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Henry S. Turner
University of Wisconsin, Madison (Madison, WI 53715-1218)
Plotting Early Modernity: Practical Knowledge and English Dramatic Form, 1576-1640

The purpose of the project is to reevaluate the development of one particular literary form--the public drama of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in England--by situating it within the history of scientific knowledge and technology during the period. I am investigating how drama as a distinct mode of theatrical representation borrowed many of its central formal conventions and epistemological protocols from what historians of science have termed "practical knowledge," a hybrid mode of understanding based partly on the proto-empirical methods of artisanal workshops and partly on humanist habits of reasoning derived from the fields of classical ethics, rhetoric, and poetics. The book thus describes a convergence between literary and scientific epistemologies in England before the so-called Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century, during the period when both fields were in a crucial moment of formation. To what extent, it asks, might English humanists, literary critics, and playwrights have encountered methods of proto-scientific thinking in part through their interest in poetics and the arts of language, even as poetics itself, and especially the public drama, derived some of its fundamental concepts and methods from contemporary technical fields? In method the project extends the work of new historicist and cultural materialist critics, historians of the theater, and scholars of print culture by examining the drama in its various social and economic conditions; it departs from previous work, however, by advocating a renewed attention to the methods of intellectual history: to the epistemological, as well as social, contexts of the drama, and particularly to the way that concepts basic to the field of literary criticism emerged during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

[Grant products]

Project fields:
Renaissance Studies

Fellowships for University Teachers

Research Programs

$40,000 (approved)
$40,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2004 – 5/31/2005