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The Beauties of the Land: Bale's Books, Aske's Abbeys, and the Aesthetics of Nationhood

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

Philip Schwyzer*
University of Exeter, England


Although often ignored in studies of nationalism, beauty is a central feature of every imagined nation. The conflicts surrounding the dissolution of the monasteries can be read as hinging on the question of what makes a nation beautiful. For the traditionalist rebel Robert Aske, "the beauties of this realm" were the abbeys themselves. For John Bale, by contrast, the books ransacked from monastic libraries were the true "beauty of our nation." Whereas Aske offers a vision of timeless feudal harmony, Bale's idea of national beauty, rooted in Petrarchan motifs of loss and nostalgia, inaugurates new ways of imagining the nation.

"That's an ill phrase, a vile phrase, 'beautified' is a vile phrase.

- Hamlet, 2.2.111-12

Copyright © 2004 Renaissance Society of America

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