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Garner-Balandrin, Shannon Jane. “Into Something Rich and Strange: Early Modern English Romance and Ecotheory.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Northeastern University, 2016.

This project argues that the genre of romance in the early modern period is both deeply concerned with and profoundly shaped by materiality. Where magical objects, allegorical creatures, and fanciful geographies used to suggest romance as bracketed from the real world, my reading of these texts through ecomaterialism brings into focus the materiality of romance objects and the agency of romance’s strangely familiar landscapes and elemental combinations.

I contend that our reading practices must fundamentally change if we take literally the materiality of early modern romance. In this project I claim that the material base of romance ecologies and allegorical entities, what I term base matter, is an active force in crafting meaning at every level of these layered narratives. Where traditional allegorical exegesis moves upwards and away from the literal or the material, my project redirects focus back to the foundation of these elements. I argue that early modern romance is the locus of a multi-directional system where the material, the representational, and the discursive persistently have effects on and between each other.

Base matter owes a debt to political theorist Jane Bennett’s “vibrant matter.” Bennett’s vibrant materiality reinvigorates matter as a lively substance that may become what Bruno Latour in his actor-network-theory terms an actant. In my project base matter is the vibrant matter at the foundation of allegorical entities: as matter it has the agency to interact with its surrounding elements and as base matter it has the agency to inform all of the readings within its allegorical network.

Interrogating early modern romance on a material level reveals how ecological matter is implicated in questions of gender, agency, and history. Following Latour’s reimagining of the assemblage, Bennett’s vibrant materiality, Stacy Alaimo’s concept of trans-corporeality, and the work of other interdisciplinary scholars, including feminist and quantum physicist Karen Barad, this project focuses on the various combinations of human and nonhuman agencies found in early modern English romance: from the maternal materiality of Errour in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene to the various human, mineral, vegetable, animal, textual, liquid, fiery, and even planetary assemblages in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, Mary Wroth’s The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, Michael Drayton’s The Poly-Olbion, and Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone. By focusing on the base matter of these diverse romance texts, my project works to break down the boundaries between nature and culture, registers the ways in which the material of romance is inescapably gendered, and makes visible productive collaborations of human and nonhuman entities. Base matter illuminates shared elements, enmeshed being, and interconnected meaning. 

Hoffmann, Nicholas. “The Art of Information Management: English Literature: 1580-1605.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. State University of New York at Buffalo, 2016.

“The Art of Information Management” explores the ways that information technologies influence thought and take shape in imaginative works of literature at the turn of the seventeenth century in early modern England, from 1580 to 1605. Imaginative literature becomes a space for articulating the challenges presented by discourses perceived to have been unalterably expanded and amplified through technology, as well for experimenting with strategies to respond to those challenges.

Drawing on studies of early modern Materialism, New Historicism, Literary History, Digital Humanities, and Media Archeology, this project seeks to move the understanding of the role information technologies as agents of change forward by relocating debates concerning technology to the spaces imagined in early modern English literature of the fantastic: Thomas Nashe’s multi-modal London and ocean-sanctuary Yarmouth, Edmund Spenser’s Faery Land, William Shakespeare and Robert Armin’s holiday Kingdom of Illyria, and Samuel Daniel’s pastoral Arcadia. In each imagined space, this project looks at the printing press and beyond to attendant technologies in order to develop a better understand of the period’s relationship to our own.

The works considered here expose a moment of feverish innovation with regard to the rhetorical construction of authenticity, political expression, and right behavior. The first two chapters argue that the writings of Thomas Nashe and Edmund Spenser reflect a heightened sensitivity to the speed and timings associated with technologically-mediated discourse. The final two chapters examine the efforts of William Shakespeare, Robert Armin, and Samuel Daniel, as they sort through the solidifying perception of discourse structures outpacing traditional modes of thought and learning.

Plunges, Craig. “Vanishing Points: Perspectival Metaphysics in the English Renaissance.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Harvard University, 2016.  

Taking as its starting point the ut pictura poesis tradition of artistic theory, this dissertation examines how the poets and dramatists of the English Renaissance transformed mimetic strategies originally developed in the fields of art and architecture into unprecedented literary topoi and figures in their own right. The project focuses primarily on the practice of linear perspective, which simulates visual experience by subordinating abstract space to the artificial logic of the “vanishing point”. It demonstrates how English writers developed the initial idea of linear perspective as an artificially arranged, delimited point of view into a body of descriptive practices that constitute what I term “perspectival metaphysics”. Experiments in perspectival metaphysics in the works of Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, and Andrew Marvell reveal the assumptions that underlie normative vision, and vision’s relationship to subjective experience and its interpretation. Vanishing Points concludes that the rhetorical strategies of spatial description developed by early modern English writers are an integral part of the broader epistemological shift from renaissance humanism to the increasingly complex modes of scientific and philosophical rationalism that characterized the European seventeenth century.


Walters, John. “‘Take Heed What You Hear’: Counsel and Literature in the English Renaissance.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Indiana University, 2016.

The good counselor, an individual who gives advice on both the practical management of affairs and the ethical ideals that should guide conduct, is a potent cultural icon throughout the Renaissance. During the turbulent period in England marked by the sixteenth-century reformations, the end of the Tudor dynasty, the accession of the Stuarts, and the bitter debates over political and religious liberty that culminate in the Civil Wars, would-be counselors find themselves tasked with considerable new work. They also begin to experiment with new textual and artistic methods of achieving their aims. The authors I treat—Edmund Spenser, John Donne, Philip Sidney, and Thomas Elyot—each re-imagine the writing and reading of literature as ways of giving counsel and participating in the government of England. In this period the word government possesses a richness of meaning lost to our ordinary usage; it refers not simply to the institutions that rule countries but to the task of shaping how individuals and communities think and live. Each writer thus takes part in his own way in the broader cultural trend Michel Foucault identifies as the emergence of the arts of government. Yet their literary work extends the idea of governing to new imaginative spaces unaccounted for by Foucault’s analysis of the origins of political science. As Pierre Hadot emphasizes in his work on ancient philosophy, projects of self and communal improvement like those Renaissance England’s literary counselors facilitate center on the imagination. Literary counsel seeks to harness readers’ ability to imagine different possible ways of living to bring about the changes counselor-authors desire. I extend Foucault’s and Hadot’s insights to show ways in which Spenser’s epic, Donne’s sermons, Elyot’s educational treatises, and Sidney’s Defence of Poesy counsel readers by challenging them to imagine new or different ways of thinking and acting as citizens, as Christians, and in any other role life requires them to practice. 


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Cite as:

"Dissertations," Spenser Review 46.1.21 (Spring-Summer 2016). Accessed March 19th, 2018.
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