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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Unity Defective: Figurations of Sovereignty in Early Modern English Literature

  • Author(s): Funk, James
  • Advisor(s): Silver, Victoria A
  • Lupton, Julia R
  • et al.
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This dissertation traces the role of figural language and aesthetic form in representations of English political sovereignty between 1589 and 1674. The ideological power of the monarch emerges in part from his or her association with various figures of authority, including the father, the human mind, and God; I show that early modern poets—including George Puttenham, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Andrew Marvell, and John Milton—disrupt the connection between the monarch and his or her metaphoric vehicles, highlighting contradiction rather than presupposing the union of the sensible body and the intelligible figure in the ruler. At the same time, they often register nostalgia for an idealized political past that ironically resembles monarchical order. Not only is this temporal predicament crucial for understanding the patterns of revolution and restoration that characterize the seventeenth century, but I argue that the same dynamic is at work in contemporary critical accounts of the period: recent interest in embodiment and aesthetics risks repeating T. S. Eliot’s nostalgia for early modern England as a cultural space where thought and sense could intersect, forgetting the problematic political implications of such fusion. In moving from the Elizabethan era to the Restoration, I do not seek to provide a narrative of progressive political demystification; rather, I chart an ambivalence about monarchy that emerges from the legal and figural grounding of sovereignty itself. It is for this reason that the fantasies of order and control once associated with the king return among even the most ostensibly radical republicans and in later moments of the critical tradition, including our own.

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This item is under embargo until July 17, 2024.