2 Desire, Disgust, and the Perils of Strange Queenship in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene

Mira Assaf Kafantaris

In Edmund Spenser’s courtly romance, The Faerie Queene (1590, 1596), the anxiety around queenship and power becomes a crucial site where racialization is produced through affect. While white womanhood secures the future of the Reformed realm, a foreign queen emblematizes the threat of infection, which can permeate the commonwealth religiously, culturally, or physiologically. At the point of contact, the strange woman’s embodied difference evokes feelings of wonder and desire that inform early modern racialization. In this essay, I argue that The Faerie Queene’s affective constructions of racial identities provide a productive lens through which a foreign queen’s racial otherness, namely her moral degeneration, sexual transgression, and religious idolatry, is made legible. This legibility is most vivid through the operative and disavowed component of disgust. By tracing how affective capacities shape the ideology of racial purity, I posit that boundaries of feeling operate as a coercive epistemological category in this sprawling allegory of hierarchy, difference, and power.

The threat of racialized foreign queens pervades The Faerie Queene. In Book 1, which celebrates Holiness, the Redcrosse Knight, a Saxon “sprung out of English race” (1.10.60), endures an ordeal that registers early modern anxieties with foreign contamination of white Reformed bodies.[1] Veering away from religious truth, Redcrosse dallies with Duessa, the allegorical Whore of Babylon. Once Duessa’s real identity as “false truth” is uncovered, Redcrosse experiences feelings of utter disgust that lead him to despair. Ultimately, he is saved by Una, the figure of the One True Church, who restores his faith and fortitude in the House of Holiness. Certainly, erotic encounters with racialized others animate the generic conventions of chivalric romance, where the temporary slippage of virtuous characters into sin is restored through baptism and marriage.[2] However, as Dennis Austin Britton notes, the absence of the “infidel-conversion motif” in The Faerie Queene points to the formation of a new vocabulary of exclusion where religion figures as a racial category that is inherited.[3] By making Christianity into an inheritance passed genetically from parents to children, the performance of conversion via baptism becomes a moot point, since the children of Reformed parents are recipients of God’s election in the womb. Following this logic, damnation is also considered a racial characteristic passed from non-Christian parents to their children. Therefore, in the poem’s allegorized landscape, the godly commonwealth belongs to white, Christian-born bodies only.

Who will defend the godly commonwealth from the threat of contamination? Whose movement do fortified borders obstruct? As the reproductive agents in the circuit of monarchical succession and generation, foreign royal women embodied the biggest threat to white futurity. Spenser not only rejects the incorporation of non-white queens into the racially pure commonwealth, but also infuses his allegory with instructions on how to feel as a community of the faithful in the face of what a Protestant polemicist dubbed the threat of “unnatural mixing.”[4] This affective control animates racial formation in the famous erotic encounters between erring knights and Duessa, a hypervisible, oversexualized, and usurping foreign queen, who symbolizes the temptations of false religion and Protestantism’s triumph over it. Affect figures as a semiotic and biopolitical border contouring the inside and outside of an ideal Protestant commonwealth. The poem’s activation of feelings of wonder, desire, and disgust not only legitimates the expulsion of non-white, non-Christian queens from Spenser’s Faerie Land, but more importantly, shapes and encodes the racial knowledge of its readers through affect.[5]

In recent years, Spenserians have grappled with allegory as a discursive space where racialization is tightly interlinked with other ideologies governing the poem, including Christian typology, aesthetic epistemology, and imperial violence.[6] In responding to the persistent claim that Spenser’s epic should be read as a religious allegory only, Dennis Austin Britton and Kimberly Anne Coles have argued that allegory is not only a device through which ideology is transmitted, but is also composed of the same false stability that punctuates race. Spenser’s allegory “both draw[s] from and produc[es] understandings of a racialized body.”[7] While allegory helps orient readers along a relational map with both its sources and moral encoding, allegory cannot be separated from the anthropological contexts, cultural meanings, and political realities imposed on it.[8] I approach this lacuna by examining the ways the poem’s affective mode physicalizes, exteriorizes, and amplifies the inner workings of power and difference housed in what Angus Fletcher calls “the hermeneutic walls of allegory.”[9] In the movement between form and ideology, I see the production of race through affect, which previous readings of racialized allegory have not taken into account.

In other words, allegory is a medium that catalyzes the circuit between ideology and interpretation, form and meaning, narrative and context. The dynamic movement between a rich literary device and polyvocal cultural composition is, in itself, a racializing factor. The movement between form and ideology activates a network of connections between characters and feelings that has not been considered before. In relation to interracial contact and mixing, where human differences and feelings are sorted, disciplined, and hierarchized time and time again, how are feelings racialized? How does affective control operate as a coercive mode of hierarchy and difference? Spenser deploys affect, such as desire and disgust, to code racial formation. In what follows, I focus on the affects of racialization which, on the one hand, associate virtuous feelings such as sorrow, sadness, sympathy, and humility with true Englishness and, on the other, activate powerful feelings of disgust in response to the lustful, vilified Duessa. One signals generative sexuality that will sustain the poem’s fictions of whiteness, while the other forecloses the foreign queen’s humanity and paves the way to her containment.[10] In attending to the affective force of these two gendered constructs, I channel premodern critical race theorist Margo Hendricks’s righteous call to “understand the immigrant [or foreign] woman’s position in a world which symbolically exploits her ‘otherness’ as a literary and cultural foundation for the construction of a particular form of womanhood at the same time as it conceals her presence in Renaissance England.”[11]

Central to the foreign woman’s concealment is her subjection in relation to the ideal of white Protestant femininity. In Spenser, this takes the form of Una, who rides “Upon a lowly Asse more white than snow, / Yet she much whiter.” Indeed, Una is described as a “louely lady” and “faire” (1.1.4); most importantly, her somatic whiteness and royal lineage reflect her inner virtues: “So pure an innocent, as that same lambe, / She was in life and euery vertuous lore, / And by descent from Royall lynage came / Of ancient Kings and Queenes” (1.1.5). Kim F. Hall has shown how the linguistic construct of chaste whiteness in poetic descriptions of “fair” or “white” ideals of beauty naturalizes a nascent white supremacist ideology that privileges European ancestry.[12] Here, Una’s aestheticized somatic whiteness and noble pedigree mirror her virtuous interiority, whereby the boundaries between white physiognomy, royal blood, and true religion coalesce to produce and patrol exemplary white Protestant womanhood. However, somatic whiteness becomes deceitful simulacra in the absence of an inherently Protestant interiority that points to a godly lineage. In Spenser’s Reformed imaginary, epidermal whiteness symbolizes exemplary Protestant womanhood only when it is interlaced with the grace of God, which is granted to members of the elect only. To this, Duessa’s whiteness, when she is disguised as “false Fidessa faire,” is not enough to countermand her inner falsehood. Furthermore, Duessa’s liaison with the Muslim knight darkens her — a point that I will return to later.[13] In the same stanza, the juxtaposition of their “wanton loues” with “the bloud of the vanquisht Paynim bold” (1.7.26) bespeaks the fear of racial mixing, which blackens false Fidessa’s whiteness.[14] As Joyce Green MacDonald has observed, somatic whiteness does not “repudiate the idea of racialized norms of femininity, since other kinds of difference — sexual, political, behavioral — will be fully identified as racial matters.”[15] Duessa’s “borrowed light” hides underneath it “a fowle deformed wight”(1.8.49), as Una proselytizes while she undresses the foreign queen.

Just as it emblematizes the interdependence of somatic whiteness, true Christian interiority, and noble genealogy, the narrative likewise explores the racializing constructs of falsehood. In the figure of Duessa, racial stigmatization is shaped by sartorial, religious, and sexual modes of differentiation, which pave the way for the poem’s ultimate rejection of the foreign woman via the affect of disgust. We first encounter Duessa adrift in Faerie Land, traveling an unfamiliar geographical terrain with the Muslim knight Sans Foy. Unlike Una, whose “wandring in woods and forests” is anchored in Christian clarity, Duessa’s mobility is deemed “faire disport and courting dalliaunce” (1.2.9;14). The construction of Duessa’s difference starts with a description of excessive materials surrounding her body. She dons “scarlet red, / Pursled with gold and pearle of rich assay” and a “Persian mitre” (1.2.13). Even her “wanton palfrey” is adorned in “tinsell trappings” and “golden bells and bosses brave” (1.2.13). In the decadent House of Pride, she basks in “such endless riches, and so sumpteous shew; / Ne Persia selfe” (1.4.7). Lorraine Daston and Katherine Park have persuasively argued that wonders, as objects of inquiry, are imbricated with the emotions they evoke.[16] Duessa’s movement between her native Persia and Faerie Land, along with her objects of wonder, demonstrate that nobility and lineage signify differently across contexts. Her mobility and opulent surroundings become material signifiers of her spiritual depravity. Despite her noble birth, Duessa is irredeemable because she is an outsider to the true English Church and, by extension, excluded from the divine ordering that grants permission to cross borders. She is the “daughter of an Emperor” (1.2.22), but her traversing of borders, accompanied by material objects and foreign subjects, racializes her in the context of white English Protestantism. As Patricia Akhimie notes, “groupings can never be finite or discrete, since members must continually be evaluated for inclusion or exclusion.”[17] The emphasis of Persia as Duessa’s place of origin conflates her subjectivity with the pearls associated with the Indian ocean. She is the symbolic Persian pearl that evokes wonder, the jewel that white settler colonial ideology strives to hoard. The evocation of strangeness and wonder that accompanies this representation of an Orientalized royal woman moving between borders will morph into feelings of disgust later in the poem. In this formulation, the narrative points to Duessa’s overdetermined foreignness, her ostentatious display of wealth, her mobility, and her false beauty. Indeed, Duessa’s material hypervisibility, along with the feelings of wonder and desire she rouses, serves as justification for exclusion based on her apostasy, her transgressive sexuality, and her disgusting affect.

The narrative controls erotic desire between racialized bodies by channeling it into feelings of disgust. Duessa represents the dangers of incorporation into the English commonwealth, threatening to corrupt the fantasy of racial purity. In the infamous bathing scene of Book 1, the bleeding, speaking tree Fradubio recounts to Redcrosse his betrayal of Fraelissa for Duessa and the events that led to his metamorphosis into a tree. In the voyeuristic account, Duessa’s body produces a warped representational logic that positions the onlooker as, simultaneously, desiring and disgusted. His concupiscence, but more importantly, his need to confirm Duessa’s erotic beauty, who “seemde as faire as” Fraelissa, his own “faire lady” (1.2.37), motivated him to watch Duessa bathe, where he “chaunst to see her in her proper hew” (1.2.40). In Fradubio’s account of this libidinal spectacle, Duessa’s naked, non-white body evokes feelings of disgust. As it turns out, “her proper hew” is not the “fairness” he desired:

Her neather partes misshapen, monstrous,
Were hidd in water, that I could not see
But they seeme more foule and hideous,
Then womans shape man would believe to bee. (1.2.41)

In drawing attention to Duessa’s monstrous reproductive organs, the narrative conjoins the affective energies of desire and disgust with the threat of miscegenation that non-white, non-Christian queens embody. Duessa’s “foule” and “hideous” monstrosity justify this moment of violent intimacy, where her reproductive body undergoes a transformation from conduit for progeny into object of odious debasement. But for a brief cinematic moment, in Fradubio’s inability to look away from the object of wonder, we witness the scrim separating the erotic thrill from the grotesque repulsion produced by this gendered spectacle of nude bathing. In other words, within the libidinal economy of the poem’s racist logic, the embodied allure and threat of a foreign queen become legible through the affective currents of wonder, desire, and disgust that inculcate in the audience appropriate responses to racialized bodies.

By engaging and harnessing the emotional responses of the viewer, and by extension, the reader, the poem creates a new racial language, whereby the embodied otherness of the racialized subject shapes what and how people feel. In his exposé of the cultural meaning of the word “disgust” in the early modern period, Benedict Robinson considers René Descartes’s model of aversion as “not the opposite of desire. It is a kind of desire.”[18] In Descartes’s telling, every aversion constitutes desire, since both affects are rooted in the same passion. However, when the object is considered through time and utility, the relationship to it becomes one of either desire or disgust. Because Fradubio and Redcrosse’s desire for Duessa cannot be contained in a generative Protestant marriage, Duessa’s body moves in only one direction: from wonder, to desire, to disgust.

Following affect theory’s emphasis on the inextricable link between desire and disgust, the relationship between race and desire becomes apparent.[19] Sharon Patricia Holland has shown how erotic desire undergirds processes of racialization: “ [the] focus on desire…is important in the process of orientation under colonialism, as desire (longing) marks the place of colonial access”; in this formulation, Holland continues, “the erotic is less like autonomous life and more connected to a matrix of desiring relations that tend to make it difficult to mark where racist … practice begins and where good desire ends.”[20] Spenser racializes the border-policing feelings of disgust in his representation of Duessa’s allure. When Una finally disrobes Duessa in Canto 8, “fowle Duessa’s” (1.8.49) racialized embodiment of disgust comes full circle: her breasts “lyke bladders lacking wind / Hong downe,” from which “filthy matter” wells, and “Her wrizled skin as rough, as maple rind.” In addition to her vomitive appearance, Duessa reeks of otherness. “And her sowre breath abhominably smeld” (1.8.47), implicating the olfactory in the marking of difference. In mounting this visceral embodiment of her raced otherness, Spenser fundamentally forecloses Duessa’s humanity and ultimately legitimizes her expulsion from the land of the redeemed: “She flying fast from heauens hated face, / … Fled to the wastfull wildernesse apace” (1.8.50). Considering the affective politics of racialization, therefore, gives insight into how the fantasy of white Protestant Englishness impelled the expulsion of diseased, deviant bodies as central to the expansion of hegemonic control.

The poem’s animation of disgust coalesces with another powerful racializing discourse of gendered coercion: the vilification of witches. The affective charge of disgust mobilizes an impulse to ward off infection, to “reforme that ragged common-weale” (5.12.26). The unnaturalness of Duessa as a witch contributes to a discourse that welds transgressive sexuality, women’s agency, and racialized foreignness to the development of ideologies about gender and race.[21] When we scrutinize witchcraft through the optics of race, particularly when accusations of witchcraft are attached to monstrosity and infection, we can detect how militant Protestants, like Spenser, harness and transform disgust into a method of affective control.[22] In Book 1, representations of Duessa as a witch abound: she is a “false sorceresse” (1.2.34); her golden cup “replete with magick artes” (1.8.14); and her witchcraft rooted in “wicked herbs and ointments,” and “secret pyson … charmes and some enchauntments” (1.2.42; 8.14). Additionally, she is dangerous because the erotic and visual pleasures her magic conjure threaten white futurity.[23] In his witch-hunting handbook, On the Demon-Mania of Witches (1580), French political philosopher Jean Bodin considers a witch’s defiance of natural law, “one who knowingly tries to accomplish something by diabolical means.”[24] More importantly, Bodin’s advocacy of witch hunts promoted scrutiny over the gyno-centric areas of pregnancy, birth, and reproduction. To Bodin, witches not only “receive children and offer them to the Devil,” they also cause monstrous births, such as one witch who caused “a woman [to give] birth to a toad.”[25] Clearly, Bodin’s witches, like Duessa, are dangerous because of their proximity to and alignment with reproductive agency, which is itself racialized through connotations of gendered errancy, deviant sexuality, and material excess. Writing in Scotland 1597, the future King of England, James VI of Scotland, warns of the “vnnaturall inuasiones” of witchcraft.[26] The threat of witches lies in their ability to penetrate borders, their gendered agency, and rejections of patriarchal control; to James, “disobedience is as the sinne of Witch-craft.”[27]

Likewise, Spenser likens witchcraft to foreign infection, invasion, falsehood, deceit, and waywardness, which are narrativized via the affect of disgust; underneath her “royall robes, and purple pall,” Duessa is revealed as “A loathly, wrinckled hag, ill fauoured, old, / Whose secret filth good manners biddeth not be told” (1.8.46). In this sense, then, Duessa can be described as “weyward,” which Ayanna Thompson — in reading the racialization of Macbeth’s witches, “the secret black and midnight hags” (4.1.48) — defines as “weird, fated, fateful, perverse, intractable, willful, erratic, unlicensed, fugitive, troublesome, and wayward.”[28]

Underlining the interconnection between witchcraft, strange queenship, and the biblical allusions attached to the word “hag” reveals much about Spenser’s racialization of Duessa. In a poem that is pervaded — one might say obsessed — with genealogies and historical lineages, the semantic affinity between “hag” and the biblical “Hagar” in Genesis 16 as social outcasts and racial others generates important meanings.[29] Hagar is the Egyptian slave girl whom Sarah, Abraham’s wife, coerced into having sex with her husband in order to preserve the patrilineal line. However, when Sarah bore Isaac, she expelled Hagar into the Sinai desert with her son, Ishmael. Etymologically, the origins of the Hebrew name Hagar quite possibly relate to the Hebrew roots ger, or guwr, which connote “to dwell, abide, reside, emigrate, sojourn,” with the prefix –ha (the) attached to it.[30] Such etymology, therefore, gives Hagar the literal meaning of “The Immigrant,” “The sojourner, the foreigner, or the stranger.” In St. Paul’s interpretation of Abraham’s covenant with Isaac in Galatians 4.21–31, Hagar becomes the embodiment of a sexualized and raced body on display, condemned for never arriving, her movement a dalliance, her futurity foreclosed. Indeed, her descendants are not promised salvation, but are associated with the carnality of a fallen, foreign woman. Pauline allegorization of Hagar as a figure of deceit, tainted lineage, and errancy was consolidated by St. Jerome, who read in the word “Saracen” proof that the children of Hagar, called “Agarens,” were duplicitous, claiming descent from Sarah.[31]According to Geraldine Heng, “attributing the invention of the name Saracens to the enemy, as a sly act of self-naming by the enemy is … not only a brilliant lie, but one that brilliantly names the enemy as liars in the very act of naming them as enemies.”[32] Likewise, Spenser aligns witchcraft with foreign infection, invasion, falsehood, deceit, and waywardness. As a hag, a Hagar, a harlot, Duessa’s vilified otherness is produced and reproduced time and again. Her non-Christian, non-white lineage, her idolatrous rejection of divine justice, and her defiance of mechanisms of natural law are affronts to the idea of sovereignty and good governance.

Because the body politic and its imagined futures are measured by a queen’s coded whiteness, Duessa’s indelible markers of religious and racial otherness — her poisonous cup, her sexual relations with Muslim figures, and her deceit — yoked to the feelings of disgust she evokes, cannot sustain the dynastic linearity that the commonwealth of the Godly requires. Quite the opposite, her foreignness threatens fantasies of racial purity, passivity, and constancy. Central to the foreign woman’s excision is her diminishment in relation to an aggrandized ideal of white Protestant femininity. In the following, I linger on the activation of white feelings, particularly the politics surrounding Una’s embodiment of raced sentimentality, to throw into high relief how somatic and affective markers are intimately imbricated in early modern racial formations.

I wish to return to the politics surrounding Una’s embodiment of whiteness, particularly the presentation of her raced sentimentality, to reveal how somatic and affective markers are intimately imbricated. When we first encounter Una, we learn that she “Inly mournd,” and “seemed in heart some hidden care she had” (1.1.4). Una is mourning the aborted project of the true English church, but it is important to highlight how Una feels white, or evokes positive emotions, and how her sentimentality transmits to the sensing bodies of readers. Joseph Campana notes “Una’s conversion into a figure of sentimental beauty whose appeal and triumph are underwritten by a displaced violence directed at demonized figures of feminine materiality, such as Duessa.”[33] This triumph of Una’s sentimentality over Duessa’s racialized materiality is conducive to what Lauren Berlant, in theorizing the political work of the sentimental genre, calls “the pleasure of being morally elevated by consumption.”[34] In Una’s case, Spenser’s readers access the pleasures of sympathizing with her sentimentality, which arrives racially coded. Indeed, Clare Hemmings looks at the ways affect “manifests precisely not as difference, but as a central mechanism of social reproduction.” In this context, Una’s sentimentality, or “affective intensity,” to use Hemmings’s term, “strengthen[s] rather than challenge[s] a dominant social order.”[35] In the poem, when Una is associated with positive affects such as pity in “piteous words” and “piteous plaints” (1.3.33; 44); a “royall virgin” who “wailes and weeps” (1.2.7); and “sore grieved in her gentle brest” (1.2.8), her embodiment and materiality embed her in the machinations of white biopower. What is strengthened is an emotional code necessary to uphold the demarcation between virtuous reproductive bodies, on the one hand, and raced and oversexed ones, on the other. White supremacy’s project of racial differentiation is in full production.

In the figure of the disgusting foreign queen, Spenser produces feelings to identify a collective threat that needs to be purged. This activation of feelings to draw racial boundaries is a precursor to what Kyla Schuller calls “the biopolitics of feeling” in the nineteenth-century United States, when state-sponsored programs used affect as a “broad regulatory technology.”[36] In the nascent ecology of settler colonialism, the organization of feelings contributes to the dehumanization of non-white women. Contrarily, the valorization of sentimental white womanhood becomes an equally powerful mode of domination in the colonies. In sharp contrast to Una’s white affect, Duessa’s insensate body is base, volatile, and impenetrable. Notice, for example, how Spenser prompts his readers to dismiss Duessa’s suffering in the Legend of Holiness. First, the poem ridicules her “crocodile tears” as she mourns the death of her Muslim lover, Sansfoy. Spenser doubles down on his construction of racial identities. Not only is Duessa incapable of feeling grief, since hers is a “false griefe hyding … harmefull guile,” but also the very object of her grief, her slain Muslim lover, is not worthy of pity. Spenser redirects his readers’ compassion to the “mournefull plight” of the weary wanderer, a “foolish man” for sympathizing with Duessa’s “cares” (1.5.18).[37] To be moved by Duessa’s grief or to feel pity for the dead Muslim knight is to transgress a racialized boundary that is reserved for white bodies only. It is a construction that undergirds the early formations of the racialized subject as incapable of both absorbing affect and generating it — at once unimpressible and unworthy of Protestant pity.[38]

In adjudicating whose bodies are amenable to experiencing morally superior affects, Spenser contributes to a nascent white supremacist discourse that considers non-white bodies impervious to pain and suffering. Indeed, the creation of disgust in readers foregrounds the kind of dehumanizing ideological work that justifies the expulsion of non-white people, and later on, their enslavement as means of production only. If Spenser’s central concern in The Faerie Queene is “making virtue active in the world,” as Kimberly Anne Coles argues, how does this vision encompass the vast expansion of dominion? How does this project reckon with irredeemable subjects who have diseased souls and depraved complexions?[39] These questions become particularly urgent at the end of Elizabeth’s reign, when the propagation of the Tudor progeny had unquestionably failed and the prospect of racial mixing — possibly with England’s mortal enemy, Roman Catholic Spain — lurked on the horizon. This crisis makes the specter of racial and religious contamination a clear and present danger. I turn here to the dynastic politics of this temporal juncture, which brought the ideological ramifications of foreign queenship to the fore.

As early as the 1580s, secret negotiations between Spain and James VI of Scotland, Elizabeth’s presumed successor, were already underway to map the future of dynasticism in Europe.[40] Far from raising the mantel of Protestant providentialism, the Scottish King worked every channel to ensure his accession to the English throne. He suggested Spain was interested in a match between the future Prince of Wales and the Spanish infanta, or a daughter of the Prince of Savoy, King Philip’s niece, as part of a larger agenda of peace.[41] In the resounding words of Andrew Hadfield, “Spenser died thinking that his worst fears were about to be realized and that the result of years of bad female rule would be the triumph of a pincer movement — or even an alliance — between the Stuarts and the Spanish to outflank and threaten the rump of England.”[42] Indeed, on the heels of his accession to the English throne, King James I — the self-appointed rex pacificus — sought a peace that would include a dynastic marriage with England’s mortal enemy, Roman Catholic Spain, as well as Catholic tolerance for English recusants.[43] The homogeneity of the realm is endangered when the racialized are granted passage into the enclosed garden, the gated community, the walled nation-state.

If intimacy and purity forged the ideal of white Protestant Englishness, then interracial marriage was a threat to the commonwealth. The Faerie Queene’s investment in rooting out infection to serve divine purposes and determine God’s favor dovetails with its lessons on how to feel as a community under threat. In this grand narrative of English Protestant providentialism, the process of racialization is interrelated with affective energies. As a result, the poem’s affective construction of sentimental, chaste, white womanhood in opposition to Orientalized, Blackened, foreign queenship indexes anxieties about procreating bloodlines amidst a succession crisis. Spenser’s fantasy of a white Protestant realm not only shapes the moral and religious timbre of the virtuous commonwealth, but more effectively, stokes feelings of desire and disgust that function to exclude non-white, non-Christian queens from its ideal imaginings.

  1. All references (to book, canto, and stanza) are to Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, ed. A. C. Hamilton (New York: Longman, 1977).
  2. Spenser critics have long drawn the similarities between Armida’s Garden in Torquato Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata (1581) and Acrasia’s Bower of Bliss. See, for example, Jason Lawrence’s recent Tasso’s Art and Afterlives: The Gerusalemme Liberata in England (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017), esp. Chapter 2.
  3. Dennis Austin Britton, Becoming Christian: Race, Reformation, and Early Modern English Romance (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014), 59–61.
  4. See Mira Assaf Kafantaris, “Protestant Purity and the Anxieties of Cultural Mixing in William Shakespeare’s and John Fletcher’s Henry VIII,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Shakespeare Queens, ed. Kavita Mudan Finn and Valerie Schutte (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 331–53, esp. 334–35. For an analysis of miscegenation as a plot that can only be understood through the frame of rape and white womanhood, see Arthur L. Little, Jr., Shakespeare Jungle Fever: National-Imperial Re-Visions of Race, Rape, and Sacrifice (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000); Francesca T. Royster, “White-Limed Walls: Whiteness and Gothic Extremism in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus,” Shakespeare Quarterly 51, no. 4 (2000): 432–55, esp. 449–51; Kim F. Hall, Things of Darkness: Economies of Race and Gender in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995), esp. Chapter 3, which analyzes the threat of miscegenation in Antony and Cleopatra and The Tempest.
  5. Sylvia Wynter and Hortense J. Spillers’ scholarship shed light on how biopolitics shape subjectivities and epistemologies as always in opposition to Blackness. See Sylvia Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, Its Overrepresentation — An Argument,” CR: The New Centennial Review 3, no. 3 (2003): 257–333; Hortense J. Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics 17, no. 2 (1987): 64–81.
  6. For excellent investigations of Spenser’s Irish experience and his knowledge of the colonial enterprise, see David J. Baker, Between Nations: Shakespeare, Spenser, Marvell, and the Question of Britain (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997); Andrew Hadfield, Edmund Spenser’s Irish Experience: Wilde Fruit and Salvage Soyl (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997); Christopher Highley, Shakespeare, Spenser, and the Crisis in Ireland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Bradin Cormack, A Power to Do Justice: Jurisdiction, English Literature, and the Rise of Common Law, 1509–1625 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), especially Chapter 3. For an analysis of the racialization of Spenser’s Indian fairies, see Margo Hendricks, “‘Obscured by Dreams’: Race, Empire, and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Shakespeare Quarterly 47, no. 1 (1996): 37–60. See also Benedict S. Robinson’s discussion of Islam in Spenser in “‘Secret Faith,’” in Islam and Early Modern English Literature: The Politics of Romance from Spenser to Milton (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 27–56. For allegorization of race in other contexts, see Barbara Fuchs, “Spanish Lessons: Spenser and the Irish Moriscos,” Studies in English Literature 1500–1900 42, no. 1 (2002): 43–62; Jean E. Feerick, Strangers in Blood: Relocating Race in the Renaissance (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010), especially Chapter 1; Melissa E. Sanchez, Queer Faith: Reading Promiscuity and Race in Secular Love Tradition (New York: New York University Press, 2019).
  7. Dennis Austin Britton and Kimberly Anne Coles, “Beyond the Pale,” Spenser Review 50, no. 1 (2020): http://www.english.cam.ac.uk/spenseronline/review/item/50.1.5, accessed 19 April 2020. They reiterate this point in Dennis Austin Britton and Kimberly Ann Coles, eds., “Spenser and Race: An Introduction,” in “Spenser and Race,” special issue, Spenser Studies 35 (2021):1–19.
  8. Ross Lerner examines the “formal kinship” between race and allegory, drawing on the instability of both modes in “Allegorization and Racialization in The Faerie Queene,” in “Spenser and Race,” ed. Dennis Austin Britton and Kimberly Anne Coles, special issue, Spenser Studies 35 (2021): 107–35.
  9. Angus Fletcher, “Allegory without Ideas,” in Thinking Allegory Otherwise, ed. Brenda Machosky (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), 10.
  10. Early modern humoral theories, rooted in Hippocratic and Galenic medicine, understood the body to be porous and fluid, where the imagined imbrication of “the stuff of the outside world and the stuff of the body” influenced ideas about the emotions, according to Gail Kern Paster, Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 4. In this essay, I tie detectable emotions to racialized subjects, which are constructed as an inheritance, following Britton’s work in Becoming Christian’s on infant baptism in Calvinist theology.
  11. Even though Hendricks focuses on the invisibilization of women of African descent in white feminist historiography under the broad mantle of the “universal woman model,” her theorization of a racialized, often vilified, foreign womanhood that throws in sharp relief white, upper-class, chaste womanhood helps my examination of foreign queens in this essay (Margo Hendricks, “Feminist Historiography,” in A Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing, ed. Anita Pacheco [Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2002], 374).
  12. Hall, Things of Darkness, 22.
  13. I deliberately choose not to use the label “Saracen” in referring to the Sans Brothers, following Shokoofeh Rajabzadeh’s autoethnographic critique of the violence embedded in this term (“The Depoliticized Saracen and Muslim Erasure,” Literature Compass 16, nos. 9–10 [2019]: https://doi.org/10.1111/lic3.12548).
  14. I draw on Royster’s “White-Limed Walls,” particularly her generative reading of Tamora’s whiteness in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, who is darkened by her sexual relationship with Aaron the Moor.
  15. Joyce Green MacDonald, Women and Race in Early Modern Texts (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 9–10.
  16. Lorraine Daston and Katherine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150–1750 (New York: Zone Books, 1998), 11.
  17. Patricia Akhimie, Shakespeare and the Cultivation of Difference: Race and Conduct in the Early Modern World (London: Routledge, 2018), 19.
  18. Benedict Robinson, “Disgust c. 1600,” ELH 81, no. 2 (2014): 554.
  19. For example, to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank, “only something you thought might delight or satisfy can disgust” (“Shame in the Cybernetic Fold: Reading Silvan Tomkins,” in Shame and Its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader, ed. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995], 22.
  20. Sharon Patricia Holland, The Erotic Life of Racism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 50.
  21. Spenser’s witches include Duessa, Lucifera, Acrasia, Phaedra, Ate, and Munera. Given the scope of this essay, I will only focus on Duessa’s witchcraft. The association between heresy and witchcraft has received much critical commentary; as Stuart Clark notes, accusations of witchcraft were “so widespread, so endemic in the discourse of religious difference” (Thinking with Demons: The Idea of Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997], 532). To feminist critics, the charge of witchcraft was a tool to contain women’s agency, regulate their sexualities, and maintain patriarchal control. The relation between early modern witchcraft and patriarchal coercion has been discussed in much detail by feminist critics such as Sylvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation, 2nd ed. (Brooklyn, NY: Autonomedia, 2014); Katherine Usher Henderson and Barbara F. McManus, Half Humankind: Contexts and Texts of the Controversy about Women in England, 1540–1640 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985); Monica Karpinska, “Early Modern Dramatizations of Witches and Pregnant Women,” Studies in English Literature 50, no. 2 (2010): 427–44; Julia M. Garrett, “Witchcraft and Sexual Knowledge in Early Modern England,” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 13, no. 1 (2013): 32–72.
  22. For the use of witchcraft in racialized discourse, see Sylvia Wynter’s meditation on Sycorax and the demonic in “Beyond Miranda’s Meanings: Un/silencing the ‘Demonic Ground’ of Caliban’s ‘Woman’” in Out of the Kumbla: Caribbean Women and Literature, ed. Carole Boyce Davies and Elaine Savory Fido (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1992), 355–72. See also Diane Purkiss, “The Witch on the Margins of ‘Race’: Sycorax and Others,” in The Witch in History: Early Modern and Twentieth-Century Representations (London: Routledge, 1996), 25075; Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields, Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life (New York: Verso, 2012).
  23. My use of the concept of “white futurity” derives from Holland’s theorization of the ubiquity of white ontology that rests on anti-Black and racial–colonial violence, arguing that: “the purpose of ‘the future’ is to wed us to a particular kind of repetition where the reiteration of past practice enlists both heteronormativity and biological belonging on its side to hide racist endeavor in quotidian practice” (The Erotic Life of Racism, 34).
  24. Jean Bodin, On the Demon-Mania of Witches, trans. Randy A. Scott, abr. Jonathan L. Pearl (Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 1995), 45. 
  25. Bodin, On the Demon-Mania of Witches, 138.
  26. James I, King of England, Daemonologie: In Forme of a Dialogue (Edinburgh: Robert Walde-grau, 1597), 49.
  27. James I, Daemonologie, 5.
  28. Ayanna Thompson, “What Is a ‘Weyward’ Macbeth?,” in Weyward Macbeth: Intersections of Race and Performance, ed. Scott L. Newstok and Ayanna Thompson (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 3.
  29. I am grateful to James C. Nohrnberg for his help with this point.
  30. Paul D. LeBlanc, Deciphering the Proto-Sinaitic Script: Making Sense of the Wadi El-Hol and Serabit El-Khadim Early Alphabetic Inscriptions, (Ottawa: Subclass Press, 2016), 239.
  31. See Robinson, “‘Secret Faith,’” 33.
  32. Geraldine Heng, The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), 112.
  33. Joseph Campana, The Pain of Reformation: Spenser, Vulnerability, and the Ethics of Masculinity (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012), 49.
  34. Lauren Berlant, The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), 54.
  35. Clare Hemmings, “Invoking Affect: Cultural Theory and the Ontological Turn,” Cultural Studies 19, no. 5 (2005): 551.
  36. Kyla Schuller, The Biopolitics of Feeling: Race, Sex, and Science in the Nineteenth Century (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), 9.
  37. Joseph Campana notes that it is an ethical fallacy to deny the truthfulness of Duessa’s emotions (“Crocodile Tears: Affective Fallacies Old and New,” in Affect Theory and Early Modern Texts: Politics, Ecologies, and Form, ed. Amanda Bailey and Mario DiGangi [New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017], 129–52).
  38. In Book 5, Spenser conflates Catholicism with Islam, using the same affective charge of pride in his depiction of the “proud Souldan” (5.8.30). Souldan is read as an allegorical stand-in for Philip II of Spain; as Michael O’Connell has argued, “[t]he Souldan’s high war chariot aptly portrays the turreted Spanish galleons of the Invincible Armada” (“The Faerie Queene, Book V,” in The Spenser Encyclopedia, ed. A. C. Hamilton (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1990), 282.
  39. Kimberly Anne Coles, “Gender in the 1590 Faerie Queene,” in Edmund Spenser in Context, ed. Andrew Escobedo (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 357.
  40. Peter Lake and Michael Questier, All Hail to the Archpriest: Confessional Conflict, Toleration, and the Politics of Publicity in Post-Reformation England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 12.
  41. For James’s peace negotiations with Spain in the 1590s, see Alexandra Gajda, “Debating War and Peace in Late Elizabethan England,” The Historical Journal 52, no. 4 (2009): 852. For a discussion of an Anglo–Spanish alliance prior to James’s accession to the English throne, see Paul Allen, Philip III and the Pax Hispanica, 1598–1621: The Failure of Grand Strategy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), esp. 99–114; Robert Cross, “To Counterbalance the World: England, Spain, and Peace in the Early 17th Century” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 2012), esp. 57–58, 64, 243, 513.
  42. Andrew Hadfield, “War Poetry and Counsel in Early Modern Ireland,” in Elizabeth I and Ireland, ed. Brendan Kane and Valerie McGowan-Doyle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 260.
  43. See Kenneth Fincham and Peter Lake, who point out that James’s “belief in Christian unity, based upon a very limited number of crucial Catholic doctrines,” could allow him to incorporate a “range of religious opinions in the heart of the church” (“The Ecclesiastical Policies of James I and Charles I,” in The Early Stuart Church, 1603–1642, ed. Kenneth Fincham [Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993], 31). For James I’s rhetorical use of the via media, see W. B. Patterson, King James VI and I and the Reunion of Christendom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). On “loyal Catholics,” see Michael Questier, “Catholic Loyalism in Early Stuart England,” English Historical Review 123, no. 504 (2008): 1132–65.


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Race and Affect in Early Modern English Literature Copyright © 2022 by Mira Assaf Kafantaris is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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