402 Cohen Hall
Aristotle's Poetics upended literary thought in the Renaissance, mediating classical models, stimulating generic experiment, and isolating an emergent literary field. Yet it has long been considered either unavailable in England, linguistically inaccessible to the Greekless English, or hopelessly mediated for English readers by Italian criticism. Scholars have thus resisted reading the Poetics into the literary development of sixteenth-century England even where it seems most influential, and the period has been confusingly insulated from the vibrant classical and continental traditions of poetic thought from which, at times, it clearly drew.
In fact there is plenty of hard evidence that the Poetics was, on the contrary, a real force in Renaissance England, and the untold story of its reception casts both the Poetics and the period in a new light. In this paper I will present two methodological approaches to a restored Poetics. The first traces its arrival in 1540s England through the Byzantine trivium, the Greek pronunciation controversy, scriptural tragedy, and academic readings of classical drama, locating the Poetics within a network of intellectual affiliations now mostly forgotten. Yet restoring the Poetics to critical prominence opens new paths for literary criticism as well as literary history. My second case study will suggest how we might read the Poetics into the fabric of literary composition itself, as close comparison of Hamlet and King Lear finds Shakespeare on the trail of Aristotle's elusive notion of catharsis.