Disparate measures: Poetry, form, and value in early modern England

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Title: Disparate measures: Poetry, form, and value in early modern England
Author: Smith, Michael Bennet, 1979-
Abstract: In early modern England the word "measure" had a number of different but related meanings, with clear connections between physical measurements and the measurement of the self (ethics), of poetry (prosody), of literary form (genre), and of capital (economics). In this dissertation I analyze forms of measure in early modern literary texts and argue that measure-making and measure-breaking are always fraught with anxiety because they entail ideological consequences for emerging national, ethical, and economic realities. Chapter I is an analysis of the fourth circle of Dante's Inferno . In this hell Dante portrays a nightmare of mis-measurement in which failure to value wealth properly not only threatens to infect one's ethical well-being but also contaminates language, poetry, and eventually the universe itself. These anxieties, I argue, are associated with a massive shift in conceptions of measurement in Europe in the late medieval period. Chapter II is an analysis of the lyric poems of Thomas Wyatt, who regularly describes his psychological position as "out of measure," by which he means intemperate or subject to excessive feeling. I investigate this self-indictment in terms of the long-standing critical contention that Wyatt's prosody is "out of measure," and I argue that formal and psychological expressions of measure are ultimately inseparable. In Chapter III I argue that in Book II of the Faerie Queene Edmund Spenser figures ethical progress as a course between vicious extremes, and anxieties about measure are thus expressed formally as a struggle between generic forms, in which measured control of the self and measured poetic composition are finally the same challenge Finally, in my reading of Troilus and Cressida I argue that Shakespeare portrays persons as commodities who are constantly aware of their own values and anxious about their "price." Measurement in this play thus constitutes a system of valuation in which persons attempt to manipulate their own value through mechanisms of comparison and through praise or dispraise, and the failure to measure properly evinces the same anxieties endemic to Dante's fourth circle, where it threatens to infect the whole world.
Description: xi, 198 p. : ill. A print copy of this thesis is available through the UO Libraries. Search the library catalog for the location and call number.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1794/11182
Date: 2010-09


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