Ambition, Rank, and Poetry in 1590s England

Ambition, Rank, and Poetry in 1590s England

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John Huntington uncovers a form of subtle social protest encoded in the writings of aspiring Elizabethan poets. He argues that these writers, while recognizing that their very survival depended on the favor of wealthy patrons, nonetheless invested their poetry with a new social vision that challenged a nobility of blood and proposed a nobility of learning instead. "Ambition, Rank, and Poetry in 1590s England" focuses on the early work of George Chapman and on the writings of others who shared his social agenda and his non-privileged status, including Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and Edmund Spenser as well as neglected writers such as Matthew Roydon and Aemilia Lanyer. Rather than placing poetry in the service of traditional social purposes - pleasing a patron, wooing a woman, displaying one's courtly skill, teaching morality - these writers held up poetry as important for its own sake: an idea taken for granted in much modern aesthetics.Through slippery, double-edged language and imagery, Chapman and other poor poets tried to speak to those of their own station without attracting the attention of the powerful people served by the status quo.
By means of this precarious enterprise, poetry became a declaration of cultural presence and the poet constructed his or her own social importance apart from, and sometimes in opposition to, the established hierarchies. Huntington's astute close readings of obscure and confusing passages demonstrate how the trappings of pedantic moralism conceal Chapman's deeper meaning. Teasing out undercurrents of anger and subversion, Huntington shows how Chapman and his contemporaries, by questioning the nature and purposes of poetry, initiate a line of inquiry that leads finally to a rethinking of the established social hierarchy, its values, and its basis.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 208 pages
  • 158.5 x 237 x 19.1mm | 457.84g
  • University of Illinois Press
  • Baltimore, United States
  • English
  • 0252026284
  • 9780252026287

Review quote

"Offers a striking new approach to the early works of George Chapman... The detailed readings of ambiguities in the verse prove impressive... Students of Chapman in particular, and of late Elizabethan poetry in general, will have to pay attention to Hungtington's forecful study." -- Choice ADVANCE PRAISE "Ambition, Rank, and Poetry in 1590s England changes in a fundamental way our understanding of the social condition of Elizabethan poets, and changes what it means to do a social analysis. In the process, Huntington also sheds light on an important group of poets who have been too little understood for too long." -- Clark Hulse, author of The Rule of Art: Literature and Painting in the Renaissance "John Huntington's deeply rewarding book begins with a simple but provocative question: why in an age of aristocratic power should a poor man want to be a poet? Huntington's examinations interrogate the ideas of hegemony, subversion, and class and bring us much closer to the Renaissance than we have been until now. This carefully nuanced work should have far-reaching impact in the current scholarly climate." -- Arthur F. Kinney, editor of The Cambridge Companion to English Literature, 1500-1600
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