This is a special topic course which will examine in detail the intersection of the political and the literary in early modern Europe. Reading political treatises from the archipelago and the mainland in juxtaposition with each other, this course will try and investigate the way in which humanist political thought develops across Europe. At the same time we will immerse ourselves in the study of the stylistic aspects various genres of vernacular prose writing popular in the Renaissance: the polemical pamphlet, the dialogue, the treatise, the advice-book for princes etc. The course will be divided in following four modules, each comprising short excerpts from a two or three key texts.
Through a close reading of the material this course seeks to follow the shifting contours of political discourse, the simultaneous emergence of the rhetoric of absolutism and the language of civic rights, while relating these transformations to the major historical landmarks of the period—such as the Reformation, the Huguenot massacre, Mary Stuart’s deposition, the English civil war etc. Some of thematic and formal aspects we will focus on include: political theology, the importance of translation in the humanist project, the material circumstances of circulation of texts and ideas, political counsel, morality and ethics in the political realm, the influence of Platonic and Aristotelian political models, violence and sovereign power. (3:1:0). Prerequisites: none.
The Sovereign and his Counsellors
Erasmus Education of a Christian Prince (1516) [Dedication, Chapter I]
Machiavelli The Prince (1513) [Chapters XV-XIX, XXIII-XXV]
Castiglione The Courtier (1528) [Book IV, chapters 3-10]
Sovereignty and Governance
Smith De Republica Anglorum (1562-3) [Book I, Chapters 1, 2, 7, 8, Book II, Chapter 1-3]
Bodin Six Books of the Commonwealth (1576) [Book I, Chapters VIII, X, Book VI, Chapter 4]
Tyranny and Resistance
Ponet A Short Treatise on Political Power (1556) [Chapters I and VI]
Buchanan De Iure Regni Apud Scotos (1571) [Chapters 7-12, 24, 27, 29, 34]
Polemics of the English civil war: Justifying Tyrannicide
Milton The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates (1641)
Excerpts from Digger (Gerrard Winstanley) and Ranter tracts (1640’s)
[Winstanley, New Year’s Gift, Norton Anthology of Eng Lit Vol B pp. 1849-55; Nigel Smith, A Collection of Ranter Writings: Spiritual Liberty and Sexual Freedom in the English Revolution]
Compulsory reading: Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 2 vols., Cambridge: 1978.