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The Severed Head and the Grafted Tongue
Literature, Translation and Violence in Early Modern Ireland


  • Date Published: May 2015
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107614703

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About the Authors
  • Severed heads emblemise the vexed relationship between the aesthetic and the atrocious. During the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland, colonisers such as Edmund Spenser, Sir John Harington and Sir George Carew wrote or translated epic romances replete with beheadings even as they countenanced - or conducted - similar deeds on the battlefield. This study juxtaposes the archival record of actual violence with literary depictions of decapitation to explore how violence gets transcribed into art. Patricia Palmer brings the colonial world of Renaissance England face to face with Irish literary culture. She surveys a broad linguistic and geographical range of texts, from translations of Virgil's Aeneid to the Renaissance epics of Ariosto and Ercilla and makes Irish-language responses to conquest and colonisation available in readable translations. In doing so, she offers literary and political historians access not only to colonial brutality but also to its ethical reservations, while providing access to the all-too-rarely heard voices of the dispossessed.

    • Demonstrates the symbiosis between militant colonialism and English Renaissance literature
    • Crosses back and forth between the archival record of actual violence and literary depictions of beheading, weaving the two together
    • Brings two very different worlds face to face: the colonial world of Renaissance England and the rich but unfamiliar world of Irish literary culture
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Palmer makes use of an impressive literary assortment ranging from the Iliad, through Irish- language poets to W. B. Yeats, Seanus Heaney, Sarah Broom, Padraic Fallon and John Montagu.' The Times Literary Supplement

    ''Palmer [has] rare linguistic expertise …' Thomas Herron, Sixteenth Century Journal

    'Patricia Palmer's intelligent and eloquent new book has brought the life and literature of early modern Ireland to the foreground, illuminating the present through her revelation of the past and cementing her own place as one of our foremost cultural interpreters … this is a detailed and careful historical account, which owes a great deal to the author's painstaking work with original documents. One of its great virtues is Palmer's eye for the telling detail. She is capable of seeing through official memoranda to the story beyond.' Deirdre Serjeantson, Dublin Review of Books

    'Patricia Palmer has written a passionate, erudite and original book … her treatment of Carew in particular is welcome, and new to me. … She gives us a new approach to the motives and purposes of translation, applied to a striking instance of bodily involvement in struggle that is like the struggle with language, if less lethal.' Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Translation Ireland

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    Product details

    • Date Published: May 2015
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107614703
    • length: 196 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 11 mm
    • weight: 0.27kg
    • contains: 9 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. 'A Horses Loade of Heades': conquest and atrocity in early modern Ireland
    2. The romance of the severed head: Sir John Harington's translation of Orlando Furioso
    3. Defaced: allegory, violence and romance recognition in The Faerie Queene
    4. The head in a bag: Sir George Carew's translation of Alonso de Ercilla's La Araucana
    5. Elegy and afterlives.

  • Author

    Patricia Palmer, King's College London
    Patricia Palmer is a senior lecturer in English at King's College London. She is the author of Language and Conquest in Early Modern Ireland (2002) and has broadcast on language for Irish radio.

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