“[W]here We Lay Our Scene”: the Critical Landscape and the Elizabethan-Jacobean Technology Boom

  • Adam Max Cohen


While praising the instrument-maker John Blagrave, Gabriel Harvey paused to criticize the poet Edmund Spenser’s knowledge of astronomy: “It is not sufficient for poets to be superficial humanists: but they must be exquisite artists and curious universal schollers.”1 Elizabethans often mentioned Chaucer as the model of the well-rounded poet because Chaucer, perhaps as part of his responsibility as Clerk of the Works, authored a treatise in the early 1390s on the nature of the astrolabe and its use called Conclusions of the Astrolabie. Chaucer’s treatise was published in England in 1532 under the title A Treatise of the Astrolabe, and it was reprinted often during the sixteenth century. Harvey praised Chaucer’s treatise as “exactly learned” and added that it was still useful to astronomers 200 years after it was written.2


Sixteenth Century Mathematical Practice Literary Text Printing Press Early Modern Period 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    In E. G. R. Taylor, The Mathematical Practitioners of Tudor and Stuart England ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1954 ), p. 329.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Samuel L. Macey, Clocks and the Cosmos: Time in Western Life and Thought ( Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1980 ), p. 125.Google Scholar
  3. Derek J. Price asserts that Chaucer also wrote a more advanced technical work called The Equatorie of the Planetis (Derek J. Price, ed., The Equatorie of the Planetis [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1955], pp. 3–4). For a detailed discussion of Harvey’s interpretation of Chaucer’s Conclusions of the AstrolabieGoogle Scholar
  4. see chapter 4 of Jessica Wolfe, Humanism, Machinery, and Renaissance Literature ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004 ).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    See, e.g., Ann Rosalind Jones and Peter Stallybrass, Renaissance Clothing and the Materials of Memory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000 ). Jones and Stallybrass emphasize the “objectness” of the clothing which they investigate. Part Three of their study, “Staging clothes,” considers the many roles of clothing in theatrical entertainments.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    In Gerard L’E. Turner, Elizabethan Instrument Makers: The Origins of the London Trade in Precision Instrument Making (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. v.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Jean Gimpel, The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middle Ages (New York: Penguin, 1976), p. x.Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    George Basalla, The Evolution of Technology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), passim.Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    See William Fielding Ogburn, Social Change ( New York: Huebsch, 1922 );Google Scholar
  10. S. C. Gilfillan, The Sociology of Invention (1935; repr., Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1970); andGoogle Scholar
  11. Abbott Payson Usher, A History of Mechanical Inventions (1929; repr., Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1954 ).Google Scholar
  12. 20.
    See Carlo Cipolla, Clocks and Culture 1300–1700 ( New York: W. W. Norton, 1977 ), p. 33.Google Scholar
  13. 24.
    Otto Mayr, Authority, Liberty, and Automatic Machinery in Early Modern Europe ( Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986 ), p. 28.Google Scholar
  14. 28.
    M. H. Abrams, The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1953 ), p. 31.Google Scholar
  15. 29.
    See Roy S. Wolper, “The Rhetoric of Gunpowder and the Idea of Progress,” Journal of the History of Ideas 31 (1970): 589–598. In New Worlds, Ancient Texts: The Power of Tradition and the Shock of Discovery (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992), Anthony Grafton observes, “By the middle of the sixteenth century even men of the book celebrated these three inventions as something that gave their age a special character. All of them unknown to the ancients, all of them developed outside the world of learning, they had transformed the powers of the race and opened up the world” (p. 63 ).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 30.
    Lynn White, Jr., Medieval Religion and Technology: Collected Essays (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978), p. xiii. White claims that the success of the Christian West in cultivating technologies is rooted in the Judeo-Christian belief that in the Garden of Eden God sanctioned humanity’s dominion over nature. The currency of this trinity during Shakespeare’s lifetime may suggest the beginnings of a shift from exclusive faith in divine providence to a hybrid faith in both divine providence and material progress. For more on early modern secularization seeGoogle Scholar
  17. Natalie Zemon Davis, Society and Culture in Early Modern France ( Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1975 ).Google Scholar
  18. Amos Funkenstein, Theology and the Scientific Imagination from the Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century ( Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986 ).Google Scholar
  19. 34.
    Gerhard Dohrn-van Rossum, History of the Hour: Clocks and Modern Temporal Orders, trans. Thomas Dunlap (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996 ), p. 4.Google Scholar
  20. 35.
    Alex Keller, “A Renaissance Humanist Looks at ‘New’ Inventions: The Article ‘Horologium’ in Giovanni Tortelli’s De orthographia,” Technology and Culture 11 (1970): 245–264. For more on the medieval validation of the mechanical arts, seeGoogle Scholar
  21. Lynn White, Jr., “Cultural Climates and Technological Advance in the Middle Ages,” Viator 2 (1971): 171–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 38.
    N. Katherine Hayles, How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998 ), p. 21.Google Scholar
  23. 47.
    See Jeffrey Masten, Peter Stallybrass, and Nancy J. Vickers, eds., Language Machines: Technologies of Literary and Cultural Production ( New York: Routledge, 1997 ), p. 2.Google Scholar
  24. 49.
    For a detailed discussion of the various class-based resonances of these phrases, see Patricia Parker, Shakespeare from the Margins: Language, Culture, Context ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996 ), pp. 83–115.Google Scholar
  25. 50.
    See Mayr, pp. 213–214. For more on uses of the word mechanical see Christopher Hill, Change and Continuity in Seventeenth-Century England ( London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1974 ), pp. 255–260.Google Scholar
  26. 54.
    See, e.g., Daniel Vitkus, Turning Turk: English Theater and the Multicultural Mediterranean 1570–1630 ( New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003 ).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. 85.
    Colin Clair, A History of Printing in Britain ( London: Cassell, 1965 ), p. 6.Google Scholar
  28. 91.
    In P. D. A. Harvey’s Maps in Tudor England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), Harvey points out that about one dozen maps of England survive from the second half of the fifteenth century, 200 survive from the first half of the sixteenth century, and 800 survive from the second half of the sixteenth century (p. 7).Google Scholar
  29. 92.
    E. Lynam, British Maps and Map-Makers ( London: William Collins, 1944 ), p. 20.Google Scholar
  30. 94.
    For more on the unique place of instrument-makers within the guild structure see Joyce Brown, Mathematical Instrument-Makers in the Grocers’ Company 1688–1800 (London: Science Museum, 1979 ). Despite the dates noted in her title, Brown’s work begins with a discussion of instrument-makers in the sixteenth century. See alsoGoogle Scholar
  31. Joyce Brown, “Guild Organisation and the Instrument-Making Trade, 1500–1830: The Grocers’ and Clockmakers’ Companies,” Annals of Science 36 (1979): 1–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Adam Max Cohen 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Adam Max Cohen

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations