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The Unrepentant Renaissance

From Petrarch to Shakespeare to Milton

Who during the Renaissance could have dissented from the values of reason and restraint, patience and humility, rejection of the worldly and the physical? These widely articulated values were part of the inherited Christian tradition and were reinforced by key elements in the Renaissance, especially the revival of Stoicism and Platonism. This book is devoted to those who did dissent from them. Richard Strier reveals that many long-recognized major texts did question the most traditional values and uncovers a Renaissance far more bumptious and affirmative than much recent scholarship has allowed.
The Unrepentant Renaissance counters the prevalent view of the period as dominated by the regulation of bodies and passions, aiming to reclaim the Renaissance as an era happily churning with surprising, worldly, and self-assertive energies. Reviving the perspective of Jacob Burckhardt and Nietzsche, Strier provides fresh and uninhibited readings of texts by Petrarch, More, Shakespeare, Ignatius Loyola, Montaigne, Descartes, and Milton. Strier’s lively argument will stir debate throughout the field of Renaissance studies.

328 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2011

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature


“Well articulated, intelligent, and written with the ease and confidence of a mature scholar, there is nothing in this book that isn’t freshly thought through in an energetic and open way. Strier’s close readings of the Renaissance literary texts are done with diligence and vigor. The Unrepentant Renaissance offers a refreshing dissent from a dominant tendency in the field.”

Gordon Braden, University of Virginia

“Richard Strier does a spirited and articulate job of bringing back the enthusiastic energies that Jacob Burckhardt taught us, very wisely, to observe in the Renaissance. While deftly responding to the potentially dour agendas associated with everything that Burckhardt left out—the Reformation, England, the New Historicism—Strier offers us a newly humane counter-Renaissance.”

Leonard Barkan, Princeton University | Leonard Barkin, Princeton University

“Refuting ‘the standard moral perspective’ reinforced by recent scholarship, Strier’s The Unrepentant Renaissance recaptures for its readers the more humane values of the period between Petrarch and Milton that time and again trump the rigors of righteousness and rationality. Its readings of an impressive range of iconic works, including epic, dramatic, and lyric poetry as well as prose, are unfailingly rewarding, often totally reorienting, and always refreshingly unrepentant.”

Katherine Eden, Columbia University

“In this busy, bright book, Strier is bringing sexy back, by showing that from More to Milton Renaissance writers were less concerned with control mechanisms than with passionate engagement.”

Times Higher Education

“Good criticism is well-nigh undoable, which makes books like Richard Strier’s superb new study, The Unrepentant Renaissance—one of the best accounts of early modern literature in a long while—all the more welcome. . . . Strier is a sophisticated critic who yet does not stray from the highway of sound common sense and so avoids the pitfall of over-refinement. Readers will want to accompany him on this surprising and exciting journey to a strangely modern—freewheeling, worldly, pleasure-loving, and essentially happy—Renaissance.”

Times Literary Supplement

“This book serves as a reminder of the complicated and often contradictory impulses available to early-modern thinkers.”


 “This is a big, generous book. It’s big because it casts a sharp analytic eye on several Renaissance genres . . . in representative European languages across four centuries. It’s generous because it engages in spirited dialogue with recent critical approaches to these texts . . . always appreciating their sound contributions, but forcefully dissenting when they go astray. . . . My summary of this rich, complex book does little justice to its subtlety and nuance. Its thesis and its chapter-by-chapter analyses will provoke readers to argue, limit, and extend its conclusions, with an expanded awareness of the historical meaning at stake in specific texts. In the clear steady light of its critical argument, we can only welcome this reminder that Renaissance values were not so gloomy as some approaches over the past thirty years have made them appear.” 

Renaissance Quarterly

 “This is an appealing book, and Strier’s prose is witty, erudite, and on point. Even Strier’s notes are worth reading. More than simply references, they trace the origins of his arguments, cite the full range of scholarship, and also give admirably generous and scrupulous credit to sources not often cited—anonymous press readers, panels at conferences long ago, even his own former students. . . . Unrepentantly thoughtful and incisive himself, Strier has made another worthy contribution to Renaissance studies with this fine book.”

Sixteenth-Century Journal

 “The Unrepentant Renaissance is both a master class in close reading and a wholesale critique of the New Historicism of Stephen Greenblatt. . . . [It] achieves what any good book should do in offering a sustained re-thinknig not only of a critical terrain but of the very questions we ask as we set out to navigate that terrain. . . . Strier’s is an argument that demands, and rewards, serious engagement.” 

Milton Journal

 “In order to pursue this alternate (or unrepentant) history Strier employs a form of rigorous literary historicism that is similar to Revert and Matt in its emphasis on extensive primary reading but different in its close, sustained, and analytical reading of its central texts, offering detailed and enlightening discussion of the representative strategies they use as they construct and deconstruct emotional experiences in both their narratives and their readers.”

Cultural History

Table of Contents

Introduction: Back to Burckhardt (Plus the Reformations)

PART 1    In Defense of Passion and the Body
1    Against the Rule of Reason: Praise of Passion from Petrarch to Luther to Shakespeare to Herbert
2    Against Judgment: Petrarch and Shakespeare at Sonnets
3    Against Morality: From Richard III to Antony and Cleopatra
APPENDIX 1    Shakespearean Seduction
APPENDIX 2    Morality and the Happy Infant: The Case of Macbeth

PART 2    In Defense of Worldliness
4    Sanctifying the Bourgeoisie: The Cultural Work of The Comedy of Errors
APPENDIX    Sanctifying the Aristocracy: From Ignatius Loyola to François de Sales (and then to Donne and Herbert)

PART 3    In Defense of Pride
5    Self-Revelation and Self-Satisfaction in Montaigne and Descartes
6    Milton against Humility
APPENDIX    “Lordly Command?”



Center for Robert Penn Warren Studies: Warren-Brooks Award

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