06 February 2010

George Puttenham

"Puttenham," writes Gavin Alexander in Sidney's "The Defense of Poesy" and Selected Renaissance Literary Criticism (2004), "is no Aristotle, and the affection in which he is held by students of the English Renaissance can appear like a very English love of the quaint and unintentionally comical." A wild thought: could the prejudice against multilingual writing be due in part to the overshadowing of George Puttenham by Philip Sidney? After all, it was Puttenham who loved using words in his prose from two languages: "Many of the words which face each other across Puttenham’s conjunctions are synonyms. The technique belonged in the mixed language which Puttenham had written a history of. For most things English had an Anglo-Saxon term and an Anglo-Norman one; and the Latinate element represented by the influence of French was being fortified by the many borrowings from Latin which expanded the English lexicon in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Puttenham is not frightened to employ neologisms when he wants to, but he sympathizes with those of the previous generation who had called for a purification of English and a return to its Anglo-Saxon origins; he employs many archaic, rustic or unusual Saxonisms.” (Alexander, lxvi) Of course, it does not help that Puttenham's authorship of The Arte of English Poesie (1589) is in question, but as in the work Περὶ ὕψους (Perì hýpsous) [On the Sublime], the name of the author should not really matter.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, I just stumbled across your blog through a Sidney 'feed' I have.

    Richard Mulcaster had a very political solution to the problem of using foreign words. Foreign words for him were to be introduced with political caution, only after they were “enfranchised, becom bond to the rules of our writing… as the strangest denisons be to the lawes of our cuntrie… If we mean to make them ours, then let them take an oath to the trew to our tung, and the ordinances thereof." (Mulcaster quoted in Paula Blank, Broken English, p. 118). So, yeah, educators and men of letters during the period would have interesting and varied takes on the purity of English.