Whence, Plain Style? Renaissance Monolingualism and the City
- Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies
- University of California, Los Angeles, Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies
- Volume 51, 2020
- pp. 69-96
- Additional Information
Literary critics have variously distinguished between the two dominant poetic styles in sixteenth-century England. C. S. Lewis characterized them as "drab" and "golden," Yvor Winters as "plain" and "ornate" or "eloquent," and J. V. Cunningham as "moral" and "pleasant." These accounts either compare the rhetorical features of the two styles or link their coexistence to the tumultuous political landscape of the Tudor period. This article proposes a different set of parameters: It was the gradual reification of a monolingual paradigm in sixteenth-century London that precipitated the divisions of poetic language along such axes. The poetic representation of London—prominent in the plain and almost entirely absent from the eloquent poetic traditions of the period—offers a convenient lens to juxtapose the social dynamics that undergird both styles. London finds representation through the plain style because, unlike the eloquent style's emphasis on private idiom and self-fashioning, plainness foregrounds shared contexts and referential functions of language. This article first explains the ideological force of the sixteenth-century monolingual paradigm and its relation to these two dominant poetic styles. It then turns to two particular poets to show why the plain style endured in the city's social and geographical margins: While George Turberville addresses the city from its periphery, capturing the centrifugal growth of an emergent market logic, Isabella Whitney uses her marginalized position to deconstruct this logic from within.