Author

Nadine Weiss

Date of Award

Spring 2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

English

First Advisor

Dr. Louis Schwartz

Abstract

Despite receiving much attention from Spenserian scholars, the Amoret-Busyrane episode at the end of Book III of The Faerie Queene remains one of the most contentious and ambiguous in Spenser’s epic poem. This controversial response arises primarily out of two problematic features of the episode. First, it is difficult to find a moral resolution in (and to) the unnerving violence that colors the episode, specifically in so far as that violence seems designed to express Spenser’s negative attitude toward Petrarchism. Petrarchism, the poetic tradition that developed in wake of Italian sonneteer Francesco Petrarca’s Rime Sparse, was preoccupied, from Spenser’s perspective, with the poet’s sense of isolation or despair in response to the unavailability of the beloved. The speaker of the Petrarchan sonnet often presents the desired other or beloved as an emblem of perfection and likens his pursuit of her to a hunt. Spenser chooses to characterize Petrarchism in a particular way that serves his purpose of reflecting upon the potentially problematic continuities between the aesthetic and the real. Therefore, he engages a particular understanding of Petrarchism as a model for love as war. The second confounding feature of this episode is Spenser’s revision of the 1590 ending to Book III, in which he postpones the reunion of Scudamour and Amoret, entirely rejecting the image of the hermaphrodite as a figure for a perfect erotic union of male and female. Critics have responded to the first dilemma by offering an array of diverse readings, all of which seek either to diminish Busyrane’s sadism or to deny the anti-Petrarchan tone of the episode. Scholars largely regard Spenser’s excision of the 1590 hermaphroditic union between Amoret and Scudamour as a necessary alteration which allowed the poet to extend his narrative after having received political favor from his monarch. These approaches are limited, however, in that they do not perceive the full import and subtlety of Spenser’s critique of Petrarchan desire, as well as the significance of the agenda it implies with regards to the virtue of chastity and the other thematic concerns of Book III. In addition, such readings frequently neglect entirely and even downplay the significance of Spenser’s rethinking of the concluding hermaphroditic union between Amoret and Scudamour in the initial 1590 ending to Book III. This revision, however, was in fact crucial to Spenser’s full rethinking, not only of the nature of Petrarchan accounts of desire, but also of the dynamics of amorous union itself as a whole.

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