Literature and Theatre
Spenser described his allegorical epic to his friend Walter Raleigh as an alternative to straightforward moral and religious teaching. This book seeks to put Spenser’s project in context by introducing readers to Spenser’s reference point—16th century sermons, homilies, and liturgies—particularly their use of biblical types for contemporary individuals and concerns. In contrast to deconstructive, gender-based, or psychoanalytic studies, this book attempts to read The Faerie Queene as its first readers might have done. Sermon studies by A. F. Herr, Peter Blench, Millar MacLure, and Peter McCullough and his collaborators are useful guides; many printed sermons are available on the database Early English Books Online. An outline of the book’s nine chapters and acknowledgements close the introduction.
Preachers had reminded the queen of her own mortality from time to time throughout her reign: Thomas Drant in 1570, Richard Curteys in 1575, the anonymous "L.S." in 1593, and Anthony Rudd in 1596. In the context of the memento mori sermon, the Cantos of Mutabilitie, in particular the two stanzas of the "unperfite" eighth canto, emerges as a nunc dimittis in Elizabeth’s voice, meant to be understood as the queen’s response to Mutabilitie’s challenge and Nature’s vindication of Cynthia. The pun on Sabaoth/Sabbath in the final line echoes a pun in a 1589 Accession Day sermon by Thomas White (Elizabeth/Eloi Sabaoth/Eloi Sabbath), preached and printed while Spenser was in London overseeing the 1590 publication of The Faerie Queen.
When the Spanish invasion force of 1588 met with successful English resistance and disastrous weather, losing thousands of men and 62 of 130 ships, contemporary observers and participants on both sides believed the outcome reflected God’s intervention. English sermons used Bible stories to develop a patriotic and providentialist interpretation of the gathering threat and subsequent Spanish defeat. Sermons before the attempted invasion, by Thomas Drant, Meredith Hanmer, and William Gravet, demonstrate the comparison preachers drew a between Islam and Roman Catholicism (as Spenser created a Muslim sultan to represent the Roman Catholic Spanish threat). Sermons celebrating the English victory, by John Prime, Thomas White, Roger Hackett, and Stephen Gosson, show that Spenser and the preachers drew on the same biblical theme of God’s judgment and motifs of horses, chariot, and hardware.
Edmund Spenser and the first readers of The Faerie Queene routinely heard their national concerns—epidemics, political plotting, recent Tudor history—discussed in biblical terms. This book samples contemporary sermons, homilies, and liturgies to demonstrate that religious rhetoric, with its routine use of biblical types (for Elizabeth, the Spanish threat, and Mary Stuart, among many others) trained Spenser’s original readers to understand The Faerie Queene’s allegorical method. Accordingly, the first three chapters orient the reader to allegorical and typological reading in biblical commentary, occasional liturgies, and sermons. This pulpit literature illuminates many episodes and characters within the poem, and subsequent chapters discuss some of these. For instance, the genealogies Guyon and Arthur discover in Book Two parallel sermon lists of Elizabeth’s kingly forebears as well as biblical commentary on the genealogies provided for Jesus in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Florimell’s adventures in Books Three and Four, like contemporary marriage sermons, develop an allegory of the superiority of marriage over the single state. Likewise, the preachers’ treatment of the Northern Rebellion and the threat posed by Mary Stuart show biblical typology in the service of nationalism, much as the allegory of Book Six finds a way to celebrate Elizabeth’s execution of her cousin. In these cases, as in the Souldan episode, Book Six’s analysis of courtesy, and the Mutability Cantos, Elizabethan religious rhetoric lends support to traditional readings of the poem, indicating that Spenser’s original readers probably found The Faerie Queene less conflicted and subversive than many do today.
Elizabethans thought genealogy offered a key to character, as shown by their analyses of the discrepancies between the lists of Christ’s forebears in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Since spiritual kinship was a criterion for inclu¬sion in such a list, preachers like Richard Curteys and Edwin Sandys demonstrate that Elizabeth’s family tree properly included biblical ancestors. In the chronicle history cantos, Spenser, with a similar concern to capture Elizabeth’s essential nature, provided the queen with spiritually significant ancestors from pre-history and from invention. Awareness of the cultural resources Spenser used in creating (and his first readers used in making sense of) these lists of ancestors relieves us of the burden of distilling a consistent moral and political message from Briton moniments and Antiquitie of Faerie lond.
Allegoresis is interpreting a text written with straightforward literal intent as if it were an allegory. In typology, a literal person or object is treated as an anticipatory example of someone or something to come. The Bible was the most important text subject to this kind of reading, including by New Testament writers. A sampling of commentaries on the parable of the sower (Matthew 13) and the rivalry between Mary and Martha (Luke 10) demonstrates the stability of allegorical readings from the patristic to the early modern era. Although the extent to which the Bible was properly read allegorically was hotly debated in the sixteenth century, even William Tyndale’s practice had much in common with traditional four-fold interpretation. Marginal glosses from the Geneva Bible indicate the general acceptance (and by extension, the transparency) of allegorical reading. Spenser’s use of words like "type," "shadow," "image," and "figure" refer to traditional biblical exegesis, adapting a method familiar to Elizabethans from religious sources.
This chapter examines sermon uses of the image of the sea and the ship to demonstrate that the ocean, for Elizabethans, represented not only a realm of magic and fertility but also the spiritual dangers of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Sermons by Stephen Gosson, Richard Madox, Robert Wilkinson (among others) as well as Geneva Bible illustrations and glosses, provide parallels for Britomart’s lament at III.iv and a key to the moral meaning of the various settings of Florimell’s adventures: her near-rape by the fisherman, imprisonment by Proteus at III.viii-ix, and rescue by Cymoent in IV.xii. The sea setting sharpens the point of narrative references to divine intervention, and the sermons show how these episodes’ sea settings make sense for Spenser’s dramatizing the incompleteness of the single life that propels men and women toward their destiny of married love.
This conclusion presents some closing thoughts on the concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book examines how early moderns linked the fate of the insistently feminised Jerusalem to that of plague-ridden London, known by the start of the seventeenth century as a metropolis, the mother city. In contrast to the definitively masculine anxiety, the book investigates the dynamics of supplication. The book argues for the degree to which the Whore of Babylon in early modern England had captivated Protestant exegetes. It demonstrates that early modern exegetes had a hard time distinguishing between a heroic woman and one who was simply 'froward', mendacious and insubordinate. The book also examines how the proscribed prayer persisted, especially among male lyricists Jonson, Constable and Verstegen. It discusses what was to be done with Catholic tropes that had infused the culture but were now officially proscribed.
This book considers how biblical women were read, appropriated and debated in a wide range of early modern texts. It traverses a range of genres and examines literature written by a variety of confessionally diverse writers. By considering literature intended for assorted audiences, the book showcases the diverse contexts in which the Bible's women were deployed, and illuminates the transferability of biblical appreciation across apparent religious divisions. The book has been split into two sections. Part One considers women and feminine archetypes of the Old Testament, and the chapters gathered in Part Two address the New Testament. This structure reflects the division of Scripture in early modern Bibles and speaks to the contemporary method of reading the Bible from the Old Testament to the New Testament. In spite of this division, the chapters regularly make cross references between the two Testaments highlighting how, in line with the conventions of early modern exegesis, they were understood to exist in a reciprocal relationship. Within each section, the chapters are broadly organised according to the sequential appearance of the women/feminine archetypes in the Bible. The biblical women studied extend from Eve in Genesis to the Whore of Babylon in Revelation. The chapters vary between those that examine dominant trends in appropriation to those that consider appropriations of a particular interest group or individual.
The claustrophobic closeness of life in London was thought to lead to a break-down of conventional morality. Christ's monologue is directly followed by Miriam's even more problematic address, which retrospectively colours Christ's words so that the city's destruction seems an act of pre-meditated violence. In Thomas Nashe's plague pamphlet Christ's Tears over Jerusalem Miriam's cannibalism is a dominant motif both because plague has transformed London into a predatory metropolis and because plague has been caused by the heartless predation of citizens upon each other. While classical examples of parental cannibalism always involve a father consuming their child, Josephus, influenced by the maternal cannibalism of Lamentations, has a mother perform the act. The maternal joys of Jerusalem and the maternal care of God are entwined and ecstatically celebrated at the end of Isaiah. The biblical book, Lamentations performs Jeremiah's lament over Jerusalem in which the sinful, suffering city is insistently female.