Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 December 2013
In the criticism of the last thirty years, the consensus has been that the English Civil War was fought on the battlefield and on the page. Titles such as Writing the English Republic, Literature and Revolution, Literature and Dissent, Literature and Politics, and Poetry and Allegiance urge that politics and literature were inextricable in mid-century England. And, when talking about the English Civil War, when we say “political” we mean “partisan.” Lucasta, we have learned, is a royalist rallying cry and Paradise Lost a “Republican epic.” In these contentious times, the act of taking up the pen was a partisan one. But while much attention has been given to the expressions of partisanship, much less has been given to the concepts of sociability that marked its borders. While the violent disruptions of the English Civil War certainly created a culture of divisiveness, they also created an alternative culture increasingly attentive to the advantages of adaptability. Recent work on literary form in the period suggests that, far from sites of stable partisan expression, literary genres were inherently flexible spaces that lent themselves to experimentation not conflict. Lyric's association with “verses” or “turnings,” romance's many reversals and transformations, and the essay's function as a genre of “attempts” provided authors opportunities to explore and enact strategies of “flexibleness.” In this essay, I would like to consider this “flexibleness” as it appears in an unlikely place: the English vernacular dictionary.