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Hause, Marie. “Reading the Cosmos and Reading the Poem in Early Modern English Poetry, 1579-1674.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Diss. The Florida State University, 2016.

Reading the Cosmos and Reading the Poem in Early Modern English Poetry, 1579-1674 explores the relationship between early modern cosmology and poetry in England, arguing that the way the heavens are treated in poetry relates to the way the process of reading is understood in that poetry. By considering a range of poetic works across a period of about a century, the dissertation demonstrates an early modern poetic connection between ideas about astronomy and about reading. The multiple viewpoints in astronomy and cosmology in this period form a part of a larger history of uncertainty about the heavens that offers the means for poetic exploration of ideas about perception, self-definition, and world-creation. The first chapter considers the related concerns with the human microcosm and linguistic indeterminacy in works by Spenser and Donne. The second chapter deals with the astronomical imagery for reading the gendered other in the lyric sequences of the Sidney family. The third chapter addresses Milton’s attitude toward cosmology as an analogue for his process of interpreting the Bible, the natural world, and the poem. The fourth chapter considers Cavendish’s presentation of the plurality of worlds in the context of her natural philosophy and her poetics. Taken together, these works reveal strong ties between cosmology and the concepts of writing and reading poetry, the self, and the world in early modern English poetry. This dissertation, then, adds to the body of knowledge about early modern reading and perception by connecting the early modern experiences of perceiving the written word and the physical world.


Hunt, Stephanie Elizabeth. “The Forms of Nature: Poetry and the Limits of Politics in Early Modern England.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Diss. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey – New Brunswick, 2016.

This dissertation examines how ideas drawn from early modern poetics were integral to narratives of the founding moments of political obligation that shaped the development of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century political thought. George Puttenham claimed that the origins of all political communities derived from the work of the poet: “poesie” came “before any civil society was among men”; moreover, it was the “original cause and occasion of their first assemblies.” For early modern writers, pastoral in particular exemplified poetry’s ability to frame ways of thinking about political communities and their origins. Poets such as Spenser, Shakespeare, Marvell, and Milton recognized that pastoral’s depictions of landscapes that were removed from the centers of power allowed them to trace representations of what I call “extrapolitical” moments in early modern literature: forms of collective life that arise outside normative institutional structures and imagine alternative foundations for political membership. Spenser’s Faerie Queene shows that allegorical reading takes the place of legal judgment within its lawless romance and pastoral terrains, while exile in Shakespeare’s As You Like It forces characters excluded from the court to invent new ideas of collective obligation through the resources of pastoral drama. Marvell’s Upon Appleton House and Milton’s Paradise Lost experiment with pastoral lyric conventions to imagine idyllic domestic spaces and relationships that expand theological arguments about prelegal forms of government. These writers use pastoral not merely as a genre, defined by its recognizable figures, themes, and situations, but as a mode of inquiry that penetrated a wide range of literary forms, from epic, to allegorical romance, georgic, and lyric. Furthermore, pastoral served as a versatile apparatus for examining how concerns central to literary studies—including invention, mediation, and affect—

were integral to political philosophy’s claims about the sources of our obligations to other humans and to the natural world.


McMillan, Christopher. “The Scots in Ireland: Culture, Colonialism and Memory, 1315-1826.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Diss. University of Glasgow, 2016.

This thesis examines three key moments in the intersecting histories of Scotland, Ireland and England, and their impact on literature. Chapter one Robert Bruce and the Last King of Ireland: Writing the Irish Invasion, 1315-1826, is split into two parts. Part one, Barbour‘s (other) Bruce‘ focuses on John Barbour‘s The Bruce (1375) and its depiction of the Bruce‘s Irish campaign (1315-1318). It first examines the invasion material from the perspective of the existing Irish and Scottish relationship and their opposition to English authority. It highlights possible political and ideological motivations behind Barbour‘s negative portrait of Edward Bruce—whom Barbour presents as the catalyst for the invasion and the source of its carnage and ultimate failure—and his partisan comparison between Edward and his brother Robert I. It also probes the socio-polticial and ideological background to the Bruce and its depiction of the Irish campaign, in addition to Edward and Robert. It peers behind some of the Bruce‘s most lauded themes such as chivalry, heroism, loyalty, and patriotism, and exposes its militaristic feudal ideology, its propaganda rich rhetoric, and its illusions of freedom‘. Part one concludes with an examination of two of the Irish section‘s most marginalised figures, the Irish and a laundry woman. Part two, Cultural Memories of the Bruce Invasion of Ireland, 1375-1826‘, examines the cultural memory of the Bruce invasion in three literary works from the Medieval, Early Modern and Romantic periods. The first, and by far the most significant memorialisation of the invasion is Barbour‘s Bruce, which is positioned for the first time within the tradition of ars memoriae (art of memory) and present-day cultural memory theories. The Bruce is evaluated as a site of memory and Barbour‘s methods are compared with Icelandic literature of the same period. The recall of the invasion in late sixteenth century Anglo-Irish literature is then considered, specifically Edmund Spenser‘s A View of the State of Ireland, which is viewed in the context of contemporary Ulster politics. The final text to be considered is William Hamilton Drummond‘s Bruce’s Invasion of Ireland (1826). It is argued that Drummond‘s poem offers an alternative Irish version of the invasion; a counter-memory that responds to nineteenth-century British politics, in addition to the controversy surrounding the publication of the Ossian fragments. Chapter two, The Scots in Ulster: Policies, Proposals and Projects, 1551-1575‘, examines the struggle between Irish and Scottish Gaels and the English for dominance in north Ulster, and its impact on England‘s wider colonial ideology, strategy, literature and life writing. Part one entitled Noisy neighbours, 1551-1567‘ covers the deputyships of Sir James Croft, Sir Thomas Radcliffe, and Sir Henry Sidney, and examines English colonial writing during a crucial period when the Scots provoked an increase in militarisation in the region. Part two Devices, Advices, and Descriptions, 1567-1575‘, deals with the relationship between the Scots and Turlough O‘Neill, the influence of the 5th Earl of Argyll, and the rise of Sorley Boy MacDonnell. It proposes that a renewed Gaelic alliance hindered England‘s conquest of Ireland and generated numerous plantation proposals and projects for Ulster. Many of which exhibit a blurring‘ between the documentary and the literary; while all attest to the considerable impact of the Gaelic Scots in both motivating and frustrating various projects for that province, the most prominent of which were undertaken by Sir Thomas Smith in 1571 and Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex in 1573.


Rastogi, Raashi. “Compiled Subjects: Commonplace Books, Memory Technologies, and Renaissance Subjectivity.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Northwestern University, 2016.

“Compiled Subjects” synthesizes twenty-first century theories of digital media and “extended cognition” with history of the book methodologies to reframe traditional conceptions of the Renaissance self between 1500 and 1700. I argue the commonplace notebook functioned as a cognitive prosthetic that extended memory beyond the experiences of the physical body into a broader network of texts and textual extracts, as well as the people who shaped them. Over the course of the sixteenth century, the rise of commonplacing—a pervasive note-taking practice that produced non-narrative, personal anthologies of quotations designed to support retention and future writing—displaced older modes and methods of remembering. This memory technology integrally shaped a conception of persons as composite, interpersonal assemblages. The dissertation illuminates a culture invested in a dispersed sense of selfhood rather than the centralized, consolidated self imagined by the Enlightenment. Rather than describing Renaissance memory as a fixed concept or process contiguous with classical belief or Enlightenment conceptions, it understands memory as a historically contingent category that is constantly evolving in relation to available technology for representation.

Surveying archival manuscript commonplace books alongside Renaissance memory improvement guidebooks, pedagogical treatises, friendship albums (alba amicorum), and canonical literary texts including Shakespeare’s HamletTroilus and Cressida, Montaigne’s Essays, and Spenser’s Faerie Queene, my project shows, first, how commonplacing technology offered increasingly literate populations methods for reading, figuring, and representing memory. Second, it uncovers how memory and the self were framed through the words of others rather than through accounts of events experienced firsthand. Accordingly, my findings outline an aggregate, dispersed, decentralized, and interpersonal conception of identity different from emergent Enlightenment understandings of memory and the self. This understanding of personhood, mediated through the figure of the commonplace book, is incompatible with the self/other binary and challenges ethical ideas about individual agency.


Ratcliffe, Carleen Lara Miller. “The Classic and the Christian: Tennyson’s Grief and Spiritual Shift from ‘The Lotos-Eaters’ to ‘Ulysses.’” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Thesis. University of South Carolina, 2016.

Sacred forms, in the shape of doctrines and creeds, constituted a large part of Tennyson’s childhood religion. This is reflected in “The Lotos-Eaters,” written in 1832, as Tennyson cautions against increasingly popular ideas of secular materialism; Tennyson’s mariners parrot the ideas of Epicureanism, but their arguments mirror that of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene character Despair. In putting Despair’s words in the mariners’ mouths, Tennyson warns against forgetting religious ritual, as this leads to suicide and eternal damnation. However, with the death of Arthur Henry Hallam in 1833, Tennyson’s religion shifted dramatically. In Memoriam gives us the final version of Tennyson’s beliefs as a fluid faith in a God of Love. Written before In Memoriam, “Ulysses” does not provide the same clarity of faith but instead captures Tennyson’s realization that religious change is needed in order to cope with sorrow. By creating poetic tension between the two facets of Homer’s and Dante’s Ulysses, Tennyson reveals the consequences of his belief in forms: the Homeric version of the character underscores the poet’s determination to live, not yielding to despair, and the Dantesque figure highlights the dangers of Tennyson’s faith in forms, as holding on to it will only lead to death.


Spellmire, Adam. “Unfinished Quests from Chaucer to Spenser.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Diss. Tufts University, 2016.

Late medieval English texts often represent unfinished quests for obscurely significant objects. These works create enchanted worlds where more always remains to be discovered and where questers search for an ur-text, an authoritative book that promises perfect knowledge. Rather than reaching this ur-text, however, questers confront rumor, monstrous babble, and the clamor of argument, which thwart their efforts to gather together sacred wholeness. Yet while threatening, noise also preserves the sacred by ensuring that it remains forever elsewhere, for recovering perfect knowledge would disenchant the world. Scholarship on medieval noise often focuses on class: medieval writers tend to describe threats to political authority as noisy. These unfinished quests, though, suggest that late medieval literature’s complex investment in noise extends further and involves the very search for the sacred, a search full of opaque language and unending desire. Noise, then, becomes the sound of narrative itself.

While romance foregrounds questing most clearly, these ideas appear in a variety of genres. Chapter 1 shows that in the House of Fame rumor both perpetuates and undermines knowledge, so sacred authority must remain beyond the poem’s frame. Chapter 2 juxtaposes the Parliament of Fowls and the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale, in which lists replace missing quest-objects, the philosopher’s stone and certainty about love. Chapter 3 centers on Piers Plowman, which becomes encyclopedic as one attempt to “preve what is Dowel” leads to another, and Will never definitively learns how to save his soul, the knowledge he most wants. Chapter 4 turns to Julian of Norwich’s search for divine “mening” and her confrontation with an incoherent fiend, an anxious moment that aligns her with these less serene contemporaries. Chapter 5 argues that Thomas Malory’s elusive, noisy Questing Beast at once bolsters and undermines chivalry. The final chapter looks ahead to Book VI of The Faerie Queene, where the Blatant Beast, a sixteenth-century amalgam of the fame tradition and the Questing Beast, menaces Faery Land yet, as a figure for poetry, also contributes to its enchantment. In trying to locate and maintain the sacred, these unfinished quests evoke worlds intensely anxious about “auctoritee.”


Sperry, Eileen M. “This Body of Death: Decay in Early Modern English Poetry.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Diss. State University of New York at Stony Brook, 2016.

Beneath the more familiar representations of mortality in the English Renaissance—popular danse macabre artwork, Jacobean tragedy’s spectacular violence, the pervasive memento mori icons found in art, on tombs, and in literature—lies the reality of the dead body itself. This dissertation explores the subject of bodily decay and its representation in the poetry of early modern England, looking at works by Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, and Milton. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries witness evolving theologies of the afterlife in the wake of the Reformation’s elimination of purgatory, as well as new attitudes towards the body with the rise in popularity of anatomical dissection. The combination of these factors results in a historical moment in which the subject of mortality was being redefined. In the works examined in this project, early modern poets turn their attention away from death as a single momentary event and focus instead on the process of decay as a lengthy and deeply physical experience. While characterizations of the body’s decomposition vary wildly, from threatening and destructive in Spenser and Shakespeare to generative and instructive in Donne and Milton, several commonalities emerge to suggest the emerging understanding of decay. First, each author insists upon the material reality of the body, highlighting corporeality while other discourses of mortality repress it. Next, these accounts stress that the loss of the body is a loss to the entire being, emphasizing that the body is inseparable from a comprehensive understanding of the self, even in death. And finally, each of these authors focuses on the unique generic abilities of poetry to represent the effects of decay. By focusing on the corporeality of verse—its ability to replicate physical sensation, supplement waning vitality, or represent aspects of the body that might otherwise be invisible—these works demonstrate the capacity of early modern poetry to engage with the body in new and previously unexamined ways. 


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Cite as:

"Dissertations," Spenser Review 47.1.22 (Winter 2017). Accessed May 28th, 2018.
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