Discontented Charity: Theology, Community, and Hermeneutics, More to Milton Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Gurney, Evan August
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • This dissertation investigates one of the profound and pervasive ironies of early modern England: how charity, ostensibly an idealized ethic governing all human (and divine) relationships, was situated at the center of so many of the era's most contentious disputes. This is the project's point of origin, that charity was in fact a problem, its simple imperatives lending an urgency and power to complicated questions about devotional practice, communal identity, political economy, and literary discourse. By tracing the contours of this key nodal term's complex history throughout the period, from the vexed inception of Reformed theologies and biblical translations in the 1520s to political and ideological controversies arriving in the wake of civil war, Discontented Charity examines the role of charity in shaping the negotiations of early modern writers who were responding to intractable social, religious, and political demands. There was consensus of a kind during the early modern period - almost everybody agreed that charity was crucial, that it was the primary force binding together communities, and that its relationship to justice required punitive discipline - but these shared beliefs merely added pressure to a vigorous debate. Rival doctrines of justification disputed the theological primacy of charity, interrogated the spiritual sanction of good works, and articulated radically new visions of church community. Humanist scholars reinvigorated a classical tradition of charitable reading, a hermeneutics that polemicists of the period would repeatedly solicit from readers even as they refused to offer the same benefit to their opponents. Local and national governments, meanwhile, attempted to implement practical schemes of discriminate charity to relieve the poor - charity that required magistrates to read and categorize their populace in various classes of need. And the looming presence of the body hovered over all of these and other concerns, as the physical embodiment of charity constantly complicated theoretical discussions of Christian love. Taking a cue from early modern English writers, who depicted charity variously as a knot, a chain, or a bond, Discontented Charity joins together a range of scholarship relevant to the problematic characteristics of charity taken up by William Tyndale, Thomas More, Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson, Thomas Browne, and John Milton, all of whom, though motivated by and responding to widely varying circumstances, nevertheless choose to appropriate the word and recuperate, reform, or even parody its significance.
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  • In Copyright
  • Barbour, Reid
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2013

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