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Edmund Spenser: New and Renewed Directions.

J. B. Lethbridge, ed. Edmund Spenser: New and Renewed Directions.

Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2006. 386 pp. index. illus. $55. ISBN: 0-8386-4066-4.

The introduction to this collection reports that Spenser studies are showing "signs of a resurgence of historical criticism" (15)--though the resurgence is decades old by now and seems, in fact, somewhat in recession these days. In the fifteen articles and conference papers abstracted in the first 2006 Spenser Review, reception, gender, and material-cultural studies seem to have displaced the preoccupations with Elizabethan politics familiar from the 1980s and 1990s. The introduction may be saying that Spenser scholars now eschew new historicism for "a more genuine historical practice"; however, a footnote cautions that even "this formulation is probably too absolute" (16). This is not to detract from the value of individual essays in the collection, originating in a conference held several years ago near Kilcolman, only to suggest that, like most collections of such papers, they are less programmatic than the introduction implies, except perhaps in their occasional suspicions of "new historicism."

J. B. Lethbridge provides a lengthy bibliographical essay reviewing historical studies of Spenser since the late 1970s, including such diverse topics as textual studies, sources, and religious background. His pages bristle with informative footnotes. The survey of scholarship leads him to consider questions raised by perceived trends. What distinguishes old from new historicism? What can account for differences between literature and other texts? Does theory inevitably subvert history? How is utterance tied to context? The last question receives John Moore's attention in the ensuing essay on The Shepheardes Calender, a text Moore has studied fruitfully in the past. Viewing the eclogues in their religious aspect, he finds God alternatively beneficent, hostile, demanding, and finally, in the last two poems, appearing as "an actively providential deity" (60). This resolution of the sequence follows the "harvest poems" ("August" to "October"), in which poets who lack the wisdom to comfort themselves cannot serve others. On the whole, Moore argues, the Calender presents Spenser as a major religious poet of the English Reformation. Religion rears its head again in Thomas Herron's "Muiopotmos and Irish Politics." Conscientiously surveying previous readings of the poem, Herron identifies careless Clarion as Sir John Perrot, imprisoned for Catholic intrigues in Ireland.

Of the seven essays on The Faerie Queene, three have been published previously: Andrew King's piece on the "medieval" structure of the poem (appearing in the 2001 Review of English Studies); Syrthie Pugh's "Acrasia and Bondage: Guyon's Perversion of the Ovidian Erotic in book 2 of The Faerie Queene," which repeats a chapter in her Spenser and Ovid (2005); and Catherine Addison's contribution on the Spenserian stanza, available in The Southern African Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies (2002).

A sensitive reading of a historically sensitive episode in book 4 is Graham Atkin's "Raleigh, Spenser, and Elizabeth: Acts of Friendship." Building on Roche's insights, Atkin explicates the Timias-Belphoebe reconciliation, showing traits shared between the woeful squire and the mediating dove. Several restored friendships of this book participate in "the larger, cosmic, confluence of loving matter." James Nohrnberg's seventy-two-page essay defies easy summary. Allegory is a colonial project in which the colonist becomes the colonized: the consequences of Diana-Elizabeth's anger at the upstart Faunus-Irish somehow emerge in the poet's own last years of life (which are the subject of another essay by Lethbridge, dating the Mutabilitie Cantos after 15 October 1598). Nohrnberg interweaves a study of the complementarities and literary-iconographical traditions of the Britomart-Amoret-Scudamour-Busirane story that ends books 3 and 4. (Don't miss the page-and-a-half, small-print footnote that chases the rabbit Medusa from Petrarch to Milton.) Nohrnberg's monographlet is alone worth the price of the book. E. A. F. Porges Watson's "Mutabilitie's Debatable Land: Spenser's Ireland and the Frontiers of Faerie" is somewhat misleading in its subtitle. Watson sees Mutabilitie as the retrospective close of the whole poem, looking back especially to book 1. For the sake of the argument, one longs for at least mention of, if not engagement with, some of the important criticism on this subject, such as the work of Berger and Teskey. The collection ends strongly with Richard Danson Brown's study of Spenser's influence on Louis MacNeice, especially the later poems. Containing a comparative digression on Seamus Heaney's adverse views, it is valuable for anyone interested in Spenser's modern reception.


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Author:Hardin, Richard F.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2007
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