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

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

by Joseph Campana


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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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780823239108
Publisher: Fordham University Press
Publication date: 05/01/2012
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Joseph Campana is Alan Dugald McKillop Chair and Associate Professor at Rice University. He is the author of The Pain of Reformation: Spenser, Vulnerability, and the Ethics of Masculinity (Fordham, 2012), which won the South Central MLA Book Prize, and two collections of poetry, The Book of Faces (Graywolf, 2005) and Natural Selections (Iowa, 2012), which won the Iowa Poetry Prize. His essays have appeared in PMLA, Modern Philology, ELH, Shakespeare, Shakespeare Studies, and elsewhere. He is currently completing two studies, The Child’s Two Bodies, which considers children and sovereignty in the works of Shakespeare, and Bee Tree Child, which explores scale, multiplicity, plasticity, and other new rubrics for calibrating the relationship between human and non-human worlds in the Renaissance.

Table of Contents

List of Figures vii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

Part 1 The Legend of Holiness

1 Reading Bleeding Trees: The Poetics of Other People's Pain 47

2 Spenser's Dark Materials: Representation in the Shadow of Christ 75

Part II The Legend of Temperance

3 On Not Defending Poetry: Spenser, Suffering, and the Energy of Affect 107

4 Boy Toys and Liquid Joys: Pleasure and Power in the Bower of Bliss 129

Part III The Legend of Chastity

5 Vulnerable Subjects: Amoret's Agony, Britomart's Battle for Chastity 163

6 Damaged Gods: Adonis: and the Pain of Allegory 204

Conclusion 225

Notes 239

Index 275

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