Fashioning the imperial commonwealth
in Spenser’s ethics
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Spenser centers his moral project around the virtue ‘magnificence’, positing the expansive and transformative project of empire building as the privileged form of moral agency in a mutable world. Chapter 3 first traces a brief history of the ways in which Elizabethan vernacular and popular moral discourses align magnificence with specifically secular and political imperatives, while privileging the temporal and mutable body as the origin and end of magnificent activity. Such a shift constitutes a basic rift with received Aristotelian accounts of human excellence’s self-transcending orientation, a rift modeled in the narratives of Redcrosse and Arthur. Both of their quests are organized by a recognition that the ultimate scope and teleological orientation of virtue is fundamentally concerned with establishing a politically viable mode of embodied life in historical time, one whose ultimate goal and material instantiation is the imperial commonwealth.

Spenser’s ethics

Empire, mutability, and moral philosophy in early modernity


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