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English political prophecy and the problem of modernity


This essay engages the methodological problem of medieval/modern periodization through study of political prophecy, a literary genre in which distant and recent historical experience mixes with imagined futures. To the question ‘Was English political prophecy medieval or modern?’ no answer can be given. The written tradition of political prophecy straddles the centuries now designated as medieval and modern. Public and governmental interest in prophecy peaked in the first half of the sixteenth century, the period of English literary history served most poorly by the medieval/modern periodization. The first section of the essay summarizes the generic, linguistic, codicological, political, and social dimensions of English political prophecy. The second section identifies points of contact between the field of political prophecy and the problem of modernity.

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  1. 1.

    All late sixteenth/early seventeenth century except for Ashmole Rolls 26 (late fifteenth century).

  2. 2.

    See Barnes (1988), Jostmann (2006), Kerby-Fulton (2000), Lerner (2009), and Sahlin (2001).

  3. 3.

    See Coote (2000), Flood (2016), Jansen (1991), Moranski (1998), Taylor (1911), and Thornton (2006).

  4. 4.

    See Flood (2015, 432–7), and Smallwood (1985).

  5. 5.

    See Teramura in this issue.

  6. 6.

    See, for example, Summit and Wallace (2007) and Cummings and Simpson (2010).


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Weiskott, E. English political prophecy and the problem of modernity. Postmedieval 10, 8–21 (2019).

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