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“To seek new friends and stranger companies”: The Expansion of Friendship in Early Modern England

  • Author(s): Shelley, Jonathan Chad
  • Advisor(s): Knapp, Jeffrey
  • et al.
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This dissertation argues that an acknowledgment of disparity was central to the conception of early modern friendship and that the period’s emphasis on such disparity authorized the creation of larger social groups and networks. Classical theory’s emphasis on likeness and parity in friendship offered a crucial model and rhetoric for conceiving ideal social relations. Renaissance writers, however, highlighted the inescapability of difference in an emerging set of social, political, and economic possibilities. Rather than read this difference as a loss of friendly idealism, they articulated the ways in which such difference might sustain existing likeness-based bonds as well as engender a larger number of social relations. A disparity between friends, Shakespeare and his contemporaries believed, would generate an expansive cultivation—rather than a mere reflection—of virtue; the promise of such virtuous expansion in turn encouraged friends to seek a greater number and range of social connections. The celebration of such pluralist configurations in Renaissance literature challenges the conception of social life as a search for exclusive union with a single individual and allows us to recognize the ways in which disparate qualities and experiences actually facilitated the creation of social connections over the course of the early modern period.

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This item is under embargo until March 10, 2023.