A Poetics of the natural: sensation, decorum, and bodily appeal in Puttenham's Art of English Poesy



This article addresses courtier-poet Puttenham's sprawling 1589 treatise on English poetics, focusing especially on one of the text's central tensions: the relationship between poetry as constructed commodity and the receptive body as natural, sensual, universal in its responses and affinities. I suggest that Puttenham's treatise is not merely a guide for poetic composition but also a sustained exploration of what it means to be a hearer and reader of poetry. The Art of English Poesy is as interested in theorizing the physiological and social dimensions of the poetic encounter as it is in offering a set of instructions to aspiring courtier-poets. Puttenham analyses this encounter in terms of an aesthetic ideal of proportionate composition and response; as a partnership flourishing under the conditions of a universal natural order; and as a crucial social tool, essential to decorum and courtly success. Yet Puttenham's central claim is for the supremacy of the receptive body as the ultimate arbiter of poetic quality.