New Pleasures Prove: Evidence of Dialectical Disputatio in Early Modern Manuscript Culture
Margaret Downs-Gamble
Virginia Tech

Downs-Gamble, Margaret. "New Pleasures Prove: Evidence of Dialectical Disputatio in Early Modern Manuscript Culture." Early Modern Literary Studies 2.2 (1996): 2.1-33 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/02-2/donndown.html>.

  1. Thomas Fuller first related the legend that Sir Walter Ralegh used a diamond to etch the words, "Fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall," on a window pane at Court where Elizabeth I could not fail to see them. As the story goes, the Queen answered Ralegh in rhyme with the corrective "If thy heart fails thee, climb not at all" (Fuller 261).[1] More than a telling vignette of the insecurities of Court life, the narrative of this verse exchange serves to foreground the dialogic nature of poetic practice in the Renaissance. Because dialogue is in some sense circumscribed by the immediacy with which an exchange can occur, it should not be surprising that the flowering of dialogic verse occurred within a manuscript culture. But manuscript transmission alone does not account for the variety of practices evinced by early modern manuscripts. The forms of their communicative acts were determined by Renaissance emphases on rhetoric and dialectic. However ritualized the practice may appear, and however stylized, poetry served a primarily communicative function.

  2. Wilber Samuel Howell insists that "Englishmen of these two centuries did not waste their time in the vain effort to deny poetry a primarily communicative function"; it was "considered to be the third great form of communication, open and popular but not fully explained by rhetoric, concise and lean but not fully explained by logic," instead containing "both characteristics at once" (Howell 4).[2] It is important that we reconsider early modern poetry as a communicative act within manuscript culture, because our tendency to distinguish it as art severs poetic language from its functional capacity. When modern scholars have considered the intertextuality of relatively autonomous print exempla of argumentative "answer" poems from Renaissance manuscript culture, such as Christopher Marlowe's "Passionate Shepherd," Sir Walter Ralegh's "Nymph's Reply," and John Donne's "The Bait," they have lauded the "masculine" game of argumentation.[3] Print exempla, however, mark the end of this poetic, though not entirely masculine, game.

  3. Thus, when J.W. Saunders observes, that "poetry was an instrument of social converse and entertainment," he inscribes the particular terrain of verse produced in Renaissance manuscript culture. As Saunders amplified his statement:

    Poetry could be used as a compliment or comment on virtually every happening in life, from birth to death, from the presentation of a gift to the launching of a war . . . Poetry was the medium of the communication of experience, the means for the resolution of personal syntheses and the expression of personal analyses. (509)
    That poetry was simultaneously communicative and dialogic was not entirely determined by the medium of transmission, however; Renaissance educational emphases on rhetoric and dialectic helped furnish the particular milieu conducive to poetic implementation of rhetorical imitatio and declamatio and dialectical disputatio in verse production.

  4. Although no single rhetorical or dialectical practice monopolized Renaissance literary production, the influence of dialectical disputatio, as it was extracted from classical models and imposed upon early-modern minds, may well account for the flowering of various dialogic literary forms in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. While we may immediately accept the pamphlet wars in Renaissance print culture as evidence of dialectical influence on early-modern discourse, and may even acknowledge the influence of dialectic on dramatic activity during this same period, we have not extended this understanding of cultural context in our examinations of poetry. Poetry studies have concentrated on the identification of rhetorical tropes and dialectical figures in the single and frequently published poetic products[4] without adequately considering rhetorical and dialectical influences on poetic practice in Renaissance manuscript culture. As Linda Woodbridge observes, "the Renaissance inherited from the Middle Ages an almost aesthetic view of debate. Peter Ramus held the view that, in the words of Marlowe's Faustus, 'to dispute well [is] logic's chiefest end,'"--which is Christopher Marlowe's translation of Ramus's words, "Bene disserere est finis logices" from his Dialectica, (1576)[5]--"and the four debates . . .[in] The Courtier, if they end in enlightenment, begin as recreation" (Woodbridge 5).

  5. Dialectical recreation, a consequence of dialectical education, governed poetic production as well,[6] in effect naturalizing verse arguments like those supposedly etched by Sir Walter Ralegh and Elizabeth I. More extensive verse conversations than that described above, extant in numerous sixteenth- and seventeenth-century manuscripts, have been obscured by selective editing for particular authors. When we examine the manuscript collections from which our twentieth-century poetic authorities have been constructed, we can see that rhetorical and dialectical verse transactions were central to social converse in manuscript.

  6. Although published texts have been thoroughly examined for rhetorical and dialectical devices as well as for evidence of the influence of rhetoric and dialectic upon style, we have not adequately considered that this distinctive "style," and, perhaps, even what we have considered the distinctive flowering of poetics in the Renaissance, may issue from an alien epistemology governed by an alien transmissional medium: manuscript.

  7. While I do not intend by "alien" to imply an evolutionary model of textual mediation in which the technology of the press entirely replaced that of the scribe, the dominant transmissional medium was superseded, and it is important for us to attempt to understand manuscript culture through its own attributes rather than to continue to define it negatively. Therefore, when Ted-Larry Pebworth in "Manuscript Poems and Print Assumptions" provides us with the essential information that "the major feature of manuscript transmission" is "a lack of stability in canon, attribution, and text" we are simultaneously enlightened and bemused. This negative definition clarifies even as it problematizes our basic conceptualizations that insist upon characterizing by "lack" (3).

  8. Manuscript culture knew not "intellectual property" or "author" as we, inhabitors of print culture, so clearly do. Our notions of propriety, authorship, and text are ours in part because of the technological advent of the printing press and resultant epistemological views. In manuscript culture, text and authority could be claimed or obscured by the flourish of a mightier pen. But before examining the artifacts that evince the peculiarities of transmissional activity, it is important for us to understand those rhetorical and dialectical influences significant to Renaissance textual creation.

  9. Rhetoric and dialectic (or logic) were central disciplines in the Renaissance educational scheme. Rhetorical imitatio was understood as a tool of elementary rhetorical training, as the essential step in literary invention,[7] and, if not to us the sincerest form of flattery, at least the clearest indicator of some nebulous relationship between one writer and another. While rhetorical imitatio, as described by Ascham and Sturm, was primarily an elementary task set for beginning students to teach them to write like Cicero or other great orators, those who later chose to write like Petrarch, Ovid, or Catullus frequently resorted to the familiar process of imitating a recognizably great exemplar. Thus, one activity we often see in manuscript is clearly imitative. According to British Library Additional MS 19268 "A copie in imitation of" another verse complimented the "master" exemplar.

    On his {Mtrs} Walkinge in the Snowe
    I sawe faire Cloris walke alone
    when featherd raine came softly downe
    And Jove descended from his towre
    to Court her in a sylver showre
    the wanton snowe flew on her breast
    as lithe birds unto their nests
    but overcome in whitnes there
    for grief it thawed into a feare
    when fallinge on her garments hem
    to deck her froze into a gemme.
        W. Stroud
    A copie in imitation of the former
    I sawe faire Flora take the aire
    When Phabus shinde and it was faire
    the heavens to allay the scorching sun
    sent drops of raine which gently come
    the sunne retires ashamed to see
    that he was bar'd from kissing thee
    But Boreas then tooke such disdaine
    that soone he dryed those drops againe
    A cunninge trick but most divinne
    to change and mix his breath with thine
        H Hide (fols. 23r-23v)
    Poetic imitatio, if we may think of what occurs above in that way, does not digest and transform the model, and is hardly more than a copy of the exemplar. Imitatio, however, was not the only, nor even the most frequently practiced, method of poetic production in Renaissance manuscript culture. For, while Sir Thomas Hoby's translation of Castiglione's The Book of the Courtier (1561) advised the commonplace when it insisted that the would be writer "take dylygente to folowinge [imitazioni], without the whiche . . . no man canne wryte well" (White 43), as this advice continues:
    "if Virgill had altogether folowed Gisiodus, he should not have passed him nor Cicero, Crassus nor Ennius, his predecessors. . . .And truly it should be a great miserye to stoppe without wading any farther then almost the first that ever wrote: and to dispaire, that so many and so noble wittes shall never find out any mo then one good maner of speach." (White 44)

  10. If imitatio is the most basic endeavor of rhetorical training, declamatio is the more advanced rhetorical practice, deployed similarly by Renaissance speakers, prose writers and poets. Having copied a variety of exemplars, the intermediate student would then move on (first in study and later in poetic practice) to attempt transcendence of those models. The distinction was clearly competitive; however, the exercise, even the Art, was still based in rhetorical rather than dialectical practice. Renaissance people did, however, "dispaire," not only of the "noble wittes" of the ancients, but also of those of their contemporaries. Preserved in the British Library Egerton MS 2230 is a brief but telling conversation.

    Hang him he's fit for nothing butt his hearse
    That in this wittye age can scorne verse:
    Many would write but see mens witts soe rare
    That of theire owne they instantly dispayre:/ (f.47)

    Transcribed as found, the above verse appears as a single poem, but for the telltale colons--characteristic end pointing for this scribe. Whatever their outward appearance, these couplets constitute a lively verse exchange, and serve in miniature to illustrate the conversational nature of much manuscript verse. The terminal slash distinguishes this conversation from others in the book, but the scribe did not seek to preserve the separate elements of the conversation. Not imitatio, but rhetorical declamatio informs this exchange. The objective, the purpose, is clear. In the first instance, one poet urges hanging for the man who scorns verse. The more temperate second answers with his explanation that argues not scorn but "dispayre" as the rationale for poetic silence. The first couplet challenges and provokes; for this reason we may consider this initiating verse as the provocateur--someone begins the conversation. In its simplest form, as in this exchange, there is then an answer. These most basic elements, the provocative and answering verse, illustrate declamatory rather than imitative practice. If the first objective of the Renaissance writer was the successful imitation of a master, the second was mastery.

  11. Thus, when Marlowe's Shepherd exclaims "Come live with me and be my love / And we will all the pleasures prove," Sir Walter Ralegh's Nymph answers rhetorical syllogism with rhetorical syllogism, and echoes, though not exactly, "These pretty pleasures might me move / To live with thee and be thy love" (3-4). Accepting Marlowe's premise, his pastoral setting, the proposed contest offered by his Shepherd, and the implicit, fictional dialogue, Ralegh's declamation answers the argument of Marlowe's verse in the voice of the Nymph addressed, challenging the argument but not the structure or topical scenario of Marlowe's verse. At only one point in Ralegh's declamatory answer does he seem to step beyond purely rhetorical practice, as the competitive poet appears to critique Marlowe's verse argument rather than merely "Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of roses / Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies" (13-14), to declare something more than cap and kirtle, possibly Marlowe's logic and argument, "in folly ripe, in reason rotten" (16).

  12. As Thomas Elyot noted in The Booke Named the Governour (1530),

    They whiche do onely teache rhetorike, whiche is the science wherby is taught an artifyciall fourme of spekyng, wherin is the power to persuade, moue, and delyte, or by that science onely do speke or write, . . . ought to be named rhetoriciens, declamatours, artificiall spekers . . . or any other name than oratours. Semblably they that make verses, expressynge therby none other lernynge but craft of versifyeng, be nat of auncient writers named poetes, but onely called versifyers." (1.119-20, emphasis mine).
    Mastery of poetic, like mastery of prose or oratory, was the purview of philosophy,[8] learned through dedicated exercise and mastery of dialectic or logic. But as with prose dialectic, Renaissance dialectical poetic assumes a forum of activity in which the audience members are actively participating poets. This poetic forum is that which Arthur Marotti describes as a "coterie."[9] However, when we speak of "John Donne's coterie," we should keep in mind that "the very existence of a large body of dubiously or wrongly ascribed verse on the fringes of the Donne canon" that "attests to th[e] social dimension of his work" (Marotti xiii), like the existence of 4,000 non-authorial manuscript versions of verses we've attributed to Donne, tells us more about the "social dimension" than about "his work." In fact, the disruptive force of this evidence should de-center John Donne, as authoritative entity, in favor of these various loci of production.

  13. Collective authorship is inherent to the coterie environment. Communal authority, however, does not spring consensually from any group. Rather, coterie verse production implies a negotiational forum, within which oppositional ideologies serve as correctives to each other. Like the Ralegh-Elizabeth I exchange, coterie verse production was neither neutral nor consensual, but dependent upon the successful execution of provocative verse--that is, verse written in order to elicit a response. From an understanding of this cultural environment, which promoted verse conversations, with characteristic corrective exchanges between collective authorities, we can examine, even ourselves interrogate, specific emissaries--the manuscript sources--for that "King," John Donne, "that rul'd as hee thought fit / The universall Monarchy of wit."[10]

  14. Donne, like Ralegh and Elizabeth I, wrote poetry primarily within a chirographic, or manuscript, culture, the ramifications of which remain largely unexamined. The social dimension, that is, the manuscript transmission of rhetorically and dialectically framed verse, has been, until very recently, a minor concern for literary scholars, except insofar as this verse created editorial and critical problems. Thus, in The Disinterred Muse, Donne's Texts and Contexts (1980), David Novarr seems disconcerted by what might be considered an integral part of Renaissance poetic practice: the echo-line in Donne's verse "To Mr. Tillman after he had taken orders" and George Herbert's "The Church-Porch." Comparing lines in Donne's verse: "Would they thinke it well if the day were spent / In dressing, Mistressing and complement?" (29-30), with lines in Herbert's--"Flie idlenesse, which yet thou canst not flie / By dressing, mistressing, and complement" (79-80), Novarr concludes, "either that Herbert had seen Donne's poem in manuscript or that Donne had seen a draft of 'The Church-Porch' and had taken over one of its lines, a procedure so foreign to the way he worked that it is not likely he would have adopted it unless he expected Herbert to see what he had done" (111, emphasis mine).

  15. We need only remember the opening lines of "The Bait" ("Come live with mee, and bee my love / And wee will some new pleasures prove" [Shawcross 82]) to question whether the "procedure" was "so foreign to the way [Donne] worked." Further, we find that in some manuscripts the reading of these first two lines of "The Bait" exactly replicates Christopher Marlowe's lines in "The Passionate Shepherd"--"Come live with me and be my love / And we will all the pleasures prove," to question how, in fact, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century poetic production "worked." This Renaissance strategy is more than a fictive or poetic pose; it is a rhetorical and dialectical signal of two simultaneous acknowledgments: firstly, that the writer is consciously engaged in discourse with another and, secondly, that the writer is aware of witnesses to the exchange.

  16. Although the exact echoing of Marlowe's or Herbert's lines may be a more definitive poetic signal, serving to indicate to us now, as it did to the audience then, that the poems are elements in a verse conversation, the exact echoing can only conclusively be said to indicate involvement in the elementary practice of rhetorical imitatio. However, the revised echo which proves "some new pleasure" indicates yet more advanced practice--that of dialectical disputatio. Far from elementary, dialectical disputatio was confined to university curricula. While evidence of the influence of the rhetorical practices of imitatio and declamatio in the Renaissance are myriad, what has not been adequately examined is the influence of dialectical disputatio-- an activity unlike either imitatio or declamatio in its insistence on transmutation of the exemplar through engagement with the provocateur in disputation.

  17. Whereas the nymph's itemized refutation of the shepherd inscribes a contest in which Ralegh transcends the argumentative model set by Marlowe's verse, Donne, though clearly involved in the same conversation, baits his own hook by transmuting the setting, the occasion, the premise, and the rhetorical arguments presented by both Marlowe and Ralegh. Donne's "new pleasure" is dialectical disputation.

  18. Rejecting the mercantilism proposed by Marlowe, and accepted as an argumentative premise by Ralegh, Donne constructs a disputation in which the bait's natural attributes attract those who would more happily catch than be caught. Rather than involve himself in the spent dialogue between shepherd and nymph, Donne takes Marlowe's "shallow rivers" (7) and Ralegh's raging ones (6), to identify the "enamoured fish" that "Will amorously . . . swim / Gladder to catch [the bait], than [the bait is glad to catch] him" (11-12). If "the bait" described in Donne's verse is a female (the traditional assumption), then the mutuality of their entanglement is clear. However, if "the bait" is instead the "silken [poetic] lines" and "silver [rhetorical] hooks" of Marlowe's and/or Ralegh's verse, then Donne's complimentary jest is something else entirely. The "river" Donne constructs in his verse, "warmed by [the] eyes" of the poet he compliments, is filled with "enamored fish," other would-be poets, who would rather hook a poet with their versifying than be entangled by Marlowe's and, perhaps, Ralegh's.

  19. Donne's verse becomes the occasion for Donne to chastise versifiers, those "others" he speaks of in lines 17 through 24, who "treacherously . . . beset" poor fish with" the "strangling snare" of their artificial rhetorical offerings (19-20). Donne's dialectical corrective verse, while intervening in the rhetorical conversation of Marlowe and Ralegh, uses the opportunity to distinguish the poet, "thou," who is loathed to be seen in the live bath of a school of fishy versifiers. Outshining both sun and moon, the poet's compliment "needs no" violent and traitorous "deceit," presumably that used by lesser versifiers, because "thou thyself art thine own bait." Excusing his own intervention in the poetic conversation, admitting his attraction to Marlowe's provocateur, Donne acknowledges his own complicity: "That fish that is not catched thereby / Alas is wiser far than I" (27-28).

  20. Argumentative strategies, then, were not only applied at the initial stages of poetic transmission in manuscript, but can be considered to have been in large part the function of transmission--that is to say, "successful" transmission can be seen as a system in which the provocative verse elicited corrective responses. Thus "authorial control" is a contested space in which one text creates a forum expected to attract other authorities holding divergent views.

  21. While we may be confident that, in the initial stage of transmission, Sir Walter Ralegh provoked a response from Elizabeth I, or Marlowe elicited one from Ralegh, in the absence of verse autographs we cannot be certain that a particular manuscript version is in any sense the authorial provocateur, or that it has, in fact, any canonical authority beyond a particular argumentative arena. The complexities of manuscript transmission have yet to be adequately explored. However, if disputatio as well as declamatio and imitatio governed poetic practice, then as the forum of contest expanded to include those not involved in immediate, localized exchanges, the poetic agenda and methodology would necessarily shift to accommodate the widened circle of participants.

  22. As later poets, versifiers, and even scribes intervened to "correct" verse to correspond with their own socio-political realities, singular "authority" was irrevocably lost because of the compounded intentionalities manifest in the artifacts. As these variously authorized texts were later published, they became what Donne distinguished as a "dead carkasse" of singular authority--as is evident in the following example.

  23. In the "new" if not "improved" second edition of Poems by J. D., (1635) two poems called "Elegie to Mris. Boulstred" were printed as two elegies by Donne written on the occasion of Cecelia Boulstred's death, and are separated in this edition by "Elegie on his Mistres," beginning "By our first strange and fatall interview" (269-70) and "Elegie," beginning "Madame / That I might your Cabinet my tombe" (271). Those familiar with this edition will no doubt remember that the latter of the two is "spurious" verse, since attributed to Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford,[11] one of Donne's patrons, whose relationship with Donne has long been recognized to have included verse exchanges.[12] As evidence of just such activity, Donne scholars from Herbert Grierson to Barbara Lewalski have cited the following epistle from the 1651 Letters to Several Persons of Honour as evidence of such activity:

    I have yet adventured so near as to make a petition for verse, it is for those your Ladiship did me the honour to see in Twicknam garden, except you repent your making; and have mended your judgement by thinking worse, that is, better, because juster, of their subject. They must needs be an excellent exercise of your wit, which speake so well of so ill: I humbly beg them of your Ladiship, with two such promises, as to any other of your compositions were threatnings: that I will not shew them, and that I will not beleeve them; and nothing should be so used that comes from your brain or breast. (67-68)
    Donne's letter indicates more than that he and Bedford indulged in the practice of exchanging verses. In asking for her verses, Donne requests those he has already seen, not a revision of them, unless she has already "mended [her] judgement by thinking worse, that is better, because juster, of their subject," unless Bedford has changed her dialectical position. He wishes to see her verses, because, Donne claims, they are "an excellent exercise of wit," significantly, because "they speak so well of so ill." Further Donne promises that with these as with any other of her "compositions" that "were threatenings," he will not "shew" them to others, or "beleeve" that the dialectical position taken in them indicates her actual stance on the subjects they argue. Donne seems to believe that she might already have "mended" her position, perhaps a revision prompted by his corrective reading--or writing.

  24. Although we have no primary manuscript evidence of Donne answering Bedford's verse, if we consider a manuscript version of Donne's "Elegie on Mris. Boulstred," "Death I recant . . . ," from the O'Flahertie MS, we note that Bedford's verse, "Death be not proud . . . ," much like other answer poems appended to provocative verses in manuscript, is appended--and should at least be considered as a corrective. Not the "original" exchange, this example is significant beyond its possible evidence of Donne's having been corrected by Bedford. These poems have been transcribed together into this manuscript, indicating that the provocative verse and corrective answer were passed along together, though an organizer of this "indigested chaos" has demarcated one from the other-- facilitating, it would appear, print chaos (in the 1635 edition) from manuscript order.

  25. When Donne intervened in the Marlowe-Ralegh conversation with the intention of correction, he inscribed a poetic practice neither new nor unique to him. Further, corrective intervention, as Bedford's response to Donne's elegy on Boulstred evinces, occurred even when the initial verse was not intentionally provocative. Donne's "Death I recant . . ." quite simply dwelled too long--for the first 36 lines--on the ultimate power of a personified Death. No one can Death's "Summons disobey." All are but a "dish . . . for Death to eate," and "In a rude hunger now he millions drawes / Into his bloody, or plaguy, or starv'd jawes." Bedford's corrective response in "Death be not proud . . ." disputes Donne's construction of a ravenous, all-powerful Death gobbling up his victims. While her verse addresses Donne's construct, she quickly refocuses the poetic discussion on the real subject at hand: the virtues of her cousin, Cecelia Boulstred. In her final eight lines, she clearly teaches Donne the error of his perspective: "Taught thus, our after stay's but a short night," urging him to "teach this hymne of her with joy, and sing / The grave no conquest gets, Death hath no sting."

  26. Because Bedford's "Death be not proud" does philosophically "correct" Donne's "Death, I recant," and because the arrangement of these verses indicates that her verse "Death be not proud" was a corrective to this particular elegy, the manuscript evidence suggests that Donne may eventually have revised his argument--that he stood corrected--when he echoed her in the Holy Sonnet, "Death be not proud."

  27. If we consider Donne's Holy Sonnet "Death be not proud" as a response to Bedford's corrective verse, the first lines are almost humorous. I do not mean that the verse itself, autonomous and disconnected from the conversation, is humorous, but that the conditions under which it may have been composed transform our view of the first lines in which "Death" should not be proud, because "though some"--some others, not he--"have called thee / Mighty and dreadfull . . . thou art not soe" (1-2). As if directly answering Bedford's request that he learn from her revisionary verse--"Taught thus, our after stay's but a short night"-- Donne notes that "One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally / And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die" (13-14). Bedford's dialectical corrective, while not proving any immediate "new pleasure" for Donne, does appear to have caused him to reconsider his initial position.

  28. The impossibility of accurately dating these poems, or of establishing the order of their composition, will leave the question of the "origin" of the line "Death be not proud" for scholars to debate ad infinitum. However, the inadequate attention paid to manuscripts long allowed Bedford's verse to "pass" as Donne's. Grierson, the first (in 1912) to seriously consider manuscript attribution of this elegy to Bedford, nonetheless ignored the evidence of the arrangement and concluded, as have most subsequent scholars, that Bedford responded to Donne's Holy Sonnet "Death be not proud," and that she repeated his powerful line, not that he repeated hers. In instances in which a second verse answers and corrects another, we may have some opportunity of disentangling the provocative and corrective verse to observe the argumentation which was central to Renaissance verse production. However, in the case of transcriptions of interlinear argumentation, we may never even observe one single authority, much less extract one from another, especially as these authorities sustain further mutation by continued circulation in manuscript. Unlike these previously "invisible" arguments discoverable in Renaissance manuscripts, the remainder of Bedford's poetic activity may long since have been incorporated into the authoritative corpus of Donne or some other muscular versifier, not because editors and publishers of either the seventeenth- or twentieth-century conspired to incorporate her texts, but because the Renaissance poetic process obscured singular authority.

  29. In the case of Renaissance manuscript collections, we may already be at many removes from the author, with the compiler serving as active disputant as well as authorizing-editor of these subjective "editions." Displacing these owner-compilers, we have attributed far too much to the rate of error among Renaissance scribes. Had we Helen Gardner's hypothesized Donne autograph collection, the X manuscript, scholars might be less interested in securing a limb for "Donne" or "Ralegh" or any other canonical authority from among these argumentative communities, and might instead consult the "textual witnesses" to these Renaissance practices for what they can tell us about their socio-political provenance.

  30. Each of the more than 270 manuscript collections associated with John Donne was compiled by and for specific individuals in a particular time and place; each manuscript might, therefore, be considered "sensitively dependent upon the . . . conditions" of its compilation. Just as the notion of "sensitive dependence" in chaos theory describes rather than explains the "orderly disorder" of natural systems, if we examine manuscript books for evidence of poetic activity in particular contexts, we divert discussion away from elaborate rationales which attempt to neutralize anomalous phenomena, and focus investigation on textual artifacts as they trace dynamic poetic systems. We may well have dismembered the arguments of more than one political body in our attempts to build an authoritative print corpus for John Donne or myriad other manuscript poets, dressing the resultant chimera in literary motley, so we might call it 'King.'

  31. Because we have too long ignored the expectations and practices of the scribal environment, we have approached its artifacts and their arguments only to the extent that they might be extracted for use in establishing our editorial, critical, and cultural authority. Argumentative discourse exerted a profound influence upon the site of poetic production, and, if we would examine this influence, we need to seek answers from those manuscripts formed within it, rather than from the "dead carkasses" of print, which according to Donne "present no mean" to "examine, control and expostulate" with them (Gosse 25, 107).

  32. While Renaissance poetic activity cannot be described by any one poetical, rhetorical, or dialectical methodology, past scholars have established the extent to which prose, drama, and poetry were influenced by imitative practice. We have even begun to explore the extent to which Renaissance poetic relied upon a rhetorical sense of the declamatory involvement of a participatory audience. However, argumentative disputation, the ultimate goal in Renaissance education, the ultimate joy in Renaissance entertainment, has been excluded from our consideration of Renaissance poetic.

  33. Although Marlowe may well have intended to elicit a response when he released his Shepherd's proposition to courtier-poets, Donne did not expect a response from Bedford when he wrote an elegy in honor of her dead relative; he, nevertheless, received one. Bedford's response was, in some sense, as predictable as Donne's. Her response, however, indicates that entertainment was at most a secondary consideration determining implementation of dialectical disputatio, because disputatio was the modus operandi for philosophical intervention.


Works Cited

Manuscript Sources

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the editor at emls@arts.ubc.ca.

© 1996, R.G. Siemens (Editor, EMLS).
(August 22, 1996)