The Inarticulate Renaissance: Language Trouble in an Age of Eloquence

The Inarticulate Renaissance: Language Trouble in an Age of Eloquence

The Inarticulate Renaissance: Language Trouble in an Age of Eloquence

The Inarticulate Renaissance: Language Trouble in an Age of Eloquence


The Inarticulate Renaissance explores the conceptual potential of the disabled utterance in the English literary Renaissance. What might it have meant, in the sixteenth-century "age of eloquence," to speak indistinctly; to mumble to oneself or to God; to speak unintelligibly to a lover, a teacher, a court of law; or to be utterly dumfounded in the face of new words, persons, situations, and things? This innovative book maps out a "Renaissance" otherwise eclipsed by cultural and literary-critical investments in a period defined by the impact of classical humanism, Reformation poetics, and the flourishing of vernacular languages and literatures.

For Carla Mazzio, the specter of the inarticulate was part of a culture grappling with the often startlingly incoherent dimensions of language practices and ideologies in the humanities, religion, law, historiography, print, and vernacular speech. Through a historical analysis of forms of failed utterance, as they informed and were recast in sixteenth-century drama, her book foregrounds the inarticulate as a central subject of cultural history and dramatic innovation. Playwrights from Nicholas Udall to William Shakespeare, while exposing ideological fictions through which articulate and inarticulate became distinguished, also transformed apparent challenges to "articulate" communication into occasions for cultivating new forms of expression and audition.


The title of this book, The Inarticulate Renaissance, may well seem oxymoronic.

For what place could the inarticulate possibly have had in a period of English literary history so long defined by the humanist revival of classical eloquence, the flourishing of the vernacular as a basis for literary and dramatic invention, and the Reformation of the Word through Protestant politics and poetics? Such titanic cultural forces, which have helped students, scholars, and teachers to understand the “Renaissance” in England as a distinct field of study, have also made it difficult for those same students, scholars, and teachers to see, hear, and grapple with the “inarticulate” as a central dimension of developing language practices and ideologies in the culture and drama of the period. Historical and literary-critical generalizations about the Renaissance as an “age of rhetoric” in which the dominant intellectual keynote was “the pursuit of eloquence” (from eloqui, to speak out), are of course still invaluable to any approach to the period. But at the same time, such generalizations have had the power to overwrite an alternative history of involuted speech forms lodged in language practices, textual formations, and cultural phenomena that seemed, to many in the sixteenth century, antithetical to individual and communal coherence. This alternative history can enable us to see literary innovation from an “inarticulate” perspective, where playwrights, in particular, fostered alternative forms of communal involvement precisely by staging, rather than burying or disavowing, such involutions of the word.

Challenges posed to the establishment of coherent speech communities in the spheres of religion, humanism, law, historiography, and vernacular development in sixteenth-century England foreground the inarticulate as a central subject of cultural history. in each of these fields, we see new . . .

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