Pretty Creatures

Pretty Creatures: Children and Fiction in the English Renaissance

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Pretty Creatures
    Book Description:

    Children had surprisingly central roles in many of the public performances of the English Renaissance, whether in entertainments-civic pageants, children's theaters, Shakespearean drama-or in more grim religious and legal settings, as when children were "possessed by demons" or testified as witnesses in witchcraft trials. Taken together, such spectacles made repeated connections between child performers as children and the mimetic powers of fiction in general.

    In Pretty Creatures, Michael Witmore examines the ways in which children, with their proverbial capacity for spontaneous imitation and their imaginative absorption, came to exemplify the virtues and powers of fiction during this era. As much concerned with Renaissance poetics as with children's roles in public spectacles of the period, Pretty Creatures attempts to bring the antics of children-and the rich commentary these antics provoked-into the mainstream of Renaissance studies, performance studies, and studies of reformation culture in England. As such, it represents an alternative history of the concept of mimesis in the period, one that is built from the ground up through reflections on the actual performances of what was arguably nature's greatest mimic: the child.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6355-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Note on Modernization
    (pp. ix-xi)
  5. [Illustration]
    (pp. xii-xii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-19)

    When he posed in profile for the portrait opposite, Edward Tudor was nine years old. By almost any measure of age familiar to his elders, the crown prince was still a child, lacking those qualities of reason, policy, and prudence that he would need when he became king scarcely a year later. The strange portrait produced for the Tudor court is a marvel of perspective, its competing vantage points superimposing a radically distorted image on a placid landscape. While it is a wonder of art, the painting is also a visual commentary on the crown princeʹs fortunes and the age...

  7. 1 Ut Pueritas Poesis: The Child and Fiction in the English Renaissance
    (pp. 20-57)

    The perils of credulity in the face of lies, fiction, and imposture were well known in antiquity and the Middle Ages; they did not have to be invented by anxious Protestants like William Bedell, who compared Catholic ritual to a perverse form of childish play; nor by skeptical philosophers like Francis Bacon, who feared humanityʹs collective impotence in the face of ʺIdolsʺ and fictions. As early as Platoʹs Republic, we find Socrates making a systematic contrast between a virtuous mind dedicated to advancing the collective good of the state and a fallen one, lost in vain contemplation of that which...

  8. 2 Animated Children in Elizabethʹs Coronation Pageant of 1559
    (pp. 58-94)

    The road ahead was lined with ranking members of civic guilds, dressed for the occasion in their distinctive livery robes. Choruses of little singers had been arranged on either side of the twisting path, their voices rising in lavish praise as the new potentate moved along the preordained path. Further ahead, the mayor stood ready to declare the arrival of this new female savior, primed in his office for all manner of pomp and celebration. Scrolls were unfurled, speeches made. She was being treated to the finest pageantry, a bracing afternoon of dancing, announcing, explaining, exhorting, hailing, marveling, inviting, hushing,...

  9. 3 Phatic Metadrama and the Touch of Irony in English Childrenʹs Theater
    (pp. 95-136)

    In The Arte of English Poesie (1589), George Puttenham tells an interesting story about the uses and abuses of rhetoric in diplomatic exchange. The story is meant to illustrate the foolishness of feigned deference in social situations that instead require threats and resolve:

    A Herald at armes sent by Charles the fifth Emperor to Fraunces the first French king, bringing him a message of defiance, and thinking to qualifie the bitternesse of his message with words pompous and magnificent for the kings honor, used much this terme sacred Majestie, which was not usually geven to the French king, but to...

  10. 4 Mamillius, The Winterʹs Tale, and the Impetus of Fiction
    (pp. 137-170)

    Shakespeare scholars have sometimes associated his late plays with childhood, suggesting that the indifference shown to the canons of probability in The Tempest, Pericles, The Winterʹs Tale, Cymbeline, and The Two Noble Kinsmen expresses a new, childlike indulgence of the poetʹs imagination unseen in preceding plays. Depending on how one chooses to group the plays written after 1607—they are still variously referred to as late plays, tragicomedies, and romances—this slide into improbability has different causes.¹ The idea of aesthetic regression, however, has lingered around descriptions of the plays, perhaps because critics are still attracted to Edward Dowdenʹs suggestion,...

  11. 5 The Lies Children Tell: Counterfeiting Victims and Witnesses in Early Modern English Witchcraft Trials and Possessions
    (pp. 171-212)

    In the spring of 1634, a boy named Edmund Robinson started turning up at churches in the Pendle Forest region of eastern Lancashire to demonstrate an extraordinary skill. On Sundays, his father and several other men would carry him from church to church, where he would scan the parishioners and, looking over the anxious sea of faces, ʺreveal and discover witchesʺ among them. The grim process was described by a clergyman named John Webster, who had been scheduled to preach in the parish of Kildwick, where earlier in that day the boy had been ʺbrought into the Church . ....

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 213-222)

    In 1727, at the end of his eighty-five-year life, the English natural philosopher Isaac Newton—by this time famed for his work on optics and the laws of planetary motion—is said to have uttered the following words:

    I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.¹

    Newtonʹs boy on the seashore has long...

  13. Index
    (pp. 223-234)