Spenser Studies: A Renaissance Poetry Annual.
This kind of tool is helpful for textual and bibliographical studies and manifestly forms the basis for some of the critical judgments that Spenserians make about the relationship between the two editions of The Faerie Queene, and about Spenser as - among other things - editor of his own texts and manipulator of language and poetic personae. These concerns are evident in some of the eleven essays that make up Spenser Studies, Volume 10, for example, Paula Blank's essay on language in the Shepheardes Calender. Blank argues that Spenser included elements of northern English dialect in order to enhance the sense of the foreignness of the text and to present himself as an outsider, a position that is then endowed with poetic power. The view of Spenser as a canny manipulator of audience and poetic voice is shared by Wayne Erickson in his essay on the Letter to Ralegh. One of the most polemical and interesting in the collection, the essay reads the Letter not as a key to understanding The Faerie Queene, but as a web of social gestures that placate, flatter, and preempt criticism, especially in relation to the Queen and the court. While not New Historicist in its procedures, the essay does engage with New Historicism, especially with Stephen Greenblatt's notion of self-fashioning. The attention to self-fashioning and subjectivity is the only recurrent idea from recent criticism to inform the volume as a whole. Although the essays are scholarly, informative, and contribute their erudition to our fuller understanding of Renaissance literature, the collection as a whole is curiously timeless, abstracted from recent debates and sequestered from theoretical storms.
This description does not hold true for the first and last essays in the volume, however. A. Kent Hieatt opens the collection with a piece designed to rectify two prevalent and, according to Hieatt, misguided assumptions. Both ideas concern the relationship between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; in the first, most recently exemplified by Thomas Greene's The Light in Troy, the Renaissance had a rich and tragic sense of the past, whereas the Middle Ages is characterized as lacking a sense of history. The second, related notion, which has become a major topic of critical controversy, claims that the Renaissance witnessed the birth of individual consciousness, which radically distinguished it from a medieval corporate self that supposedly lacked an awareness of individuality. For his passionately argued rebuttal of this view, Hieatt targets Stephen Greenblatt's Renaissance Self-Fashioning. While he uses his considerable erudition and his ironic wit to demonstrate the wrong-headedness of the idea, the essay is marred at times by his deployment of knowledge as an absolute and as a weapon, by his defensiveness about his own historical situation ("someone of my generation" ), and by his invocation of a coterie audience (the reiterated "you and I"), whose agreement he takes as a given.
The collection concludes with an impressive feminist and Marxist piece by Elizabeth Fowler. In her study of Skelton's "The Tunnyng of Elynour Rummynge," she addresses the commodification of female sexuality and the overwhelmingly economic argument of the poem. She claims that Skelton sought to dismantle medieval personification allegory through his experimentation with the representation of person; his liberation of voice from its embodiment in conventional, personified form shows the "violent, gendered" (269) nature of social agency. Fowler's essay thus seems to put into eloquent practice what Hieatt's piece preaches: she sketches a complex continuum of representations of poetic selves that moves from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. In this line, Skelton holds a crucial place, one to which Spenser is heir. The essays in Spenser Studies, while preserving many of the conventional strategies (and pieties) of Renaissance criticism, nevertheless engage either obliquely or directly with some recent critical trends, displaying in the process both how much remains constant and the emerging new shapes of interpretation.
Elizabeth D. Harvey UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN ONTARIO
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|Author:||Harvey, Elizabeth D.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1995|
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