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Nicholas Breton and the English Self

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Conny Loder

Nicholas Breton (1545/55-1626?) was one of the most prolific writers of the Early Modern period and left behind a vast œuvre that is, however, largely neglected today. Breton addresses instrumental questions of his time, especially those of man’s identity. This study concentrates on a selection of Breton’s political texts in which Breton contrasts the Self against the Other. These texts not only stigmatise the Other as the undesired, the unknown and the indecipherable, but also construct a patriotic and uniform English identity to be imitated by all Englishmen and Englishwomen: the English Self.

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Table of Contents

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1. Introduction ........................................................................................... 9 2. Setting the scene: the concept of man ............................................... 17 3. Breton and human nature .................................................................. 39 3.1 The Dialogue full of pithe and pleasure ............................................... 42 3.2 The Good and the Badde....................................................................... 53 3.3 The Pilgrimage to Paradise .................................................................. 56 3.4 Conclusion............................................................................................. 58 4. Man’s intellect ..................................................................................... 61 4.1. Intellect, Learning and Intelligence ...................................................... 61 4.2 Renaissance Schools of Learning ......................................................... 64 4.3 Wit-Craft, Reason and Passion ............................................................. 66 4.4 Breton’s Wil of Wit: Wit over Will ....................................................... 73 4.5 The Schooling of Man........................................................................... 77 4.5.1 The Pilgrimage to Paradise: Breton’s homo viator.............................. 78 4.5.2 The Ancient World................................................................................ 82 4.5.3 The Christian World.............................................................................. 85 4.5.3.1 Free Will................................................................................................ 86 4.5.3.2 Monster and Matter ............................................................................... 89 4.5.3.3 Man’s False Advancement.................................................................... 91 4.5.3.4 Nature and Art....................................................................................... 97 4.5.3.5 Divine Learning and True Knowledge ............................................... 100 4.6 False Learning: Scientific Learning.................................................... 102 4.7 Conclusion........................................................................................... 114 5. Breton and the Self............................................................................ 117 5.1 Printing Context: Marprelate, Machiavelli and Satire ........................ 119 5.2. The Self in Flux................................................................................... 126 5.2.1 The Fool Context................................................................................. 127 5.2.2 Breton and Dressing the Fool.............................................................. 130 5.2.3 Transformation and Clothes................................................................ 134 5.2.4 Nostalgia, English Identity and Foreign Customs .............................. 145 5.2.5 Insanity on a Communal Level ........................................................... 149 5.3 The Looking Glass .............................................................................. 151 5.4 Englishmen abroad: Lack of Transparency ........................................ 156 5.5 Conclusion........................................................................................... 172 8 6. Breton’s Self and Politics.................................................................. 175 6.1 Private Persons: Individuation and Exclusion .................................... 178 6.2 The Union: Hierarchies and Analogies............................................... 186 6.2.1 Breton’s and James’s Collectivism: Vertical and Horizontal............. 189 6.2.2 The Organic Metaphors ...................................................................... 198 6.3 From Utopia to Dystopia..................................................................... 205 6.4 Conclusion........................................................................................... 214 7. Breton and the Market...

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