Love's Quarrels

Reading Charity in Early Modern England

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Early modern English writers often complained that “charity had grown cold,” lamenting the dissolution of society’s communal bonds. But far from diminishing in scope or influence, charity generated heated debates, animated by social, political, and religious changes that prompted urgent questions about the virtue’s powers and functions. Charity was as much a problem as it was a solution, a sure sign of trouble even when invoked on behalf of peace and community.

Love’s Quarrels charts charity’s complex history from the 1520s to the 1640s and details the ways in which it can be best understood in biblical translations of the early sixteenth century, in Elizabethan polemic and satire, and in the political and religious controversies arriving at the outset of civil war. As key works from Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson, and John Milton reveal, “reading charity” was fraught with difficulty as early modern England reconsidered its deepest held convictions in the face of mounting social disruption and spiritual pressure.

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