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date: 20 June 2021

Aristotelian Criticism in Sixteenth-Century England

Abstract and Keywords

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.

Keywords: Aristotle, Poetics, Aristotelian, criticism, Greek, Latin, Italian, Philip Sidney, John Cheke, Roger Ascham, reception, scholarship, sixteenth-century England

Aristotelianism and the Poetics

Every sixteenth-century English critic was Aristotelian; every thinking Renaissance human was Aristotelian. For four hundred years Aristotelianism had been the living organism of Western knowledge. To look up at the heavens until the mid-seventeenth century was to see an Aristotelian cosmos of celestial bodies moving in perfect circles; to scrutinize the terrestrial world was to see mixtures of Aristotelian elements combining and corrupting in constant flux. Statements were true or false by Aristotelian logic, and individual and political action was guided by Aristotelian ethics and politics; from the mechanics of dreaming to the breeding habits of a catfish now known as Silurus aristotelis, Aristotle and the wide-ranging investigative literature that developed around his writings were the encyclopedia. The only true alternative was scripture, and after centuries of harmonization by the most penetrating minds in Christendom, even this was inseparable from the Aristotelian corpus. Certainly this vast body of knowledge accommodated a multitude of opinions, and new modifications and alternatives were cooked up in the academic avant-garde. Platonism, in particular, flourished in the fifteenth-century Florentine academy and has often been considered definitive of Renaissance thought. But until the institutionalization in the late seventeenth century of mathematical and empirical sciences whose scope lay beyond that of the Peripatetic corpus, “Aristotelianism still represented a more comprehensive and internally coherent system,” Charles Schmitt concludes, “than any that was available to replace it.”1 By Schmitt’s estimate between three and four thousand Aristotelian texts were published during the sixteenth century, compared to fewer than five hundred for Plato. Even the fallow half century following Henry VIII’s break from Rome was brought to an end by robust Elizabethan statutes, revitalizing the Aristotelian curriculum for a generation of young students who would mature into the prominent literary and critical voices of late sixteenth-century England. Whatever particular enthusiasms they developed in later life supplemented, rather than supplanted, their essentially Aristotelian education. Thus the Ethics underwrites Spenser’s structuring of the Faerie Queene around “the twelve priuate morall virtues,” as well as Sidney’s insistence that “it is not Gnosis but Praxis must be the fruit” of poetry;2 John Hoskins, author of a brief set of Directions for Speech and Style at the close of the century, calls on the Rhetoric and sends his reader to the Topics for stylistic instruction;3 and Puttenham, the most comprehensive of English critics, cites from “the Philosopher” precepts from the Physics, the Metaphysics, and the Politics, draws his model of the imagination from On the Soul, and strews the Rhetoric everywhere.4

Conspicuously absent from this panoply is the Poetics, which is what we mean, however narrowly, when we say “Aristotelian criticism.” Within the corpus Aristotelicum the Poetics was, and is still, exceptional. While almost all the works had been recovered and translated into Latin by the end of the twelfth century, the version of the Poetics made from the Greek by William of Moerbeke in 1278 remained unknown despite its translator’s renown; it survives today in only two manuscripts and attracted no known references before its rediscovery in 1931.5 Even in antiquity the Poetics seems not to have circulated.6 Lacking citation in classical and medieval sources outside the ancient catalogs of Aristotle’s writings, the Poetics was known in the West only through a twelfth-century Arabic commentary by Averroes. But this was a confusing document, disseminated in still more confusing Latin; unfamiliar with the dramatic art to which Aristotle devotes most of his treatise, Averroes assimilated tragedy and comedy to moral, narrative categories, to poetry of praise and of blame. Though the sixteenth century saw him better translated by Jewish scholars working from intermediary Hebrew texts, Averroes receded into the scholarly background after the Greek text reappeared amid a loose circle of Byzantine émigrés and philohellenist humanists in mid-fifteenth-century Italy. A Latin translation by Giorgio Valla was printed in 1498, the Greek text in 1508, and the work truly entered the mainstream with the appearance of Alessandro Pazzi’s Latin translation in 1536.

The Poetics is thus historically and bibliographically exceptional, confounding the clear narrative of Aristotle’s fortunes in the Renaissance, whereby the long-established medieval corpus began to be printed in the early 1470s in Italy and drifted into northern Europe by the mid-sixteenth century, transformed by new humanist translations and renewed attention to the original Greek. The Poetics, on the contrary, had no substantial manuscript tradition outside fifteenth-century Italy; it neither had the support of a scholastic interpretive literature nor suffered from the odium such literature came to attract. It was a new entrant on the Renaissance stage, circulating as much as a work of cinquecento Italian literary criticism as of ancient Greek philosophy. Moreover, style—in some sense the subject of the Poetics—was one of the few areas in which Aristotle did not hold the conch. The Rhetoric was known throughout the Middle Ages and was often prescribed for university courses, but by the Renaissance it was decidedly less influential than the rhetorical works of Cicero and Quintilian, on which the rebirth of letters had been founded. Aristotle’s own telegraphic style had a deserved reputation for obscurity to which the Poetics is no exception, and in much humanist polemic he was the figurehead for the “barbarous” Latin cultivated by his scholastic followers.7

A third kind of exceptionalism, however, has shaped the history of the Poetics in sixteenth-century England still more decisively: the Poetics (perhaps alongside some fragments of the Rhetoric) is the only Aristotle we still read. Budding playwrights can find Aristotle discussed in, for example, Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters or The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Screenwriting, with a veneration unparalleled in modern treatments of his logical, zoological, cosmological, psychological, and ethical works. Writers on both the creative and the academic sides of English literature, that is, have long been invested in Aristotle’s meaning to an extent that has made a properly sixteenth-century Poetics difficult to see. Some of the foremost literary scholars of the last century—the century in which English literature established itself as a scholarly discipline—have had very strong ideas of what the Poetics means and stands for, above all a principle of aesthetic autonomy in opposition to older, “rhetorical” or “ethical” views of literature. Of course any survey quickly reveals that the meaning of the Poetics, vexed and in places notoriously vague, is anything but agreed upon in modern scholarship, or even in any given classics department. But the notion of a self-evident Poetics is a useful fiction, which has enabled many scholars to synchronize whatever convulsive emergence into literary modernity they wish to identify with the recovery of the “real” meaning of Aristotle’s text from obscurity. Modern investment in the work has thus shielded it from the methodological sophistication that now characterizes reception studies in other fields, notably a shift in emphasis away from searching for sanctioned readings and toward exploring the broad, eclectic range of historical interpretation.

The belief that England was insulated from the central text of Western aesthetics before the age of Jonson is therefore not hard to find. Standard sources on Renaissance criticism agree that the reception of the Poetics in England was “slow.”8 As early as 1678, Thomas Rymer ascribed the infelicities of Jacobean tragedians to their ignorance of Aristotle:

I have thought our Poetry of the last Age as rude as our Architecture, one cause thereof might be, that Aristotle’s treatise of Poetry has been so little studied amongst us, it was perhaps Commented upon by all the great men in Italy, before we well know (on this side of the Alps) that there was such a Book in being.9

Thirty years later Nicholas Rowe was pleading the same ignorance against the “great many faults” of Shakespeare’s tragedies; “to judge therefore of Shakespear by Aristotle’s rules,” Pope agreed, “is like trying a man by the Laws of one Country, who acted under those of another.”10 Rymer, Rowe, and Pope were writing au moment here, attempting to justify England’s national literature in the censorious shadow of seventeenth-century French neoclassicism, but their tone outlived its purpose. In The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare’s Tragedies, Janette Dillon complains that “the classical name most often associated with the study of Shakespeare nowadays, for no very good reason, is Aristotle”; Shakespeare and his contemporaries “almost certainly never read his major work on tragedy, the Poetics.”11 That Aristotle may still be associated with Shakespeare because the comparison is useful and revealing Donald Stump recognizes as an “embarrassing fact,” since we have no evidence of the national playwright’s “direct contact” with Aristotle’s text, the Greek tragedians whose work Aristotle describes, or even the Italian critics who interpreted and disseminated Aristotle’s views.12

Shakespeare’s better-educated contemporaries fare no better. Sir Philip Sidney might well be placed in the first rank of readers of the Poetics, since his Defence of Poesie names or quotes Aristotle and his treatise at least six times and borrows from it liberally throughout. Aristotle is central to Sidney’s poetics. Yet the Oxford World’s Classics edition of the Defence omits any mention of the Poetics in its introductory material, despite including sources far more sparsely represented; in another standard edition, glossing a passage certainly translated from the Poetics, R. W. Maslen cautions that “it is not certain that Sidney knew the Poetics at first hand;” and Henry Turner, while accepting that Sidney was at least acquainted with the Poetics, insists that he was “Aristotelian in a literary way only in a limited sense.”13 Only Gavin Alexander, among recent editors, allows that Sidney may have had “the book open in front of him as he writes.”14 “Scholars typically claim,” as Tanya Pollard summarized the state of the field in 2010, “that this text, which was neither translated into English nor printed in England before the seventeenth century, has no bearing on the English Renaissance.”15

The case against knowledge of the Poetics in sixteenth-century England has always clustered around three intersecting historical truisms, which one recent, representative objection to Sidney’s use of the work conveniently unites:

While Sidney read Aristotle at Oxford, perhaps even in the original Greek, he would not have had access there to the Poetics. It is far more likely that he read derivative excerpts from the Poetics in Italian commentaries.16

The first obstacle for Sidney, and by extension for all the work’s potential English readers, is one of straightforward textual access. Despite Sidney’s three years at Oxford from 1568 and his Aristotelian training while there, this argument insists that Sidney would not have had access to the Poetics. That is to say: Whatever Aristotelian literature was circulating in England at the time, and whatever form it took, the Poetics was not among it. The work was not printed in England before 1623, when it appeared in the Latin translation of Theodore Goulston, a classical scholar and practicing London physician; it was not translated into English until 1705. Even had a sixteenth-century critic set out with an express desire to read the work—perhaps having read about it in one of those Italian commentaries or being independently interested in questions of poetics, as by definition many were—simply laying hands on the book, according to the standard historiography, was an insuperable difficulty. “Anyone seeking to follow the trail of the Poetics into private libraries, and from there into English literary culture more broadly,” Henry Turner concludes after a survey of Aristotelian holdings in English libraries, “is bound to conclude that it quickly runs cold.”17

The second obstacle is linguistic. Sidney, true, is here granted enough Greek to have read Aristotle in the original, though misgivings have been registered elsewhere about Sidney’s linguistic facility.18 In any case, Sidney’s high-end education may give him the benefit of the doubt. Greek literacy has usually been judged sorely lacking in the sixteenth century, if anything the sole preserve of professional scholars, and certainly beyond the run of educated Elizabethans. Justly or not, there persists in modern scholarship, Neil Rhodes observes, a “tacit assumption that Greek had little impact on English writing in the late sixteenth century.”19 If Aristotle’s Poetics was in Greek, and the English had little Greek or none at all—the argument goes—then the English cannot really have read Aristotle’s Poetics.

What to do, then, with the several direct references to the Poetics that are to be found in the English literary record? By the time Lane Cooper and Alfred Gudeman’s Bibliography of the Poetics of Aristotle was published in 1928, most of the citations currently known had already come to light.20 Sir John Cheke uses the Poetics in a treatise on Greek pronunciation (written in 1542, printed in 1555), and his Cambridge colleague Roger Ascham places it in a more literary discussion in The Scholemaster (1570). Martin Bucer presents a vision of a reformed, pious Aristotelian drama in De regno Christi (presented via Cheke to Edward VI in 1550, printed in 1557). Giordano Bruno chafes at Aristotle’s dominance in De gl’heroici furori (dedicated to Sidney and published in London in 1585). And among the more canonical English critics, Thomas Lodge asserts via Aristotle that men delight in imitation (1579), William Webbe has some commonplace references in his Discourse of English Poetrie (1586), John Rainolds casually cross-references the Poetics in his Oxford lectures on the Rhetoric, and Sir John Harington makes substantial use of it in the Brief Apologie for Poetry prefaced to his translation of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso (1591)—not to mention, of course, Sidney’s Defence. William Scott’s Model of Poesy, rediscovered only recently and so not known to Cooper and Gudeman, offers still more impressively detailed treatment of the Poetics at the close of the sixteenth century.21

More often than not, however, this record has been taken to indicate the paucity of the influence of the Poetics in England compared to its thriving reception in Italy. This third argument assumes the mediation of Aristotle’s text by (mostly Italian) secondary literature. Joel Spingarn’s remark at the turn of the twentieth century that Sidney’s Defence was “a veritable epitome of the literary criticism of the Italian Renaissance,” though intended as a compliment to the influential Italian recovery of the Poetics, became the negative premise of the English field.22 The first anthologist of English criticism, G. Gregory Smith, declared of Spingarn’s thesis that there could be “no doubt as to the validity of the general contention” and found that only a few of the passages mentioned above “imply any knowledge of the text or discuss its doctrine”; for Marvin Herrick, perhaps the most influential scholar of the Italian-English critical axis, “from the first these English interpretations of Aristotle’s theories were hopelessly adulterated with Horatian maxims and Continental scholarship.”23 The penetration of Spingarn’s, Smith’s, and Herrick’s work into twentieth-century scholarship was definitive. Rendered helpless by their lack of the real thing, English readers are assumed to have defaulted to the excerpts, summaries, and commentaries flowing out of Italy, where the Poetics was as focal and galvanic as it was marginal and neglected in England.

Access and Evidence

Even without any positive evidence to the contrary, many of these arguments should give us pause. Were English readers really limited to books printed in England? If so, are there any other standard works that should be considered beyond them? If not, should it matter that no English press issued a copy of the Poetics before 1623? Considering the work only entered the printed canon in the sixteenth century, how quickly did English book owners and institutions modernize their holdings? Was Greek really the only language in which the Poetics circulated? If not, how much of Aristotle’s meaning would a translation really occlude? And if it was only available in Greek, how much Greek would one practically need to gain a working familiarity with the Poetics? (One might even add: How many of these modern scholars themselves worked from translations, as opposed to the unadulterated Greek text?) As for mediation: What did this secondary literature actually look like? Would its readers not have been referred back to the primary text? Since quotation of Aristotle’s ideas from a secondary work would presumably look a lot like quotation of Aristotle’s ideas themselves, how certainly can we distinguish between the two? Does admixture of Horatian or continental ideas with Aristotelian ones really mean that the writer had not read or understood Aristotle? Does knowledge of secondary literature usually indicate ignorance of the original? Should familiarity with, say, Spingarn’s work on Sidney’s Defence of Poesie be taken to imply ignorance of the Defence itself?

Good evidence substantiates these doubts. It is true that no English translator took on the Poetics before 1623, but then no English translator attempted any of Aristotle’s major works in the sixteenth century, other than to produce an abridged English Ethics from the Latin of Brunetto Latini and, at the very end of the century, an English Politics from the French of Louis Le Roy.24 Aristotelian works in general were not much printed in England. To judge by the print record, the most popular Aristotelian works were pseudonymous, the Problemata and the Secrete of Secretes, issued thrice and twice, respectively, from English presses.25 This is obviously not an accurate index of the popularity of the Ethics, Politics, or any other of Aristotle’s widely circulating works, and there is no reason it should be more accurate for the Poetics. In fact English readers were getting their books from foreign presses, as has been known for some time to bibliographers; the record of books printed in England provides “only partial evidence,” Margaret Lane Ford observes, of its intellectual history.26 Even a brief survey of contemporary English booklists and library catalogs reveals that most of the books in sixteenth-century England were printed on the Continent.27 Book buyers from across Europe congregated at the great fairs in Frankfurt and Lyon; books from Venice were shipped to the north through the straits of Gibraltar. Aristotelianism itself was a shared vocabulary of the international scholarly community, and the Philosopher’s books colonized every corner of Europe.28

England was one of those corners. One of the persistent misconceptions in the field is that the Poetics traveled in books entitled Aristotelis poetica or the like, separated from the wider corpus as clearly as we separate it ourselves. Attempts to unearth the book in English libraries have foundered on this point. While there certainly existed stand-alone volumes containing the Poetics, even in Italy these represented a small fraction of the text’s circulation.29 The earliest printings are a case in point. For the first four decades of its publication, the only Latin version of the Poetics available was Giorgio Valla’s of 1498, which appeared in a volume of Latin translations of minor Greek works of logic, cosmology, and medicine, normally cataloged under its first item, Nicephorus Blemmydes’s Logica.30 When the Greek was printed in 1508 by Aldus Manutius, it appeared in an important collection of Greek rhetorical works, later known as the Rhetores graeci but at the time likewise filed, again, under its first item: Aphthonius’s Progymnasmata.31 These works plainly represent a period of publication prior to the full absorption of the Poetics into the printed corpus Aristotelicum. But however surprised we may be to find the Poetics traveling with such companions, at the time these volumes were quite popular. Valla’s 1498 volume was on the shelves of Oxford scholar William Brown (d. 1558), of John, Lord Lumley (whose library was cataloged in 1609), and of an anonymous scholar in the first half of the century most recently identified as diplomat Sir Richard Morison; one copy now in the Bodleian was almost certainly circulating sometime in the century, and another was bequeathed to New College, Oxford, by Cardinal Pole after his death in 1558.32 Aldus’s Rhetores graeci was also owned by our “anonymous scholar”; it was among the books of Mary, Queen of Scots dispersed in 1568, and returned to her son James in 1577; Richard Fox bequeathed a copy to his own foundation, Corpus Christi College, Oxford, by 1528; and it was in the Bodleian by 1605.33 All of these volumes provided access to Aristotle’s Poetics; none circulated under the name Aristotelis poetica.

So much for the first two, expensive, old, rare, rather idiosyncratic volumes in which the Poetics appeared. Matters become more straightforward later in the century. The Poetics was included in all five Greek opera omnia (“complete works”) after 1531, in all twenty-five Latin opera omnia after 1538, and in both bilingual opera omnia printed in the sixteenth century. Aristotle being standard reference material, it was in these volumes that the Poetics mostly circulated in England. For that matter, only one Greek opera omnia ever printed, along with a handful of older Latin editions, omitted the Poetics, and so the English diaspora of the Poetics was intimately related to the modernization of Aristotelian collections across a wide range of private and institutional forums. Notwithstanding a partial archive and the depredations of four centuries, well over a hundred volumes containing the Poetics can be found spanning the island from London to Edinburgh in the sixteenth century, studding college and university libraries and the collections of bibliophiles, courtiers, country gentry, scholars, poets, and kings.34 Nor does access stop at the edge of the positive record, since books were borrowed and consulted, bequeathed and sold, and then as now had more users than owners. No sixteenth-century English reader with a yen for the Poetics would have found it hard to come by.

The same bibliographic survey suggests that language was no obstacle. With such a wealth of available printing, it would be surprising if the Poetics did not circulate in translation. Indeed, the stand-alone volumes that did circulate in England were for the most part copies of Bernardo Segni’s seminal Italian translation of 1549. Edward VI studied from a copy under the tutelage of John Cheke; copies were owned by the lawyer and member of Parliament Edward Clere in mid-century, by Sir Thomas Tresham before 1589, and by Henry Percy, Ninth Earl of Northumberland; and a copy was donated to the Bodleian by Sir Michael Dormer in 1603.35 Later Italian translations were provided by Castelvetro (1570) and Piccolomini (1572). And in Latin, the international language of learned communication in which most educated Elizabethans were functionally bilingual, the Poetics was available even before it appeared in Greek; after Valla, Latin translations were published by Alessandro Pazzi in 1536, Pietro Vettori in 1560, and Antonio Riccoboni in 1579. These Latin and Italian translations in turn were not limited to circulating in stand-alone volumes, as each made its way into multiple editions of Aristotle’s works. Moreover, there is a strong case to be made that England’s Greek was more robust than has usually been thought, with increasing provisions at the universities from 1540 and in schools from about 1560, but this need not concern us here.36 By mid-century the Poetics was available in Latin and Italian as well as Greek and was moreover accruing a sophisticated apparatus to further bridge any linguistic divides.

The bibliographical record, finally, suggests that commentaries were in fact far less common in England than copies of the text itself. A copy of Castelvetro’s commentary (1570) entered the Royal Library in the reign of James I, and John Rainolds had a copy of Robortello’s 1548 explicationes in his magnificent scholarly library at Oxford.37 By 1605 the Bodleian had a fine collection in the commentaries of Maggi and Lombardi (1550), Robortello (a later printing of 1555), and Buonamici (1597), as well as Pigna’s Poetica Horatiana (1561), Scaliger’s Poetices (1561), and Varchi’s Lezzioni (1590), but this may rather illustrate the point that such commentaries were not much seen outside specialist or centralized academic libraries on the model of the newly founded Bodleian.38 More to the point, perhaps, is what those commentaries contained. A humanist commentary (as all commentaries on the Poetics were) would typically present the primary text, divided up into particulae for analysis; if the text was in a different language (such as Greek), a translation into the target language would be supplied for each particula; some might proceed to an explanatio, or paraphrase, of the section; and finally there would follow lengthy annotationes, comprising philological notes, explanation of key points from the text, alternative translations, and context from the wider ancient and modern literature.39 The point is worth repeating: commentaries on the Poetics reproduce the text itself. Given this, the assertion that secondary literature somehow supplanted the primary text, even where its use can be proven, is entirely at odds with the bibliographical facts. Knowledge of commentaries suggests more advanced learning in the Poetics, not less.

To explain the range of ideas represented in, for example, Sidney’s Defence, the charge of mediation would have him reading hundreds of pages of secondary literature in Latin and Italian instead of a single, readily available, more prestigious treatise of about forty pages, also available in Latin and Italian. But even where he did consult the secondary literature, Sidney’s reading should still register as erudition rather than ignorance. Consider his stance on the “unities.” Sidney remarks that Gorboduc, a tragedy by Thomas Norton and Thomas Sackville, first performed in 1561, “is faulty both in place and time … both by Aristotle’s precept and common reason.”40 It is well known, however, that the “unities” (the term dates to Dryden) of place and time are not properly Aristotle’s: the Poetics is founded on the unity of action, contains some remarks that Scaliger and others crystallized into the unity of time, and makes no mention at all of a unity of place. Sidney’s take on Gorboduc therefore presents a clear case of mediation through Castelvetro’s Poetica d’Aristotile vulgarrizata e sposta (1570), in which the unity of place was first articulated; sure enough, Gregory Smith declares that Sidney’s passage “derives its importance from its relationship to recent Italian views rather than to the original.”41 But that “rather than” has fueled a whole tradition of loose thinking. It disregards not only the fact that Castelvetro both reproduced and translated Aristotle’s original text, but also his status, for a time, as the newest and most exciting voice on the Poetics in Europe. Published in 1570 in Vienna, Castelvetro’s independent-minded commentary quickly stimulated controversy, above all in Padua, during precisely the period of Sidney’s tour through both towns. The next few years saw refutations and defenses from Piccolomini, Giacomini, Sassetti, and Tasso.42 Castelvetro’s position, absorbing and redeploying numerous earlier critical opinions, was a sophisticated and challenging reading of a text whose meaning still has not been fixed. It is unclear why Sidney’s quotation of it should place him in thrall to what Spingarn called “certain modifications and misconceptions of the Aristotelian canons,” rather than demonstrate his attention to the shifting vanguard of interpretation.43 No “Aristotelian canons” had yet been determined for this still plastic text; if such canons now exist, they have been formed as a result of a long history of elucidation in which both Castelvetro and Sidney were participants.

To reconstruct a properly sixteenth-century Poetics, we should rather return with an open mind to the positive record of English citations. Most of these citations have been dismissed in modern scholarship as scant evidence of real engagement with Aristotle’s text, assuming lack of access, mediation, misunderstanding, or ignorance. Starting from the inductive premise that sixteenth-century writers know better than we what a sixteenth-century Poetics looks like, however, what might we make of them? Three lesser-known cases may suggest some approaches.

Classroom and Stage: English Readings of the Poetics

The first citation of the Poetics in England is a point of grammatical detail in a treatise on Greek pronunciation by Sir John Cheke, fellow of St. John’s College, Cambridge, and center of a vibrant circle of humanist learning in the early 1540s. Cheke and his colleague Sir Thomas Smith had begun to reform the pronunciation of Greek around 1535. Lecturing on Aristotelian and other Greek texts, they had become frustrated at the divergence between ancient Greek pronunciation and current Western practice as it was inherited from Byzantine teachers. Among the many discrepancies, no difference in length was observed between ο and ω, ε and η, and numerous vowels and diphthongs were pronounced identically as ι through a phonological evolution now known as “iotacism.”44 Greek pedagogy, close to the hearts of teachers such as Cheke and Smith, was the first casualty of this pronunciation: so many phonemes were pronounced identically that nonfluent students could barely tell words apart in lectures, “deprived of the resource of our ears,” Roger Ascham complained in October 1542, “unless our eyes are constantly glued to the letters.”45 Working from ancient grammatical sources and supported by a growing humanist literature on the subject, Cheke and Smith gradually introduced the “new” pronunciation in their lectures, to the acclaim of their students and the rancour of their conservative colleagues. Whatever the merits of their reforms, from without they appeared yet another eddy in the flood of new ideas sweeping across the country. After Cheke was denounced to the recently installed, reactionary chancellor of the University, Bishop Stephen Gardiner, an edict was passed prohibiting the new pronunciation on pain of expulsion, loss of scholarships, or caning. Within a few months attendance at Cheke’s Greek lectures fell from a high of two hundred to just forty.46 It was in the aggrieved exchange of letters that followed between May and October 1542 that Cheke drew on an unusual source to vindicate his argument:

Concerning η, Plato in the Cratylus and Plutarch in his book De ει teach that the ancients used ε for it, and Plato also teaches in the Cratylus that it has the power of length. Concerning ο and ω, Plato, again in the Cratylus and in the Phaedrus, speaks of their length and brevity; as does Aristotle in the Poetics; and Dionysius of Halicarnassus in his Rhetoric.47

This erudition was in vain: Gardiner (who could conjure his own authorities) held the line, and the subject was so politically fraught at the time that Cheke’s pleas were unsuccessful. Scarcely more successful has been his citation of Aristotle in the present, since a quibble about vowel length is hardly what scholars of English criticism hope to find in the literary archive. Without further evidence, Herrick averred, “we might reasonably doubt Cheke’s knowledge of the Poetics.”48

We may indeed doubt Cheke’s knowledge of Herrick’s twentieth-century Poetics. But Cheke’s citation sheds considerable light on the intellectual context of the work in the first half of the sixteenth century, for we know not just that Cheke was reading the Poetics, but how he was reading it. Next to the entry for the Rhetores graeci in the manuscript library catalog of the “anonymous scholar” is a note in another hand that reads “Chaekus habet”: Cheke has it.49 Not only was Cheke reading the work in Greek (as we might expect from England’s first Regius Professor of Greek), but he was reading it in the disciplinary context of ancient and Byzantine treatises on the Greek language preserved in the Rhetores graeci’s collection of texts. Aldus’s studio, which produced the Rhetores graeci in 1508–1509, was a crucible for new thinking about Greek linguistics early in the century, producing dictionaries and grammars of the language and acting as something like a research center for scholars invested in the question. Where Gardiner adduces Aristotle’s De interpretatione, a work that had underpinned scholastic grammar continuously since the sixth century, Cheke responds with a strikingly new, humanist Aristotle, drawing on the chapters on grammar that align it with the project of the Rhetores graeci yet are more or less skipped over today.50

In fact, as Herrick knew, there is further evidence. Cheke is also glimpsed in a better-known anecdote recounted by Roger Ascham, whose discussion of the Poetics seems much closer to the aesthetic concerns with which we now associate it:

Whan M. Watson in S. Iohns College at Cambrige wrote his excellent Tragedie of Absalon, M. Cheke, he, and I, for that part of trew Imitation, had many pleasant talkes togither, in comparing the preceptes of Aristotle and Horace de Arte Poetica with the examples of Euripides, Sophocles, and Seneca. Few men, in writyng of Tragedies in our dayes, haue shot at this marke. Some in England, moe in France, Germanie, and Italia also, haue written Tragedies in our tyme: of the which not one I am sure is able to abyde the trew touch of Aristotles preceptes and Euripides examples, saue onely two that euer I saw, M. Watsons Absalon and Georgius Buckananus Iephthe.51

Gregory Smith considered this “the first known reference in English to Aristotle’s Poetics”: The Scholemaster was published in 1570, two years after Ascham’s death.52 Yet we can confidently date the period of these meetings thirty years earlier, to around 1539–1541. The “pleasant talkes” of Ascham, Cheke, and Watson took place at precisely the same Cambridge moment that occasioned Cheke’s treatise on pronunciation, and each citation qualifies the other.53 Moreover, Cheke’s cohort here appears to view the Poetics not through the narrow lens of Reformation polemic or grammatical scholarship, but as a newly recovered guide to reading and imitating the Greek dramatists. Early Italian interest in the Poetics followed much the same pattern, cultivated among those interested in translating Greek plays—such as Alessandro Pazzi, who translated Sophocles and Euripides—and transmitted in the prefaces of new Italian tragedies written in the classical mold, such as Trissino’s Sofonisba (1513–1514), and Cinzio’s Orbecche (1541). Buchanan himself translated Euripides’s Medea and Alcestis as well as producing the new plays singled out by Ascham, Baptistes and Jephthah, applying classical forms to scriptural plots.

How does Ascham’s anecdote change our view of Cheke? Cheke’s brief citation in De pronuntiatione graecae now seems written to purpose, not a comprehensive record of his thinking about the Poetics, which as we can see also encompassed more literary subjects such as tragedy and classical influence. Nonetheless, Ascham’s report indicates aesthetic interest attaching even to the unlikely question of Greek vowel length. Thomas Watson’s overriding concern, Ascham tells us, was with the “trew order of versifying,” applying the rules of classical prosody to English verse.54 A prerequisite of such a system, of course, was mastery of the rules of classical prosody. Thus Cheke’s pronunciation reform intersects in its own right with literary concerns, since Byzantine Greek had developed a broadly accentual system to replace ancient quantitative principles that relied on (for example) the difference between short ε and long η and the proper dilation of diphthongs. One of the many advantages of the proposed reform of Greek pronunciation was the restoration of classical Greek prosody as a vocable and audible system. Behind Cheke’s slight citation of Aristotle in De pronuntiatione graecae lies a complex and multifaceted reading of the Poetics that eludes easy antitheses between “grammatical,” “rhetorical,” and “poetic.”

Just as Cheke’s apparently pedantic citation can be extended, as it were, along a literary axis, so Ascham’s more obviously literary anecdote has scholarly affiliations. Under one aspect, the “pleasant talkes” in Cambridge attest the same early-sixteenth-century, prosodic, broadly grammatical reading of the Poetics as Cheke’s; under another, they record a peculiarly mid-century endeavor to unite pious Christian material with classical forms, a reformed drama for a reformed nation;55 and under a third, they anticipate the adoption of the Poetics as an authority on dramatic form, the foremost ancient guide to reading and emulating the recovered body of Greek tragedy. Indeed, Ascham’s assessment of Buchanan begot a modest critical tradition of its own. Sidney’s high opinion of Buchanan’s tragedies, which “do justly bring forth a divine admiration,” has its source in Ascham, and when Francis Meres accounts for Buchanan in Palladis Tamia (1598), he rehearses Ascham’s judgment almost verbatim as though it were a commonplace.56

Most remarkable of all, however, though least remarked, is the early date of these “pleasant talkes” in comparison to critical progress in Italy. We have a smattering of indications of the Poetics being taught in Italy, but the closest Italian analogs to the kind of extramural reading group Ascham describes date from the early 1540s. Bartolomeo Lombardi and Vincenzo Maggi began to deliver lectures on the Poetics to a Paduan accademia only in 1541, and a year later we find Giraldi Cinzio promising a friend in Ferrara “to explain Sophocles’s Oedipus tyrannus … with Aristotle’s Poetics in hand.”57 There is no doubt that the scale of response to the Poetics in cinquecento Italy dwarfed that in England, but it is nonetheless the case that Aristotle’s influence on even the Italian literary scene did not predate the parlor chats of a small group of Cambridge fellows in the early 1540s.

The Poetics that emerges from 1540s Cambridge is one firmly embedded within the corpus Aristotelicum and the Renaissance trivium, the established course of grammar, rhetoric, and logic that formed the basis of prespecialist education. Cheke begins with the Poetics as a work of grammar; Ascham’s anecdote is recounted in the second book of The Scholemaster, devoted to rhetorical education, and clearly brings the Poetics to bear on questions of style, construction, and imitatio. But neither stops there. Both Cheke’s and Ascham’s readings are in excess of the strictly instrumental and suggest some of the fertile intellectual and literary contexts into which the Poetics moved. A final example of this polyvalent reading is provided by John Rainolds, in the lectures on Aristotle’s Rhetoric he delivered as Greek reader at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in the mid-1570s. Expanding on chapter 3 of the Rhetoric, Rainolds looks across to a central tenet of the Poetics:

True and good things, in actual fact, can be handled with more eloquence and greater probability than false and bad things. Quintilian even teaches (book 6, chapter 3) that “For the most part, arguments arise from the case, and more arguments are always on the better side.” Still, as Livy says, sometimes “the greater part vanquishes the better.” And Aristotle says some falsehoods are more probable than some truths.58

This rivals Cheke for brevity, but we are now better placed to understand the context such brevity connotes. A well-respected lecturer alluding to the Poetics in a well-attended undergraduate lecture without giving chapter and verse argues at least basic familiarity with Aristotle’s text among his students; in Italy, similarly, humanities professors would invoke the Poetics as an auxiliary text even where it was not strictly curricular.59 Rainolds was confident enough in the wider Aristotelian reading of his students in 1570s Oxford to refer to the Poetics without fanfare as contextual knowledge. And once more the bibliographical record fleshes out the citation: we may recall that Rainolds’s was among the few private collections in England to contain a commentary, Robortello’s In librum Aristotelis de arte poetica explicationes (1548); this was bequeathed, on his death in 1607, to one of his students, a Thomas Sutton of Queen’s College.60

Again like Cheke and Ascham, Rainolds cites Aristotle on a point—the status of poetry as falsehood—that bore simultaneously on scholarly and literary concerns. Evaluating and distinguishing between true and false arguments was at the heart of the standard curriculum, a shared concern across rhetoric and logic alike. But beyond classroom walls, too, poetry’s falsehood had long been its most mysterious, fascinating, and to some, reprehensible quality. What the Poetics provided was license to consider that falsity, that fiction, the defining strength of poetry. Aristotle articulates this several ways, from his basic definition of poetry as mimesis, or “imitation,” to observations such as “a likely impossibility is always preferable to an unconvincing possibility,” or that verse was not the essence of poetry, as illustrated through the comparison of Empedocles (a physician, despite writing in verse) and Homer.61 This was the grounding premise of the Poetics and was referenced in England more than any of the work’s other precepts. Henry Dethick in 1572 cites Aristotle’s view that “by the poetic faculty the rude and unpolished minds of boys are formed to the imitation of immortal things”; William Webbe, in 1586, adduces the comparison of Empedocles and Homer.62 And it was this idea that most ravished Sidney’s imagination: that the nature of poetry was mimesis, “a representing, counterfeiting, or figuring forth,” verse being “but an ornament and no cause to poetry,” and all its Aristotelian cognates—that “those things which in themselves are horrible, such as cruel battles, unnatural monsters, are made in poetical imitation delightful”; that “a feigned example hath as much force to teach as a true example”; and that “the poet, he nothing affirmeth, and therefore never lieth.”63 Yet even this most gravitational principle of the Poetics was not isolated from the broader Aristotelian corpus. Richard Willes and Thomas Lodge derive a proximate point in similar context—“Poetae multa mentiuntur” (poets tell many lies)—not from the Poetics, but from the Metaphysics.64

Further Readings

I have focused on these instances of Aristotle’s reception because they illustrate two points about the burgeoning of Aristotelian criticism in sixteenth-century England. First, any barrier between the “scholarly” and “literary” worlds was porous at best. Surviving texts of antiquity, such as the Poetics or even Horace’s Ars poetica, were established by the grace of serious philological industry, inserted into robust educational systems, and accompanied by extensive scholarly apparatus. That they were also of interest on the developing literary scene suggests the roots of the literary in shared educational substructures, not its gradual emancipation from a stifling ethico-rhetorical culture. The Poetics entered England predominantly, though not solely, bound up with the collected works of Aristotle. That fact alone should gesture toward some of the narratives that could be told about its reception. One standard narrative of English criticism, as Brian Vickers summarizes it, is that Latin texts such as commentaries “were for the use of scholars, professional classicists, or historians,” while works of literary criticism produced in England “were addressed not to scholars but to general readers, and to practising writers.”65 This both overestimates the learning required to benefit from commentaries and underestimates the learning of general readers and practicing writers who tended to be interested in this material. Such a compartmentalized and professionalised model will not help us understand the commotion of literary thought in the sixteenth century.

Second, these moments indicate the richness of detail we can restore to the sometimes sparse citational record of the Poetics in England through a careful cultural archaeology. Many more such citations may reward investigation beyond face value. More may be done, for example, with Giordano Bruno’s dedication to Sidney of De gl’heroici furori with the remark that “the Italian reasons with those who understand him”: What did Bruno feel Sidney had come to understand, exactly, on his long tour through northern Italy, that his English compatriots did not?66 More may be done, too, on the unexpected associations of the Poetics with manuals of gentlemanly conduct. When Robert Peterson translated Giovanni della Casa’s Galateo in 1576, he brought into English a suggestive passage on the value of tragedies for men who were “by their weeping, healed of their infirmitie.”67 Of course this was della Casa’s material first. But similar ideas surface in Puttenham, whose closeness to conduct literature has been well-studied: in the Arte of English Poesie the poet is described as a physician, who works “not onely by applying a medicine to the ordinary sicknes of mankind, but by making the very greef it selfe (in part) cure of the disease.”68 Such curiosities may or may not, in the end, add much to our understanding of the English Poetics. But the Poetics may perhaps add something to our understanding of them, concerned as they are with the broad application of imitatio to life and manners and with the acceptable range of emotive responses that poetry might stimulate. The notion that “weeping” or other passionate expression heals infirmity, for example, is an important formulation of a cathartic principle from which we can no longer rule out Aristotle’s influence. Understanding that the Poetics was indeed available, read, and known in sixteenth-century England allows us to place such ideas as these under an Aristotelian light even in the absence of direct citation and in time will supply a far more nuanced model of the circulation and interpretation of the Poetics than we currently have.

The rectifying of old errors on which this article has focused is a precondition for new investigation. The Poetics was available, read, and understood in sixteenth-century England. The story of its reception has not yet been told. Yet despite all this the instinctive questions persist. Why was the Poetics so much more obviously influential in Italy? If English readers had such access to the text, why did they not use it more, or more directly? This is historically naive: there is no reason the English Renaissance should look like the Italian, nor that sixteenth-century readers should have swallowed the Poetics whole or regarded it as highly as we do today. But such questions are nevertheless critically sophisticated, if the work of criticism is to witness and accommodate the continuum of art across time: to account for how it worked and how it works. And it may be the case that answers to these questions are best sought not in the citational record at all, but in the lusher fields of creative literature itself in the latter part of the sixteenth century. The semischolarly mode of essays, treatises, commentaries, and even prologues to plays and poems demands a declarative approach to the Poetics that may not have represented its fullest cultivation in English literary thought. If one way to “do” Aristotelian poetics in Renaissance England was to write a treatise, perhaps another was to write a play or poem that accorded with Aristotelian principles. Could Aristotelian poetics thrive in “example,” as Ascham might put it, more vigorously than in “precept?” Illuminated by a newly articulate archive and new conditions of inquiry, such questions will be the preoccupation of the next generation of scholars of Aristotelian criticism in sixteenth-century England.


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Manuscripts and Specific Print Books

London, British Library, Add. 40676. (Catalog of the library of the “unknown scholar”)Find this resource:

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(1) Charles B. Schmitt, “Philosophy and Science in Sixteenth-Century Universities: Some Preliminary Comments,” in The Cultural Context of Medieval Learning, ed. J. E. Murdoch and E. D. Sylla (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1975), 490. In general on Renaissance Aristotelianism see Schmitt, Aristotle and the Renaissance (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983) and John Case and Aristotelianism in Renaissance England (Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1983); for synopses of basic Aristotelian beliefs, see Roger Ariew and Alan Gabbey, “The Scholastic Background,” in The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy, ed. Daniel Garber and Michael Ayers, 2 vols. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 2:425–453, and Daniel Garber, “The Aristotelian Framework,” in The Cambridge History of Science, vol. 3, Early Modern Science, ed. Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 25–28. Recent historiography on Aristotelianism as it entered the seventeenth century is surveyed in Michael Edwards, “Aristotelianism, Descartes, and Hobbes,” The Historical Journal 50, no. 2 (2007): 449–464.

(2) Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene (London, 1590), 592; Sir Philip Sidney, Miscellaneous Prose of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. Katherine Duncan-Jones and Jan Van Dorsten (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), 197.

(3) John Hoskins, Directions for Speech and Style, ed. Hoyt H. Hudson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1935), 43–44.

(4) George Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie (London, 1589).

(5) De arte poetica: Translatio Guillelmi de Moerbeka, 2nd ed., ed. Lorenzo Minio-Paluello, Aristoteles Latinus 33 (Brussels, Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1968); see also H. A. Kelly, “Aristotle-Averroes-Alemannus on Tragedy: The Influence of the Poetics on the Latin Middle Ages,” Viator 10 (1979): 161–209. The other exceptions were the Eudemian Ethics, and the Constitution of the Athenians, first edited in 1891; an overview of translations is given by Bernard G. Dod, “Aristoteles latinus,” in The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy, ed. Norman Kretzmann et al. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 43–79.

(6) For a rightly cautious treatment of the classical evidence see Leonardo Tarán and Dmitri Gutas, eds., Poetics (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2012), 25–35.

(7) On Aristotle’s style see John Rainolds, John Rainolds’s Oxford Lectures on Aristotle’s Rhetoric, ed. and trans. Lawrence D. Green (Newark and London: University of Delaware Press, 1986), 94–95. Erasmus rails at scholastic barbarism in Antibarbarorum liber (Basel, 1520).

(8) Brian Vickers, ed., English Renaissance Literary Criticism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999), 11n16; Colin Burrow, “Combative Criticism: Jonson, Milton, and Classical Literary Criticism in England,” in The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, vol. 3, The Renaissance, ed. Glyn P. Norton (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 487.

(9) Thomas Rymer, The Tragedies of the last Age Consider’d and Examin’d by the Practice of the Ancients and by the Common sense of all Ages (London, 1678), 142.

(10) Nicholas Rowe, ed., The Works of Mr. William Shakespear, 6 vols. (London, 1709), 1:xxvi; Alexander Pope, ed., The Works of Shakespear, 6 vols. (London, 1725), 1:vi.

(11) Janette Dillon, The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare’s Tragedies (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 2–9.

(12) Donald V. Stump, ‘Greek and Shakespearian Tragedy: Four Indirect Routes from Athens to London’, in Hamartia: The Concept of Error in the Western Tradition, ed. Donald V. Stump et al. (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1983), 211–213.

(13) Sir Philip Sidney, The Major Works, ed. K. Duncan-Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), 371; An Apology for Poetry, or, The Defence of Poesy, 3rd ed., ed. Geoffrey Shepherd and R. W. Maslen (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), 92nn20–21; Henry S. Turner, The English Renaissance Stage: Geometry, Poetics, and the Practical Spatial Arts 1580–1630 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 84.

(14) Gavin Alexander, ed., Sidney’s “The Defence of Poesy” and Selected Renaissance Literary Criticism (London: Penguin, 2004), 19n76.

(15) Tanya Pollard, “Tragedy and Revenge,” in The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Tragedy, ed. Emma Smith and Garrett A. Sullivan Jr. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 62.

(16) Noam Reisner, “The Paradox of Mimesis in Sidney’s Defence of Poesie and Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus,” Cambridge Quarterly 39, no. 4 (2010): 334.

(18) For example, John Considine, “How Much Greek Did Philip Sidney Know?,” Sidney Journal 20, no. 2 (2002): 78: “[P]roficiency in Greek was an ideal to which Sidney at one time aspired, but which he, like the average student, never reached.” A re-evaluation of Sidney’s Greek via his translation of a passage directly from the Poetics can be found in Micha Lazarus, “Sidney’s Greek Poetics,” Studies in Philology 112, no. 3 (2015): 504–536.

(19) Neil Rhodes, “Marlowe and the Greeks,” Renaissance Studies 27 (2013): 199.

(20) Known allusions were recorded in Lane Cooper and Alfred Gudeman, A Bibliography of the Poetics of Aristotle (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1928), now superseded by Omert J. Schrier, The Poetics of Aristotle and the Tractatus Coislinianus: A Bibliography from about 900 till 1996 (Leiden: Brill, 1998).

(21) William Scott, The Model of Poesy, ed. Gavin Alexander (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

(22) J. E. Spingarn, A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1908), 268.

(23) G. Gregory Smith, Elizabethan Critical Essays, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1904), 1:lxxiii–lxxviii; Marvin T. Herrick, The Poetics of Aristotle in England (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; London: Oxford University Press, 1930), 20. Herrick’s work on The Fusion of Horatian and Aristotelian Literary Criticism, 1531–1555 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1946) was also central in contending the “adulteration’ of the Poetics; important counterarguments were published in Allan H. Gilbert and H. L. Snuggs, “On the Relation of Horace to Aristotle in Literary Criticism,” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 46 (1947): 233–247, but received little lasting attention.

(24) Reference codes are to the ESTC ( Ethics: S104425 (1547). Politics: S106844 (1598).

(25) Problemata: S108335 (1583), S90323 (1595), S108338 (1597). Secrete of Secretes: S110009 (1528), S113010 (1572); excerpts in S122148 (1511), S109574 (ca. 1555).

(26) Margaret Lane Ford, “Private Ownership of Printed Books,” in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, vol. 3, 1400–1557, ed. Lotte Hellinga and J. B. Trapp (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 227. See also Ford’s “Importation of Printed Books into England and Scotland’ in the same volume, 179–202.

(27) As remarked by Sears Jayne, Library Catalogues of the English Renaissance, 2nd ed. (Godalming, UK: St. Paul’s Bibliographies, 1983), 4. Numbers are crunched in Sears Jayne and Francis R. Johnson, eds., The Lumley Library: The Catalogue of 1609 (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1956), 11.

(28) On Aristotelianism as an international affair see Schmitt, Aristotle in the Renaissance, 8–9 and passim.

(29) There were five publications of the Greek text as a stand-alone volume, and rather more of Latin translations. See F. Edward Cranz and Charles B. Schmitt, A Bibliography of Aristotle Editions, 1501–1600, 2nd ed. (Baden-Baden: V. Koerner, 1984), 215–216.

(30) Giorgio Valla, Hoc in volumine haec continentur: Nicephori logica…. (Venice, 1498).

(31) Rhetores in hoc volumine habentur hi: Aphthonii Sophistae Progymnasmata…., ed. Demetrius Ducas, 2 vols. (Venice, 1508–1509).

(32) Brown: Robert J. Fehrenbach, E. S. Leedham-Green, and Joseph L. Black, eds., Private Libraries in Renaissance England (Binghamton, NY: Medieval and Renaissance Texts & Studies, 1992–), no. 67.92. Lumley: Jayne and Johnson, The Lumley Library, no. 2408.d. “Anonymous scholar”: London, British Library, Add. MS 40676, f.114v; for identification, see Tracey A. Sowerby, Renaissance and Reform in Tudor England: The Careers of Sir Richard Morison, c. 1513–1556 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 240–253. Bodleian: shelfmark D 2.13(2) Art.Seld., ownership attributed, I think optimistically, to Thomas Linacre, in A Catalogue of Books Printed in the Fifteenth Century now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, ed. Alan Coates et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), no. N-017. New College: shelfmark Restricted BT1.37.3.

(33) “Anonymous scholar”: British Library, Add. MS 40676, f.115v. Mary: Julian Sharman, The Library of Mary, Queen of Scots (London: Elliot Stock, 1889), 171. James: George F. Warren, “The Library of James VI, 1573–1583, from a Manuscript in the Hand of Peter Young, his Tutor,” in Miscellany of the Scottish History Society I (Edinburgh, 1893), xxxviii. Corpus Christi: J. R. Liddell, “The Library of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, in the Sixteenth Century,” The Library, s.4, 18, no. 4 (1938):nos. 99–101. Bodleian: Thomas James, Catalogus librorum bibliothecae publicae quam vir ornatissimus Thomas Bodleius eques auratus in Academia Oxoniensi nuper instituit…. (Oxford, 1605), 377, no. R.2.13.

(34) For a thorough review of the evidence see Micha Lazarus, Aristotle’s Poetics in Renaissance England, currently in preparation for Oxford University Press.

(35) Edward VI: Catalogue of the Old Royal Library (London, British Library, shelfmark C.120.h.6), 43; noted in T. W. Baldwin, William Shakspere’s Small Latine and Lesse Greeke (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1944), 241. Clere: Lincoln Cathedral Library, shelfmark Pp.4.17, as listed by Margaret Lane Ford’s Early Bookowners in Britain ( Tresham: London, British Library, MS Add. 39830, f.180v, no. 4. Percy: G. R. Batho, “The Library of the Wizard Earl: Henry Percy Ninth Earl of Northumberland (1564–1632),” The Library, s.5, 15, no. 3 (1960): 259. Bodleian: James, Catalogus librorum, 275, no. A.1.*.

(36) For further detail see Micha Lazarus, “Greek Literacy in Sixteenth-century England,” Renaissance Studies 29, no. 3 (2015): 433–458.

(37) James I: British Library, C.120.h.6, 43. Rainolds: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Wood D. 10, 74.

(38) James, Catalogus librorum, 352 (no. M 5.8), 379 (R.*.¶), 292 (B.6.11), 368 (P.5.8), 385 (S.4.9), 409 (V.***.¶).

(39) On Aristotelian commentary as a form, see Schmitt, Aristotle in the Renaissance, 39–52; on the great commentaries on the Poetics, see Danilo Aguzzi-Barbagli, “Humanism and Poetics,” in Renaissance Humanism: Foundations, Forms, and Legacy, ed. Albert Rabil Jr., 3 vols. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1988), 3:111–121.

(42) For summaries of these debates see Bernard Weinberg, History of Literary Criticism in the Italian Renaissance, 2 vols. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 1:502–580.

(44) For further details see W. Sidney Allen, Vox Graeca: A Guide to the Pronunciation of Classical Greek, 3rd ed. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 140–149.

(45) Roger Ascham to Richard Brandisby, after October 2, 1542, Letters of Roger Ascham, ed. Alvin Vos, trans. Maurice Hatch and Alvin Vos (New York: Peter Lang, 1989), 33.

(46) John Cheke, De pronuntiatione Graecae potissimum linguae disputationes cum Stephano Wintoniensi Episcopo (Basel, 1555), 306; this and Thomas Smith’s De recta & emendata linguae Graecae pronuntiatione (Paris, 1568), book 3, are the primary sources for the pronunciation controversy.

(47) Cheke, De pronuntiatione, 121–122; cf. Poetics 21 (1458a10).

(49) British Library, Add. MS 40676, f.115v.

(50) For more on the pronunciation debate see John F. McDiarmid, “Recovering Republican Eloquence: John Cheke versus Stephen Gardiner on the Pronunciation of Greek,” History of European Ideas 38, no. 3 (2012): 338–351.

(51) Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster (London, 1570), 57r.

(53) The most rigorous attempt to date the anecdote can be found in John Hazel Smith, ed., A Humanist’s “Trew Imitation”: Thomas Watson’s Absalom (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1964), 31–41, 272–273.

(54) Ascham, Scholemaster, 23v–24r.

(55) On this movement see Russ Leo, “Scripture and Tragedy in the Reformation,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Early Modern England, ed. Kevin Killeen et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 498–517.

(56) Sidney, Miscellaneous Prose, 116; Meres, Palladis Tamia, Wit’s Treasury (London, 1598), 285.

(57) Daniel Javitch, “Discourse or Letter on the Composition of Comedies and Tragedies,” Renaissance Drama 39 (2011): 207. The complex chronology of Maggi and Lombardi’s lectures to the Accademia degli Infiammati is reviewed in Weinberg, History of Literary Criticism, 373–383.

(58) As translated by Green, John Rainolds’s Oxford Lectures, 156–157.

(59) Paul F. Grendler, The Universities of the Italian Renaissance (Baltimore, MD, and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 241.

(60) Bodleian Library, MS Wood D. 10, 74.

(61) Poetics 1 (1447a13–16, 1447b17–20), 24 (1460a27).

(62) Henry Dethick, Oratio in laudem poëseos, in J. W. Binns, ed. and trans., Latin Treatises on Poetry from Renaissance England (Signal Mountain, TN: Summertown, 1999), 36–39. William Webbe, Discourse of English Poetrie (London, 1586), sig. B.iiiiv.

(63) Sidney, Miscellaneous Prose, 79, 81, 92, 89, 102.

(64) Richard Willes, Poematum liber (London, 1573), sig. [B.vv]; Thomas Lodge, Protogenes can know Apelles by his line…. (London, 1579), sig. [A8v] (numbered “16”); cf. Metaphysics I.2 (983a3).

(66) Giordano Bruno, De gl’heroici furori (Parigi [i.e., London], 1585), sig. [*.6.v].

(67) Robert Peterson, Galateo of Maister Iohn Della Casa, Archebishop of Beneuenta (London, 1576), 31.

(68) Puttenham, The Arte of English Poesie, I, ch. 24, 38. On Puttenham and conduct literature, see Daniel Javitch, Poetry and Courtliness in Renaissance England (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978).