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Futile PleasuresEarly Modern Literature and the Limits of Utility$
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Corey McEleney

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780823272655

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823272655.001.0001

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Art for Nothing’s Sake

Art for Nothing’s Sake

(p.65) Chapter 3 Art for Nothing’s Sake
Futile Pleasures

Corey McEleney

Fordham University Press

Chapter Three initiates a two-chapter sequence on the most hotly contested literary genre in early modern England: romance. It offers close readings of two Elizabethan texts frequently cited for their condemnations of romance: Roger Ascham’s The Scholemaster and Thomas Nashe’s The Unfortunate Traveller. Critics generally take these texts at face value, citing them as unequivocal Protestant diatribes against the pleasures of romance and arguing that Ascham and Nashe project such pleasures onto the dangers of traveling abroad to Italy. The chapter draws on Paul de Man’s theory of irony in order to think about the disjunction between the texts’ didactic statements, on the one hand, and the mode in which those statements are delivered, or undelivered, on the other. In opposition to conventional readings that recuperate such disjunctions, the chapter analyzes how the rhetorical motions and narrative structures of these texts fail to line up with Ascham’s and Nashe’s more explicit condemnations of romance. Specifically, it show how the texts’ errancy and play, in the forms of digression, alliteration, and narrative interruptions, undercut their pedagogical intentions. Rather than simply celebrating such play, however, the chapter points to its high costs for both writers.

Keywords:   Roger Ascham, Catholicism, errancy, humanism, irony, Thomas Nashe, pleasure, romance

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