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“’Tis consent that makes a perfect slave”: Circean Poetry and Christian Liberty in Early Modern English Literature

RICHARDS, ABIGAIL (2019) “’Tis consent that makes a perfect slave”: Circean Poetry and Christian Liberty in Early Modern English Literature. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This thesis examines representations of Circe in early modern English literature, from her appearances in Jacobean and Stuart English masques, including Browne’s Inner Temple Masque (1615), Townshend’s Tempe Restored (1632) and Milton’s Maske at Ludlow Castle (1634), through to the epic poetry of Spenser and Milton; The Faerie Queene (1590) and Paradise Lost (1674). In these texts, I argue, Circe is a vector for the writers’ interrogation of the prevailing, allegorically inflected relationship between poetry and Reformed moral philosophy that emerges in contemporary literature. In the Christian age, Circe is most frequently depicted as a clarissima meretrix or renowned prostitute who captivates men with her beauty and siren-like song, and tempts them to drink her pharmakon kakon (“evil drug”). Thereafter her victims are transformed into beasts, a state which appropriately reflects their capitulation to base desire and appetite. The works that I examine are noteworthy for their departure from this tradition, and for their sensitivity to an essential ambivalence at the heart of Circean mythology: the Homeric Circe uses her voice to seduce but also to prophesy and instruct. As I show, in Spenser and Milton’s works, Circean indeterminacy is brought to bear upon questions of law, hermeneutics, and spiritual and moral discernment. In Milton in particular, Circe is invoked to support a belief in the necessity of trial and choice for spiritual and moral growth, and for the very possibility of Christian liberty. This view has profound epistemological and theological implications and culminates, I argue, in Milton’s daring portrait of the Circean chaos of Paradise Lost.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Circe;masques;Milton;Spenser;Faerie Queene;Paradise Lost;siren;Homer;Odyssey;law;free will;Renaissance
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2019
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:04 Jun 2019 13:36

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