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Nicholas Breton and the English Self


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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1. Introduction


Few will claim that Nicholas Breton excels in aesthetic writing. In fact, the twenty-first-century reader cannot but feel that Breton was a writer who seemed to focus on quantity rather than on quality, which quickly earned him the stigma of a hack writer. 2 It is largely due to Alexander Grosart, Jean Robertson and Ursula Kentish-Wright that most of Breton’s works have become accessible in print at all. Anthologies usually neglect Breton and his works, or just mention him in passing. Although fellow writers praised Breton in the late sixteenth cen- tury and throughout the seventeenth century—among them, Frances Meres, George Puttenham, Thomas Dekker and John Suckling—from the late seven- teenth century onward, he lost favour with his readership only to be rediscov- ered in the late nineteenth century. 3 As fast as interest was rekindled in Breton, it also dwindled. Today, he remains neglected. 4 One recent discussion of Breton’s 1 Nicholas Breton, Machiavels Dogge (London, 1617). Here sig. 17v, stanza 1. 2 See e.g. Fitzgerald Flournoy, “William Breton, Nicholas Breton, and George Gas- coigne,” Review of English Studies 16.63 (July 1940): 262-73. Here p. 262. 3 See Eva March Tappan, “The Poetry of Nicholas Breton,” PMLA 13.3 (1898): 297-332. Here p. 301-5. 4 Biographies and bibliographies about Breton date to the same time. The most complete bibliogprahy is Samuel A. Tannenbaum, Dorothy R. Tannenbaum, Nicholas Breton. A Concise Bibliography (New York: unknown binding, 1947). One of the most recent works that elaborate on Breton at large...

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