Refracting the Past in Post-Reformation Romance

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Voight, Valerie, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Kinney, Clare, AS-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia

My dissertation offers a new narrative of the reception and production of chivalric romance in post-Reformation England. Renaissance polemicists from Juan Luis Vives to Thomas Nashe viewed romance as a transgressive genre prone to inculcating moral and spiritual error. Recent critics of early modern romance have tended to take these commentators at their word, arguing that, for English Renaissance authors, the romance genre was associated with the medieval, Catholic past and that authors were eager to reform it for putatively didactic ends. My research recovers the medieval sense of romance as space for political and theological experimentation and I suggest that post-Reformation romance provides a venue both for examining the dissonance engendered by the Reformation and rethinking early modern England’s relationship to its Catholic past.

Each chapter of my dissertation places an early romance in dialogue with one of its medieval or early modern antecedents. The first chapter reads Book II of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590), The Legend of Temperance, alongside the late medieval penitential romance Guy of Warwick and argues that the knight-turned-pilgrim Guy serves as an important model for Spenser’s revision of penitence as temperance. The second chapter on Books III-V of The Faerie Queene (1596) asserts that Spenser pushes romance discourse to its extreme in his creation of False Florimell, a living automaton who embodies the idolatrous rhetoric of courtly love and responds to contemporary Protestant anxieties about religious images. The third chapter explores the ways in which William Shakespeare and John Fletcher’s The Two Noble Kinsmen (ca. 1614), a revision of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale, interrogates the vocation of virginity in post-Reformation culture. Both playwrights complicate Chaucer’s vowed virgin, Emelye, and introduce a striking new character, the Jailer’s Daughter, to address the anxieties surrounding virginal autonomy in Protestant polemic. The final chapter analyzes the prevalence of doubleness in both parts of Lady Mary Wroth’s The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania (1621). Focusing particularly on the presence of Spenserian doubles such the true and false Amphilanthus, the male hero and the leader of Wroth’s international Protestant network, I trace the recurring emphasis on doubles and falsehood that stretches across the 1621 Urania into the manuscript continuation.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
romance, Edmund Spenser, Mary Wroth, Renaissance literature, Shakespeare, John Fletcher
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