Carnival and Literature in Early Modern England explores the elite and popular festive materials appropriated by authors during the English Renaissance in a wide range of dramatic and non-dramatic texts. Although historical records of rural, urban, and courtly seasonal customs in early modern England exist only in fragmentary form, Jennifer Vaught traces the sustained impact of festivals and rituals on the plays and poetry of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English writers. She focuses on the diverse ways in which Shakespeare, Spenser, Marlowe, Dekker, Jonson, Milton and Herrick incorporated the carnivalesque in their works. Further, she demonstrates how these early modern texts were used-and misused-by later writers, performers, and inventors of spectacles, notably Mardi Gras krewes organizing parades in the American Deep South. The works featured here often highlight violent conflicts between individuals of different ranks, ethnicities, and religions, which the author argues reflect the social realities of the time. These Renaissance writers responded to republican, egalitarian notions of liberty for the populace with radical support, ambivalence, or conservative opposition. Ultimately, the vital, folkloric dimension of these plays and poems challenges the notion that canonical works by Shakespeare and his contemporaries belong only to 'high' and not to 'low' culture.
Jennifer C. Vaught is Jean-Jacques and Aurore Labbé Fournet / Board of Regents Professor in English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, USA.
'Carnival and Literature in Early Modern England is an exciting study of transatlantic scope and transhistorical span. Vaught's analysis highlights the cultural and historical specificity of carnival forms and productions, and the different ways they had been appropriated for divergent political ends, normative and transgressive. Juxtaposing early modern poetic and dramatic texts with St. George plays, mummery, street theater, and Mardi Gras productions, Vaught brings out the diverse cultural registers of the festive that would be available to Renaissance audiences, and she reimagines for readers today the traditional cultural literacies early modern writers and audiences brought to the texts and performances.' Joan Linton, Indiana University, USA 'This book offers the reader a rich Carnival of materials, sometimes upsetting ordinary expectations, but always providing a focused interpretation. The extensive footnotes sometimes turn the conventional page of print upside down, the upstart footnote threatening the dominant culture.' Renaissance Quarterly 'For a reader looking for an extensive bibliography on carnival and literature in early modern England and wide-ranging observations on a series of texts, this book could be a useful resource.' The Spenser Review 'This is, certainly, a fascinating study, which traces carnivalesque themes in English literature through some expected, and some far from expected, times and locales; it is highly recommended.' Parergon 'Vaught does a fine job of demonstrating the influence of festive practice on some of the most canonical works of English Renaissance literature; her book will be of keen interest to students of early modern popular culture.' Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 'Vaught has produced a study of considerable scope and ambition, and her readings of the texts collectively illustrate the profound extent to which carnival themes and motifs permeated the literature and culture of early modern England.' Seventeenth-Century News