By Robert Matz

Robert Matz analyzes the safeguard of literature in Renaissance England within the context of social alterations of the interval, quite these affecting the aristocracy because it developed from a feudal warrior classification to a civil elite. via shut readings established on works by way of Thomas Elyot, Philip Sidney and Edmund Spenser, Matz argues that literature tried to mediate a fancy set of contradictory social expectancies. His unique learn engages with very important theoretical paintings comparable to Pierre Bourdieu's and provides a considerable critique of latest Historicist conception.

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The son of “undistinguished” ancestors, Richard Elyot 25 26 Defending Literature in Early Modern England owed his fortune to the great wool export boom, which lasted until midcentury. If the income earned from wool allowed Richard Elyot to buy land in London and Oxford, in addition to his holdings in the southwest, his career as a common lawyer gave him some prominence in the administrations of Henry VII and Henry VIII. 2 Following quite literally in his father’s footsteps, Thomas Elyot, having studied law at the Middle Temple, served for ten years as clerk to the western circuit court of assize, on which his father sat as one of the justices.

We are within this history too; we cannot transcend the tensions that the trope of profit and pleasure collects and condenses. A note on class terms: in the chapters on Sidney and Spenser I use “middle class” rather than “new man” to suggest a group less court-centered than the latter implies. 59 One can nonetheless usefully associate in the same work the disparate groups described by the terms “new men” or “middle class” (Spenser could be considered either), in that both designate a middle position between the status quo elite and the great mass of poor rural and urban laborers.

39 But besides mistaking political and economic choices as moral ones, this account neglects Elyot’s equal appeal to the conditions at court, an appeal to a courtly chivalry dedicated not to cares and burdens or to moral correction but to what might be the “vice and errour” of its vainglorious pleasures. Rich ornament, fine dress, hunting and hawking, elaborate feasts, a playful militarism, and even French dances are as much to be found in the Governour as they are in the gaudy celebrations of Greenwich and Hampton.

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