What caused England's literary Renaissance? One answer has been that such unprecedented developments as the European discovery of America inspired English writers to "open up new worlds for the imagination." Yet England in the sixteenth century was far from an expanding nation. Not only did the Tudors lose England's sole remaining possessions on the Continent and, thanks to the Reformation, grow spiritually divided from the Continent as well, but every one of their attempts to colonize the New World actually failed.
Jeffrey Knapp accounts for this strange combination of literary expansion and national isolation by showing how the English made a virtue of their increasing insularity. Ranging across a wide array of literary and extraliterary sources, Knapp argues that English poets rejected the worldly acquisitiveness of an empire like Spain's and took pride in England's material limitations as a sign of its spiritual strength. In the imaginary worlds of such fictions as Utopia, The Faerie Queene, and The Tempest, they sought a grander empire, founded on the "otherworldly" virtues of both England and poetry itself.
An Empire Nowhere explains how, by exploring the interconnections among England, empire, and poetry, English writers not only discovered a powerful rationale for writing, but also helped launch England's early colonialism on a paradoxically insular and unworldly course.