Early modern stereotypes are often studied as evidence of popular belief, something mired with prejudices and commonly held assumptions. This volume of essays goes beyond this approach, and explores practices of stereotyping as contested processes. To do so the volume draws on recent works on social psychology and sociology. The volume thereby brings together early modern case studies, and explores how stereotypes and their mobilisation shaped various negotiations of power, in spheres of life such as politics, religion, everyday life and knowledge production. The volume highlights early modern men’s and women’s remarkable creativity and agency: godly reformers used the ‘puritan’ stereotype to understand popular aversion to religious discipline; Ben Jonson developed the characters of the puritan and the projector in ways that helped diffuse anxieties about fundamental problems in early modern church and state; playful allusions to London’s ‘sin and sea coal’ permitted a knowing acceptance of urban growth and its moral and environmental costs; Tory polemics accused of ‘popery’ returned the same accusations to Whig Protestants; humanists projected related Christian stereotypes outwards to make sense of Islam and Hinduism in the age of Enlightenment. Case studies collectively point to a paradox: stereotyping was so pervasive and foundational to social life and yet so liable to escalation that collective engagements with it often ended up perpetuating the very processes of stereotyping. By highlighting these dialectics of stereotyping, the volume invites readers to make fresh connections between the early modern past and the present without being anachronistic.
The image of the projector (now, entrepreneur) has attracted critical attention in the history of science, mercantilism and political economy. This character, like the ‘puritan’ discussed in Chapter 2, is often associated with Ben Jonson’s city comedies, written in the first two decades of the seventeenth century. This chapter reveals that pioneers of commercial plays active from the 1580s in fact used history plays to explore the abuse of royal prerogative and other corrupt behaviours soon associated with the projector. These earlier plays exposed proto-projectors' vices and their abuse of royal power more clearly than Jonson did. Their depictions were indeed as unforgiving as Catholic attacks upon the Elizabethan regime. The Elizabethan history plays even invited the audience to detect corruptions and condemn the underlying appetite for power, profit and sex in ways anticipating the participatory politics on the eve of the Civil Wars. Far from being invented singlehandedly by Jonson, Elizabethan theatres and print industry first provided a platform for creative practices of stereotyping – collective search for an emerging pattern of problematic behaviour, and identification of causes using existing assumptions. Only then did a character-based stereotype of the projector come to be elaborated by a literary genius: Jonson.
Rethinking early modern stereotyping in the twenty-first century
Studies of early modern stereotypes have long revolved around the analysis of their contents. This volume goes beyond that, and explores stereotyping explicitly as a form of contested practice embedded in various negotiations of power. This introduction sets out this analytic perspective by surveying scholarship related to the history of mentality and popular culture – the ‘linguistic turn’ – the public sphere and the subsequent turn towards practice. Reviewing the literature lets us identify key underlying assumptions needing revision: the mobilisation of negative stereotypes had predominantly harmful effects on society; stereotyping and attendant appeals to reason contained a cure to its own escalation. To test these assumptions the introduction introduces insights from social psychology and sociology, and explains how these conceptual tools can help us bring together case studies of early modern political, religious, social and literary history, and enable us to identify the ‘dialectics of stereotyping’: stereotyping was so foundational to social life, yet so very liable to contestation and escalation, that every so often collective engagements with stereotypes ended up perpetuating or even accelerating the very processes of stereotyping. The introduction ends by reflecting upon scholarly and civic implications of this finding.
This chapter, best read in conjunction with Chapters 2 and 3, seeks to trace the now established stereotype of the puritan and the emergent one of the projector through Ben Jonson’s plays. The aim is to emphasise the role of the theatre in propagating such stereotypes, in ways which were comic, i.e. designed to entertain, and thus to make a profit; but which also had a decidedly political edge, and potential social and cultural punch to them. The chapter establishes the roots of projecting, and thus of the stereotype of the projector, in certain structural tensions and contradictions in the late Elizabethan and early Stuart states. It then uses the ambiguous feelings of Ben Jonson towards his status as a creature of the court, a popular dramatist and a poet with a serious moral purpose to illustrate wider ambiguities in how stereotypes could be used both to strengthen the status quo, by deriding and marginalising perceived threats and abuses, and (in the right, or perhaps we should say wrong, circumstances) to actively delegitimate, and thus destabilise, the status quo. The concluding section reflects on how such literary interventions shaped subsequent political and economic processes running up to the Civil Wars.
The coda looks back to the early modern case studies presented in this volume, and highlights key findings. By documenting practices of stereotyping and studying their repercussions, these case studies demonstrate both the surprising human agency over particular stereotypes, and simultaneously the disturbing resilience of stereotyping as a mode of human interaction across the early modern period. By inviting the renowned social psychologist Sandra Jovchelovitch to co-author, we explore implications of these findings for social psychology and sociology, and for civil societies in the twenty-first century.