While I am presently focused on a detailed investigation of the apprentice literature of late Tudor and early Stuart London, there are a number of projects that I am currently developing in an attempt to better understand the public sphere of early modern England.
The Transformative Rhetoric of an Early Modern Counterpublic
Focusing on a small and marginalized segment of the larger London community, my current project traces the development of a rhetorical public in the literature that circulated among the city’s apprentices. In my dissertation, I argue that, from the relative safety of a counterpublic, a community of disenfranchised artisans-in-training acquired the authority to redefine themselves in the public eye. Seeking an escape from the established stereotype of a riotous and prodigal apprentice, this rhetorical community transformed themselves into a political power on the eve of the English Revolution.
Through an examination of Beaumont’s Knight of the Burning Pestle, Deloney’s Jack of Newbury, Heywood’s Four Prentices, and various other representative texts, I trace how these young men proclaimed their collective worth and defended their rights to assemble, to participate in the market, and to join the public debates of Renaissance London. This project examines the growth of a political force, arising from the periphery of the proto-capitalist market and contributing significantly to the fragmentation that resulted in civil war. The apprentices engaged with the romantic and controversial ideas introduced in the literature of the period and, from their liminal conversation, gained the perspective and agency to challenge their masters, the city, and, eventually, the Crown.
In addition to my work with early modern apprenticeship, I am also developing projects that explore the fault lines exposed within the public sphere of early modern London.
Economics, Prostitution, and the Carolinian Public Sphere
I am currently investigating the various literary reactions to the closure of Holland’s Leaguer, a popular Caroline brothel frequented by the king and other contemporary celebrities. The reaction to the shuttering of this morally-questionable institution received an outsized response in the literature of the period, including a series of ballads, a popular prose pamphlet, and a comedy from Shackerley Marmion (1631). In cross referencing these texts, I contend that the author’s diverse approaches to the shuttering of this famous stew betray economic divisions within the city. In this way, the Siege of Holland’s Leaguer served as a proxy for the larger public debate about the cause of vice that plagued the divided Caroline community.
Hal’s Apprenticeship and the Negotiation of Social Identity.
I argue in another project that Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Parts I and II utilize an apprentice heuristic as a means to further develop his characterization of Prince Henry V – a venerated hero of British History. The divided nature of Hal is a touchstone for modern Shakespearean scholarship, but little is offered to explain the riotous prince’s action except a Machiavellian power play. I contend that the education of a prince is equated with that of a craftsman – an apprenticeship that simultaneously allows for the young man to master his trade and grapple with the frustrated ambitions of a deferred career. Like Henry IV, the apprentices in Shakespeare’s audience had to deal with oafish masters, a watchful public, and the limits of patience as they bided their time. In identifying this common urban character with the future king, Shakespeare was able to sell more tickets and introduce new themes into the broader conversations surrounding both the nature of leadership and apprenticeship itself.