Current Issue Article Abstracts

Volume 84, Number 4  Winter 2021


Birdsongs and Sonnets: Acoustic Imitation in Renaissance Lyric
Micha Lazarus

Nightingale poetry draws on an ancient literary topos that attributes human meaning to the pure voice of birdsong. Yet a branch of this tradition pulls in the opposite direction, in which the ancient simile between human and bird instead collapses semantics into sound. Largely neglected in existing scholarship, this extraordinary family of poems, musical settings, and ad sonumtranslation moves among and between the languages of Renaissance Europe, expanding the work of “imitation” and demanding new strategies of reading lyric.

To listen to a performance of “The Nightingale” by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, directed by Stephen Layton, on March 17, 2018, follow this link:


Contesting Reformation: Truth-Telling, the Female Voice, and the Gendering of Political Polemic in Early Modern Scotland
Laura A. M. Stewart

Complaining women overheard in conversation was a trope deployed in Renaissance literature to criticize public figures and hold them to account. This essay discusses why, and with what effect, an anonymous author used a female persona known to readers of the popular sixteenth-century satirist Robert Sempill in order to comment on the political crisis generated in Scotland by demonstrations against the imposition of the Prayer Book in 1637 and the signing of the 1638 National Covenant. Drawing on interdisciplinary studies of the polemical battle over the reputation of Mary, Queen of Scots, the essay will show how presbyterians appropriated the figure of the lowborn female truth-teller to propagate a partisan narrative about the meaning and interpretation of Scotland’s Reformation.


Politics, Law, and Constructive Authorship: John Freke and “The Most Infamous Libel That Ever Was Written”
Geoff Kemp

This essay uncovers the use of constructive authorship as a political-legal strategy aimed against oppositional writing under the censorship regime of Charles II in seventeenth-century England. Constructive authorship is defined as the tactic of framing someone as author who is not the author, applying the “logic” that the author is the last discoverable source, principally as a threat in seeking to expose the real author to punishment. The process is illuminated by a detailed examination of a case in which it was notably attempted: the inquiry in 1676 into authorship of the satirical verses known as “The Chronicle” or “The History of Insipids.” Subsequently ascribed to Rochester, the poem was reattributed in the late twentieth century to the young lawyer John Freke on the basis that in 1676 he was “presumed to be the Author” when arrested. The essay demonstrates that literary-historical scholarship mistook a strategy of actively constructing authorship for the fact of authorship, unaware of how the tactic unraveled later in the year, in a case that also featured a youthful Jacob Tonson as prosecution witness and Andrew Marvell as interested observer. The outcome confirms the need for a critical stance toward the construction of authorship that includes a conception of the real author, asking not least whether the alleged author was framed.

Secret Writing and the Popish Plot: Deciphering the Shorthand of Sir George Treby
Andrea McKenzie

This essay examines the previously undeciphered shorthand notes of Sir George Treby, a Whig MP and lawyer and the chairman of the House of Commons Committee of Secrecy investigating the Popish Plot (1678–81). Andrea McKenzie’s exposition of how she cracked Treby’s particular system of “secret writing,” and the challenges, features, and practical principles of early modern stenography more broadly, will prove useful to other scholars attempting to decode seventeenth-century shorthand. Not least, these documents provide a fascinating snapshot of the private thoughts of one of the principal Whig opponents of Charles II and James II during two watershed moments in British history: the Exclusion Crisis and Tory Revenge.

“Here in Britain”: William Fleetwood, His Welsh Translators, and Anglo–Welsh Networks before 1717
Marion Löffler

This essay explores the circumstances, content, and locus of the first two privately financed political translations into Welsh. Published in 1716 and 1717, both rendered a 1716 anti-Jacobite thanksgiving sermon preached by William Fleetwood, bishop of Ely, into Welsh. An interlude will engage with a cross-genre English verse translation, also done in 1716. Whereas Fleetwood’s text, the 1716 Welsh translation of it, and the cross-genre translation pursued a radical Whig agenda, the 1717 translation of Fleetwood into Welsh took care to remove the most radical content of his sermon. All four texts, however, focused on advertising a Protestant nation centered on a national church and the House of Hanover. The present analysis contributes to explaining how Wales’s separate cultural identity was confirmed while being bound politically into a Hanoverian nation demarcated by the Anglican Church. It explores the uncharted Welsh-language dimension of early eighteenth-century British pamphleteering, non-elite Anglo–Welsh cross-border communication networks, and the role that cultural entrepreneurs and provincial publishing centers like Shrewsbury played in not only disseminating metropolitan ideas but also enabling wider participation in the political discourse.



Samuel Daniel’s Life and Circumstances: New Findings
John Pitcher, John Gaisford

This essay considers Daniel in the context of his career-long dependence on elite patrons and the importance to him of his social reputation. The authors show how, when Daniel was threatened in 1605 by overwhelming disgrace, he mounted a determined self-defense; they also demonstrate the way in which his social value was measured by his contemporaries and the efforts he made to enhance his worth. Drawing on published works, letters, newly discovered archival documents, and surviving materials such as portraits, seals, and monumental inscriptions, the essay revises the assessments by biographers and scholars, giving new insights into the most elusive question: What was Daniel’s true sense of self-worth?