Date of Award

12-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

English

Major Professor

Robert E. Stillman

Committee Members

Heather Hirschfeld, Anthony Welch, Robert Sklenar

Abstract

This study aims to illuminate a new aesthetic in the shorter poems of Edmund Spenser. I introduce the concept of Elizabethan neoteric poetry as a method of describing the set of poetic values that inform these poems. Spenser’s shorter poems are puzzling to critics because of their peculiar style, and because they deviate from the traditional rota Virgilii, or laureate career trajectory in which the poet progresses from pastoral eclogue, to didactic georgic, and finally to epic. This model is complicated considerably by the peculiar pastoral innovation of the Shepheardes Calender (1579), as well as Spenser’s return, late in his career, to the composition of highly experimental shorter verse in the Complaints (1591), The Daphnaida (1591), and The Mutabilitie Cantos (1609). Although the influence of Virgil and Ovid has been previously established in these poems, this study claims it is a more useful exercise to read them alongside the work of the late Augustan poet Catullus. Catullus’s literary circle looked to the work of the ancient Alexandrian scholar-poets for their literary models, particularly Callimachus, Theocritus, and Euphorian. As such, their “epyllia” or “minor epics” interpret shorter selections from Homeric epic with an eye to erudition, craftsmanship, elegance of phrase, brevity of form, and stylistic polish. These “neoterics” or “new poets” were the avante-garde literati of their age; thus, it is curious that Spenser announces himself as the “new Poete” at the outset of the Shepheardes Calender, and then proceeds to declare a generically experimental poetic programme that relies on radical opposition, difference, and fragmentation. Neoteric poetry takes the form of an epyllion and is written in a “plaintive” voice. Its subject is art and the artistic process, and it exhibits an ornate and ostentatious style that highlights the artificiality or “thingliness” of the materials of poetry. This calling attention to the dissonance in the space between sign and referent, is at the heart of Spenser’s defiant creation of an entirely new genre or literary “kind.”

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