The Prince of Rays: Spectacular Invisibility in Spenser's
The Faerie Queene.
Lisa Dickson, University of North British Columbia.
Kepler considered sight to be analogous to a court of law wherein the pictura "is made to appear before the soul or tribunal of the faculty of vision. . ." For Roger Bacon, the light entering the eye was nothing less than an index of grace or sin, for spiritual illumination (lux) found its worldly counterpart in the light perceived by the senses (lumen): "For in the perfectly good the infusion of grace is compared to light incident directly and perpendicularly, since they do not reflect from them grace, nor do they refract it from the straight course which extends along the road of perfection in life. . . . But sinners, who are in mortal sin, reflect and repel from them the grace of God. . . . ."
This is the doctrine of the recta linea, the straight line between subject and object that Alberti called in De pictura the "prince of rays". In Edgerton's words, "the shortest, clearest distance between two points was also the most Christian". For Alberti, the elegant and immutable laws of optics were no less a description of the ideal spiritual order, the principles by which grace was diffused throughout the world. Taken together, these examples of early philosophical thinking about vision and optics point to the inextricable implication of sight in bodily, political and spiritual discourses. This paper will explore the relationship among these domains through an examination of the representation of vision, light and embodiment in Spenser's The Faerie Queene.
Like the recta linea, the monarchical spectacle expresses the power and privilege of a centralizing, reality-shaping presence; perspective paintings presume a single vantage point that literally organizes the representational space, the name, "prince of rays," alluding to the authority of this position: "The perspectival setting itself was to act as a kind of visual metaphor to this superior existence. . .", that is, one of virtu, onore and nobilita. In The Faerie Queene, the sovereign light "Like Phoebus lampe throughout the world doth shine," and sheds "faire beames into [his] feeble eyne" to "raise [the poet's thoughts] too humble and too vile" (Proem 126.96.36.199-5). This light becomes the condition of poetry and a force that transforms the poet's very mind. Like Arthur's shield, a figure for both grace and earthly power, the penetrative spectacle of monarchical presence is effulgent, illuminates all, but cannot itself be gazed upon without a total destruction or refashioning of the self: "And when him list the prouder lookes subdew, / He would them gazing blind, or turn to other hew" (1.7.35). In its ideal manifestation, then, the spectacular sovereign is subject; the observer is subjected. Thus, the text works ostensibly to effect a moral delineation on the ground of vision: on the one hand, moral authority (Gloriana, Astrea, Nature, Arthur's shield) is signified by a spectacular invisibility that places the sovereign principle beyond the objectifying gaze; on the other hand, moral failing (Serena, Lucifera) is marked by exposure of the individual to the gazes of "infinite sorts" (188.8.131.52). I will explore the mechanisms for this delineation and some of the ways that such authorized and authorizing distinctions are subverted by the poem's critique of visual subjection.
The Banality of History in Troilus and Cressida
Andrew Griffin McMaster University.
In this paper, I argue that Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida engages self-consciously and cynically with the logics of humanist historiography. Humanist historiography relies, I argue, on a presumption of a universal human nature, and this imagined universality becomes both a historical and historiographical principle: because human nature is transcultural and transhistorical, history persistently repeats the same patterns. Shakespeare's play, however, offers a particularly bleak vision of that which is naturally shared across history and across cultures: human nature, the play suggests, is characterised by venality, mendacity and narcissism, and these are the facts on which one must rely if one hopes to understand the historical record.
Shakespeare's reproduction of humanist historiographical logics ultimately functions as an affront to many medieval historiographical versions of the Troy story and to the ideological projects to which these histories were yoked. The Troy story had often been used to draw an imagined epic inheritance for early modern Londoners and Britons who traced a lineage through the Roman Brute, to Aeneas and back to Troy. Shakespeare's play, I argue, suggests that this imagined lineage is viable if read as a universal human inheritance, but that it's an inheritance to which few would want to lay claim.
Beggary/Buggery and Oedipal Conflict in Thomas Middleton’s
Patrick J. Cook, George Washington University
The essay offers a re-evaluation of Middleton’s first solo effort for the stage, a “disguised magistrate” play that has generally been considered an immature and awkward example of the sub-genre, especially when compared to its Shakespearean counterpart, Measure for Measure. It is argued that The Phoenix is in fact a remarkably exuberant and complex response to the arrival in 1603 of a new monarch known for his homoerotic practices and absolutist theories. Even in this debut drama, Middleton displays the audacious linkages of social satire and depth psychology that will characterize his later plays, staging for our meditation the conflicted psychodynamics of the early modern state and the early modern theater. With a combination of suggestive wordplay and censor-evading obliquity, the play portrays the legal profession, and by implication the Law centered on the absolutist monarch, as a site of intense sodomitical competition and oedipal conflict. Typically Middletonian as well is the energizing intrusion of the autobiographical into a story focused on the public sphere.
‘Headdie Ryots’ as Reformations: Marlowe’s Libertine
Helga Duncan, Stonehill College
While Marlowe’s drama has frequently been discussed in terms of the playwright’s engagement with early modern theology and religious politics, his erotic poetry is not usually read with questions about religion in late-Elizabethan England in mind. This essay considers Hero and Leander in the context of the English Protestantization process after the watershed year 1580 when the ideological struggle for an English protestant identity was carried out in no small measure within a vibrant early modern milieu of literary experimentation and transformation. At a moment when a Calvinist material culture of salvation rose which reified protestant belief into practical method – through countless handbooks and sermons on confession, comportment, and biblical exegesis, or through xylographic wallpaper for the home – Marlowe articulates an eclectic poetic idiom that explores the possibilities and costs of spiritual freedom. I use the label libertine to define Marlowe’s poetics, because it is one of the key terms of the early modern period with which first and second generation reformers circumscribed religious and socio-sexual license. Above all, the rising material Calvinist culture sought to identify signs of “regeneration,” indications of individual election. I argue that Marlowe parodies and rejects this culture in Hero and Leander. His iconoclastic turn to the miniature erotic narrative to assess questions of religious belief underscores this intent. I examine several key scenes in the poem – Hero’s sacrifice at the temple of Venus, Leander’s encounter with Neptune, and the ambiguous final lines of the poem that rehearse a Faustian scenario of damnation – to argue that Marlowe pits the language of a volatile, unregenerate Ovidian eroticism against a Ramist, morally productive “science” of salvation.
Signifying Nothing? A Secondary Analysis of the Claremont
Gray Scott, University of California, Riverside.
The Claremont Shakespeare Authorship Clinic announced in 1996 that by using a sophisticated array of 51 stylometric tests it had eliminated all the possible anti-Stratfordian claims to the Shakespearean throne. It also cast doubt on Shakespearean ascriptions for three core texts: Titus Andronicus, 3 Henry VI, and the portion of Two Noble Kinsmen normally attributed to Shakespeare. However, the publication of results touched off a series of debates with attribution expert Donald Foster, and in the course of the debate, results were adjusted several times. A few tests, particularly those originally developed by A.Q. Morton, are likely inappropriate for Renaissance texts due to editing conventions. Also, one of the novel tests used by Claremont may be both chronologically biased and redundant with other tests. This project revises and reassesses the clinic's data based on the above concerns, and attempts to determine what sorts of insights might be gleaned from the refined figures, which appear to be robust. Results confirm that while the canonized portions of Two Noble Kinsmen and Pericles may not necessarily fall outside of Shakespeare's profile, 3 Henry VI and Titus Andronicus defy the odds and are probably collaborations. Finally, the refined results suggest it might be worthwhile to examine Marlowe's Edward II more closely for traces of Shakespearean collaboration, since the play performs remarkably well on tests calibrated for Shakespeare's hand - indeed, it outperforms collaborative works like Edward III, 1 Henry VI, Henry VIII, and Timon of Athens, a pattern that begs for explanation.
Marketing Luxury at the New Exchange: Jonson’s Entertainment
at Britain’s Burse and the Rhetoric of Wonder.
Alison Scott, Macquarie University.
Recently rediscovered by James Knowles, The Entertainment at Britain's Burse is generally considered to be an anomaly, a text designed both to entertain royalty and to praise trade. The work of Janette Dillon and, more recently, of David Baker, however, has suggested the broader significance of Jonson's text, and has demonstrated its interplay with important and culturally shifting concepts of the period, particularly those connected with consumption, exchange, and foreign trade. Advancing from those readings, this article offers a reassessment of The Entertainment at Britain's Burse, examining it as an integral but problematic part of Robert Cecil's rather defensive marketing of the New Exchange as a refined centre of luxury; highlighting, therefore, the tensions and ambiguities implicit in the text's "praise" of Cecil and his new venture. Significantly, the article argues that, in its loaded use of the language of discovery and wonder, in its representation of the Shop Master as a Cecilian figure, and in its evocation of the satirical perspective of Jonson's city comedies, Jonson's entertainment undermines Cecil's strategic fashioning of the centre as a place where all is given not for money but for love, at the same time as it duly celebrates the occasion of the king's visit to name the newly completed Exchange. Moreover, the article suggests that this multiplying of perspective is achieved via a play on the paradox of luxury as symbolic of both magnificence and vulgarity, and by a complex, simultaneous stimulating and censuring of the spectator's/potential consumer's acquisitive desire for valuable trifles.
‘My Souls Anatomiste’: Richard Baxter, Katherine Gell and
Letters of the Heart.
Alison Searle Queen Mary, University of London.
Early modern understandings of the 'heart' were shaped by the Galenic model, the scientific discoveries of William Harvey and the King James Version of 1611; there are significant continuities between the 'heart-workings' described in Puritan sermons and letters and Samuel Richardson's fictional representation of the complexities of the heart in Clarissa. Personal letters offered women the opportunity to combine the moral obligation to be social with the need to maintain a sense of self by assessing experience, establishing the narratable quality of their existence and the accountability of the writer. These issues are explored through a close reading of the correspondence of the Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter (1615-91) with Katherine Gell and other women. The letters evidence a shared understanding of the role of the pastor as an anatomist and physician, exploring the thoughts and intents of the heart. They also demonstrate the importance of sensibility in Puritan religious experience and its potential, through the application of Lockean categories, to be transformed into an aesthetic response analogous to a spiritual 'sense of the heart.' Letters as a genre facilitate reciprocity, inviting correspondents to engage in 'the challenge of dialogue.' The women who write to Baxter are equally involved in the meaning-making possibilities implicit within such exchanges. They often initiate the correspondence; extend networks of communication between ministers; influence ecclesiastical developments, and give advice to Baxter about the nature of his future publications. To this extent the personal letter can be seen to open a limited public sphere which these women shape and access.
© 2006-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).