Mining the Seams: The Metamorphosis of Punning 1590-1750

Author: Paul Sutton

Sutton, Paul, 2011 Mining the Seams: The Metamorphosis of Punning 1590-1750, Flinders University, School of Humanities

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Abstract

This thesis examines puns in poetry from the Renaissance, through Milton, into the eighteenth century. It examines the puns through the lens of rhetoric, focussing upon the rhetorical techniques that are pun like in their effect: antanaclasis, asteismus, paronomasia, polyptoton and syllepsis. Through this lens the thesis suggests that the canonical poets of the two eras did differ in their use of rhetorical puns. The eighteenth century saw the rise of the anti-pun debate, which led to the anti-pun attitude becoming a critical commonplace. However, it has long been known that the eighteenth century poets were willing to use puns despite the bad press wordplay was gathering at the time. The Renaissance poets were willing to follow what this thesis describes as the logic of the pun and to use it to structure their lyric poems. Milton appears to arrest this practice in his epic poetry, and, especially through the use of polyptoton, endeavours to bring the play of ambiguity inherent in punning under as rigorous a control as English can provide. The eighteenth century poets did not entirely follow Milton's lead but they do not appear to have returned to the pre-Miltonic use of the puns to deply the logic of the pun. Rather, the eighteenth century begins to see teh ascendancy of the euphemistic pun. While this thesis points to the larger narrative of the pun becoming, as at least once critic would have it, the lowest form of wit, it also suggests the ways in which poetic punning was altered, challenged and enriched by poets 1590 and 1740.

Keywords: pun,puns,punning,asteismus,antanaclasis,syllepsis,paronomasia,polyptoton,rhetorical punning,rhetorical puns,Milton,Dryden,Pope,Shakespeare,Sidney,Donne
Subject: English thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2011
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Associate Professor Robert Phiddian