In Imitatio Christi: The Poetics of Piety in Early Modern England, Nandra Perry explores the relationship of the traditional devotional paradigm of imitatio Christi to the theory and practice of literary imitation in early modern England. While imitation has long been recognized as a central feature of the period’s pedagogy and poetics, the devotional practice of imitating Christ’s life and Passion has been historically regarded as a minor element in English Protestant piety. Perry reconsiders the role of the imitatio Christi not only within English devotional culture but within the broader culture of literary imitation. She traces continuities and discontinuities between sacred and secular notions of proper imitation, showing how imitation worked in both contexts to address anxieties, widespread after the Protestant Reformation, about the reliability of “fallen” human language and the epistemological value of the body and the material world.
The figure of Sir Philip Sidney—Elizabethan England’s premier defender of poetry and internationally recognized paragon of Christian knighthood—functions as a nexus for Perry’s treatment of a wide variety of contemporary literary and religious genres, all of them concerned in one way or another with the ethical and religious implications of imitation. Throughout the Elizabethan and early Stuart periods, the Sidney legacy was appropriated by men and women, Catholics and Protestants alike, making it an especially useful vehicle for tracing the complicated relationship of imitatio Christi to the various literary, confessional, and cultural contexts within and across which it often operated. Situating her project within a generously drawn version of the Sidney “circle” allows Perry to move freely across the boundaries that often delimit treatments of early modern English piety. Her book is a call for renewed attention to the imitation of Christ as a productive category of literary analysis, one that resists overly neat distinctions between Catholic and Protestant, sacred and secular, literary art and cultural artifact.
“In Imitatio Christi: The Politics of Piety in Early Modern England, Nandra Perry explores the significance of imitatio Christi in the early modern English humanist tradition. In so doing, she reveals the tradition to be nothing less than a way to think, an organization for one’s way in the world. She exposes the seriousness of religious thought in this period and the ways in which previous scholarship has limited our understanding by trying to graft authentic religious gestures onto anachronistic, secular divides.” — Ken Jackson, Wayne State University
“This is a most welcome and lucid account of the imitatio Christi tradition in early modern English writing. Perry elegantly examines models of imitation in humanism and in post-Reformation incarnations. In the process, she explores with originality and verve the tensions between creativity and authority, between model and exemplar, and between literary theory and theology, especially in the Sidney circle of influence.” — Sarah Beckwith, Katherine Everitt Gilbert Professor of English, Theater Studies and Religion, Duke University
“Imitatio Christi: The Poetics of Piety in Early Modern England is a superb book, which should be read by those interested in devotion, gender, literature, and theology during the early modern period. In this highly original piece of scholarship and insight, ranging from Sidney to Milton, Perry makes a complex, fascinating argument about the ways the humanist idea of imitation intersected with theological questions about the role of human signs. This genuinely cross-disciplinary book should have a major impact on early modern studies, not the least because it speaks to multiple audiences and subdisciplines." — Achsah Guibbory, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of English, Barnard College
“Renaissance poetics, for Nandra Perry, is essentially an art of imitation first put forth in Sir Philip Sidney’s Defense of Poesy, but for him an act that combines his Calvinist view of man with his understanding that the poet creates a second world of many exemplary Cyruses enabling the poet to realize acts of transcendence and transformation. Read this way, the Defense responds to the concerns of religion and of politics by renewing a fusion of both in ways that inform, elevate, and ultimately inspire.” — Renaissance Quarterly
“Nandra Perry’s holistic approach to literary and religious imitation from Sidney to Milton persuasively explores questions and categories of embodiment, kingship, private/public spheres, and the instability of language while also, in a most worthwhile step, seeking ‘to move more freely across the period, gender, generic, and confessional boundaries that often delimit treatments of early modern English piety. . . . Perry’s study of imitation across conventional boundaries is strengthened by its multivalence and is a welcome addition to scholarship that works through and beyond categories of sacred/secular and literary/religious.” — Comitatus
“. . . An elegantly structured and sensitively researched examination of imitation as a site of cultural conflict in post-Reformation literature . . . . One of the strengths of Perry’s research is the attention she devotes to her contextual sources. Placing equal interpretive weight on martyrologies, polemical treatises, and devotional handbooks, her study offers fascinating revelations about the interplay between public and private, elite and popular, Catholic, Anglican, and Puritan—eliding traditional critical binaries.” — Renaissance and Reformation
“Imitatio or imitation was, as Nandra Perry shows in this ambitious and provocative book, a persistent theme in Renaissance humanism as well as in Catholic and Protestant religious thought . . . . Perry’s Corpus Christi is likely to stimulate in its readers a deep appreciation of the importance as well as the complexity of a concept that shaped much of early modern English life and culture.” — Anglican and Episcopal History
“Nandra Perry does a great deal in this study of what she terms Protestant imitation. Hers is a complex and intriguing exploration that hopes to draw renewed attention ‘to the imitation of Christ as a productive category of literary analysis’ from writers such as Philip Sidney and John Milton.” — Sixteenth Century Journal