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Sixteenth Century Society and Conference 2017
26th-29th October, 2017
The Hyatt Regency Milwaukee
Milwaukee, Minnesota

The Spenser Roundtable: Play and Playfulness in The Faerie Queen

Chair: Ayesha Ramachandran, Yale University

Discussant: Joe Moshenska, University of Cambridge

Discussant: Jeff Dolven, Princeton University


EarlyPrint: From Curation to Analysis

Organizer and Chair: Craig A. Berry, Independent Scholar

“Spenser’s Sunburn: Lexical Profiling in the Early Modern Lab 

Joseph Loewenstein,

Washington University in St. Louis

Anupam Basu, Washington University in St. Louis

We have been testing one of the most durable truisms of Early Modern literary studies, that Edmund Spenser was, like Virgil, an archaizing poet.  We began by testing the extreme case of the thesis, that he was so committed to archaism that he even emulated the orthography of medieval poets. We discuss the challenges to establishing orthographic norms in an era of large scale instability and methods for overcoming those challenges.  We establish the fact that the orthography of Spenser’s texts lies well within contemporary orthographic norms and then sketch goals and methods for establishing lexical norms and for determining the lexical profiles of subcorpora — of individual works, authors, authorial clusters, and genres.“


Beyond Body/Soul Binaries in Early Modern Spirituality

Executive A Organizer: Kathleen Curtin, Concordia University Chicago

Chair: Emily A. Ransom, University of Wisconsin–Green Bay


“The Tree of Life in Book 1 of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene

Paul Stapleton,

University of Illinois, Chicago

Abstract not available.


Mapping, Geography, and the Body in Early Modern English Literature

Organizer: Scott C. Lucas, The Citadel

Chair: Timothy J. Duffy, New York University


“Mindscapes in Spenser and Donne: Mapping the Mind and Body in Early Modern England 

Ernest P. Rufleth,

Louisiana Tech University

Writers such as Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, and Donne, repeatedly represent the heart, mind, and body with maps and landscapes; at other times, these writers map out new configurations for the heart, mind, and body. The great number of topographical allusions found in English literature of the sixteenth century is no doubt an upshot of the Age of Exploration. Individual references to maps might not garner much attention; for instance, Sidney writes, “all the map of my state I display / When trembling voice brings forth, that I do Stella loue.” But such instances, though common especially in the poems of Donne, are few compared to the many times writers refer to thinking or their bodies or thoughts topographically. Spenser’s House of Temperance—indeed, the whole genre of the country house poem—exemplifies the way thought could be treated like a place or overlaid upon a map. Donne imagines that his aging body has become an atlas in “Hymn to God, My God, In My Sickness,” claiming that his life is a flat map where his “west and east…are one.” Such examples are not limited to literature alone. Contemporary cartographers toyed with similar ideas, often picturing Europe as a woman or monarchs as anthropomorphically attached to their countries. This project examines the trope of the mindscape as it was used in the late sixteenth century to highlight the way spatial imagery in literature shaped moral, biological, and political ideas. The project first describes the religious and political thought that set the groundwork for the early modern mapping before turning to the examples in the literature of Spenser and Donne that developed because of the pervasive use of and reference to mapping the world. In short, we will look to the mapping of the early modern world and its effect on literature to illustrate the way literary mapping changed the mindscape.


Edmund Spenser: Life, Art, and Legacy

Executive D Organizer: Scott C. Lucas, The Citadel

Chair: Thomas L. Herron, East Carolina University


“’Scattered All to Nought’: Marriage, Irish Myth, and Rhetorical Colonial Mapping in the Works  of Edmund Spenser

Courtney Druzak,

Duquesne University

Abstract not available.


“Secretary to Lord Grey: When Did Spenser Go to Ireland and What Did He Do There? 

Jean R. Brink,

Huntington Library

Abstract not available.


“Pursued by a Bear: Shakespeare’s Revision of Spenser in The Winter’s Tale 

Mary Villeponteaux,

Georgia Southern University

Abstract not available.


Edmund Spenser’s Poetry

Organizer: Scott C. Lucas, The Citadel

Chair: Denna J. Iammarino, Case Western Reserve University


“Imitatio immanis: Spenser’s Posthuman Poetics 

Promise Li,

Occidental College

Abstract not available.


“Telling Time with English Virginity in Edmund Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender

Melissa Schultheis,

Rutgers University

Edmund Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender epitomizes calendars’ function as a collective, ritualized memory that reinforces political and religious institutions. Written in 1579, the poem falls in the middle of both Elizabeth I’s marriage negotiations with a French suitor and debates over the Gregorian reform, which suggested the removal of ten days from the English calendar to account for an astronomical miscalculation that by the late sixteenth century had resulted in human’s and nature’s time being out of joint. My paper considers The Shepheardes Calender’s situated temporality between these events to explore the way the poem’s Protestant time telling relies on an English reading of virginity or, to borrow the term from Marie Loughlin, a distinctly English “hymeneutics.” Considered alongside early modern calendars and Elizabeth I’s unmarried chastity and courtship with a Catholic suitor, Spenser’s “April” remedies anxieties regarding English futurity. A “melancholy” month according to sixteenth-century almanacs, April offers a uniquely English identity to remedy this melancholy through new organizations of time and virginity, evident in the way the calendar avoids the Gregorian calendar reform, contradicts “natural” time, and reads time onto Elisa’s virginal body. The poem negotiates human-constructed organizations of time with the erotic temporality read unto female bodies—a Protestant temporality that, unlike Catholicism, cannot imagine a time or place for sexual abstinence in a mature body. “April” then takes on the form and function of a calendar in the way it keeps time through a collective English identity that must rationalize temporalities that are out of joint.


Spenser and Historicism

Executive A Sponsor: International Spenser Society

Organizer: Ayesha Ramachandran, Yale University

Chair: William A. Oram, Smith College


“The Historical Background of Mutabilitie’s Claim to Succession in ‘Two Cantos of Mutabilitie’”

Yoko Odawara,

Chukyo University

Abstract not available.


“’With locks vnbownd’: Britomart and Textual Memory”

Daniel T. Lochman,

Texas State University
The complicated structure of The Faerie Queene achieves coherence not only through techniques such as chronological sequences, time distortions such as flashbacks and prophetic visions, or divisions into books and cantos, but also by invitations to the memorial experience of readers. Such may be cued by recurring images such as “ventails” and “wands,” by settings such as exotic palaces, temples or churches, or by emotionally powerful narrative actions, such as recurring near- or actual beheadings that evoke fear, wonder, or other passions, these latter conveying the “forcibleness” orenergeia that Sidney had found wanting in contemporary poetry. This paper links intratextual recurrences within The Faerie Queene to memorial networks that extend beyond the text and that, like autobiographical memory, mingle what is recognizable with differences that modify and expand the experiences readers co-construct. More particularly, the paper focuses on revelations of once-masked female knights in successive episodes and in different works: Britomart in Books 3 to 5 in The Faerie Queene, Britomart’s precursor, Ariosto’s Bradamante, who, like Britomart, could breed “wonder great and admiration” by removing a helmet and allowing “all her haire her shoulders ouerspred” (Orlando Furioso, tr. Harington, 32.74)


“Spenser’s Mercilla and the Souldan: Elizabeth, the Armada, and Monarchial Republicanism” 

Donald Stump,

Saint Louis University

In Book V of The Faerie Queene, Spenser erases Queen Elizabeth’s role in the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Although she treated it as one of her greatest achievements, Spenser denied her any glory in his account of it in the Souldan Episode, keeping both figures for her in Book V at a distance and ignorant of the battle. One figure (Britomart) leaves the poem just before and could easily have taken part, as could another (Mercilla) who enters the action just afterwards. The glory goes entirely to Arthur and Artegall, representatives of the English military. Mercilla, in fact, is against fighting, having sent an emissary (Samient) to try to negotiate peace with the Souldan’s wife Adicia.

In stressing Samient’s hopeless embassy, Spenser was implicitly criticizing Elizabeth for an attempt to negotiate peace in 1587-88, following the execution of Mary Stuart. Rightly thinking Philip of Spain bent on war, the militant Protestant faction on the Council (with which Spenser identified) opposed the negotiations as pointless and demeaning. By depicting Mercilla’s only involvement as a feckless attempt to appease an enemy whose very name means ‘injustice,’ and by subsequently elevating Arthur and Artegall to Mercilla’s side in the trial of Duessa, Spenser was implicitly advocating a form of government that Elizabeth resolutely resisted: a monarchial republic. Book V reveals the early strain between absolute rule and parliamentary democracy that would rend the nation fifty years later. Not until the reign of Anne, the next queen regnant, would Spenser’s preferred form of government be instituted.

Spenserian Triangulations

Executive A Sponsor: International Spenser Society

Organizer: Ayesha Ramachandran, Yale University

Chair: Sarah Van der Laan, Indiana University


“Spenser’s Ralegh and Spenserian Pleasure

William A. Oram,

Smith College

Abstract not available.


“Calcifying Epic: Spenserian Translation and the Limits of Philology 

Joseph Ortiz,

University of Texas, El Paso

In Spenser’s Ruines of Time and Ruines of Rome (his translation of Du Bellay’s Les Antiquitez de Rome), the figure of antique structures can be read as a deliberate commentary on epic poetry and classical imitation. Both works, which Spenser published in the same volume as his epyllia, function effectively as a gloss of the other poems, particularly as they raise vexing questions about Spenser’s use of classical models. In this context, Spenser repeatedly turns to the idea of archaeological remains in order to figure classical antiquity, but in a much more pessimistic vein than that usually theorized in conventional humanist theories of translation. By figuring the epic as an archaeological object, Spenser represents antiquity as something to be seen and handled rather than something to be read or heard. While recent work on the relationship between Renaissance humanism and archaeology has tended to highlight a model of discovery and communication, this paper suggests that an archaeological model of translation can also lead to notions of inscrutability. In exploring this strain of humanist skepticism in Spenser, this paper connects the two Ruines poems to other humanist representations of translation (such as those by Petrarch and Alberti) and, most prominently, to Spenser’s archaeological figurings of antiquity in Book Two of the Faerie Queene.


“Elizabeth Boyle as Maker in the Amoretti 

David Miller, University of South Carolina

Elizabeth Boyle is, by the standards of the Petrarchan tradition, an unusually strong presence in Spenser’s Amoretti. In sonnet after sonnet, her skeptical resistance to the speaker’s earnest wooing leaves its mark, eventually shaping the course of the sequence at least as forcefully as the speaker does. This paper considers Spenser’s recreation of the Petrarchan lady as herself a “maker,” describes the challenges faced by the speaker of the sequence as he seeks to triangulate his own efforts as “maker” against those of the lady who frames his thoughts and fashions him within (Am 8.9) and against the divine workings of “the Maker selfe” (Am 9.13).


The 133rd MLA Annual Convention
4–7 January, 2018
New York Hilton Midtown and the Sheraton New York Times Square
New York City, New York


Lyric Intersections in Early Modern England

Presider: Ardis Butterfield,  Yale U


“Spenser and the Aesthetics of Pleasure

Ayesha Ramachandran,

Yale University

Abstract not available.


Spenser and the Machine

Presider: Stephen Guy-Bray, University of British Columbia


“Spenser’s Allegorical Machine and the Consciousness of Space

Yulia Ryzhik,

University of New Mexico, Albuquerque

Abstract not available.


“Machinic Translations: Talus, Affective Response, and Interlingual Communication in The Faerie Queene

Kristen McCants,

University of California, Santa Barbara

A recent paper reports that the newest iteration of Google’s translation system is able to create “interlinguas”—artificial languages—which occur when the translation system develops a means to translate between two languages without being shown any examples of that particular translation. Google’s AI creates a language that allows for an “implicit bridging between language pairs,” enabling it to make more nuanced translations. In a recent paper analyzing such translation machines, Rita Raley sees the “translational turn” as “a means of thinking the interstitial and the border, and of attending to processes of mediation.” Following Raley’s thinking, this paper examines the border between human and machinic language and emotion in the figure of Talus in Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Rather than looking at Talus as an automaton of Justice, I examine him as both a language machine and a being that bridges the human and nonhuman through language and emotion. When Talus informs Britomart about Artegall’s capture, he struggles to communicate with her. Although Spenser describes him as lacking “sence / And sorrowes feeling,” the iron man nevertheless stands “mute, as one in great suspence, / As if that by his silence he would make / Her rather reade his meaning, then him selfe it spake.” Talus’s awareness that he brings “ill newes” hinders his ability to communicate. At the same time as Talus struggles to speak through his emotion, he is denied emotional and linguistic abilities by the text. He can speak, but he lacks “sence;” he can feel “great suspence,” but lacks “sorrowes feeling.” I propose that modern understandings of machinic translation and neural networks, as evidenced by Google Translate’s creation of interlinguas, can help us decode how the puzzling absent-presence of Talus’s linguistic and emotional capacities offers a mediation between different kinds of thinking and feeling. How does basic communication require one to create a language in order to communicate? Talus reveals that our own experience of language and emotion is also one of mediation—that we are all thinking machines at the level of communication.


53rd International Congress on Medieval Studies
10-13 May, 2018
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo, Michigan

Public and Private in Kantorowicz: Studies in Spenser and Other Premodern Writers

Organiser: Joshua Held, Trinity International University

Presider: David Adkins, University of Toronto

“The Wife’s Two Bodies: Intimacy and Privacy in Renaissance Literary Marriage and Courtship”

Brad Tuggle,

University of Alabama

Ernst Kantorowicz’s magisterial The King’s Two Bodies (1957) made the political concepts of “body private and “body politic touchstones of Renaissance Literary Criticism in the 1960s, ‘70s and beyond. No reading of Richard II or of Elizabeth I’s Speech to the Troops at Tilbury can now afford to omit reference to Kantorowicz’s presentation of the history of the ideas underpinning supreme authority invested in fragile subjects. But the constellation of ideas associated with this particular political theory, including the medieval theology of the dual nature of Jesus Christ and of the perpetual authority of abbots, needs to be supplemented by attention to the private and public faces of Protestant marital theory and practice. I show in this paper how the human/natural/private bodies of wives come into conflict with their mystical/political/public bodies.

Particularly in the work of Edmund Spenser, marriageable young ladies are treated as complicated sites where the traditional and patriarchal focus on the political and public faces of wives is subverted by the insistent need for privacy both among and within romantic couples. Spenser’s Amoretti and Epithalamion show Spenser working through the problematics of intimacy within courtship and marriage, building upon the material presented in the Amoret/Scudamour narrative of The Faerie Queene. Spenser’s homage and tribute to Elizabeth Boyle represents his most far-reaching and focused attempt to acknowledge the private and physical body of his wife as he recovers it from the bondage of the political and mystical ideals to which her culture subscribed.

“The Queen’s Two Bodies: Political Theology in Books Three and Four of The Faerie Queene

Mark Jones,

Trinity Christian College

In the famous Letter to Raleigh appended to the first printing of The Faerie Queene, Spenser identifies the overall purpose of his poetic undertaking: “to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline,” and he proceeds to identify his young Prince Arthur, a character who is featured in all six books, as a person representing “magnificence,” the culmination of all of the moral virtues—indeed, the one that “conteineth in it them all.” It is curious, then, that in the long history of Spenser criticism, so many critics have been dismissive of this central character. Their cold receiption is perhaps not altogether surprising when one considers Books Three and Four, in which Arthur seems always to appear at the wrong moments—and never as quite the salvific figure that he embodies in the poem’s first two books. Some cite a generic problem: Spenser, under the sway of Ariostan romance, has given up on his original project of representing Arthurian “magnificence” as he has found other fish to fry. This paper argues, on the contrary, that Spenser not only remains true to the original plan, but that he does so in a manner that is completely in keeping with Tudor ideals of kingship inherited from the Middle Ages. Drawing on Ernst Kantorowicz’s concept of the King’s two bodies, I demonstrate that in Books Three and Four, the glory of Tudor monarchy unfolds on two levels: the “organological,” represented by Arthur and Gloriana; and the “corporeal,” represented by Artegall and Britomart. In this view, far from being pushed to the sidelines of Spenser’s narrative, the figure of Arthur, in all of his magnificence, is continuously present in Books Three and Four and remains very much at the center of the poem’s purpose and meaning.


“The Royal Conscience in Public and Private Spheres: Kantorowicz, Charles I, Donne, Milton”

Joshua Held,

Trinity International University

Two of the most important thinkers about the meaning of the public in the last century: Ernst Kantorowicz and Jürgen Habermas. The first shows the way that a king, a persona mixta, in earlier eras unifies both private and public realms, and the latter the way that the categories of public and private have become intermingled in the last three centuries. If Kantorowicz’s coverage ends in the seventeenth century with the execution of Charles I, Habermas’s begins there with Hobbes, who in Leviathan responds in part to that execution. Thus, I study the water-shed figure of, and particularly his royal conscience, a character and a concept that unify the public and the private.

I look at the concept of the king’s two bodies presented favorably in a pair of sermons John Donne preached to Charles I and in Charles’s own posthumous defense, Eikon Basilike, and then negatively in John Milton’s response to Charles’s book, Eikonoklastes. Whereas Charles refers to his two bodies to validate his private conscience in his public kingship, Milton defies the idea that the king’s private conscience should rule in the public realm, implicitly denying the theory of the king’s two bodies. By focusing on the figure of conscience in Charles I, I suggest that Kantorowicz’s thinking about the royal mixing of public and private, having reached its apex in the early modern era, informs the intersections between public and private long after the prevalence of divine right.


The Faerie Queene

Presider: Paul J. Hecht, Purdue University–Northwest


The Faerie Queene and the Furrows of History”

Benjamin Moran,

Ohio State University

The turn toward temporality in early modern studies has generated an ever-expanding set of models of time as they are experienced in literary works. In theorizations by Jonathan Gil Harris, J.K. Barret, and others, temporality has been imagined not as a linearly experienced process, but instead as a dynamic interchange of past, present, and future, represented by figures like the palimpsest, the spiral, the shipwreck, and the compost pile. Such theories have enormous implications for criticism of The Faerie Queene, whose concern for English and Christian history touches each of its cantos. However, both studies of temporality in The Faerie Queene and theories of early modern temporality more generally have neglected to consider how natural substances affect and mediate notions of time. This essay seeks to correct this oversight by arguing that the many images of soil, ground, and earth in The Faerie Queene help foster a muddled conception of history. For example, Redcrosse Knight’s personal backstory, traced to the “heaped furrow” where “a Ploughman all vnweeting fond,” brings together the fantastical origin myth with a futurist georgic imperative newly relevant in an age of colonialist planting. In this and other moments in the The Faerie Queene, Spenser, like other early moderns, capitalizes on the perception that soil exists within multiple temporal scales, including the deep time of stone and the immediacy of biological life. By reading the archive of Spenser’s soiled images, I argue, we stand to gain not only a new appreciation for The Faerie Queene’s complicated understanding of temporality but also how the most mundane features of early modern material existence—including something as plain as dirt—could orient and disturb the experience of time.

“The Truth about Satyrane: Forms of Knowledge in Spenser’s Faerie Queene

Tristan Samuk,

Independent Scholar

Abstract not available.

“Knowing God, Knowing Self: Protestant Penance in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene

Chelsea McKelvey,

Southern Methodist University

Redcrosse’s education in the House of Holiness in Book 1 is one of the most revealing moments of Protestant soteriological anxieties in The Faerie Queene. This sequence of the poem grapples with how believers might come to know God as well as themselves as the book’s hero learns about God, himself, and his salvation in the “schoolhouse” of Holiness. Recently, several scholars have tried to reconcile the text’s obvious Protestantism with this sequence, particularly with Redcrosse’s penance in the House of Holiness; however, most of these scholars conclude that the moment is a relapse into earlier Roman Catholic belief and practice. I argue that Redcrosse’s penance is actually consistent with early modern English Protestantism, accounting for Lutheran and Anglican reconceptualizations of penitential practice within Protestant soteriological belief. Spenser revises the Catholic sacrament of penance into a Protestant process of being penitent, the focus of which is not the action of the sacrament itself or any kind of spiritual work. Rather, for Spenser and Redcrosse, the focus of penance must be to gain knowledge of God in order to realize personal election. It is only after enduring the physical and emotional torment of penance that Redcrosse meets Contemplations and learns of his actual identity as George of the Saxon race. Redcrosse only accesses this knowledge of self after completing the penitential process. Spenser uses penance to demonstrate how the sacrament remains relevant as a way to better know God, the self, and one’s salvation in early modern Protestantism.


The Shepheardes Calender and Apocalypse

Sponser: Spenser at Kalamazoo
Organiser: Sean Henry, University of Victoria; Susannah B. Monta, University of Notre Dame; Brad Tuggle, University of Alabama
Presider: Tamara Goeglein, Franklin & Marshall College

Opening Remarks: Jon Quitslund, George Washington University

“Visual Readers: The Shepheardes Calender through the Eyes of Its Compositors”

Elisabeth Chaghafi,
University Tübingen

Edmund Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender (1579) is known for its notoriously complex layout and typography. A point that is generally overlooked in this context is that since it was Spenser’s most successful work, the book was reprinted multiple times, including four quarto editions during Spenser’s lifetime, published between 1581 and 1597. Although the publisher remained the same after the first edition, each of the later quarto editions was prepared by a new printer and each time the text was reset from scratch, so they all differ slightly from the layout and typography of the first edition. This matters because in The Shepheardes Calender, various visual features play a crucial role for highlighting the interplay of the different “voices” in the text.

This paper examines the visual differences between the first edition of The Shepheardes Calender and its early modern reprints, arguing that not all the changes were made because of pragmatic concerns (such as saving space or reducing costs). Instead, they provide evidence of an unlikely readership – compositors – engaging with the text and offering their own interpretation of it, not so much in terms of contents but in terms of the relative significance of each of the visual components.


Spenser in Buskins: The Shepheardes Calender and the Tragedians,”

Jeff Espie,

University of British Columbia

“Of tragicke Muses sheepeherdes con no skill.” So claims the shepherd Paris in Peele’s 1584 Araygnement, professing the ignorance of a pastoral community ostensibly unfamiliar with the lofty art of public catastrophe, finding sufficient scope instead in the amorous devotion of a humbler song: “Enough is them, if Cupid ben displeased, / To sing his prayse on slender oten pipe.” Paris names the musical instrument of Virgil’s Tityrus, his thin pipe distantly resonating with the tenui avena of the first eclogue, but his more immediate precedent is the 1579 Shepheardes Calender, two passages of which shape his treatment of mode, style, and decorum. The first appears in “June,” where Colin Clout limits the range of his desire and talent, preferring the humble “shade of lowly groue” to the presumptive peak at mount Parnassus: “Of Muses Hobbinol, I conne no skill… Enough is me to paint out my vnrest.” The second comes in “October,” where Cuddie briefly imagines his Muse in “buskins fine,” ambitiously matching the “plaiers in tragedies,” before returning to the lower style befitting his “slender pipes.” Tempering Cuddie’s swelling ambition with Colin’s apparent incapacity, Paris constructs a typology of modes in which pastoral and tragedy can seem mutually exclusive: “Of tragicke Muses sheepeherdes con no skill.” His response to the Calender, my paper suggests, anticipates more recent Spenserian scholarship, which rarely connects the poem’s pastoralism with the conventions of tragedy, and accordingly overlooks what I’ll show is the “skill” of its shepherds in engaging the “tragicke Muses.” Spenser’s most important debts, I argue, involve the Roman drama of Seneca, in which he finds a model for representing the death of children, the recursivity of history, and the tragic notes of Virgil, Maro cothurnatus.

Framed with analysis of E.K.’s glosses in “Julye” and “Nouember,” which strategically misrepresent Senecan texts, the argument centers on “Maye” and Piers’s fable of the too-credulous kiddie. The fable, most commonly studied for its representation of Protestantism, Puritanism, and Roman Catholicism, represents Roman literature as well, describing the Goat’s pathetic perception of her kid’s countenance in language recalling both Virgil and Seneca. E.K. notes the allusion to Andromache’s lament in Aeneid III, but as I’ll show, the Goat’s situation more closely resembles Seneca’s revision of Virgil in the Troades, Andromache there seeing her dead husband’s face reflected in her still-living son’s. The fable’s classical allusions, I’ll demonstrate, develop a larger analogy between the kiddie’s death and the fall of Troy, and imply a confluence of modes working against the divisions of a progressive literary career: tragedy, etymologically derived from the Greek words for “goat song,” is absorbed in “Maye” as the song about a goat. The argument extends existing scholarship about Spenser’s reception of classical poetry, linking his interpretation of Virgil to mediators beyond the usual suspects of Ovid, Servius, and Ariosto, and addresses a question normally reserved for Spenser’s dramatic contemporaries: what role might pastoral play in historicizing “what was tragedy” in the Renaissance? 

“Faerie Apocalypse: Spenser’s Theology of the End Times”

Donald Stump,

St. Louis University

Echoes of biblical prophecies of the End Times are frequent in Spenser’s Faerie Queene, which alludes to the Apocalypse of St. John far more often than to any other book of the Bible. Despite extensive appropriations of that and other scriptural prophecies of the end of the world, however, Spenser does not make his precise views easy to sort out. Some commentators suggest that The Faerie Queene is a cultural harbinger, providing a foretaste of the great English millenarian movement of the seventeenth century. Others see it as a retrospective, reflecting earlier Protestant views. Scholars also puzzle over the poem’s two apocalypses, one in Book I and the other in Book V. The poem makes it difficult to determine whether the author believed the end to be near or distant and whether he thought that what was about to happen was the Judgment Day or a time of restoration and a slow return to traditions and virtues lost since the Golden Age.

Two main questions underlie the critical debate. Does The Faerie Queene presuppose that Elizabeth and her allies were engaged in the final defeat of the Antichrist? And if so, does the poem imply that a millennium of peace was to follow, or the end of the world, preceded perhaps by a partial restoration of Edenic order before the coming of the End Times? The answers bear on Spenser’s depictions of Queen Elizabeth to the extent that he may have seen her as God’s instrument to defeat the Antichrist, and so to bring about a final, all-encompassing transformation of the world order.

In this paper, I argue that Spenser’s borrowings from the Book of Revelation are not easily reconciled with the early Protestant views most commonly cited to explain them. Nor do they align with millenarian views of the seventeenth century. The poet was grounding his position on an older tradition that he would have encountered at the Merchant Taylors School and at Cambridge. Initially worked out by early Patristic theologians and biblical commentators, it was a view ultimately synthesized by St. Augustine in the form that became the predominant position of the Western Church throughout the Middle Ages. Since, of all the Church Fathers, Spenser was most influenced by Augustine, we do better to look to him than to others for an explanation of the poet’s borrowings from St. John.

In adopting an Augustinian position, Spenser set himself apart from most early English reformers, from the Lollards to John Bale, Henry Bullinger, and John Foxe, who saw around them fulfillments of scriptural prophecies that seemed to point to the imminence of the Second Coming of Christ and, with it, the world’s last night. Later millenarians thought that the fulfillment of St. John’s prophecies was already upon them, to be followed by the Second Coming and a triumphant reign of Christ and his Church that would last a thousand years before the final end. Since, however, Jesus himself had warned that “of that day and houre knoweth no man, no, not the Angels which are in heauen, nether the Sonne him selfe, save the Father,“ to predict the time or place of the apocalypse was to cross a bright line into false prophecy. Spenser scrupulously avoids such presumption. Although characters in Books I and V are made to resemble figures from the Book of Revelation, nothing in The Faerie Queene suggests that the End Times are near. When Spenser looks forward in time, as he frequently does, he is as likely to see signs of a coming Ovidian Golden Age as the near approach of a Christian apocalypse.

The indeterminacy of his vision is just what one would expect of an adherent to Augustine’s interpretation of the Book of Revelation. The time and manner of the end of history is unknowable. All we can be sure of is that, in every age, the prophecies of St. John will be fulfilled. Antichrist, the Whore of Babylon, the two Prophets, the Red Dragon, and the two Beasts born of it are forever arising among us, as are our own instantiations of the Woman Clothed with the Sun and the Rider on the White Horse. Like the relevant passages in Augustine’s City of God, The Faerie Queene looks upon St. John’s visions as allegories for living in this world while waiting for the next. They are intended to inform believers about enduring patterns in the struggle between good and evil until the End Times finally come.


The Ethics of Pleasure

Sponsor: Spenser at Kalamazoo

Organizer: Susannah B. Monta, Univ. of Notre Dame; Brad Tuggle, Univ. of Alabama; Jennifer Vaught, Univ. of Louisiana–Lafayette

Presider: Melissa J. Rack, University of South Carolina


“Spenser and the Aesthetics of Pleasure” 

Ayesha Ramachandran,

Yale University

Abstract not available.


“Spenser and Opera” 

Sarah Van der Laan,

Indiana University-Bloomington

In the summer of 2017, a collaboration between the International Spenser Society and Shakespeare’s Globe invited Spenserians to think about “Spenser and Performance”. From the very first readings on the first morning of the Globe symposium, passages of Spenser’s verse leapt off the page as set-pieces to be relished when read aloud. The point was made repeatedly—by Julian Lethbridge in his presentation, through the performance of extracts in the resonant setting of the Wanamaker Theatre—that Spenser could reasonably have expected his poetry to be read aloud in family circles, in Oxbridge college rooms, at court—as legend has it that he himself did. Approaching Spenser from this unexpected perspective revealed previously latent dramatic qualities and suggested new possibilities for exploring the psychology of Spenser’s characters and the performativity of his verse.

Inspired by that useful and delightful gathering, this paper examines Spenser’s work through the lens of opera. On the surface, this is a gambit even more unlikely than “Spenser and performance”, since the earliest experimental foray into what became opera—the version of Dafne created by Ottavio Rinuccini, Jacopo Peri, and Jacopo Corsi—was staged for Carnival in 1598, the year before Spenser’s death, and in Italy. Yet early operatic composers shared Spenser’s affinity for Ariosto and Tasso. Spenser and the earliest operatic librettists and composers were engaged in a shared project of adapting classical and Italian epic for contemporary audiences. Their readings of Spenser’s predecessors can illuminate Spenser’s readings of his predecessors. Their adaptations of Homer and Ariosto and Tasso can make visible Spenser’s practices of adapting his epic predecessors. And their reinterpretations of those predecessors for specific cultural and political situations can sharpen our sense of the political and cultural considerations behind Spenser’s reinterpretations of those predecessors.

This paper reads The Faerie Queene through Susanne Cusick’s work on one of the earliest operatic adaptations of the Orlando furioso—Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola di Alcina, composed for the Medici court in Florence in 1625—to explore a previously neglected series of Ariostean imitations in an unexpected part of The Faerie Queene. Caccini’s response to the exceptional Florentine political situation and gender politics—which bears striking affinities to Spenser’s—can help us to think about how Spenser uses the Furioso to respond to Elizabethan court and gender politics, and how those gender politics shape his response to the Furioso.


“Guyon’s Youth

David Scott Wilson-Okamura,

East Carolina University

Since Stephen Greenblatt’s Renaissance Self-Fashioning (1980), a consensus has formed about the knight of temperance, that razing the Bower of Bliss is itself intemperate. Greenblatt was not the first person to make this observation, but it has acquired, since Greenblatt, the status of a premise or axiom. The thesis of Guyon’s intemperance continues to be elaborated, but it no longer seems to want proving. This paper argues, to the contrary, that Guyon has been convicted of intemperance prematurely. Like most of the knights in The Faerie Queene, the knight of temperance is characterized as young. This is a handicap, but also a virtue. On the one hand, inexperience makes him self-righteous, and reduces the range of his responses. On the other hand, he is unburdened by guilt and a history of moral compromise. This paper considers his behavior in the climactic episode from three different perspectives: Aristotle’s teaching on how to achieve the mean in practice; the young king Josiah’s campaign against idolatry in 2 Kings; and Chesterton’s observation that children are disappointed when fairy tales do not punish evildoers, “For children are innocent and love justice; while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.”

“This Unpolished Embryo”: New Ideas in Sidney Studies

Sponsor: International Sidney Society

Organizer: Nandra Perry, Texas A&M University

Presider: Donald Stump, St. Louis University


Sidney’s Elizabeth, Spenser’s Elizabeth

Nandra Perry,

Texas A&M University

Abstract not available.


The Sidneys and Their Circles II

Sponsor: International Sidney Society

Organizer: Nandra Perry, Texas A&M University

Presider: Joel Davis, Stetson University


Leicester, the Sidney Circle, and Edmund Spenser

Jean Brink, Henry E. Huntington Library

Abstract not available.


Sixteenth Century Society and Conference 2018
1-4 November 2018
The Hyatt Regency Albuquerque
Albuquerque, New Mexico


The Spenser Roundtable: Signs of Consciousness

Chair: Sarah Van der Laan, Indiana University

Discussant: William A. Oram, Smith College

Discussant: Joseph M. Ortiz, University of Texas at El Paso

Discussant: Yulia Ryzhik, University of Toronto, Scarborough


Shakespeare, Jonson, Spenser

Organiser: Scott C. Lucas, The Citadel, Military College of South Carolina

Chair: Sue P. Starke, Monmouth University


Ben Jonson and Edmund Spenser on the English Language: Latinism and Archaism in the English Renaissance and Reformation

Jamie Ferguson,

University of Houston

When Ben Jonson complains that, in affecting the ancients, Edmund Spenser “writ no language,” he seems to be excluding alien archaism in favor of contemporary usage. In fact, Jonson himself wrote quite unusual English: his diction and syntax are often obtrusively Latinate. Jonson’s complaint is not that Spenser wrote unusual English but that Spenser wrote a kind of unusual English different from that favored by Jonson. This paper will illustrate and characterize Jonson’s Latinism and Spenser’s archaism and contextualize both in secular and biblical disputes of the sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries concerning foreign and native sources for English neologism and syntax.


Macro Spenser

Organiser: Sarah Van der Laan, Indiana University

Chair and Comment: Denna J. Iammarino, Case Western Reserve University


Magical Monsters, Monstrous Magic: Allegory and Caves in Spenser’s Faerie Queen
Tanya Schmidt,

New York University

Abstract not available.


The Return of the Repressed, the Repression of the Return: Odyssean Eros in The Faerie Queene

Sarah Van der Laan,

Indiana University

Spenser conspicuously excludes Odyssean marriage from The Faerie Queene. The 1590 poem repeatedly imagines that its principal couples might realize an Odyssean epic telos: a marriage that reconciles public duty and private desire and provides the foundation for social harmony and lasting peace. But it repeatedly denies its characters that Odyssean ending. The 1596 poem intensifies these disruptions of Odyssean endings, leaving the union of the Thames and the Medway as the sole remaining vision of a consummated and enduring marriage. Marital eros is stripped of the essential social role it plays in Odyssean epic, displaced onto the landscape as an elemental force that the poem’s characters cannot fully experience. The Faerie Queene foregrounds instead the blockages and failures that delay or derail marriage, and the social causes and consequences of those failures. The Odyssey itself is pushed to the poem’s margins, where it lingers as a phantom reminder of alternative solutions to the problems of eros, pleasure, and marriage in a public, heroic life. This paper argues that The Faerie Queene’s inability to reconcile pleasure and marriage with heroism and epic telos reflects an awareness that without access to Odyssean eros, some of the most fruitful paths of sixteenth-century poetry are closed to it. Though Spenser cannot adopt Italian solutions to the problems of reconciling arms and love, private pleasures and public duties, the marvelous plurality of romance and the unified teleology of epic, he acknowledges the cost to his poem of their exclusion.


Micro Spenser

Sponsor: International Spenser Society

Organiser and Chair: Sarah Van der Laan, Indiana University


Spenser’s Unnatural Justice

James R. Macdonald,

Sewanee: The University of the South
Within Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Book V has long possessed the reputation of being the least lovable narrative arc: critics have branded Artegall “the most disappointing and ineffectual hero in the entire poem,” characterized the structure of his quest as a violent patchwork of discordant materials, and pointed to the “intrusion” of Elizabeth’s foreign policy and Lord Grey’s Irish campaigns in thin allegory as a disruption to the roaming, exploratory quality of Spenser’s imagination. Given the gruesome penance of Sanglier and the graphic account of Talus’s killings of Munera and the Egalitarian Giant, it would be difficult to challenge Judith Anderson’s assertion that “justice in the early cantos of Book V is simplistic, furious, even vengeful.” But the justice Artegall dispenses in these first few episodes reflects the character of the world in which he operates. In the Proem and Canto I, Spenser’s narrative seems implicitly to reject or qualify key tenets of the natural law theory which Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity had made a normative part of the Elizabethan middle way in 1593: instead of a world where transgressors deviate from a wholesome and divinely-ordained natural order, Book V offers one where the passage of time has left nature itself in a state of apparently irretrievable decay. Instead of merely punishing the offenders who participate in the endemic corruption, Artegall directly assaults the noxious natural order which permits and enables their offenses.


Birds, Bees, Butterflies, and “Little Winged Loves”: Epic Miniaturization and Lyric Intermittency in Edmund Spenser’s Anacreontics

Melissa J. Rack,

University of South Carolina, Salkehatchie

The nine short stanzas that comprise the bridge between The Amoretti and Epithalamion (1595), while integral to the formal design of the volume in which they appear, are among the most underappreciated of Spenser’s lyric compositions. W.L. Renwick sets them aside as “trifling, Frenchified experiments,” and Louis Martz has “only one solution to offer from the intervening anacreontics – ignore them.” In spite of their seeming frivolity, the formal design of these verses and their emphasis on miniaturization and narrative intermittency reveal much about Spenser’s aesthetic concerns in the 1590’s, and particularly his reinvention of the Neo-Alexandrian principles initially espoused by the Latin poet Catullus. While critics acknowledge Catullan influence in Spenser’s Epithalamion, his influence on Spenser’s shorter pastoral verse is largely overlooked. In this essay, I read the “anacreontics” as a classical epyllion and epic-lyric amalgam, and argue that this formal gesture to Catullus marks a generic and aesthetic shift within the volume that also indicates a concern with epic miniaturization that likewise informs The Complaints (1591), The Shepheardes Calender (1579), and The Two Cantos of Mutabilitie (1609). In their role as mediator in the volume’s narrative movement from courtship to consummation, these tiny verses and their even tinier subjects conceal the key to a greater understanding of the relationship between Spenser’s laureate method and his lyric aspirations.


The Jouissance of Spenser’s November

Stephen M. Foley,

Brown University

The “Argument” of Spenser’s “November” plays upon the concealed identity of the queen whom the elegy mourns—“The personage is secrete”—and upon the openness of Spenser’s imitation of Marot–– “This Æglogue is made in imitation of Marot his song, which he made upon the death of Loys the frenche Queene.” But when Thenot invites Colin to sing at the start of the eclogue, his praise of Colin’s poetic powers conceals the imitation of Marot in indirect allusion to another work of the French poet:

Colin, my Dear, when shall it please thee sing,
As thou wert wont, Songs of some Jouisance
Thy Muse too long slumbereth in sorrowing,
Lulled asleep through Love’s misgovernance.
Now somewhat sing, whose endless Sovenance
Emong the Shepherds Swains may aye remain;
Whether thee list thy loved Lass advance,
Or honour Pan with Hymns of higher Vein.

The French diction stands out, glossed by E.K.: “Jouisaunce, myrth.Sovenaunce, remembraunce. “ The source is Marot, but not the elegy for Louise of Savoy or the “Eclogue au Roi” of December, but the seduction song, “Jouissance vouscdonnerai” (Chanson V), which circulated not only among Marot’s poems but in the popular musical setting by Claudin de Sermisy that served as the score for a basse-danse known by the name of the poem.

This glancing allusion shifts the texture of Spenser’s engagement with European poetry. How does the allusion to erotic lyric complicate pastoral elegy and participate in the games of lyric concealment and disclosure that mark the Shepheardes Calender?


Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene

Organiser: Scott C. Lucas, The Citadel, Military College of South Carolina

Chair: Paul J. Hecht, Purdue University, North Central

Temperance as Empathy in The Faerie Queene, Book 2

Kyungran Park,

University at Buffalo

As an explicit Christian figure, the Palmer seems to surrogate God in guiding Guyon in the quest, but I argue that the poem pitches temperance not from the Palmer in himself but from the dialectic between the Palmer and Guyon. Guyon and the Palmer differ in their emotional attitudes toward strangers’ pain, but rather than opposition they are complementary check and balance. Spenser rewrites the traditional virtue of temperance as empathy, because he shifts Aristotelian focus on rational moderation to a more affective focus, namely balancing self and other in the fusion. For example, after hearing Amavia’s story and watching her death, Guyon turns away to the Palmer and interprets the event as “the image of mortalitie” (2.1.57). This ‘turn’ has not been received well of Guyon in critics, at best a distancing act of drawing out a lesson out of an imminent spectacle of pain. Although Guyon does move on from the scene, he carries his mission throughout the entire book and finally demolishes Acrasia’s bower at the end. In other words, he does not simply leave Amavia but carries her memory with him. It is true though that Guyon zooms out of Amavia’s point of view on life and the Palmer plays an important role in being there for Guyon to listen to his talk. Guyon is able to process grief by turning to the Palmer, just as Amavia could process grief by turning to Guyon, manifest in the aesthetic clinch where her life ends with her story.


“That hope of new good hap”: Conversion and Colonization in the Legend of Holiness

Kevin O’Sullivan,

Texas A&M University

In Canto 3 of the Legend of Holiness, Archimago dons the armor of Redcrosse to adopt a false identity. But unlike his appearances elsewhere in the poem, while in this guise, he is governed to act virtuously: Archimago protects the maiden Una (whom he sought to deceive just moments earlier) by taking up the fight against Sansloy. This paper begins with a close analysis of the momentary conversion that Archimago undergoes when he enjoys “that hope of new good hap” afforded to him in his assumed role by Una. As I will argue, these lines point to a moral system in which external conditions can be imposed to effectively influence a person’s character and behavior. I will continue by considering the ramifications of such a reading in the larger cultural context of the Elizabethan plantation of Ireland and Spenser’s later political writing. Upon examination, there emerge insightful parallels between this passage and the tactics endorsed in A View of the Present State of Ireland. Considered in this broader context, the Archimago-as-Redcrosse passage can be read as part and parcel of a growing body of literature at the end of the sixteenth century which touted the transformative powers of English rule and the reformed church in Ireland.


Bound Desires and Looser Sports: The Etiology of Florimell’s Girdle

Cory Anne Harrigan,

Simpson College

Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene often draws on Publius Papinius Statius’ Thebaid, a first-century Roman epic about the strife between the sons of Oedipus. Spenser’s allusions to Statius are particularly important to interpretations of Book IV, The Legend of Friendship, which centers on the tournament held for the girdle of Florimell. I argue that Spenser’s depiction of the girdle derives from an episode in the Thebaid dealing with the necklace of Harmonia, a cursed gift fashioned by Vulcan in honor of the marriage of the illegitimate daughter of Venus and Mars. Through their analogous narratives on the girdle and the necklace—artifacts that alternately signify female fidelity and infidelity—both poets underscore the intersections of sexuality, gender, and civil strife.


Edmund Spenser’s Poetry and Prose

Organiser: Scott C. Lucas, The Citadel, Military College of South Carolina

Chair: Melissa J. Rack, University of South Carolina, Salkehatchie


Who knows…Colin Clout?: Experiences of Remembering (and Forgetting) in Spenser’s Writing Daniel T. Lochman,

Texas State University

Abstract not available.


Spenser’s View of the Present State of England: Critique and Reform in A View of the Present State of Ireland

Denna J. Iammarino,

Case Western Reserve University

Abstract not available.


Spenser’s Ovid Machine

Paul J. Hecht,

Purdue University, North Central

This paper explores further Spenser’s interest in Ovidean metamorphosis as a way of understanding his own poetics. Building on a reading of diffuse references to Argus in The Shepheardes Calender, the essay considers metamorphosis as aesthetic becoming, as components arranging themselves into beautiful shapes and patterns, and where the components themselves—Argus’s eyes in this case—become ornaments and journey from seats of vigilance to useless gauds, from function to aesthetic function. But more broadly, the essay considers both individual poetic development—the process of becoming an expert and significant poet—and the passage of poetry through history, in Ovidean terms, paying special attention to Ovid’s interest in metamorphosis as an accession to the eternal or as etiology: which is to say that after forms change into the forms he narrates, they tend never to change again. This takes us naturally away from the incipient aesthetic theorizing of the Calender to those central theorizing loci of the Faerie Queene including the Garden of Adonis and Mt. Acidale, as well as the supremely Ovidean tale of Malbecco.


Racing and Gendering the Long Sixteenth Century

Organiser: Mira A. Kafantaris, Ohio State University

Chair: Julie A. Eckerle, University of Minnesota, Morris


The Perils of Strange Queenship in Spenser’s The Fairie Queene

Mira A. Kafantaris,

Ohio State University

Spenser’s Fairie Queene has an anxious relationship with female rule. In the spirit of the poem’s royal compliment framework, however, the inadequacy of a native queen’s gender is mitigated by her Englishness and divine anointment. Indeed, the perils of female sovereignty’s true colors surface in Spenser’s treatment of “strange” queens—examples include the Amazon Radigund, Acrasia, and of course, the much-maligned Duessa. This essay investigates the treatment of racialized foreign queens as an instance of a gendered hierarchy, wherein I argue that Spenser’s racial encoding legitimizes and naturalizes the repudiation of non-English queens despite England’s long history of cultural mixing. I do so by reading episodes of the poem alongside Natural Law theories that positioned cultural mixing within the nascent discourse of expansion, conquest, and colonization. My goal is to examine how categories of political opposition and belonging were applied to “unnatural” women, in the allegorical sense, as monstrous, eroticized, errant, and who embodied a direct threat to the myth of a racially pure commonwealth.


Aspects of Early Modern English Verse

Organiser: Scott C. Lucas, The Citadel, Military College of South Carolina

Chair: William M. Russell, College of Charleston


Fulfillment: Unhappy Endings in Wyatt, Shakespeare, Spenser, & Suckling

Ernest P. Rufleth,

Louisiana Tech University

While the Early Modern period offers readers many moralizing tales rewarding faithful lovers with images of satisfaction and closure, there exists an entire subset of texts devoted to lovers who remain eternally unfulfilled. Indeed, there may be many more unhappy endings offered up for contemplation than happy endings in the period. This project seeks to trace the rejection of the consummation sought after and promised by Petrarchan love poetry beginning in the early English sonnet form (as in Wyatt’s “Whoso list to hunt”) and flowering in the metaphysical contemplations of the seventeenth century. This presentation couldn’t possibly cover all the examples even offered in Shakespeare’s plays, but his “Sonnet 129” pairs well with Spenser’s image of delayed gratification between Redcrosse and Una or the never-to-be-written meeting between Arthur and Gloriana. Frank Kermode famously discussed a similar, broader phenomenon in “The Sense of an Ending,” but this presentation will focus on the fulfillment of a finite desire that is offered as temptation before being overturned. My final point of reference in the Early Modern period will be Suckling’s “Against Fruition,” a sentiment echoing Cowley and others who considered consummation a curse disguised as a desire. On this point, the concept of “desiring-production” or desiring machines popularized by Deleuze and Guattari supports the claims of the presentation aimed at explaining how the lack of satisfaction offered in some literature is not only more likely but more to be desired by an audience.


Sidneian Desire, Sublime, and Foolishness Fiesta

Sponsor: International Sidney Society

Organiser and Chair: Roger Kuin, York University


What About Love?: Sidney, Spenser, and Poetry’s Need for Foolishness

Christian A. Gerard,

University of Arkansas, Fort Smith

Love and love-making interrupted (especially near “rape” or “immoral” moments) abound in both Sidney’s Arcadias and Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Kathryn DeZur and Amy Greenstadt’s recent work suggest such instances are political vehicle/commentary, which serves the “teaching” aspect of Sidney’s Defence. In The Maker’s Mind, however, Dorothy Connell writes, “The poet is one sort of fool, the lover is another, and love is the subject of Sidney’s poetry,” and W.B. Yeats ends “Among School Children,” asking, “How can we know the dancer from the dance?”

Using Yeats and Connell as a lens to examine the both/and-ness of these poets as lovers and lovers-of-making in their textually-made instances of love and love-making, as Sidney and Spenser are poets and lovers and lovers of making (poetry from poeisis: to make)—triple-fools. This paper acknowledges the love made on their pages is inherently political, but suggests, “Ah!” Poetry’s desire cries, “give me some love-fools.”


Re-Historicising Spenser

Organiser: Thomas L. Herron, East Carolina University

Chair: Matthew Woodcock, University of East Anglia

Comment: Susannah Monta


The Cosmopolitical Foundations of Edmund Spenser’s Commonwealth: New Legal and Theological Contexts

Brian C. Lockey,

St. John’s University

Edmund Spenser’s investment in natural law was extensive but contradictory in that the universal and transnational aspect of his use of traditional natural law doctrine conflicted with Spenser’s otherwise Erastian investment in the Elizabethan Settlement. In this paper, I consider how Spenser’s conception of conscience and universal law and justice in A View of the Present State of Ireland and in the later books of The Faerie Queene can be understood within the context of jurist Christopher St. Germain’s early sixteenth-century tract on equity and the law entitled Doctor and Student (1528), in which a canon lawyer and a common law lawyer discuss the foundations of English law. This paper attempts to re-situate Spenser’s engagement with legal and political theory within the context of English legal education as it had developed throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Ultimately, I show that Spenser’s engagement with law, theology and politics reflected a commitment to a new Protestant conception of transnational Christendom as well as a re-conception of England as a Protestant nation within that transnational entity.


Stumped by Ireland: Understanding Book I of The Faerie Queene in the Context of the Desmond Rebellion (1579-83)

Thomas L. Herron,

East Carolina University

Despite the best efforts of many recent and older Spenserians (Hadfield, Maley, McCabe, Canny; Henley, Smith, Judson, Gottfried, et al.) to re-assess and re-situate Spenser’s poetic oeuvre well within the poet’s immediate colonial context as a mature writer, i.e., Ireland, some critics remain skeptical, unconvinced, and/or uninterested in doing the same. This is especially true for analysis of The Faerie Queene outside of the Irena episodes in Book V. Such a tendency is understandable in critics who have other fish to fry, including those uninterested in Spenser’s “real world” and political contexts; but it is more problematic when astute readers of the religio-historical bases of The Faerie Queene ignore Ireland as a relevant backdrop for key episodes in the poem, including in Books I and V. This paper will re-assess the traditional historicized reading of Book I that reads it as an allegory of the Henrician-Marian-Elizabethan succession crises of the mid-16th century, and will instead situate the poem squarely within Spenser’s immediate context in 1580s Munster, Ireland, in the wake of the Desmond rebellion there. The central Duessa-Orgoglio episode and, by association, all of Book I can be plotted loosely against an Irish backdrop that harmonizes with the traditional “Reformation”-oriented reading. Spenser, as always, wanted to make the universal, apocalyptic struggle between good and evil more particular as well as more specific to the battles of his own life.


Whose England? Catholicism, Protestantism, and Contested National Identity

Lucy A. Underwood,

University of Warwick

Edmund Spenser has been described by his recent editors as speaking to his readers ‘from the centre of their culture’ (Hamilton et al., The Faerie Queene 2001). This paper addresses the issue that, to be understood, even central cultural constructions must be considered in their contingency: as propositions, debatable and debated, rather than as inevitable assumptions. While scholars have demonstrated awareness of the conflicts Spenser engaged with as he attempted to mould a medieval English heritage, common European political thought and different ideas of Protestantism into his Protestant national myth, the one assumption which has tended to go uninterrogated is that English national identity was a Protestant project. This is despite Christopher Highley’s 2008 monograph, which provided a springboard for questioning this assumption and engaging seriously with the interdependence of Catholic and Protestant narratives of ‘England’.

In an attempt to place Spenser’s “England” in the context of the “Catholic England” imagined by others of his contemporaries, which – not without some justification – they posited as pre-dating by a thousand years the “Protestant England” Spenser and others wished to replace it with. This paper engages with some texts which illustrate some of the images of England against which Protestant writers were impelled to define themselves. It will consider the themes of Jerusalem, Babylon and Israel; ‘Commonweal’ and Christendom; madness and exile. Sources will include printed or ‘public’ texts like Anthony Copley’s A Fig for Fortune, Ralph Buckland’s Seven Sparks of an Enkindled Soule (1604), and sermons, as well as more ‘private’ works such as commonplace books which hint at the cultural reach of English Catholic concepts of nationhood.



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"Conferences," Spenser Review 48.3.13 (Fall 2018). Accessed April 14th, 2024.
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