Reading the Allegorical Intertext: Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton

Reading the Allegorical Intertext: Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton

Reading the Allegorical Intertext: Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton

Reading the Allegorical Intertext: Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton


Judith H. Anderson conceives the intertext as a relation between or among texts that encompasses both Kristevan intertextuality and traditional relationships of influence, imitation, allusion, and citation. Like the Internet, the intertext is a state, or place, of potential expressed in ways ranging from deliberate emulation to linguistic free play. Relatedly, the intertext is also a convenient fiction that enables examination of individual agency and sociocultural determinism. Anderson's intertext is allegorical because Spenser's Faerie Queene is pivotal to her study and because allegory, understood as continued or moving metaphor, encapsulates, even as it magnifies, the process of signification. Her title signals the variousness of an intertext extending from Chaucer through Shakespeare to Milton and the breadth of allegory itself. Literary allegory, in Anderson's view, is at once a mimetic form and a psychic one--a process thinking that combines mind with matter, emblem with narrative, abstraction with history.

Anderson's first section focuses on relations between Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Spenser's The Faerie Queene, including the role of the narrator, the nature of the textual source, the dynamics of influence, and the bearing of allegorical narrative on lyric vision. The second centers on agency and cultural influence in a variety of Spenserian and medieval texts. Allegorical form, a recurrent concern throughout, becomes the pressing issue of section three. This section treats plays and poems of Shakespeare and Milton and includes two intertextually relevant essays on Spenser.

How Paradise Lost or Shakespeare's plays participate in allegorical form is controversial. Spenser's experiments with allegory revise its form, and this intervention is largely what Shakespeare and Milton find in his poetry and develop. Anderson's book, the result of decades of teaching and writing about allegory, especially Spenserian allegory, will reorient thinking about fundamental critical issues and the landmark texts in which they play themselves out.


Reading between and among texts is something I have been doing in articles, books, and classrooms over several decades. This kind of reading is a staple of the traditional, centuries-spanning literary survey course, as well as of literature courses more generally. It highlights specifically textual concerns with the generation of meaning. Such intertextual relations can be historicized in the survey of longue durée, either exemplarily or thematically, selectively, and therefore rather narrowly. With the latter options, the focus has tended to shift from linguistic text to thematized content and historical context, and from literary writing to other expressions of culture (e.g., science or religion) and of society (e.g., economic or political institutions). These shifts from texts to theme, culture, and society are certainly viable. They have afforded, and continue to afford, intellectual stimulation and enlightenment. But the possibility of a stronger balance between them and the linguistic and rhetorical foci essential to nuanced, critical thinking depends at this point on recognition, reassertion, and reconception of the legitimacy and value of specifically textual concerns. While my own approach to revaluation is initially and recurrently theorized, its strongest allegiance is to practice and demonstration—that is, to textuality as such. Actually reading between texts, and the tangible results of doing so, are the core of my argument. At the same time, however, I want to make visible what such activity contributes and what it produces. in short, I want theoretically to frame and variously and sufficiently to exhibit these throughout.

The title of this volume, Reading the Allegorical Intertext: Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, plays on “surfing the Internet.” I conceive the intertext, like the Internet, as a state, or place, of potential, one that can variously be narrowed or expanded, minimized or enlarged. More exactly, the intertext is a convenient term for a relationship or a series of relationships with a single text or multiple texts that enrich and reorient the signification and reception of the text in question. the intertext can be imagined on a continuum between deliberate imitation and intentional allusion, on the one . . .

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