Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation

 

Monsters in the mirror : literary reflections of mentally and physically deformed humanity in Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene Public Deposited

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  • Monstrous beings, or distortions of nature, were a tangible object of fear in the medieval and early modern eras. Aristotle, as a precursor to the scientists and magical practitioners of the twelfth century or the barber-surgeons of the sixteenth century, understood monsters to be human or animal beings deformed by a mother's corrupt imagination. The possibility that one's corrupt thoughts might either cause the individual to produce congenitally deformed progeny or to transform into something monstrously deformed would have been believable to medieval and early modern audiences. Monstrous figures in literature, then, might act as vessels for catharsis--inspiring self-reflection and confession from terrified readers. This study explores the ways that Edmund Spenser uses monstrosity to engage and instruct his sixteenth century readers. In his seminal epic work The Faerie Queene, Spenser generously fills his pages with anthropomorphic monsters representative of some particular human flaw. This study suggests that Spenser uses these allegorical, visceral, and significant monsters intentionally as literary instruments of pedagogy, warning against the human capacity for bestial behavior. In order to establish the importance of such hypothetical intentionality, this study draws heavily from the etymological and cultural history of monstrosity and from the contemporary conversation regarding the allegorical significance of both the human and monstrous figures in Spenser's text. The first chapter of this study focuses on the ways in which medieval and early modern readers would have understood monstrosity as a concept and a reality. The second chapter focuses on three types of monstrous figures that appear in Spenser's text--specifically Errour, Orgoglio, and Malbecco--in order to establish Spenser's purposeful use of monsters throughout the text. The third chapter utilizes close readings and an analysis of the critical history of the monster Duessa to establish her as the token piece of Spenser's pedagogically monstrous figures.
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