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Aydelotte, Laura. (2013). “Monumental Visions: Architectural Ekphrasis from Chaucer to Jonson.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Web. 29 May 2014.  

This project presents a study of architectural ekphrasis, or descriptions of architecture, in literary works in England from the 14th through the 17th centuries. The preface examines the description of Bertilak’s castle in the anonymous Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and compares this with architectural motifs in 14th century manuscript illuminations. The first chapter looks at the archtitectural descriptions in Geoffrey Chaucer’s House of Fame and traces the poet’s inspiration to a real-life building at Westminster. The second chapter reads Edmund Spenser’s translations of poems by the French poet Joachim du Bellay, in A Theatre for Worldlings and looks at the place of ancient Rome in those poems and their influence on Spenser’s later poetry. The third chapter examines the role of buildings in Spenser’s The Faerie Queene with a focus on the episode with Britomart in the Temple of Isis in book five. The fourth chapter addresses the place of architecture in Ben Jonson’s poetry and the collaboration Jonson and architect Inigo Jones on the masque entertainments of the Stuart Court.

Crapanzano, Patrick. (2013). “An Ecocritical View of Conquest and Transformations in English Renaissance Pastoral.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Web. 29 May 2014.  

A salient difference between ancient and early-modern understandings of human relationships with the environment is evident in Renaissance literature. Nature’s forces slip from the domain of divine will to human agents, exposing early-modern scientific, economic, and political urges to colonize the natural world. More, Spenser, and Shakespeare capture and embed these shifts in pastoral tropes, featuring oppositional structures that evidence a need for environmental ethics. An inherently plastic genre, pastoral should appeal to ecocritics as it portrays nature’s plasticity and vulnerability to humanity while exposing changing and conflicting attitudes. I interrogate and historicize conflicting attitudes towards nature: communal affiliation versus individualist values—feelings of attachment versus detachment.

Gorman, Sara Elizabeth. (2013). “Transformative Allegory: Imagination from Alan of Lille to Spenser.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Web. 29 May 2014.  

This dissertation traces the progress of the personified imagination from the twelfth-century De planctu Naturaeto the sixteenth-century Faerie Queene, arguing that the transformability of the personified imagination becomes a locus for questioning personification allegory across the entire period. The dissertation demonstrates how, even while the imagination seems to progress from a position of subordination to a position of dominance, certain features of the imagination’s unstable nature reappear repeatedly at every stage in this period’s development of the figure. Deep suspicion of the faculty remains a regular part of the imagination’s allegorical representation throughout these five centuries. Within the period, we witness the imagination trying to assert its allegorical position in the context of other, more established allegorical figures such as Reason and Nature. In this way, the history of the personification of the imagination is surprisingly continuous from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries. This “continuity” is not absolute but functions as a consistent recombination of a standard set of features of and attitudes toward imagination that rematerializes regularly. In order to understand this phenomenon at any point in these five centuries, it is essential to examine imagination across the entire period. In particular, the dissertation discovers an alternative, more nuanced view of the personified imagination than has thus far been posited. The imagination is a thoroughly ambivalent character, always on the cusp of transformation, and nearly always locked in a power struggle with other allegorical figures. At the same time, as the allegorical imagination repeatedly attempts to establish itself, it becomes a locus for intense questioning of the meaning and process of personification. The imagination remains transformative, uncertain, and at times terrifying throughout this entire period.

Oxendine, Jessica Grace. (2013). “Warrior Women in Early Modern Literature.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Web. 29 May 2014.  

Fantasies about warrior women circulated in many forms of writing in early modern England: travel narratives such as Sir Walter Ralegh’s The Discoverie of Guiana (1595) portray Amazon encounters in the New World; poems like Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1596) depict women’s skill with a spear; and the plays of Shakespeare, John Fletcher, and others stage the adventurous feats of women on the battlefield. In this dissertation, I analyze the social anxieties that emerge when warrior women threaten gender hierarchies in the patriarchal society of early modern England. The battlefield has traditionally been a site for men to prove their masculinity against other men, so when male characters find themselves submitting to a sword-wielding woman, they are forced to reimagine their own masculine identities as they become the objects acted upon by women. In their experience of subjectivity, these literary warrior women often allude to the historical Queen Elizabeth I, whose reign destabilized ideas about gender and power in the period. Negative evaluations of warrior women often indicate anxiety about Elizabeth as an Amazon-like queen. Thus, portrayals of warrior women often end with a celebration of patriarchal dominance once the male characters have successfully contained the threat of the warrior woman through marriage or death. I argue that these depictions of containment indicate a common desire to maintain patriarchal superiority during and after Elizabeth’s reign.

Parris, Benjamin. (2013). “‘Workes of Darkenes’: Sleep, Insomnia, and Sense in English Renaissance Literature.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Web. 29 May 2014.  

Dreams are central to most critical accounts of sleep in literature. But this focus on private psychic life has resulted in an incomplete picture of nocturnal experiences, particularly in early modern texts. ‘Workes of Darkenes’ deemphasizes cases of literary dreaming, and argues that early modern English writers view sleep and sleeplessness as precarious conditions that foreground the power of the passionate humoral body over the self. Sir Phillip Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella, Thomas Nashe’s Terrors of the Night, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Macbeth all depict sleep and insomnia as transformative states impacting metaphysical and ethical forms of life—an idea that modern psychologies no longer accommodate, but which is crucial for historicizing early modern representations. In a culture of literary humanism that conceived of wit, the care of the self, and the pursuit of virtue through paradigms of reason and will, the mind’s release into sleep and the dislocating effects of insomnia were seen as risky events. Early modern medical and theological treatises likewise linked disease, distemper, and even susceptibility to demonic meddling with sleep. A sleeping body looked suspiciously like a dead body, and this appearance implied the ease with which sleeping life could slide into death. Yet the experiential weirdness of these moments also prompted literary reflections on cosmology and embodiment, encouraging writers to picture novel connections among the bodily passions, sense, and the genesis of ideas. The works I discuss figure concrete and potentially unsettling correspondences between a sleeping body’s cycles of humoral recuperation, the dissolution of waking consciousness and the nocturnal environment; at the same time, Elizabethan writers couple this morbidly aestheticized physiology with contradictory images of sleep as a vital force that renews life and unburdens care. This paradox thus informs early modern literary depictions of insomnia as a threat to psychosomatic well being that bears repercussions for social and political relations.

Workes of Darkenes’ argues that these early modern literary perspectives both adopted and reworked a “counter-classical” poetics of sleep and insomnia, drawing inspiration largely from Seneca and Ovid. Like their Roman literary and philosophical predecessors, English Renaissance writers looked to cosmology and physics to comprehend the mysteries of sleep and insomnia, and as potential foundations for ethicopolitical life against the grain of major Platonic and Aristotelian models for social order. The stoic hero of Seneca’s Hercules Furens is an unacknowledged inspiration for depictions of struggles with sleep and insomnia, as well as of descents to the underworld in Elizabethan literature; meanwhile, Ovid’s Metamorphoses is replete with subterranean scenes of sleep and sleeplessness that foreground the body’s capacity to overturn securities of rational will and control of the passions. Through their novel conceptions of sleep and insomnia as productive struggles developing the self, Elizabethans also reassessed the Pauline suspicion of sleep and the so-called “workes of darkenes” (Romans 13), which figures heavily in both Augustine’s patristic theology, and in Reformation debates on moral physiology among figures such as Martin Luther and Jean Calvin. By attending to the complex relations among humoral physiology, the metaphysics of perception, sleep, and sleeplessness, “Workes of Darkenes contributes to literary histories of self and social governance that takes the care of living bodies as a primary ethico-political objective.

Rothschild, Nathaniel Amos. (2013). “Learned Professions: Representing Erudition, Masculinity, and Status in Early Modern England.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Web. 29 May 2014.  

This dissertation proposes a new approach to the old subject of education in early modem England. I argue that focusing less on historical forms and institutions of learning, and more on cultural stereotypes of the learned, destabilizes conventional narratives that present Tudor-Stuart pedagogy as a producer of either nascent modem individuals (in the humanist account) or proto-bourgeois subjects (in the Marxist assessment). The period’s complex figures of learning suggest a less tidy alternative: representations of erudite types were deployed to negotiate various and competing positions within entangled social registers of status, masculinity, and selfhood.

Chapter one contends that when foolish pedants suffer violence and humiliation on the early modem stage, it is less often a display of anti-intellectualism than a device whereby one kind of erudition is symbolically expunged to endorse by opposition the social preferment of another. In chapter two, I argue that the early modern “enginer”—a builder of devices and a concocter of plots visible in works as diverse as Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and Bacon’s The Wisedome of the Ancients—was an important discursive stereotype used to construct the unstable cultural significance of learned masculinity. Next, I offer two chapters on early modern magician figures. Chapter three shows that the conjurer was a significant cultural type employed to negotiate contemporary anxieties and aspirations that erudite masculinities might threaten established manhoods of the battlefield and the court—a negotiation dramatized in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and Greene’s Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay. Chapter four discovers in Shakespeare’s The Tempest a tissue of unrecognized allusions to Montaigne’s “Of the Institution and Education of Children”; I demonstrate how this intertextual link suggests that the play engages in a sustained meditation on imitatio and the formation of selves that holds important implications for both the magician Prospero and the author Shakespeare. My final chapter turns to the satires and sermons of John Donne to uncover in early works like “Satire I” developing strategies for engaging the early modern discourses of learnedness that Donne later deploys in the sermons to construct the preacherly persona of Doctor Donne.

Strohman, Anne-Marie Kathleen. (2014). “‘A more natural mother’: Concepts of Maternity and Queenship in Early Modern England.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Web. 29 May 2014.  

Early in her reign, in response to Parliament’s formal requests that she marry and secure the succession, Elizabeth calls herself the “mother of England.” Her metaphorical maternity signals a rhetorical transaction between Elizabeth and her people that stretches across time, space, and genre; writers respond to Elizabeth by modifying the metaphor in order to shape her behavior. Conceptual blending theory, developed by cognitive scientists Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner, provides language to articulate the complexities of Elizabeth’s metaphor—to understand how language, culture, and cognition interact to create and modify meaning.

Furthering the work of critics who analyze Elizabeth’s self-presentation and in light of Amy Cook’s work with conceptual blending theory and theater, this dissertation examines Elizabeth’s maternal metaphor in her speeches and considers Sidney’s Arcadia (c. 1581-82, 1584; published in 1590), Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (c. 1588), and Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590, 1596) as examples of responses to and explorations of Elizabeth’s mother-queen blend. By manipulating the mother-queen metaphor in various ways, these writers urge Elizabeth to fulfill her responsibilities as a figurative mother: first, through actual marriage and motherhood, and later, as Elizabeth’s age led to infertility, by naming an heir. Elizabeth’s attempts to control her image through metaphor were thwarted by the very nature of her method. This examination of her metaphor in the context of imaginative writing reveals the malleability of Elizabeth’s carefully crafted image.

Taylor, Luke. (2013). “Renaissance Error: Digression from Ariosto to Milton.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Web. 29 May 2014.  

Renaissance Error proposes that the formal key to early modern literature is digression. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, writers compose works that persistently imitate moral and cognitive wandering, often in an attempt to remedy such wandering. Their powerful sense of human error springs from the humanist and reformist view of the Middle Ages as a gigantic detour from classical civilisation and from the apostolic Church. This sense deepens as the intellectual disciplines and religious paths of the Renaissance divide. And it culminates in a radical picture of all human desire, thought, and history as continually digressive from beginning to end.

Renaissance Error draws upon an ongoing and cross-disciplinary “rhetorical turn.” Philosophers and historians as well as literary theorists increasingly agree that tropes and figures are not merely verbal but constitute the experience of individuals and even of epochs. Vasari designates his age a time of rebirth, Michelet and Burckhardt popularize his metaphor, and we still use the image today. Other early modern writers, however, feel less oriented to the classical past than disoriented in the present. Their historical experience, constituted through literary digressions, demands the revisionary designation of a “digressive Renaissance.”

In a hitherto uncharted literary genealogy, Renaissance Error links the interwoven tales of medieval romance and the interrupting narrators of the eighteenth-century novel. Individual chapters examine the digressive author (Ariosto, Orlando Furioso), the digressive reader (Spenser, Faerie Queene), digressive literary character (Cervantes, Don Quijote), digressive method (Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy), and digressive history (Milton, Paradise Lost). Throughout, digression enacts a paradoxical triumph. Digression is traditionally a mark of weakness, but in Ariosto becomes evidence of authorial control. Digression is traditionally a synonym for transgression, but in Spenser becomes the means to virtue. Through wandering, Don Quijote gains a lifelike persona. Through rambling, Burton transcends reductive methodologies. Finally, in Milton’s account of the Fall, digression becomes the epitome for all of human history.

Zlatkin, Rachel L. (2013). “Remembering Mothers: Representations of Maternity in Early Modern English Literature.” Proquest Dissertations and Theses. Web. 29 May 2014.  

This psychoanalytic study focuses on representations of the maternal in early modern English literature, beginning with Errour and Glauce in Spenser’s 1596 The Faerie Queene (Books One and Three) before shifting to analyses of the maternal on stage, from Gertrude and Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, to the Duchess, Cariola, and the Old Woman midwife in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, and closing with Hermione in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. The close readings of the literature are contextualized by a study of early modern beliefs surrounding female flesh, pregnancy, foetal development, and childbirth as presented in the medical treatises of the period. While the medical treatises contextualize the literary presentations of maternity, they also provide an introduction to Melanie Klein’s phantastic mother and the development of the paranoid-schizoid position as a mode of human experience. This theoretical frame is further developed in a discussion of object relational theory’s growth through the works of Hanna Segal, D.W. Winnicott, Thomas Ogden, Jessica Benjamin, and, to a certain degree, Julia Kristeva.

As traditional scholarship tends to emphasize the Oedipal over the preOedipal, much of it enacts the same kind of forgetting as the literature itself, erasing the mother’s relevance to contemplations of the body, subjectivity and even dramatic structure. Further, maternal figures are frequently mistaken for the phantasies projected upon them, instead of contemplated as characters in their own right. Arguing that the medical treatises and literature alike participate in the paranoid-schizoid position provides one means to articulating the continued importance of the maternal—beyond a mother’s particular presence on stage. This dissertation explores the male imaginary as it revolves around a maternal body forced to enact its phantasies. It does so in an unyielding effort to dismantle the phantasy and to discover the mother in her difference, or, at the very least, to remember the possibility of that difference so as to contemplate her figure in relation to but not the same as the phantasies she is forced to enact. 


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"Dissertations," Spenser Review 44.1.28 (Spring-Summer 2014). Accessed April 19th, 2024.
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