The Structural Transformation of Print in Late Elizabethan England

  • Douglas Bruster
Part of the Early Modern Cultural Series book series


A thin description of early modern literature could characterize it simply as extremely personal in nature. During the closing years of the sixteenth century, in particular, English books became remarkably thick with the personal. It is now usual, of course, to evaluate literary works of this period in relationship to the self; “personal” in criticism concerned with the self typically refers to a new interest in subjectivity and inwardness.1 Yet beyond this narrow conception of personal selfhood lies a more expansive personalism, one that unfolded textually in the production of books across various modes. From controversial pamphlets to Ovidian erotica, and from à clef poems to verse satire, an intensively familiar approach to others’ bodies and identities—to their persons as objects of discourse—became a central feature of late Elizabethan print culture. The strong attraction of personal reference led many writers to ignore Gabriel Harvey’s censorious creed of “no Liberty without bounds, nor any Licence without limitation.”2 Whether the liberties that these writers took served political comment, sexual titillation, or social positioning, readers could expect to find everywhere a more sustained and more graphic relationship between book and body. Works like The Faerie Queene (1590), Venus find Adonis (1593), and Have With You to Saf-fron-Walden (1596) offer familiar instances of this relationship.


Structural Transformation Seventeenth Century Public Sphere Social Drama Personal Reference 
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  1. 1.
    The expressive individual has, of course, been crucial to definitions of the Renaissance from Burckhardt forward. See Jacob Burckhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, 2 vols. (1860; New York: Harper & Row, 1958), esp. vol. 1, “The Development of the Individual” and “The Perfecting of the Individual,” 143–50; and vol. 2, “The Discovery of Man—Spiritual Description in Poetry,” and “Biography,” 303–33.Google Scholar
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