New Formalisms?
  • Mark David Rasmussen


The aim of this collection is to encourage a shift in the study of English Renaissance literature, a shift toward a fuller and more self-conscious engagement with questions of form.


Critical Practice Modernist Critic Lyric Poetry Volume Address Comparative Literary Study 
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  1. 1.
    For a recent diagnosis of the cultural studies movement and its “loss of form,” see John Brenkman, “Extreme Criticism,” Critical Inquiry 26 (1999): 109–127, especially pages 109–16,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. as well as Ellen Rooney, “Form and Contentment,” Modern Language Quarterly 61 (2000): 17–40. Brenkmans essay has been reprinted in What’s Left of Theory? New Works on the Politics of Literary Theory, ed. Judith Butler, John Guillory, and Keith Thomas (New York: Routledge, 2000): 114–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 2.
    Eliot’s famous essays “The Metaphysical Poets” and “Andrew Marvell” appear in Selected Essays (New York: Harcourt, 1932): 241–63; “The Language of Paradox,” Brooks’ equally influential reading of Donne’s “The Canonization,” appears as the introductory essay to The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry (New York: Harcourt, 1947), 3–21, which also contains perhaps the most celebrated New Critical reading of a Shakespeare play, Brooks’ study of image patterns in Macbeth, “The Naked Babe and the Cloak of Manliness,” 22–49. For some of Empson’s best-known responses to English Renaissance poems, see Seven Types of Ambiguity (New York: New Directions, 1949) and Some Versions of Pastoral (New York: New Directions, 1950). Of course, Coleridge’s concept of “organic form,” so foundational for New Critical method, finds its great exemplar in Shakespeare, as does Keats’ notion of “negative capability,” equally foundational for the New Critics’ valuing of aesthetic disinterestedness; see R. A. Foakes, ed., Coleridge’s Criticism of Shakespeare (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989), 51–3,Google Scholar
  4. and Hyder Edward Rollins, ed., The Letters of John Keats (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958): 2:193–4.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    For the Brooks-Bush controversy, see Cleanth Brooks, “Criticism and Literary History: Marvell’s ‘Horatian Ode’,” The Sewanee Review 55 (1947): 199–222;Google Scholar
  6. and Douglas Bush’s rejoinder, “Marvell’s Horatian Ode,” The Sewanee Review 60 (1952): 363–76. Empsons reading of “The Sacrifice” is presented in Seven Types of Ambiguity, 226–33; Tuve’s response, “On Herberts ‘Sacrifice’,” appeared in Kenyon Review 12 (1950): 51–75. Strier’s account of the controversy may be found in his Resistant Structures: Particularity, Radicalism, and Renaissance Texts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), 13–26.Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    See A. Kent Hieatt, Short Time’s Endless Monument: The Symbolism of the Numbers in Spenser’s “Epithalamion” (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960);Google Scholar
  8. and Stephen Booth, ed., Shakespeare’s Sonnets (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977).Google Scholar
  9. 5.
    Stephen Greenblatt, Renaissance Self Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).Google Scholar
  10. Though Greenblatt’s book set the new historicist paradigm, his emphasis on cultural agency in English Renaissance works had been anticipated by, among others, G. K. Hunter, John Lyly: The Humanist as Courtier (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962);Google Scholar
  11. Stephen Orgel, The Illusion of Power: Political Theater in the English Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975);Google Scholar
  12. Richard Helgerson, The Elizabethan Prodigals (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976);Google Scholar
  13. and Daniel Javitch, Poetry and Courtliness in Renaissance England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978).Google Scholar
  14. 6.
    See, for instance, Vincent Pecora, “The Limits of Local Knowledge,” in The New Historicism, ed. H. Aram Veeser (New York: Routledge, 1989), 183. This point is developed more fully by Stephen Cohen in his essay for this collection.Google Scholar
  15. 10.
    That such explorations can prove powerfully illuminating on their own terms goes without saying; exemplary in this regard is Gail Kern Paster, The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993). Paster freely admits that she seeks to illuminate culture, rather than literature, through her work, though she believes that her project does have literary implications: “Throughout, new readings of plays, though they are sometimes an indirect product of the argument, are not an express goal. Reading Elizabethan-Jacobean plays is rather the means to the end of discovering the signifying properties of the humoral body and the disciplinary protocols of its long-term transformation in culture. But the signifying properties of the humoral body, and humoral theory in general, do make a significant difference to the reading of early modern plays, for they introduce an insistent materialism into locutions once understood solely as figuration” (21–2). Paster’s readings usually tease out the cultural significance of particular moments within individual plays, rather than offering comprehensive critical interpretations; typical is her extended decoding of Malvolio’s reference in Twelfth Night to Olivia’s “Great P’s” (30–4). Greenblatt’s own most recent work on Hamlet seems increasingly drawn back to the ideal of explication, as he presents cultural anxieties about corporeality and remembrance as supplying the central, organizing conflict of the play, the heart of its mystery; see the chapter “The Mousetrap” in Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt, Practicing New Historicism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 136–62,Google Scholar
  16. and Stephen Greenblatt, Hamlet in Purgatory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001). In his “Prologue” to the latter work, Greenblatt confides, “My only goal was to immerse myself in the tragedy’s magical intensity” (5), but he also admits that his study of the play’s cultural contexts exerted a powerful pull of its own, an acknowledgement borne out by the book’s structure: three chapters on Purgatory as a cultural institution, one chapter on ghosts in Shakespeare, and one chapter on the play.Google Scholar
  17. 11.
    Over the past several years three volumes of essays have considered the place of formal analysis within literary studies, mainly in relation to aesthetics: Levine, Aesthetics and Ideology; James Soderholm, ed., Beauty and the Critic: Aesthetics in an Age of Cultural Studies (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1997);Google Scholar
  18. and Michael P. Clark, ed., Revenge of the Aesthetic: The Place of Literature in Theory Today (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000). Perhaps the most helpful, as well as the most theoretically wide-ranging, collection of essays on this topic is the special issue “Reading for Form” that appeared as Volume 61, number 1 of Modern Language Quarterly (2000), edited by Susan J. Wolfson and Marshall Brown. This issue contains both an earlier version of Heather Dubrow’s essay for this collection and Rooney, “Form and Contentment.”Google Scholar
  19. 15.
    Douglas Bruster, Quoting Shakespeare: Form and Culture in Early Modern Drama (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000).Google Scholar
  20. 16.
    For influential discussions of Renaissance plays as collaborative enterprises not readily assimilable to modern notions of individual authorship, see among others Stephen Orgel, “What Is a Text?” in Staging the Renaissance: Reinterpretations of Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama ed. David Scott Kastan and Peter Stallybrass (New York: Routledge, 1991), 83–87;Google Scholar
  21. Peter Stallybrass, “Shakespeare, the Individual, and the Text,” in Cultural Studies, ed. Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula Treichler (New York: Routledge, 1992), 593–612;Google Scholar
  22. Margreta de Grazia and Peter Stallybrass, “The Materiality of the Shakespearean Text,” Shakespeare Quarterly 44 (1993): 255–83;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. and Jeffrey Masten, “Playwrighting: Authorship and Collaboration,” in A New History of Early English Drama, ed. John D. Cox and David Scott Kastan (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 357–82.Google Scholar
  24. 17.
    Heather Dubrow, A Happier Eden: The Politics of Marriage in the Stuart Epithalamium (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 259–70.Google Scholar
  25. 18.
    Heather Dubrow, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?: Reinterpreting Formalism and the Country House Poem,” Modern Language Quarterly 61 (2000): 59–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 20.
    For prominent instances, see Arthur Marotti, “‘Love is not love’: Elizabethan Sonnet Sequences and the Social Order,” ELH 49 (1982): 396–428;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. and Marotti, John Donne: Coterie Poet (University of Wisconsin Press, 1986).Google Scholar
  28. 21.
    Helen Vendler, The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  29. 23.
    See Richard Rorty, “The Inspirational Value of Great Works of Literature,” Raritan 16 (1996): 8–17;Google Scholar
  30. see also Matthew Greenfield, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Culture,” Raritan 19 (1999): 95–113, which voices similar concerns about how “the jargon of cultural analysis serves … to protect us against the texts we study and the claims they make on us” (112). Graham Bradshaw has observed the ways being “estranged” increasingly overwhelms being “rooted” in Greenblatt’s accounts of his own engagement with Renaissance culture;Google Scholar
  31. see Greenblatt’s formulation quoted in note 7 above, and Graham Bradshaw, Misrepresentations: Shakespeare and the Materialists (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), 245–57.Google Scholar
  32. 24.
    Ilona Bell, Elizabethan Women and the Poetry of Courtship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), offers one instance of such an approach. Other critical methodologies with potent implications for a revived formalist practice might include Lacanian psychoanalysis and textual criticism. See, for the former, Marshall Grossman, “The Rhetoric of Feminine Priority in Paradise Lost,” forthcoming in English Literary Renaissance; and, for a particularly challenging version of the latter, the work of the self-proclaimed textual un-editor Randall McLeod [Random Cloud],Google Scholar
  33. especially Random Cloud, “Fiat Flux,” in Crisis in Editing: Texts of the English Renaissance, ed. Randall McLeod (New York: AMS Press, 1994), 61–172. Both Grossman and McLeod contributed essays to an earlier version of this collection, and the range of critical approaches represented here is diminished by their absence.Google Scholar

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© Mark David Rasmussen 2002

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