The Dangers of the New Scarlet S

Amy E. Cook
University of California, San Diego

Cook, Amy E. "The Dangers of the New Scarlet S". Early Modern Literary Studies 10.3 (January, 2005) 18.1-4<URL:>.

  1. I would like to take issue with Nesvet’s critique of the “postmodernist romance with subjectivity” in her review of Bryan Reynolds’s Becoming Criminal.[1] She ends her review with a cri de coeur about the dangers of such scholarship and seems to want others to rally around the anti-subjective flag.

  2. We must not allow “subjectivity” to become the Scarlet A of scholarship, nor cede the territory we scholars stand on between objectivity and subjectivity. Reynolds does not argue that history is subjective; rather, he recognizes the existence of a multiplicity of historical facts, stories, texts, and representations, and argues that the assiduous historian should take these multifarious forms of evidence into consideration. Should we vilify or refuse to acknowledge the liminal space we occupy due to historical and cultural disjunctions, we risk the loss of conscientious historiography and academic freedom. Questioning the truth-claims of those with power in the academy to control discourse is not the same as romanticizing subjectivity. Using the knowledge of how those claims work to unpack a historical moment that we must interpret through mediated contact with mediating documents can and should be a part of our scholarship.

  3. Rhetoric that endeavors to suppress theories that argue for a multiplicity of historical perspectives and representations usually comes from belief systems that assert truths based on notions of sacredness rather than empiricism or science; it is rhetoric that often relies on improvable things that require faith, not scholarship, to buttress.

  4. The famous “Baines note,” which alleges to contain Christopher Marlowe’s “damnable Iudgment of Religion and scorn of Gods word,” uses the power of the word “atheist” to indict and damn Marlowe. More and more, I hear academics called “subjective” with the same intent to damn. If we do not defend the territory that exists between objective and subjective, and let these unscholarly attacks stand for fear of confirming our reputation as subjective or for fear of not being sensitive to the truth-claims of others, than we will have sacrificed crucial opportunities to learn.


[1] Rebecca Nesvet, "Review of Bryan Reynolds, Becoming Criminal: Transversal Performance and Cultural Dissidence in Early Modern England". Early Modern Literary Studies 10.2 (September, 2004) 10.1-5 <URL:>.


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