Renaissance Suppliants: Poetry, Antiquity, Reconciliation

ISBN : 9780198754442

Leah Whittington
256 ページ
135 x 216 mm

Renaissance Suppliants studies supplication as a social and literary event in the long European Renaissance. It argues that scenes of supplication are defining episodes in a literary tradition stretching back to Greco-Roman antiquity, taking us to the heart of fundamental questions of politics and religion, ethics and identity, sexuality and family. As a perennial mode of asymmetrical communication in moments of helplessness and extreme need, supplication speaks to ways that people live together despite grave inequalities. It is a strategy that societies use to regulate and perpetuate themselves, to negotiate conflict, and to manage situations in which relationships threaten to unravel. All the writers discussed here-Vergil, Petrarch, Shakespeare, and Milton-find supplication indispensable for thinking about problems of antagonism, difference, and hierarchy, bringing the aesthetic resources of supplicatory interactions to bear on their unique literary and cultural circumstances. The opening chapters establish a conceptual framework for thinking about supplication as facilitating transitions between states of feeling and positions of relative status, beginning with Homer and classical literature. Vergil's Aeneid is paradigmatic instance in which literary and social structures of the ancient past are transformed to suit the needs of the present, and supplication becomes a figure for the act of cultural translation. Subsequent chapters take up different aspects of Renaissance supplicatory discourse, showing how postures of humiliation and abjection are appropriated and transformed in erotic poetry, drama, and epic. The book ends with Milton who invests gestures of self-abasement with unexpected dignity.


1 Supplicatory Dynamics: Problems, Paradoxes, and Paradigms
2 Spare this life: Pleading, Pardon, and the Reader in Vergil's Aeneid
3 Pity, Mercy, and Desire: Supplication and Erotic Psychology in Petrarch's Africa and Rerum Vulgarium Fragmenta
4 Let us shame him with our knees: Constraint and Coercion in Shakespeare's Richard II and Coriolanus


Leah Whittington is Assistant Professor of English at Harvard University. After receiving her PhD in Comparative Literature from Princeton University, she was a Mellon Fellow at the Columbia Society of Fellows in the Humanities. Her research and teaching focus on English Renaissance literature and its classical and Continental antecedents. She is also Associate Editor of the I Tatti Renaissance Library.