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Constancy and Commonwealth: Nero and English Political Culture c.1580-c.1630

Goodburn, Celia Elizabeth (2015) Constancy and Commonwealth: Nero and English Political Culture c.1580-c.1630. PhD thesis, University of York.

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In the mid-sixteenth century early modern authors became interested in the historical works of the Roman writer Tacitus, and in the philosophy of the Roman statesman Seneca. Richard Tuck has termed this movement “new humanism” – a cynical and sceptical form of humanism based on the political and philosophical outlook of Tacitus and Seneca - to distinguish it from old humanism which had been largely inspired by the writings of Cicero. In England “new humanism” was reflected in historical, philosophical and dramatic works crafted from around 1580 onwards. These works took inspiration from Tacitus’s pessimistic treatment of the psychology of power, and from Seneca’s philosophy of constancy which taught men how to survive in the capricious world of politics. English “new humanism” created a rhetoric that was often critical of political life, and that called for men to oppose the political culture associated with the royal court. In existing scholarship this political dimension of “new humanism” has been characterised as “republican” in tone. However, this overstates the radical character of the political thought associated with this interest in Tacitus and Seneca. This thesis reappraises existing scholarship on the politics of English “new humanism” and points to the conservative aspects of the movement. It uses early modern figurations of the emperor Nero as a case study to explore English interaction with the histories of Tacitus and the philosophy of Seneca, to demonstrate that English “new humanism” was entirely compatible with belief in monarchical power.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: New humanism, Seneca, Tacitus, Nero, Elizabethan, Jacobean
Academic Units: The University of York > History (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.680617
Depositing User: Miss Celia Elizabeth Goodburn
Date Deposited: 29 Feb 2016 12:01
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2018 15:21
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/11918

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