Literature and Theatre

Open Access (free)

Steve Sohmer

Elizabethan writers frequently complained about what we call ‘close reading’, i.e., that their readers imputed seditious and/or scandalous intentions to the author. We take a close look at this practice, and how it should influence our reading of Shakespeare today.

Open Access (free)

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Sukanta Chaudhuri

Pastoral is one of the few literary modes whose genesis can be clearly traced. While poems reworking pristine rustic experience might have existed earlier, the pastoral mode as now recognized originated with the Greek poet Theocritus in the third century BCE. More correctly put, Theocritus provided a model that others followed to create the mode.

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Epilogue

Personal Shakespeare

Steve Sohmer

This chapter summarizes the thesis of the book: that William Shakespeare was a far more personal writer than scholars have recognized.

Open Access (free)

Steve Sohmer

This chapter endorses the identification of Emilia Bassano Lanier as the ‘Dark Lady’ of Shakespeare’s Sonnets … and the inspiration of Jessica in The Merchant of Venice.

Open Access (free)

Steve Sohmer

This chapter explains why Twelfth Night must begin with 1.2 rather than 1.1, and cites eighteenth- to nineteenth-century productions as conclusive evidence.

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Unusual staff

The archaeology of the Spenserian stanza

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Richard Danson Brown

The argument of this chapter is that during the 1590s the Spenserian stanza was a new and controversial poetic technology. This involves recontextualising the Spenserian in terms of the dominant stanza forms of the sixteenth century. At the heart of this chapter is an analysis of the way in which Spenser’s form relates to the sixain, rhyme royal, and ottava rima, which focuses on the decision to design a stanza which is both interlaced and of an odd number of lines. Such work entails detailed comparisons with writers like Southwell, Drayton, and Shakespeare. The chapter also stresses the new and radical permissive syntax which is paradoxically fostered by the Spenserian as a restrictive stanza form.

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Uncommon lines

Lineation and metre

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Richard Danson Brown

This chapter argues that literary historians have underestimated the extent of Spenser’s radicalism, particularly in terms of the related phenomena of line and metre. The chapter begins with an exploration of the role played by such features in literary history, arguing that change in poetic fashion is not best understood through the evolutionary metaphors advanced by previous scholars. It then surveys a broad range of contexts for the verse of The Faerie Queene in English, including work by Tusser, Skelton, Phaer and Churchyard. Spenser’s verse emerges from this work as assimilative and flexible in its relationship to tradition, adapting and adopting old forms but almost invariably with an experimental twist. This aspect is underscored by comparisons with later poets.

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Spacious ways

Narratives and narrators

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Richard Danson Brown

The concluding chapter looks at narrative structure selectively and in the light of various different contexts. In the first place, it looks at the conflicting reception histories of the poem, and the problematics of organising a long and symbolic work as articulated by theorists from Tasso onwards. It then considers the structure of the individual books of The Faerie Queene through a diagrammatic comparison of Books I and VI, before finally turning to a discussion of the narrator as a potential unifying figure within the poem.

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Proportionable returns

Rhyme, meaning and experience

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Richard Danson Brown

This chapter considers Spenser’s rhymes in relation to a variety of contexts: sixteenth-century debate about rhyme, the practice of Chaucer, Spenser’s fondness for morphological distortion. Throughout, it is suggested that Spenser’s rhymes are semantic and meaningful in terms of the broader symbolic agendas of his poem. The first section discusses Spenser’s rhyming practice through a close reading of Merlin’s prophecy (The Faerie Queene Book III Canto iii), while the second describes Spenser’s rhyming relationship with Chaucer through a re-reading of his completion of ‘The Squire’s Tale’ in Book IV. The final section explores rhyme as a trope of recurrence, even to the extent of ‘reuolt’ and self-correction, through the example of Britomart’s entrance to Busirane’s enchanted castle in III.xi.

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Introduction

Tightrope walking in an afflicted style

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Richard Danson Brown

The introduction outlines the theoretical approach taken in the book as a whole, situating its arguments both in the practice of close reading and in Shklovsky’s thinking about the artificially distanced nature of poetic language. It considers the relationships between formalist and historicist approaches to Renaissance poetry and Spenser in particular in the light of 21st-century trends in criticism.