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MLA Annual Convention

January 9-12th, 2014
Chicago, Illinois


330. Spenser’s Donne and Done
Presiding: Gerard Passannante, University of Maryland, College Park

“Notes on Play: Spenser and Donne”
Jeffrey A. Dolven

Princeton University

A meditation on Spenserian play, with an assist from John Donne and D. W. Winnicott. Winnicott’s definition of play derives from his notion of the transitional object: the blanket or bear that makes a developmental bridge from the infant’s fantasized omnipotence, to the child’s growing sense of the otherness of the world. Play, Winnicott argues, returns to this problem of inside and outside as a paradox that we neither can solve nor, ideally, want to. It consists in the up-for-grabsness of what is inside me (what I make) and what outside me (what is given, even what someone else makes). The paper offers a reading of Donne’s “The Funeral” that describes the ambiguous location of the wreath of bright hair that is its central property. From there, the paper turns to Arthur’s crest in I.vii, and the larger problem of what is inside and what is outside in The Faerie Queene. The two terms, inside and outside, are a way of thinking about old questions of the poem’s divided nature, between psychomachea and social mimesis. They resolve the world of the poem differently than form and matter do, and offer another framework for the establishment of the allegory. How many insides might the poem have—reader, text, characters, all possible sites of fantasized authority? The question makes The Faerie Queene a unique occasion for investigating a basic ethical and political problem: when I am looking at you, and when I am thinking my idea of you, can I know the difference, and how should the two possibilities interact? Playfully, urges Winnicott, and Spenser too, at least in his brighter, less panicky moments.  

“Broken Mirrors and True Reflections in Spenser and Donne”
Yulia Ryzhik
Princeton University

The relation between the poetics of Donne and the poetics of Spenser can be said to represent a shift from allegory to metaphor as the dominant instrument of figurative thinking, with Donne’s metaphysical conceit as an intermediary step in the process. The shift is neither linear nor complete, but rather dialectical, a drastic departure followed by a partial return, predicated on the ways Spenser and Donne reconcile the mythopoeic aspects of figurative language with the truth claims made by poetic figures, allegory and conceit. Using the figure of the mirror as it appears in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (especially III.ii) and in Donne’s lyrics (especially “The Broken Heart”), this paper reveals a surprising affinity in the two poets’ thought, evident in the tension between the emotionally satisfying but fictitious unity of reflection and the necessary fragmentation of the mirror as a more truthful symbol for the workings of figuration. 

546. Disgust and Desire in Early Modern Literature
Presiding: Natalie Katerina Eschenbaum, University of Wisconsin, La Crosse

“Guyon’s Blush: Shame, Disgust, and Desire in The Faerie Queene, Book Two”
Barbara Correll
Cornell University

Spenser’s Faerie Queene 2.ix finds Arthur and Guyon entertained in the Castle of Alma where they are, appropriately and schematically, partnered with female figures who surprise them by outwardly revealing essential inner qualities which they immediately recognize in themselves. Arthur meets a pensive Praysdesire, who mirrors Arthur’s own desire for glory. In another instance of this anagnoresis, Guyon finds himself with a lady whose blushing creates a dynamic, “straungely passioned” facial drama (41.9), in which modesty and passion do battle. Both Arthur and Guyon blush to acknowledge the lessons that their soul-mates teach them, but it is Guyon, the central figure in Book Two, for whom the blush is most significant. Examining the functions of the blush for the role of Guyon in Book Two, Correll argues that this part of The Faerie Queene is more an essay on than an allegory of temperance, one in which moral schemes are less than successfully achieved. Correll discusses how, through the blush and its imbricated affects, Spenser links shame and disgust in an affective continuum that leads to the destruction of the Bower of Bliss and that offers a critical perspective on current affect theory.


774A. Spenser’s “Darke” Materials 
Program arranged by the International Spenser Society
Presiding, Tiffany Werth

As Amphion moved stones with songs to build Thebes, Spenser shaped matter into poetry.  This panel reconsiders the relation between such material things (tools, devices, remains) and immaterial forces (language, memory, ideas) in Spenser’s work.

“‘their being do dilate’: The Matter of Romance in The Faerie Queene
Debapriya Sarkar
Rutgers University

What are poetic worlds made of?  While Sidney’s poet creates “forms such as never were in nature,” and the Shakespearean poet “gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name,” Spenser rejects such immaterial worldmaking: the poet, he suggests, builds fictional worlds from theories of matter.  A philosophy of conserved matter shapes the cosmology of The Faerie Queene.  But this materialism is also a philosophical manifestation of a theory of romance, which “simultaneously quests for and postpones a particular end” (Parker, Inescapable Romance).  Instead of tracing Platonic, Aristotelian, or Lucretian philosophies in Spenserian poetics—as scholarship tends to do—I follow the trajectory of dilation and infinite deferral that shapes the poem’s scenes of cosmic creation and individual encounters.  This paper, then, recovers poetry’s inherent philosophical significance by marking how Spenser imagines a realm where the perfective, delaying matter of nature is inseparable from the dilated form of the romance.  


“Justified Possessions: Memory and Empire in Book II of
 The Faerie Queene
Kyle Pivetti
Norwich University

When Spenser defends The Faerie Queene (1590) as the “matter of iust memory,” he suggests a conscious effort to write England’s histories into the fiction of his epic.  But “memory” in this poem also encompasses the real geographical spaces that were at this point only imagined as imperial Britain.  Just as Spenser describes Brutus rescuing Albion from the “vniust possession” of a race of Giants, so too will his “iust memory” draw undiscovered territories of the New World into a collective British past.  This ambition runs headlong into the emerging historiography of the period.  Indeed, the quasi-antiquarian tract A View of the State of Ireland (1633) reveals that Spenser not only envisioned memory as a means to colonialism but also understood the dubious historical status of his own epic heroes, Brutus and Arthur.  I argue, then, that Spenser’s poetic forms fashion immaterial and artificial memories into the physical “matter” of British Empire.

“‘Swords, ropes, poison, fire’:  The Dark Materials of Spenser’s Dramatic Objectification of Despair-Assisted Suicide”
James C. Nohrnberg
University of Virginia

Many suicides in Spenser and Shakespeare present mental and physical routes to the fatal act.  The arsenal of Spenser’s Despair is a conventional collection of tools for effecting the end of one’s own life.  Extending the body’s physical instrumentality, tools can be used against it, just as despair is a state of human consciousness that takes ruinous advantage of capacity for thought.  Following upon the traditions in Prudentius’s Psychomachia, Petrarch’s dialogue on suicide, the morality play personification of despair as an agent of harm in Skelton’s Magnificence and the Mirrour for Magistrates, Spenser’s tempter presents the conundrum of suicide as committed or assisted or urged or provoked by an actor objectifying a distraught state of mind, one morally or ontologically independent of the victim.  Given the occurrence of Lear’s suicidal daughter Cordelia in the Mirrour and Spenser, her case can also be read against the ending of King Lear. 


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Cite as:

"MLA Annual Convention," Spenser Review 43.3.76 (Winter 2014). Accessed March 21st, 2018.
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