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MLA Annual Convention

January 8-11th, 2015
Vancouver, British Columbia

336. Representing Authorship in Early Modern English Poetry
A special session

Presiding: Douglas Trevor, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 

Proposal for Special Session Representing Authorship in Early Modern English Poetry
Barbara K. Lewalski, Organizer

Scholars for the past several decades have focused attention on social conditions influencing writers in the Early Modern period: patronage, collaboration, the practices of the printing house, circulation, censorship. This has led to a revision of the modern conception of the independent, sovereign author, even as certain theoretical approaches—deconstruction, reader response theory—have proclaimed the “death” of the author. In recent years, however, the author has sprung to life again, as critics are again attending to issues of authorship in some old and some new ways. This session will consider how some Early Modern Poets—Sidney, Spenser, Herrick, and Milton—themselves conceived of and represented the authorial role and some of the issues involved in being an author. The focus here is upon poets’ deliberate engagement with such issues as models, imitation, originality, the poet’s authority,  censorship, the uses of poetry, patronage, audience, etc. in their literary works (rather than in treatises, letters, etc). That focus offers an important perspective on how authors themselves engaged in shaping the emerging authorial role. [BL]   

“Why Oaten Pipes? Sidney, Spenser, and Authorship in Pastoral”
Barbara Kiefer Lewalski
Harvard University

Barbara K. Lewalski’s paper, “Why Oaten Pipes?  Sidney, Spenser and Authorship in Pastoral,” treats both poets as looking well beyond Virgilian precedent. In Sidney’s Old Arcadia it considers not only Sidney’s chosen persona, Philisides, but also the other shepherd-poets who made up a pastoral community and in their eclogues comment on the disordered doings of the aristocrats who have betaken themselves to the country. Highlighted here are representations of various kinds of poets, displays of poetic styles and models for poems, Petrarchan and other modes of love poetry, the role (and control) of the patron/ruler, the uses of pastoral as covert discourse (with brief attention to the large changes in the New Arcadia). Spenser also creates a shepherd community in The Shepheardes Calender, including an authorial persona, Colin Clout, and several kinds of poet-shepherds and poetic styles. That work also raises the issue of pastoral as covert discourse, as some of these shepherds engage in social and ecclesiastical satire and comment on the state of poets and poetry, as does Colin Clout in Colin Clouts Come Home Again. Book VI of the Faerie Queene portrays the experience of, and the threats to, poetic vision. [BL]   

“Robert Herrick and Adaptive Authorship”
Diana Treviño
Benet University of North Texas

Diana Treviño Benet’s paper, “Robert Herrick and Adaptive Authorship,” considers one frequent authorial practice in the Early Modern period, a writer adapting a poem belonging to another poet, making small or substantial changes in the work—often in conjunction with translation. It was a popular and controversial practice because often the original (usually foreign or classical) writer was not acknowledged, and some contemporaries saw adaptation, however altered by translation and revision, as plagiarism. Not surprisingly, Robert Herrick, with characteristic frankness, provides a rational for adaptive authorship in “Upon his Verses,” as well as a fine example of it (adapted from the Anacreontea) in “The Cheat of Cupid: Or, The Ungentle Guest.” [DT]   

“Milton’s Authorship and the Reader’s Authority in Paradise Regained” 
Susanne Woods
University of Miami

Susanne Woods’ paper, “Milton’s Authorship and the Reader’s Authority in Paradise Regained,” considers the location of authority in Milton’s works. He famously asserted his longstanding belief that he was called to be an author of important literary work. At the same time, in both prose and poetry he uses rhetorical devices that demand that his readers make choices about everything from simple denotative meaning to moral dilemmas. This paper will look at the balance between Milton’s assertions of authority and his invitations to readers’ choices and authority, focussing especially on Paradise Regained. [SW] 

543. Spenser and Ecocritical Practices
Program arranged by the International Spenser Society

Presiding: Colleen Rosenfeld, Pomona College; Tiffany Jo Werth, Simon Fraser University 

“Spenserian Slime: Waste Matter in The Faerie Queene
Brent Dawson
Emory University

Matter as traditionally conceived by philosophy is fundamentally useful; it is the stuff through which form is produced. However, from toxic waste to oil spills to recyclables, environmental crises frequently demand that we consider matter that seems useless, either producing too few or catastrophically too many effects. This paper finds a forerunner of contemporary ecological thinking of waste matter in The Faerie Queene‘s Castle of Alma canto, where the matter of the human body is compared to unstable “slime.” The analogy of body to slime holds in tension two difficult-to-reconcile allusions: bitumen, a dangerous asphaltic substance dredged up outside Babylon to cement its walls, and mud, specifically the fertile mud of the Nile believed to foment spontaneous generation. One material is life-threatening yet foundational to civilized life, the other life-producing though alien to biological reproduction; both exceed the controlled ends of productivity. In weaving the two together as the stuff of the body, Spenser suggests that human life is intimately bound to a matter whose generativity escapes human control. The thinking of slime in this passage connects to Spenser’s concern throughout The Faerie Queene with how bodies, to survive, must remain open to the environs that nourish them and yet also expose them to uncertainty, strife, and death. This paradoxical link between composition and decomposition, generativity and waste, makes Spenser’s poetry a fertile place for thinking ecologically about matter. [BD]   

“Spenser’s Catastrophic Ecology: Environmental Literature in the Theatre for Worldlings
Michael Ursell
Emory University   

“Running with the Goats: Calepine, Spenser’s Goats, and the Problem of Meaning” 
Sean Henry
University of Victoria

In Book VI, Canto iii of The Faerie Queene, Spenser employs an animal simile to describe Turpine’s pursuit of Calepine:

Yet he him still pursew’d from place to place,
With full intent him cruelly to kill,
And like a wilde goate round about did chace,
Flying the fury of his bloudy will. (IV.iii.49.1-4)

Spenser’s infamously ambiguous pronouns confuse an already confused comparison: is the pursuer or the pursued “like a wilde goate”? The poet uses a similar construction in Book V, describing Artegall chasing the Souldan’s knights “like wyld Goates” (V.viii.50.7), so here Calepine seems to be the object of comparison. Harold Blanchard in 1925 observed parallel passages in Boiardo, but admitted he could not find the simile elsewhere. No editor glosses Spenser’s simile, however, and what significance a wild goat might have to Calepine’s situation remains obscure, beyond being something similarly chased—so, why a goat?

Animals appear in every canto of every book of The Faerie Queene, yet Spenser is not unusual in his heavy use of animal imagery: animal characters and animal comparisons are such a commonplace as to be almost unnoticeable. But this near invisibility is precisely the danger to which Calepine’s goat simile should alert modern readers, since we lack the interpretive tools to understand what meaning Spenser gives to the animal because of the shift in assumptions, attitudes, and knowledge concerning animals since his time. Modern readers might be tempted to ignore the simile, or dismiss it as a stock comparison. Yet Spenser rarely uses animals as simple one-to-one comparisons based on a single shared attribute. Spenser’s animals repeatedly pose questions about interpretation, and in posing those questions, the animals also present solutions to their meaning through the cumulative hermeneutics the poet employs. These meanings often demand an act of cognitive dissonance from Spenser’s readers, holding several seemingly contradictory connotations in mind at once, while trying to decide what part of this accrued meaning is active in a particular passage. Readers must mediate meaning.

Therefore, in trying to understand why Calepine is like a wild goat in his flight from Turpine, readers must consider Spenser’s other goats and goat-related characters (such as Lecherie’s mount, the goat-like satyrs, and Malbecco), as well as Spenser’s other goat similes (notably in Artegell’s rout of the Souldan’s knights at V.viii.50.7 and Malengin’s escape a canto later at V.ix.15.3-5). How much does the lustfulness signified by the former herd and the craven villainy signified by the latter intrude upon Calepine’s goat simile? Moreover, Spenser’s goats must be set against the context of their meaning to early modern English reders. My paper seeks to fill what initially seems an empty simile and to explore how much that simile characterizes Calepine’s state at that point in Book VI—and, in doing so, to serve as an example of the epic’s relationship with sixteenth-century natural history and Spenser’s interpretive challenge to readers through the natural world. [SH]

Responding: Katherine Eggert, University of Colorado, Boulder   

375. The Early Modern Body as Site of Erotic Memory
A special session

Presiding: Nicholas Frederick Radel, Furman University

“False Muscle Memory: Sexual Experience in Marlowe and Nashe”
Robert F. Darcy
University of Nebraska, Omaha

The paper begins by considering Leander’s groping by Neptune in Hero and Leander as an imagined event on multiple levels: Neptune mistakes Leander for Ganymede; Leander mistakes the grope as heterosexual (exclaiming “I am no woman I!”); and the account for the reader is only believable as fiction. That is, no early modern reader believes in Neptune or the possibility of a water god’s untoward advances. Yet the experience for Leander is rendered real at the level of the body by his arriving wet at Hero’s door and at her bed after swimming across the Hellespont.  In a much more mundane scenario, Nashe’s courtesan in “The Choise of Valentines” engages a dildo when her lover cannot finish his performance. The real-world implement of the dildo and equally real-world chance of failing to gratify one’s lover ground this poem in a believable scenario, yet the sexual fulfillment is a fiction. A simulation of the penis and a memory of the lover are deployed to trigger the body into physical rapture.  This paper argues an early modern literary advancement of false muscle memory—of generating the scenario by which the body comes to terms with its needs, fears, and limitations through a combination of muscular and memorial response. The literary invention of false experience and the exploration of physical fantasy create a muscle memory that, Darcy argues, haunts modern sexuality. [RD] 

“Marlowe’s Helen: The Pagan Body as Erotic Site of Cultural Memory”
John Garrison
Carroll University

The paper explores the conjuring of Helen of Troy in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. This figure seemingly summoned from classical antiquity at once emblematizes a shared cultural memory of the classical world and also functions as an archetype for erotic desire, given her status as a legendary possessor of supreme female beauty. Faustus’ reaction to her sudden presence in his study, “Was this the face that launched a thousand ships / And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?,” might surprise us, then (5.1.90-91). One might think that a figure of such preternatural loveliness would be immediately recognizable, in terms of either profound aesthetic appeal or a powerful surge of attraction on Faustus’ part.  In this moment, he seems to believe that erotic attraction might serve as confirmation of cultural memory: if he finds her unquestionably attractive, she is the divine beauty that inspired the Trojan War. Taking his hesitation as a starting point, this paper explores the intersection between recollection and romantic longing. [JG]   

“Desiring Memory in Spenser’s Amoretti and The Faerie Queene
Kyle Pivetti
Norwich University

This paper corrects an oversight in criticism of Edmund Spenser’s canon by revealing its fraught invocations of erotic memory. In the past, critics have tended to examine Spenser’s use of memory in terms of early modern nationhood, history writing, or humanism. Pivetti, however, argues that for Spenser, memory must partake in the erotic, even when such bodily desire conflicts with his political or religious ends. The Castle of Alma, Spenser’s extended allegory of the body in Book II of The Faerie Queene, offers the most direct line of analysis in its library of memory. Although Spenser imagines this space as far removed from the body’s sexual organs, the poem’s heroes enter into the materials of memory with the same desire and “feruent fire” that animates the poem’s erotic moments. In examining the strange convergence, Pivetti reads the epic poem alongside Spenser’s sonnet sequence, Amoretti, as well as the Ciceronian memory strategies from which the poet borrowed. These sources suggest that sexual experience in fact determines the heroic, national “moniments” that underlie the poem’s epic scope. Spenser does not simply remember the erotic; instead, the erotic defines his conception of memory. [KP]


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"MLA Annual Convention," Spenser Review 45.1.21 (Spring-Summer 2015). Accessed April 15th, 2024.
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