Abstract

Edmund Spenser’s poetry is teeming with rogues—false beggars, vagabonds, and other figures of similar disrepute—but his work is rarely discussed in the context of Tudor vagrancy law or rogue literature. This article situates Spenser’s persistent interest in rogues throughout his career among contemporary debates over vagrancy, examining its role and function in his allegorical poetics. Spenser is attracted to these figures, I argue, precisely on account of the characteristics that earned them the opprobrium of so many Elizabethans: their associations with idleness and disguise, as well as their skillful capacity for complicating moments or sites of interpretive difficulty by way of rhetoric or simulation. Whereas vagrants frustrated Tudor authorities who desired clear and stable markers distinguishing the deserving poor from sturdy beggars, the rogue offered Spenser a compelling figure of hermeneutic instability, an allegorical personage dramatizing the perils of reading. In fact, vagrants often appear in Spenser’s work in the context of rhetoric or poetry, which lends his own verse a sense of complicity with these popular criminals, as if Spenser acknowledges that the poet is a close cousin of (and perhaps fellow cozener with) the rogue.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-0383
Print ISSN
0039-3738
Pages
pp. 546-576
Launched on MUSE
2016-08-12
Open Access
No
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