale Conti, the English authors instrumentalized myth, adapting and applying it so as to intervene in specific current debates: Batman excoriating the Family of Love, Fraunce commemorating Sidney, and so on. Their texts thus "reward sustained linguistic and literary analysis" (p. 242) and "contain structures, concepts, interpretative methods, and stylistic qualities that can help us identify and understand similar features in the works of Spenser, Sidney, Drayton, and others" (p. 243).


While equally engaged with the historicity of texts and the textuality of history, the books I single out in the following section are distinguished by their willingness to go beyond that formulation to show that, however expansive it might be when applied fully and well, it is not the only paradigm available and need not constitute the furthest reaches of human thought. The following [End Page 226] examples commend themselves, therefore, by finding other forms of thinking within literature, and by practicing other forms of reading within criticism, such that even the most familiar of texts come to be seen in a whole new light.

I begin with David Carroll Simon's magisterial Light without Heat: The Observational Mood from Bacon to Milton, a highly thoughtful and revisionary study of the scientific imagination and, specifically, of the quality of thought that characterizes it in the seventeenth century. Echoing previous concerns about objectivity, Simon challenges the consensus that the New Science was responsible for prioritizing this mode of investigation by exploring what he calls the latter's "observational mood": a quality of Montaignean carelessness or nonchalance (literally, "without heat"), a form of cool, passive receptivity to the natural world, an aimless and patient witnessing that is neither driven nor teleological. One might call it a kind of mindfulness: an unhurried and unexpectant waiting to see what nature unfolds. This is clearly to be differentiated from progressive models of knowledge acquisition, not to mention social ambition, acquisitive thirst, propulsive greed, or "advancement" in all its forms. In contrast to these, the observational mood "does not possess or seize hold of anything" (p. 8). The abiding quality of this mood is its unselfconsciousness or sprezzatura. Simon registers a refusal on the part of literary criticism since Renaissance Self-Fashioning to regard the latter as anything other than artful, crafty, strategic, calculating, masterly, and performative (in short, as self-conscious to the highest degree), and notes that the history of science has done much the same: in seeing science as all about results, "historians of science have been thinking very much like literary critics" (p. 13). Simon's revisionary account, by contrast, shows both how different literary and scientific inquiry is from this means-ends model, and how alike they are (in this respect) to one another. He practices what he preaches, for his own practice as a literary critic is "to linger with that moment in the experience of interpretation that lets things unfold without any regard for the purposes they serve … To accept this experience of uncertainty is to gain access to the strange beauty and philosophical daring of a culture-spanning intellectual endeavor that savors disorientation" (p. 17). Amen to that. Simon's methodology is conceptual but not ahistorical—indeed, he specifically invites a "rapprochement between historical and conceptual inquiry" (p. 27)—and he rejects the stark distinction between historicism and its supposed alternatives (poststructuralism being one). "The past is not fully constituted [End Page 227] by empirically verifiable facts," he writes, for "one of the primary sources that must be consulted is the critic's mind. Much of the richness, complexity, and allure of the historical past depends on the capacity of its artifacts to move us, confuse us, and draw us out—to offend us, repel us, and invite our response" (p. 25). Simon's model of history, therefore, is one of cocreation rather than the retrieval of a pristine past uncontaminated by the viewer. He is happy to forfeit objectivity and disinterest, therefore, where this allows him "to pose new questions. How does a poem change under the gentle pressure of the observational mood? When a literary work invites me to breathe its atmosphere, how does my willingness to do so influence my experience of reading?" (p. 27). And, among the many illuminating things to be yielded by such an unbiased and open encounter with the texts is a completely new picture of Bacon: no longer the "apostle of procedural rigor" (p. 36) and hard taskmaster of intellectual history, but a portrait of the philosopher at rest and play whose style in The Advancement of Learning is one of "[l]ooseness and waywardness, ease and inattention" (p. 73).

Rachel Eisendrath continues this line of thought in her equally mindful Poetry in a World of Things: Aesthetics and Empiricism in Renaissance Ekphrasis. Like Simon, she too draws on Theodor W. Adorno's critique of the rationalism and positivism bequeathed by the Enlightenment in order to challenge the supposed objectivity of Baconian science and antiquarian evidentialism: an empiricism that leads to a disenchanted and desiccated world. Eisendrath mobilizes Adorno's aesthetic theory to argue that the "objective" constitutes series of unexamined assumptions and categorizations that serve to produce a model of knowledge as information—as data that provides standardized sets and general applications, and as something that can therefore be grasped—but that lacks particularity, open-endedness, irreducibility, and incompleteness: all qualities that belong to the "subjective." Behind this lies a methodological argument whereby the potentially deadening and alienating moves of a purist historicism that would subordinate the literary in the interests of scientific truth (her example being the substitution of computer-generated data sets for the business of actually reading books) are challenged by historicizing them: by situating those moves, that is, within the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century scientific "turn" and by examining ways in which the literary texts of that period resisted such objectification. The book thus "pushes back against the emphatic empiricism of a dominant trend in current literary-historical scholarship, [End Page 228] which can tend to treat art as an artifact or mere thing" (p. 3, emphasis original). Instead of treating the work of art as object or commodity, Eisendrath sees it as the repository for a subjectivity otherwise discouraged, denounced, or denied. She is interested in what differentiates the work of art from other objects—and in what literary texts have to say about it—and thus makes an unapologetic case for literary exceptionalism in a bid to counter the de-aestheticizing tendencies evident in much contemporary criticism and traced elsewhere in this review. Indeed, with the "empirical objecthood of art" now taken as read, things have come to such a pass that "[w]hat is radical now … is to enter fully into a complex artwork that questions from within the way things are" (p. 23). To demonstrate her case, Eisendrath focuses her analysis on the specific form of ekphrasis, insofar as it provides "a model in miniature of aesthetic experience as such" (p. 4), and she turns her attention to a series of early modern ekphrases in print which put the subjective and objective, the aesthetic and empiricist in tension. Her examples are Roman ruins in a letter by Petrarch, Busirane's tapestries in The Faerie Queene, fetish objects in Hero and Leander, and the frieze in The Rape of Lucrece: all texts that focus insistently on the subjectivity that exists "within the images of alienated objects" (p. 22).

Colleen Ruth Rosenfeld makes a similarly bold case for the autonomy of art in Indecorous Thinking: Figures of Speech in Early Modern Poetics. Where decorum is essentially ideology naturalized—and characterized by the plausible, the probable, the measured (all good, Aristotelian, civic virtues enthusiastically appropriated by the humanists)—the indecorous, by contrast, is oppositional. In foregrounding conspicuous artifice and the necessarily figural nature of speech, poetry that "rings out with the bells and whistles of ornamentation" (p. 2) draws attention to itself as a made thing (poiema), and so reveals ideology to be exactly that. Prioritizing verba over res, elocutio over inventio, style over content, surface over depth, the indecorous promotes a series of alternative values: pleasure, waste, the nonproductive, the aesthetic. Although Rosenfeld fights shy of the latter term—"I offer here a defense of ornament not as the sign of the aesthetic but as the source of a particular kind of thinking" (p. 6)—like Simon, she treats the aesthetic and the epistemological as complementary not antithetical terms. What she is interested in is the different kind of thinking the aesthetic potentiates: one that "might generate an entirely different set of coordinates for possible knowledge" (p. 38). Her aim is "to recover the aesthetic [End Page 229] dimension of decorum in order to argue for the social and epistemological significance of indecorous thinking" (p. 74, emphasis original). Just as Simon draws out the cognitive benefits of the observational mood, so Rosenfeld seeks out a form of knowledge that is not reducible to logical argument, demonstrable proof, or disciplined proposition, but is, rather, poetic (the poet, as Sidney points out, does not affirm). Focusing on "figures of speech as generative forms of thinking" (p. 5), she seeks to recreate "how poetry thinks" (p. 45) and how it lends shape "to something other than the truth" (p. 65). This is the "indecorous thinking" of her title and what distinguishes poetry from "the world and its dominant ideologies" (p. 7)—indeed, what defines "its aggressive antagonism toward the normative force of decorum and its articulation of an alternative" (p. 93, emphasis original). To understand this fully, Rosenfeld urges, we need to revive such thinking in our own criticism, and "expand our sense of what was 'thinkable' in the period by redefining what counts as thinking as such" (p. 13).

By way of illustration, Rosenfeld looks at simile in The Faerie Queene, antithesis in the New Arcadia, and periphrasis in the Urania, one part of her project being to "rethink romance and its signature commitment to digression, dilation, and deferral as a problem of style rather than narrative" (p. 16). As a form that, in defiance of Aristotelian principles, indulges the implausible and improbable to a considerable degree, romance could well be taken to exemplify indecorous thinking and stylistic excess. A similar project is underway in Timely Voices: Romance Writing in English Literature, edited by Goran Stanivukovic, which brings together a series of essays on materials ranging from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries. Following Patricia Parker and Barbara Fuchs, the volume treats romance as a strategy more than a genre, and it takes a broadly Jamesonian approach by examining how the romance form offers "solutions to the textual, aesthetic, structural, ideological, and political issues that feature in the texts under investigation" (p. 5). Defining itself as "cross-historical" (p. 14), the book is organized thematically rather than chronologically, and it looks at issues such as narration, transformation, magic, wonder, open-endedness, improbability, movement, cultural transmission, mediation, and reading habits, ending with a final section on "Aesthetics and the Politics of Form" (pp. 279–338). To cite just a few of the contributors, Helen Cooper argues that romance stories "had a continuing appeal beyond the constraints of their ideology" (p. 39); John H. Cameron and Stanivukovic note that historicism has made formalist analysis "a resource secondary [End Page 230] to thematic criticism" (p. 69), something they set out to address; Colin Lahive invokes Northrop Frye on romance as a quintessentially "antirepresentational" form (p. 94); Nandini Das treats the "aesthetic and epistemological pause" (p. 176) of romance wonder as a way of mediating the otherwise unknowable and unknown; and Steve Mentz sees in romance and its theorization "an ecstatic affirmation of plurality and even chaos" (p. 242).

This leads neatly to the final example of this section, Patrick Cheney's English Authorship and the Early Modern Sublime: Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Jonson. If "the sublime slipped off the radar" with the advent of new historicism in the 1980s, Cheney notes, "today it is worth resurrecting, precisely on historicist grounds" (p. 61). Setting out to historicize the gap between Dante and Milton, the book shows that to focus on an aesthetic category is not to be ahistorical (or apolitical, for that matter). Shifting the emphasis from Immanuel Kant to Longinus serves to shift the discussion of the sublime from the experience of the subject in the world to the representation of the author in the work. It shifts attention to the literary, that is, since it was Longinus's decisive intervention to identify the sublime as a definitively literary category. From this emerges a distinctive concept of the author (and whence of the canon) that provides the missing link between classical and medieval models of the sublime, on the one hand, and Enlightenment, Romantic, and postmodern ones, on the other. Tracing the sixteenth-century recovery of Longinus and of the sublime as an aesthetic category, the book goes on to elaborate the ways in which Spenser, Marlowe, Shakespeare, and Jonson each create "a fiction about the subject author who, working inside the circuit of institutional energy, invents great art forms out of an imaginative confrontation with the objectivity of the natural world" (p. 20), or who, from the vigor of his own invention and the zodiac of his own wit, makes things either better than Nature bringeth forth or quite anew, to paraphrase Sidney. In the Longinian definition, the sublime is not about persuasion, and it is not about ethics, either. Indeed, by rerouting "philosophical 'goodness' through literary 'greatness,'" Longinus is "the first literary critic to theorize a form of authorship that gives Plato, Aristotle, and Horace the slip" (p. 37). For Longinus it is not the business of literature to teach and delight. His model is not Orpheus or Amphion but the Delphic oracle, and his big idea that great literature should induce a state of stunned astonishment, not form part of a civic building project. This has political implications, nonetheless. "Rather than arguing that the sublime [End Page 231] author promotes citizenship in a free society (the current model of the humanities)," Cheney writes, "Longinus' text suggests the reverse: citizenship in a 'free' society protects the sublime author" (p. 43). The sublime may not serve as a vehicle for ideology or work to uphold the state (quite the reverse), but freedom, democracy, and republican values are essential to its creation. By the same token, sublime art is democracy's highest mark.


This may be the moment to take stock. In its puristic form, historicism delivers a disenchanted world bleached of the literary, the fictional, the imaginative (its underlying hostility to such forms being historicized as a legacy of the Reformation). What I have endeavored to trace in this review so far are various responses to this situation, responses that range from reassertions, repetitions, modifications, negotiations, and accommodations to revivifications, frustrations, interrogations, and rejections. It is interesting to see what options critics (both emerging and established) see as open to them, confronted as they are with the professional dilemma of producing work that will be acceptable to the discipline while at the same time offering something new. Not the least attractive aspect of cultural history is that—by expanding the data set to include everything that "was available to be read, viewed, and written about"—it enlarges the field exponentially and, with it, the opportunity to find and say something that hasn't been found and said before. It remains an open question, however, whether cultural history is necessarily the same thing as "studies in English literature" and whether (if so) this journal ought to change its name or (if not) only review a certain kind of book. Neither is likely to happen, I suspect, but an uncomfortable tension nonetheless remains, as the discipline looks out excitedly over an ever-expanding sea of new material but, in plunging in, risks mutating into an entirely different discipline. It is as symptomatic responses to this tension—as attempts to deal with this potential loss of direction and definition (some more successful than others)—that I gather together the books in the following section.

In some cases, the standoff that has been created between history and literature is marked with an increasing sense of desperation, one example being Adam Smyth's Material Texts in Early Modern England. On the one hand, the book declares its allegiance to book history and the material text: it is committed to the book-as-object, a "hyper-embodied, not a transcendent thing [End Page 232] but the product of a particular time and place" (p. 88). On the other, it explicitly seeks to relate this materiality to "the workings of the literary imagination" (p.8). The result is a poignant record of the attempt to combine what have become (Smyth concludes) incompatible methodologies. His examples include the Ferrar family's cut-and-paste biblical "Harmonies" and their influence on Herbert's poetry, Jonson's poem on the accidental burning of his library as a "ludic bibliography" (p. 67), errata lists and their potential to create metaphors ("for x read y"), and the recycling of texts in the production of other texts. Ultimately, however, the twin drives toward the material and the literary prove incompatible because the attempt to find meaning in accidental juxtapositions—when a sheet from the 1591 Astrophil and Stella containing sonnet 39 is used as endpaper for a particular copy of Edward Lively's Persian history (1597), for example, does the word "Live-lier" in the poem produce a "verbal and visual echo between … the description of Stella's image in Sidney's text and Lively, the author"? (p. 169)—is neither meaningful nor historical. To make them either, Smyth has recourse to modernist or postmodernist parallels (Samuel Beckett, the Dadaists, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Tom Phillips, Ian Hamilton Finlay, etc.), but in the end is forced to admit that, because they satisfy neither criteria, such readings "have to be declined" (p. 173). This is unsatisfying, indeed, and an impasse entirely of the discipline's (not Smyth's) own making. Material history wins the day as a hoped-for belief and conviction in the literary imagination seems here to fade away—one would hardly go to the stake for "possible readings that are raised but which need to be declined" (p. 173)—but one can't help sensing a note of disappointment all the same.

The same dilemma appears in Rachel Stenner's The Typographic Imaginary in Early Modern English Literature, where the attempt to infuse material history with the literary imagination is resolved by way of metatexts that represent, in literary form, their own mechanical reproduction. "The typographic imaginary is a theory of representation but, in exploring fictionalisations of material practices and objects, it is inspired by the material turn" (p. 16). Examples include texts by William Caxton, Baldwin, George Gascoigne, Spenser, and Nashe, in all of which movable type can be arranged and rearranged to "signify infinitely" (p. 185). In Playful Letters: A Study in Early Modern Alphabetics, Erika Mary Boeckeler goes considerably further than either of these examples. A highly theorized melding of "alphabet studies, materialist analysis, graphic design history, and language theory" [End Page 233] (p. 6), the book focuses on the "uniquely experimental" period that followed the introduction of the hand press in Europe (p. 1), and looks, among other things, at the cultural implications of Roman, Gothic, humanist, and Cyrillic letters, font, and type. Here, letters are the point of overlap between material and virtual, and the agency of the letter the new object of inquiry: "[l]iterature is an obliterature of letterature" (p. 5). Words and images break down into acrostics, anagrams, rebuses, letter puns, and Roman numerals in virtuoso readings of Albrecht Dürer's distinctive monogram and the prophecy Shakespeare's Richard III interprets regarding the letter "G": "though Richard considers himself above the letter of the law, he is not above the law of the letter" (p. 125). Only within an unapologetically poststructuralist performance like this may such readings be accepted rather than declined.

If reading the early modern in light of the postmodern is one way of jumping the gap between literature and history, a similar move presents itself in presentism. Indeed, in John Donne and Baroque Allegory: The Aesthetics of Fragmentation, Hugh Grady sees this as "a growing countertrend in the field" (p. 48). For Grady, it is our postmodern moment that makes fully legible Donne's response to his period's own epistemic break into modernity, one largely ushered in by the Reformation's split between signifier and signified. As we have seen, this split led in one direction (to a contempt for verba and whence to iconophobia and historicism), but it also led to another. To baroque allegory, that is, and the sense that only in a fallen, fragmented world forever detached from res could verba finally be reempowered: it was now the poet and the wit who forged metaphysical connections and correspondences, not the Logos or God. Mobilizing the formalist/historicist theories of Fredric Jameson, Adorno, and especially Walter Benjamin—with his critique of "the idea that the past can be reconstituted objectively and definitively separated from the present in which the historian lives" (p. 5)—Grady argues that the baroque amounts to "the first appearance of aesthetic modernity" (p. 64). Exemplified by Donne, this aesthetic was theorized by Baltasar Gracián, the Spanish Jesuit who suggested, in his treatise on wit (1642), that art be "undertaken for its own sake, rather than seen as a tool for something larger" (p. 178) and that, given the nonreferential and generative properties of language, wit was "autonomous and self-constituting" (p. 180). No longer tied to mimesis, art was free to create "its own world in an abstracted aesthetic space, building in sonnets pretty rooms" (p. 181). [End Page 234]

Adele Lee's The English Renaissance and the Far East: Cross-Cultural Encounters is equally predicated on the belief that "the past and the present are inseparable, and … that parallels exist between the early modern and postmodern periods" (p. xv). It, too, takes a presentist approach—here, in order to revise the Orientalist paradigm—and looks at literary encounters between England and the Far East, then and now, to show how both undermine rather than promote myths of Western cultural superiority. Any pretentions that English literature might have to high culture are well and truly deconstructed, and nowhere more so than in contemporary Japan where Shakespeare is fair game for manga, video games, rock concerts, and culture at its most demotic.

With its interest in the way texts make their appeal to a contemporary moment, presentism has its historical dimension, too, not least in reception studies (Grady, for example, has over forty pages on the reception history of Donne). While not theorizing itself as such, Jason Lawrence's Tasso's Art and Afterlives: The "Gerusalemme Liberata" in England provides a reception history of the Gerusalemme Liberata in English literature, painting, and music from the 1590s to the present. There is a Torquato Tasso for every age, it seems, and "as many Tassos as there are Hamlets" (p. 216, quoting J. A. Symonds). In other cases, presentist work can have the effect of flattening history and denying its particularity, one such example being William R. Jones's Satire in the Elizabethan Era: An Activistic Art. Where the topicality of satire might seem to risk datedness, Jones deploys Mikhail Bakhtin's model of the chronotype to argue for the form's ongoing relevance and applicability. He compares antifeminist satire against Elizabeth I in the 1590s with that against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 U. S. presidential election to argue that—despite their "unique historicity"—the reader is able "to harmonize the criticisms of the past with criticisms of the present and vice versa with surprisingly little need to adjust for topological changes" (p. 101). In Andrew Marvell, Sexual Orientation, and Seventeenth-Century Poetry, George Klawitter states that seventeenth-century texts "remain the property of twenty-first-century readers who are free to use them as they wish, sometimes for their own therapeutic pleasure" (p. 7), but this is a consumerist, solipsistic, and ultimately boring approach since it is about an individual reader rather than the texts read. "Most people read poetry to find themselves" (p. 107), he declares, and that is what we find here. In Edward II and a Literature of Same-Sex Love: The Gay King in Fiction, 1590–1640, Michael G. Cornelius defends his reading of Marlowe's play on [End Page 235] similar grounds, namely, that it allows a self-identification with the king as a gay icon, celebrity, and martyr. As for Edward II as a historical subject, "I just do not care about any of that. I only care about Edward for one reason—his sexuality" (p. 262). Clearly this won't do and is the kind of thing that gives presentism a bad name. Although Mary Beth Rose explicitly avoids presentism—because it "desensitizes us" to the past (p. 45)—her book Plotting Motherhood in Medieval, Early Modern, and Modern Literature nonetheless moves in a similarly personalizing direction. Tracing the representation of maternal agency and power from Oedipus to Hollywood, she finds two archetypal plots: the dead mother plot (in which the mother must die, disappear, or be absent for the hero to move on), and the live mother plot (in which her existence impedes the hero's journey). While the book certainly explores local and historical variations on this theme, its overarching narrative is one that, by the end, is explicitly utopian and wish-fulfilling. The book, she declares, articulates "my own wish" (p. 173) for a different cultural plot, and the book, "taking sides, votes hopefully" for such a thing (p. 175).

In Love and its Critics: From the "Song of Songs" to Shakespeare and Milton's Eden, Michael Bryson and Arpi Movsesian reject professional literary criticism altogether in order to recover readings of love poetry from the Song of Songs to Paradise Lost which, they argue, that criticism has suppressed. Appealing to interpretations that are otherwise literal, obvious, easy, plain, and readily accessible to the general reader, they present the book as an exercise in surface reading. In not doing justice to the strangeness and difficulty of literature, however—its resistance to such apparently effortless readability—this method is ultimately as reductive as the historicism it rejects. A better example is David Schalkwyk's Shakespeare, Love, and Language, which eschews historicist readings on the ground that they emphasize Shakespeare's "distance from us" (p. 10), but eschews presentist, materialist, and cognitive approaches, too. Reiterating the view that there can be no single theory of love in Shakespeare or anywhere else, Schalkwyk adopts a "critically eclectic" approach (p. 12), which draws mostly on the philosophical tradition, in order to differentiate eros and agape as they appear in the sonnets and the plays (roughly speaking, respectively). In Movement in Renaissance Literature: Exploring Kinesic Intelligence, by contrast, the editors Kathryn Banks and Timothy Chesters embrace cognitive literary studies, situating their volume within the current wave that "presents cognition as a combination of both universal and historical features" (p. 3). [End Page 236] The essays focus on literary representations of movement that, in turn, move the reader, for reading is understood here to be an empathic and holistic experience, and texts are treated not as "purely historical" as if they were "simply documents providing evidence of an early modern thought-world," as Terence Cave puts it (p. 24, emphasis original), precisely because they are capable of eliciting emotional response. Ullrich Langer uses the example of the turn toward the beloved—as emblematized in Orpheus and Eurydice and repeated in Virgil, Petrarch, and Maurice Scève—in which the reader's recognition of, identification with, and feeling response to the scene is precisely what particularizes the universal, makes present the past, and brings history home.


In the books on women and gender published this year one might see a reprise in miniature of the shifts and tensions evident within the discipline as a whole. In A History of Early Modern Women's Writing, for example, editor Patricia Phillippy introduces the collection with an honest appraisal of the critical changes and methodological developments that have taken place over the last few decades—describing these in terms of challenge, struggle, conflict, dilemma, problem, and conundrum—such that what she introduces is less a history of early modern women's writing than a history of that history. Among the difficulties to have been negotiated in the aftermath of numerous archival recovery projects (many still ongoing) were questions of authorship and agency (the essentialist "woman" writer as against a disembodied author function) and, relatedly, issues around canon formation. One result of these negotiations, Phillippy notes, was a move toward seeing literary texts primarily as cultural documents, such that what became of interest was less their content than the fact of their existence, their production, and the social and material contexts that facilitated this. In a bid to avoid charges of naive essentialism, attention shifted in particular to "sites of textual production, circulation, and reception" (p. 4), the new focus being less on situational locales—the Court, for example—and more on discursive sites, especially networks, coteries, and circles (familial, elite, confessional, and so on). "This emphasis on the sites of writing accords with a view of literature as embracing multiple voices and subject positions, a literature whose histories are necessarily plural and whose aesthetic aspects are inseparable from the historical locations and social functions of writing" (p. 5). [End Page 237] Despite nods to the formal and aesthetic aspects of that writing, however, the collection as a whole generally tilts more toward the historical circumstances of its production (Clare Kinney's essay on Mary Wroth being an exception).

Gender, Authorship, and Early Modern Women's Collaboration, edited by Patricia Pender, takes a similar position. Following Ezell's important intervention in Writing Women's Literary History (1993), this volume also faces up to the problem of attributing to female authors the qualities of agency and autonomy that canonized male authors and led to women's marginalization in the first place. The emphasis is therefore on dethroning the sovereign Author in favor of collaborative networks—these being closer to sixteenth-and seventeenth-century practice than Romantic notions of the solitary genius—and the essays thoroughly historicize moments of literary and textual production. Micheline White, for example, reads Katherine Parr's Prayers and Meditations (1545) as the product of "royal collaboration" (p. 25) with Henry VIII and thus as propaganda for his wars with Scotland, France, and the Turk. Louise Horton reads the Lady Jane Grey corpus as an example less of self-fashioning than of the cofashioning of a distinctively Protestant martyr figure by interested parties, in this case, Foxe and John Day: "acknowledging the complex material history of the Grey canon destabilizes our understanding of this early modern woman writer" (p. 165). Rosalind Smith looks at marginalia in a copy of the New Testament exchanged between Princess Elizabeth and a gentlewoman of the privy chamber, Anne Poyntz, which serves to disrupt "the idea of a text as sole-authored, originary, and fixed" (p. 180).

By comparison, Lyn Bennett appears to revert to earlier models of empowered female authorship in Rhetoric, Medicine, and the Woman Writer, 1600–1700, where the topic is decisively the self-fashioning of the female medical practitioner. Against the university-educated physicians (Galenists, for the most part, and by definition male), others were competing for prestige, especially empirics such as surgeons, midwives, and apothecaries, who had a lower social status but the benefit of hands-on experience and practical expertise. Generally, though not exclusively, belonging to this latter group, women relied on their rhetorical powers to make their way, and are argued to have done so quite as effectively as their male counterparts: women proved "as rhetorically capable as the men whose texts aim in various ways to contain and control them" (p. 126). The gender binary is equally live and well in Revenge and Gender in Classical, Medieval, and [End Page 238] Renaissance Literature, a collection edited by Lesel Dawson and Fiona McHardy, which looks at the way gender inflects revenge narratives from the Greeks to the eighteenth century: "while conceptualised as a quintessential masculine activity, revenge simultaneously unleashes the female Furies and the violent, 'feminine' emotions which threaten a man's reason and self-control" (p. 1). Notwithstanding references to Judith Butler, there is little sign of gender constructivism here. Rather, gender is attributed to cognitive "hardwiring" by Edith Hall (p. 51) and Alison Findlay (p. 58), and regular appeals made to well-worn gender stereotypes (the fearsome mother, the good daughter) and polarities: revenge "represents the turning of female grief into manly action" (p. 296), for example.

More in tune with current debates is Queens Matter in Early Modern Studies, edited by Anna Riehl Bertolet and dedicated to Carole Levin as a tribute to her interdisciplinary methodology: "above all, the interplay between the historical and the literary" (p. 1). John Watkins's essay, the subtitle of which is "The Question of Historicity," might serve as one example. The editor poses this question as "to what extent does literature respond to social historical process and where does it override the reflection of historical reality in favor of a longue durée literary heritage" (pp. 7–8). The answer, for Watkins, is in intertextuality: here, the representation of lesbian love in Ludovico Ariosto, Tasso, Spenser, and Milton, and the way its "transmission from one culture to another contributed to the emergence of proto-national consciousness" (pp. 201–2). Self-consciously literary and bookish, these representations do not tell us anything about lesbian experience in Renaissance Europe—they are not "historical" in that respect—but they do produce a culture-specific "discourse" by means of which the British Protestant poets were able to define themselves against their Italian Catholic predecessors. In Spenser's Narrative Figuration of Women in "The Faerie Queene," Judith H. Anderson is similarly judicious toward an otherwise blanket historicism by deliberately choosing a methodologically eclectic approach: "I am implicitly privileging history, analytics, and difference, over universalization, psychosociology, and theory, although … not excluding the latter trio" (p. 1). This allows her to make the most of the text in hand, "close reading" (p. 1) and the "Spenserian text itself" (p. 2) being her guiding stars. Her approach toward Una, for example, is broadly generic (organized around the category of the parodic); toward Belphobe, broadly historicist (a deidealized portrait of Elizabeth as caught up in the Timias/Walter Ralegh [End Page 239] debacle); and toward Britomart, broadly characterological, rhetorical, mythic, and iconological (like some Shakespearean heroines, Britomart is finally reduced to silence). The narrative figuration that serves as the overarching theme of the book is the development (or otherwise) of female characters as their stories and plots unfold in narrative time. Attending to story as opposed to history yields some "surprising perceptions and connections that have not been seen before" (p. 5). Anderson accepts that Spenser's figuration of such female figures does not necessarily "end in ways to content most modern readers" (p. 148), but resists the urge to turn those plots into ones that might do so.


Finally, brief mention should be made of the many fine editions published this year. Beginning with women's writing, this includes Ilona Bell's much-anticipated edition of Mary Wroth's Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, the first in print to provide full texts of both manuscript and print versions of the sonnet sequence. In their anthology, Women Poets of the English Civil War, Sarah C. E. Ross and Elizabeth Scott-Baumann provide a practical, modern-spelling edition which usefully suggests ways in which individual poems and authors might be compared. The extensive body of Quaker women's writing is well represented by Witness, Warning, and Prophecy, edited by Teresa Feroli and Margaret Olofson Thickstun, and Jane Donawerth and Rebecca M. Lush's edition of Margaret Fell's "Women's Speaking Justified" and Other Pamphlets.

In the case of poetry, we see volume 4 (part 1) of the Variorum Donne, containing commentary on The Songs and Sonets (the decision having been made to release this prior to the texts themselves, which will make up parts 2 and 3), although—given the cutoff date is 1999, and that some 2,000 pieces have been written on Donne's lyrics since then—the volume testifies to the folkloric impossibility of the task. In a special issue of the George Herbert Journal, Catherine Freis, Richard Freis, and Greg Miller have produced a superb edition of the poet's Latin verse (including parallel text translations and useful appendices) which presents another side of Herbert: not the private, devotional poet associated with The Temple but a public poet in dialogue with other public figures such as Andrew Melville and Pope Urban VIII. Johnathan H. Pope has edited Phineas Fletcher's The Purple Island: Or, The Isle of Man, an allegorical epyllion that describes [End Page 240] the "body that existed in early seventeenth-century medical and anatomical discourse" (p. 33). As part of the Oxford Scholarly Editions series, Paul Hartle has published the first complete edition of the poetry of Charles Cotton, an oeuvre historically eclipsed by Cotton's association with Izaak Walton and authorship of the second part of The Compleat Angler. In Newly Recovered English Classical Translations, 1600–1800, Stuart Gillespie edits nearly 320 translations and excerpts from manuscript verse translations that went unpublished in their own time. Robert S. Miola gives us a new, modern-spelling edition of the 1611 printing of George Chapman's Iliad (including all paratexts), to accompany Gordon Kendal's edition of Chapman's Odyssey, published in the same series in 2016. And Patricia J. Osmond and Robert W. Ulery Jr. edit Edmund Bolton's Averrunci or The Skowrers: a translation of Tacitus by means of which the Royalist Bolton seeks to rehabilitate the figure of Tiberius against the (then fashionable) republican and "Tacitean" view of the emperor as a monstrous tyrant.


In conclusion, what I take away from this year's work is the impression of a discipline that, having long been powered by an unwavering faith in the reformed vision of itself, is beginning to wonder where it goes next. Is it committed to professing that faith, and if so how does it meet the challenge of saying something new? In new materials alone, its methodology being sacrosanct? Or might that methodology be open to more ecumenical approaches since, when prosecuted to its logical conclusion, something is in danger of getting lost? With the reforming zeal of the founding fathers now settled into orthodoxy, might positions once thought heretical be newly entertained? Some of the most interesting and thoughtful examples of this year's work would appear to suggest so. Or might that very possibility confirm old enmities and entrench party lines? All these possibilities seem present in the work reviewed here. It feels a bit like the early 1630s, the time of the Laudian reforms: a period, of course, that ultimately led to the outbreak of civil war. I very much hope that will not be the case here. [End Page 241]

Catherine Bates

Catherine Bates is Research Professsor in the Centre for the Study of the Renaissance at the University of Warwick. She has written several books on the poetry and poetics of the period, including Masculinity and the Hunt: Wyatt to Spenser (2013)—winner of the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize—and On Not Defending Poetry: Defence and Indefensibility in Sidney's "Defence of Poesy" (2017). She is also editor of The Cambridge Companion to the Epic (2010) and A Companion to Renaissance Poetry (2018). She is working on a book on poetry and usury.

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