Reflections on "Imitatio" as an Educational Ideal of English Humanism

Jin Sunwoo

This study of "imitatio" in the works of English humanists attempts to examine the relationship between the Renaissance theory of "imitatio" and the educational ideal of English humanism and how it manifests itself in practice.  In order to discuss the educational ideals of English Humanism, we need to begin by first examining the meaning and concerns related to the term "Humanism." Subjected to copious definitions, Humanism can most readily be grasped as a system of education which curriculum was the adaptation of newly discovered or revived pagan/classical learning by means of rote, precept, and exercise, the covering term for which was "imitatio."1) The Humanists absorption with the imitation of classical learning, however, was more than mere transmission and establishment of texts but rather embraces a new/renewed mode of perception that rejects the ideological stability which distinguished the Middle Ages.

Before the introduction of Humanism into the fifteenth-century England, Christianity was arguably the guiding principal in the land.  And, in the Christian scheme of things, all goals, ostensibly if not in reality, were "other-worldly."  The dominant experience of the medieval period was one of the ideas of contemptus mundi, this life as a preparation for the next and of a fundamental immutability.  The stars were fixed in their spheres, and God's creation was harmonious, stable, hierarchical. The humanists on the other hand, had a strong sense of discontinuity with their immediate past. As Thomas M. Greene points out, there was a clear break, during the Renaissance, away from medieval notions of identity as fixed, part of a collective such as social class or religious community and toward an idea of the"flexible self."  An optimistic ideal of autonomy was at work: not only could self-"formation" take place but also "transformation" could be striven for.  According to Green, there was also the impulse for transformation-a "vertical" (as opposed to "horizontal") flexibility that transcends human limitations-at work.  Furthermore, this belief in the possibility of humanist "formation" continued to hold sway throughout most of the sixteenth century (Greene,  241-64).

As a result of the Renaissance discoveries in virtually all fields of thought undermining the underlying principals of the medieval period, new perceptions and methodology also began to take root.  The humanists began to emphasize the world of appearances and the understanding of this changeable world as the primary sphere of human endeavor, a sphere which demanded human action.  The divine is still immanent in human affairs, but no longer as passive awaiting of grace. If one was to choose the one defining characteristics of the humanists, then it is this belief in the revolutionary possibility of change.2)

With the acceptance of the idea of a "flexible self" as well the belief that individuals are changeable by deliberate human action, the humanists proposed to educate the "best" people in order to provide the nation with effective statesmen, advisors, and leaders by nurturing their intellectual and moral faculties, which in turn, they believed, would ensure that they would work for the common good.  As Fritz Caspari points out, for the humanists, the justification for education was straightforwardly pro bono publico: those born to rule should be educated to rule wisely.3)  And, in their endeavor to educate the enlightened rulers, the humanists adapted and practiced the theory of "imitation" as the means to their end; that the examples of education found in classical writings would provide excellent "prototypes" or ideals.4)  Central, then, to the educational ideals of Renaissance humanists is the theory of imitation.

According to English humanists such as Roger Ascham, "imitation" was "...a facultie to expresse liuelie and perfitelie that example which ye go about to folow. And of it selfe it is large and wide: for all the workes of nature in a maner be examples for arte to folow" (5).  Ascham goes on to suggest that imitation involves the following of the "learning of tonges and sciences" of "the best authours."  Thus, as "Virgill followed Homer" so should we them  (Ascham, 7-8).  Before going any further, it is important at this point to underscore the fact that when Ascham says that art should be imitating nature he does not intend it to be in the modern sense of mimesis, the realistic portrayal of things in all its verisimilitude.  Rather, as Sir Philip Sidney puts it eloquently in his Defense of Poetry, "the end of all earthly learning" is "virtuous action" and poetry achieves this end not through imitation of nature in its fallen state but through the imitation of "what may be and should be" in order to move its audience from vice to virtuous action:

Poesy therefore is an art of imitation, for so Aristotle termeth it in the word  -that is to say, a representating, counterfeiting, or figuring forth-to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture-with this end, to teach and delight...the third, indeed right poets, they which most properly do imitate to teach and delight, and to imitate borrow nothing of what is, hath been, or shall be but range, only reined with learned discretion, into deivine consideration of what may be and should be.

(Defense, 29, 25-26, italics mine)5)

The arguments by Ascham and Sidney, towards the moral purpose of art and especially poetry, that it leads to "virtuous action" by means of moving the reader to imitate the virtuous examples given forms the essence of the educational ideal of English Humanism.6)  And, though differing in some emphasis, we can see a continuing discourse upon this theory of "imitatio" with its attendant optimistic assumptions as to the value of historical and literary models held up for imitation  in the  works by Elyot, Castiglione,  Sidney, and Spenser.7) 

With this understanding that the Renaissance theory of imitation form the core of the educational ideal of English Humanism, then, I will next briefly examine the expression of the theory of "imitatio" in the prose tracts of  Sir Thomas Elyot, Baldassare Castiglione, and Sir Philip Sidney followed by its manifestation within the imaginative literature of the period.

Within the prose works of various Humanists can be seen a common belief in the possibility of the "perfectibility" of individuals through imitation of the ideals of virtuous action as exemplars.  Like Ascham and Sidney later on, Elyot in his The Boke named the Governour also expounds his confidence in the viability of the theory of imitation; to the belief that those who are educated in the exemplars of virtuous action and characterization of Greek and Roman letters will be so "inflamed, that they most fervently shall desire and couetie, by the imitation of their vertues, to acquier semblable glorie" (Sir Thomas Elyot, 71).8) In his "proheme" to The Boke named the Governour, Elyot states his purpose to be "the increase of vertue (Elyot, cxci).  And, to this end, he makes references to a copious number of classical poets in his work with the intention that "the childes courage, inflamed by the frequent redynge of noble poets, dayly more and more desireth to haue experience in those thinges" (Eylot, 71). The works Elyot recommends are what he believed to be inducive towards the development of a good ruler especially in the areas of moral growth. Among the historical and literary exemplars alluded to by Elyot, one poet, namely Homer, is given special attention:

I could reherce diuers other poetis whiche for mater and eloquence be very necessary, but I feare me to be to longe form noble Homere: from whom as from a fountaine proceded all eloquence and lernyng. For in his bokes be contained, and moste perfectly expressed, nat only the doucumentes marciall and discipline of armes, but also incomparable wisedomes, and instructions for politike gouernaunce of people: with the worthy commedation and laude of noble princis: where with the reders shall be so all inflamed, that they most fervently shall desire and coueite, by the imitation of their vertues, to acquire semblable glorie. (Elyot, 58-9, my emphasis)

The exhortation to imitate the virtues of the ancients is a clear indication of the humanist confidence in the classical learning as exemplars for their moral purpose.  For the purpose of imitation, Elyot especially emphasizes the deeds or actions of the exemplary characters, indicating how recognition and admiration of those deeds can both please and persuade him to emulate their virtuous behavior:

For by the redinge of his warke called Iliados, where the assembly of the most noble grekes agayne Troy is recited with theyr affaires, he gathered courage and strength agayne his ennemies, wysdome, and eloquence, for consultations, and persuations to his people and army. And by the other warke called Odissea, which recounteth the sondry aduentures of the wise Ulisses, he, by the example of Ulisses, appprehended many noble vertues, and also lerned to eskape the fraude and deceitfull imaginations of sondry and cubtile crafty wittes"

(Elyot, 59-60)

Thus, if Elyot praises the virtues embodies in "Ulisses" or "Eneidos" for example, it is not to just to praise their courage, strength, wisdom etc but to bestow a pattern of imitation for the explicit purpose of making many Ulysses and Aeneids.  

As in the case of Elyot, Castiglione's The Book of The Courtier, which is much admired among English humanists, also reflects the humanist confidence in the possibility of individual "transformation" through the workings of imitation.  That Castiglione intends to create an ideal model for his readers' imitation is evident in his introductory epistle to the work:

...Others say, bicause it is so hard a matter and (in a maner) unpossible to finde out a man of such perfection, as I would have the Courtier to be, it is but superfluous to write it: for it is a vaine thing to teach that can not be learned.  To these men I answere, I am content, to err with Plato, Xenophon, and M. Tullius, leaving apart the disputing of the intelligible world and of the ideas or imagined formes: in which number, as (according to that opinion) the idea or figure conceyved in imagination of a perfect commune weale, and of a perfect king, and of a perfect Oragour are contained: so it is also of a perfect Courtier.

(Castiglione, 13)

By invoking the idealized models of Plato, Xenophon, and Cicero, Castiglione identifies his efforts with the humanistic endeavor, namely to recreate the self as one work of art. The ideal nature of the "good courtier" is modified by the aesthetic self-fashioning implied in "shaping." For example, grace, which can be " the gift of nature and of the heavens," but "were it is not so may with studie and diligence be made much more" (Castiglione, 43-4).  Thus, what was once a static essence can now be made better by a deliberate, shaping will. One can become, through imitation, the ideal he is attempting to emulate.

Throughout the Defence of Poetry, Sir Philip Sidney also emphasizes the ideal function of imitation by promoting poetry as the instrument for moral persuasion, that poetry educates its readers to imitate "what may be and should be." The fundamental arguments of the Sidney's Defence of Poetry is that poetry is superior to other forms of knowledge because it is able to move the reader to virtuous action.  It does so because a poet is not limited to "what nature will have set forth," but instead "doth grow in effect another nature in making things either better than nature bringeth forth, or, quite anew" (Defence, 23).  Nature has never produced "so true a lover as Theogenes, so constant a friend as Pylades, so valiant a man as Orlando, so right a prince as Xenophon's Cyrus, so excellent a man every way as Virgil's Aeneas."  More importantly, Sidney argues, just because these characters are "fiction" does not mean they are "castles in the air" mere fantasies or examples beyond the scope of imitation.  Instead, for Sidney, the whole purpose of the true poet is "to bestow a Cyrus upon the world to make many Cyruses" (Defence, 24) so that the virtues the exemplary characters embodies; constance, fortitude, righteousness etc. are universal qualities open to the readers who are so moved to imitate them. 

This Renaissance theory of imitation can also be seen to manifest itself within the imaginative works of the period. Though writers such as Sidney and Spenser gets critical acclaim as being timeless, yet these writers were foremost Elizabethans as well as artists. And, an examination of their works will be fruitful in understanding to what extent their poetic practice reflected contemporary critical theories such as the ideal of imitation.  Close reading of Sidney's and Spenser's representative works both shows evidences of characters whose behavior provided exemplars for imitation; stressing the characters' deeds and depending upon the reader's admiration for or rejection of those actions to instruct the audience.  In this case, characters being so central to both Sidney and Spenser, I will be concentrating upon the technique of characterization as one aspect of the Renaissance literary theory of "imitatio" as expressed within their works. 

Sir Philip Sidney being both a literary critic and a poet, his New Arcadia will provide a convenient starting point in the study of exemplary characterization as an aspect of the Renaissance theory of imitation.  While it can be argued that a writer's poetic practice does not necessarily match his critical theory, in the case of New Arcadia, I believe that his Defence can be a helpful guide to understanding the poem due to their common emphasis on the exemplary.

As already noted above, Sidney argues for the exemplary nature of poetry in his Defence by claiming that the heroical is "the best and most accomplished kind of poetry" because "as the image of each action stirreth and instructeth the mind, so the lofty image of such worthies most inflameth the mind with desire to be worthy, and informs with counsel how to be worthy" (Defence, 47).  For Sidney, the most important elements of the heroic poem are the virtues of the heroes and the admiration the heroes inspires in the reader, that show an image of virtuous behavior, the reader will long to imitate it.  Likewise, in the New Arcadia, we can also find evidences of Sidney adopting of his own theory in the portrayal of exemplary characters such as Pyrocles and Musidorus as ideal candidates for imitation.  As Rosemary Syfret points out in her introduction to the New Arcadia, the characters "Pyrocles and Musidorus are created as heroic examples for imitation just as it was thought Homer had created Ulysses, Virgil Aeneas, Xenophon Cyrus" (Syfret, 51). Thus, throughout most of the narrative, we can see a consistent effort by Sidney to associate Pyrocles and Musidorus with virtues of constancy, virtuous love, and honorable and heroic deeds, showing that these are the essential elements of the virtuous exemplar being projected for imitation within the prose epic.

From the beginning, the essential virtues of Pyrocles and Musidorus are strongly impressed upon the reader as they arouse wonder, awe, and reverence among other characters.  We are told that Musidorus appeared to the shepherds Strephon and Claius "of so goodly shape and well pleasing favour" that even his "nakedness was to him an apparrell"9)  while the fishermen goes as far as to mistake Pyrocles as a demi-god "begotten between Neptune and Venus" (New Arcadia, 10). And, further on in the narrative, we see that, even in his disguise as an Amazon, Pyrocles' nobility commands the admiration of Basilius and the submission of the rabble:

The action Zelmane used, being beautified by nature and apparelled with skill, her gestures being such, that as her wordes did paint out her minde, so they served as a shadow, to make the picture more lively and sensible, with the sweet cleernesse of her voice, rising & falling kindly as the nature of the worde, and efficacie of the matter required, altogether in such an admirable person, whose incomparable valour they had well felte, whose beauty did pearce through the thicke dulness of their senses, gave such a way unto her speech through the rugged wilderness of their immaginations, who (besides they were stricken in admiration of her, as of more then a humane creature)...

(New Arcadia, 318)

Consistent with Sidney's efforts to make his heroes admirable is the depiction of the heroic deeds both Pyrocles and Musidorus performs as they become the foil to Cecropia's political ambition.  When in chapter 19, Book I, Cecropia causes the princesses' to be attacked by a lion and a bear, Dorus (Musidorus) and Zelmanes (Pyrocles) are there to rescue them from Cecropia's "mischievous practise"(New Arcadia, 125).  Again, their heoric nature is revealed when they, by their valour and wisdom, is able to rescue their loved ones by quelling the "mutinous multitude" (New Arcadia, 310). And, finally when the princesses becomes captives of Cecropia, they bring about their eventual release and Cecropia's eventual overthrow.

Pyrocles and Musidorus as virtuous and admiral characters are accentuated by the association of the protagonists with the notion of virtuous love in the New Arcadia.  Instead of love and passion being examples of un-reason and destructiveness as is the case in the Old Arcadia, love in his revised Arcadia is fused with heroism which leads rather to wisdom and virtuous actions in behalf of society.  Whereas, in the Old Arcadia, Pyrochles's love with philoclea is compared to bondage and as a spaniel bound by fancies of passion10) thereby portraying an image of a lover overcome by folly; the same love relationship between Pyrocles and Philoclea (and by association, therefore, Musidorus' for Pamela) in the New Arcadia is carefully marked by respect and restraint as can be seen in the scene where after concluding his tale, Pyrocles attempts a more physical intercourse with Philoclea:

And then he faine would have remembred to have forgot himselfe. But she, with a sweetly disobeying grace, desired that her desire (once for ever) might serve, that no spotte might disgrace that love which shortly she hoped shold be to the world warrantable. Faine he would not have heard, til she threatned anger. And then the poore lover durst not, because he durst not...He yeelded and tooke her hand.

(New Arcadia, 307-8)

In observing Pyrocles' restraint of his erotic desire, the reader is moved by Pyrocles's appreciation of the Princess' virtue to the point where they might presumably be impressed upon to imitate Philoclea's  virtue of chastity.

Like Sidney, Spenser in The Faerie Queene  emphasizes the exemplary function of his characters.  In this he partakes of the Humanists belief in the imitation of heroic example.  In his letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, Spenser states that the "generall end therefore of all the booke is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline."  Thus, just as "Homere, who in the Persons of Agamemnon and Vlysses hath ensampled a good gouernour and a vertuous man" and Xenophon provides exemplar of "a Commune welth such as it should be" while Cyrus "fashioned a gouernement such as might best be," so Spenser follows the example of the "Poets historicall" to teach by "ensample."11)

Inextricably linked with the exemplary nature of Spenser's characters is the relationship between virtue and action.  When Spenser briefly describes the process by which he makes Arthur an example of "magnificence in particular," he tells us that his method is to "mention the deedes of Arthure applyable to that vertue, which I write of in that booke." In The Faerie Queene, King Arthur is "perfected in the twelve priuate morall vertues," and he "settes forth" magnificence through "deedes applyable."  And, the subsidiary knights likewise "sette forthe" their particular virtues.  Their actions, like Arthur's, are "deedes applyable to their virtues" and are given as profitable examples of "vertuous and gentle discipline" for the reader to imitate.  Because it would be beyond the scope of this study to examine all seven books of Faerie Queene, I will limit my study to the virtue of chastity, especially pertaining to the "deedes applyable" to Britomart in relation to her rescue of Amoret, in Book III as a case in point of Spenser's exemplary technique.

Spenser establishes the exemplary nature of Britomart right from the beginning by likening her to "the shining ray," which "gaue light vuto the day" (III.i.43) and again in Book IV, where we are told her "face (Britomart's) discouered, plainely did expresse/ The heuenly pourtraict of bright Angels hew" (IV.v.13).  Britomart's link with the light imagery here is pregnant with meaning in that it associates her future "deedes" with divine grace, elevating her as an example of christian hero worthy of our imitation.  Spenser goes on to say of Britomart: "For she was full of amiable grace,/And manly terrour mixed therewithall" (III.i. 46). By balancing "amiable grace" and "manly terrour" in Britomart,  Spenser, like Milton, seems to indicate that he does not believe in a "cloistered virtue"12) and stresses action over the contemplative.    

Spenser's emphasis on the active becomes more apparent when we take into consideration the locus of The Faerie Queene.  In her essay on Redcross knight, Judith H. Anderson points out that descent into hell and parallel allusions occurs persistently in Book I in such a manner that draw attention to themselves (Anderson, 470-1). Indeed, numerous episodes throughout The Faerie Queene are modelled on the descent into hell, with its manifestation of the demonic power, so that the setting of The Faerie Queene becomes a place where the furies and "damned sprights" have "their chines haue brast" and are free to go about afflicting men who are "ill" (I.v.31).  Consequently, the landscape of Spenser's poem becomes the locus of "paradise lost," an underworld of trial and struggle which requires our continuing struggle with the effects of the Fall.13) Thus, when asked by Glauce as to "what needs her (Britomart) to toyle, sith fates can make /Way for themselues, their poupose to partake?" Spenser uses Merlin to teach us the importance of striving for "good endevours":

                    Indeed the fates are firme,

And may not shrinck, though all the world do shake;

Yet ought mens good endevours them confirme.

And guide the heavenly causes to their constant terms.


That Britomart's chastity involves "good endevours" is evident in the many "deedes" she undertakes, none of which is more central than the rescue of Amoret from Busirane's castle.  When she hears from Scudamour that Amoret has been: "cruellypend /In dolefull darkebesse from the vew of day,/ Whilest deadly torments do her chast brest rend,/ And the sharpe steele doth rive her hart in tway" (III.xi.11), she reveals herself to be a heroine who embodies "puissance," "valiaunce" and "chastity." Britomart the martial maid, does what the knight Scudamour is unable to do.   When Britomart and Scudamour approach the Castle gate where Amoret is imprisoned, they are faced with a wall of fire which "enforced them their forward footing to revoke" (III.xi.21). However, Britomart by virtue of "high prouidence" (III,xi.14), is able to get past the fire which "did it selfe divide with equall space, /That through she passed" (III.xi.25). 

In a most hell-like atmosphere of thunder and earthquakes, the narrator describes what Britomart has to overcome: a presentation "fit for tragicke stage," a soliloquy of 'some argument of matter passioned," a "ioyous fellowship.../Of Minstrals" and a group of "Wanton Bardes and Rymers" (III.xii.5).  Then, to the accompaniment of "most delitious harmony...of rare sweetnesse" intended to confound the senses, she is bombarded by a Maske that in orderly array continues the attack on her senses.  Finally, she must face the "vile Enchaunter," who:

Figuring straunge characters of his art,

With living bloud he tohse characters wrate,

Dreadfully dropping from her dying hart,

Seeming transfixed with a cruell dart,

And all perforce to make her him to love.


Britomart, alert and ready, overcomes each new attack on her senses.  And, when faces the "vile Enchaunter" himself, she is "bold" but "not too bold" (III.xi.54).  Thus, after Britomart had "maistered his might" (III.xii.32), she stood over him with "Her sword high" insisting that he "doe presently /Restore unto (Amoret) her health" (III.xii.35).  He does so, "rising up, gan streight to overlooke /Those cursed leaves, his charmes backe to reverse" (III.xii.36).

With the enchantment broken and Amoret is free to exercise her love for Scudamour, the "brasen" work that the Enchaunter had penned breaks "in peeces small" (III.xii.37).  In the process of undoing Busiran's work of art that was written in a false language of unchaste love, the narrator completes a monument instead to "Chastity/That fairest vertue, farre above the rest" and by merit of the "deedes applyable" to her virtue, she creates an "ensample" for the readers.

Admittedly, however, not all sixteenth-century writers adhere to the idealism of imitation within their work, celebrating "what may be and should be." That, I believe would be too simplistic a perspective.  This does not mean that the Humanistic idealism of imitation were not important to the period. Undoubtedly they constitute one of its main currents of thought.  However, the idealism of imitation as expressed in the various writers of the period, by itself, fails to provide the complete picture of Renaissance consciousness.  As Mikhail Bakhtin points out, we cannot fully understand either the Medieval or the Renaissance culture without taking into account of what he terms "this two-world condition"(Bakhtin, 6).14)   A brief look at Shakespeare's drama will help illustrate this point.

In anticipation of later scholars who stresses the significance of the carnivalesque for Renaissance literature, Bahktin emphasizes that the carnivalesque  was " the organization of shakespearean drama" (Bahktin, 275). Of course, the appeal in Shakespeare's plays to familiar literary, dramatic, and social conventions such as Hamlet's often quoted words, that the "purpose of playing" is "both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her own feature"15) does seem to indicate that Shakespeare was in agreement with Humanists such as Elyot and Sidney in their faith of exemplary history; the belief in the moral value of historical and literary examples and the educational association between knowledge and virtue. Undoubtedly Shakespeare must have been familiar with the Humanistic method of learning by imitating historical and literary examples. When we hear Henry IV reminding his wayward son of his noble ancestors, when the Archbishop of Canterbury urges Henry V to recall the valiant exploits of his forefathers, (1Henry IV. III.ii.29-31; Henry V. I.ii.100-14) we are hearing in the protagonists, echoes of the Humanist belief in the educational function of the exemplar.

Shakespeare's dramatic exploration of the uses of the past examples in his history plays, then, are rooted in the humanists concerns.  However, in plays such as Richard III, we can see evidences of Shakespeare questioning the idealistic bent of the Humanistic assumptions towards the moral value of imitating historical models.  In Richard III we see a fundamental questioning of the central tenet of humanist ideal of imitation--that past examples are a source of moral education and that imitation of historical or literary examples is the means to virtuous action in the present.  As Richard demonstrates, the power of the will to choose models for imitation is morally ambivalent. One can as easily look into the mirror of past examples to make a pattern for Judas as imitating Christ. Thus, imitation as a means of moral education is undermined in Richard III by Richard's ability to "imitate" for public consumption the virtues he despises revealing a kinship between imitating and role-playing as can be seen in Richard and Buckingham's counterfeiting the "deep tragedian" in the carefully staged scene at Baynard's Castle:

May.  See where his Grace stands, 'tween two


Buck.  Two props of virtue for a Christian prince,

To stay him from the fall of vanity'

And see, a book of prayer in his hand-

True ornaments to know a holy man. (III.vii.95-99)

For Richard, imitation is merely a techniques of self-creation, of deliberately molding one's behavior to fit a preconceived model but not a reality. The humanists educational theory, on the other hand, presumes that imitation was morally efficacious, that one became what one imitated.  Richard's frankly theatrical language in Richard III however, emphasizes the possibility of moral detachment from the role one plays and the model one imitate thereby revealing the inherent weakness in the humanist ideal of imitation.  

The helplessness and occasional corruption of learned men seem to make heroic examples insufficient bulwarks against the chaos produced by conflicting ambitions.  It is only through providential framework that Richard III offers an alternative order. But that of course is another topic.  It is enough to conclude this paper with the observation that central to the educational ideals of English humanists is the Renaissance theory of "imitation" and that, the arguments by English humanists such as  Ascham and Sidney, towards the moral purpose of art and especially poetry, that it leads to "virtuous action" by means of moving the reader to imitate the virtuous examples given, is also pregnant with suggestions and challenges for today's English teachers.  A teacher of English is privileged with a unique opportunity to not only to teach students the means of communication, meaning eloquence, but also to move them to virtuous action.  If, as noted by Desiderius Erasmus, it is "by the copious reading of the best authors" that "we acquire the power of speaking a language"(Erasmus, 163-4), it can also be a means to shape and transform the students into the "best" people of this society by stimulating their moral and intellectual faculties.  Reading Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare will undoubtedly provide the means to achieve eloquence, for they all stand out as the best that English can offer. Yet it can also be an opportunity to not only teach them the best means to communicate eloquently but also to please and persuade them to imitate the virtuous behavior they encounter in their readings.

(Seoul Theological University)

Works Cited

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Erasmus, Desiderius. "De Ratione Studii." VI :3. Concerning the Aim and Method of Education. New York: Columbia University Press, 1964.

Ettin, Andrew V. "The Georgics in The Faerie Queene." SST, III (1982).

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_____. The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, Vol. 1. The Prose Works of Sir Philip Sidney. Ed. Albert Feuillerat. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963.

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Reflections on "Imitatio" as an Educational Ideal of English Humanism

Jin Sunwoo

In order to discuss the educational ideals of English Humanism, we need to begin by, first, examining the meaning and concerns related to the term "Humanism."  Subjected to copious definitions, Humanism can most readily be grasped as a system of education during the Renaissance, which curriculum was the adaptation of newly discovered or revived classical learning by means of rote, precept, and exercise, the covering term for which was "imitation."  The Humanists' absorption with classical learning, however, was more than mere transmission and establishment of classical texts but rather embraces a new/renewed mode of perception, one that is defined by its  belief in the revolutionary possibility of change. With the acceptance of the belief that individuals are changeable by deliberate human action, the humanists proposed to educate the "best" people in order to provide the nation with effective statesmen, advisors, and leaders by nurturing their intellectual and moral faculties, which in turn, they believed, would ensure that they would work for the common good.  Central, then, to the educational ideals of sixteenth-century humanists is the Renaissance theory of "imitation."  For the humanists, classical texts not only offered the possibility of fashioning the self and society but also the pattern or paradigm after which that fashioning should take place.  Moved by a genuine desire to recapture the qualities they admired in antiquity, the humanists were also motivated to imitate.  Thus, inspired by the knowledge of the classical period, the humanists proposed a solution for political and social problems through their mode of education based on the theory of "imitation." 

Key Words: Eloyt, Sidney, Castiglione, Sidney, Spenser, imitation, Humanism, education, ideal, exemplar

1) According to The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Literoe humaniores was an expression coined in reference to the classic literature of Rome and the imitation and reproduction of its literary forms in the new learning." The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. James Fieser and Bradley Dowden, May 2004 <http://www.>.

2) This new humanist emphasis on the ideal for the individual man viewed against the values and ideals of Christianity, highlights how different was this new found emphasis on man and the quest for human perfection.  Though the Christian humanists and poets attempted to introduce their exemplars in Christian wrappings, the Christian-humanistic dichotomy, becomes an important factor in our understanding of the literature of the Renaissance. As Ruth Kelso puts it, the two are "fundamentally irreconcilable, one (Christianity) a system of renunciation, of abasement of the individual; the other a system of expansion, of perfection of the individual" (Ruth Kelso, 13).

3) According to Fritz Caspari, "[d]uring the sixteenth century, English humanists evolved a social doctrine with which they tried to defend and improve the existing order of society. ...Their particular concern was to devise means whereby in the social and political framework of Tudor England, the ruling members of society would also be its "best" men (Caspari, 1-2).

4) Caspari notes that " be a good man, his good potentialities had first to be developed by a careful and comprehensive education....The education of the Greek and Roman aristocracy could thus provide a most useful example,...the great men of these states, and the ideals according to which they had lived, could serve as prototypes in sixteenth-century England" (Caspari, 5-6).

5) Subsequent references from the Defense of Poetry are from this edition and will be indicated after each quote.

6) This power of poetry to move its audience towards imitation, however, was also responsible various objections to the humanistic endeavor, especially pertaining to its reliance on emotion rather than reason.  Renaissance uncertainty towards poetic endeavor derived, ironically for the Humanists, partly from classical sources.  In The Republic Plato observes that "When even the best of us hear Homer or any other of the tragic poets imitating one of the heroes... we give ourselves over to following the imitation" (Plato,289).  However, the suspicion is that poetry can as easily lend charm to what is evil as to virtue and this underlie Plato's banishment of the poets from his Republic.

7) It is noteworthy that the Renaissance theory of "imitatio" had important implications not only for English Humanists but also for Christian writers of the period such as John Milton who depicts the Son as a pattern of a Christian hero in Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained for his readers to imitate. For further reading on the relationship between the theory of imitatio and English Protestants, see Elizabeth K. Hudson, "English Protestants and the imitatio Christi, 1580-1620," Sixteenth Century Journal 19:4 (1988): 541-558.

8) All quotations from Elyot are from this edition and page number will be stated following each quote.

9) Sir Philip Sidney, The Countesse of Pembrokes Arcadia, vol.1 in The Prose works of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. Albert Feuillerat (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1963), p.8.   All quotes from the New Arcadia are from this edition and page number will be stated following each quote.

10) Sir Philip Sidney, The Countesse of Pembroke's Arcadia, Being the Original Version, vol.4 in The Prose Works of Sir Philip Sidney, ed. Albert Feuillerat (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1963), pp.9-10.

11) Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, ed. A.C. Hamilton (New York: Longman, 1977), p.737. All quotations from The Faerie Queene will be from this edition and references will be given parenthetically in the text.

12) John Milton, Milton's Prose Writings, ed. K.M. Burton (London: J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd, 1958), p.158.

13) In his discussions of Virgil's Georgics, Andrew V. Ettin stresses that Spenser was influenced by Virgil's notion of life as a "continuing struggle, a challenge set for us by divine wisdom" (Andrew V. Ettin,57). William A Sessions makes a similar argument in "Spenser's Georgics," ELR, 10 (1980), pp.202-38.

14) Robert Weimann similarly argues that the comic elements of Shakespearean drama, "offers viable alternatives to the main or state view of things" (Weimann, 228).

15) William Shakespeare, The Riverside Shakespeare, ed. G. Blakemore Evans (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974), p.1161-2, III.ii.20-23. All quotations from Shakespeare are from this edition and references will be given parenthetically after each quote.