Depicting intellect
‘Experience, though noon auctoritee’
in Renaissance psychologies
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Spenser and Shakespeare also diverge in portraying intellect. Alma’s stately tour strikingly contrasts Lear’s impassioned self-stripping, shedding housing, clothing, and sanity with a shivering fool and demon-haunted beggar on a stormy waste. Alma shows the hierarchic harmony of belly, heart, and brain. Lear distraughtly reacts to raw nature, wounded self-love, anguished severance of bonds. The contrary depiction of intellect is evident in temptings. Spenser’s patterned sinning recaps Eden’s triple tempting, a doctrinal trope so awkwardly used by Shakespeare in Macbeth 4.3 that the scene is often cut. Spenser’s temptings (the Sansboys, Despair, Mammon, Acrasia) learnedly allude to most epic temptings. In striking contrast is the experiential subjectivity and psychic complexity of Shakespeare’s temptations. Divergent use of intellect also appears in moral counsel. Spenserian heroes are educated to achieve virtue, but in books 1-6 moral advice schematically shrinks in scope – intellective authorities in 1 and 2, equivocal passional advisors in 3 and 4, problematic sensate counsel in 5 and 6. (Would this development reverse in books 7-12?) Shakespeare’s moral authorities show a contrary development: early farces of parents and friars (notably Polonius), counselors who grow by suffering in the tragedies, artfully effective counselors in the romances.

Renaissance psychologies

Spenser and Shakespeare


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