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Abstracts: Volume 89, Number 4 (2010)

"The Aims and Pitfalls of 'Historical Interpretation'" by Robert D. Hume

"Historical interpretation" attempts to recover meaning as apparently designed by the author or as understood by original-era readers. At least five kinds of analysis are involved: genetic, circumstantial, generic, historical reader-response, and applicative reading. Historical interpretation goes badly wrong when critics insist on deriving it from generalized characterizations of period, author, or groups of texts. Critics need to recognize that context does not control meaning; that all works have multiple contexts; that authors are not consistent; that homogeneous distillations of "the thought of the time" will not do; that reception history should not be ignored; that diversity of reader response must be allowed for; that super-subtle present-day readings should not be foisted on earlier texts; that any historical interpretation must be treated as a hypothesis subject to skeptical testing. At its best, historical interpretation is a wonderfully powerful tool, but it makes a very bad dogma.

"The Apocryphal Legend of Abgar in Ælfric’s Lives of Saints" by Christopher M. Cain

Ælfric's arrangement of the apocryphal letter of Jesus to King Abgar raises questions about how Ælfric used this text and about how he may have viewed it. This study examines the backgrounds and uses of Jesus' letter to Abgar, Ælfric's unusual positioning of it in his hagiography, and the Latin sources in surviving manuscripts that preserve parts of the Cotton-Corpus legendary to argue that Ælfric managed these materials rather gingerly as a reflex of his general concern for the authority and suitability of the texts that he rendered into the vernacular.

Introduction: Early Modern Dis/Locations by Adam Hansen

Suggesting how contemporary conceptions of place and space differ from and are informed by early modern ideas, the introduction describes the significance of "location" and surveys a range of cultural and literary renderings of dis/location.

"The Places of the Gods on the English Renaissance Stage" by Lisa Hopkins

This essay discusses two sorts of places which on the English Renaissance stage appear to be associated with the divine, ruins, and high places. To a certain extent all sacred sites could potentially be a gateway to the world of the dead, but in a ruin the door to death gapes wider still, and so does the door to the past. Ruins in plays can function not only as signifiers of loss or absence but also can specifically be places where the living meet the dead. This is particularly true of two sorts of ruins: prehistoric megaliths and religious houses which had been dissolved at the Reformation. Megaliths in particular were associated with the earliest inhabitants of Britain. So too were high places, and the final section of the essay suggests that both for Shakespeare and also for some other dramatists a particular resonance and aura of the numinous appears to have attached to cliffs and high places.

"Locating Lady Jane Grey: The Tower of London in Michael Drayton's Englands Heroicall Epistles" by Kristen Deiter

Every extant English history play that represented the Tower from 1579 to about 1634 refashioned it as an icon of resistance to the Crown. The present essay argues that two nondramatic representations of Jane Grey's 1553–54 imprisonment in the Tower--a pair of fictional letters in Drayton's 1597 poem Englands Heroicall Epistles--built upon and reinforced the Tower's oppositional significance by constructing Jane and her husband, Guilford, as prisoners who defy their queen. Drayton fashions Jane and the Tower as antimonarchical by drawing upon Jane's representation in Foxe's Book of Martyrs, juxtaposing the Jane-Guilford epistles with notes supporting Jane's queenship, emphasizing the Tower as the epistles' setting, and having Jane and Guilford criticize both Mary and Elizabeth. Moreover, the epistles echo events surrounding a 1597 escape from the Tower, and the poem supports the Suffolk claimant to the throne, whose parents had been Elizabeth's Tower prisoners.

"Performing Places in Thomas Dekker's Old Fortunatus" by Paul Frazer

This article explores Thomas Dekker's Old Fortunatus in light of the tumultuous social and political contexts of 1599. Building upon recent critical interest in the dynamically mobile contexts that surrounded early modern literary production, the article focuses particularly upon Dekker's interest in the linked instabilities of social, geographical, and professional (dis)placement. Frazer unravels a text that engages with various dimensions of the "places" occupied by and performed within late-Elizabethan theatrical culture. This reading culminates in a consideration of Dekker's coded commentary on the Earl of Essex debacle, drawing parallels between the nebulous social placements of the emerging professional dramatist and overreaching courtier.