"Conversational Exchanges in Early Modern England" seminar participants confirmed for 2013 NeMLA Convention!
October 15, 2012
October 15, 2012
This seminar seeks to further the scholarly discourse interrogating literary conversations in the sixteenth- and seventeenth centuries. Our goal is to advance scholarship in the emerging discourse surrounding early modern conversation by building critical contexts from which to examine the socio-historical and rhetorical implications generated by multiple interlocutors. We want to investigate, in more detail than we have to date, matrices of intertextual, interpersonal, epistolary, and cognitive models of conversation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We are especially interested in papers that examine conversation as a collaborative, compositional, and/or hermeneutic methodology. Session organizers: Kristen Abbott Bennett (Tufts University), Dianne Berg (Tufts University)
Seminar Abstracts and Participants:
“How 24 Common People Talked To The British Monarchy: Kett’s Rebellion & The Petition of 1549”
- Daniel Bender, Pace University
The classical tradition in rhetoric assumes an all-capable and self-sufficient master, who works on the minds of the many. This ethos is explicit in Aristotle’s stipulation of a (singular) trained orator who possesses an arsenal of techniques. From these the professional trained in persuasion chooses “the best means available.”
Aristotle’s directive imagined a socially privileged Greek male who could roam the topoi or places of argument, extract the most fitting topic, and fashion words that would move hearers to see things his way. The distant but still luminous figures of this tradition--Demosthenes or later Cicero-- fuel the historical momentum of the solitary speaker model. In the summer of 1549 in the sweltering heat and unemployment of East Anglia, however, no such individual speaker could take up the cause of landless and unemployed common folks of Norfolk and Suffolk. A commoner daring to assume the elite role of the classical rhetor would enrage the Privy Council and London and their agents in rural England. The commons had lost faith in the Protectorate that surrounded the teenaged Edward VI. Enclosures that were declared illegal nevertheless remained standing, so that tillage of arable land had dropped, pasture in common areas had been cordoned off by nobles and merchants, and the whole pastoral economy of East Anglia had become polarized, rich and poor.
This presentation explores a fascinating and largely anomalous moment in English discursive practices: 24 men, representing each shire, gathered to produce 29 Grievances, addressed not in the expository form of writing-a discursus with only an implied reader-- but in the form of conversational address. Specifically, this paper sets out the recuperative values of collaborative writing, and analyzes the rhetorical prowess of conversational address, marked by the choric invocation: “We pray your grace….”
“The conversation of commendatory verse”
- Audrey Birkett, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
In Ben Jonson’s conversations with William Drummond, he praises and slanders his contemporaries. The gossip and slander that Jonson engaged in was a vibrant and common part of the dramatic community of the Jacobean and Caroline eras. It was also, increasingly, an important part of early modern dramatic paratext. This paper examines how early modern playwrights used commendatory verses to communicate with friends and allies to form communities and trade ideas. The paratext served as an elaborate public conversation between playwrights about the theater and contemporary authors.
Paratextual exchanges in the commendatory verses of James Shirley, John Ford, and Philip Massinger advertised the shared ideas of this coterie. Their verses show developed thought and sustained dialogue, about the state of the theatre. The authors in the Brome Circle imitated, in commendatory verses, the ideas and concepts of their peers. Their verses serve as metadramatic commentary on the business of playwriting and solidified an alliance dedicated to the professional theater. The man at the center of the circle, Richard Brome, used his verses, often to scold and then slander his enemies. Brome’s paratextual discourse with his arch-rival William Davenant, accuses the courtier poet of abandoning the principles of the commercial theater. Davenant also responded in verse to defend himself from such accusations.
This paper looks at how commendatory verses of early modern drama served as conversations between dramatists to advertise, exchange ideas, form alliances, and combat enemies.
‘“Of whom proud Rome hath boasted long’: Intertextual “Conversations” in Early
- Kavita Mudan Finn. Georgetown and George Washington Universities
The development of a popular historical culture in England in the mid-to-late sixteenth century has been an object of much scholarly interest over the past two decades, particularly as regards the relationship between historical narratives and contemporary political concerns. What I intend to focus on here is how historical culture manifests itself in intertextual “conversations” that transcend both medium and genre.
One of the many strains of literary-historical intersection in early modern England is historical complaint poetry, a subgenre of first-person narrative poems centred on female protagonists. These poems build upon one another and initiate dialogues implying their audience’s familiarity with not simply the historical facts but also the literary backdrop for these women. Michael Drayton’s Matilda, for instance, references “Shore’s Wife,” “Faire Rosamond,” and “Lucrece, of whom proud Rome hath boasted long” as precursors, while the historical dramas of the period include these characters with little to no ntroduction. Nor are these dialogues limited to poetry and drama; chroniclers such as John Foxe and Raphael Holinshed engage in these moments of referentiality, relying as much on their audience’s knowledge of tropes and motifs as they do on their (admittedly scanty) sources.
This paper will consider the significance of such “conversations” to the development and proliferation of an early modern historical culture. What can they tell us about how early modern English readers viewed history and historical figures? What are the implications of references that cross between different mediums and genres that transcend what modern readers would view as fact and fiction?
“Talking to Ghosts: Imaginary Conversations in Early Modern Drama”
- M. Stephanie Murray, Carnegie Mellon University
When a dramatic text stages imagined rather than actual conversations, it draws attention to the strangeness of that moment. In early modern plays, the forward movement of narrative is arrested by imaginary conversations that take place in a synchronic space, aligning actual past and potential future in a single rhetorical moment. Imaginary conversations attempt to forecast the future by acting it out in the present.
In this paper, I consider three forms of imaginary conversations: apostrophe, conversations with inanimate objects, and re-enactments of conversations. Hamlet’s “Remember thee?” speech to the just-departed Ghost tries to frame his perplexing encounter with it by imagining his next actions. Vindice, the revenger-hero of The Revenger’s Tragedy, repeatedly engages in one-sided conversations with the skull of his long-dead beloved, refreshing his thirst for vengeance with every exchange. I set these two examples from tragedy that the imaginary
conversation to revisit injury and establish future action against a scene from The Winter’s Tale that entirely replaces staged action with a conversation about that action. Rather than forecasting the future as the two examples from tragedies do, the re-enacted version of the reunion of Perdita and Leontes in Winter’s Tale, produced through a conversation between three unnamed gentlemen, seems to be simple exposition. It is conspicuously inefficient as exposition, however, which suggests that its replacement of the actual scene is serving a more complicated purpose. It is, in fact, staging the future by prescribing proper responses to the scene described.
“Political Contestation and Courtly Conversation in Edward II”
- James MacDonald, Yale University
The royal court was, by its nature, a conversational center: an institution which had originated and continued to function as a large aristocratic household establishment became a central organ of royal administration under Tudor rule. The overlaying of the sovereign’s own house with the apparatus of state, symbolized by the increasing penetration of important government offices into Westminster and Whitehall palaces, could easily turn the monarch’s bedroom itself into what David Starkey terms “both an alternative power center to the Council Chamber and a hotbed of factional intrigue.” In this paper I explore how Marlowe’s Edward II probes the unavoidable slippage between the sovereign’s private life and public office. In particular, I suggest, Marlowe represents this unresolved ambiguity through a battle of equivocal language between Edwards and his leading aristocrats. A disputed word, “minion,” takes a leading role in both the king’s own and his courtiers’ diction, occurring 15 times within a stretch of about 1,000 lines. The ‘head meaning’ of this word describes a relationship of political subordination, but its French etymology carries erotic connotation: through conversational byplay, Edward and his barons dispute whether Gaveston is his “minion” in a political or affective sense, and whether the root of his kingship lies in personal power or institutional authority. Even as Edward and his barons employ common language, their opposing efforts to claim and reclaim the very terms of argument turn courtly conversation into a political contestation for meaning.
“Utopia in dialogue: Humanism and community in Thomas More’s Utopia”
- Jane Raisch, UC Berkeley
Part travel narrative, part circulated correspondence, and part dialogue, Thomas More’s Utopia is the coming together of a number of imagined intertextual, inter-generic, and interpersonal conversations. As both Early Modern and modern readers of Utopia have long realized, despite its overt interest in the construction of an ideal “no-place,” it is a text urgently self-conscious about its very material place within an intellectual and political European community. While the fictional world it imagines is defined by a quasi-monastic insular community, More’s book is indelibly marked by its existence within a Humanist culture where insularity has become incommensurable with community and communal identity. I argue that the prefatory letters and dialogic frame of Utopia’s Book I register the realities of this Humanist culture, and enact a model where intellectual exchange through conversation becomes a vehicle for communal self-definition.
By embedding the dialogic conversation between More and Hythloday within multiple paratextual correspondences (More’s letter to the Flemish printer Peter Giles, Erasmus’ printed marginal commentary, the French humanist Guillame Bude’s appended letter to More’s printer), the narrative of Utopia becomes a narrative of its own productions. In this way, the union of a Socratic model of dialogue with a diplomatic model of correspondence allows for communication over long distances and across multiple languages and nationalities to become a vehicle for, not an impediment to, community. Similarly, by imagining the juxtaposition of such disparate genres as also in conversation, intertextuality becomes not competitive but cooperative and does not threaten but solidifies the unified integrity of More’s book and the community of readers it establishes.
“Call and Response for a Queered Coterie: Intertextual Exchanges in Robert Chester's Love's Martyr”
- Donald Rodrigues, Vanderbilt University
This paper will explore the intertextual matrices found within the pages of Robert Chester’s text Love’s Martyr (1601). While Chester’s long-winded allegorical poem, “Loves Martyr,” occupies the bulk of the 187-page volume expressly dedicated to the marriage of Sir John and Ursula Salusbury, the collection contains two poems signed “Vatum Chorus,” one “Ignoto,” and several others by the “best and chiefest of our modern writers”: John Martson, George Chapman, Ben Jonson, and William Shakespeare. This paper will demonstrate primarily that the contentious critical history of Shakespeare’s contribution, “The Phoenix and Turtle” (1601), was very likely inaugurated in the volume in which it first appeared. Marston’s untitled poem, sitting directly opposite the third page of Shakespeare’s “Phoenix,” responds directly to the poem’s radical claim that the traditionally imperishable phoenix does not rise from its ashes; likewise, subsequent poems in the volume by Chapman and Johnson respond in technical, aesthetic, and polemical terms to themes and concerns that may be traced to Shakespeare’s poem and within the confused pages of the much larger work by Chester. While the body of scholarship on Love’s Martyr tends to focus almost entirely on Shakespeare’s contribution, this paper focuses its consideration on the ways in which attributed and non-attributed poems in the volume express interest in the notion of a communal or coterie readership -- one that can be understood as decidedly queer in nature. Moreover, I will explore the rhetorical and allegorical devices deployed by these poets to construct masculine poetic identities while adopting, and at turns strategically undoing, the phoenix myth and the attendant myth of a joyous unity-in-marriage envisioned by Chester and radically complicated by Shakespeare.