Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
I argue that the influence of Platonic thought in Renaissance England cannot be properly understood without attending to what I call “Political Platonism”—a particularly civic approach to Plato and his works. Political Platonism, which derives in part from the efforts of early humanists such as Leonardo Bruni, differs sharply from the approach favored by more well-known Platonists such as Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola. Where Pico and Ficino are drawn primarily to Plato’s metaphysical and cosmological speculations, Political Platonists tend to favor his moral, political, and rhetorical ideas. After identifying Political Platonism and distinguishing it from the Cosmological Platonism favored by Ficino and Pico in the first chapter, I trace its appearance in English writers with significant Platonic influence throughout the Renaissance in subsequent chapters. Chapter Two examines early Tudor writers such as Thomas More and Thomas Elyot, with whom the pressing needs of the new political regime combine with their own humanist ideals to produce a uniquely civic approach to Plato. Chapter Three explores how Francis Bacon uses, changes, and challenges Plato in the course of developing his own program for the advancement of science. Finally, in Chapter Four I show how John Milton continues to read Plato as a civic philosopher even as he wrestles anew with the difficulties confronting the adaptation of classical philosophy to Christian culture.