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Adkins, David S. “Virgil in the Northern Renaissance: Spenser, Milton, and Humanist Philology.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2018. University of Toronto (Canada).

My dissertation examines how advances in sixteenth-century classical scholarship shaped the Virgilianism of Edmund Spenser and John Milton. Critical studies on the Virgilian commentary tradition have focused on commentaries written no later than the early decades of the sixteenth century, and hence have detected little development in the Renaissance interpretation of Virgil. I argue that, if we are to understand Spenser’s and Milton’s Virgil, we must appreciate the revolutionary advances achieved by mid-sixteenth-century humanists. What made the latter possible was a much-improved knowledge of Greek literature, which gave humanists newfound insight into Virgil’s engagement with both Hellenistic poetry and Attic tragedy. I focus mainly on the French school of humanists including Jean Dorat and his circle of philologists and poets. Their Greek studies allowed these humanists to innovate upon Servius, who lacked firsthand knowledge of Virgil’s Hellenistic models, and to recover the Alexandrian dimension of Virgilian poetics. A new Virgilianism then emerged in the poetry of the Pléiade, one that accounts for the richness and complexity of Spenser’s Virgilian imitations in The Shepheardes Calender and The Faerie Queene more comprehensively than the Virgil of modern career criticism. I also examine how the study of Aristotle’s Poetics helped humanists to recover the dramatic dimension of the Aeneid, and hence to read Dido’s tragedy mimetically rather than allegorically. This approach led, first, to a more sympathetic reading of Dido’s character, and second, to an interest in the theological questions raised by her death. Milton’s imitations of Aeneid 4 in Paradise Lost illustrate how this interpretation shaped the legacy of Dido and the attitude toward eros in English epic. The dissertation thus aims to capture the dynamic nature of Renaissance Virgilianism by exploring how poetic practice kept pace with philological discovery. The first chapter focuses on French philology and the recovery of Virgil’s Alexandrianism; the second, on Spenser’s March and the reception of Hellenistic pastoral; the third, on Book 3 of Spenser’s Faerie Queene and Joseph Scaliger’s scholarship on the Ciris; and the fourth, on Milton’s Paradise Lost and the influence of the Poetics on humanist interpretations of Dido’s tragedy.

Bowling, Joseph. “Famed Communities: Trojan Origins, Nationalism, and the Question of Europe in Early Modern England.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2018. City University of New York.

Throughout medieval Europe, royal families traced their genealogies back to the ancient Trojans. Beginning in the Carolingian court, this practice persisted into the early modern period, when narratives of ancient Troy—from accounts of the war to rewritings of Virgil—saturated literary production. Constituting the translatio imperii tradition, in which civilization “translates” from east to west, these legends of Trojan descent allowed European monarchs to legitimize their authority, or imperium, as derived from the Roman Empire, which Virgil famously celebrated as descending from Trojan Aeneas. This tradition formed what I call feudal cosmopolitanism: an affiliation among nobility premised on shared descent that also activated the notion of European identity. However, with the emergence of humanist reading practices in early modern Europe, which read antiquity as exemplary—models to be imitated—the Trojan heroes claimed to have founded the various European kingdoms became national types, representing an identity to be performed, rather than genealogical forebears. In this way, feudal cosmopolitanism gave way to exemplary nationalism—yet shared European identification remained latent in the Trojan accounts. These local, exemplary, and national iterations of the Trojan legends, thus, were never fully extricated from their international, European context. This dissertation argues that the legends of Trojan origin present an unstudied source of English nationalism: their use by poets and dramatists in articulating an insular national identity expressed, at the same time, an international longing—a latent desire for connection with the European continent as residue from the legends’ feudal cosmopolitan past. In representing an emergent nationalist identity in England, writers turned to Troy to negotiate via identification, emulation, and competition their cultural and geopolitical position within Europe. This negotiation occurs through discourse of fame, which arises from the illustrious past; but just as treatment of the Trojan legends transformed within the the political communities to which they provided discursive legitimization, the significance of fame—from glorifying nobility and consanguinity to a typifying a territorially defined national community—mutated. In this way, this dissertation reconsiders the genealogies of modernity.

In order to elaborate a theoretical frame through which to reread modernity in the early modern, my first chapter engages recent work on nationalism, internationalism, and cosmopolitanism. More specifically, I build on Caspar Hirschi’s revisionist theorization of nationalism in his Origins of Nationalism (2011, in which he argues that the idea of the nation arises through a dialectic of centripetal and centrifugal discourses, driven by a competition over fame). I use Hirschi to read Shakespeare’s critique of discourses of fame in Troilus and Cressida. Through Shakespeare, I provide an abbreviated textual history, on the one hand, of the development of legends of Trojan origin across Europe and then, on the other, their adoption in England. Ultimately, the play undermines the authority fame confers and severs the event of the Trojan War from both genealogical and exemplary readings. In my second chapter, I analyze John Higgins’s First part of the Mirror for Magistrates (1574), one of the earliest and most significant Tudor treatments of the Trojan-British material, in which the question of historicity becomes less important than Higgins’s construction of a national tradition. I then turn to Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, which I situate as continuous with Higgins’s earlier project, arguing that Spenser’s concern with teaching virtue leads him to articulate a national identity attuned to its dependence on a broader European community. My third chapter takes up what I refer to as the “Albion epics”: William Warner’s Albion’s England (1586), Drayton’s Poly-Olbion (1612), and William Slatyer’s Palae-Albion (1621), all of which constitute English experiments in the epic form and which, individually, attempt to reconcile founding problem of ancient Britain sharing an origin story with its rival European kingdoms, articulating what I refer to as a counter-cosmopolitanism. My final chapter returns to the stage, reading Shakespeare’s treatment of the Roman invasion of ancient Britain in Cymbeline. It argues that, unlike the epic poetic tradition, with its relatively fixed generic conventions, the stage allows for radical reformulations of the legendary material. More specifically, in Shakespeare’s play, he displaces Brute as the exemplary forebear and replaces him with Innogen, Brute’s legendary wife. With this reinvented forebear, Cymbeline points beyond either feudal cosmopolitan or exemplary nationalism toward what I call a sympathetic cosmopolitanism.

Estabillo, John Charles. “Atheism and the Matter of Representation in the English Renaissance.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2018. University of Toronto (Canada).

One of the great Procrustean epithets of the Renaissance, “atheist” in the first century of its use in the English language could imply anything from Italianism and excessive learning to libertinism and tobacco-smoking. Its historical reception has been typified, in turn, by the scholarly slurs of categorical vacuity and semantic looseness. The first claim of my dissertation, however, is that the inclusivity of Renaissance atheism signifies vital connectivity rather than speciousness. Reading canonical works of English Renaissance poetry and drama alongside their antique and contemporaneous sources, I contend that atheism responds to the precarious hold on emergent accounts of materiality by the forms of belief. Rather than systematic denial of theology, atheism coalesces in the imagination of the English Renaissance like the remnants of a vivid but inchoate dream; it shares its content, abject material existence, with the moral, religious, and social authorities to which it is opposed. Evidence for this interpretation does not primarily emerge in clear records of confessional states or legal remains, but from the correspondingly dreamlike efforts of aesthetic representation. My dissertation follows their often-obscured contours and reveals that Renaissance atheism is as much a mode and function of verbal expression, energized by particularized language and the details of material reality, as a discrete category of devotion. Chapters on Edmund Spenser’s mutable universe and John Donne’s interrogation of the soul explore how humanist syntheses of antique texts mingle pagan philosophy with Christian doctrine, smuggling fragments of atheist cosmology into otherwise orthodox discourses. In a reading of Ben Jonson’s pathologized London, I explore how a chorus of Christian denominations proclaiming singular access to divine truth also uncovers its potential impossibility in the position of atheism. Pessimistic meditations about the place of human life within historical and natural orders challenge Providence and anchor two chapters on the reordering of private and public life in Shakespeare’s drama. Each of these focused studies finds a renewed understanding of premodern atheism in the imaginative topography of the English Renaissance, its spectral presence suggesting a world that begins, ends, and finds signification in the terms of material experience.

Fore, Kathryn Carol. “‘Blest Be the Architect’: Church-Building in Foxe, Spenser, Lanyer, and Herbert.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2017. Columbia University.

My dissertation examines the imagery of church building in early modern English literature. It spans from Henry VIII’s Dissolution of monastic houses in the 1530s to the poetry of George Herbert in the 1630s, and traces the influence of theological writings, architectural history, and religious doctrine on the formation of a formal thematic element. In studies of architectural images that appear in English literature after the Dissolution, the focus is often on ruins, which are read as a representation of anxiety about the lastingness of literary works in the wake of the vast social upheavals of the Reformation. However, given the importance of the Resurrection and redemptive history to the English Church in the early modern period, ruination in a religious context can also symbolize eternal redemption. To that end, I trace images of churches in disrepair in early modern poetry, and examine how those images are used by the authors to rebuild figuratively their subject following personal or political loss, and through that activity, to defend their work’s effectiveness. I first examine the theological and historical associations of the church as a space of communal redemption in the English Church, and how those associations become thematic features in John Foxe’s seminal Actes and Monuments (1570). I then examine manifestations of this theme in three major Protestant poetic works: Edmund Spenser’s lament for Philip Sidney in The Ruines of Time (1591), Aemilia Lanyer’s praise of the disinherited Margaret Clifford in Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611), and George Herbert’s pastoral struggles in The Temple (1633). In excavating the redemptive connotations of church imagery in these works, I demonstrate how early modern English authors borrow from church practice and narrative to craft their own literary identities and purposes.

Hampstead, John Paul. “Telos and Philology in the Early Modern English Epic.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2017. University of Michigan.

This dissertation identifies an internal contradiction or inherent tension in the Renaissance epic and reads four early modern English epics in light of this generic feature. Vertical pressure from poets’ monarchical patrons to craft teleological political narratives legitimating their rule collided with horizontal pressure from the poets’ humanists peers who expected their poems to reflect cutting-edge humanist historiography and its new methods of critically evaluating documentary evidence. Crises in English politics—from the Elizabethan succession, to the unification of the Crowns under the Stuarts, to Civil War and Restoration—made unitary myth-making more imperative than ever, but advances in history-writing made this task more difficult. Before my readings of English epic commence, a wide-ranging, comparative prologue chapter considers the potential relationship between monotheism and teleological narrative in order to isolate politics as the determinative factor.

Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1596) engages deeply with the legendary matter of Britain popularized centuries earlier by the medieval chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth, even as Spenser seems to acknowledge how the legends have been discredited. Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion (1612) works through much of the same material, but largely foregoes any attempt to connect the old fables to current political realities, preferring instead to embed these anecdotes from the ancient British past into systematic descriptions of the landscape. Rather than spinning Trojan-British legends into a justification for British unification, Drayton uses the figure of the Severn to remind his readers of the Welsh rights and particularity that has been erased by English hegemony. Abraham Cowley’s Davideis (c. 1640s), while ostensibly about the troubles of King David, also maps onto the exile of the Stuarts during the Interregnum, and rather awkwardly tries to find a Biblical precedent for the Stuarts’ version of absolutist kingship. Finally, John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667; 1674), written after the Restoration of Charles II and Milton’s utter alienation from power politics, rejects English politics and instead dives deep into human prehistory, to the origins of humankind. I argue that Milton’s narrative about the gradual unfolding of human nature and our capabilities resembles the speculative, rational histories couched in the subjunctive written by Hobbes, Vico, Rousseau, and especially Kant. Rather than subjecting these epics to a deconstructive critique that would that expose the poets’ subconscious anxieties, I argue that Spenser, Drayton, Cowley, and Milton were aware of these contradictions, and had the courage—however fleeting—to face destabilizing, disillusioning facts and include them in their great poems.


Kasa, Deni. “Graceful Symmetry: The Politics of Grace in Shakespeare, Spenser, and Milton.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2017. University of Toronto (Canada).

Graceful Symmetry explores the relationship between grace and political agency in the work of William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, and John Milton. These writers were part of a Protestant culture that understood grace through the slogan sola gratia, or “grace alone,” which means that God has the prerogative to save or condemn human beings freely. Protestants inherited this vision of salvation from St. Paul, who imagines grace as a form of liberation within submission to God—so that liberty is, paradoxically, the experience of being bound. Shakespeare, Spenser, and Milton explore the political ramifications of these scriptural paradoxes. They suggest that, by magnifying the freedom of God, and by redefining the believer’s agency as a form of submission to the divine, grace challenges existing political obligations between subjects and their human sovereign. Shakespeare and Spenser deploy the rhetoric of religious grace to explore the degree to which monarchical power is compatible with active political participation from Protestant citizens. Taking this approach to a radical extreme, Milton argues that grace regenerates ordinary Christians to the extent that that they become capable of wielding sovereignty as citizens of a free republic, thus making monarchy unnecessary. Shakespeare, Spenser, and Milton ultimately coopt the religious language of grace to reimagine a wide range of political concepts—such as imperialism, absolutism, nationalism, and republicanism—during political crises such as Tyrone’s rebellion in Ireland and the English Civil Wars. I argue that grace is central not only for Protestant theology but also for the political ideals of Renaissance humanism, such as republicanism. The interdisciplinary resonance of grace was ultimately due to the tendency among a wide variety of early modern writers—including the literary writers I explore—to use Paul as an authority on legal and political questions as well as religious ones. By demonstrating how Paul’s writing on grace influenced early modern culture and religion, I argue that politics is inseparable from theology in post-Reformation English literature.

Nalencz, Leonard. The Lives of Astyanax: Romance and Recovery in Ariosto, Spenser, and Milton. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2017. Yale University.

In this dissertation I argue that Ariosto, Spenser and Milton use the twin strands of romance and epic to reflect on literary continuity from the classical past to early modern Europe. Orlando Furioso, The Faerie Queene, and Paradise Lost tell, in a romance pattern and mode, stories of wounding, survival, and fertility. The romance pattern of the wounded and fertile survivor suggests an alternative to the metaphor of rebirth that is taken to apply to the literature as well as to the visual arts in the early modern period. Like the literary tradition itself, the generic mode of romance recovers, transitively and intransitively.

In Chapter One I read the episode in Iliad 20 in which Poseidon intervenes in the battle between Achilles and Aeneas, a moment recalled in Aeneid 5. As the greatest warrior of classical antiquity, Achilles comes to represent the genre of epic, while Aeneas is seen as a figure for the genre of romance, in that he is a favorite son who will survive to reproduce. Ancient epic juxtaposes these two characters and asks whose strength is greater; early modern poets answer the question in the stories they tell and retell about the fertile survivor.

In Chapter Two I consider the character of Medoro in Orlando Furioso as a type for the romance survivor. Medoro is a youthful foot soldier of obscure lineage who survives and recovers through the help of a caretaker, Angelica, whom he then marries. Medoro establishes a type in the Furioso: the youthful and sexually vigorous survivor who founds or continues an illegitimate lineage. Guidon Selvaggio, Falanto, and Elbanio are examples of this type: their youth and fertility suggest the hybrid vigor of the genre of romance, which Ariosto juxtaposes with characters who represent the outmoded genre of epic in their failure to reproduce, like Orlando and Rodomonte. The intertwining of romance modes and characters with epic modes in the Furioso suggests an acceptance or recognition of illegitimacy in terms of human history, political power, and the literary tradition.

In Chapter Three I argue that in Book III of the Faerie Queene , Spenser’s Adonis is a type, like Medoro in the Furioso : both recall a famous character from classical antiquity who dies in the literary tradition, and their survival suggests a metaphor for the relationship between early modern culture and classical antiquity. The character Timias in the Faerie Queene is explicitly modeled on Medoro: both are wounded and survive through the caretaking of a princess. Spenser insists on and develops the role of the female caretaker in each of his character’s recoveries, and I read these caretakers not only as so many reflections of the female monarch, but also as figures for the humanist or philologist who restores damaged or wounded texts back to their former, healthy state.

In Chapter Four I read Adam and Eve in Paradise Lost as romance characters: they are youthful favorites in a romance garden; they cause and suffer from a wound by disobeying God; they recover thanks to the caretaking of God’s personified grace; and they survive to reproduce. Adam and Eve are romance characters in the vein of Medoro, Adonis, and Timias: they undergo a process of fall, caretaking, and recovery before they can become fertile. Romance has its own trajectory and ends, and although it works against closure in given narratives, romance has a discernible narrative structure: it counters epic teleology with the promise of resistance, restoration, and survival.

The Epilogue offers a brief sketch of narrative structures and possibilities, from the threshold of writing to contemporary fiction. Between the two extremes of narrative structure, epic teleology and death on one hand and romance expansiveness and vitality on the other, Ariosto, Spenser and Milton offer the pattern of wounding, recovery and fertility as a metaphor for the period’s self-identification, and as an alternative to the narrative extremes of epic and romance. One might argue that literature sees itself as the survivor of the wound of Time. Literature does not die and see itself as reborn; it recovers to reproduce.

Noke, April Holland. “Edmund Spenser’s Critique of Elizabethan Chivalry in The Faerie Queene.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2017. The University of West Florida.

Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene is rife with female victims of male aggression. In a poem filled with knights who are literally chomping at the bit to prove their chivalry, the gratuitous violation of women seems out of place. One would think there would be far fewer damsels in distress where there are so many available knights errant. Strangely, these distressed women repeatedly find themselves endangered by the very knights who should be protecting their faithful, chaste bodies. Drawing on studies of Elizabethan chivalry by Richard McCoy, early-modern masculinity by Lisa Celovsky, and feminist readings of Spenser by Susan Frye, I argue that Spenser’sgratuitous victimization of women by knights is a parody of the male identity informed by Queen Elizabeth I’s specific understanding of chivalry. While promoting the Reformation ideal of companionate marriage, Spenser seeks to expose the chivalric structure of Queen Elizabeth’s court as an authoritarian effort to keep men servile. My thesis demonstrates that Spenser’s ironic depiction of the chivalric code underscores, in order to critique, the regressive homosociality of the nostalgic chivalry revived in Queen Elizabeth I’s court. In Spenser’s text, Scudamour’s and Britomart’s characters exemplify that the chivalric masculinity promoted by Elizabeth is a vehicle for suppressing male power that conflicts with Reformation values.

Rueda, Karen Johana. “A Frank Critique of the Monarchy in Jane Austen’s Emma: Presenting a Knightley Exemplar Emanating from Spenserian Allusions.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2018. California State University, Los Angeles.

Austen showcases her sophisticated authorial craftsmanship and style through the varied employment of rhetorical strategies drawn from her knowledge and thorough understanding of Edmund Spenser’s allegorical Faerie Queene in her novel of manners Emma. Young Jane Austen’s satiric talents are realized within the subtexts of Emma as she imbues the novel with her political opinions and expresses her critique of the Prince Regent. Austen satirizes the unpopular and hypocritical “first gentleman of Europe”(Baker 9) the Prince Regent in Emma by replicating his character within Frank Churchill and contrasting him with Mr. Knightley; Austen’s satire of the Prince Regent was reinforced through allusions to Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Book I, and her utilization of its tropes on duplicity helped her to “fashion an ideal gentleman” and “governor” (Spenser 1) as an exemplar for Prince George. Through the use of free indirect speech and careful placement of minute details Austen is also able to control the readers’ response and enables them to search for and experience finding truth just like Emma and Mr. Knightley. The Prince in his desire for popularity proclaimed himself the “first gentleman of Europe” but in Emma, Austen counters the Price Regent’s claim by “fashioning a true gentleman” exemplar in Mr. Knightley.

Samuk, Tristan Alexander. “The Art of Railing: Knowledge and Satire from Skelton to Shakespeare.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2017. University of Toronto (Canada).

This dissertation argues that satire, or more specifically “railing,” provided the writers of the English Renaissance with a means of making epistemological change perceptible through poetry. Chapter 1 traces the beginnings of railing in John Skelton’s satiric attacks on Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, arguing that the paradoxes and inconsistencies of Skelton’s poems are an attempt to explore how the centralized Tudor state was turning reason into a decentralized political force that could both legitimize and resist the truth claims of the ruler. Chapter 2 examines the verse satires of John Donne, in which Christian figuralism allows Donne to see individual morality as something involved in larger social and economic forces. In “Satyre 3,” railing becomes a way to articulate a problem that arises from the Christian-figural viewpoint: how can you discern the true religion if historical forces emanate from everything and everyone? Next I turn to Edmund Spenser, whose satiric poetry in The Shepheardes Calender, Mother Hubberds Tale, and The Faerie Queene interrogates the emerging gap between human thought and the natural world. Spenser uses the limitations of satire and complaint, with their focus on the world as it is, to gesture at a higher possibility for poetry that imagines how the world could or should be. The final chapter examines how Shakespeare’s As You Like It expands on the socially transformative promise of art that Spenser depicts in The Faerie Queene. Jaques, the play’s satirist, tries to use the descriptive methods of natural philosophy as a model for curing the corruption of the world, but this approach ends up preventing him from imagining any alternative. Jaques, however, is a poet as well as a natural philosopher, and the poetry of his railing gestures at another form of truth that he himself is not entirely conscious of. This truth turns out to be the conditional truth of the aesthetic, the virtue of “if” that Rosalind uses to imagine a new life for the exiles in the Forest of Arden. Satire may not be able to change the world, but it makes it possible to imagine a kind of art that can.

Shufran, Lauren. “The Protestant Reformation and the English Amatory Sonnet Sequence: Seeking Salvation in Love Poetry.” ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2017. University of California, Santa Cruz.

When he described poetry as that which should “delight to move men to take goodnesse in hand,” Philip Sidney was articulating the widely held Renaissance belief that poetry’s principal function is edification. Scholars have tended to observe a tension between Sidney’s description and the English sonnet sequence, as though didacticism and love poetry are fundamentally in opposition. But Petrarch’s Canzoniere—from which these sequences derive—is a conversion narrative; and the perceived opposition between amatory poetry and didacticism dissolves when we read English Petrarchism as a conversion genre. This dissertation begins with the suspicion that the theological infrastructure of these sequences is underplayed in the criticism. It is interested in what happens when we encounter these collections awake to the historical fact that Petrarchism and the Protestant Reformation came to England at the same time.

A.E.B. Coldiron has described Sidney’s historical moment as one marked by both the “problem of how to establish a productive relation with the literary past” and “the problem of making poets, not versifiers in England.” English Petrarchans, I argue, were compelled to write poems in this vein to assert the legitimacy of English lyric from within a genealogy that enthusiastically embraced the literary accomplishments of the Italian poet. But the poets’ employment of Protestant tropes in these collections asserts an explicitly Englishlyric authorship: at once legitimized by its embeddedness in a literary tradition and morally eclipsing that tradition through recourse to right (Protestant) religion.

When the Canzoniere arrived in England, its lover was ripe for comparison with the “spirit-versus-flesh” Paul. Taking a cue from this resemblance, English poets turned to Paul’s Epistles not only to recast Petrarch’s moral instruction (Paul, too, was a convert), but also to legitimize carnal love as a serious—and ineluctable—topic. Amatory poetry proved remarkably amenable to accommodating reformed, Pauline teachings on human will (and thus works, grace, and predestination). Sonnet sequences by Edmund Spenser, Thomas Watson, Sidney, Fulke Greville, Mary Wroth, and Shakespeare testify to an extensive effort among English love poets to offer a Protestant English literary exemplum to rival Petrarch’s Catholic one.


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"Dissertations," Spenser Review 48.3.14 (Fall 2018). Accessed April 14th, 2024.
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