How Gabriel Harvey read tragedy

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Abstract: In 1579, Gabriel Harvey bound together in a composite collection a surprising group of texts: an Italian grammar, an Italian translation of Terence’s comedies, Lodovico Dolce’s Italian rifacimenti of Euripides’ Medea and Seneca’s Thyestes, and Euripides’ Hecuba and Iphigenia in Erasmus’ Latin. The volume is now dispersed, but all its parts survive. This essay explores the story of this hitherto unknown artefact and what it reveals about Harvey’s reading practices and his engagement with drama, especially Greek tragedy. Parsing the elaborate system of signs with which Harvey multifariously annotated these works, it argues that he read tragedies with an emphasis on situation and utterance rather than extractable sententiae, as has been suggested. Harvey probed local detail in the tragedies with attentiveness, and with an eye to recurring observations that revealed the ‘thought’ of these works. He was drawn especially to the political dimension of this ‘thought’. Reading tragedies in juxtaposition, he became interested in their different exploration of rulers’ obligation to rule by their people’s consent. And he found Euripides’ plays particularly endowed with political wisdom, no doubt partly because he believed that they had been co‐authored by Euripides’ mentor and Harvey’s own icon of pragmatic wisdom, Socrates.

Original Article, Articles, Gabriel Harvey, history of reading, tragedy
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Renaissance Studies
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