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Spenser's Legal Language

Spenser's Legal Language: Law and Poetry in Early Modern England

Andrew Zurcher
Volume: 23
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81rr1
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  • Book Info
    Spenser's Legal Language
    Book Description:

    Both English language and English political life underwent unprecedented change in the sixteenth century, creating acute linguistic and legal crises that, in Elizabeth I's later years, intersected in the pioneering poetry of Edmund Spenser. This volume explores Spenser's linguistic experimentation and his engagement with political, and particularly legal, thought and language in his major works, demonstrating by thorough lexical analysis and illustrative readings how Spenser figured the nation both descriptively and prescriptively. As a study of the language of 'The Faerie Queene', the book restores Spenser to his rightful place as a bold but scholarly linguistic innovator, the equal of contemporaries such as Skelton, Shakespeare, Nashe, and Donne. As an enquiry into Spenser's interest in contemporary politics and law, it exposes his serial and contentious engagements in contemporary political theory and practice, and indicates his substantial influence on his contemporaries and successors. Spenser emerges in this book as a poet peculiarly preoccupied with fashioning, or `applying', his reader to the lawful use of words and deeds. ANDREW ZURCHER is Tutor and Director of Studies in English at Queens' College Cambridge.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-595-6
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ABBREVIATIONS AND CONVENTIONS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 INTRODUCTION: READING SPENSER’S LANGUAGE
    (pp. 1-16)

    ARCHIMAGO, the Enchanter plotting to separate the knight of the Redcrosse from his companion, Una, has already by Book I, canto ii of The Faerie Queene made a first attempt. Summoning a dream from hell, and joining to it the manage of a ‘faire-forged Spright’, he has toiled Redcrosse’s brain with a vision of Una’s wantonness, but to no effect. Remarshalling his powers, he creates of the same dream and spirit a waking vision, to which, arousing Redcrosse from his bed, he urges him. The three stanzas in which Spenser narrates this seminal event provide a representative example of the...

  6. Chapter 2 ‘PLEASING ANALYSIS’: RENAISSANCE HERMENEUTICS, POETRY, AND THE LAW
    (pp. 17-49)

    MY CLAIMS for the density of Spenser’s verbal and rhetorical play, and for our responsibility to situate interpretations of his work historically within early modern habits of reading, depend on a prevailing culture of reading that Spenser might have expected would be receptive to his artifice: for better or worse, a writer writes for readers. In this chapter, I turn to extant evidence both of how sixteenth-century readers read, and of how they thought they read, towards the construction of a historically legitimate set of reading practices for our approach to The Faerie Queene. From the rhetorical and pedagogical theorists...

  7. Chapter 3 RESULTS: A SURVEY OF SPENSER’S LEGAL DICTION
    (pp. 50-88)

    THE RESULTS of this investigation into the legal diction of Spenser’s poetry are surprising in their breadth and extent. In all, over a thousand words of legal or quasi-legal semantic valence can be identified in The Faerie Queene, touching on topics as diverse as land tenure, piracy, and debt, and ranging from the earliest cantos of Book I to the final stanzas of the Cantos of Mutabilitie. In the shorter poems, Spenser’s preoccupation with legal ideas and language is no less marked: from the early translations of A Theatre for Worldlings, through the experiments in complaint in Mother Hubberds Tale,...

  8. Chapter 4 PROPERTY AND CONTRACT IN THE QUESTS OF FLORIMELL AND AMORET
    (pp. 89-122)

    MARRIAGE is one of the foremost narrative elements of The Faerie Queene. It recurs as a focal point in every book of the poem, and nearly every episode invokes a marriage promised, performed, or betrayed. The study of marriage themes in Spenser’s poetry is almost equally copious, but to date has, curiously, avoided addressing the broader political overtones of this emphasis in Spenser’s work. Attention to the poet’s use of legal language suggests that marriage figures in The Faerie Queene as only one manifestation – though an important one – of a more general preoccupation with social bonds and contract....

  9. Chapter 5 JUSTICE, EQUITY AND MERCY IN THE LEGEND OF ARTEGALL
    (pp. 123-152)

    THE CENTRAL terms of Book V, around which turn the many episodes and themes of the book, are justice, equity, and mercy. These terms are associated with Artegall, the knight of justice, at important stages of his quest: he is initially introduced not only as the ‘instrument’ of ‘iustice’ (V.proem.11), but as the pupil of the goddess Astraea, who has trained him ‘to weigh both right and wrong / In equall balance’ and ‘equitie to measure out along / According to the line of conscience’ (V.i.7). He is later known to Guyon as ‘our judge of equity’, and is rescued...

  10. Chapter 6 COURTESY AND PREROGATIVE IN THE LEGEND OF SIR CALIDORE
    (pp. 153-182)

    THE LEGEND of Artegall shows interventionist equity doing what it does best – intervening – in situations where each of the parties in dispute has a justifiable basis in one or another of the various codes (natural, divine, human) governing civil life. However, this kind of interventionism costs Artegall, like his sometime-antecedent Lord Grey, a good deal of trouble. Prematurely recalled by Gloriana from the ‘saluage Island’, Artegall is harassed by a pair of hags, Envy and Detraction, and set upon by the Blatant Beast. The cause of their onslaught, beyond the inherently malicious disposition of such figures, is not...

  11. Chapter 7 THE COMPOSITION OF THE WORLD: MANAGING POWER IN THE TWO CANTOS OF MUTABILITIE
    (pp. 183-202)

    THE POLITICAL allegory of Books III to VI of The Faerie Queene shows Spenser raising his gaze from the social (friendship, contract), through the consensual institutions of government (justice, equity, the courts), to the sovereign (prerogative, executive power). The Two Cantos of Mutabilitie, in turn, act as a kind of coda to the poem as a whole, providing not only a case study in the ‘virtues’ of government, but a historical and jurisprudential view of the policy needed to coordinate these virtues into a cohering, effective system.¹ Spenser’s gathering focus on Ireland reaches its peak in these cantos, as the...

  12. Chapter 8 LYRIC OPPOSITION IN SPENSER, SHAKESPEARE, AND DONNE
    (pp. 203-231)

    SPENSER was not the first to combine legal thought with a literary imagination; in the sixteenth century alone, the works of Skelton, More, Rastell, Heywood, Bale, and Sidney all contain occasional legal elements, and the English medieval tradition of legal literature is in some ways even stronger.¹ The Aristotelian association between comedy and justice was well known to sixteenth-century dramatists, and the use of the courtroom trial developed a convincing pedigree in English drama well before the plays of Middleton and Webster² – two developments in the theatre that undoubtedly had something to do with the preponderance of law students,...

  13. Chapter 9 AFTER WORDS
    (pp. 232-238)

    THIS STUDY has sought to achieve a double aim: to restore to our reading of early modern English poetry the kinds of word-based interpretative strategies that characterized the theory and practice of humanist hermeneutics in the period; and to recover in the poetry of Spenser and some of his closest contemporaries an innovative and significant strain of legal expression, thought, and argument. In modern criticism of the works of Spenser, the breadth and depth of his legal interest have gone almost entirely unremarked; readers have engaged productively with the political theory of Book V of The Faerie Queene, and have...

  14. GLOSSARY OF SELECTED LEGAL DICTION IN THE FAERIE QUEENE
    (pp. 239-270)
  15. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 271-286)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 287-294)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-297)