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Title: From 'aequivocatio' to the 'Jesuitical equivocation' : changing concepts of ambiguity in early modern England
Author: Vince, Máté
ISNI:       0000 0004 2749 3394
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis is an exploration of ambiguity in rhetoric, dialectic, religio-political writing and literature in Early Modern England. It examines the ways in which the attitudes to ambiguity were formed in Early Modern England, with a focus on the development of ideas about the so-called ‘Jesuitical equivocation’ or ‘mental reservation’, a special case of ambiguity. In late sixteenth century England, hiding Catholic priests sought a way of defending Catholics from what they perceived as unjust persecution. They believed to have found a solution in the doctrine of equivocation, according to which it is justifiable to deceive one’s questioner by giving replies that the examiner is likely to misunderstand because they are phrased ambiguously, or because the speaker qualifies his/her words by a restriction only spoken within themselves, specifying what he means only to his own conscience and God. The thesis first explores the ways in which ambiguity occurred in sixteenth century education (by looking at Aristotle, Cicero, the Rhetorica ad Herennium, Quintilian, Servius, Melanchthon and John Case) to argue that the doctrine of mental reservation is grounded in the Classical and Renaissance rhetorical and dialectical tradition. In my second chapter I examine how the doctrine evolved from its first statement in 1584 by Doctor Navarrus, through the Casuistical tradition to Henry Garnet’s infamous A treatise of equivocation. The third chapter is devoted to the controversy between the Protestant Thomas Morton and the Catholic Robert Persons, who debate whether equivocation is a justifiable evasion, or a simple lie. The second part attempts to demonstrate that the obvious mistrust in ambiguity, usually seen as the effect of the trial of the Gunpowder Plotters and the ensuing anti- Jesuit propaganda, is in fact rooted more deeply in Renaissance culture. The fourth chapter explores Sidney’s Arcadia, and the ways in which prophecies, the princes’ disguises, and misunderstood speeches become indicators of the limitations of human understanding. The fifth chapter on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night concentrates on how conveying or concealing a message and understanding or misunderstanding the speaker’s intention can be seen as acts of exercising power. Finally, a reading of Macbeth explores the ethics of deception, by looking at the instances of deceit that result from ambiguous language, employed by and against Macbeth. To demonstrate the parallels between religio-political discourse and literature, the thesis looks at common assumptions about how meaning is produced, conveyed, understood, misunderstood, or allowed to be misunderstood.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Warwick Postgraduate Research Scholarship
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: BT Doctrinal Theology ; P Philology. Linguistics