Spenser Review editor David Lee Miller delivered the 2014 Kathleen Williams lecture at the 49th International Congress of Medieval Studies. Entitled “The Chastity of Allegory,” the talk will appear in the 2015 volume of Spenser Studies. We provide the abstract here:
Abstract: The Chastity of Allegory
David Lee Miller
Building on Quilligan’s discussion of the female perspective in Book III of The Faerie Queene, Berger’s emphasis on “conspicuous allusion,” and De Lauretis’s notion of “technologies of gender,” this talk focuses on “technologies of desire” in Spenser’s Legend of Chastity. These include discourses but also other media—representational apparatuses of all sorts that evoke erotic feeling and shape it as experience and as expression. Spenser’s concern with such technologies surfaces immediately in the proem, as it mirrors (and foreshadows) the Busyrane episode, and later in an allegory that seeks to represent representation along with the damage it can do, as images, objects, creatures, and characters disappear from the narrated action, quite literally absorbed into discourse. Against the pervasive harm of unchaste discourse, Spenser poses on the one hand a utopian fantasy of untrammeled freedom in erotic address, and on the other a visionary quest for the ungesehenmachen (“making-unhappened”) of the amorous discourses dominant in Elizabethan literature, staged as a re-virgination of the culture’s erotic imagination. These concerns re-emerge in Amoretti and Epithalamion and carry over into the 1596 installment of The Faerie Queene, where Scudamore appears as a failed counterpart to the poet-speaker of Spenser’s sonnet sequence and marriage poem. The Dance of the Graces in canto x of Book VI offers a culminating version of the utopian fantasy of unconstrained erotic celebration, located now in the intimacy of the nuptial relation.