Vulgar Eloquence

On the Renaissance Invention of English Literature

Sean Keilen

View Inside Price: $65.00


July 11, 2006
240 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4
26 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300110128
Cloth

This original book challenges prevailing accounts of English literary history, arguing that English literature emerged as a distinct category during the late sixteenth century, as England’s relationship with classical Rome was suffering an unprecedented strain. Exploring the myths through which poets such as Geffrey Whitney, William Shakespeare, and John Milton understood the nature of their art, Sean Keilen shows how they invented archaic origins for a new kind of writing.
When history obliged English poets to regard themselves as victims of the Roman Conquest rather than rightful heirs of classical Latin culture, it also required a redefinition of their relations with Roman literature. Keilen shows how the poets’ search for a new beginning drew them to rework familiar fables about Orpheus, Philomela, and Circe, and invent a new point of departure for their own poetic history.

Sean Keilen is assistant professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Keilen rethinks the package of ideas and facts we call antiquarianism, so that antiquarian is the last thing they seem."—Annabel Patterson, author of Nobody's Perfect

"Keilen possesses an original, unclassifiable intelligence. He weaves elegantly philological arguments about the antique into a counterplot that illuminates a nativist, unrefined, and hybrid early modern England. Vulgar Eloquence will make us rethink the Spenser-to-Shakespeare-to-Milton canon, not by throwing out classicism and tradition, but by redefining it."—Leonard Barkan, Princeton University

"[An] ambitious and beautifully written book. . . . A rich study which repays rereading. . . . Despite his commitment to recovering the literariness of English Renaissance writing, Keilen is not neglectful of the intellectual context from which it emerged, and his conception of what counts as literature is broad. . . . [The] book is full of elegantly posed questions and suggestive leads."—Jennifer Richards, Renaissance Quarterly
 

"Keilen achieves a temperate—and timely—fusion of traditional and revisionist criticism. He proves himself a close reader of both canonical literary texts and visual arts that make up a fascinating collection of accompanying illustrations. Vulgar Eloquence is important for its general critical narrative, but also for its specific critical narrative about the three major authors and their use of classical myths."—Patrick Cheney, Recent Studies in English Literature