THE EUROPEAN RENAISSANCE SAW the rise of a phenomenon known as ''civil conversation,'' according to which the arena of informal speech became significant for men's social advancement. At the same time, however, Renaissance literature inherited from the classics an evaluative language that denounced loquacity as effeminate. Hutson's article uses Ben Jonson's writings to explore the tension between the prescriptions of ''virile style'' and the social reality for men of ''civil conversation.'' The tension manifests itself, she argues, in the expanded sense of personal liability inherent in the notion of informal speech as a significant site of advancement in the age of ''note-taking'' and the commonplace book. She shows how the note-taking habit blurs the line between circulating speech for aesthetic purposes and for purposes of espionage. She discusses certain pervasive classical figures and ideas - such as the ''mindful drinking companion'' and the Plutarchan idea of internalizing and preempting hostile judgments of one's words by imagining oneself as one's own enemy. She notes that Jonson reworks these figures and ideas to produce a heroic notion of a ''civil conversationalist'' who is also ''virile'' in that he can resist being effeminized bythe circulation of hostile or ignorant interpretations of his words; he can resist, in other words, being transformed into the feminine figure of Rumor. The article concludes with a reading of Jonson's Every Man in His Humour as a play concerned to articulate a new, heroic ''civil virility'' as the ability to resist hostile constructions of informal speech.
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