Seeming Knowledge: The Jacobean Years and Beyond
Characterizing the first half of England’s turbulent seventeenth century, Douglas Bush writes in 1945 that ‘from Donne to Dryden thoughtful men ask “What do I know?” Sharing the critical spirit, yet conscious of its destructive results, they seek standing-ground more firm than that which served their fathers.’ Bush goes on to list many of the questions regarding judgemental criteria and legitimate authority that troubled seventeenth-century intellectuals, focusing in particular on the moral, theological and political realms. But while he speaks of the ‘melancholy’ and ‘Jacobean pessimism’ so familiarly associated with the early Stuart years, he cautions against thinking exclusively in such terms. He thus questions longstanding stereotypes and complicates the narrative of the Elizabethan/Jacobean transition, in the process emphasizing many historical and ideological continuities.1 I wish to do much the same as I discuss the British reception of ancient scepticism in the period from the publication of Florio’s Montaigne to the death of James and the last flourishing of Jacobean tragedy.
KeywordsSeventeenth Century Sceptical Theory Sceptical Challenge Philosophical Scepticism Dogmatic Philosopher
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