Renaissance lyric, architectural poetics, and the monuments of English verse




Leubner, Jason Robert

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My dissertation revises our assumptions about the Renaissance commonplace that poetic monuments last longer than marble ones. We tend to understand the commonplace as being about the materiality of artistic media and thus the comparative durability of text and stone. In contrast, I argue that English Renaissance poets and theorists treat the monument of verse as a space where their hopes for the poem’s future converge with broader cultural concerns about the reception of the ancient past and the place of English vernacular poetry within the hierarchy of classical and contemporary European letters. In Renaissance poetics manuals, authors appropriate a newly classicizing architectural vocabulary to communicate confidence in the lasting power of English poetic structures. Through their use of architectural metaphors, they defend their vernacular against charges of vulgar barbarism and promote the civilizing potential of English verse. Yet if lyric poets also turn to architectural metaphors to make claims about poetry’s enduring quality, they simultaneously disclose a deep unease about the perils of textual transmission. Indeed, monumentalizing conceits often appear most powerfully in poetic genres predicated on failed hopes and frustrated desires, that is, in the sonnet sequences and complaints of Edmund Spenser, Samuel Daniel, and William Shakespeare. In acknowledging the fragility of the textual and architectural remains of antiquity, lyric poets from Spenser forward consider their own textual futures with an entirely new sense of urgency. I argue, however, that their unease about the future of their art has as much to do with the genres in which they write and their suspicions about the shifting reading practices of future audiences as it does with the material vulnerability of the medium that transmits that art. In the sonnet sequence in particular, lyric poets who monumentalize their beloved partake in—and anxiously question—early modern practices of constructing funeral monuments for the living. I argue that these poets’ fantasy of entombing those who are still in the prime of their lives turns out to be less about a future rebirth than an obsessive, premature preparation for death.




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