The most important and powerful critical intelligence of the eighteenth century inevitably occupies the central ground in this investigation. Samuel Johnson produced no History of the Renaissance, no History of English Poetry; but he did stand at the center of the age's critical efforts, and perhaps had more influence on subsequent literary history and literary historiography than any other single figure of the eighteenth century. Although in my dissertation I want a scope broader than Johnson himself -- one that focuses not solely on Johnson, but places him in the context of Dryden, Dennis, Warton, and so on -- I hope in the Field Exam to focus especially on Johnson's role in the creation of these paradigms for understanding the age now known as the English Renaissance.1
Some parts of this territory have already been mapped thoroughly: the place of Shakespeare and Milton in the eighteenth century has been widely studied (see, e.g., de Grazia, Griffin, Parker, Sherbo, and Tomarken, below), and Johnson's Life of Cowley has led to extensive study of the Metaphysical poets in the Augustan age. Other areas, however, are nearly virgin territory, each treated by perhaps a handful of articles, if at all. Shakespeare, for instance, has nearly completely displaced the study of other Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists in the eighteenth century, even those as important as Jonson and Marlowe. The most thorough survey of eighteenth-century Spenserianism is an introductory chapter in a book devoted to Keats and Shelley (see Kucich, below). And the Augustan reception of the prose works of the English Renaissance -- More, Ascham, Browne, Hooker, Burton, Bacon, Raleigh, and Donne, as well as such writers of prose fiction as Sidney, Lyly, Lodge, Greene, and Nashe -- has not received nearly the attention it deserves.
Even given my restriction here to Johnson and the English Renaissance, my choice of texts (already at sixty volumes) must inevitably be extremely selective. I have therefore excluded many primary titles (such as The Faerie Queene, Paradise Lost, and Hamlet) because their familiarity obviates the need to include them on a list -- though of course I count them as fair game for the exam. The texts I have chosen for my "official" list suggest four large areas of inquiry, which may provide the broad rubrics under which I'll arrange my dissertation chapters.
The first is the eighteenth century's reception of Renaissance drama: Shakespeare above all, of course, but not exclusively. The importance of the drama is too obvious to need much justification. Johnson came to London hoping to stage his own tragedy, set in the fifteenth century and drawn from an early seventeenth-century source. The Augustans (and Johnson among them) were the first to give Shakespeare's works the editorial treatment previously reserved for classical texts. Perhaps most important, the rise of Bardolatry in the eighteenth century owes much to Johnson himself and to his pupil and lifelong friend, David Garrick. To this end I include not only Johnson's own criticism on Shakespeare but also works on eighteenth-century Shakespearean studies by De Grazia, Parker, Sherbo, and Tomarken.
Shakespeare is also relevant in the second area, history, as Shakespeare's plays were the conduit through which the Renaissance chronicles passed into the eighteenth century's popular consciousness. Since the historiography which distinguishes the Renaissance from the Middle Ages seems an important topic with which to begin -- in England, the Renaissance was associated with the accession of the Tudors and especially Elizabeth -- I hope to turn to the most culturally influential accounts of the rise of the Tudor myth. In addition, therefore, to the most important of the chronicles, Holinshed's, I include Shakespeare's ten British histories, along with Phyllis Rackin's study of the plays.
The third area, the Renaissance epic, has been widely studied with respect to Milton, although other epic poets (such as Spenser) and prose writers who approach the epic (Cervantes, Sidney) have received little attention. As I have already written on Spenser, I hope to focus in the Field Exam especially on Milton, on his position at the boundary between the Renaissance and the Restoration. I therefore include not only Johnson's Lives (particularly the Life of Milton) but also Griffin's Regaining Paradise.
The fourth area is probably the least studied, but perhaps the most important for Johnsonian studies: the great Renaissance prose writers whose works he read, edited, quoted in his periodical essays, and extracted in his Dictionary. The popular identification of Johnson as a "humanist" (most visibly in Paul Fussell's title The Rhetorical World of Augustan Humanism) suggests that a general study of English humanism may be illuminating. Browne and Ascham are especially important, since Johnson wrote a Life of each, and may have edited their works. Boswell attests to Bacon's importance for Johnson, and the Rambler provides the most visible record of the influence not only of Bacon's genre and prose style, but also of his temperamental skepticism and empiricism.
Finally, many of the works on my list are included either for the light they shed on Johnson's critical habits (such as The Rambler among the primary texts and Hagstrum and Watkins among the secondary), or for their attention to eighteenth-century literary history generally (Hurd and Warton in the eighteenth century; Ferguson, Kucich, Lipking, and Wasserman in the twentieth). Johnson's criticism and literary history come together in the Lives and especially the Dictionary, where Johnson at once analyzes and canonizes the Renaissance in works that were among the most read of Johnson's works (and among the most influential works of intellectual and literary history) in the following century.