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.
This article reviews recent scholarly work on the connections between rhetoric and literature in the period 1500–1700. It describes the historicist turn in the wake of Brian Vickers’s In Defence of Rhetoric (1988) and uses the five canons of rhetoric (inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria, actio) to illustrate and extend recent methodological developments in the field. Through a series of case studies, the article outlines four principal future directions for the study of Renaissance rhetoric. First, it advocates a more context-specific analysis of rhetorical concepts. Second, it calls for more sustained attention to rhetoric as an art of argument (and therefore to its overlaps with dialectic and with scholastic forms of thought). Third, it argues for the importance of ecclesiastical and neo-Aristotelian handbooks of rhetoric. Fourth, it encourages consideration of the material dimensions of rhetorical theory and practice.
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.