Strange paths and perspective glasses
in Edmund Spenser and the romance of space
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This chapter analyses how early modern works of cosmography and navigation employ literary techniques for didactic purposes and examines the ways in which reading their strategic rhetoric offers a parallel project to reading Spenser’s own fashioning of space and myth. The chapter focuses on self-consciously literary moments found in two works that deal with spaces which are particularly difficult to imagine, namely the cosmos in William Cuningham’s The Cosmographical Glasse (1559) and the sea and shore in Lucas Janzoon Waghenaer’s The Mariners Mirrour (1584; trans. 1588). The chapter establishes the role that spatial motifs and metaphors, including the figure of the labyrinth and the perspective glass, play in questions of interpretative difficulty, and this informs the chapter’s approach to Spenser’s use of allegory, and his interest in error in particular. The contrasting approaches of Cuningham and Waghenaer to their subjects also opens up a debate concerning the relative values of abstraction and experience, and hints at the participation of technical writing in a spatial imaginary shaped by the epic mode. The chapter as a whole uses the presentation of the navigational and cosmographical contextual material to address the generative quality of error in the first book of The Faerie Queene.

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