Studies in the contextualisation of mid-sixteenth-century Scottish verse

Heijnsbergen, Theo van (2010) Studies in the contextualisation of mid-sixteenth-century Scottish verse. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Studying Scottish culture generally poses agreeable challenges. For the student of Scottish Renaissance literature, a ease in kind is 'the liminal position of Scotland's "early modern moment'', overshadowed by the centralized and long-established canonization of the English Elizabethan Renaissance'.' However, such a challenge can be turned into an opportunity to emerge from under that shadow: 'precisely because in small, minority, emergent cultures ... identity can never be taken as given, these are privileged sites for the study of ... the formation of identity' and for the unsettling of dominant orthodoxies.2 Following that cue, the present thesis analyses the formation of Scottish cultural identity and interrogates 'dominant orthodoxies' of cultural-historical inquiry, both English and Scottish, in the area of mid-sixteenth-century Scottish literature, in particular in that most defining of contemporary genres, the short lyric. It will do so not by looking at the texts themselves (other than incidentally or indirectly), or through one or more particular literary-theoretical approaches, but rather by applying a more traditional model of cultural historiography in areas where the history of ideas and book history overlap, and in a manner that accommodates Quentin Skinner's advice that 'we should study not the meaning of the words, but their use'.3 The thesis does so by mapping the most likely audience (or: 'users') of the most important Scottish literary manuscript of the period in hand, the Bannatyne MS (compiled 1565-1568), complementing that by subsequently contextualising the life events of its most prominent lyricist alive at the time, Alexander Scott. The inclusion of biographical detail in both these components is not part of a psychoanalytical or Romantic 'life into text' model but rather tries to piece together what kind of sensibilities or (inter)national cultural influences Scott's connections suggest, and what the identity and cultural profile of his audience(s) may tell us of the poetics he was writing within or towards. The value of this approach lies in its aggregative synthesis, distinguishing literary and cultural-historical patterns in otherwise isolated studies of instances of literature, patterns that in their turn should inform future criticism of individual texts. The end result is a narrated database that is more than the sum of its parts, a matrix of cultural-historical reference that should function as a tool for future scholarship, including more exclusively textual studies of contemporary literature. To provide this matrix, the thesis in Chapter 1 sets out the nature of the problem, and the research question to be answered. In Chapter 2, a prosopographical study of the apparent mid-sixteenth-century network of readers of the Bannatyne MS will bring into focus cultural intermediaries (individuals, families, and printers, as well as institutions such as the Chapel Royal, church and court) that triggered, channeled, 'consumed' or otherwise engaged with cultural expression in contemporary lowland Scotland. Chapter 3 uses this enhanced awareness of the world of letters in contemporary Scotland and, in particular, Edinburgh, to inform an approach of its major lyricist that studies not what he writes, but - by analysing his life events and career as well as how these correlate to his most likely readership as outlined in Chapter 2 - why and how he writes, and how he, arguably, expected his work to be read.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: Alasdair A MacDonald
Keywords: British & Irish literature
Date of Award: 2010
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2010-74028
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 23 Sep 2019 15:33
Last Modified: 23 Sep 2019 15:33

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