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Emergent Discourses of Difference in Spenser's Faerie Queene

by Goodrich, Jean Nowakowski.

Abstract (Summary)
“Emergent Discourses of Difference in Spenser's Faerie Queene” argues that Spenser's project of fashioning " a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline " is in fact a project to define both an English literary and national identity. Yet his idea of faerie which expresses this Englishness is based upon the perception of difference as dangerous and monstrous. While Spenser's faerie is romanticized and politicized, the nature of its threat to the Christian hero is expressed in emerging discourses of anxiety concerning racial, sexual, and class differences, discourses which continue to inform English/British identity well into the age of empire. Although the medieval romance which influenced Spenser presents faerie as an aristocratic ideal, Spenser also borrows from an older, more popular conception of faerie as inherently dangerous, perhaps even predatory. Spenser's use of popular faerie folklore may be read as either an " imperial " appropriation or an instance of the shaping power of popular culture to influence the hegemonic discourse of Elizabethan courtliness, gentility, and the power of the (female) monarch. Spenser's depiction of the lower classes is more complex than the ubiquitous " many-headed monster " so commonly represented by his contemporaries. In turn, Spenser's use of folklore provides an interpretative lens with which to view Spenser's depiction of Elizabeth Tudor as the Faerie Queene, suggesting that the female body and female sexuality present a source of danger both to the titular heroes of the work and to the idealized Christian hero, Arthur. I contend that Spenser's depiction of Elizabeth as Gloriana is not as complementary as it seems. Further, Edmund Spenser was 8 writing at a time of an emergent discourse of race difference applied to Africans and Native Americans, a discourse which manifests itself in Spenser's work as a racialization of the Irish and the " paynim " enemies that challenge his heroes. The Faerie Queene demonstrates Spenser's anxiety for the corruptive effects of the uncivilized and " unworthy, " the non-white/non-English, and the non-Protestant Other, including the female witch. Both the inhabitants of faerie and the Faerie Queene herself represent the anxieties at the source of what Spenser defines as English. 9
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School:The University of Arizona

School Location:USA - Arizona

Source Type:Master's Thesis

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