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Dost thou see a Martin who is Wise in his own Conceit? There is more hope in a fool than in him.

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 June 2021

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Summary

SOME of the most compelling historical and critical scholarship on the Marprelate Controversy of 1589–91 explores the extent to which what Douglas Bruster describes as a “structural transformation” of print, and what Alexandra Halasz describes as a “marketplace” driven change in textual discursive practices, makes religious polemic of the late Elizabethan period (roughly speaking, the period following Field and Wilcox's 1571 Admonition to the Parliament) qualitatively different from that being written even a generation before. It is not that Puritan writers and their opponents invented religious satire and invective, nor that they were the first to use it in a polemic mode. The Reformation created forests of polemic; More and Tyndale had by the Elizabethan era already thrashed one another quite thoroughly, while both More and Erasmus had been unsparing in their harsh assessments of Luther (and vice-versa). The controversial works of John Foxe, notably Actes and Monuments (1570) and The Whole Workes of W. Tyndall, John Frith, and Doct. Barnes (1573), not to mention those of Thomas Cartwright, had gained enough notoriety by the 1580s and ‘90s that they were treated by Martin Marprelate as textbooks for the godly party. It is a commonplace to say, in the wake of Elizabeth Eisenstein, that the advent of the printing press was one of the major drivers of the protestant reformation—a substantial part of which would have been the controversial writings of the reformers and the counterreformers. In the latter decades of Queen Elizabeth's reign, largely because of developments both in politics and church polity as well as due to economic change in London, religious pamphleteering represented an innovation: the marketing of religious dispute as a set of printed and relatively cheap texts both available and intended for broad public consumption.

At least partially because of the influence of Elizabethan critical theory and its reliance on classical rhetoric, modern criticism of pamphlets and pamphleteering uses decorum as the surest means to analyze the rhetorical work of polemic. However, rhetorical negotiations of means and ends—the work of measuring the demands of topoi and loci—can easily devolve into a theoretical exploration of those same burgeoning schools of Elizabethan rhetorical philosophy.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2015

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