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Untutored Lines

The Making of the English Epyllion

William P Weaver

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A compelling cultural reinterpretation of humanist discourses of boyhood

The English epyllion, the highly erotic mythological verse that swept the London literary scene in the 1590s, is as much about rhetoric as about sex. So argues William Weaver in this fascinating study of Renaissance education and poetry. Rhetoric, moreover, is erotic. Far being merely formal, rhetoric is the key to deciphering the cultural meanings of an enigmatic genre.

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Rites of passage
Scenes of performance: 1. Progymnasmata: Humanist Rites of Passage
The progymnasmata as an introduction to the art of rhetoric
Disciplinary boundaries in the English grammar school
Literary exercise between the disciplines
From discursive plenitude to disciplinary correction
Part I. Rudiments of Eloquence: Boyhood
2. Fabula: Observing 'Amorous Rites' in Hero and Leander
Musaeus among the rudiments of eloquence
Marlowe's paraphrase
Leander in the scene of culture
Puberty rites and the English epyllion
3. Chreia: Making Themes in Venus and Adonis
Boyhood study
Boyhood style
'The lesson is but plain'
Venus' frustrated banquet
4. Narratiuncula: Coming of Age in Oenone and Paris
Vivid narration
Paris at the crossroads
Paris in the upper forms
Irony, pathos, and the 'courteous reader'
Part II. First Exercises: Adolescence
5. Narratio and Confirmatio: Forensic Performance in Lucrece
Adolescent study and style
Lucrece's narratio
Night, opportunity, and time
Troy and the perjured self
Lucrece's confirmatio
6. Encomium: Antinous as Lord of Misrule in Orchestra
Aphthonian man
Tedious praise
Poetic rule
7. Thesis: Controlling Speech in Cephalus and Procris
'Methinks the man amendeth the matter much'
Man, horse, and dogs
On contrarieties he answer made
Secret muse
Epilogue: Jesus' First Exercises in Paradise Regained

About the Author

William P. Weaver is an assistant professor of literature in the Honors College of Baylor University, where he teaches Great Texts. His articles on Renaissance poetry and rhetoric have appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly, Studies in Philology, Spenser Studies, and Rhetorica.


This book offers a highly original rewriting of the so-called minor epic in the Renaissance, linking it to the rite of passage in the humanist school while offering arresting observations on everything from Shakespearean sources to the reception of Ovid in the English Renaissance. A must read for historians of rhetoric, education, and early modern literature.
- Craig Kallendorf, Texas A&M University
William Weaver's book is a learned contribution to the growing reinvestigation of humanist pedagogy. He draws much-needed attention to an under-examined, but influential, school text - Aphthonius's Progymnasmata - in ways that deepen our understanding of the connection between rhetorical training and masculinity in Ovidian minor epics.
- Lynn Enterline, Vanderbilt University
Weaver’s careful study of the making of the epyllion opens up further lines of inquiry.
- Claire Hulse, University of Illinois at Chicago, Renaissance Quarterly
Untutored Lines pursues a valuable line of inquiry, paying close attention to a previously unexamined historical context of this genre and thereby providing a fresh view of these texts.
- Kathryn DeZur, State University of New York College of Technology at Delhi, Sixteenth Century Journal

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