Spenser's Messengers

A talk by

Joanna Craigwood, PhD

Research Fellow in the Arts and Humanities

Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

 4229 Dwinelle

April 1, 5-7pm

The English Renaissance poet and Anglo-Irish settler Edmund Spenser (c. 1552-1599) managed letters and messengers while working for the English administration in Ireland, and likely also acted as a diplomatic messenger to Europe earlier in his career. Spenser’s time in Ireland and the poetry he wrote there has rightly been read from the standpoint of colonialism, but early modern European diplomatic practice also provides an important context for the poet. His major epic work The Faerie Queene is motivated not just by desire for imperial rule, but also by fear of the Spanish colonization of Ireland and England.

Messengers in The Faerie Queene tend to be untrustworthy and devious, deliver sad news, or encounter difficulties, as if for Spenser message-sending was at worst deceitful and at best a troublesome and grievous business. In her talk Craigwood will argue that Spenser’s ideas about literary mimesis arose from his distaste for message bearing. His ‘vnperfite’ poetics eschew any claim to the clear conveyance of truth, and mirrors, not messengers, are his preferred metaphor for his mimetic art. She will suggest that Spenser’s combined political and poetic rejection of diplomacy as both unreliable and immoral paradoxically motivates his support for the military enforcement of colonial rule in Ireland.

Dr. Joanna Craigwood is Austin Robinson Research Fellow in the Arts and Humanities at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. She works on English literature of the early modern period. Her current project explores the links between ambassadorial and literary representation in this period and she is working towards a monograph on the subject. She is Co-Investigator for the international research network “Textual Ambassadors: Cultures of Diplomacy and Literary Writing in the Early Modern World.” From September, she will become Fellow and Director of Studies in English and Graduate Tutor at Sidney Sussex College.

Sponsored by the IIS Diplomacy & Culture Colloquium