The Reformation of the Subject: Spenser, Milton and the English Protestant Epic.
Gregerson's analysis of this second strategy begins with Britomart's gaze into Merlin's mirror, where she first sees likeness (her own reflection), then likeness in difference, Arthegall. Prompted by Glauce and Merlin, Britomart learns to be drawn away from the mirror by desire for the image she finds there, impelled into the world, into action, and ultimately into epic (and British) dynastic history. The potentially Narcissistic image (static and sterile), rightly read as an image pointing beyond itself, becomes a generative motivating force. By contrast, Malbecco mistakes both Hellenore and his wealth as ends in themselves rather than as paths to God, generation, or public commerce, sequestering both along with himself, and in this idolatrous misreading becomes himself an icon, both a sign of jealousy and the thing itself. Milton also begins with a scene of potential (idolatrous) Narcissism, Eve at the smooth lake. She, too, is taught to see her reflection in the lake as an image of something beyond herself, namely Adam, who is in turn the image of God. The cautionary antitype of this mirroring triad is the incestuous family of Satan, Sin, and Death.
As her choice of paradigmatic moments suggests, Gregerson's analysis draws liberally on Lacan, which she interweaves with other theorists and a range of Renaissance discourses to extend this analysis into complex and sophisticated exploration: of the construction of the poetic subject, the reading subject, and the political subject; of the function of gender and erotic subjectivity in these constructions; and of the use and reformation Spenser and Milton undertake of the epic genre. Her range of both theoretical and historical resources is broad, and her deployment of them is impressively apt at every turn. At times her excursions into terrain such as Essex's self-fashioning and ultimate self-destruction end with their resonances in the poems implied rather than explicitly summarized. This perhaps befits her topic (the impulse for quick and easy encapsulation being a form of the impulse to idolize), but it does render a summation of the full range of her study difficult. Along the way she revisits a number of recurrent strains in Spenser and Milton criticism, such as the status of Petrarchan discourse in both poems, Milton's much-debated misogyny, and the problematic relation of the imperialist Spenser to the regicide Milton. Not every student of Spenser or Milton will agree with every point, but the scope and intelligence of Gregerson's book will make it interesting to scholars of all persuasions and, more importantly, will stimulate their own re-reading of the poems - a process both Spenser and Milton would approve of.
MARY R. BOWMAN Pikeville College
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|Author:||Bowman, Mary R.|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1997|
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