Shooting for England: Configuring the Book and the Bow in Roger Ascham's Toxophilus

Matthew Woodcock

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2 Citations (Scopus)


This essay argues that the subject matter and context of Roger Ascham’s Toxophilus are as important as its linguistic and stylistic qualities. Advocacy of archery formed the core of Ascham’s rhetorical strategy when he presented Toxophilus to Henry VIII in 1545; the treatise proposes a number of ways in which the arts of the bow relate to those of the book. This essay examines the relationship between archery and rhetorical practice, the value of archery as a utilitarian exercise for scholars, the peculiarly English aptitude for longbow shooting, and the pressure to maintain such prowess exerted in early modern statute books. Toxophilus appears at a transitional moment in the history of archery: the point at which the textual representation of the bow assumes greater efficacy than archery practice itself. Ascham advertises to Henry his ability to reconstitute archery as a symbolic, textual resource that might be utilized in the service of both the sovereign and state.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1017-1038
Number of pages22
JournalSixteenth Century Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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