Intimate Belongings: Tracing Love Tokens and Gifts in English Renaissance Literature

Winslow, Jennifer, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Kinney, Clare, Department of English, University of Virginia

In this dissertation, I explore a rich range of English Renaissance courting gifts and love tokens. Looking at an array of Elvetham progress gifts, Shakespearean tokens, and whimsical Donnean love tokens, I argue that these objects become complex, often complicating mediums of self-revelation and expression for those who share or exchange them. Replete with art historical and literary resonance, gifts and love tokens lend a more holistic understanding to a variety of early modern English texts while highlighting interrelated cultural issues increasingly pertinent to the Renaissance such as: self-construction and presentation, personal honor, and a heightened desire for private space, a private love, and a protected, private self.
In Chapter 1, I demonstrate how the multi-layered gifts that the Earl of Hertford presents to Elizabeth throughout the Elvetham entertainments provide monarch and host a platform to artfully perform themselves to one another, while revealing the ideal of reciprocity and the ambiguous communication that contribute tensions to the progress host and Queen relationship. In Chapter 2, I turn to The Merchant of Venice and address Portia’s miniature, the ring she gives Bassanio, and the letter Antonio writes to Bassanio through the categories of language, the body, and personal honor, arguing that these tokens deeply complicate some of the play’s most central interpersonal bonds. In Chapter 3, which centers on Cymbeline, once Posthumus’ diamond ring, Innogen’s bracelet, and Innogen’s mole are appropriated by Giacomo, these tokens’ original privacy as intimate, shared gifts is threatened, and I argue that the bracelet’s and the mole’s alignment with visual art and descriptions of Innogen’s bedchamber highlights compelling concerns over personal honor and privacy. In Chapter 4, I turn to Donne’s love poetry, exploring how he innovatively uses an array of evocative love tokens to illuminate issues of privacy that are essential to understanding his broader commentary on the self and romantic desire in his
poems. Within the scope of the various Renaissance texts I cover in my dissertation, I hope to demonstrate that this literature’s fascinating array of gifts and tokens are not only rich in narratives and meaning but also are compelling little objects whose predilection for ambiguity and whose very exteriority at times illuminate a broader, cultural challenge of how best to epitomize and protect love; the true, interior self; and personal privacy.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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