Railing, Reviling, and Invective in English Literary Culture, 1588-1617: The Anti-Poetics of Theater and Print, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Railing, Reviling, and Invective in English Literary Culture, 1588-1617

The Anti-Poetics of Theater and Print, 1st Edition

By Maria Teresa Micaela Prendergast


264 pages

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Railing, Reviling, and Invective in English Literary Culture, 1588-1617 is the first book to consider railing plays and pamphlets as participating in a coherent literary movement that dominated much of the English literary landscape during the late Elizabethan/early Jacobean period. Author Prendergast considers how these crisis-ridden texts on religious, gender, and aesthetic controversies were encouraged and supported by the emergence of the professional theater and print pamphlets. She argues that railing texts by Shakespeare, Nashe, Jonson, Jane Anger and others became sites for articulating anxious emotions-including fears about the stability of England after the death of Queen Elizabeth and the increasing factional splits between Protestant groups. But, given that railings about religious and political matters often led to censorship or even death, most railing writers chose to circumvent such possible repercussions by railing against unconventional gender identity, perverse sexual proclivities, and controversial aesthetics. In the process, Prendergast argues, railers shaped an anti-aesthetics that was itself dependent on the very expressions of perverse gender and sexuality that they discursively condemned, an aesthetics that created a conceptual third space in which bitter enemies-male or female, conformist or nonconformist-could bond by engaging in collaborative experiments with dialogical invective. By considering a literary mode of articulation that vehemently counters dominant literary discourse, this book changes the way that we look at late Elizabethan and early Jacobean literature, as it associates works that have been studied in isolation from each other with a larger, coherent literary movement.


'Prendergast's focus on the poetics of railing brings together texts and episodes in English literary history-the Marprelate Controversy, the Harvey-Nashe quarrel, the war of the theaters, anti-feminist pamphlets-and reclaims their literary energy and importance. Behind the aggressive language of vituperation, degraded sexuality and hate is an experimental literary community playing with aesthetic boundaries in relation to the novel spaces of the professional stage and the printed pamphlet. This is an important book that captures the generative queerness of railing language and of the bonds between railing writers.' Alexandra Halasz, Dartmouth College, USA '… Prendergast’s text offers fresh insights that show how the intersections of print and theater culture create a common site of aesthetic crisis and invites further conversation surrounding its analogues in the sociohistorical upheavals at the turn of the seventeenth century.' Renaissance Quarterly 'Prendergast has written an interesting book that will connect with the work of many scholars. Indeed, the facility with which Prendergast moves from critic to critic, building on their various insights, is impressive and can offer a critical guide for those interested in pursuing this subject further.' Comparative Drama '… this is a lucidly argued and consistently interesting book about the literary and social forms that railing can take.' Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 ’…certainly an ambi­tious and interesting study of a remarkable cultural phenomenon.’ SHARP News '… Prendergast excels in unpacking textual evidence, plumbing various perverse definitions and unexpected shadings of metaphor in tracts and plays. She engages topicality, as studies of railing and satire must, but is not bound by such constraints, a freedom that allows her excellent etymological and analytical work to open up these difficult texts for readers, allowing them to understand the multifarious possibilities of meanin

About the Author

Maria Teresa Micaela Prendergast is Assistant Professor of English, The College of Wooster, USA.

About the Series

Material Readings in Early Modern Culture

Material Readings in Early Modern Culture

This series provides a forum for studies that consider the material forms of texts as part of an investigation into early modern English culture. The editors invite proposals of a multi- or interdisciplinary nature, and particularly welcome proposals that combine archival research with an attention to the theoretical models that might illuminate the reading, writing, and making of texts, as well as projects that take innovative approaches to the study of material texts, both in terms the kinds of primary materials under investigation, and in terms of methodologies. What are the questions that have yet to be asked about writing in its various possible embodied forms? Are there varieties of materiality that are critically neglected? How does form mediate and negotiate content? In what ways do the physical features of texts inform how they are read, interpreted and situated? Consideration will be given to both monographs and collections of essays. The range of topics covered in this series includes, but is not limited to:

-History of the book, publishing, the book trade, printing, typography (layout, type, typeface, blank/white space, paratextual apparatus)

-Technologies of the written word: ink, paper, watermarks, pens, presses

-Surprising or neglected material forms of writing

-Print culture


-Manuscript studies

-Social space, context, location of writing

-Social signs, cues, codes imbued within the material forms of texts

-Ownership and the social practices of reading: marginalia, libraries, environments of reading and reception

-Codicology, palaeography and critical bibliography

-Production, transmission, distribution and circulation

-Archiving and the archaeology of knowledge

-Orality and oral culture

-The material text as object or thing

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