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Second Life: The Ruines of Time and the Virtual Collectivities of Early Modern Complaint
Abstract

Abstract:

This essay reads Edmund Spenser’s The Ruines of Time (1591)—an elegy for the Earls of Leicester and Warwick, Sir Philip Sidney, and Sir Francis Walsingham—as a “complaint against the times,” a form of writing known for its critique of contemporary social and political conditions. By representing the poem’s narrator as a solitary figure of mourning situated in a landscape of ruin, the poem articulates its central problem: that the contemporary moment, which is hostile toward the political commitments of the dead (particularly their interventionist Protestantism), renders difficult the poem’s main objective—to provide its subjects with a “second life.” In response to its historical situation, The Ruines of Time imagines a trans-temporal collectivity as the form in which that political project might live again within historical time—a “virtual” second life and collectivity for which the poem, as a complaint, acts as both placeholder and invocation.