Aristotle’s Poetics has been thought to be inaccessible or misunderstood in sixteenth-century England, but this inherited assumption has drifted far from the primary evidence and lagged behind advances in contiguous fields. As a member of the corpus Aristotelicum, the shared foundation of Western education until the late seventeenth century, the Poetics enjoyed wide circulation, ownership, and interest in Latin and Italian as well as the original Greek. Placing the Poetics in its intellectual context suggests a very different narrative for its reception in English criticism, one that accounts for a multiplicity of readings and uses on both sides of the academic divide. Some of those readings—in Cheke, Ascham, Rainolds, Sidney, and others—are considered in this article, and directions are proposed for future research in what remains a rich and mostly unworked vein of literary history.
Margaret J. M. Ezell
John Bunyan’s writings have traditionally invited critical readings focusing on gender issues. With the scholarly recovery of the writings of radical sectarian women during the 1650s and 1660s and renewed study of libertine sexuality in the Restoration, our understanding of Bunyan’s representation of gender hierarchy and gender roles in his writings has become more complex. On the one hand, as a minister, he insisted on conformity to a biblically based gender hierarchy, and in works like The Life and Death of Mr. Badman (1680) he condemned the fashionable display of sexuality. On the other hand, Bunyan conceptualized the nature of the human relationship with God as requiring men to perform feminine roles and women to take on masculine traits.
Vera J. Camden
In a 1945 letter to the British Medical Journal, D. W. Winnicott protests unethical impositions upon mental patients in which surgeons are ‘cutting brains about’. He remarks, ‘what happens if these physical therapy methods spread to the treatment of criminals? What guarantee have we that a Bunyan in prison will be allowed to keep his brain intact and his imagination free?’ Bunyan, whose resistance to the repressive authorities of his day fostered his genius, in fact flourished in prison, keeping his brain intact, his imagination free. During his long confinement, the prison walls become the scene of his dream of The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678). Drawing upon psychoanalytic theories of guilt, punishment, and creativity, this chapter offers the case of Bunyan as a Nietzschean ‘pale criminal’ whose lonely confinement quells his conscience and consolidates his identity as pastor, poet, and pilgrim.
This article considers whether the activity that we recognize as criticism existed in the literary culture of early Tudor England. Before the appearance of formal poetic defenses and literary treatises in English (an Elizabethan phenomenon associated with Sir Philip Sidney and George Puttenham), English vernacular culture of the early sixteenth century seems to have been devoid of a fully fledged poetics or literary theory. Yet the composite evidence of printed prefaces, various endeavors to translate classical rhetorical terminology, and poetic practice itself in these early decades reveals a series of literary-critical interests that recur in the writing and intellectual history of this period. Literary theory in early Tudor England evolves as it addresses a set of preoccupations that cluster around questions of authorial inventiveness, models of style and vernacular eloquence, the domestication of imported critical terminology, and the agency of readers.
This article discusses the articulation of authority in London merchant hall drama in the early Tudor period. The Drapers’ Company records payments for plays performed, often by professional companies, at their August election feast for over a century, suggesting that their patronage of drama was not only the means to display company wealth and sophistication, but also bound up with the transferal of authority within the guild. Read in relation to London’s, with its increasingly fraught relation to the centralizing policies of the early Tudor monarchs, interludes such as John Skelton’s Magnificence and the John Rastell and John Heywood production, Gentleness and Nobility, emerge as explorations of issues urgent in the civic milieu: the theory and practice of governance and the ethics of oligarchy.
This article suggests that a deeper understanding of contemporary environmental problems can be found in the Renaissance period. It explains that the attitudes toward nature underlying the current conduct of many of the world’s industrial societies took shape hundreds of years ago and cannot be effectively addressed until they are understood. It contends that the arts of the English and Dutch Renaissance reflect an extensive and uneasy meditation on the shadowy boundary between ourselves and our environment and highlights the emergence of such issues as vegetarianism, animal rights, and policy against meat-eating during this period.
The rich and expanding rhetorical universe of the English Renaissance annexed the expressive possibilities of painting and the plastic arts using a variety of figures and tropes. These—ekphrasis (intense description), blason (anatomizing description), paragone (the contest between the arts), and emblems and imprese (formal verbal-visual symbols)—allowed English writers to press the visual into the service of the verbal, creating powerful rhetorical tools and distinctive literary expression. This article describes the development of these verbal-visual tools from the late medieval period through the early seventeenth century by Italian art theorists and in the exemplary works of Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare.