Written by various experts in the field, this volume of 13 original essays explores some of the most significant theoretical and practical fault lines and controversies in English literature. The turn into the 21st century is an appropriate time to take stock of the field, as the need arises to assess both where literary study of the early modern period has been and where it might go. Some of the essays collected here explore the points of friction, vulnerability and division that have emerged in literary study of all periods at the end of the 20th century such as theory, gender, sexuality, race and religion. Others are more narrowly focused on fault lines and controversies peculiar to the study of Renaissance and 17th-century literature. They engage theory, but they also illustrate their points by enacting practical criticism of works by authors ranging from Bacon to Milton. What emerges from the collection is a sense of the field's dynamism and vitality. The dominant mood of the essays is a cautious optimism and the contributors all share a belief that the fault lines that have emerged in the field are instructive. By exposing these fault lines the essayists seek a means of acknowledging differences and disagreements without covering them up. They also suggest ways of addressing the issues as a prerequisite to bridging them. By broaching some of the most significant questions that animate the study of early modern literature at the turn into the 21st century, this text should be of interest to students or scholars of 17th-century literature.
Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth are both William E. Stirton Professors in the Humanities and Professors Emeritus of English at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. They have coedited numerous works, including Literary Circles and Cultural Communities in Renaissance England (University of Missouri Press).