Review of Kate Aughterson, ed., The English Renaissance: An Anthology of Sources and Documents. London and New York: Routledge, 1998. xiii+608pp. ISBN 0 415 18554 8.
Emma Smith
Hertford College, Oxford

Smith, Emma. "Review of The English Renaissance: An Anthology of Sources and Documents." Early Modern Literary Studies 5.2 (September, 1999): 11.1-3 URL:

  1. Kate Aughterson has divided her anthology of texts and documents of English cultural life into eight sections: religion, politics, society and social life, education, literary and cultural theories, science and magic, gender and sexuality, exploration and trade. The volume conveniently reproduces some familiar, and already easily available literary texts, such as extracts from Sidney's An Apology for Poetry, or Spenser's explanation of his allegorical method in the letter addressed to Ralegh prefaced to the 1590 edition of The Faerie Queene. For many users of this book, it is the more arcane material which will be its most interesting and valuable aspect. The section on gender and sexuality, for example, includes extracts from conduct books such as William Gouge's Of Domestical Duties and Richard Braithwait's The English Gentleman, as well as Helkiah Crooke's refutation of Aristotle's 'one sex' model in his Microcosmographia and the French physician James Guillemeau on childbirth. Under "society and social life" are collected statutes, tables of wages, and proclamations, alongside a snippet from Castiglione on the benefits of tennis and vaulting, and from Henry Peacham on advice for newcomers to London. Science and magic are represented by Agrippa, Dee, Scot, Gerard, Bacon, Galileo, Burton, Descartes, and Boyle.

  2. The question of selection is bound to be a point of contention between any anthologist and her readers, and The English Renaissance is no exception. Many readers will perceive as crucial the absence of their particular favourites or those they have used successfully in teaching. In teaching the allegorical method of The Faerie Queene, for example, I have found it productive to use part of the book of Revelation from The Geneva Bible alongside Spenser's letter to Ralegh to illustrate Protestant forms of exegesis and its iconography of Catholicism. There are extracts here from The Geneva Bible, but none from Revelation. The extract from Foxe's account of Ann Askew's martyrdom runs, regrettably, to only a few lines. There is a stress on non-literary material, which conspires to suggest a kind of documentary 'truth' against which it is difficult to assess an inclusion such as Joseph Hall's satires from Virgidemiarum: an extract from a Middleton comedy, for example, might have been a welcome inclusion in the section on "society and social life." As it is, the anthology gives little clue about how material which might be identified as 'literary' also engages with and negotiates these cultural themes. The anthology gives with a generous hand in terms of breadth, but is meaner on depth: perhaps this is in the nature of anthologies. Those with access to good research libraries will always be able to supplement Aughterson's extracts. Others may be frustrated at the brevity of some of the inclusions.

  3. The usefulness of the volume, though, is marred by two significant factors, one intrinsic, the other extrinsic. Firstly, the density of the anthology makes it rather hard to navigate. Extracts are arranged in roughly chronological order, although in some cases no date, not even a tentative one, is given. There is some cross-referencing, but this might usefully have been made more systematic. There is a clear and detailed chronology of events as an appendix, a rather cursory section of "select bibliographies" and an inadequate index. Short introductions to each section make some kind of narrative of the topic by which the significance of the chosen extracts might be better understood, but this is not a sufficient framework to enable students to articulate the interest of the material. It is thus an anthology which requires mediation -- class discussion, for example. And herein lies the second obstacle. Most scholars who need to research, say, attitudes to education in the early modern period, will need to look beyond the selection gathered here, and thus it is not a volume aimed at a research market. The anthology's value is therefore primarily as a textbook, as a resource by which literature students schooled in materialist and historicist approaches to the early modern period might discover a context for their studies. At 90 or $180, however, its price surely prevents any institution from setting it as a class reader. It is a shame that Routledge have not had the courage to market it as a viable teaching text, or to explore other methods of publishing -- photocopiable workbook, or electronic publication, perhaps -- to enable it to get the structured readership it deserves. A paperback edition of the anthology will be a real asset for anyone who wants to encourage literature students to experience the varied and dynamic texture of early modern culture: the current hardback edition is, unfortunately, unlikely to reach its target audience.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 1999-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).