Nigel Smith (Princeton University, SHC)

Wed April 13th 2022, 12:00 - 1:15pm

"Agudeza, The Axe's Edge: Early Modern Poetry and International (even Global) Politics"

Panegyric poetry played a significant role in the conduct of diplomacy in early modern Europe and has often been rightly seen as part and parcel of the culture of diplomatic gift exchange.  In some places this was supplemented by a growing culture of publicly available printed verse offering comment on international affairs, not a surreptitious world of clandestinely circulated handwritten verse satire and subversion (although of course that too flourished).  I’m interested in particular in the emergence of this printed political verse, its relationship to evolving print technology, and other closely related media, such as visual art and theater.  I’ll investigate the projection of power in these publications, from local patrons to foreign princes attempting to influence public opinion in distant realms.  Above all, I’m interested in the transformation of poetic technique, as praise turned into another kind of verse that expressed a consciousness of civic life and a sensibility of political freedom.  Various kinds of knowledge are put to use in this cause (from perspectival theory to probability), but above all my focus is on developments of poetic-aesthetic theory and practical poetic accomplishment.  There are Italian, Spanish, French, English and German examples in this talk, not always written in the places where these tongues were the vernacular, and of course Latin, but there is some emphasis on Dutch poetry produced and circulated in the Dutch Republic, and its dialogue with poetry in other languages, notably English and French, in the context of inter-state relations in peace and war.  Finally, there is some consideration of panegyric circulation in more distant locations in Africa and South-East Asia, and the role of Europeans as both audience and agents in its creation: part of a global Renaissance.             

Speaker Bio

Nigel Smith is currently the Marta Sutton Weeks External Fellow, Stanford Humanities Center, 2021-22. Most recently, he served as Co-Director of the Center for the Study of Books and Media at Princeton, to which he came from the University of Oxford, England, in 1999. He has published mostly on early modern literature, especially the seventeenth century; his work is interdisciplinary by inclination and training. His interests have included poetry; poetic theory; the social role of literature; literature, politics and religion; literature and visual art; heresy and heterodoxy; radical literature; early prose fiction; women's writing; journalism; censorship; the early modern public sphere; travel; the history of linguistic ideas. The authors he has covered include Shakespeare, Jonson, Donne, Herbert, Milton, Marvell, Hobbes, Margaret Cavendish, Katherine Philips.