Date of Award

Spring 1996

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

McCanles, Michael

Second Advisor

Rivero, Al

Third Advisor

Stephens, James


As an impressionable master's candidate years ago, I was intrigued by a challenge from a professor who declared Edmund Spenser to be an excruciatingly dull writer; this scholar suggested his students examine the redundant language within The Fairie Queene for proof of this "fact." In taking up this gauntlet, I did not find redundant language indicative of an uninspired poet, but meticulous tautologies that force the reader to consider the meaning and message behind this calculated method. What began as an observation has evolved into the present dissertation which examines Spenser's use of the pattern of literal and metaphorical wound images as they both illuminate and obscure the narrative and thematic structures within The Fairie Queene. This remains an exploratory study because my focus concentrates on exposing Spenser's manipulation of linguistic markers and assumptions which ultimately frustrate the task of extracting a lucid interpretation. My study of the language within this epic includes a close reading of the text that notes linguistic patterns and lessons to be heeded by readers inside and outside of the poem. In an epic about knights and battles, Spenser uses the word "wound" (or versions of it) over 200 times. However, the significance of this image is not only its frequency, but that it is a central image in which Spenser exposes the problematic nature of literal and metaphoric language. "Wounds" are the cornerstone of the plot structure and narrative of the poem, as well as the locus for the exploration of prominent themes such as unrequited love, the sins of pride and lust, libelous friendships, honor, faith, slander, and the gender bias of courtly love. The ambiguous wound imagery forces the reader to constantly recuperate meaning. It compels the reader to pause and reevaluate the assumption that the language contains a definite reality, and thus it educates the reader in the very act of reading. Through the ambiguity of these images, an ambiguity that can be acknowledged but often never resolved, the reader becomes "fashioned" on the Christian virtues within each Book by first being "fashioned" on the virtue of reading. In my research and writing of this paper, I have come upon topics and ideas which could be explored in greater depth, particularly the psychological theories proposed in Chapter 2 and the gender issues touched on in Chapter 4. While these avenues of criticism could prove fruitful, my focus here remains on the text in its entirety and how these components constitute part of the educational parameters in which the reader of the poem finds herself. For now, this linguistic exploration definitively opens a new door toward appreciating the intricacy of Spenser's language as an indispensable part of the "fashioning" of his readers.



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