The ethics of satire in early modern English literature Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Ashworth-King, Erin L.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • This dissertation argues for a critical re-examination of the satiric literature circulating in print and manuscript in the years prior to the bishops' ban of 1599, an order that called in numerous texts and prohibited the continued publication of satires. Drawing upon a variety of genres, from religious pamphlets and prose satire to allegorical epic and verse satire, I argue that the authors writing satire at the threshold of the seventeenth century challenge the ethos of the state by affirming their authority to scourge vice and admonish sinners. In their attempt to reconcile the contradictory aims of reformation and bitter personal attack, early modern satirists authorize themselves with the libertas to rail at a their targets while simultaneously asserting the godliness of their means. Underwriting this examination of the early modern satiric persona is the belief that satire is not a fixed genre or a single form but a plastic mode of literature, infiltrating multiple generic categories and poetic structures at once. Beginning with a satiric persona freed from the constraints of biography, my first chapter argues that the creator of the Martin Marprelate tracts revises his authorial personae repeatedly to manufacture himself as a godly admonisher of the anti-Christian bishops of the Church of England. Turning in the next chapter to a satirist who embraces the lowness of satire, I examine the literary career of Thomas Nashe, focusing upon the authorial figures of An Anatomie of Absurditie, Pierce Penilesse His Supplication to the Divell, and The Unfortunate Traveller. In the next two chapters, my inquiry shifts outward to examine the ambiguous effect of satiric speech upon the audience in and of the works. My third chapter engages Edmund Spenser's conflicted portrayal of satire in book five of The Faerie Queene. In Mercilla's court, Spenser positions scornful speech as both a criminal act and a legitimate tool of justice. Lastly, I interrogate John Donne's anxious consideration of his audience in his Satires, where he repeatedly weighs the benefits of the reclusive but uncharitable life of contemplation against the possible infection he risks by participating fully in society.
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  • Barbour, Reid
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  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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