Eloquence and Eccentricity in the English Renaissance
Dec 2013 | 224 pages | Cloth $55.00
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Antisocial Orpheus
Chapter 1. Good Space and Time: Humanist Pedagogy and the Uses of Estrangement
Chapter 2. The Commonplace and the Far-Fetched: Mapping Eloquence in the English Art of Rhetoric
Chapter 3. "A World to See": Euphues's Wayward Style
Chapter 4. Pastoral in Exile: Colin Clout and the Poetics of English Alienation
Chapter 5. "Conquering Feet": Tamburlaine and the Measure of English
Coda: Eccentric Shakespeare
Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]
In the late sixteenth century, just as England began to assert its integrity as a nation and English its value as a literate tongue, vernacular writing took a turn for the eccentric. John Lyly's Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit (1578), Edmund Spenser's Shepheardes Calender (1579), and Christopher Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great (1587) loudly announced their authors' ambitions for the English language, but in their extravagant ornamentation, obscure archaism, and violent bombast they stood at a seemingly deliberate remove from the tongue whose reputation they helped to secure. Indeed to some early critics, the inaugural achievements of what Richard Foster Jones has termed "the triumph of the English language" seemed in their extremity hardly English at all. Edmund Blount credited Euphues with inventing a "new English," but Philip Sidney likened its showy effects to the glittering of a bejeweled "Indian." Joseph Hall dismissed Tamburlaine's blank verse as a "Turkish" concoction of "big-sounding sentences" and "termes Italianate." Ben Jonson carped that Marlowe had taken the poet's privilege to "differ from the vulgar somewhat" as license to "fly from all humanity," and he praised the matter of Spenser's poems but lamented that in them he "writ no language." Indian, Turkish, Italianate, inhuman—in laying claim to eloquence, it appears, English became increasingly strange to itself.
That estrangement is the subject of this book, which situates eccentricity at the paradoxical heart of sixteenth-century pedagogical, rhetorical, and literary culture. In doing so it departs from, or at least qualifies, a fantasy that has shaped both the English Renaissance and our perception of it. According to the founding myth of the classical rhetorical tradition, eloquence is the essence of sociability: mankind's natural vagrancy yields to the attractive power of language. "Because there has been implanted in us the power to persuade each other and to make clear to each other what we desire . . . we have come together and founded cities and made laws and invented arts," Isocrates declares in his defense of rhetoric. Before the invention of rhetoric, as writes Cicero in the opening chapter of De Inventione, humankind "wandered at large . . . scattered in the fields and hidden in sylvan retreats"; only when men had learned the art of persuasion could this wayward flock be "assembled and gathered . . . in a single place," reconciled to domesticity and society. In the Ars Poetica Horace identifies the eloquence of the aboriginal poets Orpheus and Amphion with the power to "distinguish the public from private weal, things sacred from things profane," to "plan out cities," and to "engrave laws on tables of wood." "I cannot imagine," declares Quintilian in his Institutio Oratoria, "how the founders of cities would have made a homeless multitude come together to form a people, had they not moved them by their skillful speech."
Sixteenth-century English rhetoricians found in this fantasy a potent justification for their efforts on behalf of the vernacular: if eloquence was the original antidote to errancy, more eloquent English would make for a stronger and more cohesive England. According to Thomas Wilson's 1560 Arte of Rhetorique, the cultivation of the vernacular is thus England's chief safeguard from the perils of what he punningly terms "roming"—which is to say both "roaming" speech and "Rome-ing" souls, wayward tongues and Papist hearts. In a similar vein, George Puttenham's 1589 Arte of English Poesie names Orpheus and Amphion as "the first Legislators and polititians in the world," cites their verses as "th'originall cause and occasion" of civil society, and interprets poetic precepts as guides to social and political acculturation. When Puttenham hails Queen Elizabeth I as England's "most excellent Poet," the compliment redounds to poetry, which is reimagined as a rarefied form of statecraft. "Nothing can bee more excellently giuen of Nature then Eloquence," declares Richard Rainolde in his 1563 Foundacion of Rhetorike, "by the which the florishyng state of commonweales doe consiste [and] kyngdomes vniuersally are gouerned." Even Henry Peacham, whose 1577 Garden of Eloquence is a barely elaborated listing of tropes and figures, claims a patriotic motive for his text: "My wel meaning," he declares, "is . . . to profyte this my country."
And profit it did. Indeed we are now likely to credit the flourishing of the vernacular not simply with enriching England but with inventing it. As a large body of recent scholarship attests, the ascendancy of English as a learned and eloquent tongue in Shakespeare's day fostered a new and durable form of collective identification: an "imagined community," in Benedict Anderson's influential formulation, founded on the "deep, horizontal comradeship" of reading and writing in a common tongue. Anderson's account of the origins of modern nationalism updates the mythology of eloquence for the purposes of modern literary and political history: now poets, playwrights, and pamphleteers play the part of Orpheus, as the once atomized inhabitants of premodern England are, beginning in the sixteenth century, "connected through print, form[ing], in their secular, visible invisibility, the embryo of the nationally imagined community."
Although critics continue to debate the contours of this emergent nationalism—is it English or British, Elizabethan or more broadly Tudor?—there is widespread agreement about its origins in literary practice. In the sixteenth century, Richard Helgerson argues, vernacular authors in virtually every genre worked "to articulate a national community whose existence and eminence would then justify their desire to become its literary spokesmen," participating in "what retrospectively looks like a concerted generational project": the "writing of England." Defining and consolidating "Englishness," by means of what Claire McEachern calls "the poetics of nationhood," is now understood as a central ambition and defining achievement of Renaissance literature; in the age of Shakespeare and Spenser, McEachern argues, imaginative writing worked "to syncretize and synchronize competing interests in utopian visions of union." As Andrew Escobedo argues, literary authors used "narrative representations of nationhood" to compensate for an otherwise hopelessly fractured sense of history, knitting together "the English past, present, and future in a complete and continuous story." In the context of "writing England," the work of promoting and improving the mother tongue mattered more than ever, for as Ian Smith claims, "on both the local and, more strikingly, the national scale, speaking English amount[ed] to a performative act of being English, a performance of the nation."
But such arguments rely on what sixteenth-century writers and rhetoricians would have recognized as a partial version of the classical account of eloquence, which, as Derek Attridge points out in his seminal book on literature as "peculiar language," "seems to be based on two mutually inconsistent demands—that the language of literature be recognizably different from the language we encounter in other contexts, and that it be recognizably the same." Indeed, from its inception within the rhetorical theory of ancient Greece, eloquence has had as much to do with estrangement as with intimacy and familiarity. At the outset of his Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle defines eloquence as the realization of common bonds in and through language: an orator succeeds in both his particular task and his larger social function by establishing "what seems true to people of a certain sort," wooing men to consensus by accommodating his argument to "instances near their experience." But when it comes to style, he acknowledges, the reverse holds true: the skilled speaker should make his "language unfamiliar, for people are admirers of what is far off, and what is marvelous is sweet." In this regard, eloquence belongs not only to the poet-legislator who founds the rhetorical "commonplace" but also—even especially—to the outsider whose marginal glamour disturbs and dazzles that community.
Following Aristotle, rhetoricians parsed style ever more finely in an effort to adjudicate between the rival virtues of accessibility and wonder: Dionysius of Helicarnassus contrasted Attic simplicity to Asiatic flamboyance; Cicero's triad of high, middle, and low styles assigned plainness to certain subjects and occasions and extravagance to others; Hermogenes's seven-part taxonomy of stylistic "ideas" ranged from the fundamental virtues of clarity and distinctness to the more striking effects of dignity, solemnity, and brilliance. Such rubrics did not resolve the tension between likeness and difference within Aristotle's account, however; on the contrary, they codified and elaborated it, enshrining strangeness as both the antithesis and the epitome of style.
In other words, sixteenth-century English writers inherited a rhetorical culture that was doubly far-fetched: literally far-fetched in that it entailed a deepening investment in remote antiquity; but also far-fetched as a matter of principle in that it had long regarded eloquence as no one's native speech. As Puttenham acknowledges in book 3 of his Arte, "there is yet requisite to the perfection of this arte, another maner of exornation, which resteth in the fashioning of our makers language and stile, to such purpose as it may delight and allure as well the mynde as the eare of the hearers with a certaine noueltie and strange maner of conueyance, disguising it no litle from the ordinary and accustomed." Rhetoric and poetry might thus beautify and enrich English, conferring upon it the allurements of novelty and strangeness, but in doing so they threatened to deprive the vernacular of its most essential and widely acknowledged virtue, its status as the common—"the ordinary and accustomed"—tongue. Puttenham hastens to allay this anxiety: the cultivation of an eloquent style should, he insists, make the poet's or orator's words "nothing the more vnseemely or misbecomming, but rather decenter and more agreable to any ciuill eare and vnderstanding." But classical precedent suggested that the effects of eloquence might in fact seem uncivil and misbecoming. Quintilian observes that Cicero's own superlative eloquence led the decorous denizens of the Roman courtroom to applaud wildly, forgetful of their sober surroundings. "Nor," Quintilian explains, "would his words have been greeted with such extraordinary approbation if his speech had been like the ordinary speeches of every day":
In my opinion, the audience did not know what they were doing, their applause sprang neither from their judgment nor their will; they were seized with a kind of frenzy and unconscious of the place in which they stood, burst forth spontaneously into a perfect ecstasy of delight.
(Atque ego illos credo qui aderant nec sensisse quid facerent nec sponte iudicioque plausisse, sed velut mente captos et quo essent in loco ignaros erupisse in hunc voluptatis adfectum.)
What Quintilian describes as being "unconscious of . . . place" and Puttenham allegorizes as "strange conveyance" is identified by both rhetoricians as the consummation of rhetorical skill—even though it is also an exact inversion of the sensitivity to local circumstance that is the very essence of rhetorical wisdom: what the Greeks call to prepon and the Romans decorum. The eloquence that anchors men in place thus also transports them, turning the common language into something profoundly and singularly strange. In order to be recognized as such, eloquence must exceed to the point of superseding the very sense of communal identification it is tasked with creating.
As the myth of Orpheus suggested, the pressure of such irreconcilable impulses could prove violently disintegrative. The aboriginal orator presented himself to sixteenth-century readers in two guises: not simply as the voice that summons vagrant and bestial mankind into civilized communion but also as the half-mad, self-exiled singer who reviles marriage, dotes on boys, and plays his lyre to an inhuman audience of trees, stones, and wild animals. In book 11 of Ovid's Metamorphoses, the latter Orpheus faces a doom that is the antithesis of his earlier achievement: his scorn incites the Ciconian women to turn the instruments of agriculture and religion into blunt objects; they brandish "mattocks, rakes, and shouels," as Arthur Golding writes in his 1567 translation, and batter the poet with "their thyrses greene . . . which for another use than that invented been." In a gruesome inversion of Cicero's fantasy of the gathering of scattered mankind, Orpheus's bruised limbs are flung "in sundrie steds," and his still-singing head, washed downstream from Thrace to Lesbos, is "cast aland" on a "forreine coast."
It is this antisocial, outcast Orpheus who presides over the most significant stylistic innovations of the late sixteenth century, so much so that outlandishness becomes not simply the point of departure for English authors but the point of arrival as well. Lyly, Spenser, and Marlowe achieve renown by subjecting English to extreme elaborations, even deformations, in the name of eloquence. Rather than affirming vernacular literature as the medium of cultural and political synthesis, they foreground its departures from both ordinary speech and the decorums of classical rhetoric and poetry.
Far from mythologizing eloquence as a force that binds vagrant individuals into social communion, they allegorize its effects in narratives of willful unsociability, featuring protagonists whose astonishing powers of persuasion dislodge them from anything resembling stable community: Euphues's witty tongue leads away from a home to which he can never truly return; Colin Clout retreats from pastoral fellowship into sullen isolation; Tamburlaine struts across the civilized world leaving rubble and ashes in his wake. These are paradigmatic figures of English style from the late sixteenth century, but they are hardly representatives of a "common tongue" around whom a new national community might form.
Nor are they meant to be. Throughout the sixteenth century, in theoretical treatises and literary works alike, tropes of intimacy and sociability, the traditional virtues of artful speech, were made to coexist with unexpectedly compelling fantasies of alienation, errancy, and disunity. The appeal of those fantasies stems from a peculiar confluence of historical and cultural pressures, as English scholars, rhetoricians, and literary authors discovered both practical and theoretical advantages to what had once seemed like linguistic infirmities. Primed by their sensitivity to "England's classical nowhereness," they prove keenly alert to the contradictory stances on familiarity and foreignness that structure classical accounts of eloquence, and the very moments at which they seem most urgently concerned with the particularities of their own Englishness are often the moments at which they come closest to the preoccupations of their Greek and Roman predecessors. The mutually inconsistent demands of classical rhetorical theory mirrored the mutually inconsistent demands exerted upon English writers by the classical tradition as a whole, that enticing yet alienating corpus of speeches, poems, and plays that both invited their efforts at emulation and impugned their status as barbarous outsiders. Relative to classical Greek and Latin, after all, English was already a peculiar language: haphazardly composed, indiscriminately mixed, awkwardly pronounced, and indelibly strange. Capitulation to the alien order of eloquence could thus seem curiously like doubling down on a native eccentricity.
As Jones documents in his magisterial study of the vernacular in English Renaissance culture, in a brief span of years beginning around 1575 the status of English was revised dramatically upward. Novel achievements in prose, verse, and drama earned for the vernacular the reputation of an "eloquent tongue," and decades of skepticism give way to the assertive experiments of an age that, in Jones's words, "believed wholeheartedly in the literary value of its language." But this belief was not identical to—or even, perhaps, compatible with—faith in the vernacular's power to organize and sustain the body politic, for making English eloquent was also a way of dislocating it from the imagined community of native speakers. As Jones observes, the first fruits of this new faith were often willfully off-putting: "No longer was the vernacular only a practical instrument, the efficacy of which depended upon simple clarity and humble plainness; it was, instead, a free medium of expression, in which brave new words and elaborate figures could puzzle or displease whom they would." Jones does not dwell on this curiously negative formulation of poetic license, nor have subsequent scholars taken it up, but sixteenth-century critics were sensitive to its implications for the mother tongue. Although the authors of rhetorical and poetic handbooks promoted artful English as the expression of a well-fashioned England, others identified eloquence as a more disorienting and disruptive force.
Thus William Harrison writes in his Description and Historie of England, printed in 1577 as part of the first volume of Holinshed's Chronicles, that the unprecedented investment of literary writers in their mother tongue seems to have made it both more excellent and less English than ever before. "Our tongue," Harrison allows, "never came unto the type of perfection until the time of Queen Elizabeth, wherein . . . sundry learned and excellent writers have fully accomplished the ornature of the same," but he cautions that "not a few other doo greatlie seeke to staine the same, by fond affectation of forren and strange words, presuming that to be the best English, which is most corrupted with externall termes of eloquence." Harrison was not alone in identifying the pursuit of eloquence with the affectation of strangeness or externality. Samuel Daniel's 1603 Defence of Ryme deplores the "affectation" of poets who show themselves "to be both unkinde and vnnaturall to our owne natiue languge, in disguising or forging strange or vnusuall words, as if it were to make our verse seeme another kind of speech out of the course of our vsuall practice," while the preface to Robert Cawdrey's 1604 dictionary, A Table Alphabeticall, adapts a passage from Wilson's Arte of Rhetorique to its own homogenizing purposes, urging readers that unless they are prepared to "make a difference of English, and say, some is learned English, and othersome is rude English, or the one is Court talke, the other is Country-speech," they "must of necessitie banish all affected Rhetorique, and vse altogether one manner of language." Such admonishments remind us that, notwithstanding the myth of eloquence's attractive power, the promotion of the vernacular as a literary tongue was not easily aligned with the promotion of a unified national identity. If laying claim to "the best English" meant disavowing the obligations of familiarity and mutual intelligibility, then the triumph of English begins to look like a more equivocal—even self-defeating—achievement.
The mingled pride and concern Harrison expresses is in some respects typical of his moment, a moment at which England appeared to its inhabitants as simultaneously provincial and cosmopolitan, isolated and expansive. Both perspectives can be grounded in historical fact. As David Wallace points out, only in 1558, with the loss of Calais, did England lose its foothold on the Continent and "become . . . an island." At the same time, however, travel and trade brought the rest of Europe, and even Asia, closer: foreigners—and foreign books—swarmed London; the wool trade boomed; Englishmen crossed the channel in pursuit of wealth, learning, and pleasure; and the authors of texts such as Richard Hakluyt's Principle Navigations of the English Nation (1589) took pride in representing England's reach as unprecedentedly large. "Whoever heard of Englishmen at Goa before now?" Hakluyt asks. "What English ships did heretofore . . . range along the coast of Chile, Peru, and all the backside of Nova Hispania?"
It is not surprising that the excitement and anxiety elicited by such changes inflect English authors' perceptions of what Thomas Nashe half-jokingly calls "our homely Island tongue." Nashe tells readers who object to his "huge words," "I had as lieve have . . . no clothes rather than wear linsey wolsey"; the language that Thomas Wilson likens favorably to "our Countrie cloth" strikes him as too homespun altogether. So too George Chapman, who in the preface to his translation of Homer refuses to apologize for his "farre fetcht and, as it were, beyond sea manner of writing": English would be the better off, he insists, if its native authors did not restrict themselves to "nothing but what mixeth it selfe with ordinarie table talke." For Richard Mulcaster, Spenser's grammar-school master and a fierce advocate for the mother tongue, the mobility of England's merchant class was a sign of the vernacular's own potential for expansion and enrichment: "Will all kindes of trade, and all sorts of traffik, make a tung of account?" he asks. "If the spreading sea, and the spacious land could vse anie speche," he declares, "theie would both shew you, where, and in how manie strange places, theie haue sene our peple, and also giue you to wit, that theie deall in as much, and as great varietie of matters, as anie other peple do, whether at home or abrode."
But the success of England's efforts to extend its influence across the globe could intensify as well as assuage concerns about the value of English. Those far-flung merchants and travelers could hardly expect to use English in their dealings with foreigners. Puttenham worries in his Arte that the vernacular would suffer from such encounters, as the English of "Secretaries and Marchaunts and trauailours" was inevitably corrupted by the "straunge termes of other languages."
Debates about the vernacular's literary potential thus intersected with, reflected, and informed more widespread debates about England's place in the world—historically marginal, newly insular, increasingly mobile, and uncertainly bounded. Throughout the sixteenth century terms such as insularity and estrangement, homeliness and exoticism, proximity and distance served as analogies for a whole range of (often contradictory) attitudes toward English eloquence, and the immediate experiences of geographic expansion and isolation supplied vernacular writers with a rich fund of metaphors for their linguistic predicament. Like England in the sixteenth century, English seemed poised to embark on a potentially enriching, potentially ruinous venture beyond its native plot. Indeed the ambivalence with which many authors allude to England's geographic circumstances—its long-standing marginality, its burgeoning global reach—turns out to be a useful guide for articulating their ambivalence about eloquence. If geographic insularity was both an asset and an impediment to England's cultural, moral, and intellectual development, so too was confining oneself to the strict limits of common usage both an aid and an obstacle to rhetorical success. If travel, trade, and other foreign engagements were either the key to the nation's growth and enrichment or the fastest route to degradation and decline, so too was the allure of strange terms either the vernacular's greatest hope or its most persistent source of error.
Compounding this ambivalence was the fact that, as Paula Blank has shown, it proved impossible to position oneself as a defender of linguistic commonality without exacerbating the problem of linguistic diversity. Language reformers who appealed to the notion of a common tongue invariably also highlighted divisions within the language: the alternative to banishing rhetoric is, as Cawdrey writes, "mak[ing] a difference of English," dismembering the vernacular in order to distinguish good uses from bad, proper from improper, usual from eccentric. Harrison's account works at just such cross-purposes of consolidation and differentiation, and his repeated invocations of the phrase "our tongue" jar with a tendency to characterize the vernacular's virtues in terms of narrowness and exclusivity. English was, he acknowledges, just one of "the languages spoken in this Iland"; its "excellency" was found only "in one, and the south part of this Iland," and strangers to that part found its sounds and syntax near impossible to master. Instead of producing English as the locus of "deep, horizontal community," then, the promotion of the vernacular depended on discriminatory judgments that threatened to undo the pretense of a common tongue. The terms of that adjudication exerted further stress on the ideal of commonality: even Harrison's mistrust of eloquence's "externall termes" does not preclude him from reaching for a neo-Latinate loan-word—"ornature"—to characterize the achievements of the vernacular's truly English stylists, the "learned and excellent" writers whose style he distinguishes from that of their fondly affected rivals.
We might point out in Harrison's defense that the identification of eloquence with the classical tongues makes "externall termes" nearly impossible to avoid. As Wayne Rebhorn has observed, like the Roman rhetoricians before them, who depended on a theoretical lexicon borrowed from Greece, English rhetoricians and language reformers had "almost no choice but to use literally outlandish words from foreign languages." However firmly he might wish to draw the boundaries of vernacularity, then, Harrison, like any Renaissance critic, had to look elsewhere for a language to describe its literary virtues. That necessity yields a minor dissonance in Harrison's prose, but it resonated in a far more consequential way through the literature and literary theories of his time. That is to say, the tension between insularity and externality in sixteenth-century debates about eloquence is not exclusively, or even primarily, a function of the vernacular's "real-world" contexts; it is also the residue of its immersion in the classical tradition. The efforts of pedagogues and rhetoricians to fix rules and examples by which the best English might be recognized and perpetuated have the disorienting effect of embedding norms of vernacularity in the emulation of frankly alien tongues, the "peculiar languages" of ancient Athens and Rome. To speak English eloquently was, by definition, to speak it strangely.
Indeed, although modern historians and literary critics have characterized sixteenth-century rhetorical culture as "unequivocally and resolutely social in outlook," its rituals of argument aimed at producing "a community of individuals sharing a common language," the translation of this culture into England and into English pushed Renaissance writers up against the limits of the assumed virtues of community and commonality. To begin with, as Sean Keilen has emphasized, English scholars and writers working to augment their notoriously deficient tongue were repeatedly confronted with reminders of their insularity and marginality; looking for models in the classical past, they discovered a legacy of barbarous exclusion, remedied only through submission to conquest. As Jenny Mann's work on figures of speech reveals, even small-scale transactions between antiquity and the present could trigger a jarring sense of dislocation and devaluation: vernacular rhetoricians may have fantasized the nation as "an ideally united community of native English speakers," but in ferrying schemes and tropes out of classical prose and poetry and into English, they upset that native unity, "threaten[ing] to overwhelm their vernacular with foreign devices." All too often, then, as Carla Mazzio demonstrates, vernacular texts that modeled themselves on classical literature became sites of "language trouble," marred by stammering, mumbling, lexical confusion, and other forms of inarticulacy.
Like these critics, I am interested in the distorting, even disabling pressure that classical antiquity exerts on the theory and practice of vernacular eloquence—in particular in the impossibility of validating modern native practice without resorting to the definitively ancient and nonnative. But this paradoxical conflation of eloquence and alienation, although it speaks in seemingly direct ways to the belated and marginal predicament of English writers, is by no means particular to the sixteenth century; it is a legacy of the classical tradition's unresolved attitude toward linguistic difference. In this sense the very incommensurability of the classical past and the vernacular present could prove enabling for English writers, for even as their study of ancient rhetoric and poetry taught them to recognize their estrangement from antiquity, it also taught them to perceive in that estrangement—or any estrangement of language—the essence of literary value. Thus within any number of sixteenth-century English texts, the expressed desire to domesticate eloquence, reconciling antique precepts to the rhetorical imperatives of the here and now, clashes with an equally pervasive tendency to privilege distance and difference as the ideal attributes of eloquent speech. This willful embrace of strangeness is not, as William Harrison assumes, the purview of the unlearned, those self-alienated "other[s]" whose perversity threatens the ideal course of linguistic progress. On the contrary, it is a learned technique, cultivated in deference to the very texts and theories that made English seem so strange.
That learning is the first subject of this study. However radically innovative they appeared, the stylistic experiments of the late 1570s and early 1580s are rooted in theoretical ground prepared by an earlier humanism, as two seemingly antagonistic strains of linguistic reform worked to alter the nature and status of the English language. The earlier decades of the sixteenth century bear witness, on the one hand, to the concerted effort to imbue a generation of English schoolboys with perfect Latinity and, on the other hand, to the equally concerted effort to define rhetorical and poetic standards for the vernacular, achieving parity with antiquity by giving English an eloquence of its own. Although they aim at distinct, even rivalrous, visions of linguistic achievement, in practice the two movements shared significant overlap: those who sought to inculcate Latinity necessarily wrote in English and, in consequence, valued the vernacular more highly and altered its course more definitively than is often allowed; meanwhile the authors of vernacular arts of rhetoric and poetics served as conduits for conspicuously foreign terms, concepts, and writerly practices—for an ideal of Englishness that remains in constant, jostling contact with tongues elsewhere. In a more basic sense, both Latin pedagogues and vernacular rhetoricians presented readers with an essentially paradoxical vision of what it might mean for England, as a whole, to lay claim to eloquence. Although each movement addresses itself to a broad audience, invoking a self-justifying rhetoric of intimacy and domesticity—proper instruction will make Latin "familiar" and "easy" to any learner; the vernacular merits development because it is the "common" and "mother" tongue—each ends by accepting, and even valorizing, estrangement and exile as the necessary conditions of a properly English eloquence.
Conventional narratives of vernacularization and nation-building tend to obscure both the sympathies between these two movements and the tensions within them. To begin with, although the rise of vernacular literature is often yoked to the "fall" or "dethronement" of the classical tongues, this equation is misleading. For much of the sixteenth century, as I argue in my opening chapter, a stubborn attachment to frankly impracticable fantasies of Latinization was a primary motive for the cultivation of the vernacular by literate authors. The elegant and inventive use of English in Sir Thomas Elyot's Boke named the Governour (1531) and Roger Ascham's Scholemaster (1570) anticipates the outpouring of vernacular literature that marks the end of the sixteenth century, but the two texts manifest as well a seemingly self-abnegating devotion to the cultivation of the classical tongues. Critics have responded by treating their stylistic influence as distinct from, even opposed to, their expressed pedagogical commitments. In fact, however, both Elyot's unself-conscious neologizing and Ascham's artfully balanced syntax arise out of their philosophies of foreign language study: what they bequeath to English is an indelible sense of its own difference from Latin and Greek.
As architects of ambitious new programs for the study of classical literature, men tasked with managing the transfer of eloquence from one time and place to another, radically unlike it, Elyot and Ascham scrutinize the relationship of learning to intimacy and estrangement. Both their pedagogical theories and their prose work to remedy the seemingly catastrophic fact of England's alienation from classical civilization—what Elyot calls the "infelicities of [our] tyme and countray." They arrive, however, at very different conceptions of how that infelicitous gap ought to inform the pursuit of eloquence. For Elyot, both pedagogy and language are sustained by acts of hospitality, inviting strangeness into the home so as to be transformed and enriched by it: classical authors (and foreign loan-words) are akin to the Greek wet nurses who raised Roman infants, foreigners welcomed as intimate familiars. For Ascham, such receptivity to outside influence is morally perilous, pedagogically ineffective, and rhetorically unwise: remoteness and insularity may be obstacles to linguistic sophistication, but they are sure safeguards of virtue. Thus while Elyot's pedagogy and prose work to reduce the distance between English and Latin, Ascham—more pragmatically and more radically—embraces distance as the engine of linguistic refinement. His pedagogical method and his prose style foreground the necessity and virtue of mediation: for him, classical authors are not wet nurses but sea captains, guides on a necessarily prolonged and difficult journey between tongues. This forced detour, enshrined in the artificially arduous practice of double translation, returned a generation of English writers to their mother tongue as, in effect, a second language—what was once the enforced predicament of the exile and the barbarian becomes the deliberately cultivated pose of the would-be eloquent author.
Estrangement—temporal, geographic, cultural, and linguistic—is urgently and obviously a concern for those who would transplant Latin eloquence to England, those who measure their own language and culture by its distance from antiquity. It is less clearly an issue for the authors of the first vernacular arts of rhetoric and poetics: in these texts, it would seem, the goal is to establish eloquence as an essentially homely value. But as I have suggested above, their acquaintance with classical rhetoric brings English rhetoricians and poetic theorists into conversation with a tradition already divided between allegiance to home and attraction to the remote and alien. Chapter 2 explores the outworkings of that internal division within a corpus of texts that stake their own highly contested value on a myth of linguistic sociability that proves inadequate, or even opposed, to their visions of linguistic transport. As Thomas Wilson emphasizes in the first full-fledged English art of rhetoric, the claims that rhetoric makes to truth are essentially local in character; proximity is the guarantor of plausibility, and ordinary or common speech therefore exerts a particularly strong claim on the attention and commitment of an audience. But persuasion, as Wilson also allows, is not simply a matter of plausibility: style, ornament, and figuration have always been acknowledged to play some part in the achievement of eloquence, and in this regard, rhetorical success depends not on the familiarity of one's speech but precisely on its novelty and difference. The sense that eloquence resides elsewhere is endemic to rhetoric, however emphatically "Englished." The archive of rhetorical handbooks and poetic treatises that is often invoked as evidence of literature's nationalizing force is thus equally available as testimony to literature's appeal as uncommon speech: especially in the guise of what William Harrison calls "ornature," eloquence retains persistent associations with foreignness.
Like their predecessors in Athens and Rome, English rhetoricians identify the orator's and the poet's power both with the fashioning of community and with the uncircumscribed pleasures of travel, with familiarity and estrangement. Wilson abjures those who affect "outlandish English" in the name of eloquence, but he praises the beauty of "farre fetcht" figures of speech. Richard Sherry apologizes that the title of his 1550 Treatise of Schemes and Tropes will sound "all straunge unto our English eares," but he also imagines that the strangeness of terms such as "scheme" and "trope" may appeal to readers who are "moued with the noueltye thereof." Puttenham defines "the best English" as that used in "London and the shires lying about London within sixty miles, and not much above," but he urges vernacular poets to ornament their language with "rich Orient colours," to embrace the "forraine and coloured talke" of figuration, and to risk "trespasses in speech" in order to achieve the "novelty of language evidently (and yet not absurdly) estranged from the ordinary." Without the cultivation of a certain degree of alienation—without translation and metaphor—eloquence collapses into mere talk; taken too far, the exoticism of eloquence becomes affectation and absurdity. Of course, the distance between evident estrangement and absurdity proves much more difficult to gauge than the sixty miles between London and its outermost suburbs: far from securing the vernacular as the locus of communal identification, sixteenth-century efforts to define eloquence in (and on) native terms make the province of "the best English" increasingly difficult to map.
Decoupling the trajectories of vernacularity and nationhood in this fashion allows us to regain an appreciation of the productive role that affectation—that most maligned of literary strategies—plays in the effort to claim eloquence for the mother tongue. The vernacular rhetorician joins with the Latin schoolmaster in calculating both the hazards and the rewards of linguistic eccentricity; together they fashion the conceptual frame within which Lyly, Spenser, and Marlowe enact their self-consciously bold experiments in vernacular style. In other words, the extravagantly strung-on clauses of Euphues, the exaggeratedly "uncouth" terms of The Shepheardes Calender, and Tamburlaine's savage bombast are not incidental to the bids these texts make on behalf on the vernacular; they are, rather, the means by which English asserts itself in an age that places a premium on the alienating force of artful speech. I have called strangeness a learned achievement, and as I will emphasize in my readings, eccentricity is in many ways a calculated effect of Lyly's prose, Spenser's verse, and Marlowe's drama: these writers and the styles they promote are not quite as strange as they strive to appear. Lyly's hyperabundant prose arises from utterly conventional compositional practices; the oddity of Spenser's pseudo-archaic diction is exaggerated by E. K.'s gloss; Marlowe's blank-verse line has closer antecedents in English than we usually recall, or than Marlowe admits. Their efforts earned them outrage as well as admiration, but in either case they succeeded in fixing their individual achievements within a much larger conversation about the nature and purpose of vernacular eloquence. Commonality might be the premise from which that conversation began, but estrangement was where it invariably tended: thus the writers credited with accomplishing the most in and for the mother tongue were those who underscored its freaks, fissures, and indecorums, transferring it "by a strange maner of conveyance," as Puttenham might say, into the mouths of errant cosmopolitans, exiled shepherds, and barbarian warlords.
Reading Lyly, Spenser, and Marlowe in this light means acknowledging that eccentricity is the ideal that shapes their visions of eloquence. Euphues, Colin Clout, and Tamburlaine articulate new forms of English, and of Englishness, but they also enact the dramas of displacement, alienation, and trespass that make those innovations possible—and, what is perhaps more important, legible as such. The substance of their stylistic eccentricity—Lyly's assiduously balanced clauses, Spenser's quasi-medieval diction, Marlowe's chest-thumping orotundity—is well known, but the motives and mechanisms for announcing that eccentricity to readers are not. For this reason I am less concerned to delineate what is new or distinctive in each style—less, perhaps, than critics have tended to assume—than I am to show how novelty and distinction are promoted, theorized, and critiqued with the texts themselves: how and why familiar words, forms, and literary techniques are burdened or burnished with strangeness.
In Lyly's case, the romance of estrangement was built into the commonplace tradition. My third chapter highlights the interplay within Erasmus's rhetorical handbooks—the most influential and prestigious source for Lyly's style—of the satisfactions of stylistic amplitude and the pleasures of geographic errancy. The De Copia taught a generation of English schoolboys to define eloquence as the ability to speak as expansively as possible on any subject—and to identify that ability with a more literal freedom of movement, a protocosmopolitan approach to being at home in the world. Erasmus demonstrates copia by generating over a hundred versions of a single sentence—"your letter greatly pleased me"—and the link between letter writing and stylistic abundance persists throughout his pedagogical program. In De Conscribendis Epistolis (another staple of the sixteenth-century English schoolroom), Erasmus makes clear that he favors letter writing as an educational exercise because the epistle, like the ideal of copia, defies the usual boundaries governing speech, passing from one rhetorical context to another with the same ease that a well-trained schoolboy might pass from one commonplace to the next. It is no coincidence, then, that vernacular copia finds its limit in a text filled to bursting with both letters and commonplaces. Incorporating similitudes, sententiae, and exempla from an array of classical and contemporary sources, including many from Erasmus, the ornate rhetorical set-pieces of Lyly's Euphues are as wide ranging—and as hard to pin down, logically speaking—as his eponymous hero. Frequently, however, neither Euphues nor Lyly arrives at his projected end, succumbing to an errant superfluity that overrides the more local demands of narrative and rhetorical coherence. Generations of readers have taxed Euphues with this as an oversight, charging Lyly with allowing his enthusiasm for copia to carry him past the boundaries of stylistic decorum. But Lyly is hardly blind to the eccentricities of his style: on the contrary, his failure to inaugurate a sustainable model of vernacular eloquence is prefigured in the pages of his 1580 sequel, Euphues and His England, which exiles Euphues to the margins of his own plot, branding him as a perpetual outsider. Lyly does not succumb to Erasmian excess so much as he deliberately subjects English to its hidden costs.
A similarly self-marginalizing drive fuels Edmund Spenser's efforts to invent a poetic diction that redeems the vernacular's onerous debt to the classical tradition. Chapter 4 argues that The Shepheardes Calender adopts a poetics of deliberate self-estrangement, foregrounding England's remoteness from antiquity and poetry's remoteness from ordinary speech. Despite its conventional associations with poetic and even political ambition, pastoral is a singularly inhospitable genre for an English poet: in Virgil's first eclogue Britain appears as the antithesis of pastoral contentment, a place of exile and colonial abjection. By treating English as a quasi-foreign tongue and adopting the errant and alienated persona of Colin Clout, Spenser repeats this marginalizing gesture, finding in exile a means to reinvigorate vernacular poetry. The pedantic E. K. plays a crucially paradoxical role in this endeavor: positioned as guide to the odd corners and rough edges of Spenser's verse, he often serves as a means of detaining and dislocating our attention, supplying the poem as a whole with an aura of estrangement in excess of its own peculiarities. Ultimately his insistence on the virtues of this kind of deliberate self-alienation allows Spenser to find a place for pastoral—and for Colin Clout—in England's own abject colonial sphere, beyond the Irish pale.
Chapter 5 takes up the persistent problem of how to set limits for poetic expression, especially given the lack of a universally accepted system of measuring English verse. Hailed as the source of English verse's "mighty line"—the iambic pentameter that gives classical shape to unruly rhyme—Marlowe's Tamburlaine the Great nevertheless offers an ominous vision of linguistic trespass, in the person of a barbarous yet eloquent Scythian whose disdain for territorial limits is matched by his tendency to rhetorical excess. The violence that attends persuasion in Marlowe's poetry suggests that abuse is the inevitable counterpart of eloquence—and that cages, bits, and harnesses are the necessary implements of linguistic refinement. However, if we situate Marlowe's play within the context of debates over rhyme and metrical form, we discover a multiplicity of Tamburlaines: in addition to Marlowe's famous overreacher, there are the unexpectedly terse—even measured—Timur Cutzclewe of book 2 of Puttenham's Arte of English Poesie and the Tamburlaine of Daniel's Defence, who emerges as the unwitting progenitor of a cultural movement—Renaissance humanism—that Daniel indicts precisely for its neglect of so-called barbarian culture. Marlowe's Tamburlaine, Puttenham's Timur Cutzclewe, and Daniel's Tamburlaine chart very different courses for English verse, but they stand together as figures for a more expansive definition of linguistic excellence, what Daniel calls eloquence "in what Scythian sorte soeuer."
As a group, these Scythian warrior-poets remind us that at the end of Elizabeth I's reign and the height of what we now call the Renaissance, English writers were far from agreed on the ideal trajectory of the English literary tradition—a tradition whose contours they refused to equate with those of England (or even Britain). Why, then, do we continue to associate their age with the consolidation of English identity under the banner of language? Clearly the answer has something to do with Shakespeare, the Orpheus around whom the idea of an English literary tradition still coheres. But as I remark in a brief coda, Shakespeare is not an obvious candidate for that role. To seventeenth- and eighteenth-century critics, the extremity of linguistic experimentation in the late sixteenth century cried out for reform, and no one needed disciplining more than Shakespeare. As those early critics remind us, the poet who is largely hailed today for the universal accessibility of his art thrived in his own time by imitating and even exaggerating the excesses of his most outrageous peers and predecessors. It is no coincidence that, in the sequence of plays that for many modern critics exemplify the "poetics of nationhood," Falstaff speaks with the voice of Euphues and Pistol in the tones of Tamburlaine. These disreputable companions, figures for the outlandishness that has always haunted eloquence, both aid and impede the articulation of Hal's (eventually) kingly English; vagabonds and strays can also serve as scouts, marking by their trespasses the boundaries of authorized expression. In the end, of course, they must be banished—but they very nearly take Shakespeare with them. Indeed the poet we continually invoke as a figure for language's unifying power may have more to teach us about the self-alienating gestures on which our vernacular literary tradition is founded.