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Natural Law in English Renaissance Literature
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  • Page extent: 308 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.62 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 820.9/38
  • Dewey version: 20
  • LC Classification: PR418.N37 W48 1996
  • LC Subject headings:
    • English literature--Early modern, 1500-1700--History and criticism
    • Didactic literature, English--History and criticism
    • Natural law--History--16th century
    • Natural law--History--17th century
    • Natural law in literature

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521481427 | ISBN-10: 0521481422)

Natural law, whether grounded in human reason or divine edict, encourages men to follow virtue and shun vice. The concept dominated Renaissance thought, where its literary equivalent, poetic justice, underpinned much of the period's creative writing. R. S. White's study examines a wide range of Renaissance texts, by More, Spenser, Sidney, Shakespeare and Milton, in the light of these developing ideas of Natural Law. It shows how writers as radically different as Aquinas and Hobbes formulated versions of Natural Law which served to maintain socially established hierarchies. For Aquinas, Natural Law always resided in the individual's conscience, whereas Hobbes thought individuals had limited access to virtue and therefore needed to be coerced into doing good by the state. White shows how the very flexibility and antiquity of Natural Law enabled its appropriation and application by thinkers of all political persuasions in a debate that raged throughout the Renaissance and which continues in our own time.

• Applies intellectual heritage of natural law to Renaissance texts • Covers all genres • Topic continues to have contemporary relevance


Preface; Acknowledgements: 1. Natural Law in history and Renaissance literature; 2. The heritage of classical Natural Law; 3. The reception of Natural Law in Renaissance England; 4. Law and literature in sixteenth-century England; 5. More's Utopia; 6. 'Love is the fulfilling of the law': Arcadia and Love's Labour's Lost; 7. 'Hot temper leaps o'er a cold decree': The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure; 8. Shakespeare's The History of King Lear; 9. Milton and Natural Law; Epilogue: Hobbes and the demise of classical Natural Law; Appendix: Aquinas on the right to own private property; Notes; Select bibliography; Index.

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