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The culture and rhetoric of the answer-poem:1485-1625:with a supplementary 'Select catalogue of answer-poetry in print and manuscript, 1485-1625'

By Christopher Boswell


This thesis examines the culture and rhetoric of the answer-poem during the Tudor and early-Stuart periods, charting the phenomena that led answer-poetry to become a prominent mode of social interaction in Renaissance literature. The answer-poem is symptomatic of a culture fixated with codes and theories of social dialogue. In this climate verse answering was a literary skill cultivated as a means of establishing oneself as a well-rounded gentleman of letters or a lady of sound judgement and integrity, and a means by which gentlemen and ladies might promote and defend their reputations. It is both a performative display of rhetorical accomplishment and of ideological orthodoxy, and its appeal stretched throughout the literate classes, from the monarchy down to the lower merchant classes. For the answer-poet the verse exchange represents a means of imposing an alternate outlook upon a contending poetic statement, and in the case of women's participation and female-voiced responses this competition for the subject position involves attempting to assert an authoritative literary subjectivity which, arguably, exerted an enabling influence upon women's freedom of literary expression.\ud \ud As Cicero writes in De Oratore, "to retort is human" ("humanitatis est responsio", II. lvi. 230). The poetics of response was also cultivated, however, under the influence of extensive education in the arts of debate at the grammar schools, Inns and Universities, and under that of the growing culture of civil conduct, which prescribed formulas for proprietous social interaction. The religious divides brought about by the Reformation, and the growing epidemic\ud of defamation both provided arenas in which these skills could be exercised. Simultaneously, verse answering was ideally suited to the discursive articulation of amicable relationships such as friendship, courtship and marriage, the language of which was equally governed by codes of\ud social interaction originating, respectively, in moral philosophy, conduct books such as Castiglione's 11 Cortegiano and Reformation marriage ideology

Publisher: School of English (Leeds)
Year: 2003
OAI identifier:

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