Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The rule of friendship: Literary culture and early modern liberty
by LaBreche, Ben, Ph.D., Yale University, 2009, 263; 3361639
Abstract (Summary)

In the final version of his Essays, Francis Bacon offers friendship as an essential “Rule” whereby “a Man can fitly play his owne Part” in the theater of social and political life; “if he haue not a Frend,” Bacon ominously concludes, “he may quit the stage.” The weight that Bacon places on friendship is representative of English culture in the hundred years that preceded John Locke's late seventeenth-century formulation of liberal political theory. During this period, England underwent a series of profound transitions, from the gradual emergence of contractualism to the violent regime changes of the civil wars and their aftermath. These shifts fitfully opened up new opportunities for political participation by writers, but they also demanded innovative conceptions of the advantages and dangers of this liberty. In response, I argue, a variety of English poets, playwrights, and pamphleteers turned to classical and humanist texts on friendship to frame debates over active citizenship, free speech, and the formation of political consensus.

Philosophers, historians, and literary scholars have frequently either dismissed the altruism, equality, and trust of friendship as empty rhetoric or accepted them as a straightforward template for free, egalitarian politics. This dissertation argues instead that early modern writers turned to the friendship canon because, like English political thought and practice in these years, the friendship tradition was riven with conflicts. Friendship theory may have fostered free speech, equality, and self-rule, but it also frequently retreated from public to private modes of discourse, based consensus on a priori similarity rather than vigorous debate, and questioned the individuality of the political subject. The study of friendship in early modern literature thus replaces teleological narratives of the rise of liberty with a more complex account of writers' political engagement: their changing views on subjectivity and consensus formation, the anxieties that liberty provoked in them, and their construction of a rhetoric that promoted participation in the emergent public sphere. In addition to Bacon, this investigation of early modern friendship focuses primarily on Edmund Spenser, Michel de Montaigne, Ben Jonson, Katherine Philips, and John Milton.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Quint, David, Rogers, John
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 70/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: British and Irish literature
Keywords: Friendship, Liberty, Literary culture
Publication Number: 3361639
ISBN: 978-1-109-20961-7
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