Henry Peacham’s The Compleat Gentleman and Early Modern Print

Arul Kumaran


In this age of globalization and “clash of
civilizations,” 1 where a great mingling of the
world’s various populations and cultures has been
hastened by emigration, trade, the Internet, and
social media, the concept of civility and manners
needs a fresh look. Western manners, especially,
need to be reexamined since the word “civilized” is
understood largely as “westernized.” Early
modern England is a good place to start, since
hundreds of behavior manuals were written and
published during this period, and the code of
conduct known in medieval times as “courtesy”
slowly transformed into the notion of “civility”
over the sixteenth century, and, later, into “civil
behavior” from seventeenth century onwards. And
through trade and colonization, this concept was
transported abroad and used as a rationale for
conquests and exploitation of natural resources in
various regions on the planet. Sigmund Freud
tried to understand the phenomenon of civilization
though his psychoanalytical prism in the beginning
of the twentieth century;2 Norbert Elias, building
on Freud, conducted a sweeping study of western
manners that he called “sociogenic and
psychogenic investigations,” seeing civilization as a
specific transformation of human behavior effected
by conscious control of bodily functions and by the
exercise of “self-constraint” in various modes of
behavior. 3 Scholars have also studied the most
popular of courtesy books in the sixteenth century,
such as Il Cortegiano by Baldassare Castiglione as
well as other notable courtesy books such as Sir
Thomas Elyot’s The Boke of Governour, Roger
Ascham’s The School Master, and Thomas
Wilson’s The Art of Rhetoric.4 These studies have
focused on the phenomenon of courtesy from the
perspective of Renaissance humanism, court
politics, and upper class self-fashioning. But a
specific look into the ways in which courtly selffashioning
transcended class barrier and became a
prevalent mode of self-expression and identity
constitution remains elusive.

Full Text:



  • There are currently no refbacks.