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Anne Lake Prescott, William A. Oram, Andrew Escobedo and Susannah Brietz Monta, eds., Spenser Studies: A Renaissance Poetry Annual
by Tamsin Badcoe

Review of Spenser Studies: A Renaissance Poetry Annual. Volume 31-32, 2017/2018. General Editors: Anne Lake Prescott, William A. Oram, Andrew Escobedo, Susannah Brietz Monta. Guest Editor of Vol. 32: Thomas Herron. The University of Chicago Press Journals. ISSN: 0195-9468.


This double edition of Spenser Studies is nothing less than a treasure trove; at just over 650 pages in length it puts on display the energy, richness and breadth of recent critical engagements. Bound as a single volume, XXXI holds together a wide-ranging selection of essays that have been sympathetically sequenced in order to generate resonances for the cover-to-cover reader, while XXXII is guest edited by Thomas Herron and draws its contents from the Fifth International Spenser Society Conference, ‘Spenser’s Places/ The Places of Spenser’, which was held in Dublin, Ireland, in June 2015. Overall, the volume is a monumental work, gratefully dedicated to Anne Lake Prescott in order to mark her retirement after seventeen years of editing the journal and framed as a whole by the prefatory commemoration marking the passing of Angus Fletcher, A.C. Hamilton, Margaret Hannay, Carol Kaske and Richard Neuse. The task of moving through each essay in turn is perhaps the unusual privilege of the reviewer, but as a record of the labours of a community at a particular moment in time, even a briefer glance would still bear witness to the seriousness of the scholarship and the dynamism of the field.

As one of the measures of the vigour of the Spenserian community, then, this copious edition of Spenser Studies is an absolute delight, and the journal’s new home at the University of Chicago Press looks to be suiting it: the production is polished and complemented in some of the contributions by high quality images. In addition to the explicit focus on place in XXXII, the volume as a whole speaks to a range of ongoing critical concerns in energetic ways. A combined strength of the essays concerns nuanced and transhistorical studies of reception, textual mediation and intertextuality, and also noticeably prevalent is an interest in providing complex readings of Spenser’s writings in relation to post-Reformation engagements with the legacies, and vitality, of Catholic forms of worship. This latter issue is further complemented by essays that deal, using various disciplinary means, with questions concerning matter (and materiality), and its relationship to allegory and other kinds of signification. Another noticeable, and perhaps more idiosyncratic through-line, concerns Spenser’s deployment of older female figures within his poetry, through either allusion or characterisation, in ways that speak to the authority of vernacular, prophetic and oral forms. There are also reassessments of Spenser’s conception of heroism, and the figure of Florimell runs through several of the contributions. Furthermore, on display are the rewards of thinking historically about early modern Ireland by paying attention to networks of subjects and readers. The overall impression is of productive endeavour, created by the merging of innovation and intervention with a depth of care for how the legacies of previous critical ideas are treated.

The first essay by Syrithe Pugh, ‘Orpheus and Eurydice in the Middle Books of The Faerie Queene’, addresses Spenser’s interest in the lesser-known version of the well-known classical myth, and traces evidence of the poet’s engagement with this ‘alternative tradition […] which held that Orpheus successfully reclaimed his wife’ (3). As Pugh argues, a re-examination of how Spenser’s Orphic leanings depart from the ‘normative’ Virgilian version has revisionary implications for canonical readings of various aspects of his work, from the sombre note often perceived as struck in Epithalamion, when the poet compares himself to Orpheus, to moments in The Faerie Queene, including those when Scudamour’s winning of Amoret is likened to Orpheus’s recovery of Eurydice (a success fated to be temporary if the tragic narrative is to be followed) and the recovery of Florimel from the dungeon of Proteus. Pugh reads the moments of reception via a variety of intertextual triangulations, including with the Middle English romance Sir Orfeo and John Milton’s Comus, and her readings offer insight into Spenser’s complex webs of allusion. As she writes, ‘Orphic agency is identified […] with the protection of individual liberty against coercion whether sexual or political’, promoting both ‘married love and social concord’ (31).

In a complementary move, Brian Pietras’s ‘Erasing Evander’s Mother: Spenser, Virgil, and the Dangers of Vatic Authorship’, offers a second revisionary intervention into questions of Virgilian reception, this time focusing on the difficult matter of vatic ravishment. In so doing, Pietras also addresses the theme of coercion, but this time from the perspective that ‘the role of the vates is not always an empowered position that allows the poet-prophet to produce authoritative and influential verse; it is instead a role that frequently strips one of personal agency’ (45). He observes the gendered dynamics with which The Shepheardes Calender’s E.K. frames ‘Evanders mother’: a figure whose mediation and identity gives shape to questions of authority, autonomy and creative empowerment, and connects various female and effeminised figures of prophecy, including Cassandra and the Sibyl of Cumae, to the ways in which Spenser’s Calender ‘remains haunted by notions of vatic vulnerability, no matter how intently E.K. works to exonerate Immeritô from these worries’ (62).

In ‘The Borders of Faeryland: Transnational Readings of Spenser in Stuart England’, Kevin Chovanec argues that the geographical limits of Spenser’s epic ought to be reconsidered in order to take account of the way in which The Faerie Queene was reimagined by seventeenth-century readers, not as a specifically English epic but as a reflection of the ‘pan-Protestant church’ (72). As he demonstrates with reference to Thomas Dekker’s The Whore of Babylon and Ralph Knevet’s A Supplement of the Faerie Queen, the dominion of ‘the Fairy queen is constituted not only by the nations of the Atlantic Archipelago, but at various times also by the Dutch Republic, Protestant territories in the Holy Roman Empire, even Sweden and Denmark’ (73). In an essay that takes on the use of ‘faerie’ as a vehicle for thinking about individual, collective and specifically transnational identity, Chovanec makes a particularly compelling case for thinking more about Anglo-Dutch relations in particular, as reflected in both literary and religious culture. As he notes, Spenser’s ‘first published work (sonnet translations) appeared in a text, Theatre for Worldlings, which evidences the kind of multilingual, transnational community that Stuart writers read into the Faerie Queene’ (92), where early modern readers, and particularly those who had been displaced themselves, were far more attuned to the apocalyptic project of faerie and its capacity to unite co-religionists across national borders.

Next, Kenneth Borris’s essay, ‘(H)eroic Disarmament: Spenser’s Unarmed Cupid, Platonized Heroism, and The Faerie Queene’s Poetics’, offers another revisionary approach to the terms of Spenser’s epic and the poet’s treatment, in particular, of heroism and its relation to Platonised and heavenly ideals of love. This time, a different kind of porosity and permeability is envisioned, namely through Spenser’s depiction of Cupid as a specifically unarmed figure, whose symbolism in analysed in relation to passages from Plato’s Phaedrus and Symposium, and alongside classical and early modern treatments of Cupid in the emblem tradition. The essay offers a valuable survey of the existing critical treatments of Cupid and sets itself apart owing to the emphasis it places on a thoroughly historicised reading of how Spenser’s invocation of a Cupid without weapons ‘seeks to effect a (h)eroic transformation of heroic poetry’ (123). In this light, Spenser’s Fowre Hymnes are brought into much closer dialogue with his longest work, where the poet’s ultimate accomplishment is not to write an epic about war but to present ‘a higher (h)eroic standard, instantiated in its unarmed Cupid and elsewhere, that provides means to critique the characters’ failings, those of their topical and institutional correlates, its author’s (though he disarmingly stresses his own unworthiness when commencing his epic), and our own’ (127).

The next two essays, when read in tandem, offer some particularly fruitful connections, moving as they do from a consideration of the fundamental cosmological structures of Spenser’s epic in Debapriya Sarkar’s ‘Dilated Materiality and Formal Restraint in The Faerie Queene’ to a microcosmic iteration of Spenser’s fashioning of elemental process and change in Angela D. Bullard’s ‘Tempering the Intemperate in Spenser’s Bower of Bliss’. Sarkar, in the first instance, introduces the term ‘dilated materiality’ to address the ways in which Spenser, in ‘encountering the potential of narrative to mutate endlessly, […] delineates the principle of conserved matter as the philosophical pivot that controls poetic form’ and thus introduces a principle that ‘functions as a syncretic natural philosophy that governs formal and substantial change’ (138). In offering new readings of three key episodes, namely ‘Fradubio’s exchange with Red Crosse, Artegall’s encounter with the egalitarian Giant, and the lifecycle of False Florimell’ (139), Sarkar builds on recent work that addresses Spenser’s engagements with theories of materiality, flux and, most compellingly, the aesthetic and formal concerns shared by the writing of poetry, natural science and ‘cosmo-political’ economic models (152).

The rejuvenation of critical conversations concerning poiesis, or making, and the fabrication of poetic worlds is also addressed by Angela D. Bullard, this time via a focused study of Guyon’s destruction of the Bower of Bliss and its positioning, in both critical responses, and in Spenser’s narrative, as the climactic, and often disturbing, act of the second book of  ‘Legend of Temperance’. As Bullard observes, the moment, rather than being a demonstration of Guyon’s troubling intemperance, offers instead a demonstration of careful husbandry, in which ‘Spenser’s knight moderates the excessively moist Bower through its destruction and land-burning, thereby remedying the Bower’s imbalance and restoring ‘“crasis” or balance’ (168). In drawing on early modern soil science and geohumoral theory, Bullard offers a nuanced, historicised reading that positions Acrasia’s bower not only as a locus of allegorical testing but also as the site of lived and worked ground, that is to be manured by the ashes generated by the rasing of its luxuries, and envisioned in future as regenerated and fecund soil. Temperance is thus formulated not as a static or possessed quality but as ‘an action’ (182) that remains responsive to social and environmental circumstance.

Sue P. Starke’s delightful contribution, ‘Glauce’s “Foolhardy Wit” and the Revision of Romance in The Faerie Queene’, offers a further variation on the theme of heroism and addresses the oft-neglected figure of Britomart’s sometime nurse and devoted squire as a focal point for Spenser’s complex handling of mixed genres. Starke explores the literary traditions in which Spenser was working and observes that Glauce overgoes her origins as a fusion of ‘Scylla’s nurse Carme in the pseudo-Virgilian epyllion Ciris’ (193) and ‘the traditional English “loathly-lady” motif’ (196), in order to demonstrate a capacity for transformation that affects how the poem thinks about genre, gender and class. As the poem progresses, Starke argues, Glauce attains a level of authority and heroism in Spenser’s epic romance that may originate in her ability to wield oral authority but culminates in her capacity for rhetorical improvisation, which, when coupled with her tender care for her charge’s body and mind, complements the nobility and wisdom of Merlin. Ultimately, she becomes ‘a figure of dignity and value’ who is imbued with ‘the comic power to improvise and adapt generic worldviews that in isolation may rigidify in their self-seriousness’ (208). She may be, as Starke observes, ‘a vates in her own right’ (204) but her adept operation within comic and romance modes offers a fascinating counterpoint to the anxieties associated with ‘vatic vulnerability’ within other literary kinds by Pietras (see above) in the earlier essay.

The next three essays all address aspects of The Shepheardes Calender, offering new readings of how the poem mediates 1) Spenser’s thoughts concerning materiality and culturally-accrued value, 2) the transmission of textual and cultural authority and 3) his engagements with sixteenth-century philology and Hellenism. The combined impression given by the sequence of methodological approaches represented by each essay is of a vigorous interest in questions of influence that focus not just on what has been transmitted but, more specifically, on how meanings have been mediated, whether by particular objects, textual traditions and editions or translations.

George Moore’s ‘Fragmented Time in Spenser’s The Shepheardes Calender’ engages with the recent ‘turn to things’ by ‘considering the literary artefact through the frame of polychronicity as developed by the philosopher Michel Serres’ (217) and building on the emerging work in early modern studies by Jonathan Gil Harris, in particular. Moore uses the theoretical approach to reconsider the Calender’s handling of iconoclasm and, in particular, the fraught question of how idols, as an especially charged category of matter, exist within multiple temporalities. In relation to Spenser, Moore focuses on the figure of the ‘goodly Oake’ in the eclogue ‘Februarie’, complicating existing critical discussions by reading the oak as a ‘polychronic object’, that is ‘understood not as the signifier of an object fixed in a single historical moment, but, rather as the accretion of different cultural moments enmeshed within a single object’ (222). Its valences thus extend across intersecting political, devotional and monarchical contexts, and, as Moore argues, its resilience – as both living object and symbol – derives from its ability ‘to weather the storms of religious corruption and to absorb the imprint of such struggles into its body’ (223). As Moore concludes, such a reading of matter challenges the idea that temporal ruptures are possible, and he thus complicates understandings of reforming, iconoclastic and conservative energies, and the implications such drives have for Spenser’s archaism and literary ambitions.

Jeff Espie, in ‘(Un)couth: Chaucer, The Shepheardes Calender, and the Forms of Mediation’, takes on an analysis of the nature of Spenser’s Chaucerian influences by attending to how the Calender’s representation of Chaucer ought to be interpreted ‘in light of several forms of Medieval and Renaissance mediation, incorporating and adapting ideas from his fourteenth-, fifteenth-, and sixteenth-century readers’ (245). Chaucer is thus read as a member of a triumvirate that also includes Gower and Lydgate, who is encountered not only via the vocabularies these figures of auctoritas provide, but also via the work of his sixteenth-century editors, William Thynne and John Stow, and the relationship his writing has to classical eloquence. Espie is particularly interested in the agency of the ‘go-betweens’ by which lexical histories are transmitted, where the dynamic state of being ‘(un)couth’ becomes a touchstone for thinking about sovereignty, legacy and cultural currency.

In ‘Spenser’s March and Sixteenth-Century Philology’, David Adkins offers an incisive reading of the conditions, and specifically the philological advances, that shaped the March eclogue of Spenser’s Shepheardes Calender, placing renewed emphasis on the rediscovery of Greek texts in the sixteenth century. The chapter focuses on Spenser’s imitation of Bion’s fourth idyll and the reception of the first idyll of Moschus, the Amor Fugitivus, and, in particular, offers an important correction of the idea that Spenser was working from Polizianno’s translation of Bion 4, which, as he writes, ‘does not exist at all. It is a myth of our own invention’ (275). The essay makes a compelling case for moving past the idea that ‘March’ suffers from a kind of outmoded belatedness, arguing instead for an increased appreciation of Spenser’s active engagement with evolving techniques of ‘comparative exegesis’ (274).

The next essay, Kreg Segall’s ‘Mother Hubberd’s Intervention in Prosopopoia, or Mother Hubberds Tale’, is fascinating in its own right but also draws further attention to Spenser’s sustained interest in the agency and authority of older female figures, coming as it does in a collection also containing essays concerned with ‘Evander’s mother’ and The Faerie Queene’s Glauce. Segall’s interests open up further concerns with the relationship between genre and diction, redirecting attention to the voice of Mother Hubberd, as distinct from that of the poem’s narrator, and ‘the remedial and aesthetic work her tale attempts’ (295). By focusing on formal effects and verbal parallels, Segall argues ‘for a more nuanced reading of the remedial power of Mother Hubberd’s tale-telling, particularly of how her tale provokes moments of pain, of uncertainty, of considering and reconsidering, and of stasis’ (297). The sustained close reading offers a convincing portrayal of the efficacy of narrative, and the rhetorical techniques of prosopopoeia in particular, to intervene in discourse in curative ways.

The final three essays of XXXI deal in various ways with intertextuality and reception and offer case studies of three very different sets of historical and personal circumstances. The first essay in this sequence, Ryan J. Croft’s ‘Embodying the Catholic Ruines of Rome in Titus Andronicus: du Bellay, Spenser, Peele and Shakespeare’, resonates nicely with George Moore’s earlier piece on matter and polychronicity in the Shepheardes Calender (see above). Here, Croft addresses the lines of continuity between Spenser’s sequence of sonnets, The Ruines of Rome, its source text, Joachim du Bellay’s Les Antiquitez de Rome, and the lurid tragedy Titus Andronicus. Following Brian Vickers stylometric analysis, which situates the play as the result of a collaboration by George Peele and William Shakespeare, Croft investigates Shakespeare’s ‘dramatic treatment of the ruins topos’ (321) and evaluates the place of Catholic sympathies in its handling of bodies, gesture and architecture, both monastic and funereal. The vision of the play that emerges is less one of cruelty than one of sacrament and affect, which invests in anachronic evocations of classical Rome as a means of tracing the traumas of the Reformation.

The theme of the next essay is also the relationship between religion and literature, but in ‘“The Dragon is sin”: Spenser’s Book I as Evangelical Fantasy’, Margaret Christian has a living author with whom to converse. In this meditation on the relationship between The Faerie Queene and the contemporary fantasy writer Frank Peretti’s 1995 novel The Oath, Christian considers the ways in which fiction works on readers, renewing the charge of Spenser’s purposive statement in his ‘Letter to Raleigh’ that his intention is ‘to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline’ (see 363). In Christian’s interview conducted with Peretti, he claims not to have read Spenser’s work; yet, the parallels uncovered by her reading of his novel – which includes a Duessa-like, but likeable woman, the trials and infected wounds of conscience and a sin-signifying dragon – underwrite a compelling account of how literary treatments of shared Biblical and Arthurian sources have resonated with audiences centuries apart. The act of reading ‘morally’ is thus shown to be a living tradition, whose prompts can still find a place on bestseller lists.

The last essay, Roger Kuin’s ‘Hands On: Marginalia in a 1611 Copy of Spenser’s Works’, presents the fascinating story of the clergyman George North (born 1707) and his engagements with his copy (or copies) of Spenser’s works. The piece as a whole offers an instructive insight into ‘the world of eighteenth-century Spenserians’ (373) by reconstructing North’s reading practices from the marginal annotations present in his 1611 composite edition, library sale catalogues that evidence his ownership of editions of Ariosto and Tasso and his transcriptions from a work printed in 1734 entitled Remarks on Spenser’s Poems, compiled by John Jortin. By illuminating a moment in literary history that is often neglected owing to the canonical critics, editors and poets of the latter part of the century, Kuin identifies a ‘small but growing Spenser Boom’ (374) in the early eighteenth century which was evidenced by the publication of a new edition by John Hughes (1715) and a revived interest, both professional and amateur, in the compilation of glossaries. As he writes, this ‘revival […] would not only preserve Spenser’s work for the next generation but itself help gradually to transform its reception and its author’s reputation’ (383).

A consideration of the reception of Spenser’s works and reputation, and the way that these are, and have been, situated, provides the undersong of the contributions developed from papers delivered at the 2015 International Spenser Society Conference, ‘Spenser’s Places/ The Place of Spenser’, organized by Jane Grogan, Thomas Herron and Andrew King. As the guest editor of volume XXXII, Herron introduces the essays and draws attention to the persistent presence of Ireland as context and subject matter in many of the assembled pieces, drawing attention to how ‘placing Spenser in Ireland remains both a biographical and critical challenge’ (392). For those of us who were in attendance, the overview of the proceedings and the evocation of Dublin Castle will bring back happy memories, and the essays themselves offer the opportunity of re-encountering, or encountering anew, current concerns with ‘place’ as a category of critical analysis.

The first four essays are grouped under the heading ‘The Places of Poetry’, where the conditions of making and the role of patronage emerge as common themes. Richard McCabe’s ‘“O pierlesse Poesye, where is then thy place?”: Locating Patronage in Spenser’ moves freely across a range of works including The Shepheardes Calender, the sixth book of The Faerie Queene, and Colin Clouts Come Home Againe, detailing Spenser’s ‘lifelong concern with […] “the ecology of patronage”’, and ‘with locating the poetic career, literary as much as metaphorically, in the society of Elizabethan England and English literary tradition’ (402). McCabe is particularly interested in Spenser’s fashioning of The Faerie Queene as a ‘designer wilderness’ and the ‘locational’ ironies (405) set up in part by the poet’s formal and generic choices. Particularly compelling is McCabe’s sense that in deploying the romance mode in order to ‘construct imaginary solutions to real problems’ and creating ‘meta-place[s]’ within his fictions, Spenser anticipates later writers of dystopian literature who ‘seek to create a “eutopian” space within it only to see it destroyed’ (410). The chapter is a valuable addition to the continuing debates concerning the spatiality of Spenser’s imagination and how it was shaped by the spaces of ‘the court, the coterie, and the print-house’ (414) through which he had to make his way.

In ‘Spenser and Donne Go Fishing’, Yulia Ryzhik offers a playful exploration of the interests shared by her paired poets in piscatorial metaphors and motifs, and key texts include Sonnet 47 of Spenser’s Amoretti, together with his Visions of the Worlds Vanitie, and Donne’s poems ‘The Bait’ and Metempsychosis. The attention paid to tone and verbal parallels results in a series of compellingly sustained close readings that are attentive to the implications of ‘personal and ideological impetus’ (423),  and draws out the significance of the ways in which ‘Donne’s most extended fishing conceits are accompanied by Spenserian allusions’ (432). The overall picture ultimately concerns how we read the relationship between satire and allegory, and how watery spaces and margins host lives that offer analogies for a variety of human dynamics, encompassing both love and patronage.

Jean R. Brink’s ‘Spenser’s “Home”’ revisits the idea that Spenser’s life in Ireland should be read as the consequence of opportunity, rather than exile, and works incisively through the idea that there must have been compelling reasons why, as she writes, ‘he chose Ireland over England in 1579-80, 1582, 1588-91, and 1595-96’ (440). In surveying and reassessing long-lived critical and biographical narratives, concerning the relationship between Spenser’s professional career, his employers, patrons, figures of censure and his literary outputs, Brink portrays an actively motivated Spenser, who sought out positions in Ireland owing to the way in which its distance from the centres of Elizabethan power offered a kind of refuge for intellectuals of a variety of persuasions. Each stage of Spenser’s career is addressed in turn, culminating in the idea that a life in Ireland allowed Spenser ‘to establish a “house” that could be passed on’ to his descendants (456).

The final essay in this section, ‘Spenser’s Pastoral Places’ by Helen Cooper, addresses Spenser’s sustained and various engagements with pastoral traditions. Cooper traces a fundamentally literary history of the mode that incorporates readings of the Kalender of Shepardes as well as reflections on the implications of Christianising classical models, ending with a fascinating discussion of Spenser’s sources when writing his ‘Legend of Courtesy’. In always drawing attention to ‘the potential within the vernacular tradition’ (474), Cooper elucidates how the act of reading for cultural pressures and political content within pastoral’s protected domains is only possible owing to how its ‘historical depth […] enabled it to contain such meanings, and which made them part of the readers’ expectations of the mode’ (462). As a bookend to the earlier essays in this section on ‘The Places of Poetry’, the chapter offers a vision of how mind and landscape combine in Spenser’s treatment of pastoral in order to conceive of spaces of dwelling; importantly, such spaces contain within them the memory of previous ways of being owing to their initial conception at other times and in other geographies.

The next three essays are grouped under the section heading ‘Spenser’s “View of the Present State of Ireland”: Sources and Afterlife’ and work to situate Spenser’s dialogue within a longer textual tradition of writing about Ireland and colonisation. Gordon Braden’s essay ‘The Classical Background of Spenser’s View’ grounds its readings in the connections between Spenser’s dialogue and works of classical literature, as filtered through the writings of early modern authors that concern ‘the successful acquisition and pacification of new territory in the face of sustained and violent resistance’ (483). After providing evidence of the influence of works including George Buchanan’s Rerum Scoticarum Historia and Machiavelli’s Discorsi on Livy, for example, Braden devotes a longer discussion to the View’s reception of Tacitus’s Agricola, a work of biography that appeared in English in 1591 as part of Henry Saville’s translation of Tacitus’s Historiae 1-4. As Braden writes, a comparative reading reveals ‘the most important, almost eerie point of contact between Tacitus’s work and Spenser’s: the affinities between Agricola and Lord Grey’ (485). As Braden explains, Agricola had been recalled by the emperor Domitian just ‘at the point of being able to bring the entire island of Great Britain into the Roman Empire’ (484): a dynamic that shapes Spenser’s defence of Grey’s actions in the View, and his depiction of Artegall’s failure in The Faerie Queene.

Nicholas Canny’s essay, ‘Irish Sources for Spenser’s View’, is a complementary study of Spenser’s use of more recent sources, going back as far as Gerald of Wales’s twelfth-century writings about Ireland, and their reworking by Richard Stanyhurst in his Plain and Perfect Description of Ireland (1577) and John Hooker in his own translations and his History of Ireland 1546-86 (1587). In thinking about how Spenser’s reading about Ireland, and how this reading might have then been replicated and transmitted by Spenser’s View, Canny addresses what he identifies as ‘the truly revolutionary proposition advanced in the View’; namely that ‘the descendants of the original English conquerors of Ireland were more formidable opponents of civility, and of the interest of the English crown in Ireland, than were the people of Gaelic Ireland’ (501). This view, as Canny argues, was adopted in reaction to Stanyhurst, who was of an ‘Old English’ family himself, and in emulation of Hooker, who ‘was the source of several of the arguments and allusions that added notoriety to Spenser’s View when they were replicated there’ (502).

In keeping with the previous two essays, Clare O’Halloran’s ‘From Antiquarian Text to Fiction’s Subtext: The Extended Afterlife of Spenser’s View of the Present State of Ireland’ stays with Spenser’s prose writing but also makes an interesting companion piece to Roger Kuin’s chapter in the previous volume owing to its focus on the reception of Spenser in the long eighteenth century. O’Halloran demonstrates that the interest in Spenser’s works was not limited to The Faerie Queene but also extended to his political dialogue, which was picked up by antiquarians and novelists as an authority on a wide range of subjects from costume and appearance, to landscape and customs. O’Halloran focuses on three post-Union Protestant novelists, namely Maria Edgeworth, Charles Robert Maturin and Sydney Owenson, Lady Morgan in order to track ‘acts of renovation, refutation, or adaption’ (525), which reveal how moderated engagements with the View provided literary inspiration for writers attempting to ‘explain’ a ‘sometimes alien island’ (516).

The next two essays, which are grouped under the title ‘Martyrdom and Monuments’, take a particular interest in antiquarianism and remains, both literary and monumental. Stewart Mottram’s ‘“With guiltles blood oft stained”: Spenser’s Ruines of Time and the Saints of St. Albans’, engages with Spenser’s antiquarian interests, addressing the poet’s omission of mentioning Saint Alban by name in the Ruines of Time and arguing, that ‘Alban and the Thames, far from being mutually exclusive, in fact work side by side in Spenser’s poem to reinforce Foxe’s account of protestant England and its pre-Saxon roots in Alban’s martyrdom at Verulamium’ (536). In drawing out the resonances of Spenser’s riverine motifs, in which blood suspended in water carries with it charged histories of place and confessional division, Mottram offers an elegant reading of Alban’s ‘absent presence’ (542), where Alban’s martyrdom becomes a touchstone for Spenser’s tempering of Protestant and unreformed chorography.

Stuart Kinsella, in ‘Two Memorials to Arthur Grey de Wilton, Lord Deputy of Ireland (1580-82), in Christ Church Cathedral Dublin’, deals with presence of a different kind, namely that of two tangible artefacts – a stone mural tablet and a memorial in brass – that commemorate Spenser’s sometime employer. Both memorials, as Kinsella demonstrates, are extraordinary survivals and he uses their material remains as a starting point for thinking about the professional and familial networks within which Grey operated. In tracing his narrative via the exploration of heraldry, craft practices, and legal documents, Kinsella tells a story that is often omitted from criticism: as he writes, ‘the importance of the Christ Church memorials, particularly the brass, is that it provides an added social dimension to the family life of Arthur Grey and gives insight into the human and emotional reality that he and his wife Jane Sibilla experienced while at Dublin’ (575). When read alongside Brink’s earlier essay, this piece bears witness to renewed and emerging interests in tracking the lived experiences of both individuals and their circles in early modern Ireland. The essay is beautifully illustrated with an abundance of high-quality images and diagrams, including colour photography of the memorials themselves.

The final two essays, which are grouped by their interests in ‘Spenser’s Use of Metaphor and Simile’, take the reader back into realms of literary creativity and imaginative reach. Maria Fahey, in ‘Transporting Florimell: The Place of Simile in Book III of The Faerie Queene’, offers an evocative reading of Spenser’s ‘simile-worlds’ (594), tracking the ways in which Florimell is moved through a dizzying array of correspondences and ‘imagined simile-spaces’ (596). Fahey’s sense that Spenser’s use of figurative language creates spaces for play that mediate between inner and external reality (see 595) offers a convincing exploration of poetic process that maps on to cognitive and readerly experiences of the poem as a whole. Here, the focused attention paid to Florimell generates revelatory readings of the role of likeness, artifice and shape-shifting; as Fahey writes, ‘the similes authorize Florimell’s efforts to escape the male gaze and poet’s pen, which threaten to freeze her into an imitable image, and they remind readers that an external portrait should not be mistaken for the chaste woman’s inward life’ (607).

The last essay, James Nohrnberg’s ‘Three Phases of Metaphor, and the Mythos of the Christian Religion: Dante, Spenser, Milton’, ends the volume on a suitably epic scale and leads the reader out of the contained progress of the previous sections and into the welter of the world beyond. At the heart of this chapter is a meditation on the question ‘Where is a Christian poet’s religion properly located?’ (614): a prompt that is addressed both ‘spatiotemporally’ and as an invitation to consider different kinds of Christian metaphorics and the tenor-vehicle relationships implied in each case. Particularly compelling is Nohrnberg’s use of the term ‘participation metaphor’ (616), which he uses, following Coleridge, to discuss the concept of ‘the symbol as a thing or representation which takes part in the reality that it makes intelligible: tautegorically’ (616). There are beautiful readings here of Dante’s pilgrim, Redcrosse’s trials and the discourses of Satan and his colleagues in Milton’s hell, and the mind-bending implications of Nohrnberg’s overall argumentative frame, which takes in ascents and descents, sacred ground, sacramental thinking and the harrowing of hell, continue to resonate long after the final page has been turned.


Tamsin Badcoe

University of Bristol


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Cite as:

Tamsin Badcoe, "Anne Lake Prescott, William A. Oram, Andrew Escobedo and Susannah Brietz Monta, eds., Spenser Studies: A Renaissance Poetry Annual," Spenser Review 49.2.6 (Spring-Summer 2019). Accessed April 14th, 2024.
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