Convention, 1500-1750

Lawrence Manley
Harvard University Press
July 1980

A major reinterpretation of the development of European literary theory, this wide-ranging study offers a new approach to ways of thinking about man’s work in general. The book is a history of the idea of convention, the roles it played in the formative stages of English and Continental literary theory and in the development of modern thought.

Lawrence Manley traces the idea of convention to its sources in an ancient debate between philosophers and rhetoricians, whose conflicting views of convention established the terms of the controversy that was revived with new implications during the Renaissance. As a result of related developments in political, legal, moral, religious, and artistic thought, Manley argues, the growing prominence of convention eventually challenged the ancient formulation and brought about a major revision in the order and techniques for the study of human things.

Convention, 1500–1750 discusses literary developments in the context of a much larger debate about the role of convention in the life of man. It attempts to show how this debate marked a transition in intellectual history between ancient and modern views of man’s relation to his civilized setting.