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Creative Imitation: New Essays on Renaissance Literature in Honor of Thomas M. Greene.

This collection of fourteen essays, "celebrating the teaching of Thomas M. Greene," announces its concern with "creative imitation" as twofold: firstly, all contributors were students of Greene and "seek to follow the demanding example of his scholarship" (the volume includes a bibliography of Greene's works); secondly, the literary works studied in these essays "all engage other texts in relationships of imitation, allusion, or parody." This "Renaissance literary practice" of self-conscious reference both to a "tradition of texts of the past and the writer's own text" is explored, however, to different degrees by the contributors: while some essays explicitly address "the issue of imitation," others simply hint at "inter-textual connections." This teasing sense of disparity is perhaps compounded by the fact that the volume covers a wide range of contrasting material, ranging from Botticelli to Milton.

The essays are grouped under three headings: humanism, rhetoric, and imitation; gender and writing; and history, selfhood, and Shakespeare. In the first section, Dennis Costa gives a closely observed account of the "cooperation" between domestic and divine economy presented by Erasmus in his Convivium religiosum, while Wayne Rebhorn examines how discourses of rhetoric, ruling and trickery overlap in texts ranging from contemporary rhetoric manuals to 1 Henry IV. In a study of Bacon's Nicomachean Ethics, Joshua Scodel examines how Bacon both adheres "in traditional fashion" to the Aristotelian notion of the mean "in order to preserve social and political order," and adopts "a more radical position" when considering "men as individuals capable of choosing their own goals and transcending ascribed sociopolitical roles" (90). Victoria Kahn's study of Paradise Lost focuses upon the Sin and Death episode in book 2 which, argues Kahn, dramatizes the "theological indifference" of rhetorical figures - an indifference which "is a matter of utmost consequence for the rest of the poem" (128). William Kennedy's stimulating study of Maurice Sceve's Delie (1544), alongside contemporary commentators on the Canzoniere, offers a fresh perspective upon the reception of Petrarch in the sixteenth century. Combining close readings of the "dynamic flux and unstable transit of Sceve's language" (72) with a fascinating account of Sceve's quest to find Laura's tomb at Avignon, Kennedy suggests how Sceve's poetry "contests every understanding of Petrarch" encoded in contemporary commentaries; in so doing, Sceve both suggests the "new and emergently modern possibilities of rewriting Petrarchan discourse" (88) and marks his "contribution to the new formative ideology of French nationalism" (76-77).

On the issue of "gender and writing," Margaret Ferguson examines "how ideologies of gender, in conjunction with ideologies of class" affect the construction of the author in Marguerite de Navarre's Heptameron, Boccaccio's Decameron and Castiglione's Il Cortegiano; likewise Nancy E. Wright suggests how "the reception history and criticism of Margaret Roper's writings illustrate the complex relation between women's discourse and dominant male discourse in early modern England" (239). Carla Freccero explores how Il Cortegiano "subverts the power structure that suppresses it by means of a 'hypocritical' rhetoric of self-censorship," in particular by addressing "the question of the courtier's relation to tyranny" through "means of a discourse on domination, not of the courtier by the prince, but of women by men" (268). Especially thought-provoking is Susanne L. Wofford's imaginative interdisciplinary study of "symbolic rape" in the misogynistic novella of Nastagio degli Onesti in the Decameron, later used by Botticelli in panel paintings for a nuptial chamber. Here Wofford explores "the idea that a wedding entertainment or gift might include the representation of scenes of violence against women" (194); in turn, Wofford considers how the "very different closural strategies" of Boccaccio and Botticelli in their versions of the story "present different interpretive options" to the male and female "reader" of both texts (235).

The final section is prefaced by George W. Pigman's lively study of psychoanalytic approaches to early modern culture in terms of exemplarity - both Renaissance and modern. Pigman's attention to the construction and communication of identity is continued by Barry Weller in his study of the problematic "shaping, or reshaping, of identity" in The Taming of the Shrew and its Ovidian sub-texts. Patricia Parker adopts an original approach to Ali's Well That Ends Well, studying the play under the heading of "increase" in both sexual and other senses to expose the "unnoticed links" between the "verbal, hermeneutic and familial," and the ways in which All's Well has come to be regarded as a "problem" play (357). Constance Jordan offers a thoughtful and lucid reading of contemporary notions of "property" and their relation to propriety in Pericles, suggesting that in the "doubly charged" arena of Jacobean political and personal life - especially in terms of the royal family - the play "acquires meaning as political theater" (332). Finally David Quint makes a study of "two kinds of aristocratic boasters, the old magnate and the new courtier - and of the biases of social formation that lie behind them" (401) - concentrating on the figures of Shakespeare's Hotspur and Spenser's Braggadoccio.

While intertextuality is an issue raised by many of the essays, the guiding theme of "creative imitation" is not always made clear. Arguably this lack of focus is underlined by the wide range of material from different countries and periods covered by the volume; yet this sense of contrast also allows for connections to be made between different Renaissance literary cultures. In fact the "remarkably diverse group" of contributors and interests is acknowledged by the volume's editors - "we differ considerably among ourselves and also from Thomas Greene" - a difference which is perhaps both a weakness and strength of the volume. At the very least, Creative Imitation offers diverse studies of the textual relationships in Renaissance literature, and includes several strong and original essays which merit attention in their own right.

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Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1995
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