52nd International Medieval Congress
Western Michigan University
May 11-14, 2017
Sponsor: Sean Henry, University of Victoria; Rachel E. Hile, Indiana University - Purdue University–Fort Wayne; Susannah B. Monta, Univ. of Notre Dame
Organizer: Thomas Herron, East Carolina University
Presider: Spenser at Kalamazoo
“‘And straight they saw the raging surges reard’: Watery Wildernesses and Narratives of National Self in Spenser’s Book II of The Faerie Queene”
Amber N. Slaven
University of Louisiana–Lafayette
Spenser often depicts archetypal environments, such as the forest or seascapes, as spaces of fear, temptation, and trial. Within The Faerie Queene, these spaces become the backdrop for the allegorical struggles of Spenser’s knights who must overcome external dangers as well as the danger that their own imperfections impose. While these archetypal spaces serve as a backdrop for knightly roving and allegorical romance, they also provide a means to examine constructions of 16th century environmental belief that can be rendered as discourse for distinguishing the self from the other. It is central to this discourse to conceptualize these spaces as wilderness locations that, at their core, represent un-knowability and pose an inherent danger to constructions of identity. This paper explores the ways in which The Faerie Queene renders watery spaces as locations of instability and uncertainty that develop as antithetical to emerging narratives of national identity. Though critiques of Book II of Spenser’s epic have focused on ecological concerns, specifically those surrounding Guyon’s destruction of the Bower of Bliss and the imposition of temperance upon the licentious landscape, I focus instead on Guyon and the Palmer’s interaction with the waterways surrounding Acrasia’s bower in canto 12. The dangers faced by Guyon and the Palmer not only challenge Guyon’s dedication to Christian virtue and righteousness, but also ends in their arrival at the false paradise represented by Acrasia’s Bower. I argue that this canto depicts danger associated with spaces beyond the shoreline that can be associated with wilderness. This view challenges the one-dimensional view of wilderness, which is often seen as a forest, and offers a dynamic approach to early modern wilderness studies.
“Moving Metaphors: Spenser’s Clouds”
University of Oxford
This paper offers the first detailed study of clouds in Spenser’s poetry. Like rivers, clouds appealed to Spenser as natural phenomena readily available for metaphorical use. Clouds were understood by Elizabethan meteorologists such as Leonard Digges and Richard Fulke in Aristotelian terms, as the thickened bodies of vapour exhaled from the earth. Yet in the popular imagination clouds were also astrological signs, portents of things to come. The failure of the meteorologists fully to exclude superstition from their own scientific works shows the deep intertwining in the Renaissance of cosmology with astrology. This cultural intertwining gave deep metaphorical resonance to Spenser’s images of clouds. In The Shepherds Calender, clouds are a conventional image of sorrow; in this work and in The Faerie Queene Spenser their particular movement suggests changes and shifts in mood that combine suddenness and gradation. Contemporary understanding of clouds as containers of thunder, and the common response of fear and wonder, underscore epic images of thunder and lightning in The Faerie Queene. Spenser’s publications also include graphic images of clouds: the well-studied woodcut illustrations of the Calender, reminiscent of almanacs, feature signs of the zodiac enclosed in clouds, appearing to exert influence over the tenor of each of eclogue from a remote position. Departing from this idea of remote influence – which I suggest is metaphorical – and from Spenser’s description of his poem’s truth ‘clowdily enwrapped’, the last part of the paper considers allegory in terms of cloudiness. In their astrological capacity clouds governed events remotely, but could also influence the world more straightforwardly (or metonymically), for example by releasing their rain. Many of The Faerie Queene’s personifications, I argue, exert influence on other figures in the poem with a similar combination of remoteness and directness.
“‘Seeking for Daunger and Aduentures’ in Spenser’s Gardens”
College of the Holy Cross
Gardens are spaces ill suited to heroic action. Fit for romance diversions, temptations and falls, but not for the main business of epic. Even when martial action allegorically represents psychic struggle, a garden’s enclosure makes such action feel unseemly. This paper explores how Spenser uses the disjunction between epic action and garden space in the middle books of The Faerie Queene to question epic’s methods for cultivating virtuous readers. For a series of gardens from Phaedria’s island in Book II to Venus’s temple in Book IV, Spenser blends contemporary Italianate garden design with elements from gardens literary and scriptural in a Protestant challenge to humanist optimism about heroic poetry’s value as art aimed at refining human nature.
Phaedria sets nature at issue on her island, a space of flourishing ease that mocks men’s “fruitlesse labors” to cultivate themselves through “[s]eeking for daunger and aduentures vaine”(II.vi.16, 17). You will never accomplish what nature can, she sings, so why try? In referencing amorous lilies and irises, the song less recalls God’s punishment of Adam, dooming him to labor for his sustenance, than it evokes the embowered seductresses of romance. Yet in an odd twist, heroic action is here analogized to flower gardening, man’s “carefull paines” to “decke the world” (15) figured as an aesthetic pursuit feeble relative to nature’s creative vigor. Beneath Phaedria’s conventional appeal to self-indulgent idleness lies a darker shadow. If nature prevails when it is beautiful, what happens when it is not? Can man’s efforts at self-cultivation be any more successful when he labors to “fashion” his own flawed nature in “vertuous and gentle discipline”?
Phaedria’s gardening metaphor and the questions it animates rematerialize in the garden spaces of Books II–IV. Before the disillusionment of the latter half of the epic sets in, garden spaces manifest Spenser’s struggle to sustain faith in the genre. Gardens, painfully absent from the Book of Holiness’s Eden, register humans’ fundamental inability to accept instruction that will align them with God’s will, even when every delight accompanies the lesson. At the same time, epic precedent and contemporary gardening theory allow poetic gardens to epitomize humanist achievement. Spenser’s circumscribed garden spaces test the didactic viability of the teleological epic mode in a world of inescapable corruption.
Passionate and Penitential Instruction
Sponsor: Spenser at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Jennifer Vaught, Univ. of Louisiana–Lafayette; David Scott Wilson- Okamura, East Carolina Univ.; Sean Henry, Univ. of Victoria
Presider: Lauren Silberman, Baruch College
“Counseling Endings in The Faerie Queene”
Abstract not available.
“Exemplary Feeling: Guyon’s Encounter with Amavia”
University of Manitoba
Abstract not available.
Medieval Literature as Children’s Literature: Studies in Adaptation II
Organizer: Bruce Gilchrist, Concordia University Montréal
Presider: Bruce Gilchrist
“Children’s Literature and Canonical Adaptation as Resistance Literature: The Case of Spenser’s Faerie Queene”
Abstract not available.
Sponsor: Spenser at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Rachel E. Hile, Indiana University–Purdue University–Fort Wayne; Susannah B. Monta, University of Notre Dame; Jennifer Vaught, University of Louisiana–Lafayette
Presider: William A. Oram, Smith College
“‘That lothly uncouth sight / Of men disguiz’d in womanishe attire’: The Gender, Politics, and Justice of Spenser’s Loathly Ladies”
University of Southern California
Book V of The Faerie Queene has traditionally been read in terms of its various failures, including the suggested failure of marriage, justice, allegory, and history. But these and other failures, I contend, are exactly the point. Spenser encapsulates these failures in the figure of the loathly lady, a hag from both English and Irish stories who grants political stability to knights willing to risk sexual contact with her. In the pseudo-marriage negotiations between the figures of Artegall, Britomart, Radigund, Grantorto, and Irena, Spenser harnesses the gendered and even misogynistic conventions of romance marriage plots and applies them to foreign policy. I argue that through nuptial negotiations that continually defer a definitive marriage, Spenser forges a model for interpersonal and, by extension, political stability that succeeds through its potential for failure.
“On Not Plucking Out the Heart of Amoret’s Mystery: Epistemological Graciousness and Interpersonal Knowledge in the House of Busirane”
University of Alabama
In the House of Busirane episode, Edmund Spenser sets up a cautionary tale about the ethical limits of certainty and investigation. The House of Busirane is filled with a congeries of artforms that slip and slide between various, undecidable taxonomical dichotomies (material and ghostly, two- and three- dimensional, fictional and real). And the abuse of Amoret by Busirane, “figuring strange characters of his art,” raises questions about what exactly is being abused: a woman? a piece of art? a fiction? some words? The progression from the two-dimensional tapestries to the (almost) flesh-and-blood masquers, and then to the bleeding heart of Amoret ultimately opens up to the real world, suggesting that the boundaries we draw between variously realistic forms of artistic character has much to teach us about the real-life boundaries we draw between persons and personas, and between humans and other forms of life. In short, Spenser’s poem suggests that classification is less important in ethics than acknowledgement and respect of the individual being. Relations between selves, be they fictional, animal, human, or divine, can only be achieved by being bold in respectful curiosity, but not too bold in prying into the other’s privacy. By assembling related ideas from Marcel Proust, Stanley Cavell, Emmanuel Levinas, and Giorgio Agamben, alongside Spenser’s thinking fictions, I argue that Scudamour is an underappreciated surrogate for readers of the poem, readers who must become gentlemen by respecting the privacy and history of their beloveds, and accepting the mystery at the heart of all persons.
“Five Familiar Letters: The Harvey-Spenser Correspondence”
Washington University in St. Louis
My title was meant to emphasize that there are five published letters in this correspondence, Three Proper, and wittie, familiar Letters followed by Two Other, very commendable Letters, and of these five three are from Harvey and two from Spenser. There’s very good reason to regard the volume as more Harvey’s than Spenser’s. Harvey’s MS Letter-Book suggests Harvey’s original impulse to create a volume in which Spenser was to have figured roughly as Harvey and E.K. figure in the Calendar. To insist on the value of reading these letters familiarly, and perhaps more as a correspondence between Harvey and Spenser than as one between Spenser and Harvey is by no means to exhaust the ways in which we might reconfigure our Habitual reading of these letters. They can also be read topo-dramatically, as a conversation among symbolic places. Two of the Letters are written from Trinity Hall in the heart of academic Cambridge, two from aristocratic Leicester House, and one from a gentleman’s house in Essex — if not a public sphere, then an inclusive public intellectual triangle. Other, more symbolic places are equally invoked: Harvey twice claims to be writing from Justinian’s court, which is to say that he had begun studying Roman civil law and meditating the relevance of its jurisprudential internationalism to the insular confinement of common law. Spenser’s Latin epistle imagines a similarly expansive geography, a voyage that will entail encounters with continental Catholicism imagined both as diplomatic and aggressively heroic. To attend to the full “topicality” of these letters is to capture the full reach of academic ambition and to contextualize, expansively, Harvey’s sustained report on intellectual trends at Cambridge.