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Alchemy of Sexuality in Early Modern English Lyric Poetry

Title: The Alchemy of Sexuality in Early Modern English Lyric Poetry.
Name(s): Jennings, Lisa Gay, author
Boehrer, Bruce Thomas, professor directing dissertation
Upchurch, Charles, university representative
Coldiron, A. E. B. (Anne Elizabeth Banks), committee member
Johnson, David F. (David Frame), 1956-, committee member
Vitkus, Daniel J., committee member
Florida State University, degree granting institution
College of Arts and Sciences, degree granting college
Department of English, degree granting department
Type of Resource: text
Genre: Text
Issuance: monographic
Date Issued: 2015
Publisher: Florida State University
Florida State University
Place of Publication: Tallahassee, Florida
Physical Form: computer
online resource
Extent: 1 online resource (178 pages)
Language(s): English
Abstract/Description: My dissertation, The Alchemy of Sexuality in Early Modern English Lyric Poetry examines the complex relationship of poetry, sexuality and religion to alchemy in early modern England. I analyze poetic representations of transgressive sexuality by William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, John Donne, Thomas Nashe, and Thomas Carew. What emerges from my study is the profound link between alchemical metaphors and poetic expressions of sexuality. These poetic expressions of sexuality develop the poets' interrogation of gender hierarchy in early modern England. This dissertation has theoretical implications for how we read early modern English poetry, but there are also physiological dimensions. I examine representations of sex and the disciplined Foucauldian early modern body. Notwithstanding, my primary focus of this disciplined body are the humoral processes that were thought to govern early modern physiology and their Galenic ties to alchemy. As my study makes clear, alchemy represents an interventionist conjunction within the Galenic-Humoral economy that predominated in early modern England. In each chapter I illuminate the means by which the poets utilize alchemical iconography to codify a transgressive body and therefore illuminate an illicit sexuality. In the introductory chapter, I outline the history of alchemy and its relationship to sexuality and religion, and by extension to the early modern body. I end the introduction by asserting that the poets' use of alchemy is not only a symbol of the creative imagination, but also an attempt to map the contours of desire and the poetic mind. Chapter two focuses on books 2 and 3 of Spenser's epic, The Faerie Queene. In this chapter I seek to develop a theory which will account for the excessive erotica found in these books. At first glance the anachronistic term of pornography would seem to account for the sexual activity found in these books. Nonetheless, pornography's contextual later development, and the slipperiness of the term fail to accommodate early modern theories of erotic reading and the disruptive emotions engendered by such readings. Therefore, I suggest the term of passionate discourse which more fully explains the voyeuristic nature of Spenser's epic and his ability to suspend the assault on the body which erotica could potentially provoke. In chapter three I continue my examination of alchemy and its ties to sexuality by a detailed analysis of Shakespeare's "procreative sonnets." I discuss Shakespeare's use of alchemy which enables his creation of a sexually appropriate hermaphrodite thus challenging regimes against the practice of sodomy. While chapter three focuses on Shakespeare's hermaphroditic creation, chapter four considers Donne's appropriation of alchemy in order to substantiate what I term an alchemic transcendental sexuality. Donne's alchemic sexuality is constituted by the metaphors of alchemy as well as the religious discourse of Familism. As with Spenser and Shakespeare, Donne ultimately challenges sexual understandings of the body and the systems that sought to impose artificial and sexual boundaries on the early modern body. Similarly, chapter five contemplates sexual challenges to religious understanding of the body. My focus is Thomas Nashe's "The Choise of Valentines" and Thomas Carew's "A Rapture." Both Nashe and Carew use their speakers to trope sexual performance as alchemical labor and to interrogate women's reproductive potential. Lastly, I conclude this study by commenting on the aesthetic success of the poems. I believe that those poems which have found a prominent place in the English literary canon owe their prominence to how well they have integrated the discourses of alchemy, sex, and religion in their more overtly sexual poetry. Yet ultimately, this dissertation is about the process of embodiment, and therefore I assert that each poet in this dissertation anchor themselves in the slippery terrain of alchemy in a concerted effort to find meaning among the chaos of the body.
Identifier: FSU_migr_etd-9358 (IID)
Submitted Note: A Dissertation submitted to the Department of English in partial fulfillment of the Doctor of Philosophy.
Degree Awarded: Spring Semester, 2015.
Date of Defense: February 4, 2015.
Keywords: Alchemy, Donne, Renaissance, Sexuality, Shakespeare, Spenser
Bibliography Note: Includes bibliographical references.
Advisory Committee: Bruce Boehrer, Professor Directing Dissertation; Charles Upchurch, University Representative; Anne Coldiron, Committee Member; David Johnson, Committee Member; Daniel Vitkus, Committee Member.
Subject(s): Literature
Persistent Link to This Record:
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Host Institution: FSU

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Jennings, L. G. (2015). The Alchemy of Sexuality in Early Modern English Lyric Poetry. Retrieved from