Date of Degree
Classics | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, British Isles
Genealogy, Cosmopolitanism, Shakespeare, Spenser, Renaissance, Epic
Throughout medieval Europe, royal families traced their genealogies back to the ancient Trojans. Beginning in the Carolingian court, this practice persisted into the early modern period, when narratives of ancient Troy—from accounts of the war to rewritings of Virgil—saturated literary production. Constituting the translatio imperii tradition, in which civilization “translates” from east to west, these legends of Trojan descent allowed European monarchs to legitimize their authority, or imperium, as derived from the Roman Empire, which Virgil famously celebrated as descending from Trojan Aeneas. This tradition formed what I call feudal cosmopolitanism: an affiliation among nobility premised on shared descent that also activated the notion of European identity. However, with the emergence of humanist reading practices in early modern Europe, which read antiquity as exemplary—models to be imitated—the Trojan heroes claimed to have founded the various European kingdoms became national types, representing an identity to be performed, rather than genealogical forebears. In this way, feudal cosmopolitanism gave way to exemplary nationalism—yet shared European identification remained latent in the Trojan accounts. These local, exemplary, and national iterations of the Trojan legends, thus, were never fully extricated from their international, European context. This dissertation argues that the legends of Trojan origin present an unstudied source of English nationalism: their use by poets and dramatists in articulating an insular national identity expressed, at the same time, an international longing—a latent desire for connection with the European continent as residue from the legends’ feudal cosmopolitan past. In representing an emergent nationalist identity in England, writers turned to Troy to negotiate via identification, emulation, and competition their cultural and geopolitical position within Europe. This negotiation occurs through discourse of fame, which arises from the illustrious past; but just as treatment of the Trojan legends transformed within the the political communities to which they provided discursive legitimization, the significance of fame—from glorifying nobility and consanguinity to a typifying a territorially defined national community—mutated. In this way, this dissertation reconsiders the genealogies of modernity.
In order to elaborate a theoretical frame through which to reread modernity in the early modern, my first chapter engages recent work on nationalism, internationalism, and cosmopolitanism. More specifically, I build on Caspar Hirschi’s revisionist theorization of nationalism in his Origins of Nationalism (2011, in which he argues that the idea of the nation arises through a dialectic of centripetal and centrifugal discourses, driven by a competition over fame). I use Hirschi to read Shakespeare’s critique of discourses of fame in Troilus and Cressida. Through Shakespeare, I provide an abbreviated textual history, on the one hand, of the development of legends of Trojan origin across Europe and then, on the other, their adoption in England. Ultimately, the play undermines the authority fame confers and severs the event of the Trojan War from both genealogical and exemplary readings. In my second chapter, I analyze John Higgins’s First part of the Mirror for Magistrates (1574), one of the earliest and most significant Tudor treatments of the Trojan-British material, in which the question of historicity becomes less important than Higgins’s construction of a national tradition. I then turn to Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, which I situate as continuous with Higgins’s earlier project, arguing that Spenser’s concern with teaching virtue leads him to articulate a national identity attuned to its dependence on a broader European community. My third chapter takes up what I refer to as the “Albion epics”: William Warner’s Albion’s England (1586), Drayton’s Poly-Olbion (1612), and William Slatyer’s Palae-Albion (1621), all of which constitute English experiments in the epic form and which, individually, attempt to reconcile founding problem of ancient Britain sharing an origin story with its rival European kingdoms, articulating what I refer to as a counter-cosmopolitanism. My final chapter returns to the stage, reading Shakespeare’s treatment of the Roman invasion of ancient Britain in Cymbeline. It argues that, unlike the epic poetic tradition, with its relatively fixed generic conventions, the stage allows for radical reformulations of the legendary material. More specifically, in Shakespeare’s play, he displaces Brute as the exemplary forebear and replaces him with Innogen, Brute’s legendary wife. With this reinvented forebear, Cymbeline points beyond either feudal cosmopolitan or exemplary nationalism toward what I call a sympathetic cosmopolitanism.
Bowling, Joseph, "Famed Communities: Trojan Origins, Nationalism, and the Question of Europe in Early Modern England" (2018). CUNY Academic Works.