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Bell, Haden L. “God Save the Queens: Interrogating ‘Englishness’ Through Allegory in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and George MacDonald’s Phantastes. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. University of Alabama, 2017. 

In 1936, C.S. Lewis published a comprehensive study of medieval love allegory through the ages, culminating in an analysis of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1596). While Lewis’s methodological approach to Spenser’s epic relies on an examination of a literary tradition which spans centuries, it neglects certain other forms of allegory with which Spenser was writing, specifically those which are political and historical. The entrenchment of Spenser’s epic within its own lineage of literary tradition, however, provides a way for us to recognize and establish patterns not only across ages of literature but also across genres: George MacDonald’s 1858 fairy novel Phantastes contains similar plot structure, motifs, conventions and, most importantly to this thesis, cultural capital in the story of King Arthur.

This thesis examines English national identity and its literary depictions within these works by placing them within the rich literary traditions from which they are drawn, specifically the Arthur narrative, as well as placing them within their own specific historical contexts. By blending the methodological model provided by Lewis with a more historicist approach—essentially, a model concerned with examining the part in light of its whole and a model concerned with a text’s impact on its own particular moment in history—I will offer both an understanding of “Englishness” as it is depicted and established in these texts, as well as a methodological model which seeks to explore allegory that transcends both its formal constrictions and its specific historical context.

Carper, David Aaron. “Imagines Historiarum: Renaissance Epic and the Development of Historiographical Thought.” ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Yale University, 2017.

This dissertation examines representations of history in Renaissance epic poetry. There was a fruitful exchange between early modern poets and historians, and a substantial part of the Renaissance debate about historiography took place in poetry. Poets looked to historians for material and to contemporary writers on the art of history for new ways of thinking about the past.

Chapter 1 provides a background for the later chapters by tracing the development of ideas about historiography in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries through a popular genre of treatises known as ars historica . One of the primary forces behind these treatises was the drive to reduce various ideas about history to a systematic unity. I attempt to convey the persistent variety of approaches that sustained these efforts.

In chapters 2-4, I proceed to examine several Renaissance epics in the context of these historiographical developments. Chapter 2 addresses Francesco Cieco’s chivalric romance, Il Mambriano (1509), and explores its uses of classical historiography. Francesco Cieco wrote the poem during the tumultuous final years of the fifteenth century. Crisis spurred his historical imagination and made him sensitive to the historical contexts in which his poem operated. He insists on the value of history to guide our present actions. When characters in the Mambriano read classical histories and reflect critically on their lessons, I argue, they function as exemplary readers of historical texts.

By translating the classical world into the world of romance, Cieco reveals the capacity not just of romance, but of literature, to reflect critically upon the problems of reading and learning from history.

Chapter 3 looks at the relationship of myth and history in several sixteenth-century texts. Polydore Vergil, the Italian author of a humanist history of England (1534), criticized the vanity of the English who delighted in the fabulous tales of Geoffrey of Monmouth, but he acknowledged the value these tales could have when they addressed pressing social concerns. Pierre de Ronsard’s Franciade (1572) and Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590) used tropes from Vergilian epic to address problems concerning the nature of history. Their attempts to integrate history and poetry reveal moments of exchange between these two modes of writing. Ronsard vigorously asserted his freedom as a poet to invent material in the preface to the Franciade , but he also translated this message into the action of his poem. In Book 2 of the Faerie Queene, Spenser describes Arthur and Guyon’s journey to the House of Alma. Through his description of Eumnestes’ chamber and the chronicles that the heroes read there, Spenser elaborates a subtle critique of history and affirms that the ultimate purpose of reading history is to apply the lessons of the past profitably to life.

Chapter 4 settles in late-Elizabethan England to examine how Shakespeare’s Henriad (1590s) and Samuel Daniel’s Civil Wars (1595) responded to new ideas about history. Contrary to a traditional understanding of the development of historiography, new forms of history writing that took shape over the sixteenth century did not immediately supplant the old ones. Instead of asking how early modern writers embodied the new “politique history,” I ask instead how they negotiated the variety of approaches that were available to them. I conclude that, rather than advocate any one approach to writing history, Daniel’s Civil Wars and Shakespeare’s Henriad both highlight the power of literature to frame the rich variety of ways in which we make sense of the past. Finally, through a series of allusions to classical history and poetry, Daniel responds to political events of his day and expresses concerns about the proper use of history.

Rush, Rebecca Merrick. “The Fetters of Rhyme: Freedom and Limitation in Early Modern Verse.” ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Yale University, 2017.

“The Fetters of Rhyme” focuses on the political stakes of poetic form between 1590 and 1670. Long before the English fought a civil war over the meaning of liberty, poets were debating about the benefits of constraint and the risks of bond-breaking. Early modern poets imagined rhyme as a band or fetter and argued that rhyme was an analogue for the bonds that tie individuals to political, social, and religious communities. The charged nature of early modern forms is particularly visible in the dynamic history of the couplet: in the 1590s, poets like John Donne took up the Chaucerian couplet to signal their sexual and political radicalism, but by the middle of the seventeenth century Royalist poets had co-opted the couplet as a tool for reinforcing affective ties to king and country. Using archival research and prosodic analysis to recover the surprising associations early modern readers attached to forms like couplets, sonnets, and stanzas, “The Fetters of Rhyme” demonstrates how reading poetic form historically can yield fresh insights into the complexities of early modern verse.

The opening chapters of the dissertation consider how stanzas and couplets became weapons in an Elizabethan culture war that pitted defenders of convention and order against advocates of natural liberty. In chapter one, which focuses on Edmund Spenser’s Amoretti, I consider how Spenser’s distinctive interwoven rhyme schemes reflect his belief that the unruliness of human desires must be restrained by conventional and coercive bands. The second chapter argues that Donne and his youthful companions rebelled against their poetic elders by reimagining the Chaucerian pentameter couplet, an outmoded form they associated with the cultural and political liberty the English enjoyed before the importation of burdensome continental conventions. They contended that the antiquated form, with its loose meter and enjambed lines, allowed them to restore verse to its proper function as a forum for free, argumentative discourse.

In the third chapter, I consider Ben Jonson’s efforts to find a middle way between restraint and liberty. Jonson shared the Elizabethan conviction that the couplet was particularly conducive to rational discourse, but he disciplined the licentious couplet by regularizing its meter and combining it with classical genres like the ode. Rejecting the boundless liberty of Donne and his fellows, Jonson carved out a circumscribed space for ethical liberty that was protected from the vicissitudes of court politics. In doing so, he developed concepts of lyric freedom and a separate poetic sphere that would be taken up and reinterpreted by the subsequent generation of poets.

The final section of the dissertation explores the ways in which poets on both sides of the English Civil War manipulated Jonson’s poetic legacy. The fourth chapter argues that Royalist poets like Robert Herrick, Katherine Philips, and Abraham Cowley, adopted the measured Jonsonian couplet but modified the theory of rational liberty that undergirded his preference for the form. Instead, they maintained that rhyme’s chime transcends reason and appeals to the natural affections. Because the couplet’s ringing sound and orderly structure give it a mysterious power to sway the hearts of listeners, they argued, it was an ideal vehicle for restoring the conventional bonds to family and property that bolstered the monarchy. The particular combination of formal and philosophical commitments that emerged in the Royalist verse of the mid-seventeenth century anticipates many features of the modern understanding of the lyric: an interest in the mystical charms of verse was accompanied by an increased dedication to representing the private, the particular, and the affective.

The final chapter takes a fresh look at Milton’s famous renunciation of rhyme in Paradise Lost in light of the long history of debate about the politics of rhyme traced in my project. Although in his prefatory note on the “The Verse” Milton depicts himself as a poetic radical throwing off the fetters of “Custom” and offering the first example “in English, of ancient liberty recover’d to Heroic Poem from the troublesom and modern bondage of Rimeing,” he draws on arguments that Donne, Hall, and Marston had marshalled decades before in defense of the libertine couplet. In fact, Milton’s understanding of poetic liberty is in many ways less radical and less disruptive than that of his Elizabethan predecessors. In his effort to craft a style distinct from the affective lyrics of the Royalists, Milton fuses the metrical discipline of Jonson with the flowing enjambment of Donne. The result is a peculiarly Miltonic prosodic style in which dedication to liberty of expression is accompanied by a painstaking attention to the rules of poetic measure.

Warner, Steven Kirk. “Versions of Narcissus: The Male Form in English Renaissance Poetry.” ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. Yale University, 2017.

Versions of Narcissus traces a nascent tradition of literary representations of the male form in the work of three canonical poets of the English Renaissance: Edmund Spenser (1552/3-1599), Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593), and Andrew Marvell (1621- 1678). Versions is the first to conduct an analysis of the Narcissus myth in relation to and as a part of a broader classical provenance for the topos of male beauty over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This study examines what could be considered an opposing trend to scholarship that has addressed Narcissus almost entirely in relation to the literary representation of women and the gendering of the gaze to analysis. Versions therefore subjects to critical examination a selection of works by male poets in which the reception to the Narcissus myth entails two key phenomena: the outstanding representation of the male form and the consistent accompaniment of that representation with eruptions of a narrative self-consciousness, evinced by first-person asides that are exterior to the fiction itself.

While Versions charts the broader social and cultural implications of a comparatively neglected but nevertheless unmistakable facet of the Renaissance literary landscape, it also contributes to recent developments in the field of queer historicism. Given that the invention of the terms narcissism and homosexuality occurred roughly around the same time as their conflation (ca. the late nineteenth-century), Versions seeks to partially extricate Narcissus from that contemporary discourse and to historicize the myth. But at the same time that Versions aims to think of the myth of Narcissus before narcissism and to recover some of its meanings during a period that pre-exists that psychoanalytic category pathologizing homosexuality, what proves a motivation of my project also poses as its most daunting philological challenge. Versions explores the engagement of Renaissance poets with the myth of Narcissus in order to show how that myth serves as the most salient model through which to adjudicate the symptoms of what would become constituted as a pathology synonymous with narcissism: homosexuality.


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"Dissertations," Spenser Review 47.3.58 (Fall 2017). Accessed May 23rd, 2024.
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