Spenser's Ovidian Poetics

Spenser's Ovidian Poetics

Spenser's Ovidian Poetics

Spenser's Ovidian Poetics

Synopsis

No history of the longstanding critical tradition of exploring the Spenser-Ovid relationship has been written. In this book Professor Stapleton constructs such a critical history: the annotations of E. K. in The Shepheardes Calender (1579), the Enlightenment editions of The Faerie Queene, the philological mode of the Spenser Variorum (1932-57), and the recent, innovative work of Harry Berger and Colin Burrow. Aside from occasional articles, no truly comprehensive analysis of their kinship as love poets exists, either. The author explores Spenser's emulation of Ovid's amatory poetics. His humanist education trained him to find or construct analogues and etiological patterns in classical texts. Therefore, his early study of translation, intensive reading, and "versifying" as an interrelated process guaranteed a densely allusive, metamorphic Ovidian poetics as a natural result.

Excerpt

Quales sunt apud nos Homero, Maroni, & Ovidio merito aequi
parandi, Edmvndvs Spencer, Samvel Daniel, & Michael Drayton:
aliiq, ingenio & arte florentes, (quorum haec aetas uberima est).

—Charles Butler, Rhetoricae libri duo, 1598

[Those amongst our poets most deserving of comparison with
Homer, Vergil, and Ovid, are Edmund Spenser, Samuel Daniel,
and Michael Drayton, and others, full of native talent and artistic
skill (in both of which this age is fertile).]

BUTLER APPEARS TO INVITE HIS READERS TO COMPARE THE GREAT WRITers of his own time with the best of classical antiquity, a common form of early modern literary nationalism. Yet his very generality, troublesome perhaps, suggests that such analogies not be pressed too hard. He might tell us that no systematic and “complete” study of every phase of similitude between the moderns and ancients could possibly be created. Yet this has not deterred scholars of the last three centuries from making learned comparisons between authors such as Ovid and Spenser. Advancements in the study of Renaissance imitation theory might now make possible an intertextual compendium of echoes, interpenetrations, and imitations sacramental, heuristic, and dialectical, should someone desire to undertake such an old-fashioned project. Charles Grosvenor Osgood’s tabulation of allusions in the monumental The Works of Edmund Spenser, A Variorum Edition (1932–57), representative of this old philology, now appears out of date, given the current poststructuralist bent in early modern studies. It may well be a “paradise of patriarchal pleasantries,” as Harry Berger amusingly characterizes it.

Most work concerning Spenser’s Ovid reflects this epochal divide between the approaches epitomizing the middle and end of the twentieth century. One confines itself to the level of simple allusion while the other compares the authors to further a theoretical agenda. This methodological dichotomy may be the result of a dif-

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