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(Un)veiling nature : a comparative study of Spenser's poetics in Mutabilitie canto seven Walters, William


This thesis investigates Edmund Spenser's projection of a poetic voice or persona into Mutabilitie Canto VII. I take the perspective that the persona and its poetic are Edmund Spenser's fictions of self-representation and as such are rationalizations of the poetic enterprise as a worthwhile social activity. The thesis consists of two principle divisions: in Chapters II through VI, I investigate the poetic which Spenser, through the persona, links with MC VII; in Chapter VII, I explore how this poetic relates to the practice of the canto. In the first six chapters, I will examine the invocation of the muse in stanzas one and two of Mutabilitie Canto VII, and the representation of Nature in stanza five through nine, in the context of Spenser’s earlier work and the work of other poets and poetic theorists. After a scrutiny of the poetic persona and the terms of his relationship with the muse, I will elucidate the lineaments of the poetic which this material represents by placing the invocation in the context of a series of works: "The Teares of the Muses," "The Shepherdes Calendar," Sallust du Bartas's "L'Uranie," Richard Wills's "De re Poetica," Philip Sidney's "Defense of Poesie," and the writings of the continental theorist, Cristoforo Landino. The invocation emerges from this comparison as a hybrid growth, in which Spenser fuses together elements present but separate in his earlier work, namely the figure of the muse Urania (in "The Teares of the Muses") and the poetics of neoplatonic furor (in the "October Eclogue"). This synthesis represents a move against the poetic program developed by Sidney, and a choice in favour of the poetic of du Bartas's "L'Uranie," and behind this, the poetics of continental neoplatonism. The poetic persona's failed attempt to describe Nature in stanzas 5-9 of Mutabilitie Canto VII ends with his referring the reader to Alan of Lille, who "perform'd the deed so as it ought" (MC 7.9.8). While this seems to suggest the failure of the invocation to gain the poet the skill necessary to describe the events in heaven, in actuality the personal insufficiency which this referral implies is feigned; Spenser's Nature is veiled, a distinct departure from the representation of her by Alan of Lille, Chaucer and other writers who comprise the "School of Alanus" (Oruch 503). By veiling Nature, Spenser is following the poetic expressed in Macrobius' "In Somnium Scipionis." In this work, the initiate of Nature who knows her secrets (that is, who sees Nature unclothed) must, if he wishes to express his knowledge, veil Nature in the garments of allegory and fabulae. Nature's veil vanishes in MC VII after Mutabilitie's long oration which, through its calendar form, expresses all the possibilities of creation "dilated" in time (Heninger 311). The poet represents Nature, indirectly initiating the reader into knowledge of her through the tale of Mutabilitie. Once initiated, the reader is permitted to see the smiling face of Nature. Spenser’s choice of authorities -- Chaucer and Alan -- points the way back to Macrobius. His departure from the practice of those same authorities in veiling Nature is the first clear indication that he is following a Macrobian poetic as far as the representation of Nature is concerned. The poetic principles which emerge from the invocation and the representation of Nature thus complement one another: the poetic persona acquires authority from the muse, and Spenser derives from Macrobius a methodology for the representation of Nature. The focus of the final Chapter is Spenser's use of this poetic to structure the expression of both a crisis of faith and the subsequent resolution of that crisis through a "vision" of the order which underlies the seemingly chaotic universe. The muse makes Spenser's resolution of the crisis valid for the reader, and the poetic methodology of Macrobius provides Spenser with a means of expressing his experience in a manner which initiates the reader in the knowledge that resolves the crisis, only after the reader passes through a process of interpretation.

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