Deciphering Elizabethan Fiction

University of Delaware Press
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"From 1570 to 1630 prose fiction was an upstart in English culture, still defined in relation to poetry and drama yet invested with its own considerable power and potential. In these years, a community of writers arrived on the scene in London and strove to make a name for themselves largely from the prose that they produced at an astonishing rate. Modern scholars of the Renaissance have attempted to measure this prose against such standards as humanist culture or the emerging novel. But the prose fiction written by Lyly, Greene, and their imitators has eluded modern readers even more than the works of Shakespeare and Spenser. In Deciphering Elizabethan Fiction, Reid Barbour studies three interwoven case histories - those of Robert Greene, Thomas Nashe, and Thomas Dekker - and explores their favorite tropes and figures. In response to one another, these three writers attempt to define, liberate, and question the boundaries of prose. That is, they want to secure for prose a new and powerful status in an age when its parameters are unclear and its rivals still valorized but its parameters unbounded. Barbour argues that Nashe absorbs but also rejects the agendas of Greene's prose, offering alternative tropes in their place. Dekker parodies Nashe but unsettles any scheme for stabilizing prose, including those set forth by Nashe himself." "This work centers on three terms that Greene, Nashe, and Dekker obviously could not get off their minds: decipher, discover, and stuff. The first two terms, pervasive in Greene, make specific and complex demands on narrative and its readers. With stuff however, Nashe and Dekker cultivate an extemporal and a material prose, and challenge the fictions that decipher and discover, from romance to roguery. These key words not only situate prose in regard to poetry, drama, and the world; they also raise crucial Renaissance questions about order and duty, faith and doubt. Accordingly, their frame of reference extends from Renaissance poetics and narratology to a nascent Epicureanism and neoskepticism. In an about-face, prose becomes the standard by which the rest of Elizabethan and early Stuart culture is measured, even as prose is constituted by that culture." "With three of the most popular English Renaissance writers as his focus, Barbour reassesses the question of how (or whether) Elizabethan fiction is an ancestor of the novel. Students of the novel have recently intensified their search for the origins of Defoe, Dickens, and Woolf. But Elizabethan prose fiction challenges the novel rather than founds it. In its conclusion, then, Deciphering Elizabethan Fiction considers responses to Elizabethan prose, from Behn to Joyce."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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About the author

Reid Barbour teaches courses in seventeenth-century literature and intellectual history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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Additional Information

University of Delaware Press
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Published on
Dec 31, 1993
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Literary Criticism / General
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