The late seventeenth century was a period of major crises in
science, politics, and economics in England. Confronted by a public
that seemed to be sunk in barbarism and violence, English writers
including John Milton, John Dryden, and Aphra Behn imagined serious
literature as an instrument for change. In Lines of
Equity, Elliott Visconsi reveals how these writers
fictionalized the original utterance of laws, the foundation of
states, and the many vivid contemporary transitions from archaic
savagery to civil modernity.
In their writings, they considered the nature of government, the
extent of the rule of law, and the duties of sovereign and subject.
They asked their audience to think like kings and judges: through
the literary education of the individual conscience, the barbarous
tendencies of the English people might be effectively banished.
Visconsi calls this fictionalizing program "imaginative
originalism," and demonstrates the often unintended consequences of
this literary enterprise.
By inviting the English people to practice equity as a habit of
thought, a work such as Milton's Paradise Lost helped
bring into being a mode of individual conduct-the rights-bearing
deliberative subject-at the heart of political liberalism. Visconsi
offers an original view of this transitional moment that will
appeal to anyone interested in the cultural history of law and
citizenship, the idea of legal origins in the early modern period,
and the literary history of later Stuart England.
Subjects: Language & Literature
Table of Contents
You are viewing the table of contents
You do not have access to this
on JSTOR. Try logging in through your institution for access.