Imagination and Politics in Seventeenth-Century England  book cover
1st Edition

Imagination and Politics in Seventeenth-Century England

ISBN 9781138278295
Published February 27, 2017 by Routledge
212 Pages

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Book Description

Todd Butler here proposes a new epistemology of early modern politics, one that sees-as did writers of the period-human thought as a precursor to political action. By focusing not on reason or the will but on the imagination, Butler uncovers a political culture in seventeenth-century England that is far more shifting and multi-polar than has been previously recognized. Pursuing the connection between individual thought and corporate political action, he also charts the existence of a discourse that grounds modern scholarly interests in the representational nature of early modern politics - its images, rituals and entertainment-within a language early moderns themselves used. Through analysis of a wide variety of seventeenth-century texts, including the writings of Francis Bacon and Thomas Hobbes, Caroline Court masques, and the poetry and prose of John Milton, he reveals a society deeply concerned with the fundamentally imaginative nature of politics. It is a strength of the study that Butler looks at unusual or slighted texts by these authors alongside their more canonical texts. The study also ranges widely across disciplines, engaging literature alongside both natural and political philosophy. By emphasizing the human mind rather than human institutions as the primary site of the period's political struggles, this study reframes critical understandings of seventeenth-century English politics and the texts that helped define them.

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface; Introduction: imagining the early modern mind; Bacon and the prudential imagination; The 'immaginacy' of the Caroline court masque; The politics of the Miltonic mind; Imagining the body politic: Hobbes and his critics; Conclusion: the mind, the law, and the political self; Bibliography; Index.

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Todd Butler is Assistant Professor of English at Washington State University, USA


'By focusing attention on processes through which beliefs and desires might be controlled through the use of words and images, Butler opens up a genuinely interdisciplinary investigation that ranges over philosophical texts, court masques and civil war pamphlets.' Malcolm Smuts, University of Massachusetts Boston, USA. 'Revisionist in the best sense of the word, Todd Butler’s study challenges long-standing stereotypes about the seventeenth-century’s hostility to the imagination, eloquently showing that even more than the Caroline court masquers, Bacon, Milton, and Hobbes made analyzing, defending, redefining, and shaping the popular imagination central to their political programs and ideals. A must-read for a wide range of specialists - literary, historical, cultural - in the period.' Catherine Gimelli Martin, University of Memphis, USA. ’Butler’s compelling book makes the reader better aware of how early modern rhetoricians, politicians, and playwrights understood and manipulated a population’s imagination.’ Journal of British Studies ’... a fresh and valuable contribution to existing studies, not only of seventeenth-century politics, but also the History of Ideas.’ Parergon ’With this insightful examination of the variegated functions and contemporary reception of the imagination, Butler has made a valuable, not least because highly original, contribution to ongoing debates about political authority and ideology in seventeenth-century England.’ Notes and Queries 'This is a dense book that looks at many minor or understudied works and synthesizes a great deal of scholarship. Nonetheless, the argument is clear, the bibliography is ample, and I learned a great deal I did not know about all four topics, from Bacon’s ideas about magic to the pamphlet wars of 1641-42.' Modern Philology