Recent scholarship has prompted us to again consider the Reformation’s impact on England’s literary culture in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century. This dissertation asks how the reformers’ values and commitments, especially that of making the scriptures accessible to the common people, may have contributed to the literary culture of Protestant translation of the Classics. In chapter one, I find humanist-reformer John Cheke to be an early advocate of classical translation, “the which was to speak simply and plainly to the common people’s understanding” (Wilson, Preface, Demosthenes), yet scholars, judging Cheke’s attempted New Testament translation (c. 1550) as rife with unintelligible archaisms, have missed that which would help us understand his translation perspectives and, hence, his significant influence on later classical translation; indeed, those words judged as out-of-use words were in use by the common people—Cheke purposed to make the Tyndallian-based scriptures more accessible to them. In chapter two, Wilson’s Demosthenes may be seen as an emerging model for Protestant translation of the Classics, one with different expectations than scriptural translation, yet a shared sense of mission. Written without hard words in a vein of translation Cheke inspired, Wilson’s Demosthenes intends to engage the widest possible circle of readers and enable them to find the relevant individual and collective wisdom therein.
As Protestant translators began to include classical authors such as Pliny and Ovid, we see new expressions of confidence in the readers’ ability to discern what is good from what is harmful in any sort of text; should harm occur, readers are seen as fully responsible. In chapter three, I suggest this argument, which allowed Protestant translation to proceed unhindered, emerges from a significant sixteenth-century debate: Stephen Gosson’s Schoole of Abuse (1579) argued poetry had the potential to abuse its readers; Sir Philip Sidney’s Defence (35) argues, instead, it is “man’s wit [that] abuses poetry” (35). While Sidney deems readers as responsible for their interpretive choices, he also deems them capable of making good interpretive choices: Each man’s “inward light” is a sufficient guide (22). Following such reasoning, translators open the door widely for the common people to engage with texts once considered too hard for them.