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date: 30 November 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Sir Thomas Smith and William Bullein were the most accomplished dialogue writers of their generation. Both men were humanists and moralists, who used dialogue in innovative and stylistically striking ways. They were also proponents of ‘commonwealth’ who examined the limits and possibilities of ‘counsel’ in their respective fields of expertise. Furthermore, while Smith affirmed the potential of ‘discourse’ and ‘counsel’ to resolve dissension and establish an acceptable truth among self-interested parties, Bullein came to suggest the opposite: that eloquence and knowledge were dangerous tools to be manipulated for private interest and profit. In this way, their work illustrates the contrasting scribal and commercial audiences to which dialogues could be directed as well as the different kinds of knowledge the form could bear. Perhaps most importantly, they suggest two trajectories of the English humanist project as it had developed by 1560: the idealistic faith in the power of rhetoric to identify and serve the public good; and the more pessimistic intimation that not only was the ‘new learning’ socially ineffectual, but in the wrong hands it actively corroded commonwealth.

Keywords: dialogue writers, humanists, moralists, commonwealth

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