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Translation and Comparison

Early-Modern and Current Perspectives

László Kontler

This article attempts to refine the understanding of translation, thus contributing to evaluate its role in reception theory and in the history of ideas. A discussion of on the character, theories, and practices of translation in early-modern times is its entry point of analysis. During this period, what mattered in the first place was not the extent to which the translated text succeeded or failed in making the source text and its "original" ideas accessible in the target language, but rather the extent and the way in which the source text was instrumental in pursuing the agenda set by the translator or others in compliance with specific contexts. Such a perspective on translation seems also appropriate to current modes of inquiry for which translation is not an instance of inter-cultural communication, aiming to penetrate the Other in its fullness and make it intelligible in its otherness, but a communicative act whose purposes are predominantly intra-cultural and consist in supporting domestic agendas to which the translated text looks instrumental.

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Translation and Comparison II

A Methodological Inquiry into Reception in the History of Ideas

László Kontler

This article addresses the methodological issues involved in the study of interlingual translation as an avenue of reception in the history of ideas. In particular, it assesses the possible uses of linguistic contextualism and conceptual history (Begriffsgeschichte) in this endeavour. It argues that both of these approaches have been, or are capable of being, far more sensitive towards the phenomenon of reception and, indeed, this is an area where cross-fertilization between them (often commended in general but rarely if ever in specific terms) is a practical possibility. Perspectives from Rezeptionsgeschichte may provide useful tools for building bridges between them. A few case studies in translation history are then critically examined, and on the basis of the foregoing methodological reflections propositions are made for further refining the approach taken in those case studies.

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Carol Banks

Whereas questions of race, class and gender may be uppermost in the minds of many late twentieth-century scholars and critics, in the early modern period tradition and belief were the predominant preoccupations, in practical terms, custom and Christianity were inextricably intertwined within the changing culture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. An awareness of these past concerns motivates each of the seven articles in this issue, articles which re-examine literary and historical texts, not as past mirrors in which we might speculate upon our own particular preoccupations, but as sources of a more anthropological and spiritual history.

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Elizabeth Rivlin

Recent scholarship has defined literacy in early modern England as a culturally and historically constituted term rather than simply as a technical, objectively quantifiable skill.1 In becoming more sensitive to the diverse range of meanings and functions that attached themselves to literacy in the early modern period, scholars have begun to investigate the ways in which different segments of society engaged with language and textuality.2 In response to a growing awareness that identity did not fit into strict categories of the ‘literate’ and the ‘illiterate’, the more flexible and expansive concept of ‘multiple literacies’ has gained critical currency.

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David Hawkes


The twenty-first century has witnessed the rise to power of images in every aspect of human endeavour. Speculative financial derivatives have achieved a predominant place in the economy, spin and perception rule the political sphere, and technological media ensure that we spend our lives surrounded by images of all kinds. Reading the works of Shakespeare reveals the roots of this process in the early modern period, when the iconoclasm of the Reformation, popular protests against usury, and the campaign against ritual magic combined to provide an ethically based popular resistance to the power of signs.

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Religion and Violence

William T. Cavanaugh, Wendy James and Paul Richards

It is much easier these days to find people who think that Barack Obama was born in Kenya than it is to find Westerners who deny that religion has a peculiar tendency to promote violence. This latter idea is widespread, from the common person in the street to political theorists who assure us that liberal politics arose to save us from the violence that religion would foster if left untamed in the public sphere. The violence of religion is more than a history lesson, we are told; with the rise of Islamic radicalism and other forms of illiberal politics, we are threatened today with the kinds of religious violence that the West successfully domesticated in the early modern period. In this brief essay, I will raise doubts about this prevalent tale that we in the secular age like to tell ourselves.

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Benjamin Williams

Midrashim were first published as printed texts in the sixteenth century, initially in Sephardi communities of the Ottoman Empire and later at the famous Hebrew presses of Venice. Vital evidence about the study of these new books is furnished by a heavily annotated copy of Midrash Rabba (Venice, 1545) in the Bodleian Library. Handwritten marginal and interlinear notes show that it was studied by Jewish scholars of the Ottoman Empire and later by the celebrated orientalist and Church of England clergyman Edward Pococke. These glosses provide unique evidence of the interaction of a Christian scholar with the notes of an earlier Jewish reader in deciphering linguistic obscurities in the midrash and resolving textual errors. They therefore shed new light on how early printed books of midrash were read in the decades following their publication and on the study of rabbinic Bible interpretation in the early modern period.

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Fording the Nation

The Abridgement of the British Problem in Perkin Warbeck (1634)

Willy Maley

The new British historiography of the seventeenth century has identified a crisis of multiple monarchy in the 1640s that precipitated what was hitherto known as the ‘English Revolution’ or ‘English Civil War’ and is now termed the ‘British Problem’. This historiographical shift has not yet been matched by a similar move in literary studies, yet it could be argued that documents of culture can offer much in the way of highlighting the tensions within the emerging British polity. In particular, the English history play provides a useful starting-point in an attempt to map out the literary representation of British identity formation in the early modern period. It also subverts the short-term historical interpretations of the British Problem that confine it to the middle of the seventeenth century. My own feeling is that the origins of the problem go back further, and this is reflected in my readings of earlier material. What began as a way of explaining the crisis of sovereignty of the 1640s can be applied to the Renaissance as a whole. J. G. A. Pocock, one of the first historians to call for a British perspective, has recently argued for an ‘Age of the Three Kingdoms’ that would comprise the entire early modern period. This could be used to argue for long-term causes of the English Civil War – a term that Pocock wishes to retain – while opening up those causes geographically and temporally. I want to suggest that the new British historiography, combined with the recent turn towards the matter of Britain in Shakespeare studies, can be employed to good effect in a reading of John Ford’s Perkin Warbeck (1634), the story of the pretender who threatened to usurp, with the help of France, Scotland, Ireland and Cornwall, the throne of Henry VII, King of England and Wales.

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The Renaissance Englishwoman in Code

Blabbs and Cryptographers at Elizabeth I's Court

Elizabeth Mazzola

In this essay I argue that the marginalisation of women's work in the early modern period was, sometimes, an enabling condition. Shakespeare's Bianca converses with her lover in a secret language, and Mary Stuart similarly smuggles letters out of prison to her supporters in code, trying to circumvent Elizabeth's spies and cryptographers. Women writers did not always seek to circulate their words or see them in print, in other words, and what looks like illiteracy on the part of women - poor spelling or garbled syntax or a crabbed penmanship - may instead mark a skillful command of letters, a dazzling 'high' literacy which rivals Latin learning, and occasionally disables it. Many women at Elizabeth's court during the years of Mary Stuart's intriguing display a similar expertise in cryptography. I also explore Jane Seager's 1589 New Year's gift to Elizabeth as well as some of Elizabeth's speeches about Mary Stuart as evidence that early modern women writers might represent themselves as practitioners of secret knowledge, disdaining publication, courting misreading.

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Jay Mechling

decades of its existence. Historians decades ago argued that at some time early in the twentieth century there was a substantial cognitive revolution in American culture as American society moved from the agrarian, early modern period into a full