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The Pain of Reformation:Spenser, Vulnerability, and the Ethics of Masculinity

Spenser, Vulnerability, and the Ethics of Masculinity

Joseph Campana Assistant Professor of English Rice University

Publication Year: 2012

The Pain of Reformation argues that Edmund Spenser's 1590 Faerie Queene represents an extended meditation on emerging notions of physical, social, and affective vulnerability in Renaissance England. Histories of violence, trauma, and injury have dominated literary studies, often obscuring vulnerability, or an openness to sensation, affect, and aesthetics that includes a wide range of pleasures and pains. This book approaches early modern sensations through the rubric of the vulnerable body, explores the emergence of notions of shared vulnerability, and illuminates a larger constellation of masculinity and ethics in post-Reformation England.Spenser's era grappled with England's precarious political position in a world tense with religious strife and fundamentally transformed by the doctrinal and cultural sea changes of the Reformation, which had serious implications for how masculinity, affect, and corporeality would be experienced and represented. Intimations of vulnerability often collided with the tropes of heroic poetry, producing a combination of defensiveness, anxiety, and shame. It has been easy to identify predictably violent formations of early modern masculinity but more difficult to see Renaissance literature as an exploration of vulnerability.The underside of representations of violence in Spenser's poetry was a contemplation of the precarious lives of subjects in post-Reformation England. Spenser's adoption of the allegory of Venus disarming Mars, understood in Renaissance Europe as an allegory of peace, indicates that The Faerie Queene is a heroic poem that militates against forms of violence and war that threatened to engulf Europe and devastate an England eager to militarize in response to perceived threats from within and without. In pursuing an analysis, disarmament, and redefinition of masculinity in response to a sense of shared vulnerability, Spenser's poem reveals itself to be a vital archive of the way gender, violence, pleasure, and pain were understood.

Published by: Fordham University Press


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Title Page and Copyright

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pp. vii-vii

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pp. ix-x

Writing accumulates not merely words but also debt—happily so.
Since this is a study of a poem characterized by errancy, it was inevitable that its development would be characterized by straying through a variety of times, places, and institutions. My fascination with . . .

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pp. 1-43

Perhaps nothing says more about a poet than praise lavished by that poet upon a predecessor. “Sage and serious” was how John Milton, in Areopagitica, characterized Edmund Spenser, perhaps his greatest . . .

Part I The Legend of Holiness

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pp. 45-45

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Chapter 1 Reading Bleeding Trees: The Poetics of Other People's Pain

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pp. 47-74

Near the opening of the Legend of Holiness, that legend’s exemplary figure, the Redcrosse Knight, plucks a branch from a tree in a dark wood to fashion a garland for his ill-chosen beloved, . . .

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Chaper 2 Spenser’s Dark Materials: Representation in the Shadow of Christ

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pp. 75-104

Idolatry haunts the history of poetry. In his treatise on the genealogies of the pagan gods, Boccaccio traces the art of this “fervid and exquisite invention,” poetry, to one of three primal scenes: the . . .

Part II The Legend of Temperance

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pp. 105-105

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Chpter 3 On Not Defending Poetry:Spenser, Suffering, and the Energy of Affect

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pp. 107-128

The history of poetry is a history of apology. Early modern English writers, faced with a brave new world of anxieties about the value, validity, and cultural uses of poetry, produced myriad literary . . .

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Chapter 4 Boy Toys and Liquid Joys:Pleasure and Power in the Bower of Bliss

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pp. 129-159

Early in Edmund Spenser’s Th e Faerie Queene, the Redcrosse Knight, just having departed the House of Pride, rests by a fountain “Disarmed all of yron-coted Plate” (1.7.2). The duplicitous Duessa will . . .

Part III The Legend of Chastity

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pp. 169-169

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Chapter 5 Vulnerable Subjects: Amoret’s Agony,Britomart’s Battle for Chastity

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pp. 163-203

Florimell, who is betrothed to the knight Marinell, bursts onto the scene of the Legend of Chastity chased by “a griesly foster” (3.1.17) and a series of knights, including Arthur, the exemplar of magnificence, the sum . . .

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Chapter 6 Damaged Gods: Adonis and the Pain of Allegory

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pp. 204-223

The figure of Mars disarmed by Venus represented for Renaissance artists and thinkers a potent allegory of peace, one rooted in the intimacy of erotic vulnerability. If, as I have argued, the 1590 . . .

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pp. 225-237

The Faerie Queene opens with an act of disarmament. Although the poem confi rms its affiliation with the heroic by trumpeting “Fierce warres and faithfull loues,” it also lays claim to the power of love to . . .


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pp. 239-273


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pp. 274-286

E-ISBN-13: 9780823249527
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823239108
Print-ISBN-10: 0823239101

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 8
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 821725660
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Pain of Reformation:Spenser, Vulnerability, and the Ethics of Masculinity

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Spenser, Edmund, 1552?-1599. Faerie queene.
  • Masculinity in literature.
  • Senses and sensation in literature.
  • Ethics in literature.
  • Reformation -- England.
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