Misreading and the Parameters of Exemplarity in Early Modern England

Fisher, Joshua Benjamin. Misreading and the Parameters of Exemplarity in Early Modern England. 2002. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

This study explores how acts of misreading in the early modern period shape subjectivities. I argue that key socio-cultural developments including the Protestant Reformation, the rise of print, and the expansion of literacy and education played a crucial role in widening the parameters of interpretive practices, thus complicating both the authority of humanist exemplarity and the status of individual subject-definition. In light of the ways in which misreading shapes notions of selfhood in the Renaissance, I center my discussion around a transformation in the status of humanist exemplarity that coalesced at the point of the English Civil War, where critics of the Stuart regime accused the ruling elite of misreading the past in terms of both classical and typological authority. I move from an examination of sixteenth century humanist conduct manuals, pedagogical tracts and commonplace books, in which notions of classical authority are firmly embraced, to jest books, plays, travel narratives, and other late sixteenth and seventeenth century texts that in various ways call into question the exemplary authority upon which notions of proper reading are founded. Finally, I focus on Civil War and Restoration era texts by John Milton, Andrew Marvell, and Lucy Hutchinson not so much to argue that humanist exemplarity had deteriorated but instead to explore how it had been re-shaped to challenge the constraining forces of monarchic absolutism.

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