Occult poetics and the production of English verse, 1558-1603

White, Rachel (2016) Occult poetics and the production of English verse, 1558-1603. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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This thesis examines how the occult tradition is an inherent part of the production of vernacular literature during the Elizabethan period. I argue that occult discourses about language are drawn upon by writers of the period who seek to establish an English literature to rival that of the classical tradition. The quotidian nature of occult philosophies which vacillate between the scientific and the magical in the early modern period has been recognised in recent criticism. Taking into consideration the etymological root of the word occult as secret or hidden, this thesis departs from the traditional demarcations of occult studies. By removing the occult from the realm of the magus and dramatic sensationalism, this thesis begins with the premise that occult discourses are present within Elizabethan culture and are absorbed into textual practice. It adopts the term occult poetics to describe the processes of writing that rely upon occult discourses to imbue efficacious qualities and communicate esoteric knowledge within Elizabethan vernacular poetry. I examine John Dee, traditionally viewed as a magus-figure, and resituate him within discourses about language. I show that Dee believed the divine origins of language lay in geometry and number, and that his semiotics informs his hopes for Elizabethan imperialism. Contemporaneous to Dee’s depiction of Elizabeth as imperial queen is Edmund Spenser’s cry to establish English as a kingdom of language, which leads to experimentation with English verse that is based on the occult qualities of number and quantity. I consider how occult and emergent scientific discourses are engaged with in the new poetry in terms of cosmology with Fulke Greville and Giordano Bruno, and optics in George Chapman’s poetry. Finally, I approach the figure of Elizabeth as an occult body analogous to the lodestone who sits at the centre of language production through analysing Spenser’s The Faerie Queene.

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Thesis (PhD)
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08 May 2017 13:38
Last Modified:
17 Sep 2023 03:31