Date of Award

5-11-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Malinda Snow

Second Advisor

Wayne Erickson

Third Advisor

Paul Voss

Abstract

This dissertation examines works of Philip Sidney (1554-1586), Robert Hooke (1635-1703), John Milton (1608-1674), Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673), and Anne Finch (1661-1720) through the lens of two competing world views that were well-known to all of the subjects of my study. The dissertation will begin with a discussion of these two different ways of perceiving and representing truth—one informed by the poetic imagination and the other influenced by the emerging new science of the seventeenth century. In his The Defence of Poesy, Sir Philip Sidney advocates a poetic vision that possesses a unique spiritual and creative power to produce truths, making the material world subordinate to the spiritual vision of the poet. In contrast, Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (1665) insists upon the value of actual physical seeing, through the microscope, and constructing models of the world based upon accumulated details of the tiniest observable physical minutia. Though he wasn’t directly responding to Sidney’s works, Hooke’s microscopic seeing disputes the autonomy of Sidney’s “inward light each mind hath in itself,” a source of poetic sight that Sidney considered sacred to the poetic imagination. Because my chief interest involves the topos of light and the representation of “inward light” articulated by Sidney in The Defence of Poesy, Sidney’s metaphysics and conception of the poetic imagination remain a constant, semi-theoretical foundation throughout my work as I examine the poetic works of Cavendish, Milton, and Finch. Although Cavendish, Milton, and Finch had different poetic goals among them, they are united in my study by their insistence that accumulating larger piles of minute sensory data does not get one closer to “truth.” Because of the modern reader’s location in history—given the grand success of the scientific narrative—such a position appears to border on irrationality, but much is to be gained by reading these poets’ works through the less familiar framework Sidney’s poetics provides.

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