Inside voices of the English Renaissance
What did it mean to raise one's voice in Renaissance England? This dissertation concerns sixteenth- and seventeenth-century representations of vocal excess such as screaming, singing, praying aloud, and reciting verse. While foregrounding the sensuous aspects of vocal sound in order to understand it as a kind of material text, I focus on a category of voice whose very ubiquity has kept it out of analytic earshot: the ostensibly neutral everyday speaking voice. I argue that the acoustically patterned speech of poetry, in alignment with other forms of vocal heightening, produced its opposite: a purely referential language that was stripped of sonic materiality. Although the demarcation between heightened and neutral voices is not unique to the Renaissance, I show how these terms were troubled by a particular set of overlapping concerns that emerged toward the end of the sixteenth century. These include the relationship between English speech and its proximate acoustic others in colonial Ireland, the role of heightened and everyday speech in the context of the vocal practices of the Church of England, and a changing understanding of the reproducibility of the voice in written and printed form. In order to address these concerns, I look to representations of Irish noise in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, evocations of liturgical sound in George Herbert's The Temple, and elements of the printed text of John Milton's 1645 Poems that gesture toward an imagined vocality outside the ambit of written representation. These various forms of "noise," I maintain, made way for a notion of the voice as a transparent medium of communication, the proper vehicle for both representation and personhood. Ultimately, my dissertation seeks to explain how distinctions between what George Puttenham termed the "musicall speech" of verse and "the ordinarie prose" of "daily talke" rely on and implicitly produce the notion of a neutral discourse with which one Englishman might speak sensibly to another without having (literally or metaphorically) to raise his voice.