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Florio's Montaigne and the Tyranny of “Custome”: Appropriation, Ideology, and Early English Readership of the Essayes*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

William M. Hamlin*
Washington State University


Early English readers of Michel de Montaigne (1533–92) annotated their copies of John Florio's (1553[?]–1625) translation with remarkable frequency and vehemence, creating a context within which printed appropriations of the essayist may be fruitfully examined. No topic intrigued these readers more than custom. Drawing from transcriptions of over 4,000 marginal annotations and situating the Montaignean borrowings of William Shakespeare (1564–1616), Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626), and other English writers within a culture of active reader response, this essay treats the Montaignean account of custom as a case study wherein differences between manuscript and print appropriation may be investigated. Montaigne's reception in seventeenth-century England cannot be understood without scrupulous attention to both traditions.

Copyright © 2010 Renaissance Society of America

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I wish to express my gratitude to the J. S. Guggenheim Foundation, which has generously supported my research on the English reception of Montaigne. I presented a preliminary version of this paper at the convention of the Modern Language Association of America on 30 December 2007. Trevor Bond, Rob Carson, Robert Ellrodt, Beatrice Henrioulle, Theresa Jordan, Andrew McCarthy, and Augusta Rohrbach have aided me tremendously in thinking about early readership of Florio's translation. Finally, I am much indebted to Warren Boutcher and to Anne Lake Prescott, each of whom offered invaluable, exacting, and wonderfully learned commentaries on this essay.


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