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Remapping Early Modern England: The Culture of Seventeenth-Century Politics. (Reviews).

Kevin Sharpe, Remapping Early Modern England: The Culture of Seventeenth-Century Politics.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. xvii + 475 pp. $80. (cl), $27.95 (pbk). ISBN: 0-521-66293-1 (cl), 0-521-66409-8 (pbk).

In Remapping Early Modern England, Kevin Sharpe has collected his discrete articles and book chapters from the past decade, marshalling the whole toward a new, reconfigured political history that includes language and literature, portraiture and performance, as well as more formal institutions and instruments of power. It is time, Sharpe argues in an initial preface, to leave behind "stale debates" over revisionism and embark on exploration of the culture of early modern politics, time to remap early modern England.

Sharpe has organized his essays thematically, under five general rubrics. "Part One: Directions" sketches the historiographical landscape or mapping of the title. Sharpe is often discussed as a "revisionist" historian, one who -- with Conrad Russell, Mark Kishlansky, John Morrill, Nicholas Tyacke, and others -- challenged Whig teleology to emphasize court faction and consensus over crown-parliament conflict and ideological fissure. But in his opening essay, Sharpe questions the usefulness of the label "revisionist," noting the spectrum of viewpoints it encompasses. Most importantly, Sharpe sees his own interest in cultural history as departing widely from other revisionists, such as Russell, who privilege the manuscript over print and eschew literary, artistic, and architectural texts. The second chapter in this section both explains how intellectual history has been reoriented toward a study of languages and calls for more focus on perceptions and reception, on performance, and on non-canonical texts.

"Part Two: Texts and Power" illustrates such political analysis of literary and non-canonical texts in several chapters on the largely neglected royal writings of James I and Charles I. Exploring the poetry, prayers, and biblical commentaries of James and Charles, Sharpe challenges the seeming dichotomy of "private conscience and public duty," writing of a common conscience and an organic concept of the state broken only by civil war. "Part Three: Visions of Politics" begins with analysis of Stuart court culture as fostering a culture of obedience and deference on which early modern monarchy relied. Sharpe goes on to argue that the republic, in contrast, failed to find its own mode of representation; images of kingship remained culturally dominant even during the republic, and came to the political foreground with the installation of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector, a king in all but name well before the actual restoration of monarchy in 1660.

"Part Four: Re-writings" looks at parliament and at the antiquary Sir Robert Cotton in the light of revisionist work and post-revisionist critique. The initial chapter in this section explores and qualifies the role and significance of seventeenth-century parliaments in legislation, finance, advice-giving, and airing grievances. A second chapter finds that the lending and reading practices of Sir Robert Cotton defy placement in, and hence call into question, a court-country dichotomy, or crown-parliament opposition. "Part Five: Reviewings" puts together several review essays on seventeenth-century religious and political culture, covering the work of literary scholars and art historians as well as historians. As he discusses and evaluates the individual texts, Sharpe continues his call for a cultural turn in early modern studies, a relaxing of the borders between political, social, and cultural history and a reconstruction of political history itself.

Sharpe's writing is lucid and engaging, wide-ranging in reference and innovative and refreshing in its eagerness to break down disciplinary boundaries. Bringing the discrete essays together does indeed clarify and focus their arguments, making the collection as a whole more than the sum of its parts. Sharpe's essays show a good deal of continuity, both in arguing for a new interdisciplinary history and demonstrating the fruitfulness of such an approach.

Are the "stale debates" over revisionism thus left safely behind? Sharpe certainly demonstrates differences between himself and other revisionists: his demurral from the highly-influential Tyacke thesis about an innovative Arminianism and his view of puritans as subversive rather than reactionary, for instance. But Sharpe's work is still marked by "revisionist" emphases: the downplaying of revolutionary change, the dominance of monarchical culture, the denial of a revolutionary ideology or republican culture that precipitated or even emerged from civil war. Sharpe's cultural history seems not so much to move beyond (an admittedly complex) revisionism, as to marshal additional sources of evidence in its service.

Nonetheless, the map of early modern England that Kevin Sharpe offers is bold and richly-textured, innovative and informative. In this collection and elsewhere, Sharpe has drawn the landscape of seventeenth-century monarchical culture and brilliantly explicated its contours. His path-breaking work continues to be a valuable resource and model for all scholars of the early modern period.
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Author:Knoppers, Laura Lunger
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 22, 2001
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