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Futile PleasuresEarly Modern Literature and the Limits of Utility$
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Corey McEleney

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780823272655

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823272655.001.0001

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Spenser’s Unhappy Ends

Spenser’s Unhappy Ends

(p.102) Chapter 4 Spenser’s Unhappy Ends
Futile Pleasures

Corey McEleney

Fordham University Press

Chapter Four furthers the previous chapter’s examination of how the ironies of romance interfere with claims of intention and utility. It argues that Edmund Spenser’s stated intention to “fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous and gentle discipline” unravels in the Legend of Courtesy, the final completed book of his romance The Faerie Queene. The chapter analyzes how the Legend of Courtesy not only betrays ambivalence toward the virtue of courtesy, but also puts extreme pressure on poetry’s reputed ability to supply any “vertuous and gentle discipline.” Through its investment in passivity over action, errancy over linearity, and misconduct over self-discipline, the Legend of Courtesy reveals the limits of the demand that poetry should inculcate askesis, or self-discipline. Like the texts of Ascham and Nashe, the Legend of Courtesy is marked by forms of parabasis: interruptions and digressions that inhibit the teleological flow of the text. The chapter demonstrates that these parabases are the source of romance’s distinctly unsettling pleasure, which ironizes Spenser’s virtuous intentions in ways that Spenser scholars have failed to address.

Keywords:   error, Legend of Courtesy, Letter to Raleigh, pleasure, redemption, romance, Edmund Spenser

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