This article examines George Gascoigne's prose writing. Gascoigne's modern reputation rests principally upon four works: the prose fiction A Discourse of the Adventures passed by Master F.J., one of the earliest important texts in the history of the novel in English; his prose play Supposes, a source for Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew; his frequently anthologised poem, ‘Gascoignes wodmanship’; and ‘Certayne Notes of Instruction concerning the making of verse or ryme in English’, the earliest essay on English composition. Three of these have significant prose elements: Master F.J. is partly prose and partly verse; Supposes is a prose comedy; and ‘Certayne Notes of Instruction’ is a prose essay on the art of versification. The sheer range of Gascoigne's prose work is extraordinary, but his longest prose works are all translations.
This article examines sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century dialogue. It considers why so many writers chose to convey opinions or explore ideas in works laid out as conversations. The pervasiveness of the form is apparent in the sheer gamut of topics discussed ‘dialogue-wise’: subjects range from worshipping saints to the proper behaviour of women; from music to the art of warfare. Dialogue comes in many guises: descriptors on printed title-pages range from the neutral ‘colloquy’ or ‘discourse’ to the more formal ‘debate’ and ‘dispute’. In choosing to convey their ideas and opinions in a dialogue, early modern writers selected a form that had ideological resonances; it was a form which gestured towards the debate and verbal interaction that they believed should lie at the heart of successful governance and a healthy society — for many dialogues, the very solution lies in talking.
P. G. Maxwell-Stuart
The Elizabethans and Jacobeans along with all their European contemporaries lived simultaneously in the physical world and a spiritual realm inhabited by spirits, angels, demons, and the dead that constantly intruded, irregularly and mostly without warning, bringing humans and non-human entities into disturbing and often terrifying contact. This article discusses works about astrology, magic, and witchcraft in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
This article discusses early modern prayer books, focusing on the Book of Common Prayer. It shows that the early modern prayer book was a work in progress — not only revised but revisable — and this was publicly known and popularly discussed. The history of the prayer book is a history of struggles between rival forms and uses, between languages and revisions; and is tied deeply to the shifting occupancy of the English throne. The article also considers the question of how early modern worshipers used their prayer books.
This article provides a snapshot of the types of prose translation through a series of paradigmatic examples and judiciously selected quotations. Among these are Philemon Holland's English version of the elder Pliny's Natural History, Nicholas Grimald's version of Cicero's On Duties, Angel Day' first English version of Longus's pastoral romance Daphnis and Chloe, Alexander Barclay's translation of Sallust's Jugurtha, Thomas Stanley's translation of Plato in History of Philosophy.
This article focuses on commonplace books: collections of quotations ‘culled from authors held to be authoritative’, and organized under headings to facilitate their retrieval. Like electronic databases today, commonplace books helped Renaissance readers cope with ‘information overload’. It is argued that the ‘commonplace’ is as foundational to the practice of early modern prose fiction as literary devices with a more familiar resonance: such as point of view, unreliable narrators, and heteroglossia. The article takes as its starting point William Baldwin's A Treatise of Morall Phylosophie, contaynyng the sayinges of the wyse (1547). Flawed this work may be, but the liberties Baldwin takes with the ancient wise sayings he claims to have collected make this work an important contribution to the understanding of this rhetorical habit. A second collector, the seventeenth-century divine, Robert Burton is also considered.
This article examines various texts (including chronicles, spiritual autobiographies, financial accounts and annotated almanacs), all of which can be related in some way to the category of the diary. It emphasizes how modern expectations of the diary as a form linked with intimacy, candour, and self-revelation were only fitfully present in the early modern period, and were only gradually emerging across the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: most early modern diaries were texts as much linked with the recording of actions in the world and public events as they were registers of any kind of inner life. As a consequence, the diary reminds us to pause in scepticism at many of the claims for cultural modernity implicit in the period marker ‘early modern’. The analysis begins with the diary of Lady Margaret Hoby (1571–1633) of Hackness, Yorkshire, which raises and then confounds many of the modern expectations of diaries, privacy, and subjectivity, and so illustrates how the diary was not yet the form known today.
This article explores how domestic manuals work internally — what their prose form might be able to tell us about the way they were used and their potential impact on their early modern readers. In doing so, it addresses the way prose writers explored the connections between individuals within a household, and investigates their methods for forging links between theory and practice. The focus is on texts about domestic behaviour, as opposed to volumes on household work and on husbandry. The former are more conceptual, laying out ideals of conduct based largely on Biblical principle, whereas the latter treat the practical tasks of domestic labour — the preparation of food or the types of medicine which the housewife might need to administer, and the tilling of the soil and the successful cultivation of various crops and animals.
The misunderstanding of Francis Bacon's ideas and literary practice has led to the myth of his call to dismiss rhetoric in favour of a plain or somehow de-rhetoricised language of science and scientific expression. However, the traditional account of natural philosophy's ‘defeat’ of rhetoric by Baconian dictat ignores the fact that post-Baconian natural philosophical writing of the seventeenth century has remarkable and unusual rhetorical and imaginative features; that these were eagerly discussed by the natural philosophers, both in their science and in lay topics; that they all came to science, as Bacon himself did, from an intensely rhetorical humanist training; and that the traditional structure of a ‘natural history’ included all the categories of the humanist curriculum, including rhetoric and poetry. This article explores the scientific view of the literary by considering what practising early-modern scientists said on the subject. It focuses on the scientific prose of Francis Bacon, Thomas Browne, and Robert Boyle.
This article analyzes the crafting of an English language that is unceasingly eloquent. The challenge is confronted most directly in the pages of vernacular treatises on rhetoric and poetics — practical guides to the domestication of a theoretical discourse identified with what was written and spoken elsewhere. Several works are considered including Thomas Wilson's Arte of Rhetorique (1553, 1560), George Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie (1589), Richard Sherry's Treatise of Schemes and Tropes (1550), and George Gascoigne's ‘Certayne Notes of Instruction Concerning the Making of Verse’.
This article discusses the various essay forms in the early modern period, from Francis Bacon's brief and controlled interventions to the sustained and wandering explorations of Sir William Cornwallis, a writer very much in the mould of the significantly more prolix Michel de Montaigne. It describes how the essay blurs into other genres, and encouraged experimentation of all kinds. It stretched especially in the direction of biography and mock biography on the one hand, and in the direction of autobiography on the other.
This article focuses on the career of Gabriel Harvey, which simultaneously demonstrates an acute understanding of literary traditions and the desire to break free and establish new forms of writing. Harvey is all too often remembered as Thomas Nashe's victim in their pamphlet war, but there is far more to his prose than this exchange indicates, and Harvey was often as innovative as Nashe, especially in his manuscript Letter-Book.
This article considers assessments of biblical prose in the early modern period. The Bible was less often assessed for its style than for its efficacy, its personal and political turning of men and women to God's providential purposes. While the pen-men of scripture, from its poets to its gruff prophets, might be more or less able to turn a phrase neatly, and while in ineffable manner they might be the prophetic channel for the Holy Spirit, they remained human and their texts remained ephemeral, material, and subject to decay and tampering.
This article explores William Painter's The Palace of Pleasure, the first collection of prose short stories in English, and George Pettie's spin-off from Painter, The Petite Pallace of Pettie His Pleasure . It is Boccaccio who determines the ultimate character of Painter's landmark collection. Painter introduced to English the kind of generic and stylistic flexibility that is traditionally associated with Shakespeare: the mixing of comedy and tragedy and the moving between high and low stylistic registers. The stories of The Palace of Pleasure are also more socially inclusive in the prominence they give to women. Unlike Painter, Pettie goes to considerable length to construct a narrative persona who is very much in control: knowing, mannered, smoothly. However, the feminist posturings of the Petite Pallace are fake, designed as much for the entertainment of male wits as for the satisfaction of the young women to whom they are so assiduously addressed.
Ian Munro and Anne Lake Prescott
This article examines jestbooks as a manifestation of a broader culture of jesting, laughter, and wit — a culture that extends beyond collections of jokes, and involves complex tensions between popular and learned social markings. It shows that the Tudor jestbook has an impressive ancestry in written works, if also, presumably, roots in oral tradition going back to caveman days. That ancestry includes classical and Renaissance discussions of the value of jokes (facetiae) and wit (eutrapelia) to rhetoric, courtiership, conviviality, and political ambition. It includes learned humanist wit and equally learned thoughts on humour's relation to logic, language, food, health, and the body. And it includes theorizing on laughter from ancient to early modern times. The article first lays out this background and then more specifically describes the Tudor jestbooks themselves.
This article examines the prose of John Knox and George Buchanan. Their political and controversial works, often published in the heat of national and dynastic dramas, helped shape the radical reputations that would make them the major voices of the Scottish Reformation. Among these are Knox's First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, his strident denunciation of female rule of 1558; Buchanan's Ane Detectioun of the duinges of Marie Quene of Scottes, published in a variety of forms in Scots, English, and Latin in the early 1570s; and his De Iure Regni apud Scotos (1579), a work of political theory justifying the deposition of Mary and defending the legitimacy of violent action against tyrannical rulers.
This article analyzes Lazarillo de Tormes, which was translated in 1576 and helped to define an English understanding of Spanish literature and culture as concerned with the struggle to overcome the cruel and hostile forces that besieged the peasant in an authoritarian society. Such a world encouraged sly cunning and militated against moral probity, at least until the good fortune of the ‘picaro’ ran out. This book had a major impact on the course of English fiction, notably Thomas Nashe's The Unfortunate Traveller, published just over a decade later, as well as the earthy style of prose and drama.
This article discusses letter writing in the early modern period. After face-to-face conversation, the letter served as the second form of communication between people, and was the principal means of contact between parties at any distance. Information was passed on, trade facilitated, orders given, and ties maintained through the exchange of letters. Letters were also composed and written according to — and sometimes in contravention of — protocols that became increasingly highly elaborated. And they were never without their creative or imaginative or even duplicitous elements, which during the early seventeenth century started to develop into what would become one of the leading literary genres in English, the epistolary novel.
This article discusses life writing, which did not exist in any of the forms familiar to modern readers in 1550, but manifested in multiple and plural ways by 1700. It first outlines some critical and definitional issues. It then examines the origins, practices, and uses of what later might be called ‘biography’. Finally, it explores some examples of what Elspeth Graham calls ‘self-writing’, asking, in particular, why women found the business of writing lives (both their own, and those of individuals to whom they were closely linked) so amenable, and in what ways life-writing enabled (or disabled) female agency.
Joseph L. Black
This article discusses the Marprelate controversy. The Martin Marprelate tracts are a series of six pamphlets and a broadsheet printed on a secret press between October 1588 and September 1589. They attacked the Elizabethan church, particularly church government by bishops (hence the pseudonym, Mar-prelate), and argued on behalf of an alternative, Presbyterian system. The tracts sparked a nationwide manhunt, accompanied by a multimedia campaign in which church and state joined forces to counter the influence of what Martin and his opponents both termed ‘Martinism’. At the time and down the centuries, most commentators on the Marprelate controversy denounced the tracts as base, scurrilous invective. However, beginning in the later nineteenth century, pioneering research by scholars such as Edward Arber, J. Dover Wilson, R. B. McKerrow, and William Pierce won the tracts a new reputation as some of the finest Elizabethan prose satires, worthy of their own chapter in the literary history of the sixteenth century.