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Ambroziak, Kimberly Paige. “The Mystification of Christian Salvation: On the Anxiety of Redemption in Renaissance Poetry and Drama.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Diss. City U of New York, 2015. Web.

The Legend of Red Crosse Knight, Doctor Faustus, Hamlet, and Samson Agonistes are secular poetic explorations with a common idea: the possibility of Christian salvation. These examples of the redemptive quest seem to reveal the uneasiness of salvation which is representative, if only broadly, of the atmosphere in which their authors were writing. More specifically, the intention of this study is to reveal the possibility and nature of Christian uncertainty as it is firmly rooted in the early modern period. As Christian doctrine proves protean from its beginnings in the first century to Protestant tracts in the sixteenth, these authors are not immune to the conflicting ideologies and shifting beliefs of their time. These four works thus offer insight into the fluctuating and malleable ideologies of Christianity, and ultimately reflect the ongoing development of theological principles.

Evans, William Eugene, III. “The Fiction of Law in Shakespeare and Spenser.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Diss. Princeton U, 2015. Web.

This dissertation examines the relationship between literary and legal fiction making in the work of William Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser. It argues that by examining the fictionality of the law at every level, from structure to technique, these poets encountered the constitutive boundaries of their own fictions. The dynamic they discovered is that poetry and law are symmetrically and oppositely fictional. Poetry is fictional in being neither true nor false; law is fictional in being both true and false. The dissertation maintains throughout that Shakespeare and Spenser’s engagement with law is not primarily topical, in the sense of an interest in legal plots; nor literary, in the sense of registering figurative or rhetorical patterns in the law; nor legalistic, in the sense of making properly doctrinal arguments. Rather, the encounters with law in these poets’ works are philosophical, in that they search out the nature of law as a form of human making; in the process, they are confronted with the nature, limits, and responsibilities of their own making as poets. The introduction lays out the dissertation’s argument, situates it in the current state of law and literature studies, and offers, as an example of the more sustained readings of Shakespeare and Spenser, a preliminary reading of an Elizabethan lyric by George Gascoigne. Chapter 1 explores the most direct reference to an English common law case in Shakespeare, in the gravedigger scene of Hamlet, and the questions the reference opens up about the place of technical language in legal and poetic fictions. Chapter 2 investigates the legal ideology of suspicion in the 1590 edition of Edmund Spenser’s The Faire Queene, and argues that it is a basic element of the Spenserian dynamics. Chapter 3 focuses on the use of concepts of legal practice and process in Shakespearean comedy, which Shakespeare uses playfully to imagine the disabling of law. Chapter 4 investigates the fiction of corporate personhood in Renaissance culture and in the 1596 edition of The Faerie Queene, demonstrating its centrality to that poem’s increasingly troubled second half. 

Guagliardo, Ethan John. “The Limelight of the Idols: Political Theology as Fiction in Renaissance England.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Diss. U of Notre Dame, 2015. Web. 

“The Limelight of the Idols: Political Theology as Fiction in Renaissance England” explores the apparent paradox that idolatry—an object of the highest opprobrium among nearly all early modern Protestants—inspired a series of poets, including Philip Sidney, Spenser, and Fulke Greville, to think about state authority as a poetic fiction. Confronted with the collapse of religious consensus and authority after the Reformation, these poets turned to the idol as a blueprint for how authority could be invented where it was not self-evident. At the same time, the idol was attractive precisely because it was fictional: it created a kind of authority parallel to but separate from the authority of divine truth. Through the idol, the Elizabethans rediscovered civil religion as a poetic fiction. Their work, I argue, would be extended in Civil War-era figures like Thomas Hobbes, James Harrington, Marchamont Nedham, and John Milton, who collectively rethought authority as a product of art and culture.

“The Limelight of the Idols” thus bridges the gap between two kinds of genealogies of modernity employed by literary historians. One is largely secular, finding the roots of the Enlightenment in the growth of republicanism and political science. The other, associated with Max Weber and later with Carl Schmitt, argues that the concepts of the modern state are really secularized or, less charitably, corrupted versions of religious concepts. In this view, political theology is the permanent truth of politics. My dissertation demonstrates that a special attention to literature can resolve these opposed theses. The poets in my study are no political scientists in the secular sense; for them, political authority was intrinsically tied to emotions and beliefs associated with religion—in this sense, they were political theologians. Yet their interest was less in political theology conceived as a genuine divine right politics than in political theology built on the explicitly fictional model of pagan civil religion. More often than not, they meant to protect true religion from the compromises and sheer humanity inherent in statecraft and sovereignty. At the nexus of secularity and religion, political science and political theology, we find fiction.

Hadbawnik, David. “Language Strange: Speech and Poetic Authority in Chaucer, Lydgate, Dunbar, and Spenser.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Diss. State U of New York at Buffalo, 2015. Web.

“Language Strange” addresses the linguistic “inferiority complex” that poets in English faced as they worked to raise the literary profile of the fledgling vernacular. It foregrounds the under-studied importance of strange language (or what Chaucer’s character the Reeve calls “churles termes,” as well as regional, class-based, and archaic diction) to the concept of authorship and poetic diction as it develops in late medieval to early modern poets. With a focus on the poetic language of Chaucer and his literary descendants (those shaped by his poetry, who also shaped the perception of his legacy), my project explores how that language intersects with concepts of authorship and informs the emerging standard. By closely examining key words in English poetry to show how poets gloss and mediate them, I argue that authorship in English is based on sorting and deploying all kinds of domestic dialects, in addition to forging a relationship to language as poets interrogate words. Thus a sense of authorship in English derives not only from “having a good ear” for language, but also often involves choosing the wrong word and then working through its implications. In tracking these relationships, this project articulates how “strange language” played a central role in the development of the poetic mainstream.

In articulating the role of “strange language,” I contribute to a critical discourse that proposes a rethinking of linguistic, geographic, and period boundaries. Thomas Tyrwhitt, who edited The Canterbury Tales in 1775, recognized that Middle English was not “pure and unmixed” and that French could hardly be counted as a foreign language for speakers in late medieval England. More recently, critics such as David Crystal, Paula Blank, and Katie Wales have argued that the story of Standard English cannot be accurately told without considering the range of regional alternatives that sprang up alongside and contributed to it. Alexandra Gillespie and Megan Cook have helped trouble the distinction between scribal and print culture in England, while Jonathan Hsy and David Wallace have examined meeting (and melding) points between the languages and literatures of disparate places in the medieval world. By attending closely to poetic diction in the poets I study—not only where that diction comes from, but also what it means in the context of the poetry—“Language Strange” helps clarify how poets took advantage of artificial boundaries between places, times, and tongues. The aim is not to argue that periodization, e.g., is a meaningless construct, but to think through differences in late medieval to early modern poetry in a way that reflects their crosscurrents and mutually constitutive elements.

Harrison, Matthew P. “Tear Him for His Bad Verses: Poetic Value and Literary History in Early Modern England.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Diss. Princeton U, 2015. Web. 

“Tear Him for His Bad Verses” tracks the varied language of poetic badness in the English Renaissance—parody, insult, and criticism—exploring the ways it allows poets to confuse received poetic ideas and to invent new forms. Bad poetry becomes at last a sort of green world: not a permanent escape from social, formal, or cultural rules but a place in which they are relaxed, and can take on different shapes and forms.

My first chapter explores how Nicholas Breton and Edmund Spenser transform conventional gestures of self-deprecation to negotiate the competing demands of classical precedent, rhetorical theory, class, and ethical impact. To read Spenser’s “rudeness” is to emphasize badness’s potential to keep such elements in suspension, rather than to resolve their contradictions in the image of the later laureate.

My second chapter proposes that, for Philip Sidney, secular lyric must always be a failure. Astrophil and Stella auditions multiple constructions of poetic value, only to twist them into contradictions in brilliant displays of wit. Yet even as the poems exhaust arguments for poetry, shattering hopes of persuasion, mimesis, or praise, they remain “sweet”: clever and beautiful. The sequence arrives less at a defense of poetry than a voice that prospers in its indefensibility.

My third chapter turns to As You Like It to consider how that play’s paradoxical concern for the production of proper style and for the separation of style from value engages contemporary anxieties about the respective values of taste and techné, sincerity and skill. Orlando’s comic ineptness makes literal the conventions of artistic self-deprecation as a hope for a reader and a way of reading beyond evaluation.

My final chapter argues that stage bad poetry has a double function: both primer in poetic norms and Rorshach demanding interpretation. Reading Love’s Labours Lost alongside the linguistic absurdity of inept poets from Lyly’s Sir Thopas through Jonson’s Crispinus, I show that the theater’s abiding interest in deviation aids the consolidation of English poetic norms. In the stage poet and poem, a consensus takes shape on how to relate poetry’s sound to its sense.

Mathai, Joshua. “Reflected Scenes: Ekphrastic Tension in the Allegory of Chastity.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Thesis. State U of New York at Stony Brook, 2015. Web.

This thesis aims to explore the tension with how Edmund Spenser uses images and the method of ekphrasis and how they lead to interpretive tension on the part of the reader in the epic poem The Faerie Queene. Close readings of selected passages within Book III of The Faerie Queene as well as discussion of secondary scholarship pertaining to the piece will be used in this research. The study will conclude with how Spenser as the author was able to use interpretive tension to serve his pedagogical aims in writing this work. 

Stapleton, Paul Joseph. “The Cross in Elizabethan England: An Image in an Age of Iconoclasm.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Diss. The U of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2015. Web.  

The cross was arguably the most hotly contested image in all of Elizabethan England. For some the cross was an object of devotion, but for others of idolatry and superstition; for some, the triumphal standard of Christ, but for others, the instrument of his torture; it was the banner of Christian identity, but also an abstract spiritual ideal; a symbol of the holy Roman Catholic church, but also of the pagan Whore of Babylon; the shield of crusaders and the Templar knights, but also of the English patron Saint George and the knights of the Order of the Garter; the marching flag of the northern Catholic rebels, but also of the soldiers of the Tudor armies; the ensign of the Spanish Armada, but also of the royal navy led by Charles Howard, Lord high Admiral, and Sir Francis Drake. For Elizabethans, no matter how they identified themselves in matters of religion, no matter where along the spectrum of religious identity, whatever their shade of Protestant or Catholic, and no matter how they regarded sacred objects, whether as iconodules or iconoclasts, or somewhere in between, the cross was a phenomenon indicative of far more than as one apologist claimed, “nothing,” and another, “onely barres laide a crosse.” For all practical purposes, the various attempts in Elizabethan England to strip the cross of meaning were predicated on the same set of circumstances that historically (and ironically) undergirds almost all forms of religious iconoclasm: sacred objects like the cross are so utterly saturated with meaning that they inevitably come to be regarded as rivals to the sacred entities they are intended to represent, and thus, as inimical to “pure” forms of belief. So for some Elizabethans the cross was the primary symbol of the Christian deity, but for others it was an idol that had displaced the true Christian god. Furthermore, another circumstance was also at work for Elizabethans: in a sixteenth-century culture undergoing tremendous flux, the multifarious politico-religious connotations of the cross fractured it with paradox. So the cross came to be adopted as the primary symbol of political entities directly in conflict with each other, for example, imperial Catholic Spain and Protestant Elizabethan England, and among the English themselves, anti-government subversives like the Northern Catholic rebels and Jesuit-supported recusants. Nonetheless, the cross is the image Edmund Spenser chooses to give us at the outset of Book One of The Faerie Queene in the form of the crosses on the armor of the Redcrosse Knight. My purpose in this study is to explore the “bloodie Crosses” on the Redcrosse knight’s breastplate and shield in their relation to the politico-religious culture of Elizabethan England, which assumed for the cross a central role in the defining of English religious and national identity, albeit that role was predicated for some on a positive relation, while for others, a negative one. The fact of the matter is that devotion towards the cross was regularly regarded in post-Reformation England as a definitive marker of “papism,” if not outright allegiance to the church of Rome, and therefore, was frequently placed in a negative relation to English identity. For some like Spenser, however, such “negative” associations were simply not the case. This is partly due to the medieval setting of The Faerie Queene, which allows for the presence of anachronistic cultural residue like the crusader armor that the Redcrosse Knight wears. Yet the Legend of Holiness is also intended as a spiritual allegory for contemporary Elizabethans, and the Redcrosse Knight is a moral exemplar, whom some have even described as an English Protestant Everyman. The central role of the “papist” cross in Book One, therefore, cannot be dismissed as a mere factor of the medievalism of the poem, but it must also be recognized as a necessary contributing factor to Spenser’s depiction of Post-Reformation Englishness and holiness. Thus, I believe Spenser’s deployment of the red cross reveals what many historians have come to recognize about Elizabethan England in general: that religious beliefs were far more pragmatic, malleable, and tolerant than any attempts at hardline uniformity could ever suppress; and this seems to be equally, if not more, true of literary writers like Spenser. 

Sukumaran, Padmini. “The Inner Fairy: Reason and Imagination in ‘The Faerie Queene’ and ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Diss. St. John’s U (New York), 2015. Web. 

“The Inner Fairy: Reason and Imagination in The Faerie Queene and A Midsummer Nights Dream” explores the impact of the fairy figure, Fairy Land, and the fairy tale genre in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream. The dissertation argues that while Shakespeare’s aim in presenting the fairy figure and Fairy Land is to intermingle fantasy and reality, Spenser’s aim in presenting these same figures is to employ fantasy to educate Elizabethan England on how to live in the real world. “The Inner Fairy: Reason and Imagination in The Faerie Queene and A Midsummer Nights Dream” covers the manner in which The Faerie Queene corresponds to the allegorical romance genre and A Midsummer Nights Dream corresponds to the romantic comedy genre upon the presence of the fairy figure and Fairy Land. This dissertation also explores how The Faerie Queene and A Midsummer Nights Dream are classified in the fairy tale genre by interfacing those texts with Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories.”

The first chapter, “The Faerie Queene: A Moralistic Portrait of the Fairy,” demonstrates that Spenser fulfills the end of romance in Books III-V of The Faerie Queene by offering the fairy figure and Fairy Land as ideals in chastity to educate Elizabethan England to fulfill. The second chapter, “Fairies: The Realm of Imagination in A Midsummer Nights Dream” presents that Shakespeare portrays the fairy figure and Fairy Land as personifications of imagination in order to delineate the eminence of imagination in the world. The second chapter also demonstrates that Shakespeare metafictionally reflects on the fairy tale and romantic comedy through the fairy figure and Fairy Land.

The conclusion explores how Spenser’s and Shakespeare’s presentations of the fairy figure, Fairy Land, and the fairy tale in Books III-V of The Faerie Queene and A Midsummer Nights Dream allows the audience to grasp the genres of allegorical romance in Book II, Canto X of The Faerie Queene and fairy tale and metadrama in As You Like It and The Tempest.

Taylor, Whitney Blair. “Breath, the Muses, and Inspiration in Early Modern Poetry.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Diss. Northwestern U, 2015. Web.

This dissertation breathes new life into the convention of the Muse in early modern poetry by arguing that poets combine models of classical poetic inspiration with the physiological meaning of inspiration as “breathing into” to imagine a “poetics of breath” animating early modern poetic production. I read figurations of inspiration across sacred and secular verse by poets including Philip and Mary Sidney, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, Mary Wroth, John Donne, Katherine Phillips, John Davies, George Herbert, and John Milton in the context of accounts of breathing and inspiration in early modern texts on natural philosophy, medicine, theology, and poetics. Sacred and secular poetry alike harness together the poetic, theological, and natural philosophical discourses surrounding inspiration to shape the contours of a “poetic ecosystem” constituted by exchange, porosity, and mutual dependence.

A poetics of breath thus enters critical conversations on early modern authorship to introduce a non-oppositional model for relationships between poet and external interlocutors that understands the poet’s openness to inspiration not simply as a source of anxiety, but as necessary to and even a desirable condition of writing. In turn, each of my chapters investigates figures of inspired breath and the Muses as they stretch or dissolve the oppositional dyads that inform many critical treatments of early modern writing and selfhood: including the fraught relationships between lover and beloved, pregnant poet and impregnating Muse, and human and divine. 


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"Dissertations," Spenser Review 45.3.24 (Winter 2016). Accessed April 14th, 2024.
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