http://northernrenaissance.org | ISSN: 1759-3085

Creative Commons License

Published under an Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License.

You are free to share, copy and transmit this work under the following conditions:

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category:

Martine van Elk, Early Modern Women’s Writing: Domesticity, Privacy, and the Public Sphere in England and the Dutch Republic (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017)

Martine van Elk, Early Modern Women’s Writing: Domesticity, Privacy, and the Public Sphere in England and the Dutch Republic (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). ISBN 978-3-319-33221-5, 299 pp., £53.99

Reviewed by Lotte Fikkers

[1] In Early Modern Women’s Writing: Domesticity, Privacy, and the Public Sphere in England and the Dutch Republic, Martine van Elk argues that in different countries, social contexts, and political circumstances, early modern women writers were articulating broadly similar ideas. Her monograph therefore presents a comparative study of Dutch and English texts by women. The originality of this work lies in its wide scope. Not only does it have a transnational dimension with its focus on women writers from both England and the Dutch republic, Early Modern Women’s Writing also has an interdisciplinary focus in the sense that it explores a broad definition of authorship by including visual art (such as portraits and glass engravings) alongside literature from the seventeenth century.

[2] The monograph is organised into seven chapters, including introduction and afterword. The introduction aims to make the reader aware of the historicity of the public/private divide. Van Elk rightly points out that this is confusing material, as the use of the words ‘public’ and ‘private’, both from a pre-modern and modern perspective, can be obfuscating. The occasional use of the word ‘dichotomy’ in that light does not help; the rest of the book convincingly demonstrates that the public/private divide was permeable, and that early modern women writers attempted to negotiate this division of spheres and were able to straddle both domains. The second chapter analyses prescriptive literature and visual representations of women in the private domain to demonstrate that women were both hindered and enabled in their literary expression because of the changing perceptions of the household in the seventeenth century. The close-‘reading’ of various paintings and portraits in that light is illuminating. Chapters three to six form case studies: in each chapter the work of at least one woman writer from England is compared and contrasted to that of one from the Dutch Republic. As almost all of the examples used in these case studies date from the seventeenth-century, the actual chronological scope of the book is perhaps slightly more narrow than one may expect from reading the title (‘Early Modern’).

[3] A comparison between the works of women from different countries is necessary, Van Elk posits, because it can show the need to reassess the work of individuals in the light of larger, transnational tendencies. This argument is at times very persuasive. Chapter 4 (“Friends, Lovers, and Rivals”), for example, posits friendship poetry as international phenomenon, with women sharing poems with their international friends, as such crossing national boundaries. These poems, therefore, are served by a cross-cultural analysis. The chapter itself does take a more national focus, as it discusses the friendship poems shared between two sets of Dutch writers (among whom is Catharina Questiers, whose name is conspicuously absent from the chapter’s title) separately, and uses those to try and shed new light on Katherine Philips’ English friendship poetry: Katherine Philips’ royalism, Van Elk argues, “is only part of the explanation for the specific form that her idealization of the friend takes” in her friendship poems – which becomes evident when reading her work alongside that of women in countries with different political organizations (156). Chapter 6 (“Staging Female Virtue”) is perhaps most successful in showing the necessity of a transnational study, as it highlights the remarkable similarities between Elizabeth Cary’s The Tragedy of Mariam and Katharina Lescailje’s Herodes en Mariamne. The parallels between state and household drawn in both these texts, as well as the use of reformist discourse of domesticity and the household, demonstrates that the concerns and occupations of early modern women transcended national boundaries.

[4] Because of its focus on texts written by authors from both England and the Dutch republic in three different languages (Dutch, English, and Latin), Early Modern Women’s Writing may seem to hold appeal for two specific and distinct groups of scholars only: those interested in English women writers, and those studying Dutch women writers (of which there are few). However, Van Elk has done an excellent job at providing accurate and sensitive English translations of source material in Dutch and Latin, and she always supplies the original text in her endnotes for cross-referencing. Moreover, the book explicitly addresses the need for more comparative work to be done on early modern women writers, because otherwise, ‘we risk situating women’s writing too narrowly within a single context’ (259). Those scholars of gender studies and early modern women writers who share this evaluation, and those ready to let themselves be persuaded, should read Early Modern Women’s Writing. At the very least, this study brings Dutch sources under the attention of an international audience by presenting them side by side with their English ‘counterparts’. This alone is a worthy purpose, as the work of female writers from the Dutch Republic has long been neglected even by Dutch scholars. Van Elk’s considerate study rectifies this situation.

Leiden University, February 2018

Martyn Calvin Cowan, John Owen and the civil war apocalypse: Preaching, prophecy and politics (Routledge, 2018). Ryan M. McGraw, John Owen: Trajectories in Reformed Orthodox theology (Palgrave, 2017)

Martyn C. Cowan, John Owen and the Civil War Apocalypse: Preaching, Prophecy and Politics (Routledge, 2018), ISBN 978-1-138-08776-7, xvi+220 pp., £105.

Ryan M. McGraw, John Owen: Trajectories in Reformed Orthodox theology (Palgrave, 2017), ISBN 978-3-319-60806-8, xii+232 pp., £69.99.

Reviewed by Crawford Gribben


[1] John Owen (1616-83) is attracting increasing attention far beyond the theological circles in which his memory was, for many years, preserved. Owen has long been recognised as having been central to the rise and fall of the English republic – preaching to MPs on the day after the execution of Charles I, accompanying Cromwell as an army chaplain in the invasions of Ireland and Scotland, overseeing educational reform as dean of Christ Church and vice-chancellor of the university of Oxford, writing the petition that persuaded Cromwell not to accept the offer of the crown, leading the army republicans in their last desperate gamble to preserve the republic, ultimately and unwittingly paving the way for the restoration of Charles II and the brutal persecution of republicans and religious dissenters that followed. Owen’s millions of words have been kept in print in reproductions of the best nineteenth-century edition, edited by William Goold in 24 closely printed volumes, and attention is increasingly being paid to the unpublished sermons notes held in Dr Williams’s Library, London, and to relevant para-texts, including the anthology of verse published in Oxford in 1654 to commemorate the end of the Dutch war, in which Owen’s opening Latin eulogy is followed by work from Christ Church students and alumni, on both sides of the civil war divide, in English, French, Old English, Welsh, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. And, just as Owen is attracting scholarly increasing attention, so that attention is coming from a broader range of disciplinary backgrounds, and is being published by a broader range of academic publishers.

[2] The two most recent contributions to Owen studies, published by Palgrave and Routledge, reflect the increasing diversity of work within this field. Martyn Cowan’s study of John Owen and the Civil War Apocalypse (2018) must be recognised as one of the most important contributions to Owen studies, and a fine addition to the excellent Routledge series in “Religious Cultures in the Early Modern World.” Expanding upon Cowan’s Cambridge PhD thesis, this book outlines Owen’s prophetic worldview and unpicks his providential readings of contemporary history. The analysis steps up a gear from the third chapter, as the account considers how Owen suggested “providential mercies” should be “improved,” and how godly magistrates should exercise responsibility in pursuing an appropriate church settlement, under the threat of impending divine judgement. Cowan’s central thesis argues that Owen’s sermons from the 1640s and 1650s are best described as a form of prophetic preaching, frequently drawing upon eschatological passages in Scripture and arguing for the eschatological character of the age in which Owen preached. In Cowan’s account, Owen retains his millennial aspiration throughout the 1650s, and, contrary to other depictions of a tendency towards conservatism in this period, pushes for an increasingly radical political agenda. Cowan takes issue with the conclusions of some earlier work. He argues that Owen adopted millennial beliefs much earlier than some others have claimed. He denies that Owen adopts a preterist reading of certain biblical passages, which would have understood them to refer to, for example, the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 (though this claim seems be qualified in pp. 56-57), instead arguing that Owen used these texts to shape his view of the present. And Cowan denies that Owen was ever a republican – a claim that will have far-reaching implications in our thinking about the mid-seventeenth century crisis and the individuals who acted at key moments in the development of the new republican regime. These claims challenge the conclusions of some recent work in the field, and Cowan’s careful and considered arguments will need to be taken very seriously, not least because they offer contexts for some important but undated sermons, a move that will pull into play a number of important new texts with enormous potential to reshape key moments in Owen’s life and the development of the republican government. Drawing on new contexts, Cowan argues that Owen, who “self-identifies as a prophet speaking in momentous times,” “cannot be treated as an abstract academic theologian” (p. 183).

[3] By contrast, Owen’s status as an academic theologian is emphasised in Ryan McGraw’s latest book. McGraw has become well-known for his earlier monograph on Owen and for his articles, which repristinate the high theological flavour of some earlier work in the field. Each of the chapters in this collection has already been published, though McGraw emphasises that he has updated and revised their content. The result is a slightly eclectic volume. The first part of the book offers three chapters on Owen’s view of the Trinity, his practise of exegesis, drawn from a case study of his work on Genesis 3:15, and his reflection on whether the preaching of salvation should also include discussion of the threats of the law. The second part of the book considers Owen’s attitude to images of Christ, his presentation of the role of the Holy Spirit, an important discussion of the genre of Owen’s Θεολογουμενα παντoδαπα (1661), and, oddly, a chapter-length review of the now slightly dated Ashgate Research Companion to John Owen’s Theology (2012), which it represents as a providing “a glimpse into the current state of Owen research” (p. 5). McGraw’s introduction pulls these chapters together, arguing that the “common theme” in the volume is that “John Owen helps us better understand the development and interrelationship of theology, exegesis, and piety in Reformed orthodox theology” (p. 1). At its best, John Owen: Trajectories in Reformed Orthodox Theology does exactly what it says on the tin. McGraw subtly and effectively narratives trajectories in Owen’s thinking, and locates him within broader trajectories in early modern Reformed theology.

[4] But there are some problems with this book. McGraw reiterates his rather low view of some other work in the field: he notes the “weakness” (p. 5), “deficiencies” (p. 16), and “confusion” (p. 17) of earlier work, some of which he thinks “misses Owen’s point” (p. 143). This is a limiting strategy. The effect of this unnecessarily combative style has McGraw framing his discussion of Owen around other contributions to the field, rather than setting out his own stall upon his own terms. Additionally, it is not clear exactly how the chapters in this volume have been revised from their earlier forms. In the main text and footnotes, a number of books are described as forthcoming, despite their having been published several years ago: among the titles listed as forthcoming, Mark Jones’ book on Antinomianism appeared in 2013 (p. 193), and another title that McGraw “eagerly awaits” (p. 195) is a book that he has in fact already reviewed. This problem creeps into McGraw’s representation of his own work: another item that he describes as forthcoming (p. 64) is the article, published in 2015, that forms the basis of this volume’s first substantial chapter (p. 9). These difficulties aside, this is an important book, which gathers together some of the best of McGraw’s contributions to Owen studies. While each of these chapters is of high intellectual merit, McGraw’s discussions of the law-gospel distinction and the relationship between the role of faith and images of Christ will set new agendas in Owen research.

[5] As these monographs suggest, work on Owen is proliferating as major publishers pick up on his importance and as the disciplinary perspectives of his readers evolve. These trends are combining to produce some exciting new work on a figure central to the rise and fall of the British republic, and to the intellectual preservation of the Calvinist reformation. Cowan and McGraw have produced two fine contributions, each of which will push Owen studies in important new directions in historical theology and in the social history of ideas.

Queen’s University Belfast, October 2017

Andrew Duxfield, Christopher Marlowe and the Failure to Unify(Ashgate, 2015). Mathew R. Martin, Tragedy and Trauma in the Plays of Christopher Marlowe(Ashgate, 2015). ISBN: 9781472431561, 194 pp + vii., £60.00.

Andrew Duxfield, Christopher Marlowe and the Failure to Unify (Ashgate, 2015), ISBN: 9781472439512, vii + 164 pp., £70.00.

Mathew R. Martin, Tragedy and Trauma in the Plays of Christopher Marlowe (Ashgate, 2015), ISBN: 9781472431561, vii + 194 pp., £60.00.

Reviewed by Katherine Heavey

[1] These two books on Christopher Marlowe, both published in Ashgate’s series Studies in Performance and Early Modern Drama, and comprising case studies of the same six plays (Dido Queen of Carthage, Tamburlaine Parts 1 and 2, The Jew of Malta, Edward II, The Massacre at Paris and Doctor Faustus) are further linked by their focus on Marlowe as a playwright whose dramatic works might pose a particular set of problems for traditionally-minded readers or audiences. Duxfield points to the general absence, in Marlowe’s plays, of genuinely good characters, or clear moral messages, and moreover posits that the theme of unity, which he sees as being of central interest to Marlowe, is undermined even as it is represented: the book traces “the ways in which Marlowe’s plays negate unity”, as well as “the way in which they focus on the pursuit or illusion of unity in the process of negating it” (p. 9). Meanwhile, reading the plays psychoanalytically, as “trauma narratives” (p. 1), Martin acknowledges that in their resistance to closure or cohesiveness, works such as Tamburlaine Part 1 and The Massacre at Paris can seem almost aggressively set against conventional tragedy, or even against the conventions of drama itself. However, while they acknowledge the difficulties that Marlowe’s plays may pose, both Duxfield and Martin make a virtue of his drama’s oddities, and argue for greater subtlety in the reading of apparently off-putting elements of the plays.

[2] Arguing that Marlowe’s dramas are preoccupied with the idea of unity in two contradictory ways (his characters often strive for some form of unity, while the playwright exposes the futility of such striving) Duxfield posits that Marlowe handles his theme in this strangely bifurcated way deliberately, to expose truths about his characters, and to reflect Elizabethan England’s anxiety about its own divisions and discords. Duxfield sees Tamburlaine as determined to reduce and impose unity upon the known world through conquest, and similarly to reduce and simplify his own image. However, Tamburlaine, master of self-presentation though he may be, betrays a “reductive misconception” about the possibility of unity. This misconception “bypasses the variety and complexity inherent both in the world and in himself; it is the gap between this world view and the complexity of “reality” which guarantees his failure” (p. 47). Meanwhile, Faustus wants to quash ambiguity and achieve universal and unifying knowledge, but because of his university training, he seems conditioned to seek ambiguity almost in spite of himself, probing Mephistopheles about Hell and refusing to be satisfied with the answers he receives (p. 77). In the Jew of Malta, the audience will find only the “illusory impression of unity” (p. 89), a world where, paradoxically, Malta’s citizens “are united only by their unstinting individualism” (p. 89). In Marlowe’s Malta, the idea of religious unity itself is nothing more than an “expedient fiction” (p. 105), and Duxfield draws brief comparison with the Massacre at Paris, to argue that here again, religion might be a superficial unifier, but is really a means by which characters pursue their own selfish desires. Here, in fact, a show of religious unity becomes a kind of shorthand for savagery and rupture, as the Duke of Guise insists his Catholic forces should all dress alike as they slaughter the Protestants (p. 111).

[3] In a short Afterword, Duxfield acknowledges the certainty of uncertainty in Marlowe’s drama: “Marlowe’s play-worlds are consistently and profoundly ambiguous; we are never given the privilege of unobstructed access to a sense of right and wrong, nor are we allowed the benefit of characters that can be summarily dismissed from or embraced by our sympathy” (p. 147). As Duxfield’s title suggests, this focus on ambiguity and uncertainty means that unity of any kind in Marlowe’s plays begins to seem a futile hope, notwithstanding the determination of some of his most memorable characters (Tamburlaine, Faustus, Barabas) that it does exist, and can be turned to their own ends. For Duxfield, Marlowe’s unity is a mirage, but it is a purposefully created mirage, intended to nuance his characters, speak to his Elizabethan contemporaries, and paradoxically problematise any sense of resolution.

[4] If Duxfield address Marlowe’s plays from the perspective of a failed drive towards unity, for Martin, it is psychoanalytic theory, including the works of Freud and Lacan, which can best explicate the apparent difficulties and contradictions of his drama. He contends that Marlowe’s plays are “trauma narratives”, “narratives of physical and psychological wounding and its consequences” (p. 1), and imbued with a “trauma aesthetic” (p. 4) that differentiates them from more conventional, Aristotelian tragedies. Familiar elements of tragedy such as closure or moral lessons are most often conspicuous by their absence, and a play like Tamburlaine turns aggressively on the usual structure of tragedy, representing a “rupture in the linear history of [the genre]” (p. 58). While Duxfield reads Tamburlaine’s insistent self-fashioning as a futile drive towards unity, Martin reads his single-mindedness psychoanalytically, as a determination to see himself as ‘whole’, to externalize and so exorcise the traumatic rupture that psychoanalysis sees in the subject: “Tamburlaine attempts to elude his constitutive split by presenting himself as the Other, as a man whose being is anterior to his becoming” (p. 50). Such an effort is fated to fail, as Duxfield also argues from his different perspective. However, Tamburlaine’s failure does not lead to clear resolutions, and Martin sees moments of apparent closure (such as Tamburlaine’s marriage to Zenocrate) as undermined and “rendered impossible and unattainable by the desublimating force of the trauma” (p. 54).

[5] In Tamburlaine 2, Martin argues that Oedipal solutions to trauma are exposed as insufficient. The Turks may be committed to “maintaining the power of Oedipal fathers and supporting the reproduction of Oedipal civilization” (p. 66), but the apparently neat closure of the Turkish/Christian truce is undermined almost immediately by Christian betrayal. Tamburlaine, meanwhile, “rejects civilization’s Oedipal logic” (p. 66). As he did in Part 1, he continues to deny the possibility of any traumatic wound to himself. When he is injured, it is through self-imposed violence, cutting his arm to underline his dominance over his sons: as in Part 1, when Tamburlaine turned his violence on others, the externalizing of the wound denies the possibility of the internal wound of castration. Duxfield suggests that here, “[i]n the very act of demonstrating his invincibility he simultaneously reveals his vulnerability” (p. 63), whereas Martin sees Tamburlaine as retaining power in this moment, in which he “self-reflexively asserts his identity as the uncastrated Father” (p. 74). However, Tamburlaine’s insistence on dominance and the refusal of trauma damages the very fabric of the tragic genre, and Martin concludes “Because of his refusal to accept castration, even in death, Tamburlaine is an anti-tragic figure”, one whose obstinacy “shatters the tragic mirror into shards” (p. 83).

[6] Like Tamburlaine, Barabas resists the state’s attempts to impose order, its “Oedipalizing codes” (p. 93) and his rejection of the threat of castration manifests itself as violence towards others, the Jew of Malta’s repeated and repetitive savagery representing its protagonist’s determination to be “the castrating agent not the castrated victim” (p. 97). Like Duxfield, Martin sees the Jew of Malta as a play that draws in the audience, evoking troubling and contradictory reactions to Marlowe’s antagonist and his crimes. In the Massacre at Paris, too, the audience finds itself in an uncomfortable position in relation to the extremes of the staged violence, and Marlowe does not make things easy for his audiences, whether Elizabethan or modern. Martin shows that for Elizabethans watching the play only a few years after the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, Marlowe “provides no consoling, suturing narrative” (p. 141), and his Protestants are not even allowed to successfully complete their prayers before being murdered (a detail Duxfield also highlights, reading it as the Guise’s attempt “to establish a reductive univocality that will ensure political supremacy” (p. 112) ). Moreover, as Martin notes, an English audience would here witness the brutal massacre of Protestants, before being reminded, via Henri’s references to Elizabeth, of the continuing diplomatic relations between Elizabethan England and Catholic Europe even after the massacre. As such, the play “presses the audience to recognize its ambivalent relation to and even complicity in the historical trauma it dramatizes” (p. 143). Meanwhile, the modern spectator might be frustrated by the apparently haphazard organisation of the drama. However, Martin argues that the play’s oddities (such as the way in which the second half has little or nothing to say about the massacre) are imbued with meaning. Via the play’s silence, the massacre “[f]unctions…as a traumatic black hole in the symbolic order, as the Lacanian real whose gravitational pull bends the characters’ discourse into circles of oblique attraction that leave the massacre unspoken while registering its dark density.”(p. 135) If Tamburlaine fractures an audience’s sense of “tragic frames”, of what tragedy should be, in the Massacre “tragic frames are silently not chosen or, to put it more strongly, actively forgotten in order to privilege an incoherence that refuses to bring trauma into narrative order” (p. 132).This is a play that, Martin argues, works especially well when analysed in the light of trauma theory: such a theoretical framework declines to “privilege the conventionally valorized aesthetic qualities of wholeness and sense over brokenness, silence, and nonsense” (p. 126), and via this open-mindedness, trauma theory finds a new significance in a play that critics are often quick to dismiss.

[7] In the final chapter, on Faustus, Martin explains he has elected to discuss the B-text for similar reasons: in its rejection of what Kuriyama terms “aesthetic integrity”, he contends that this version of Faustus lends itself most readily to a trauma-based reading, with the play handled last in recognition of Martin’s belief that it is Marlowe’s “most powerful trauma narrative” (p. 145). Like Aeneas in Dido Queen of Carthage (discussed in Chapter 1), Martin argues that Faustus is confronted with the call of the Other, here the Protestant God. Like Tamburlaine and Barabas, he is fixated on external wounding as a way to deflect the possibility of the internal wound, and Martin intriguingly demonstrates this by showing how, while Mephistopheles sees Hell as an internal and individually created idea, towards the play’s conclusion Faustus insists on externalising it and characterising it as a space of physical violence, terrifying but also comfortingly tangible and explicable (p. 153). However, there are no easy answers here, and as Martin points out, in making his contract Faustus merely “creates the fantasy of an evil agency operating consequentially in a strictly delimited spatio-temporal field in response to the demands of an other with whom one can negotiate” (p. 153).

[8] Whether they are striving for unity or trying to displace or deny trauma, for Marlowe’s characters things are never as easy as they hope, and as both books demonstrate, via the doomed efforts of his characters to achieve unity, or outrun trauma, Marlowe also raises uncomfortable questions for his audiences. These two books make complex arguments about Marlowe’s dramas, presenting them as works that resist easy answers, and reject simplification, closure or moral lessons. Whether taken as narratives of failure or of trauma, these dramas might make for uncomfortable viewing, but Duxfield and Martin show that they are all the more rewarding and interesting for their difficulties.

Glasgow University, September 2017

The Palgrave Handbook of Early Modern Literature and Science, ed. Howard Marchitello and Evelyn Tribble (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017)

The Palgrave Handbook of Early Modern Literature and Science, ed. Howard Marchitello and Evelyn Tribble (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), ISBN, 978-1-137-46778-2, XLVI + 544 pp., € 213.99

Review by Katherine Walker

[1] An ambitious and timely resource, The Palgrave Handbook of Early Modern Literature and Science is a wide-ranging, multivalent collection covering the intersections of literature and science. Although most essays in the collection focus on English authors—Shakespeare, Donne, and Cavendish, for example—the authors draw from a broad swath of continental sources to capture the intra- and intertextual networks of knowledge production. Together these scholars remind us of the entangled relationship of literature to science in this pre-disciplinary period; practitioners and texts alike crossed modern disciplinary boundaries. In the process, as essay authors demonstrate, the stage becomes a “cognitive laboratory” (Jean E. Feerick 438), the languages of poesy move hearers in physical and philosophical ways (Jenny C. Mann 233), or the troubled confluence of curiosity and the occult meet in seventeenth century natural philosophy (Barbara M. Benedict). Indeed, although scholars will find the individual essays relevant to studies on, for instance, Galileo or Milton, the most valuable contribution of the collection is its larger performance of raising questions about the richly varied movements among literature, science, and science as literature.

[2] Editors Howard Marchitello and Evelyn Tribble devote a significant portion of the introduction to Galileo’s relationship to poetic discourse, particularly his writing “as method” (Intro. xxx). In beginning with one of the recognizable figureheads of the Scientific Revolution, Marchitello and Tribble uncover Galileo’s complex adoption of literary techne and past traditions in his writings. They thus foreground science and literature’s imbrication.

[3] Several essays discuss early modern authors’ rhetorical strategies in grappling with natural philosophical concepts. Liza Blake focuses on the notion of “grounds” in Cavendish’s philosophical and literary works, while Wendy Beth Hyman turns to metaphor “as a forensic device which yielded understandings of the natural world” (27). Similarly, Kristen Poole’s contribution offers a compelling reading of how allegory shapes Bacon’s understanding of methods for reading the natural world. Elizabeth Spiller and James J. Bono separately consider the process of reading, on the one hand Milton’s understanding of reading and matter as a transformative process. Bono, Spiller discusses, analyzes Boyle’s under-recognized notion of Scriptural methods for reading the Book of Nature. Crystal Hall analogously focuses on readerly processes, offering a detailed study of the books interlocutors read and cite in Galileo’s Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems and Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Concerning Two New Sciences.

[4] A significant strength of the collection is its engagement with a variety of primary sources. Mary Floyd-Wilson takes up plague pamphlets in the period to offer a new reading of Romeo and Juliet, arguing that “plague habits of thought” (402) inform the play’s concern with contagion, vitality, and death. Michelle DiMeo’s essay situates Boyle’s recipe collections in a larger discourse surrounding the production and dissemination of receipt books in the period. Focusing on a different genre with female contributors, Jacqueline D. Wernimont discusses the popular Ladies’ Diary of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, focusing on French contexts to read the almanac and considering the women readers who submitted mathematical and literary puzzles for each edition. Reading deeply across medical tracts, Kaara L. Peterson shows how Shakespeare adopts the bed-trick, placing it firmly within “the received early modern medical beliefs about virgins’ bodies that authorize it” (380). Like Peterson, Steven Mentz captures the ways in which positioning a text in alternative discourses and practices yields new insights, in this case with a focus on the experiences of sailors in their encounters with hurricanes across the Atlantic.

[5] Early modern authors borrowed freely from other natural philosophical discoveries. Ofer Gal provides a new reading of imagination in the period, an analysis in conversation with other essays in the collection focusing on how the early moderns understood the new science. Frédérique Aït-Touati, in the penultimate essay in the collection, turns to the related concept of invention in Bacon and Cavendish’s works. Mary Thomas Crane’s contribution situates Donne’s engagement with new natural philosophical insights in “the welter of new ideas and new anxieties about the configuration of the universe” (95) that extended beyond Galileo to Spenser, Gabriel Harvey, and vernacular scientific print authors such as Robert Recorde. Claire Preston also studies Donne but as an influence on Boyle’s recovery narrative in Occasional Reflections. In another essay that explores literary and linguistic relationships, Angus Fletcher considers Bacon’s solution to the entangled problem of religion as a divisive barrier to scientific utopia and argues that Bacon’s solution lies in his unique perspective on literature.

[6] Finally, several essays in the collection turn to understudied mechanical and natural philosophical practices, suggesting persuasively that our scholarly attention on the big precursors to modern scientific method—astronomy, physics, and chemistry, for example—occludes the early modern period’s equally invested understanding of other disciplines. Philip Schwyzer reads Thomas Browne’s Hydriotaphia alongside contemporary archaeological sciences and Louise Noble uncovers the wide-ranging early modern debate on hydraulic engineering through an examination of diverse authors and genres. Shankar Raman details Milton’s investment in changing conceptions of time and motion alongside Leibniz’s similar preoccupation, while Ian Lawson looks at another disciplinary and textual relationship: Cavendish’s trenchant reading and critique of Hooke. Peter Dear rounds out the collection with a brief consideration of the type of work we do as interdisciplinary scholars. As Dear points out, many essays in the collection not only engage in this interdisciplinary work, but also bring their close reading and archival methods to bear on surprising figures such as Boyle.

[7] The Palgrave Handbook of Early Modern Literature and Science should be on the bookshelf of any scholar interested in the shared histories of literature and science. But what is most significant about the collection is not simply the arguments offered about authors and texts, but rather the performance of the collection itself: it is a significant step forward in our interdisciplinary critical inquiries. Viewing literature and science as “two mutually sustaining and mutually informing systems for the production of knowledge” (Introduction xxiv), this collection equips us with the methodological tools for advancing the study of both systems in a range of historical eras.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, August 2017

James Simpson, Under the Hammer: Iconoclasm in the Anglo-American Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2011)

James Simpson, Under the Hammer: Iconoclasm in the Anglo-American Tradition (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press USA, 2011). ISBN: 978-0199591657, vi + 222 pp. £26.

Reviewed by Edward Simon


[1] In his newest book, Under the Hammer: Iconoclasm in the Anglo-American Tradition, James Simpson continues a project that he began in 2010’s Burning to Read: English Fundamentalism and its Reformation Opponents. This is to say that both take as their aim the cross-disciplinary goal of explicating what exactly is ‘modern’ about the early modern period. Seemingly central to these two books, both as critical disposition and methodology, is Simpson’s concept of ‘cultural etymology’, which he describes as ‘looking for recognitions between present and past obscured by the passage of time and the urgency of the present’ (p. 49). In his earlier work Simpson traces the ways in which religious fundamentalism – which in popular discourse is often seen as somehow ‘medieval’ – was actually the result of a modernity that was born from the Protestant Reformation. The traditional triumphalist historiography of sixteenth and seventeenth-century Reformation and Counter-Reformation has often portrayed Protestantism as a progressive, liberal and modern reaction to the superstitious and zealous medieval Roman Catholic Church. Simpson, in a manner similar to revisionists like Eamon Duffy, deftly demonstrates what is erroneous about a perspective which portrays Thomas Cromwell as a Thomas Jefferson of the English Reformation. As he effectively demonstrated in Burning to Read the Reformation was modern, but not in the way traditional scholarly models had argued. Rather a reliance on the Sola scriptura hermeneutic coupled with an intense focus on the textuality of the Bible encouraged a nascent literalism that would have been foreign to the allegory-permeated Middle Ages. In Simpson’s formulation it was not until the anarchic years of the mid seventeenth century that Protestant modernity embraced interpretive strategies that could be thought of as ‘progressive’. In this way Simpson shows how the literalism of contemporary fundamentalism is not a holdover from a more primitive medieval past, but was indeed a consequence of the emergence of modernity in the sixteenth century.

[2] Where he focused on words in that earlier work, Simpson expands his attention towards images in his excellent new book, Under the Hammer. In a brilliant coupling of literary theory, art history and cultural historiography, Simpson surveys the ways in which iconoclastic violence has been mediated through Anglo-American culture and how it, in turn, has altered that culture. Across four chapters his short book addresses the initial image-destruction of both the Henrician and Edwardian reforms, through the violence of the English Revolution into the emergence of Enlightenment notions of ‘art’ and ‘taste’ in the eighteenth century. It is Simpson’s argument that iconoclasm, like the fundamentalism he examined in his earlier book, is not a quality of an archaic, brutal, violent past which we have left behind, but that indeed iconoclastic reasoning permeates and, in fact, defines our modern culture and that in the West the most recent permutations of this find their origin in the Reformation. Simpson writes, ‘I take issue with this projection of iconoclasm as historically and geographically “other” and “backwards”, at least as far as the West goes’ (p. 3). Using this reasoning he opens with two seemingly disparate events that he argues are conceptually connected. The first is the infamous destruction of two gigantic statues of the Buddha in Bamiyan, Afghanistan by the Taliban in March of 2001. The other is the author, himself, as a young man in 1967, attending an exhibit at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, entitled Two Decades of American Painting and featuring the radical avant-garde of abstract expressionist painters such as de Kooning, Rothko, and Pollock. The two events couldn’t seem more different, the first is a barbaric and reactionary assault on culture and the latter is a celebration of the very idea of culture. And yet as different as they may be, Simpson explains over the course of his book how the obvious iconoclastic fury of the Taliban and the abstraction of mid-century American art are both reactions to the idea of the image. As he explains it: ‘History is the history of the image, and historical freedom means demolition of the religious image’ (p. 69).

[3] Under the Hammer ranges widely across centuries and academic disciplines. In its first chapter, ‘Iconoclasm in Melbourne, Massachusetts, and the Museum of Modern Art’, Simpson employs contemporary art criticism when he considers the abstract expressionist paintings he first encountered as a youth in Australia. In what acts as an extended introduction to his concept of cultural etymology, Simpson provides readings of the paintings he viewed in Melbourne like Ad Reinhardt’s Abstract Painting alongside interpretations of the ecclesiastical plain-style architecture of Puritan churches in New England. In his second chapter, ‘Learn to Die: Late Medieval English Images Before the Law’, Simpson examines pre-Reformation iconoclastic rhetoric in both orthodox as well as Wycliffite writings, especially as regards the Ars moriendi genre. His third chapter, ‘Statues of Liberty: Iconoclasm and Idolatry in the English Revolution’, looks at both the fury of the Civil War years, as well as offering a novel reading of iconoclastic themes in not just the obvious choice of Milton’s Eikonoklastes, but the first book of Paradise Lost as well (examined through the prism of Milton’s early poem On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity). The most radical and, in many ways, most interesting section of the monograph is its final chapter, ‘Under the Hammer: Iconoclasm and the Enlightenment’. Simpson writes ‘The more ambitious form of the argument, which I shall also pursue in this book, is that the Enlightenment treatment of the image, and in particular the Enlightenment museum, share many of the iconoclast’s aims’ (p. 11), later making the argument that ‘the Enlightenment museum … resembles nothing so much as the Puritan temple’ (p. 48). The point is drawn home as we are asked to compare the stark white walls of New England Puritan churches with the minimalist architecture of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This chapter’s central argument – and, in many ways, it seems as if the first three chapters are leading up to the radical conclusion – is that the Enlightenment aesthetic of ‘taste’ is a form of secularized iconoclasm that paradoxically preserves the image by disenchanting it. In other words Enlightenment taste neutralizes the sacred power of the relic and transforms it into something that is theologically non-objectionable. He examines the contents of Horace Walpole’s catalogue of the extensive art collection of his father, the former prime minister, Robert Walpole, noting the large presence of Catholic devotional art in the otherwise vehemently Protestant household. By divorcing the image from its content, a new, progressive and modern category of art that is different from relic can be constructed; explaining that, ‘Taste is a strategy designed to look at Rome again’ (p. 133).

[4] In any book as provocative and fascinating as this, a number of issues and questions will arise. Simpson has provided a rich and compelling argument that should generate a number of new scholarly investigations. For example, how could a materialist or class-based critique enrich Simpson’s line of inquiry? In addition to theological influences, did cheap print in the seventeenth century affect the transition from an image-based to a word-based culture? And if contemporary art museums are a type of ‘Puritan Temple’ how do modern class-based political questions contribute to the cultural capital afforded these institutions over other means of expression? In addition to class issues there are also questions of gender that remain largely unexplored in Under the Hammer. The physicality of medieval art often focused on Marian devotion, one of the most notable aspects of Elizabeth I’s reign were the ways in which she was able to appropriate and divert attention which was often directed towards those images onto herself. Gendered images were partially secularized during the Elizabethan settlement and instrumental in the building of the English nation-state. In any study of that subject questions of iconoclasm should be central. The complicated (and contradictory) gender politics of the second half of the sixteenth century would be a fascinating and important subject to examine through this lens. Also more attention afforded towards the Baroque Counter-Reformation could have been helpful. How much of the Baroque was not evidence of a Horror vacui as concerns the plain canvas, but indeed a Catholic reaction to Protestant iconoclasm? And how much of our modern understanding of artistic quality is based on an individual work or movement’s adherence to a minimalist iconoclastic standard? Do we read Pop Art as a type of contemporary, Baroque reaction to the iconoclasm of abstract expressionism? What of more nebulous aesthetic terms like ‘kitsch’ and ‘camp’? How do they fit into Simpson’s art history schema? It remains for an art historian or literary critic to place Clement Greenberg and Susan Sontag in conversation with Under the Hammer. Finally, while the book’s bibliography is impressive, in any argument as sprawling as this more space could have been devoted to iconoclastic thinking which is not Protestant. Simpson mentions both the medieval Byzantine war on images, as well as the anti-clerical iconoclasm of the French Revolution, but more of a consideration could have been made of those events.

[5] Though Under the Hammer doesn’t make direct reference to the recent flurry of theorists like Giorgio Agamben, Simon Critchly, Slavoj Žižek and Paul Kahn who have begun to problematize the traditional narrative of historical secularization, it could be read alongside them. As in Burning to Read, Simpson demonstrates the complicated theological origins of much of what we think of as secular modernity (and its discontents). Under the Hammer is important in other ways, in breaking down the arbitrary division between periods (medieval, Renaissance, Enlightenment), ranging across disciplines (literary theory, art history), embracing a more encompassing geography of the early modern (examining both English and American writing and art of the period) Simpson has produced a truly revelatory text that should act as a veritable call-to-arms for scholars. His concept of cultural etymology is an immensely useful term, simultaneously a methodology and a perspective that helps to contextualize the trace of influences in ideology, culture, and literature that may otherwise remain invisible. As he explains it ‘iconoclasm is not “somewhere else”’ (p. 11), it is just as current if transformed. Through his deep readings of texts throughout several centuries and using insightful prose he demonstrates how this is possible and, in the process, he provides other critics with a powerful new tool.

Lehigh University, July 2013

Thomas Betteridge and Suzanna Lipscomb (eds.), Henry VIII and the Court: Art, Politics and Performance (Ashgate, 2013)

Thomas Betteridge and Suzanna Lipscomb (eds.), Henry VIII and the Court: Art, Politics and Performance (Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate, 2013). ISBN: 97811409411857. 327 pp. Hbk. £63.00.

Reviewed by Tessa Marlou van Gendt


[1] Henry VIII and the Court, a collection of seventeen essays, takes a welcome interdisciplinary approach to the contradictory nature of Henry and his reign. The volume, divided into seven parts, is largely the result of the conference, ‘Henry VIII and the Tudor Court: 1509 to 2009’, celebrating the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession. Ranging from sections on ‘Writing about Henry VIII’, ‘Material Culture’ and ‘Images’ to those on ‘Court Culture’, ‘Reactions’ and ‘Performance’, the intellectual scope and vision of the collection are as refreshing as they are, at times, surprising. Though Henry VIII is hardly a new topic, the essays themselves have a strong focus on new areas of research, making it an engaging read for the seasoned academic, as well as the casual reader. In the Foreword we are reminded that too often, historians have tended to focus solely on the political narrative of Henry’s reign, ignoring ‘analyses of art, architecture, material possessions, literature, performance, gender and international relations at their peril’ (p. 6). This collection ventures boldly into these too commonly dismissed fields in Henrician scholarship, and more than makes good on its intentions. The book really distinguishes itself, however, in its willingness to engage with the interdisciplinary in order to dissect and understand the various cultures at Court.

[2] Opening with G.W. Bernard’s ‘Reflecting on the King’s Reformation’, the reader is rewarded with an almost intimate, behind-the-scenes telling of Bernard’s own ‘path toward seeing Henry as the dominant force in the politics of his reign’ (p. 14). His analysis, in particular, of Henry’s personal charm, equaled only by the jarring examples of his cynical ruthlessness, serves to give a new face to the King. His relation of the executions of Buckingham, Thomas More and the condemnation of Wolsey provide chilling glimpses of the man beneath the crown and serve to remind us that this King, no matter how bluff he would have us think him, did not lack in political astuteness – nor would he have had need of Machiavelli’s guidance. The Chapter sets the tone for the rest of the collection and offers an interesting appraisal of Henry as a strong ruler, refuting many of the claims made by Geoffrey Elton, David Starkey and Eric Ives on the manipulability of the King. Effortlessly weaving personal anecdotes into his scholarly discussion, this essay is a treat indeed and serves to remind us that reading history or historiography need not always be accompanied by the scent of faded tweed and of dust gathered in corners.

[3] No work on the Henrician court can be entirely complete without mention of the tragic downfall of Henry’s most notorious and, arguably, most popular queen, Anne Boleyn. Suzzannah Lipscomb, in ‘The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Crisis in Gender Relations’, presents the reader with a different perspective on the debate over Anne’s fall. Quickly, yet convincingly, sketching the various issues surrounding this controversial event, Lipscomb provides readers with an account that, as she herself mentions in general lines, closely matches that of Greg Walker in his article, ‘Rethinking the Fall of Anne Boleyn’(The Historical Journal, 45-1, pp. 1-29). Lipscomb’s exploration of sixteenth-century gender roles and relations, however, is an interesting angle and serves to entertain, as well as to instruct, in the world of courtly love. Her description of the social tensions between the sixteenth-century ideals of a ‘good and chaste woman’ and the notion of the inherent culpability of the female as the origin of sexual sin, relate persuasively to Anne Boleyn’s case and indictments. Her analysis of the discourses of courtly love within the confines of the rigid social structure of the Henrician court, lends credibility to the interpretation that it was, indeed, Anne’s words rather than her actions that caused her eventual demise. The essay is compelling, well-researched and intriguing. Its discussion of sixteenth-century ideas of manhood and impotence provide cause for amusement and enlightenment. The concept of sexual honour introduces an interesting and oft-forgotten angle to the debate, elaborating on the personal struggle Henry must have faced in charging Anne with adultery. The concern arises from the reasons for her supposed infidelity. Clearly, Henry’s ministrations in the bedchamber could be nothing short of entirely satisfactory, he was, after all, the King. It follows then that Anne herself must, in some way, be deficient to crave sexual fulfillment above and beyond what he could provide her. Although the Chapter does not settle the matter of Anne’s fall (nor is it, perhaps, entirely reasonable to expect it to, given the brevity necessary to include it in such a collection as this), it certainly sheds new light on the tensions between the sexes which arguably caused much of the appearance of guilt during her prosecution. An effective and engaging study of gender relations and underlying social currents that furthers our understanding of why, if not how, Anne was condemned, this is a must-read for anyone interested in Boleyn scholarship.

[4] The same constraints of brevity ensue upon this review, since it is not possible here to engage with the full breadth and depth of analysis which the scholarship of these seventeen essays warrants. ‘Wishful Thinking: Reading the Portraits of Henry VIII’s Queens’ derides the tendency to illustrate biographies with suggestive yet unidentified portraits of the six queens. Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, are a particular focus and Brett Dolman is quick to remind the reader that, in Anne’s case, no contemporary dated portraits survive. ‘Cultures of the Body, Medical Regimen, and Physic at the Tudor Court’ by Elizabeth T. Hurren offers a wonderfully detailed account of the famously rotund King’s diet and his progression from a young, virile prince, to a morbidly obese man who had to be hoisted onto his horse by aid of a specifically designed contraption. Fashionable pastimes and household medicines are also discussed and leave the reader with a strong impression, if not after-taste, of some of the more remarkable characters at court, such as a certain Sir Richard Cholmley, apparently said to have been ‘extraordinarily given to the love of women’ (p. 75).

[5] The collection as a whole gives an extremely entertaining, interdisciplinary overview of the wide-ranging debates and issues surrounding the arts, politics and performances at the Henrician court. It does more than just that though – what it promises from the outset, it certainly delivers. The volume extends the range of sources and paradigms through which the King and his Court should be considered. No less significant, it also appears to have fully mastered the all-important and oft-forgotten notion, to delight and instruct. This book serves as a reminder of why, even after 500 years, fascination with Henry VIII and his household endures. He may have been every inch a King, but never the gentleman.

University of Edinburgh, July 2013