Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
This dissertation represents an effort to rethink one of the defining problems of the European Renaissance: the revival of pagan culture. It was very common for Renaissance Christians, from Giovanni Boccaccio to John Calvin, to argue that pagan religions were false because they were based on myths created by poets and politicians. But the Reformation project of distinguishing true from false versions of Christian religion blurred the boundaries between ancient and more recent versions of false religion. The hinge of this reorientation of religious values was the argument that certain religions were merely poetic fables, artificial fictions created by humans. And while some scholars have discussed the changing meaning of religion in the seventeenth century, no one has seen that literary language provided the terms for this change. My project corrects this by juxtaposing the religious imagery of the poetry of Robert Herrick, John Milton, and many others with contemporary debates about the poetic nature of religious imagery. In this way, my project makes a unique contribution to Renaissance studies by demonstrating not only that literary categories are fundamental to an understanding of religion, but also that the religious revolution of the Reformation produced lasting changes in how literary texts create meaning.