Volume 4, Issue 9, Spring 2009
Some Current Issues in Contemporary Criticism of Renaissance Literature
This essay provides an overview of some recent issues in criticism of early modern English literature. For some scholars the early modern period can only be understood if we accept its irreducible difference; for others, people have always been more or less the same and so reading the past involves knowledge but not a vast leap of faith. Often these differences result in scholars using exactly the same material to reach diametrically opposed conclusions, as examples drawn from the study of early sixteenth-century literature demonstrate. Debates about love and allegory also reveal significant differences between scholars who want to see erotic language in allegorical terms and those who point out that there is a danger is missing the literal reading. Debates about the nature of print and publishing, how writers perceived their careers, how texts should be edited and what methods are appropriate for the study of early modern literature are also discussed. The article does not attempt to resolve all these important debates but shows that differences often stem from diverse conceptions of what literature actually is and what it does, indicating that the importance of such arguments ranges beyond the immediate object of study.