Aesthetics of contingency provides an important reconsideration of seventeenth-century literature in light of new understandings of the English past. Emphasising the contingency of the political in revolutionary England and its extended aftermath, Matthew Augustine challenges prevailing literary histories plotted according to structural conflicts and teleological narrative. In their place, he offers an innovative account of imaginative and polemical writing, in an effort to view later seventeenth-century literature on its own terms: without certainty about the future, or indeed the recent past. In hewing to this premise, the familiar outline of the period – with red lines drawn at 1642, 1660, or 1688 – becomes suggestively blurred. For all of Milton’s prophetic gestures, for all of Dryden’s presumption to speak for, to epitomise his Age, writing from the later decades of the seventeenth century remained supremely responsive to uncertainty, to the tremors of civil conflict and to the enduring crises and contradictions of Stuart governance. A study of major writings from the Personal Rule to the Glorious Revolution and beyond, this book also re-examines the material conditions of literature in this age. By carefully deciphering the multi-layered forces at work in acts of writing and reception, and with due consideration for the forms in which texts were cast, this book explores the complex nature of making meaning in and making meaning out of later Stuart England.
opportunist Edmund Waller readily suggest – accounts of seventeenth-centuryliterature continue to be hung (one might say hung up) on oppositional frameworks. 2 It is true that whereas our histories once baldly juxtaposed ‘Puritan and Cavalier’, we now possess more modulated studies, for instance, of ‘the writing of the English republic’ and ‘the writing of royalism’. 3 Drawing their evidence from broadsides, newsbooks, diaries, and correspondence as well as from more traditional literary sources, such projects clearly entail a radically revised notion of ‘literature
stark, and certainly gestures have been made to complicate the well-worn dichotomies between sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuryliterature and history. 31 Studies in early modern English literature have produced unusual and illuminating pairings between major authors: Shakespeare and Spenser, Shakespeare and Donne, Milton and Donne, and even Spenser and Jonson. 32 Likewise encouraging are recent re-evaluations of Spenser and Donne individually that question the standard view of each author 33 and fresh, unconventional pairings of their works in article
: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989).
4 Cassirer’s comment, quoted above, derives from a reading of Bruno’s Degli eroici furori – and Bruno’s possible influence on Spenser and Donne is a matter of critical debate. It seems clear that both writers knew, at the very least, of Bruno’s work and his notoriety; but he is also an important poetic predecessor for the kind of philosophic poetry that both would go on to write.
5 In a sense, a number of studies have already connected sixteenth- and seventeenth-century
Jonson in the third epigraph to this chapter: both Spenser and Donne tap into a new aesthetics entering England during the late sixteenth century, one that increasingly affects seventeenth-centuryliterature, on its way to becoming ‘the preeminent modern aesthetic category’: the ‘sublime’. 5 As we will see, Spenser and Donne are among the first leading poets in England to use the word – well in advance of Milton and the late seventeenth century, when the sublime is generally thought to have emerged. 6 In a volume featuring ‘thinking poets’, the sublime affords an
between narrative and spatial plotting have long been recognised by critics of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-centuryliterature, where the uses to which words such as ‘plat’, ‘plot’, ‘groundplot’, and ‘complot’ are put seem particularly resonant owing to their ability to connect geometrical ways of knowing to human action. 103 In his translated complaint ‘Virgil’s Gnat’, for example, Spenser invokes the action of plotting while playing with scale and orientation. He describes an aged shepherd in the act of designing and digging a tomb for the gnat who saved
calls concepts of wholeness into
question, the place of such concepts in critical discourse on sixteenth-
and seventeenth-centuryliterature remains curiously unaddressed.
Cynthia Marshall, for example, implies the pre-existence of a concept of
psychic wholeness in the suggestion that ‘a Renaissance
literature of self-shattering’ offers readers and spectators
‘an experience of psychic fracture’. 12
. While this means she bore the blame for the
postlapsarian condition, this also made her, as Elizabeth Hodgson
shows in ‘A “Paraditian Creature”: Eve and her
unsuspecting garden in seventeenth-centuryliterature’, a more
interesting character for early modern writers of both sexes, a
figure in whom they seem much more invested than her allegedly less
sinning husband. Hodgson
Discovering biblical women in early modern literary culture, 1550–1700
Victoria Brownlee and Laura Gallagher
York : Columbia University
J.A. ( 1975 ) Typology and Seventeenth-CenturyLiterature . Paris : Mouton .
T. ( 1578 ) The
commody of the moste vertuous and godlye Susanna . London : Hugh
B.A. ( 1982 ) The
. Dzelzainis, ‘Milton’s classical republicanism’, in D. Armitage, A. Himy, and Q. Skinner (eds), Milton and Republicanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), pp. 3–24.
17 S. Fish, Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-CenturyLiterature (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1972), p. 365.
18 S. Fish, There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, And It’s a Good Thing, Too (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 272.
19 Though it was of course Presbyterians in