"Unknightly wounds": Renaissance romance and the body in crisis

MacInnes, Ian Fenton, Department of English, University of Virginia
Nohrnberg, James, As-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia
Osheim, Duane, As-History, University of Virginia

The long romances of Tasso, Spenser and Sidney frequently lavish an extraordinary amount of attention on wounded bodies: the blood drenched Clorinda, the mutilated Amoret, and the languishing Parthenia, among others. In a series of three close readings framed by theoretical discussion, I argue that this rhetorical elaboration is part of these texts' response to a deep uncertainty about the status of the wounded body.

The most influential wounds in sixteenth-century European thought were the wounds of Christ. I begin by demonstrating that in the sixteenth century, the wounds of Christ were at once a point of religious contest, and a place where spiritual energy and doctrinal orthodoxy were often at odds. Torquato Tasso's Gerusalemme Liberata is the product of one of the most spiritually and physically anguished writers of the Counter-Reformation period; its depictions of wounds emphasize the opposition between sacred and profane versions of the heroic body.

Secular versions of erotic love also frequently compared it to a wound, a tradition that had its origins in classical literature. In Book III of The Faerie Queene, Spenser both challenges and attempts to redefine the role of wounds in the construction of virtuous sexual love. Drawing on several episodes of wounding in Book III, I show how metaphorical and real wounds become increasingly confused, and how this confusion leads to a potentially destructive confusion between mind and body, love and violence, and even subject and object.

Spenser uses physical wounds as part of his allegorical construction of virtuous sexuality, but real wounds, particularly those that occurred on the battlefields of early modern Europe, were themselves the focus of aristocratic anxiety about the status of the body. Ironically, Sidney himself fell prey to the very kind of wound that typified class anxieties about the body in the Renaissance. Using in part the biographical and elegiac material surrounding Sidney's death, I explore the ways in which the New Arcadia attempts to reinscribe the wounded body as part of the aesthetics of the heroic self.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Tasso, Torquato -- 1544-1595, Spenser, Edmund -- 1552?-1599, Sidney, Philip -- 1554-1586
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