Class (The New Critical Idiom) by Gary Day

By Gary Day

This fascinating new account lines the phenomenon of sophistication from the medieval to the postmodern interval, analyzing its relevance to literary and cultural research at the present time. Drawing on ancient, sociological and literary writings, Gary Day provides an account of sophistication at varied old moments; indicates the position of sophistication in literary structures of the social; examines the complicated kinfolk among 'class' and 'culture'; focuses realization at the function of sophistication in buildings of 'the literary' and 'the canon'; employs a revived and revised idea of sophistication to critique contemporary theoretical events.

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One example of this may be the way that cultural materialists take issue with traditional or humanist critics in their approach to the Renaissance, a period which stretched roughly from the end of the War of the Roses in 1485 to the outbreak of Civil War in 1642. In order to determine whether we can examine this disagreement in terms of class, we first need to describe the two forms of criticism and the differences between them. 38 THE RENAISSANCE The conventional view of Shakespeare’s England can be found in E.

Take but degree away, untune that string / And hark, what discord follows’ (1603 & 1988: 721). What is missing from Tillyard’s account of Elizabethan society ‘is any clear theoretical sense of how power functions’ (Drakakis 1985: 15), which is a particular concern of cultural materialists like Jonathan Dollimore, Graham Holderness and Alan Sinfield, to mention but a few. Where Tillyard sees the ordered conception of society merely as ‘a mode of thought’, a ‘basic assumption about the world’ (1943 & 1976: 12), they THE RENAISSANCE see it as an attempt by the Tudor monarchy to legitimise itself and prevent criticism of its rule.

A status-based conception of the social order assumes that stability not change is the governing principle of society. However, the late medieval world, like all periods in history, was characterised by a number of developments that prefaced profound upheaval. One of the most important was the growing power of the mercantile bourgeoisie manifest in the growth of urban industries such as iron, paper and textiles. The growth of commodity production, together with the increase in the use of money, began to undermine the system of personal obligations that characterised feudalism (Anderson 1974 & 1996: 22).

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