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Title page for ETD etd-07212010-231438

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Packard, Bethany Martie
URN etd-07212010-231438
Title Problem Children: Troping Early Modern Reproduction and Development
Degree PhD
Department English
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Leah S. Marcus Committee Chair
Carol Chillington Rutter Committee Member
Katherine Crawford Committee Member
Kathryn Schwarz Committee Member
Lynn Enterline Committee Member
  • No Keywords Found
Date of Defense 2010-08-24
Availability unrestricted
My dissertation examines the paradoxical complex of 16th and 17th century ideas about children and their often disruptive appearances in English literature. Early modern society’s ability to perpetuate itself was intellectually based on idealized models of reproduction that promised the replication of cultural norms by successive generations, insuring a consistent social order. However, this desire for ideally repetitive offspring was regularly undermined by the interactions of the very models that were expected to bring them about. In this project, I argue that Renaissance thinkers struggled to negotiate these failures of continuity in cultural reproduction through their paradoxical ideas about children. This effort is evident in the poetry and drama of the authors I address: Ben Jonson, John Marston, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, and John Webster. I also draw from works on pedagogy, conduct, household management, and religion and the profusion of contradictory figurative language they apply to child figures. These purportedly practical texts demonstrate a range of rhetorical strategies for describing and training children available for all of the authors to draw upon. Early modern children threatened to escape conceptual categories of chronology, species, and morality. Attempts to classify them often relied upon comparisons to numerous animals and inanimate objects. This uncertainty about how to define children complicates the passing on of norms and values and so might seem to leave ideas about childhood an unusual source for reproductive solutions. However, these abundant rhetorical possibilities enabled writers to rework versions of cultural reproduction to both assert social stability and reveal volatility. They used paradoxical figurative language in efforts to normalize child figures or to harness their unusual qualities. Yet in the process of asserting adult or authorial control this contradictory rhetoric can attribute agency to the literary child figures themselves. In this project, I argue that attempts by characters and writers to use child characters instrumentally results in the fragmentation of adult authority around these paradoxical children.
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