Arresting figures: Reading and theorizing Renaissance texts
Snow, Edward A.
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation analyzes three Renaissance texts vis-a-vis critiques of the theories that enable some readings of those three texts. The Introduction to the dissertation offers a critique of Stephen Greenblatt's "cultural poetics" through a close reading of a passage from his Renaissance Self-Fashioning. His "cultural poetics" is instigated as much by his anxiety about the text as by his concern with cultural patterns. The opening chapter deals with the problem of the narrative voice in the first episode of The Faerie Queene. Patricia Parker resolves the problem of reading this episode by treating the narrator's reading of the landscape as a vantage point above and beyond the text. This chapter, however, explores the way in which the text resists his reading and the way in which his reading becomes a kind of self-defense mechanism, betraying his anxiety about, and his self-estrangement from, the landscape. The next chapter takes up the question of male selfhood and its relation to female sexuality in Othello. While Marguerite Waller divests the play of its multiple perspective by installing Othello as a reference point and by taking Iago's malice as the answer to Othello's treatment of Desdemona, this chapter treats Othello's selfhood as an object of inquiry and analyzes the tension between his selfhood and Desdemona's sexuality. The last chapter opens with a critique of Stanley Fish's theory about the reading experience of Samson Agonistes. Fish postulates that the play encourages certain responses from the reader only to frustrate him. But this postulation betrays the critic's self-alienation from the text. While his desire for closure leads him to trivialize the reading experience of the play, this chapter proposes a mode of close reading that explores both the way language conveys a complex attitude toward every issue Fish tries to resolve and the way language generates psychological, ethical, and ontological ambiguities which persist throughout the play.