IMAGINING REDEMPTION: FICTIONAL FORMS AND SENSORY EXPERIENCE IN EARLY MODERN POETICS FROM SIDNEY TO MILTON
Neff, Adam Bryan
MetadataShow full item record
This project examines how four early modern authors—Sir Philip Sidney (d. 1586), William Shakespeare (d. 1616), Sir Francis Bacon (d. 1626), and John Milton (d. 1674)—viewed imaginative writing. I argue that all four writers see fictions as a potential instrument of cosmic redemption with the potential to mitigate the effects of the fall. Starting with Sidney’s Defence of Poesy, this dissertation traces a belief that fictions affect our often-unacknowledged assumptions about what is possible or likely in the world and the judgments we make about whether a fiction is believable or not. According to Sidney’s imaginative poetics, well-crafted fictions that appear to be a mimesis of the material world but contain elements of the poet’s “golden” world shift readers’ presuppositions, which in turn change how they interact with the material world and make the (formerly fictional) vision of the poet into material reality. For these writers, fictions’ impacts are profound but difficult to perceive because they change us and, through our actions, the world, essentially becoming fact because we have made them so. In four chapters this project presents a theory of Sidney’s poetics and the unusual scope it granted to poets’ and readers’ imaginations, as well as the moral and cultural anxieties that his poetic theories provoked in his own writings and those of his literary successors. Chapter two reads Shakespeare’s King Lear as a study of imaginative excess and its civilizational consequences, calling into question whether or not restorative fictions can indeed keep delusive, self-destructive ones at bay. Shakespeare presents a nightmare vision of civilizational collapse in which fictions retain their persuasive power but lose their architectonic impulse. In response to this threat, Bacon’s poetics becomes an experiment in how rigorously we can restrain the imagination from knowledge creation while still keeping an unseen, providential, redemptive teleology in mind. Recognizing the dangers of too much or too little restraint on the imagination, Milton explores a formal solution in Paradise Regained. The poem’s fictional mediation of Jesus’ temptation and use of metaphors steers readers between excessive and deficient imaginative responses to the Son of God.