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Far from being sheer proto-orientalist stereotypes of political tyranny, barbarous superstition, or sexual deviousness, literary portraits of the Ottoman and Persian empires in early modern English literature are varied, complex, and nuanced. Influenced by both classically inherited sources and contemporary travelers’ updates on diplomatic and commercial ties with eastern empires, literary works showcasing the two empires were inflected by the versatile genre of historical romance, be it in prose, poetic, or dramatic forms. The scenarios of interaction with which these works experiment range from fantasies of competing with otherness and overcoming it to assimilating and incorporating it, at a time when England was still in the process of sizing up the Islamic empires’ wealth and might from a perspective of “imperial envy” (in Gerald MacLean’s phrase) rather than from a posture of already established superiority. Topically presented as foils or alternatives to each other in the East, the Ottomans and Persians were seldom conflated for the readers or spectators, but rather demarcated along confessional and political divides entailing distinct literary and dramatic portraits. Finding their ways into the repertory history of English drama, the highly influential families of “Turk plays” and “Persian plays” also had a progeny well beyond the works officially listed by critics under those labels. Further study of performance history and editing of travel material hold the promise of research developments in these directions, bringing, in particular, English history plays into the conversation, with the Ottoman and Persian models allowing these plays’ larger articulations of the stages of history and forms of nationhood.

Article

As the environmental humanities have gained traction, its practitioners have ventured beyond a predictable canon of modern nature writers and Romantic poets into earlier eras to better fathom the origins of our ecological predicament. It has become abundantly clear that the Renaissance (c. 1340–1660), often reframed as the early modern era (c. 1500–1800), marks a pivotal epoch in the history of the earth. Spurred by the rediscovery of classical learning to rival the grandeur of Ancient Rome and by Columbus’s plundering of the West Indies, European powers studied and exploited the environment with unprecedented zeal, while investing in resource extraction, overseas colonization, and technoscience. These developments left an indelible imprint on both the planet and the period’s literature. In tandem with the invention of landscape by Renaissance painters, writers in the generations between Francesco Petrarch and John Milton sought new ways—while reviving and adapting ancient ones—to capture the beauty, fragility, and animacy of the natural world. In the works of poets such as Torquato Tasso, Michael Drayton, and Mary Wroth, trees can bleed, rivers speak, and nightingales transform into violated maidens. As such conceits suggest, the prevailing views of nature can seem quaint or anthropomorphic by post-Enlightenment standards. Yet Renaissance literature has proven, in part because it enables us to interrogate those standards, surprisingly responsive to ecocritical concerns. Bringing these concerns to bear on the era has revealed startling new facets of familiar texts, thrown more limelight on undersung authors, unsettled complacent assumptions in environmental history, and greatly enriched eco-theory. Nature has always been a site of ideological contestation, but the historical distance afforded by the Renaissance can bring this into shimmering focus. If the label “early modern” underscores the era’s continuity with the present and its foreshadowing of ecological issues and sensibilities, the somewhat old-fashioned label Renaissance reminds us to keep sight of its alterity and to view its literature as an archive of radically different attitudes, epistemologies, and material practices that might help us to better understand and combat environmental problems. The urgency of the climate crisis makes it imperative to trace or insinuate parallels between then and now, but newcomers to the field would also be well advised to acquaint themselves with the contours of early modern cultural and environmental history so as to undertake ecocritical interpretations responsibly without peddling anachronisms or reductive caricatures. Early modern worldviews can be both familiar and alien, and its literature can jolt us into a greater awareness of these tensions. It is, for instance, ironic yet strangely apt that the same Francis Bacon reviled as an architect of the Anthropocene was one of the first to denounce the anthropocentric prejudice of the human sensorium and mind. Bacon also feared that language and an excessive reverence for the received knowledge of the past might warp our understanding of nature. Four centuries later, his words provide a cautionary reminder that we should not approach Renaissance literature as a repository of timeless, universal truths. Rather, insofar as studying Renaissance literature enables us to see beyond the shibboleths of our own culture and historical moment, it offers valuable cognitive training that might help us recognize and overcome species bias.

Article

Angela Andreani

As well as sources for the study of the period, Renaissance archives are a subject of scholarly inquiry in their own right. Early modernists have increasingly appreciated the significance of a knowledge of record-keeping practices in research, and how an understanding of archives as contingent and culturally specific warrants reading their history, organization, and uses as mirrors (perhaps distorting ones) of culture, politics, and society. Renaissance archives make up a heterogeneous and dispersed panorama of sources ranging from administrative documents and official records to personal papers and private collections. Examples are the archive of the d’Este family, initiated in the mid-15th century and preserved in the 19th-century building of the Archivio di Stato di Modena, or the Archivo General de Simancas, founded in the 16th century and still located in the same 15th-century castle where it was originally established. The unprecedented development of public and private record-keeping during the Renaissance made archives ubiquitous and an inescapable part of the lives of many. The proliferation of archives must be connected with cultural and political changes such as the spread of literacy, the growth in size and complexity of states and institutions, and developments in the organization and management of the records. War, fires, and accidental destruction have severely damaged valuable materials, while dismemberment and reorganization have compromised entire collections; however, Renaissance archives have been reintegrated into modern institutions and still shape them in many ways. Focusing on archival practices rather than on archives as products enables us to view the history of archives in Europe as a series of transformations in which to identify elements of continuity and phases of rupture.

Article

Disability—whether physical, mental, or sensory—is widely represented in Early Modern literature, and as such it has been attracting attention from 21st-century literary scholars, who apply the theoretical and critical tools of disability studies to Renaissance narratives and literary characters. Literary disability in its various forms can be analyzed in the light of various models of disability, including medical, social, moral, or cultural. This helps in understanding early modern representations and experiences of disability in culture and history and making sense of reactions to disability in the period: including stigma, mockery, proud identification with the disabled identity, or also a desire for it. Physical disabilities in the Renaissance encompass anything from deformity to bodily mutilation to dwarfism or monstrosity, and they are especially prone to be emphasized, explained, or scrutinized in search of their meaning. Sensory disabilities, including blindness, deafness, and mutism, prompt interpretations that connect physical impairment with the character’s inability or surprising ability to understand reality—whether in a pragmatic or spiritual sense. Intellectual and mental disabilities have many ramifications in early modern literature, some of which, such as fools and madmen, are staple types of drama. Intellectual and mental disabilities are often described in medical terms, but literary texts tend to differentiate between them, whether in technical or narrative terms. Foolishness normally turns into comedy, whereas madness is often connected with tragic characters undergoing mental breakdowns. Renaissance disability studies are also concerned with less obvious types of disability: disabilities that were disabilities in the past but not in the 21st century, concealed disabilities, and disabilities that are not actually disabilities but do foster a conversation that excludes the character who does not embody what society regarded as the ideal physical shape. Finally, instances of counterfeited disability and disability attached to concepts rather than people help understand how Renaissance culture often viewed the nonstandard body not only as something to beware of or reject but also as an image of empowerment.

Article

The concept of Bulgarian book (Balgarska Kniga) is inclusive of manuscripts and printed and digital books written and reproduced in Old Bulgarian, Middle Bulgarian, and Modern Bulgarian in the period from the 9th to the 21st centuries. Along with language, due to a number of historical circumstances related to political, cultural, and economic factors, categories of Bulgarian books also comprise literary products created in foreign languages by Bulgarians with a clear Bulgarian national consciousness. Because of the long period of existence of the Bulgarian state (681–2021) and its two periods of political dependence—the Byzantine rule (1018–1185) and the Ottoman rule (1396–1878)—historical boundaries regarding the creation, distribution, and influence of the Bulgarian book far exceed the political borders of the modern Bulgarian state. The cultural influence of the Bulgarian manuscript book can be attributed to Bulgarian rulers and high clergy who were the first to successfully apply, develop, and disseminate Glagolitic and Cyrillic written systems, thus helping to build an independent Slavic Christian culture in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. This influence accounts for the Bulgarian book’s wide distribution as early as the Middle Ages and explains its 21st-century presence in a number of foreign libraries and museums. As a material object and a cultural phenomenon, the Bulgarian book can be studied in five main periods: the manuscript book (9th–19th century); the printed book in the period of the Ottoman Empire (1508–1878); the printed book in the period from the Liberation of Bulgaria to the imposition of the socialist centralized planned model of book publishing (1878–1948); the printed book during the socialist period (1944–1989); and the book in the postsocialist period (1989–2021).

Article

Richard Danson Brown

Literature during the Renaissance period was highly conscious of the language of form. Form is at once ambiguous, questionable, and has ramifications for a number of fields, including issues of line, meter, and versification on the one hand and broader questions of genre on the other. The verse line in 16th-century English literature shows in practice the tensions between humanist idealism and vernacular traditions, as writers of different generations struggled to find a form that would best capture the potential of a politically marginal, culturally ambitious, language. The sonnet is considered as a morphic form of enormous influence that shaped thinking and practice throughout Europe, as in texts by Louise Labé, Edmund Spenser, and Anne Locke. The typically Renaissance form of the stanzaic epic showcases another novel form, illustrated by the interlocking stanzas of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590–1596), and the ironic mimicking of that form with difference in Donne’s Metempsychosis (dated 1601 but not published until 1633).

Article

The news culture of early modern England was complex and shifting: news moved via printed and manuscript texts, sometimes over wide distances and across national and confessional borders. “News” might cover a range of topics, from “high politics” and reports of military action, to grisly “true crime,” prodigies, and natural disasters—and even to the scandalous doings of one’s neighbors. News was (and is) difficult to delineate as a genre, slipping into gossip, rumor, propaganda, and history. England’s news market—especially its printed news market—changed markedly in the years before the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, and this was reflected in literary texts. Authors drew on topical events; they mocked and satirized figures associated with news dissemination and consumption, and they drew on the processes by which newsreaders acquired and evaluated information.

Article

Dennis Austin Britton

There is no single understanding of race to which everyone subscribes; it is a protean concept, accommodating various notions of human difference at the historical moments in which they emerge. Literary texts therefore do not represent a singular racial epistemology shared among Renaissance authors, readers, and audiences; rather, they demonstrate conflicting views about race, how it is determined, and what it tells us about individuals and groups of people. Scholars of Renaissance literature have explored what concepts of race do in specific cultural contexts, and the various ways racial differences were represented and understood before the advent of racial science in the late 17th century. Renaissance usages of the words race, raza, razza, and their linguistic equivalents denote, in their most benign sense, genealogy and lineage. Usages of these terms, nevertheless, locate individuals within genealogical and biological networks and insist that such networks are important to social organization. Race works as a tool for social organization that justifies varied types of domination, and in the Renaissance it drew from and informed established discourses of power—primarily religion, gender, and class. The concept bares vestiges of the word’s original definitions, asserting that certain aspects of identity are inheritable and inalterable, and then uses those aspects of identity to naturalize social hierarchies—White over Black, Christian over non-Christian, European over non-European. Race thus is a concept that intersects with cultural, somatic, sexual, and religious difference, and the Renaissance may be understood as a moment when race competes for dominance as a system of classification, justifying the rights of individuals and groups to rule over, disenfranchise, violate, and enslave others.

Article

Early modern literature about food is found in a range of genres that have traditionally appealed to literary critics, such as drama and poetry, as well as writings that can be less neatly categorized as literary but that tend to have a literary dimension, such as religious sermons, cookery books, and dietary literature, also known as regimens. Food in early modern literature often signals a complex relationship between the body, a sense of self, and the sociopolitical structures that regulated food’s production and consumption in the period. Writers mentioning food may thereby convey details of narrative, characterization, and motivation but also signal broader social concerns such as the role of women, religious obligations, treatment of the poor, and the status of foreigners. Ordinary staple foods such as bread feature heavily, but so too do exotic foods newly imported into England such as apricots and other fruits that were hard to grow. There is also a fascination with perverse consumption, such as cannibalism (sometimes metaphorical and sometimes literal), which functions as an indication of various modes of alterity. The consumption of food in early modern literature is often grounded in the period in which it was written. A common recurrence is the way in which patterns of consumption signal social and moral responsibility, so that eating and drinking to excess, or taking too much pleasure in them, is considered sinful. Also evident is the shift from medieval communal dining and a sense of feudal obligation and hospitality to strangers to a growing early modern sense of privacy and individualism. Food functions as a complex marker of national, religious, and cultural identity whereby certain foods signify Catholicism or Englishness and other foods, or their preparation, will signify strangeness. Yet food can also be a shorthand way to address issues such as hunger, desire, and disgust.

Article

The signal works of poetry that prominently feature racialized Blackness in early Arabic literature (c. ad 500–1250) include works composed by authors of Afro-Arab heritage as well as by Arab authors who satirized and panegyrized Black subjects. These poets include the pre-Islamic author ʿAntarah ibn Shaddād and the ʿAbbasid-era figures al-Mutanabbī and Ibn al-Rūmī, and thus reflect the shift, across an extensive timeline, from a local, Bedouin poetics to a self-styled cosmopolitan, courtly aesthetic characterized as muḥdath, or modernist. The works are situated not only within the changing conventions of genre, but also within an arc that traces the emergence of new race concepts and racialized social institutions in the transition from the pre-Islamic era to Islam and from the early conquests to ʿAbbasid imperialization. Critical instances of these works’ intertextual movements demonstrate how racial logic accretes in various Arab-Muslim textual traditions, showing how poetry intersects with popular epic as well as high literary geographical, ethnological, and commentarial corpuses. As verse moves across a myriad of later literary forms, its context-specific representations of racial difference are recontextualized and received in ways that contribute to a broader transregional and transtemporal discourse of racialized Blackness.