Date of Award

12-2007

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Robert Stillman

Committee Members

Allen Carroll, Heather Hirschfeld, Robert Bast

Abstract

While sixteenth-century citizens of England and the Continent read, interpreted, and appropriated The Book of Revelation for a number of purposes, Edmund Spenser’s primary motivation was to find a source of his poetic theory and practice, as well as his poetic themes and imagery. Spenser began his literary career in 1569 with the anonymous publication of his English translation of Jan van der Noot’s Theatre for Worldlings, which concluded with four sonnets based on scenes from Revelation. My project examines the ways in which Revelation, or Apocalypse as it was frequently called in the period, remained a significant creative fountainhead to Spenser throughout his career, well beyond his initial affiliation with Van der Noot’s work. Though I demonstrate evidence of this claim in a number of Spenser’s poems, my primary focus is upon The Faerie Queene, which is not only an interpretation of Apocalypse, but is also itself an apocalyptic work of literature.

Although scholars have noted Spenser’s allusions to Apocalypse primarily in Books One and Five of The Faerie Queene, my project cites passages and poetic strategies from each of the poem’s seven books in order to demonstrate a more pervasive apocalyptic presence in the work than has been previously thought. My analysis examines The Faerie Queene in the context of the contemporary readings of Revelation prevalent in the poem’s immediate culture, and explores the hermeneutics by which contemporary Reformed readers would have approached the Bible, Revelation in particular, and Spenser’s poem. In addition, this project examines the ways in which Spenser’s poetics utilizes the apocalyptic strategies of recapitulation, intensification, and augmentation.

Like Revelation, Spenser’s work evokes a pious form of cognitive dissonance in its readers, evident in the intensifying complaints of figures in the poem. Ultimately, the dissonance, first experienced by the poet-prophet who sees a transcendent vision yet to be fulfilled, is passed to readers, in whom it fosters the desire for transcendence (otherwise known as faith). Though many exegetes of Revelation in the late sixteenth century promoted absolute mastery of apocalyptic knowledge as a sign of the godly, Spenser, in The Faerie Queene, argues that indeterminacy is the virtue of Apocalypse, and that cognitive dissonance is necessary for the faith of true believers who remain active in the fight, waiting for the End and trusting that their longing for consummate knowledge will one day be fulfilled.

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