Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Richard McCoy

Committee Members

Clare Carroll

Martin Elsky

Subject Categories

Literature in English, British Isles


solitude, privacy, early modern England


This dissertation argues that the discourse of solitude in early modern English literature was used to construct a fantasy of resistance to political and social corruption and internecine conflict. Furthermore, the rhetoric of solitude and the positioning of oneself as an outsider, as “uniquely separate from society,” in Andrew Bennett’s terms, led to the development of an early modern authorial identity in opposition to the world, opening a space that allowed social critique and utopian desire to flourish. The notion of disengaged resistance, or what we might call disengaged engagement, is the key component of the rhetoric and practice of authorial solitude in the early modern period, derived via Petrarch and Montaigne. I apply these Petrarchan and Montaignean templates of solitary withdrawal to early modern England, attempting to move beyond the critical conversation on the “active life–contemplative life debates.” In English Renaissance literature, the depiction of a solitary character often acts as a warning against the breaking of traditional bonds, hierarchies, and social commitments in favor of a rapacious individualism or an emphasis on distinction. But this alienation is not always portrayed in purely negative terms: indeed, there is a real attraction and interest in solitariness that tests the limits of obedience and conformity, opens the possibility of social critique, and posits the construction of an alternative identity and, consequently, an alternative society.