"Four-fold vision see": Allegory in the Poetry of Edmund Spenser and William Blake
Darnill, Elizabeth Jane
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This thesis examines the role of readerly engagement in the allegorical poetry of Edmund Spenser and William Blake. An analysis of their poetry reveals important affinities between the two poets. Not only was Blake aware of Spenser’s work, he can be seen to incorporate and build upon Spenser’s self-conscious poetic style in order to engage readers in the active process of interpretation. Meaning in their poetry can be shown to unfold gradually by way of complex interactions between the reader and the text, interactions fostered by the reader’s imagination and the (differently) visual quality of the two poets’ works. Blake promotes this way of seeing as being “four-fold,” the ability to perceive on several dimensions. The first chapter of this thesis looks at the definitions and attitudes towards allegory from the early sixteenth century onwards, showing how the mode has been constantly redefined. Chapter two investigates the self-conscious nature of allegory through an analysis of the placement of words, metaphors, unconventional language, and the way the poems may be read by readers. Both poets encourage a heightened awareness of the process of reading which may be termed allegorical. Blake owned his own printing press allowing him greater control over the words and design of his text. This enabled him to be more forceful in his communication of images and ideas than Spenser. Chapter three focuses upon the multiple (and contradictory) ways in which the text may be interpreted by the reader. Allegory is a means of communicating and simultaneously disguising criticism. Both poets can be seen to use it to voice resistance to forms of authority, even as they encourage readers to recognise these meanings within their texts. Spenser and Blake had to combat different forms of censorship with differing strategies. Whereas Spenser felt compelled to uphold the status quo, Blake sought to deconstruct rigid social conventions. Chapter four explores the relation between allegory and the imagination. Spenser uses allegory to inspire the imagination, whereas for Blake the imagination encourages allegory. The imagination is a means of pushing readers towards further learning and a deeper appreciation of allegorical meaning. Chapter five analyses Spenser and Blake’s verbal and imagistic visuality in relation to allegory. Blake’s illustrations promote further reader engagement, while Spenser’s illuminations are a part of his metaphorical and allegorical text. Both poets use the visual to trigger imaginative readerly interaction and to promote new ways of perceiving and relating to their poems.
Arts and Humanities Research Council
PhD in English