Hobbinol’s Blog aims to share my fascination with the English Renaissance with a widespread audience. I have chosen the historical period 1470-1700 and all associable worldwide events as being indicative of the English Renaissance, with particular focus on the period’s literature. The importance of early modern literature is summarised by David Norbrook: ‘To read historically is not to reduce texts to a dead past but to heighten our awareness of the complex transactions between past and present that occur whenever we read a text, whether it be a poem or a historical narrative’ (Norbrook xxii). The English Renaissance still has resonance today because it spawned nascent forms of capitalism, colonialism and individualism – self-conscious egotistical personalities are reflected in Shakespeare’s greatest tragic characters who all hurt the women that loved them.
No doubt ‘the complex transactions between past and present’ are more prominent in how early modern writers found literature to be an effective politically subversive weapon. They used allegory to voice discontent to avoid being punished by the ruling power. The Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser, for instance, used political discontent to earn patronage from his readers. These readers included the powerful Protestants Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Walter Ralegh who, despite their concerns about an unmarried monarch fuelled by Spenser’s poetry, both enjoyed Queen Elizabeth I’s favour. However, allegory could also be used in the early modern writer’s defence against misinterpretation. George Puttenham claims that ‘allegorie‘ repeats meaning ‘vnder couert and darke intendments’ (Puttenham 154). He implies allegory is a corrupting force with its own sinister agenda no matter how harmless the text appears. If a reader wishes to read a poem as politically subversive then there is nothing a writer can do to prevent this.
Yet, for me, the English Renaissance is an historic period rich with new developments – William Caxton introduces the printing press to England, William Tyndale translated the Greek and Hebrew bible into English, England has a female king, the greatest playwright is born, the Globe theatre is built, the first atlas is printed, the microscope and telescope are invented…The list is endless. However, the development I find most fascinating is that the universe changes. The Greek astronomer Ptolemy placed the Earth at the centre of the universe. Then, in 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus published De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres) that introduced a sun-centred universe. The conflict between the two universes gave John Milton much to dispute in his epic poem Paradise Lost.
As I have indicated, there is much blogging to be done on the English Renaissance (1470-1700). Now join me on my journey to rediscover the unknown…
My name is Frank I. Swannack. I write and edit the posts for Hobbinol’s Blog. In November 2010, at the University of Salford, I successfully obtained a PhD entitled The Political Allegory of Lovesickness and the Lovesick Womb in Early Modern Studies, with an Emphasis on Spenser. I have published short stories, poetry, book reviews, journal and magazine articles. I live in Salford, Manchester with my wife and son. If you wish to contact me about anything connected to the blog, my email address is hobbinol[at]gmail[dot]com.
Norbrook, David. ‘Preface’. The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse 1509-1659. Ed. H.R. Woudhuysen. Penguin Books: London, 1992, xxi-xli.
Puttenham, George. The Arte of English Poesie. 1589. Eds. Gladys Doidge Wilcock & Alice Walker. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970.