The English Grammar School: Rhetoric, Discipline, Masculinity (seminar)

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a spring 2007 faculty weekend seminar.

In a decisive shift in theory and method, sixteenth-century humanist schoolmasters replaced Latin training by rule or “precept” with lessons in imitation. In the 1940s and 1950s, critics demonstrated this educational program’s profound impact on England’s literary Renaissance. But in the last twenty years, historians and literary critics have become far more interested in assessing whether grammar schools effectively produced, as masters said they would, “gentlemen” who believed unreservedly in upholding England’s existing social hierarchies. In two days of intensive discussion, the seminar drew on both critical traditions, focusing on the grammar school’s literary and social effects (whether they were intended or not). Participants contributed their own perspectives and examples to an investigation of both the tropes and transactions of the school’s forms of discipline and rhetorical training—juxtaposing archival evidence with literary production, and discursive and material practices with rhetorical and subjective effects. Questions included: how did training in Latin grammar and rhetoric influence early modern experiences of gender, sexuality, and desire? What contemporary theories might enable a reassessment of the relationship between school archive and literary canon? Did early modern pedagogy truly institute a rigid distinction between male and female language, behavior, and feeling? What might choices of genre, trope, and the mixing of vernacular with classical stories reveal about early modern masculinity? Besides actual representations of schoolroom scenes, are there other ways Shakespeare’s texts speak to the unintended consequences of school training? And finally, what impact did grammar school training have on early modern passions, literary or otherwise?


Director: Lynn Enterline is Professor of English at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of The Tears of Narcissus: Melancholia and Masculinity in Early Modern Writing (1995) and The Rhetoric of the Body from Ovid to Shakespeare (2000). She is currently working on a book on early modern education.