June 23 , 2008

Five Words

Critical Semantics in the Age of Shakespeare and Cervantes


Blood. Invention. Language. Resistance. World. Five ordinary words that do a great deal of conceptual work in everyday life and literature. In this original experiment in critical semantics, Roland Greene considers how these five words changed over the course of the sixteenth century and what their changes indicate about broader forces in science, politics, and other disciplines.
Greene discusses a broad swath of Renaissance and transatlantic literature—including Shakespeare, Cervantes, Camões, and Milton—in terms of the development of these words rather than works, careers, or histories. He creates a method for describing and understanding the semantic changes that occur, extending his argument to other words that operate in the same manner. Aiming to shift the conversation around Renaissance literature from current approaches to riskier enterprises, Greene also challenges semantic-historicist scholars, proposing a method that takes advantage of digital resources like full-text databases but still depends on the interpreter to fashion ideas out of ordinary language. Five Words is an innovative and accessible book that points the field of literary studies in an exciting new direction.
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