Enclosure Acts: Sexuality, Property, and Culture in Early Modern England

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Richard Burt, John Michael Archer
Cornell University Press, 1994 - 340 pages
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Enclosure - the conversion of peasants' commonly held lands to privately owned pasture - has long been considered a critical stage in the transition from feudalism to capitalism. This book is the first, however, to treat in detail the literary and cultural implications of enclosure in early modern England. Bringing together the work of both senior and younger scholars who represent a wide range of critical orientations, Enclosure Acts focuses not only on the historical fact of land enclosure but also on the symbolic containment of sexuality in Elizabethan and Jacobean literary works. The first type of enclosure frequently has been treated by materialists and new historicists; feminists and theorists concerned with issues of gender have tended to concentrate on the second. The fourteen essays collected here explore the relationships between these two ways of perceiving enclosure in the context of cultural studies. Individual chapters examine the creation of territorial and social boundaries as well as the consequences of enclosure acts. Taking into account the complex implications of changes in boundaries - whether of land, religion, sexuality, or subjectivity - the essays investigate aspects of literary culture from the Elizabethan popular theater to the enclosed world of the seventeenth-century country-house poem. Among the topics discussed are the significance of enclosure in plays such as Marlowe's Edward II and Shakespeare's Richard II and Henry VI, and in the poetry of Marvell and Spenser.

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