The title of Christopher Warley’s latest book has an old-fashioned, didactic ring to it, a little like “Business Management through Great Literature” or “Learning Statecraft with the Classics.” The effect is no doubt deliberate. Reading Class through Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton advances a potent argument about the virtues of close attention to literary history in “the permanent present of the era that no longer thinks historically” (5). In seven compact chapters Warley takes up key works of Renaissance poetry, prose, and drama to model a Marxian-formalist practice of “slow reading,” “a powerful way—perhaps the only way—to study class” (23). Throughout he scrupulously avoids both nostalgia for a simpler time of class critique (the original symptomatic reading) and a Walter Benn Michaels–style provocation against the current reign of identity politics. Instead, Warley points us toward the future. “Why study Renaissance literature?” asks the...

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