I began this book with Thomas Greene’s explanation of the potential that humanists saw in self-fashioning: “the surpassing of natural human limitations, undoing the constraints of the incomplete, the contingent, and the mortal” (250). Though humanism and the courtly ethos were opposed in significant ways, it is clear that elements of the one leaked into the other, giving new meaning to fairly traditional forms of ritual violence.1 What is fascinating about the literary and cultural phenomenon of the early modern duel is that a practice, rather than study, application, thought, or conversation, should be perceived as possessing transformative potential. I have, for the most part, avoided discussion of the ritualistic aspect of the duel, but its power in some contexts clearly approaches the magical: by enacting this ritual, one can ascertain the truth of a specific matter. For our purposes, however, the ritualistic transformation that the duel offers the participants rather than the community may be more significant. This aspect of the duel may be best conceived today in terms of cultural acquisition rather than magic—as one of the “normative criteria for elite identity” that Frank Whigham discusses (33). Whigham asserts that “the ostentatious practice of symbolic behavior [is] taken to typify aristocratic being.


Specific Matter Transformative Potential Normative Criterion Literary Text Cultural Phenomenon 

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© Jennifer Low 2003

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