Spenser, Poetry, and Performance
June 12th-13th, 2017
Sponsored by the International Spenser Society
Co-Organizers: Jane Grogan, Tiffany Jo Werth, Stephanie Elsky (ISS); Farah Karim-Cooper and Will Tosh (Shakespeare’s Globe).
Tuesday, 13th June
Shakespeare and Spenser
Chair: Hannah Crawforth (KCL)
“The Lady Speaks: Dramatic Voicing in the Lyric Poem”
University of Michigan
Abstract not available.
“Bards of a Feather? Spenser and Shakespeare”
University of Glasgow
This paper examines the latticework of links between Shakespeare and Spenser, sifting the available evidence to establish key points of contact within the Irish colonial context. It tells a tale of two writers, one who goes to London to become poet and playwright, the other to Dublin with dreams of a dramatic career, where he finds his theatre of worldlings is a theatre of war. If Spenser’s influence on Shakespeare, especially early Shakespeare, is seldom discussed, Shakespeare’s influence on Spenser remains an even more neglected topic. Shifting from an Anglocentric to an Anglo-Irish focus aids our understanding of the creative context from which Shakespeare took wing. Spenser is crucial here, since that poet’s Irish residence necessitates a broadening of horizons, and he is viewed as part of a recognizable circle. Shakespeare was a lifelong co-author collaborator influenced by several of Spenser’s Irish contemporaries – Lodowick Bryskett, Geoffrey Fenton, Barnabe Googe, Thomas North, Barnaby Rich, and Petruccio Ubaldini – yet he is more often read in isolation. These writers and translators, part of an expansive English literary circle in Ireland, offer a rich resource for understanding and enhancing the ‘Shakespeare Circle’ that has recently received some critical attention, albeit within a restricted English milieu. From the Spenser-Harvey correspondence and the early histories onwards, this study tracks the collaborative underpinnings of both writers’ work, charting their influences from a shared reliance on Holinshed to a common concern with innovation in form and genre.
A version of this paper will appear in Early Shakespeare, 1588-1594, edited by Rory Loughnane and Andrew J. Power, Cambridge University Press, 2018.
“Pity and the Drama of the Ambiguous Prophecy in Spenser and Shakespeare”
New York University
This paper compared two moments of ambiguous prophecy in Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Spenser’s Faerie Queene in order to consider the different emotional effects of epic and drama: (1) Proteus’s prophecy that so derails Cymoent, Marinell’s mother, and leads the narrator to comment, “So tickle be the termes of mortall state,/ And full of subtile sophismes, which do play/With double senses, and with false debate,/T’approue the vnknowen purpose of eternall fate” (3.4.27).
And (2) the witches’ prophecy that leads Macbeth “to doubt th’equivocation of the fiend/That lies like truth” (5.5.39-44) and to say to Macduff, in words even closer to Spenser’s:
And be these juggling fiends no more believed,
That palter with us in a double sense;
That keep the word of promise to our ear,
And break it to our hope. (5.8.19-22)
The paper explored the differences between epic and drama in these two cases of incomplete prophecies, and questioned whether the epic distance works on readers in ways similar to the effects of dramatic irony on audiences. Audience members do keep some distance from Macbeth, because they know more than he does—the dramatic irony develops more intensely as his trust in the prophecies grows. Similarly with Cymoent, are we prevented from identification, of pity and fear, because as readers we are given explanations by a narrator that allow us to stand at a distance and to feel we know—we can even laugh about—her mistake? Do we, in other words, feel more identification and pity for Macbeth than for Cymoent?
The initial hypothesis was that drama would create a more intense identification and capacity for pity than the epic, given the narrator’s reminders of the distance we stand from the action (in time, in history, but also in understanding symbolic meanings the characters cannot see), but the paper found that there was much more similarity in how we respond to these two predicaments than we might have expected. Because these two works, so different in tone, both rely on an aesthetic of the fragment, the incompleteness of the prophecies, and of the imperfect speakers, speaks to our own temporality, and the shared desire to know and seize something certain about the future.
Chair: Supriya Chaudhuri (Jadavpur)
“Monstrous Regiment: Animating Amazons from Britomart to Landgartha”
Royal Holloway, University of London
Abstract not available.
“Spenser’s Theatrical Virtues”
Oklahoma State University
Spenser’s Faerie Queene describes an ethical theory that is essentially theatrical in scope and intention. It imagines the virtues, the processes of ethical formation, and moral agency as uniquely and necessarily performative. This claim may seem at odds with a work so resistant to dramatization. Nevertheless, The Faerie Queene is often explicitly theatrical in its imagery, conception, and modes of thinking. Likewise, the poem’s heroes and villains conspicuously, and often with a conspicuous degree of self-awareness, act the parts of virtue and vice. The poem opens with Redcrosse playing the hero in borrowed armor; his antagonists’ most potent weapons are their fictive personae, a potency sustained by the knight’s persistent refusal to suspend disbelief at the magic of their shows. Redcrosse is but one of Spenser’s heroes whose moral quests position them both as actors and as theatrical spectators. Guyon, Britomart, and Calidore view masques and pageants, lending many of the poem’s most significant allegorical cruces the feeling of plays within a play. Such moments are not simply accidents of Spenser’s formal eclecticism. Rather, these scenes attend to the implications of the fictive and the real, to our phantastic inhabitation of experience, and to ways in which the poem, to invoke Hamlet, works “to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image.” Thus, they reflect a broader conception of the poem’s mimetic body – its reflection of the sphere of human action in historical time—as a theatre.
“Spenser’s Theatrical Noise: From Cambina to Cage”
U.S. Naval Academy
In Book 4, Canto 3 of The Faerie Queene, Spenser evokes the sound of the “troubled Theaters,” “Confusd with womens cries, and shouts of boyes,” in order to describe a crowd gathered to watch a chivalric tournament. Through a series of close-readings anachronistically inspired by the work of twentieth-century composer John Cage, I consider what Spenser’s reference to disruptive audiences might tell us about the noise that surrounds (and repeatedly threatens to invade) the epic’s own textual stage. In once sense, I suggest, the theater becomes a figure for Spenser’s own beleaguered epic amidst the raucous “wicked tongues” of his own reading public as embodied by the Blatant Beast, whose vociferations reecho through the end of the poem. At the same time, I argue, Spenser conjures theatrical noise not simply in order to foreclose its disruptive power or to show it as the bad “other” of his poem’s ostensibly more stable allegorical mode. Rather, the uncontrolled theatrical clamor of 4.3 forms part of a larger pattern through which the epic invokes the imaginative consent of its readers, both to the fictional world of Faerie Land and to the colonialist ideologies that structure that world. By ventriloquizing chaotic voices that seem to be beyond the ambit not only of Spenser’s authorial control but also of The Faerie Queene’s own genre, the epic subtly seeks to manage the line between noise and words, audience and text.
Cultures of Performance
Chair: Jyotsna Singh (Michigan State)
“All that moveth”: The Faerie Queene and the Progress Entertainment
University of Calgary
This paper looks at two different versions of garden terrain that Edmund Spenser associates with Ireland in the concluding moments of his epic poem. It explores possible non-literary influences on Spenser’s allegory and in particular, three forms that would now be considered site-specific or place-based performances, all of which depend upon the pleasure of moving through space. In the two final “Cantos of Mutabilitie,” Spenser uses the linked cultural forms of the pleasure garden, the landscape entertainment, and the Elizabethan progress to offer a final ambivalent look at the role of art in the colonial project. The Elizabethan progress is the art form in which Elizabeth arguably expended the greatest amount of time and money, and Spenser bases the movement of the knight of Courtesy in Book VI on the trajectory of the progress, and the terrain on that of a pleasure garden. While the quest of book VI is arguably a success, the first of the Cantos of Mutabilitie pictures Ireland as a ruined garden, beset with thieves and wolves. The second canto pictures a scene of judgment on the same terrain, a trial that involves an allegorical procession which resembles a performance from one of the landscape entertainments that were staged for Elizabeth while on progress. The performance, however, fails to persuade the judge. If Ireland is now both a ruined garden and the site of a failed performance, Spenser in the two concluding stanzas invokes a Lucretian perspective on change that perhaps offers some consolation, if only from the perspective of eternity.
“Spenser and the Debt to University Drama”
University of Sussex
Abstract not available.