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Title: Rhetoric realigned : the development of poetic theory in English and Scottish writing, c.1470-1530
Author: Leahy, Conor
ISNI:       0000 0004 7231 9897
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2017
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This dissertation examines the evolution of poetic theory in English and Scottish writing between c.1470 and 1530. By examining important but neglected works by Stephen Hawes, Gavin Douglas, and Alexander Barclay, as well as influential poetry by Robert Henryson and John Skelton, it demonstrates that the contours and preoccupations of rhetorical poetics in England and Scotland emerged long before the appearance of such seminal works as Philip Sidney’s Apologie for Poetrie (c.1580) and George Puttenham’s Arte of English Poesie (1589). The poets at the heart of this dissertation did not assert their authority by writing rhetorical treatises or formal defences, but by critiquing their predecessors, by insulting their peers, and by showing an occasional disregard for the ‘gruntynge hogges’ of their audience. Some of them, such as Robert Henryson, praised the ‘polit termes of sweit rhetore’, while others, such as Gavin Douglas, argued that poetry was a source of ‘hie knawlage’ and profound philosophical truths. But their opponents claimed that ‘the knowlege of poetes’ simply ‘vanissheth awey’ when compared to that of the Bible. On the eve of the English Reformation this struggle for authority intensified, with at least one English writer declaring that ‘God maketh hys habitacion | In poetes’. Unlike previous scholarship, which attributes such idealism to emerging humanist influences, this dissertation argues that the early defenders of poetry in England and Scotland were motivated not by the transcendent idealism they frequently espoused, but by less noble impulses, such as bitterness, disillusionment, and the struggle for court favour. These writers sought to redefine the relationship between literature and the rest of life, and in the process, they formulated new reasons for their own importance as moral authorities in an increasingly unstable world.
Supervisor: Taylor, Andrew Sponsor: Benefactors of St John's College ; Cambridge
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Medieval Poetry ; Rhetoric ; Poetics ; Older Scots Literature ; Tudor Literature ; Literary Theory