Languages of Statecraft between Chaucer and Shakespeare
In this book Paul Strohm shifts his recognized talent for textual and cultural analysis to the later fifteenth century, arguing that England experienced its own "pre-Machiavellian" moment between 1450 and 1485. These turbulent decades encouraged new pragmatic discussions of political policies of a sort not previously seen and not to be seen again until the middle of the sixteenth century. Strohm contends that England had no need to await the writings of Machiavelli to find its voice in matters of practical statecraft and political calculation. In support of this thesis, he analyzes a range of mainly vernacular fifteenth-century English political texts along with several contemporary writings from Burgundy, France, and Italy. The writers of these texts are unsentimental, shrewdly informed, and keenly concerned with political practice in the world.
Intricately connected with this new discussion of worldly politics is a revised, and more hopeful, view of the individual’s relation to Fortune and her operations. Emergent in the English fifteenth century is the possibility that the prudent prince can effectively "Fortune-proof" himself by the exercise of foresight and the qualities of vertue—a trait remarkably anticipatory of its Italian and Machiavellian counterpart, virtú. This view is introduced to England by the poet John Lydgate and flourishes in the second half of the fifteenth century. In addition to Lydgate, Strohm looks at the imaginative accomplishments of other undercredited writers such as Fortescue, Pecock, Whethamstede, Warkworth, and the unnamed authors of Somnium Vigilantis, Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV, and the Great Chronicle of London. He also offers an appreciation of the collective linguistic and symbolic endeavors of those in the fifteenth-century public sphere.
This detailed and rich study, which is based on the 2003 Conway Lectures Strohm delivered at the University of Notre Dame, contributes to the fields of medieval and early modern studies, medieval literary criticism, and political philosophy.
“'Discourse' and 'language' represent two current and fruitful approaches to understanding political thinking and actions in fifteenth-century England, displacing 'medieval' and 'renaissance' or 'early modern' and the baggage which they have accumulated over a century and a half. This book is a seductive search for roots of language and political attitudes rather than a rounded analysis of fifteenth-century political thinking and behaviour.” —English Historical Review
“This book will prove useful not only to scholars of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but to all interested in political rhetoric. . . . Strohm’s illuminating study reveals the oft-undervalued political and literary discourses of the mid-fifteenth century to be both ambitious and provocative. Undoubtedly, scholars will hail Strohm’s book with the same honors.” —Sixteenth Century Journal
“Paul Strohm's Politique is an important and challenging revision of scholarly attitudes towards the fifteenth century, specifically the period of the Yorkist-Lancastrian dynastic struggles from 1450 to 1485. . . . For any scholar interested in the political texts and contexts of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Politique will be essential reading.” —Mystics Quarterly
“Given the accomplishment and continued influence of Strohm's other books, a new one brings with it a great deal of expectation, and, overall, Politique stands as a worthy and apt addition to his oeuvre . . . Political historians of this period have, with this book, an indispensable resource, and literary scholars have, as well, a compelling provocation to continue the reassessment of the writings of fifteenth-century England.” —Modern Philology
"Paul Strohm explores selected fifteenth- and sixteenth-century literary and historical texts, observing political attitudes and terminology as both changed under pressure from the vicissitudes of unstable royal government and focusing mainly on England's pre-Machiavellian movement, 1450–85, roughly the era of the Yorkist-Lancastarian dynastic wars. . . . Not the least of the pleasures of this book are Strohm's abilities to cut back and forth between Tudor and the later medieval and to write in a style that is clear and accessible." —Speculum
"Once again, Strohm . . . has written what is sure to be an often-cited study, and thus a significant scholarly step forward in the field of fifteenth-century English literature, politics, and historiography. . . . Strohm masterfully illustrates the artistry of late-medieval English statecraft." —Choice
"With his latest book, Paul Strohm has broken new ground again, showing us how the neglected fifteenth century constitutes a historical linchpin for changes in ideas about statecraft, political philosophy, and representation. Central to Strohm's argument are the language of statecraft and the social and literary forms through which it was deployed. He brilliantly analyzes a series of keywords like politique, pollecie, and faction in order to uncover the newness of late medieval political discourse and its links to both medieval forms and Renaissance political thought. Crucially, Strohm demonstrates that late medieval and early modern writers, poets, and artists were invested to an unprecedented extent in the idea of human agency in history. His pinpoint excavation of this entire strand of political thought and his virtuoso analysis of written and visual attempts to represent it will transform the way scholars and critics read the transition between the periods, allowing readers to traverse with him the boundaries between pasts and the present." —Maura Nolan, University of Notre Dame
"Taking points of departure from Quentin Skinner and J.G.A. Pocock, Paul Strohm deploys superior powers of textual and linguistic analysis to uncover a "pre-Machiavellian moment": an historical phase which saw political discourse deployed with unprecedented slipperiness and subtlety; a time when it was thought possible not just to follow Fortune, but to jam her turning wheel. That this should have occurred in the fifteenth century, a period regarded as too dull, tradition-bound or chaotic for significant discursive innovation, is just one of the surprises of this remarkable book. Little-regarded writers such as Fortescue and Pecock, Whethamstede and Warkworth, emerge as figures of compelling interest; John Lydgate, once dismissed as Chaucer's dullest successor, opens paths to the Mirror for Magistrates and to the heart of Shakespearean history. This book is recommended to scholars and students of medieval and Renaissance history and literature and to all those fascinated by languages of conspiracy, destiny, and government." —David Wallace, University of Pennsylvania