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Sandra Eder, . Gender, sexuality, medicine, science, US History 20th century, popular culture.

"Hipòcrates líric a l'Humanisme català"


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If the Errour episode involves an initiation, what does the reader swal- low with this story? This challenge to religious faith is specifically textual: Errour produces bad texts as she spews vomit "full of bookes and papers" and spawns offspring "blacke as inke" (1.1.20, line 6;1.1.22, line 7). In char- acterizing Errour's maternity as a bad textual reproduction, Spenser re- minds his readers of the breeding of false doctrine that occurs in texts such as the "monstrous" Martin Marprelate tracts. Yet this initiatory battle also offers instruction for reading The Faerie Queene. The Errour episode is framed by two references that describe "reading" as a form of knowledge: at the beginning, Una recognizes Errour's den and counsels "Therefore I read beware" (1.1.13, line 8);at the end, the narrator describes Errour's off- spring as things that "elsewhere may no man reed" (1.1.21, line 9). In the doubleness of the term "reed" (read, know), Spenser makes clear that through reading comes knowing. As Patricia Parker suggests, "in a land- scape of only potential significances and disjunctive signs. . . the problem from the beginning, is learning how to read."2i The Errour episode comes first because its subject is text production: Errour exemplifies bad literary procreation. Just as male initiation rites stage a rebirth to supplant physical female childbirth, Spenser uses bad textual "issue" to characterize his nar- rative as a good literary production. When Redcrosse destroys this female procreation, he makes possible a male procreation which supplants erro- neous ideas of bad reading with new forms of moral knowledge.

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Displacing female reproduction with male, Merlin takes Britomart's "pregnancy" and transforms it into a prophecy of her progeny. If, like the other knights' quests, Britomart's quest begins with an idea-with an "in- tent"-she does not know what to do with it. She wants, in some sense, to abort. Spenser thus suggests that her quest is not guided by a properly con- trolling idea as it should be. When Britomart hears Redcrosse praise Artegall, she responds as


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Spenser becomes the progenitor through which his creation is physi- cally realized. In the Letter to Ralegh, he thus describes Arthur and, by im- plication, The Faerie Queene as a whole, being "brought forth" through an engendering: "So haue I laboured to doe in the person of Arthure: whome I conceiue after his long education by Timon, to whom he was by Merlin deliuered to be brought vp, so soone as he was borne of the Lady Ingrayne, to haue seene in a dream or a vision the Faery Queen" (p. 16). Where Sidney's Arcadia compares books to children to disavow the .'labourn of creation, Spenser writes out of a different poetic sensibility and uses the language of procreation to emphasize the "travails" of his work. In Spenser's description of this foundational quest in The Faerie Queene, the terms "labour," 'tonceiue," "borne," and "deliuer" stand at the intersec- tion of male thought and female biology. In the end, Spenser depicts his quests as "travails" that encompass journey, labor, and birth as a way of evoking yet another meaning of this term. Finally, if ideas are physically realized in the text as births, the product is the "travail" in the sense of the poetic creation produced by such work. In these initiation narratives in- volving Errour, Arthur, and Britomart, Spenser separates child from mother to transform simple physical reproduction into poetic creation. Drawing on images of women creating monsters through their minds or of males giving birth, Spenser registers anxiety about flaws in the Aristotelian para- digm. He does so because he is interested not in the scientific ramifica- tions of Aristotelian natural philosophy, but in the poetic ones. Spenser portrays how the idea of parthenogenesis may be based on the anxiety that not only might one not be self-sufficient, but that, indeed, one man might not be necessary to create this ideal at all.

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If Arthur's quest is in some crucial sense The Faerie Queene itself, we will see that Britomart's quest is the writing of The Faerie Queene. Recent feminist criticism has identified a central connection between Britomart's quest and reproduction: Britomart is the most powerful figure of mater- nity in The Faerie Queene. As Lauren Silberman argues, book 3 shifts from 'hn epistemology of authoritarian certitude which emphasizes origins" to one which "de-emphasizes origins and focuses on the growth of knowl- edge."3O Britomart thus becomes a figure of prolepsis: while the origin of her quest remains in important ways unknown, the book moves forward to a contrastingly certain future. As she grows in knowledge, Britomart becomes a site of origin. As Merlin foretells, Britomart will become the mother of a race when she gives birth to a son whose descendants will lead the Britons. It is Spenser's understanding of what constitutes a perfect union that critically makes this future pregnancy, rather than love for Artegall, the event that ends Britomart's questing (3.3.28). Where love pro- vides only a temporary union, Britomart's progeny become the way to the 'kternall vnion" (3.3.49, line 1)that Elizabeth will achieve between Britons and Saxons.

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Even as Aristotle's biology was modified by Galen's more moderate understanding of the female contribution to procreation, his cultural nar- rative remained central.'* Thus Gabriel Harvey's theory of poetic imitation is, at heart, identical to Hieronymus Fabricus's definition of biological pro- creation. For Harvey, poetry involves conception: like a mother who will focus her mind on beautiful statues to get beautiful children, the poet imi- tates beautiful poetry.15 Fabricus similarly describes the procreative pro- cess as occurring just as "a bed comes into being from the carpenter and the wood."16 This statement implies more than a simple Renaissance anal- ogy; the two writers both recognize that man's creations are the physical consequence of an intellectual act. Having the ability to impose ideas on an otherwise chaotic material world elevates the human male above women, other lower animals, and nature as a whole. Although evidence refuting Aristotle's biology did not exist until after the development of the compound microscope, this gendered model of creation becomes increas- ingly problematic during the early modern period. While it is not possible to discuss here the larger counter-Aristotelian movement, reactions against theories of man as an intellectual progenitor appear in anatomy texts, gy- necological tracts, and theological satire. Writers such as Arnbrose Pare de- scribe women giving birth to monstrous offspring: babies are marked with red spots because their mothers coveted strawberries; white women pro- duce black babies after looking at pictures of Moors; harelips occur when mothers are frightened by animals. These stories pervert Aristotle's para- digm in describing women's ideas, not men's, as a formative force." Other sources depict an equally monstrous alternative: males taking the physi- cal part in reproduction by giving birth. Religious satires reveal "Pope John" to be "Pope Joan," giving birth in the streets of Rome; roosters stand trial for "the heinous and unnatural crime of laying an egg"; men report sexual transformations in which they become pregnant.18 Instead of giving the female control over the rational aspect of creation, these stories show the male grotesquely entangled in the physical part of creation.

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of creation that was increasingly contested during this period. This essay revises this critical perspective by examining how Spenser, in The Faerie Qzreene, draws on contemporary recognition that men's thoughts were not sufficient to bring forth new creation. In doing so, I focus on moments of initiation in The Faerie Queene that are described using the language of biological reproduction: the Letter to Ralegh (pp. 15-8); Redcrosse's first battle with Errour (1.2); Arthur's dream of Gloriana (1.9); and Britomart's experiences after seeing Artegall in Merlin's mirror (3.2).jThese moments of initiation are represented in biological terms because they exemplify Spenser's understanding of poetry as the expression of an idea. In engag- ing Aristotelian natural philosophy, these initiatory moments self-con- sciously demonstrate Spenser's belief that poetry must be not just enter- tainment or edification, but the material expression of an idea. Having said that, however, I also argue that Spenser's creations do not remain Aristote- lian, but instead depict perversions of that model current in the early mod- ern period. Ultimately, Spenser's portrayal of what constitutes creation encompasses biological, ethical, and poetic acts in ways at odds with criti- cal understandings of early modern interiority and poetic self-actualiza- tion. Spenser's evocation of the language of biological reproduction re- sponds not so much to a breakdown in Aristotelian reproductive theory itself, but to a breakdown in the poetics implied by that theory. Following Judith Butler's suggestion that, in bodies, we experience a "process of materialization," this essay expands on recent feminist analysis of physi- cal sexuality in The Faerie Queene by looking at Spenser's initiation scenes as moments of intellectual sexuality through which corporeality is reali~ed.~