Excess and the Mean in Early Modern English Literature

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Princeton University Press, 2009 M02 9 - 376 páginas

This book examines how English writers from the Elizabethan period to the Restoration transformed and contested the ancient ideal of the virtuous mean. As early modern authors learned at grammar school and university, Aristotle and other classical thinkers praised "golden means" balanced between extremes: courage, for example, as opposed to cowardice or recklessness. By uncovering the enormous variety of English responses to this ethical doctrine, Joshua Scodel revises our understanding of the vital interaction between classical thought and early modern literary culture.


Scodel argues that English authors used the ancient schema of means and extremes in innovative and contentious ways hitherto ignored by scholars. Through close readings of diverse writers and genres, he shows that conflicting representations of means and extremes figured prominently in the emergence of a self-consciously modern English culture. Donne, for example, reshaped the classical mean to promote individual freedom, while Bacon held extremism necessary for human empowerment. Imagining a modern rival to ancient Rome, georgics from Spenser to Cowley exhorted England to embody the mean or lauded extreme paths to national greatness. Drinking poetry from Jonson to Rochester expressed opposing visions of convivial moderation and drunken excess, while erotic writing from Sidney to Dryden and Behn pitted extreme passion against the traditional mean of conjugal moderation. Challenging his predecessors in various genres, Milton celebrated golden means of restrained pleasure and self-respect. Throughout this groundbreaking study, Scodel suggests how early modern treatments of means and extremes resonate in present-day cultural debates.

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Didn't get to much, but offers an excellent play-by-play of John Donne's Satire III, sponging up the guessing game that the satire would otherwise be.

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Contenido

Ancient Paradigms in Modern Conflicts
1
Two Early Modern Revisions of the Mean
19
Means and Extremes in Early Modern Georgic
77
Erotic Excess and Early Modern Social Conflicts
143
Moderation and Excess in the SeventeenthCentury Symposiastic Lyric
197
Reimagining Moderation The Miltonic Example
253
Sublime Excess Dull Moderation and Contemporary Ambivalence
285
Notes
289
Index
353
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Acerca del autor (2009)

Joshua Scodel is Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and the Humanities at the University of Chicago. He is the author of The English Poetic Epitaph: Commemoration and Conflict from Jonson to Wordsworth and has published numerous articles on various aspects of Renaissance literature.

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