Title: RENAISSANCE TEXTS ,MEDIEVAL SUBJECTIVITIES:VERNACULAR GENEALOGIES OF ENGLISH PETRARCHISM FROM WYATT TO WROTH
Supervisor: Dr. Sarah Tolmie, Dept. of English
Committee: Dr. Kenneth Graham, Dept. of English ,Dr. Murray McArthur, Dept. of English
Internal/External Examiner: Dr. Gabriel Niccoli, Dept. of Italian Studies
External Examiner: Dr. Roland Greene, Dept. of English, Stanford University
This dissertation investigates the symbolic presence of medieval forms of textual selfhood in early modern English Petrarchan poetry. Seeking to problematize the notion of Petrarchism as a Renaissance discourse par excellence, as a radical departure from the medieval past marking the birth of the modern poetic voice, the thesis undertakes a systematic re-reading of a significant body of early modern English Petrarchan texts through the prism of late medieval English poetry. I argue that medieval poetic texts inscribe in the vernacular literary imaginary (i.e. a repository of discursive forms and identities available to early modern writers through antecedent and contemporaneous literary utterances) a network of recognizable and iterable discursive structures and associated subject positions; and that various linguistic and ideological traces of these medieval discourses and selves can be discovered in early modern English Petrarchism. Methodologically, the dissertation’s engagement with the poetic texts across the lines of periodization is at once genealogical and hermeneutic. The principal objective of the dissertation is to discover a vernacular history behind the subjects of early modern English Petrarchan sonnets and sequences. At the same time, medieval poetics imbricated within the textures of early modern Petrarchan discourse also operate as a subtle yet powerful interpretive code which, when applied to the early modern sonnets, helps to elicit new readings of the canonical texts.
The dissertation is structured as a series of case studies, with each of the four chapters tracing a possible medieval genealogy of a distinct scenario of subject formation deployed by English Petrarchism. The first chapter considers the significance of William Langland’s poetic of meed (reward) articulate in passus of II-IV of Piers Plowman for the anti-laureate and anti-courtly identities assumed by Thomas Wyatt in his Petrarchan poems and by Edmund Spenser in the Amoretti. I suggest that Langland’s alignment of pecuniary and erotic aspects of reward makes it problematic for subsequent writers to pursue a form of poetic identity that embraces both courtly and laureate ambitions. The second chapter examines royal incarceration as a form of subject formation in the poetry of James I Stewart, Charles of Orleans, and Mary Stewart. As the dissertation argues, the figure of an imprisoned sovereign shared by all three texts is not an accidental coinage but in fact a crucial ideologeme of the pre-modern English political and literary imaginary, underwriting the poetics and politics of royal discourse from Richard II to James VI/I. The focus of chapter three is the persistence of vernacular melancholy (encapsulated in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Book of the Duchess and Troilus and Criseyde ) in the verse of Henry Howard, earl of Surrey (as it appears in Richard Tottel’s Songes and Sonettes ) and in Philip Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella . The poetics of melancholy gives rise to a fragmented subjectivity and an ambivalent form of poetic discourse, where the production of English Petrarchism is carried out alongside its radical critique. Finally, the fourth chapter investigates a medieval genealogy of the subject afflicted with a malady of desire (in other words, pathological affect) in Shakespeare’s sonnets, by tracing its inchoate vernacular precedents back to the poems of Thomas Hoccleve (La Male Regle) and Robert Henryson (The Testament of Cresseid) which not only prefigure the Triangular relationship of the speaker with two objects of desire but, like Shakespeare’s sonnets, articulate identity and otherness in terms of disease and health.
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