Research Stream


Ross Knecht
Emory University (USA)

The Grammar Rules of Affection

This project explores Humanist pedagogy and its influence on early modern English literature. It shows that the grammar school provided writers with a set of terms, concepts, and practices that enabled the sophisticated representation of emotion we find in early modern literature.

The Grammar Rules of Affection

“Grammatica” by Joam de Barro, (1539). Revista de História da Biblioteca Nacional.

The literature of early modern England abounds with the language of the grammar school. This language is in part comprised of representations and recollections of the schoolroom experience itself, but it also includes adaptations of the formal matter of grammatical instruction: the rules and principles of grammar in which sixteenth-century schoolboys were rigorously trained. Literary invocations of grammar often serve to trace the structures of affective states and relationships: thus we find talk of “the grammar of the heart,” the “declension” of melancholy, and “the grammar rules of affection,” the expression of Philip Sidney’s Ross Knect borrows for the title of his project.

This project, an interdisciplinary study combining a philosophical approach to literature with a historical analysis of early modern pedagogy, contends that the uses of grammar school discourse in early modern literature suggest a nascent but profound understanding of the relationship between language and emotion. They imply that emotion is “grammatical,” that it is comprised of patterns of language and expression and defined by conventionally-established rules of use. By adapting the vocabulary of the grammar school to the actions and events of everyday life, early modern literature engages in a project analogous to that of Ludwig Wittgenstein, who sought to show the harmony of language and experience and the way in which human life depends upon a common “grammar” or framework of conventional standards.


The Grammar Rules of Affection: Language, Passion, and Pedagogy in Early Modern English Literature, [manuscript in progress].

'Shapes of Grief: Hamlet’s Grammar School Passions'. English Literary History 82.1 (2015): 35‒58.