• Early Modern English Historiography: Providentialism versus New History.

    Murat Öğütcü (see profile)
    CLCS Renaissance and Early Modern, GS Drama and Performance, LLC Shakespeare
    Sixteenth century, Seventeenth century, Theater, Historiography, Literature and history, Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616
    Item Type:
    Book chapter
    Renaissance drama, Early Modern, Early modern theatre, History and literature, Shakespeare
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    Early Modern English historiography had a multi-layered bipolar constitution. Providentialism, which had dominated Medieval English thought, maintained that historical events processed according to God’s divine plan. However, with the revival and reinterpretation of Classical texts, a new and quite opposite way of thinking emerged, which was defined by critics like Moody E. Prior as “[N]ew [H]istory”. It maintained that history was rather the result of natural causes. Although in Early Modern English history writing these two conflicting sets of ideas had merged into each other, Providentialism was to dominate historiography. This was reflected in contemporary dramatic performances which made use of chronicles and histories. Until the early 1590s, history plays reflected the maxims of Providentialism where a monarch was tested with a shortcoming according to God’s plan to improve himself and be a better monarch, which can be seen in Robert Greene’s James IV (ca. 1590). This type of history telling reinforced the idea of the divine ordination of the monarch and that his/her wrongdoings should not be questioned but left to God’s judgment. Towards the end of the reign of Elizabeth I, however, we see the rise of dissent to the regime. Under these circumstances, either because of audience reaction or aesthetic reconsiderations of the playwrights themselves, we see the abandonment of plays that reflected pure Providentialist ideas. Rather, an ambiguous presentation of historical events that combined Providentialism with New History emerged. The reason for the use of ambiguity is based on the repressive censorship mechanism which necessitated equivocalness, which can be seen in the censored and not staged collaboratively written history play entitled Sir Thomas More (ca. 1593-1603). Therefore, this paper aims to analyse, compare and contrast the perceptions of history in Early Modern England and illustrate these with two history plays, namely James IV and Sir Thomas More.
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