My dissertation, The Poetics of Error in the Seventeenth Century, identifies a species of valuable, productive error in writers such as William Shakespeare, John Milton, Isaac Newton and Daniel Defoe. Drawing on the etymological definition of error as ‘wandering,’ these authors understand error as a method: a process of intellectual, physical, and spiritual exploration that allows one to gradually expand one’s understanding. Figured as physical and intellectual wandering, this mode of error I argue, is both a response to and an expression of the flux and metamorphosis in the natural world. It arises, moreover, in response to the epistemological crises generated by the Protestant Reformation and the Copernican Revolution. My project examines textual representations of exploration, wandering, and discovery in published literary, philosophical, and scientific texts as well as archival sources in order to offer a corrective to the traditional conception of early modern England as fixated on rooting out and eliminating error. Rather, I find in these texts that embracing error – both its potential and its real effects – is necessary for learning, discovery, and creativity.

Degree Date

Spring 2022

Document Type


Degree Name





Rajani Sudan

Second Advisor

Timothy Rosendale

Third Advisor

Emma Wilson

Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License

Available for download on Wednesday, May 05, 2027