For other uses, see Essay (disambiguation).
For a description of essays as used by Wikipedia editors, see Wikipedia:Essays.
"Essai" redirects here. For other uses, see Essai (disambiguation).
An essay is, generally, a piece of writing that gives the author's own argument — but the definition is vague, overlapping with those of a paper, an article, a pamphlet, and a short story. Essays have traditionally been sub-classified as formal and informal. Formal essays are characterized by "serious purpose, dignity, logical organization, length," whereas the informal essay is characterized by "the personal element (self-revelation, individual tastes and experiences, confidential manner), humor, graceful style, rambling structure, unconventionality or novelty of theme," etc.
Essays are commonly used as literary criticism, political manifestos, learned arguments, observations of daily life, recollections, and reflections of the author. Almost all modern essays are written in prose, but works in verse have been dubbed essays (e.g., Alexander Pope's An Essay on Criticism and An Essay on Man). While brevity usually defines an essay, voluminous works like John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population are counterexamples. In some countries (e.g., the United States and Canada), essays have become a major part of formal education. Secondary students are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills; admission essays are often used by universities in selecting applicants, and in the humanities and social sciences essays are often used as a way of assessing the performance of students during final exams.
The concept of an "essay" has been extended to other mediums beyond writing. A film essay is a movie that often incorporates documentary filmmaking styles and focuses more on the evolution of a theme or idea. A photographic essay covers a topic with a linked series of photographs that may have accompanying text or captions.
An essay has been defined in a variety of ways. One definition is a "prose composition with a focused subject of discussion" or a "long, systematic discourse". It is difficult to define the genre into which essays fall. Aldous Huxley, a leading essayist, gives guidance on the subject. He notes that "the essay is a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything", and adds that "by tradition, almost by definition, the essay is a short piece". Furthermore, Huxley argues that "essays belong to a literary species whose extreme variability can be studied most effectively within a three-poled frame of reference". These three poles (or worlds in which the essay may exist) are:
- The personal and the autobiographical: The essayists that feel most comfortable in this pole "write fragments of reflective autobiography and look at the world through the keyhole of anecdote and description".
- The objective, the factual, and the concrete particular: The essayists that write from this pole "do not speak directly of themselves, but turn their attention outward to some literary or scientific or political theme. Their art consists of setting forth, passing judgment upon, and drawing general conclusions from the relevant data".
- The abstract-universal: In this pole "we find those essayists who do their work in the world of high abstractions", who are never personal and who seldom mention the particular facts of experience.
Huxley adds that the most satisfying essays "...make the best not of one, not of two, but of all the three worlds in which it is possible for the essay to exist."
The word essay derives from the French infinitive essayer, "to try" or "to attempt". In English essay first meant "a trial" or "an attempt", and this is still an alternative meaning. The Frenchman Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592) was the first author to describe his work as essays; he used the term to characterize these as "attempts" to put his thoughts into writing, and his essays grew out of his commonplacing. Inspired in particular by the works of Plutarch, a translation of whose Œuvres Morales (Moral works) into French had just been published by Jacques Amyot, Montaigne began to compose his essays in 1572; the first edition, entitled Essais, was published in two volumes in 1580. For the rest of his life, he continued revising previously published essays and composing new ones. Francis Bacon's essays, published in book form in 1597, 1612, and 1625, were the first works in English that described themselves as essays. Ben Jonson first used the word essayist in English in 1609, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
English essayists included Robert Burton (1577–1641) and Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682). In France, Michel de Montaigne's three volume Essais in the mid 1500s contain over 100 examples widely regarded as the predecessor of the modern essay. In Italy, Baldassare Castiglione wrote about courtly manners in his essay Il Cortigiano. In the 17th century, the JesuitBaltasar Gracián wrote about the theme of wisdom. During the Age of Enlightenment, essays were a favored tool of polemicists who aimed at convincing readers of their position; they also featured heavily in the rise of periodical literature, as seen in the works of Joseph Addison, Richard Steele and Samuel Johnson. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Edmund Burke and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote essays for the general public. The early 19th century, in particular, saw a proliferation of great essayists in English – William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb, Leigh Hunt and Thomas de Quincey all penned numerous essays on diverse subjects. In the 20th century, a number of essayists tried to explain the new movements in art and culture by using essays (e.g., T.S. Eliot). Whereas some essayists used essays for strident political themes, Robert Louis Stevenson and Willa Cather wrote lighter essays. Virginia Woolf, Edmund Wilson, and Charles du Bos wrote literary criticism essays.
Main article: Zuihitsu
As with the novel, essays existed in Japan several centuries before they developed in Europe with a genre of essays known as zuihitsu — loosely connected essays and fragmented ideas. Zuihitsu have existed since almost the beginnings of Japanese literature. Many of the most noted early works of Japanese literature are in this genre. Notable examples include The Pillow Book (c. 1000), by court lady Sei Shōnagon, and Tsurezuregusa (1330), by particularly renowned Japanese Buddhist monk Yoshida Kenkō. Kenkō described his short writings similarly to Montaigne, referring to them as "nonsensical thoughts" written in "idle hours". Another noteworthy difference from Europe is that women have traditionally written in Japan, though the more formal, Chinese-influenced writings of male writers were more prized at the time.
Forms and styles
This section describes the different forms and styles of essay writing. These forms and styles are used by an array of authors, including university students and professional essayists.
Cause and effect
The defining features of a "cause and effect" essay are causal chains that connect from a cause to an effect, careful language, and chronological or emphatic order. A writer using this rhetorical method must consider the subject, determine the purpose, consider the audience, think critically about different causes or consequences, consider a thesis statement, arrange the parts, consider the language, and decide on a conclusion.
Classification and division
Classification is the categorization of objects into a larger whole while division is the breaking of a larger whole into smaller parts.
Compare and contrast
Compare and contrast essays are characterized by a basis for comparison, points of comparison, and analogies. It is grouped by the object (chunking) or by point (sequential). The comparison highlights the similarities between two or more similar objects while contrasting highlights the differences between two or more objects. When writing a compare/contrast essay, writers need to determine their purpose, consider their audience, consider the basis and points of comparison, consider their thesis statement, arrange and develop the comparison, and reach a conclusion. Compare and contrast is arranged emphatically.
Descriptive writing is characterized by sensory details, which appeal to the physical senses, and details that appeal to a reader's emotional, physical, or intellectual sensibilities. Determining the purpose, considering the audience, creating a dominant impression, using descriptive language, and organizing the description are the rhetorical choices to consider when using a description. A description is usually arranged spatially but can also be chronological or emphatic. The focus of a description is the scene. Description uses tools such as denotative language, connotative language, figurative language, metaphor, and simile to arrive at a dominant impression. One university essay guide states that "descriptive writing says what happened or what another author has discussed; it provides an account of the topic".Lyric essays are an important form of descriptive essays.
In the dialectic form of the essay, which is commonly used in philosophy, the writer makes a thesis and argument, then objects to their own argument (with a counterargument), but then counters the counterargument with a final and novel argument. This form benefits from presenting a broader perspective while countering a possible flaw that some may present. This type is sometimes called an ethics paper.
An exemplification essay is characterized by a generalization and relevant, representative, and believable examples including anecdotes. Writers need to consider their subject, determine their purpose, consider their audience, decide on specific examples, and arrange all the parts together when writing an exemplification essay.
An essayist writes a familiar essay if speaking to a single reader, writing about both themselves, and about particular subjects. Anne Fadiman notes that "the genre's heyday was the early nineteenth century," and that its greatest exponent was Charles Lamb. She also suggests that while critical essays have more brain than the heart, and personal essays have more heart than brain, familiar essays have equal measures of both.
A history essay sometimes referred to as a thesis essay describes an argument or claim about one or more historical events and supports that claim with evidence, arguments, and references. The text makes it clear to the reader why the argument or claim is as such.
A narrative uses tools such as flashbacks, flash-forwards, and transitions that often build to a climax. The focus of a narrative is the plot. When creating a narrative, authors must determine their purpose, consider their audience, establish their point of view, use dialogue, and organize the narrative. A narrative is usually arranged chronologically.
An argumentative essay is a critical piece of writing, aimed at presenting objective analysis of the subject matter, narrowed down to a single topic. The main idea of all the criticism is to provide an opinion either of positive or negative implication. As such, a critical essay requires research and analysis, strong internal logic and sharp structure. Its structure normally builds around introduction with a topic's relevance and a thesis statement, body paragraphs with arguments linking back to the main thesis, and conclusion. In addition, an argumentative essay may include a refutation section where conflicting ideas are acknowledged, described, and criticized. Each argument of argumentative essay should be supported with sufficient evidence, relevant to the point.
An economic essay can start with a thesis, or it can start with a theme. It can take a narrative course and a descriptive course. It can even become an argumentative essay if the author feels the need. After the introduction, the author has to do his/her best to expose the economic matter at hand, to analyze it, evaluate it, and draw a conclusion. If the essay takes more of a narrative form then the author has to expose each aspect of the economic puzzle in a way that makes it clear and understandable for the reader
A reflective essay is an analytical piece of writing in which the writer describes a real or imaginary scene, event, interaction, passing thought, memory, or form — adding a personal reflection on the meaning of the topic in the author's life. Thus, the focus is not merely descriptive. The writer doesn’t just describe the situation, but revisits the scene with more detail and emotion to examine what went well, or reveal a need for additional learning — and may relate what transpired to the rest of the author's life.
Other logical structures
The logical progression and organizational structure of an essay can take many forms. Understanding how the movement of thought is managed through an essay has a profound impact on its overall cogency and ability to impress. A number of alternative logical structures for essays have been visualized as diagrams, making them easy to implement or adapt in the construction of an argument.
Main article: Free response
In countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, essays have become a major part of a formal education in the form of free response questions. Secondary students in these countries are taught structured essay formats to improve their writing skills, and essays are often used by universities in these countries in selecting applicants (seeadmissions essay). In both secondary and tertiary education, essays are used to judge the mastery and comprehension of the material. Students are asked to explain, comment on, or assess a topic of study in the form of an essay. In some courses, university students must complete one or more essays over several weeks or months. In addition, in fields such as the humanities and social sciences, mid-term and end of term examinations often require students to write a short essay in two or three hours.
In these countries, so-called academic essays also called papers, are usually more formal than literary ones. They may still allow the presentation of the writer's own views, but this is done in a logical and factual manner, with the use of the first person often discouraged. Longer academic essays (often with a word limit of between 2,000 and 5,000 words) are often more discursive. They sometimes begin with a short summary analysis of what has previously been written on a topic, which is often called a literature review.
Longer essays may also contain an introductory page that defines words and phrases of the essay's topic. Most academic institutions require that all substantial facts, quotations, and other supporting material in an essay be referenced in a bibliography or works cited page at the end of the text. This scholarly convention helps others (whether teachers or fellow scholars) to understand the basis of facts and quotations the author uses to support the essay's argument and helps readers evaluate to what extent the argument is supported by evidence, and to evaluate the quality of that evidence. The academic essay tests the student's ability to present their thoughts in an organized way and is designed to test their intellectual capabilities.
One of the challenges facing universities is that in some cases, students may submit essays purchased from an essay mill (or "paper mill") as their own work. An "essay mill" is a ghostwriting service that sells pre-written essays to university and college students. Since plagiarism is a form of academic dishonesty or academic fraud, universities and colleges may investigate papers they suspect are from an essay mill by using plagiarism detection software, which compares essays against a database of known mill essays and by orally testing students on the contents of their papers.
Magazine or newspaper
Main article: Long-form journalism
Essays often appear in magazines, especially magazines with an intellectual bent, such as The Atlantic and Harpers. Magazine and newspaper essays use many of the essay types described in the section on forms and styles (e.g., descriptive essays, narrative essays, etc.). Some newspapers also print essays in the op-ed section.
Employment essays detailing experience in a certain occupational field are required when applying for some jobs, especially government jobs in the United States. Essays known as Knowledge Skills and Executive Core Qualifications are required when applying to certain US federal government positions.
A KSA, or "Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities," is a series of narrative statements that are required when applying to Federal government job openings in the United States. KSAs are used along with resumes to determine who the best applicants are when several candidates qualify for a job. The knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for the successful performance of a position are contained on each job vacancy announcement. KSAs are brief and focused essays about one's career and educational background that presumably qualify one to perform the duties of the position being applied for.
An Executive Core Qualification, or ECQ, is a narrative statement that is required when applying to Senior Executive Service positions within the US Federal government. Like the KSAs, ECQs are used along with resumes to determine who the best applicants are when several candidates qualify for a job. The Office of Personnel Management has established five executive core qualifications that all applicants seeking to enter the Senior Executive Service must demonstrate.
A film essay (or "cinematic essay") consists of the evolution of a theme or an idea rather than a plot per se, or the film literally being a cinematic accompaniment to a narrator reading an essay. From another perspective, an essay film could be defined as a documentary film visual basis combined with a form of commentary that contains elements of self-portrait (rather than autobiography), where the signature (rather than the life story) of the filmmaker is apparent. The cinematic essay often blends documentary, fiction, and experimental film making using tones and editing styles.
The genre is not well-defined but might include propaganda works of early Soviet parliamentarians like Dziga Vertov, present-day filmmakers including Chris Marker,Michael Moore (Roger & Me (1989), Bowling for Columbine (2002) and Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)), Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line (1988)), Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me: A Film of Epic Portions) and Agnès Varda. Jean-Luc Godard describes his recent work as "film-essays". Two filmmakers whose work was the antecedent to the cinematic essay include Georges Méliès and Bertolt Brecht. Méliès made a short film (The Coronation of Edward VII (1902)) about the 1902 coronation of King Edward VII, which mixes actual footage with shots of a recreation of the event. Brecht was a playwright who experimented with film and incorporated film projections into some of his plays.Orson Welles made an essay film in his own pioneering style, released in 1974, called F for Fake, which dealt specifically with art forger Elmyr de Hory and with the themes of deception, "fakery," and authenticity in general. These are often published online on video hosting services.
David Winks Gray's article "The essay film in action" states that the "essay film became an identifiable form of filmmaking in the 1950s and '60s". He states that since that time, essay films have tended to be "on the margins" of the filmmaking the world. Essay films have a "peculiar searching, questioning tone ... between documentary and fiction" but without "fitting comfortably" into either genre. Gray notes that just like written essays, essay films "tend to marry the personal voice of a guiding narrator (often the director) with a wide swath of other voices". The University of Wisconsin Cinematheque website echoes some of Gray's comments; it calls a film essay an "intimate and allusive" genre that "catches filmmakers in a pensive mood, ruminating on the margins between fiction and documentary" in a manner that is "refreshingly inventive, playful, and idiosyncratic".
In the realm of music, composer Samuel Barber wrote a set of "Essays for Orchestra," relying on the form and content of the music to guide the listener's ear, rather than any extra-musical plot or story.
A photographic essay strives to cover a topic with a linked series of photographs. Photo essays range from purely photographic works to photographs with captions or small notes to full-text essays with a few or many accompanying photographs. Photo essays can be sequential in nature, intended to be viewed in a particular order — or they may consist of non-ordered photographs viewed all at once or in an order that the viewer chooses. All photo essays are collections of photographs, but not all collections of photographs are photo essays. Photo essays often address a certain issue or attempt to capture the character of places and events.
In the visual arts, an essay is a preliminary drawing or sketch that forms a basis for a final painting or sculpture, made as a test of the work's composition (this meaning of the term, like several of those following, comes from the word essayJA's meaning of "attempt" or "trial").
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- ^Chapter 7: Cause and Effect in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
- ^Chapter 5: Classification and Division in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
- ^Chapter 6: Comparison and Contrast in Glenn, Cheryl. Making Sense: A Real-World Rhetorical Reader. Ed. Denise B. Wydra, et al. Second ed. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2005.
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This volume collects and revises a series of articles by Patrick Collinson, which were first published between 1994 and 2009. It therefore systematically assembles a number of previously independent arguments, in order to provide a coherent vision of the way 16th-century Englishmen – and most of Collinson’s subjects are men – imagined their nation. Although the germs of these ideas were initially delivered together as a lecture series given at the University of Richmond, Virginia, this book represents the first time that his mature thoughts appear together in print. This England examines parliamentary outbursts, personal correspondence, religious texts and histories, highlighting the importance of patriotism, language, religion, and history along the way. After reading the book, one is left with the sense that Elizabethans were indeed constantly defining themselves as active, Protestant, and specifically English, citizens. The problem was that this act of self-definition could induce compromise through gruelling but constructive exchanges, or divide the nation as competing visions of Protestantism and polity clashed in multiple forums.
It is also worth noting that This England is less about post-Reformation religious culture – the work Collinson is most famous for – and more about his recent interest in early modern English politics and self-fashioning. Collectively, the essays therefore present a history of England, not the British Isles as a whole. Collinson himself admits this, very pointedly stating that despite the utility of what is generally referred to as the ’New British History’ for answering certain questions, his questions are about the nation, and ‘there has never been a British nation’ (p. 3). Although scholars like Linda Colley might take issue with such a statement, it is nonetheless refreshing to see an author stake his claim, for better or for worse. Moreover, Collinson does not deny England’s place within a larger system. He merely seeks to investigate, more specifically, how England viewed itself as a participant in that system and in the world at large.
The book is not divided into sections, but the essays do fall into three broadly based themes: Elizabethan high-political debates about what the nation should be, the link between Protestantism and English identity, and the nation as constructed through history. The first thematic section includes chapters one through five, and although Collinson’s classic essay on the Elizabethan monarchical republic does not appear, readers are asked to engage with arguments that rely on the assumption of an active political community composed of citizens and not subjects. Consistently, then, Collinson argues that while Sir John Neale made too much of political divisions, Sir Geoffrey Elton underplayed them. Unsurprisingly, these contests are said to have taken place in a world where religion and politics were inextricably intertwined. However, religious differences did not translate simply into court factionalism, and Collinson reminds historians that religious pluralism and occasional conformity were designed to mask religious diversity and facilitate political cooperation. At other times religious differences translated more clearly into political confrontations – as during the 1578 progress – or political pragmatism divided otherwise unified religious impulses – as with the question of sending aid to Dutch rebels. These complex divisions existed throughout the politically engaged community, and continued to manifest after Elizabeth’s death through the histories produced about her reign.
In an engaging essay that has hitherto often been overlooked, Collinson reinvestigates what he calls the ‘Elizabethan exclusion crisis’. Here, he argues that the sustained attempt of much of the political nation to prevent the ascension of Mary Queen of Scots to the English throne bears a striking resemblance to the better known Restoration events of the same name. Highlighting the 1584 Bond of Association and an association discovered in the Earl of Shaftesbury’s possessions in 1681, he claims that the two exclusion crises had five common characteristics. These were a popular fear of Catholicism, the attempt to exclude a Catholic successor from the throne, the fear of arbitrary government, the divergence of the interests of the political nation from those of the monarch, and the presence of a Sidney (Sir Philip Sydney in the 16th century, and in the following century, his grand-nephew, Algernon Sidney). Moreover, Collinson notes that those living through the crisis of the 1680s themselves looked back on Elizabethan politics to explain and justify their own situation. The republication of this piece urges scholars, once again, to reconsider the nature and longstanding importance of the debates surrounding Mary Queen of Scots and her captivity. This is a worthy endeavour, but many will agree that historians should proceed with caution on this difficult terrain. There is a danger in attempting to draw too close parallels because of that major historical schism that stands between the two crises: the civil wars and interregnum. By the 1680s, two decades disruption had taught people to fear Protestant dissenters as much as they feared Catholics. Equally important, although Collinson convincingly argues for independent capacity among the political nation during the 16th century, one cannot deny that after the Restoration, the size of that political nation and the way in which political action was organized had changed dramatically.
Chapters six through eight function as a discussion of Protestantism and the nation, dedicating considerable space to John Foxe and his Acts and Monuments, after examining the nature of prophetic preaching. Chapter six thus reminds scholars of Collinson’s classic argument; that prophetic preaching, by its very nature, brought the nation together as a type of new Israel, but also provided the framework used by the godly when distinguishing themselves from the community at large. The prophetic mode, he claims, was thus ‘corrosive and divisive’ (p. 183). Several times throughout the collection Collinson suggests that this fundamental division in the nation was of central importance to the upheavals of the next century, returning to a more longue durée approach to the causes of the civil wars. This is part of a general attempt, already noted above, to link the histories of the 16th and 17th centuries after revisionism’s insistence on contingency and the importance of short-term causation had effectively severed the tie between them. Such comments remind us that a balance does indeed need to be established between too wide and too narrow a historical lens. Most would agree, however, that finding this balance is painstaking work, and this speaks to the one failing of This England. As each chapter has previously had to stand alone, none of the essays were composed with the luxury of the numerous pages required to explain the complex relationship between events separated by decades, leaving the proposed connections unrefined.
The other essays in this thematic section examine the Acts and Monuments. Rejecting William Haller’s elect nation thesis, Collinson reminds readers that there may still have been some sort of community formed in the production and consumption of the text, if not in Foxe’s own personal vision. In order for this to happen though, the book had to carefully balance between truth – the truth of the historical narrative and well as the true faith – and fiction – or the literary skill necessary to interest people and convey the overarching message. The godly favoured the divine and historical facts provided by the book, but it was the literary artifice involved that allowed it to become a ‘living text that recorded performances and invited performance’ (p. 235). The ’[t]ruth, lies and fiction‘ of chapter eight’s title is thus somewhat misleading, as Collinson is actually much more concerned with locating the balance between fact and literary skill, and understanding what that meant to Foxe’s contemporaries.
The last thematic section of the book contains essays dealing with how the nation was constructed by historians. In these essays, the concern is thus with historical methodologies and motivations. How does Camden compare to the modern historian? What is lost when a volume is translated? What was different in a period before the boundaries between history, antiquarianism, and chorography where clearly established? And how and why was the notion of ‘Merry England‘ deployed? In answering these questions, the William Camden we have lost is of special interest to Collinson, who spends a great deal of time on the original Latin edition of Camden’s Annales. Camden, we are reminded, dwelt upon the drama surrounding the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. And in many ways, the truly great figure of the story he told was not Elizabeth I, but her cousin Mary. Collinson’s work emphasizes, then, that although Camden was the first historian of Elizabeth’s reign, he was not involved in manufacturing the myth of Gloriana. His original text was critical, and there were a number of places where he and his colleague, Robert Cotton, later amended it so as to make it more sympathetic to the virgin queen. The English translations which followed took this trend even further, and lost the ’intense, epigrammatic, often ironical style and tone‘ of the original (p. 257). It was these later texts that unquestioningly celebrated Elizabeth, not Camden’s Latin edition.
The book closes with a chapter that attempts to better understand the motivation behind the writing of nostalgic histories – balancing the opening interest in a prophetic gaze forward with a longing gaze towards the past. Many of the men who wrote such texts were Catholic sympathizers, but this was not true in all cases, and Collinson offers William Lambard’s lament of lost monastic manuscripts as an example of devout Protestant nostalgia. Having acknowledged this, Collinson spends most of his time comparing the histories of John Stow and Richard Carew, and the varying degrees of sympathy for the Catholic past that each possessed while remaining conformable to the Church of England. Stow, whose Catholic sympathies were more pronounced, located the golden age of Merry England in the irrecoverable past, while Carew located it in present-day Cornwall. Collinson thus cautions against assuming that the English nation was constructed through histories, precisely because there were so many different visions of the past.
Overall, the collection gives the sense that Elizabethans succeeded in constructing a nation and not just a kingdom, despite Benedict Anderson’s famous assertion that nationalism is a modern phenomenon. Collinson demonstrates that the political community was active and engaged, and that certain ideas, texts, and moments in history served as rallying points around which an English national identity could form. The problem, though, was that this identity was an unstable one, and Collinson illuminates the fissures in Protestant discourses about the nation, and in the ways in which histories might reflect religious and political fault lines. For him, this explains why the nation eventually collapsed into civil war. But this ignores the problem of whether such constructions are ever entirely coherent and stable. Contradictions abound in any identity – individual or social, past, present and dare I say future – so what made the inconsistencies in the 16th-century English identity so problematic? To be fair, this is not a question that Collinson set out to answer, and it is the mark of a good book that it raises as many questions as it poses.
As Professor Collinson passed away this year, this will, unfortunately, be his last contribution to a field which has benefited greatly from his numerous insightful books and articles. His is a voice that will be greatly missed. Scholars will again find his characteristically lively prose and empirically researched arguments as they read through this collection, but they will also find it a very useful text for their students. All of the material is accessible, and the nature of the collection means that essays can easily be read alone, in groups, or as a complete set. Furthermore, the range of material covered by Collinson is impressive and offers several avenues for approaching the Elizabethan national imagination. There are only two noteworthy omissions: legal constructs of the nation, and the nation in literature. Collinson explains in the introduction that he lacks the legal expertise to pursue the former, pointing to recent work by Alan Cromartie instead. But the omission of literary sources, despite the fact that his title alludes so strongly to Shakespeare, is not addressed. Literary scholars have already produced a good deal of quality work on the subject, and it would have been informative to have seen Collinson’s opinion as a historian. This, however, was not Collinson’s subject. He did not set out to write new work, but to survey what he had produced over the past two decades.