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Lecture – Professor Nigel Smith (Princeton University)

Golden Age Seminar

Public Spheres in the Tri-State-Zone: Batavo-Anglo-Franco Literary Politics, c. 1630-1680

Date: 12 December 2017
University of Amsterdam Bushuis – VOC zaal, Kloveniersburgwal 48, Amsterdam
More information: via ACSGA –

This lecture will discuss the nature of the 17th-century literary public spheres in different places, and their mutual relationships. Did the cities of Holland, especially Amsterdam, enjoy a different quality of public sphere than London, Paris or Madrid?  How did traveling writers experience the public spheres of their host countries?  How were geographic and language borders crossed in poetry and drama, for instance by poets writing in one language on a political theme but far from home in the territory of another tongue?  

Howsoever they were contested, plays in the public theater engaged with sharp political controversies in the Netherlands, matters usually discussed in pamphlets in England, with rare exceptions in the theatre. Beyond the praise offered to monarchs in masques or ballets, what kind of politics did English or French drama offer?  Did Dutch poetry participate in a public discourse that tolerated a measure of political difference where English poetry could only support the regime, or circulate as surreptitious, anonymous dissent, and where much poetry still occupied its traditional role as handwritten tokens in elite politics and diplomatic exchange?  We will, furthermore, explore the mutually hostile poetry of the Second Anglo-Dutch War for the quality of the verse and for evidence that it expressed distinctive political theory.  Finally, what of one of poetry’s special provinces – its delight in articulating sexuality – in relation to politics?  In short, if the nationalistic bonds of vernacular literary canons constructed in the 19th century are loosened, how can we meaningfully compare Vondel, Corneille and Milton, Lucy Hutchinson and Maria Tesselschade Roemer Visscher?

Nigel Smith is William and Annie S. Paton Foundation Professor of Ancient and Modern Literature at Princeton University. He previously taught at the University of Oxford. He has published mostly on early modern literature, especially the seventeenth century; his work is interdisciplinary by inclination and training. In his forthcoming Polyglot Poetics: Transnational Early Modern Literature he explores the migration of literature and writers across political and linguistic borders in early modern Europe. The Dutch Republic is a central component of this work. Some other publications are: Andrew Marvell: The Chameleon (Yale UP, 2010; a TLS ‘Book of the Year’ for 2010), Is Milton better than Shakespeare? (Harvard UP, 2008), the Longman Annotated edition of Andrew Marvell’s Poems (2003, 2007; a TLS ‘Book of the Year’ for 2003), Literature and Revolution in England, 1640-1660 (Yale UP, 1994) and Perfection Proclaimed: Language and Literature in English Radical Religion 1640-1660 (Oxford UP, 1989).