The Reader’s Enactivist Travels in the Spenserian Storyworld: Virtual and Allegorical Bodies

Document Type


Presentation Date


Conference Name

Sixteenth-Century Society Conference

Conference Location

Bruges, Belgium


In this paper, I analyze how Spenser leads his reader to make moral judgments by using the unique characteristics of allegory—that is, the fact that readers transfer not only meanings but also emotional reactions and moral judgments from the source domain to the target domain. I build upon enactivist literary theories as well as other cognitive theories of allegory to analyze two episodes in Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, the Castle of Alma episode, in which a body is figured as a place, and the Belge episode, in which a place is figured as a body. The Castle of Alma, although it explicitly allegorizes human emotions, is a strangely affectless place, conveying a stoic version of temperance that the reader experiences by imaginatively identifying with the fictional bodies of Guyon and Arthur who travel through this body-place. The focus on the body as material, including the personifications of both emotional states and mental faculties, intellectualizes the experience of having a body in ways that discourage the reader from engaging emotionally with this episode. In contrast, the Belge episode, by making a place into a suffering maternal body, works to prompt both intellectual and emotional responses by inviting the reader to identify with the suffering of the Low Countries by identifying with the experiences of Belge’s body. A key instance occurs in 5.10.25, when the ambiguity of whether the pronoun “her” refers to Belge herself or to one of her cities leads by stanza’s end to the jarring image of a castle built in Belge’s neck. In both cases, the emotional reaction and its associated moral intuition derive from the literal level, not the allegorical projection. Spenserian allegory does not transfer only “meaning”; that is, the full package of what the reader projects from the source-domain of the literal level of the text is not just propositional information. Before the reader even makes that projection from source-domain to target-domain she or he has already had an emotional reaction and an intuitive moral response. Through control of this process, Spenser hopes to influence the moral intuitions of his readers.


Allegory, cognitive approach, enactivism, emotion, Edmund Spenser, Faerie Queene


English Language and Literature

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