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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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8. Conclusion

Extract

This study presents the various perspectives from which Breton investigates man: from the perspective of the imago Dei-debate, from the perspective of hu- man nature and from the perspective of man’s identity—his English, Christian, social and political identity. Breton deems human nature generally as positive, but unstable, flawed and individualistic and therefore in need of nurture. Human nature, Breton argues, cannot sustain itself; exterior forces must nurture it. This argument formed the basis for this study’s analysis of Breton’s discourse on the Self. Early Modern understanding saw man as able to create in the same way that man was created, which meant that God’s creation could be reversed: not only by man shaping himself, but also by man shaping nature. In man’s creation na- ture is copied, replaced and even surpassed. People in the Early Modern period were unaccustomed to such artificiality and were susceptible to accepting it as an alternative reality, a world in which illusion and reality are difficult to tell apart. Breton saw this artificiality as an infringement on God’s creation, a tool for man to deceive and a threat for a community that depends on set structures for its survival. Chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7 illustrate how Breton elaborates on this threat. Breton juxtaposes internal self-nurturing, man’s capacity to fashion himself, shape his surroundings and adapt to change, against external nurturing and the authorities’ capacity to control man’s life. Breton considers self-nurturing as a threat rather than a capacity. In his eyes, the lack...

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