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This page has been updated as of February 2, 2016. 

Sixteenth Century Society Conference
October 22nd through 25th, 2015
Vancouver, British Columbia


Early Modern Elements and English Literature: Earth
Organizers: Rebecca Totaro, Florida Gulf Coast University and Mary Trull, St. Olaf College Chair: Phillip J. Usher, New York University

“The Generative Center of Disruption: Harvey, Spenser, and Earthquakes”
Rebecca Totaro
Florida Gulf Coast University
When on 6 April 1580 an earthquake struck in the Strait of Dover, it set off a wave of literal and literary aftershocks as people attempted to account for the rare phenomenon in a period prior to the codification of meteorology as a discipline. Some considered the earthquake a supernatural occurrence, a warning directly from God; others drew from newly circulating Aristotelian meteorological theories to posit that the earthquake could be an entirely natural event, not to be feared and certainly not to be interpreted by way of prognostication as a call to a particular kind of action. Gabriel Harvey and Edmund Spenser, each in different ways over the course of the next decade, combined these explanations and to them added still more compelling and memorable accounts of the cause of earthquakes. In the letter exchange from 1580 and inThe Faerie Queene, earthquakes figure as the progeny of a generative maternal body—an appropriation of the paradigmatic pagan mother earth who is the creative center of the geocosmic universe and who gives birth not only to the gods and to humans but to the titans who threaten to disrupt order even from their incarceration within earth’s womb. This short paper will include an examination of a couple of the most extraordinary of their imaginings and of the dangers associated with privileging such readings of radical meteorological change.


The Works of Edmund Spenser
Organizer: Scott C. Lucas, The Citadel
Chair: Mary Villeponteaux, Georgia Southern University

“Salves and Salvation: Lovesickness and Healing in Spenser’s Amoretti”
Allison Collins
University of California, Los Angeles
Abstract not available. 

“State of Emergency: Peace and Discipline in Spenser’s A View of the Present State of Ireland
William Tanner
Rutgers University
A View (c. 1598), Spenser’s dialogue on the “Irish problem,” is a text that generally garners interest either from a historical perspective or from arguments regarding its relation to The Faerie Queene. I propose to redirect our gaze back to the importance of Spenser’s View as a revolutionary re-imagining of the possibilities of power in the early modern period, leveraging Foucault’s understanding of power’s increasing interest in controlling reproduction and population movements in order to explore Spenser’s radical power fantasy of disciplining (Irish) bodies into ideal subjects. The result Irenæus imagines is an abstract, “mappable” state which is disturbingly familiar.

Examining English anxieties about the unruly invisibility and dangerously infectious sexuality of the Irish, racially coded feminine, Irenæus imagines a masculine power (essentially wielded through rather than by Elizabeth) which would render the Irish body visible as an abstractand graspable unit, mapped dynamically into regular flows of power, where fortified roads would not only control crime but actually determine the possible paths of travel, eradicating any uncontrolled movement. Thus I argue that the View has a yet unacknowledged but critical place at the origin of the English branch on the developing tree of biopolitics, nudging English colonial thought in a direction which in our time is, in Agamben’s words, “the political space of modernity itself.” Establishing the View‘s centrality within the context of questions of sovereignty and political imagination, rather than ancillary to Spenser’s “more important” work, invites us to explore the modern underpinnings of these questions in one of their earliest and most radical expressions. 

“Empire and the Poetics of Mutability in Spenser’s Faerie Queene
Sarah Kunjummen
University of Chicago
Abstract not available.


Spenser and Religion
Organizer: Scott C. Lucas, The Citadel
Chair: Beth Quitslund
Ohio University

“Spenser’s Christian Gnosticism and Why It Matters: Two Prayers, Four Hymnes, and One Panegyric”
William Junker
University of St Thomas, MN
This talk argues that Clement of Alexandria is by far the most important source for Spenser’s own poetic theology. 

I begin by taking up the work of Frances Yates and Harold Weatherby. Yates’s The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age and Weatherby’s Mirrors of Celestial Grace are superior to standard accounts of Spenser’s theology. Yates’s book is uneven (numerology is its downfall), and Weatherby’s too often adopts the language of confessional identity its better points resist. Both books are important because they resist the assumptions taken for granted by conventional studies of Spenser’s theology. (The central and most debilitating of these assumptions is the category mistake of conflating Protestantism with a vague kind of Calvinism.)

Building from Yates and Weatherby, I show that the writings of Clement of Alexandria offer a better explanation for everything traditionally taken to be reformed in Spenser’s theology, including the elevation of the married state, justification by faith alone, the sufficiency of scripture, and the vanity of works righteousness. Clement’s writings can also explain aspects of Spenser’s theology that a reformed theology cannot, such as the perfection of Sidney’s martyrdom in Ruines of Time, the heroines of the Faerie Queene, the soteriology of the Hymne to Heavenly Love, the angelology of the Hymne to Heavenly Beauty, the deification of the human being in the same poem, the dialectical structure of Spenser’s allegory, the numbers seven and eight, and many other things besides.

The works of Clement and other ante-Nicene Fathers were not, in John King’s tendentious phrase, “esoteric religious texts.”Over the past few decades, we have gained a better appreciation of the importance of ante-Nicene thought for elite Protestants of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Francis Bacon made extensive use of Irenaeus; the Geneva Bible’s notes to the Song of Songs derive from Origen’s commentary on the same; Erasmus marshals arguments of Clement of Alexandria in his dispute with Luther; Alciati includes Clement’s glosses in his emblems; even Richard Mulcaster quotes Clement twice in his Positions. Why, then, are so many scholars made uncomfortable by the suggestion that Spenser’s Protestantism is more patristic than reformed, more gnostic than calvinist, more idiosyncratic than confessional?

“Spenser’s Protestant Sublime: ‘Dreadfull’ Judgment and Irresistible Grace in the Legend of Holiness”
Kelly Lehtonen
Penn State University
Representations of wonder and astonishment dominate Spenser’s Legend of Holiness, in episodes such as Redcrosse’s terrified reaction to Fradubio and Arthur’s stunning of Orgoglio. While the majority of scholarship on Book I tends to focus on theological elements of Spenser’s Protestantism, this paper examines Spenser’s use of Protestantism as an aesthetic principle—an aesthetic I call the Protestant sublime—which unites principles of sublime theorists such as Longinus and Edmund Burke with concepts from theologians like Calvin and Perkins. The Protestant sublime is a condition of terror and amazement that Spenser consistently uses to characterize the individual’s perception of God, figuring an involuntary response to two complementary sides of God’s holiness: justice and grace. More particularly, I uncover a three-part model of the Protestant sublime that Spenser uses as an organizing principle for the Legend of Holiness: first, when Redcrosse experiences dismay and terror at Fradubio and Orgoglio, Spenser characterizes the individual’s encounter with God’s “dreadfull” justice as an isolating event that imprisons the individual within the inner self; second, as Arthur defeats an “astownd” Orgoglio, Spenser figures grace turning judgment’s overwhelming power against itself; and third, with Una’s and Redcrosse’s amazed submission to Arthur, Spenser represents grace’s irresistible power  transporting the individual outside the self, thus transferring grace across the Christian community. By using the Protestant sublime to characterize experiences with judgment and grace, Spenser represents Holiness as a great mystery, provoking both hellish interiority at the prospect of divine judgment, and rapturous exteriority at the hope of salvation.  

“‘But yet the end is not’: The Faerie Queene Book III and Apocalyptic Discourse”
Mary Villeponteaux
Georgia Southern University
This paper is a reconsideration of the final episode of the 1590 Faerie Queene in terms of Elizabethan apocalyptic discourse.  The 1580s saw an outpouring of literature that interpreted Queen Elizabeth and her Protestant reign as part of the scheme of Revelation.  Two examples are Thomas Blennerhasset’s Revelation of the True Minerva (1582) and Edward Helwys’s A Marvel Deciphered (1589), both of which identify Queen Elizabeth as a figure from the Book of Revelation.  As part of their apocalyptic vision, these authors emphasize the queen’s role as a defender of Protestants abroad.  Britomart’s actions in the House of Busirane can be read in this context.  This essay also connects Britomart’s rescue of Amoret with Merlin’s apocalyptic vision early in Book III in which the royal virgin stretches “her white rod over the Belgicke shore,” a moment that praises—or encourages—Queen Elizabeth’s defense of the Protestant Netherlands as her crowning achievement.  Amoret’s plight may gesture toward the situation of suffering Protestants on the continent, allowing us to understand Britomart’s rescue of Amoret and destruction of Busirane’s house of idolatry as participating in the political apocalyptic discourse that was prevalent in the 1580s. 


New Perspectives on Spenserian Allegory: Re-Evaluating a Critical Heritage of Reading and Meaning-Making
Organizers: Denna J. Iammarino, Case Western Reserve University and Rachel E. Hile, Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne
Chair: Sean Henry, University of Victoria
In Maureen Quilligan’s The Language of Allegory (1979), she comments, “All true narrative allegory has its source in a culture’s attitude toward language, and in that attitude, as embodied in the language itself, allegory finds the limits of its possibility. It is a genre beginning in, focused on, and ending with ‘words, words’” (15). As Quilligan suggests, allegory and its uses are both literary devices and cultural artifacts … but critical responses to allegory are also cultural artifacts, and new times lead to new perspectives. Discussions of allegory, particularly Spenserian allegory, in the last 50 years have been constrained by a critical canon as well as by the cultural attitudes expressed in 20th-century ideas of Spenser. The New Criticism held sway in studies of Spenserian allegory for longer than in other fields, but now, how have the “limits of [allegory’s] possibility” changed for us as scholars and critics? And how have these foundational ideas about Spenserian allegory shifted and grown, or faded and waned?  Are we “done” thinking about Spenser’s allegory? Or can we repurpose its significance in our understanding of Spenser and his work? 

“Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness?: Allegory, Benjamin, and the Interpretative Experience of Spenser’s Narrator  in The Ruins of Time
Denna Immarino
Case Western Reserve University
In The Origin of the German Tragic Drama, Walter Benjamin describes a fragmented allegory, suggesting that allegory does not work with the sense of an organic, natural relationship between things, but, instead, it questions such a possibility. To this end he comments, “Allegories are, in the realm of thought, while ruins are in the realm of things” (178). In this passage, he suggests a schism between allegorical thing and allegorical meaning. In Benjamin’s idea, ruins are fragmented because their meaning derives from two distinct objects in two distinct times—the past city and its once greatness and the present ruin and its decay/brokenness.  Here, the ruin as allegory, as meaning, works in two manners as it is the echo of the once-city’s greatness and the reminder that all humanness must end.  This study shall look at how this image of fragmentation is used in Edmund Spenser’s ruins of Rome in The Ruins of Time as a way to understand how the narrator unifies the fractured landscape that surrounds him.  

“Interpreting Spenserian Allegory: A Cognitive Approach”
Rachel E. Hile
Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne
This paper considers what happens inside the mind of the reader of an allegory, the mental events that allow a person to correctly identify the presence of meanings that can be projected to another context, and to project and perhaps apply those other meanings. Scholars have worked to extend the insights of cognitive metaphor theory to the study of allegory, but without getting to the heart of how these meanings can be transferred entirely through indirect means. I extend previous cognition-focused work on allegory and offer a theory of allegorical meaning-making that derives from work on memory, meaning-making, and intuition known as fuzzy-trace theory. Literary scholars, of course, are primarily interested not in meaning in the abstract but in meaning as instantiated in literary works and literary scholarship, so I connect this theory to Spenser by analyzing Spenser’s allegorical meaning-making tools with reference to “verbatim” and “gist” types of meaning, particularly in eclogues from The Shepheardes Calender. This more detailed way of thinking about allegorical meaning-making provides an alternative to the formal, historical, and etymological bases for defining allegory by arguing that a signature cognitive move, which I call “gist projection,” characterizes all instances of allegory.  The theory also both explains the cognitive difficulty of reading allegorically and provides insights into pedagogy for teaching allegories such as The Faerie Queene. 

“Are Personifications Allegorical?”
Andrew Escobedo
Ohio University
Some people, such as Stephen Barney and Judith Anderson, say that personifications are not in themselves allegorical because they are not in themselves narrative, and allegory needs narrative in order to do its work. Other people, such as Carolyn Van Dyke and Gordon Teskey, say that personifications are in themselves allegorical because they represent the imposition of concepts onto persons, just as allegory imposes an order of ideas onto an order of fiction. In these brief comments I will agree that personifications are not in themselves allegorical, but will argue that this has nothing essentially to do with their placement in narrative. It has to do, rather, with the manner in which they represent their concepts, either as signs or as examples. 
If we start with the minimal definition of literary allegory as a narrative that announces, with greater or lesser degrees of explicitness, its secondariness to an order of nonfictional ideas, then we are in a decent position to answer the question posed by this paper’s title. The answer turns on the art philosopher Nelson Goodman’s distinction between exemplification and denotation. Insofar as we think of personifications as examples, they are not particularly allegorical: we can understand their signifying function without going outside the literal narrative. Insofar as we think of them as denotations, then we have cause to consider them allegorical signs that point to ideas outside the literal narrative. Spenser’s Braggadochio is a paradigm of exemplification, whereas Error is a paradigm of denotation. 

Rachel E. Hile
How can we help students learn to develop their allegorical intuition?

One long-standing criticism of allegory is that it prioritizes meaning over aesthetics or pleasure, and the cognitive analysis offered in my paper definitely focuses on meaning. What peculiar experiences of aesthetic or intellectual pleasure does allegory offer?  

Denna Iammarino 
In a fragmented allegory (as Walter Benjamin describes) is meaning discerned or created? What keeps the interpretation of allegory from being self-serving to the reader’s whims?  

Andrew Escobedo 
If personifications have the range of signifying functions that I have described, then what is the relation between personification and what we moderns call “literary character”? Is it proper to describe personifications as literary characters?


Edmund Spenser and his Influences
Organizer: Scott C. Lucas, The Citadel
Chair: Rachel E. Hile, Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne

“The Ethics of Infinity: Spenser and Bruno Reconsidered”
Mark Sherman
Rhode Island School of Design
Twenty-five years ago, Douglas Brookes-Davies concluded his entry on Giordano Bruno in The Spenser Encyclopedia by stating, “The influence of Bruno on Spenser has yet to be fully mapped.”  Despite the resurgence of interest in the Lucretian Renaissance and Spenser’s “radicalism,” Brookes-Davies’s observation remains accurate. Bruno is occasionally alluded to in discussions of Spenser, but most often bypassed as an eccentric interloper, still associated primarily with the Hermeticism explored by Frances Yates. Less attention has been given to the poltico-theological implications of Bruno’s thought, and the direct link between Bruno’s ethics and his speculative, revolutionary cosmology, as it was outlined by Hans Blumenberg. Core aspects of Bruno’s theory of an infinite universe presented a profound challenge to Christian doctrine, including the paradigm of the incarnation, Christ-centered kingship, and the matter of humanity’s inherited guilt.  The Ethics of Infinity sees in Blumenberg’s approach to Brunian philosophy a lens through which a radical materialism might be discerned as a constitutive element in The Faerie Queene from its outset in Book I as opposed to the cameo appearances in locales such as the Gardens of Adonis and Mutabilitie Cantos, where it has typically been confined. At issue in Spenser’s reworking of tropes from Genesis in Book I is the distinction, per Giorgio Agamben, between ethics and morality regarding the doctrine of original sin relative to the teleology of salvation history.  Consistent with Bruno’s “Nolan philosophy, ” there is in the culmination of the Redcrosse Knight’s quest a revisionary, materialist-ethical (rather than doctrinal sacramentalist) reading of the myths of the creation and fall in Genesis that has the potential to recast the objectives of Spenser’s poem relative to ethical action and temporality in order to redefine the titular virtue of holiness. 

“The Lore of Hercules, Pleasure, and Virtue in Book V of The Faerie Queene
Karen L. Nelson
University of Maryland
What happens to Edmund Spenser’s definition of Justice, in Book Five of the Faerie Queene, when one reads Britomart, Radigund, and Artegall against the visual and narrative traditions associated with Hercules? Spenser’s divergences from legends associated with Hercules inform Spenser’s commentary on Justice. In this paper, I consider some of the ways in which sixteenth century graphic artists and authors invoke Hercules, especially visual renderings of Hercules by Lucas Cranach the Elder in Hercules with Omphale (1537) and by Albrecht Duerer in The Combat of Virtue and Pleasure in the Presence of Hercules (1498-1499) and literary examples available from Xenophen in Memorabilia and Ovid in Heroides and Fasti. The Radigund-Artegall-Britomart triangle aligns with these traditions as it invokes gendered practices of dress, battle, and more. The changes Spenser makes to these legends as he inscribes them onto Radigund, Artegall, and Britomart allow him to call into question England’s wool-gathering and its inward focus, at the expense of the common weale and public policies beyond the seas, as he questions unrestrained efforts to mete out justice and reminds readers that its enforcement is a shared responsibility.

“Reconsidering Sir Philip Sidney’s Influence on His Friend Edmund Spenser”
Nathan Szymanski
Simon Fraser University
Many critics have posited a unidirectional vector of influence from Sir Philip Sidney to Edmund Spenser, whereby Spenser is indebted to Sidney’s poetics and philosophy. My paper presents an alternative model of influence, one that is bilateral and that is predicated on Early Modern understandings of literary competition and contest. I begin with a reconsideration of Sidney’s role as patron of The Shepheardes Calender and of E.K.’s ambivalent attitude toward English eclogue writers, including Sidney, in his introduction. Following this, my paper analyses the various literary contests found in The Shepheardes Calender, several of which present models of literary community founded not only on the competitive shepherds of Theocritus and Virgil, but also on the commentary of their Early Modern translators (such as Abraham Fleming). Ultimately, a competitive framing of Sidney and Spenser’s poetic relationship better accords with instances of friction between the two writers (see, for example, Sidney’s appraisal of The Shepheardes Calender in The Defence of Poesie), while it helps also to contextualize Spenser’s later, ambivalent response to the posthumous Sidney, as depicted in Spenser’s pastoral elegy on the occasion of Sidney’s death. 


Spenser Beyond Allegory
Organizer: Ayesha Ramachandran , Yale University
Chair: Catherine Nicholson, Yale University

“‘Lyke as a Huntsman’: The Hunt in Spenser’s Amoretti LXVII”
Erin K. Kelly
California State University, Chico
Abstract not available. 

“Dark Conceits and Poets’ Ensamples: Allusion and Allegory in Tasso and Spenser”
Sarah Van der Laan
Indiana University
What is the relationship between allegory and allusion? Tasso’s Allegoria del poema constructs a Platonic allegory of hisGerusalemme liberata that is heavily indebted to—we might even say alludes to—moral allegories of the Homeric and Virgilian epics. Yet the classical narratives to which Tasso’s text alludes most heavily are not those that feature most prominently in his allegorizations of his own work, and the ethical lessons of those allusions frequently contradict those of the Allegoria. If the Letter to Ralegh relies less heavily than the Allegoria on allusions to familiar allegories, the moralized epic of book 2 of The Faerie Queene makes its allegories’ allusive debts to allegories of classical epic as clear as its narrative’s allusive debts to classical and Renaissance epic. The clarity of those debts compounds the contradictions of allusion and allegory that Tasso explores; moral allegory’s poetic and educational efficacy is called into question as an ostensibly Odyssean Guyon sails past the Mermayds without hearing their song and destroys the Bower of Bliss. Yet even as Spenser reveals the shortcomings of these simple moral allegories, his intertextual practice instructs the reader in another mode of education through reading. Patterning the adventures of Guyon and the Palmer, Acrasia and Verdant on the adventures of Carlo and Ubaldo, Armida and Rinaldo in the Liberata, Spenser demands not only that his readers read allusively for ethical instruction, but that they examine—and attempt to resolve—the competing claims of allegory and allusion as didactic and poetic tools.  

“Doing Godly Thing: Devotional Logic in The Faerie Queene
Beth Quitslund
Ohio University
Abstract not available.


Spenser in Motion: From Stasis to Speed
Sponsor: Spenser Society
Organizer and Chair: Tiffany J. Werth, Simon Fraser University
“Botanical Otium
Vin Nardizzi
University of British Columbia
This paper centers on the image of sensory deprivation that Spenser’s Cuddie articulates at the end of “Februarie.” He says to the old shepherd Thenot:   

            So longe haue I listned to thy speche,
            That graffed to the ground is my breache:
            My hartblood is welnigh frorne I feele,
            And my galage growne fast to my heele:
            But little ease of thy lewd tale I tasted.
            Hye thee home shepheard, the day is nigh wasted. (ll. 241-46) 

In this paper, I focus on Cuddie’s grafted posterior, where bottom and grass conjoin with one another, and on the corporeal transformations that accompany this conjoining to elaborate some surprising (and counterintuitive) links among waste, otium, and the figure of the human body imagined as a grafted vegetable, which is typically an emblem for increased growth and reproduction in the period. I also speculate on the theoretical purchase of the vegetabled shepherd, grafted to the ground as he is in Spenser, and, despite Cuddie’s assessment, on this figure’s possible re-purposing as a way to imagine (bare) life in the pastoral tradition. 

“The Incredible Flightness of Being: ‘Muiopotmos’ and the Speed of Text”
Chris Barrett
Louisiana State University
Spenser’s “Muipotmos, or The Fate of the Butterfly” is a poem of movement, accelerating and decelerating suddenly, pausing and alighting for stanzas at a time on an image or mock heroic catalogue of flowers, and then fluttering into motion again.  As slight-seeming as the gossamer threads of spider silk, the poem is a cloud of unruly here and there: Clarion darts in the various light, his wings beating time and miles beneath their propulsive ottava rima. 
The poem revels in movement, following Clarion up mountainsides and over fields, but Clarion’s playful zooming is not the only kind of speed within the poem; “Muiopotmos” plays with a variety of motional senses under the sign of the butterfly, whose flight is famously variable—hovering, breaking, buckling, rolling, darting, waving, circling, pulsing, lifting.  The poem offers us a deictic account of speedy movement by its characters, as well as devices of prosody that propel the poem forward and an oscillation in the poem’s narrative speed.
These modalities of speed within “Muiopotmos” cluster in particular sections of the poem—specifically, at the moments when the poem most overtly celebrates its intertextual relationship with other works. “Muiopotmos” slyly and persistently plays with the relational nature of literary works in conversation—or perhaps the relational nature of literature itself—and in staging that playfulness at moments of descriptive, poetic, and narrative celeration, suggests that speed might be a useful way for thinking anew the work of intertextuality. 
In this paper, I think about the speed of text by looking at two moments in the poem when “Muiopotmos” seems to associate celerity and textual community, moments when intertextual gestures are treated as themselves acts of acceleration or deceleration.  Then, in the light of those two episodes, I’ll ask what attending to the relationality of speed this might mean for our encounters with literature.  How might speed as a modality of intertextuality reorient us to the sociology of texts, and how might that sociology challenge us to attend to the very real costs of maintaining these lines of flight? 

“Slow Violence and the Speed of System in ‘The Legend of Justice’”
Joseph Campana
Rice University
The melancholic Orsino likes the golden oldies, which soothe his “passion” almost as much as a cross-dressed boy. Why? Because “old and antique songs” they relieve him from a certain suffering causes not just by his own melancholia but by “these most brisk and giddy-paced times,” (2.4). While Slowness and age soothe, speed stresses and irritates. This truism suggests the importance of considering motion in early modernity, not just its vectors or tendencies, matters of physics and new sciences of motion, but rather its velocity, which has cultural as well as scientific significance. While scholars of early modernity have just begun to consider speed, scholars of contemporary culture have been forced, at least since the Futurists lyrical celebration of velocity, to consider accelerationism, which refers to the theory that the interlocking social, economic, and technological systems of late capitalism will only change if their fundanmental processes, which already tend to acceleration, are speed up even further to the point of collapse and subsequent radical reform. On the other hand, Rob Nixon considers the importance of understanding the “slow” and therefore less visible and motivating violence of environmental decline. This paper considers velocity—from stais to speed—in Spenser’s Legend of Justice. The Legend of Justice makes clear that: 

  1. Velocity is always related to system, and in this case Justice sustains a cosmological vision as much as it distributes consequences, both in relation to varieties of velocity
  2. Velocity is always related to the distribution of capacities to various life forms
  3. Velocity is always related to violence, both individual and systemic 

From the swiftness of Talus to the slow redistribution of matter alluded to by Arthegall and the Giant with the Scales, Spenser proves himself as vocal about velocity as Tommaso Marinetti and as concerned with lyricism, violence, change, and speed. 


Affect and Psychology in Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene
Organizer: Scott C. Lucas, The Citadel
Chair: Andrew Escobedo, Ohio University
“Snowy Florimell’s Interiority”
Sara Saylor
University of Texas at Austin
Readers of The Faerie Queene do not typically regard Snowy Florimell as a complex character. Her allegorical purpose is clearly legible: she exists in order to dissolve beside the true Florimell, confirming the latter’s superiority. But this paper considers aspects of Snowy Florimell that exceed and arguably undermine that purpose: her emotions. When this automaton tries and fails to wear the real Florimell’s girdle, she is “touched… with secret wrath and shame.” She fumbles and frets, “snatching” the girdle “half angrily” to try it on again. Why does Spenser attribute such surprising responses to a wax doll animated by a male demon?

I suggest that these reactions confer a hint of humanity upon the automaton, making it harder for readers to dismiss her as a mere idol and celebrate her destruction. Snowy Florimell’s embarrassed fumbling lingers as an unaccounted-for remainder after Spenser’s iconoclastic allegory does its work. Like Talus’s uncharacteristic tremble of conscience, this unexpected emergence of emotional life reminds us that in this poem, even the most rigidly constrained agents can take on lives of their own, inconsistent with their original purposes. Spenser presents Faerie life in a state of flux between human and nonhuman, agent and abstraction, airy spirit and embodied creature.

Malbecco’s transformation into Gealousy illustrates how metamorphosis can diminish a character’s humanity, but Snowy Florimell’s emotions invite us to attend to the opposite process, in which a character loosens the constraints of allegory and takes on more possibilities for feeling, choice, and action than she had before. This brief episode provokes broad questions about our critical practices as readers of The Faerie Queene: in this infinitely expansive poem, how do we decide which characters merit close critical attention rather than dismissal? Which characters make a claim on readers’ sympathy, and are we being un-critical when we incorporate expressions of sympathy for fictional characters into literary analysis? What counts as “interiority,” and how do we determine who has it?
“‘Ne naturall affection faultlesse blame’: Embodied and Extended Affect in The Faerie Queene
Daniel Lochman
Texas State University
In Extending the Extended Mind (2014), the philosophers Giovanna Colombetti and Tom Roberts build on the work of Achim Stephan, Joel Krueger, and Michelle Maiese to argue that theories of embodied cognition must allow for the effects of affectivity in the brain, body, and experience of the world. Contrary to many cognitive theorists who foreground the brain, Colombetti and Roberts argue that affections are both embodied and cognitive, and they allow for “affective interconnectedness” within the body and with others. This paper explored early modern antecedents of such views in the Faerie Queene. Characters as diverse as Belphoebe (with Timias) and Arthegall (in Radegone) exemplify what we might call an embodied and extended affectivity but that Spenser called “naturall affection.” This phrase is supported by a Galenic physiology that, like recent theories of affectivity, allow for continuity and interaction among physiological processes and emotional extension to others.

Within the ecology of the Faerie Queene’s story world, instances of similar yet distinct affective crises reappear at climactic moments such as interrupted beheadings and tableaus of the pitiably wounded, each constituting a cluster of passions that intersects with similar ones within a pre-cognitive network and affective memory that coexists and interacts with the noetically perceived plot.
“‘Toylesome Teme’: The Knights’ Affective Labor in The Faerie Queene
 William Rhodes
University of Virginia
The personification of Care in Book IV of The Faerie Queene as a blacksmith calls our attention to the hard labor inherent in the allegorical quests undertaken by the poem’s knights. Their “trauell,” undertaken out of chivalric care for others, is at once martial quest and manual toil. This is important not just because it emphasizes the difficulty of each knight’s respective task, but because the desires that propel these knights must be shaped by labor in order to actualize the communities that would allow virtues like holiness or friendship to flourish. In other words, the labors of the knights represent an interplay of passion and action as they seek to shape their world. The Faerie Queene thus presents what would today be called the “affective labor” of fashioning a “noble person” through education and communication: this is labor that ensures not just the production of material goods, but the reproduction of community vis-à-vis the sociable virtues that make it possible. The chivalric allegorical toil of The Faerie Queene shows how powerful erotic affects and religious feelings require the affective labor of care for others in order to build communities based on each book’s titular virtue. This frame of analysis casts new light on the work of caring for others in The Faerie Queene, which in turns allows us to reconsider the narratorial depiction of poetic labor as toil, and the meaning of the Red Cross Knight’s upbringing “in ploughmans state.” 


Edmund Spenser’s Literary Art
Organizer: Scott C. Lucas
Chair: Ernest P. Rufleth, Louisiana Tech University
“Spenser’s Infinite Examples”
Andrew Carlson
Rutgers University

History is often associated with particular examples. In The Defense of Poesy (c.1580), Philip Sidney compares philosophy (associated with rule, precept—or, we might say, form) to history on exactly this basis. The historian, writes Sidney, “would allege you innumerable examples, confirming the story by stories.” In the rhetoric of early modern history, examples tend to proliferate. In my paper, I argue that this model of historical exemplarity provides a generative tension for any theory of form. On the one hand, Sidney’s definition of history appears anti-formalist: historical examples proliferate to the point of infinity because history infinitely resists categories and rules. The failure of form is the interval that separates examples in an infinite series. On the other hand, William Warner’s popular history-­in­-verse Albions England (1586) and Edmund Spenser’s epic poem The Faerie Queene (1590) seem to embrace this model of historical exemplarity as a generative device for poetic form. I read this moment of (literally) productive conflict between history and form forward to clarify a specific twentieth­-century critique of formalism. In “The Dead End of Formalist Criticism” (1971), Paul de Man suggests that formalists should be surprised to find that the models produced by formalism correspond not to “just one but an indefinite number” of experiences. In Spenser and de Man, the failure of form is what allows it to collect an infinite number of examples. Whether this is a virtue or not depends on what kind of history one wants—and how much. 

“Spenser the Escape Artist”
Suzanne Tartamella
Henderson State University
Abstract not available.


Southeastern Renaissance Conference
October 2nd through 3rd, 2015
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 

“Spenser’s Reformation Epic: Gloriana and the Unadulterated Arthur”
Robert Lanier Reid
Renaissance Papers 2015 (forthcoming in fall 2016)

Spenser surpassed Geoffrey and Malory in glorifying Arthur when he envisioned the prince’s magnificence as perfecting the twelve virtues, inspiring the spiritual Arthurian Torso of Williams and Lewis. Cherewatuk and others, however, find that in Malory “Adultery lies at the heart of the Arthurian tragedy.” Three of the adulteries specially jeopardize Arthur’s moral and providential stature: (1) Uther Pendragon’s assault on Queen Igrayne leads to Arthur’s birth; (2) newly-crowned Arthur’s affair with Queen Morgause, not knowing their half-kinship, leads to the disastrous birth of Mordred; (3) Lancelot’s complex intimacy with Queen Guenevere and then (when drugged) with her displacement Elaine of Corbin, gives birth to the holy bastard Galahad and initiates the Grail Quest. To correct these flawed relationships that so annoyed Erasmus and Ascham, Spenser depicts a young, not-yet-adulterated Arthur, suppressing the dark details of his conception; he utterly omits Mordred’s birth and Morgause’s horrific end, beheaded by her son Gaheris when she beds with Lamoracke, who, Spenser notes, cannot quell the Blatant Beast’s fury (FQ 6.12.38); and he omits the entire compelling drama of Guenevere and Lancelot, Elaine and Pelles the fisher-king, Galahad and the Grail. Above all, and guiding the rest, Spenser displaces Guenevere with Gloriana. Despite this chastening of Arthur’s image, Books 1-6 of The Faerie Queene subject him to a schematic moral descent, suggesting that Spenser, instead of focusing on Malory’s tragic vision of a final spiritual perfecting of Guenevere and Lancelot, meant to show the perfecting of Arthur himself in the missing half of his Christian allegorical epic, a reversal requiring that the wished-for Arthuriad must serve the grander dream of a Glorianad. 


  • Our website 6 months ago

    This is significant not only because it stresses the difficulties of each knight's particular mission, but also because it demonstrates the necessity of labor on the part of these knights' wishes in order to create the communities necessary for the flourishing of virtues like holiness or friendship.

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Cite as:

"Conferences," Spenser Review 45.3.23 (Winter 2016). Accessed April 14th, 2024.
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