In the gem-strewn shore of Book Three of The Faerie Queene Edmund Spenser allows himself to create a lyric topography defined by its distance from any conventionally charted or nationally bounded coast. This unmappable coastline stands in contrast to the river marriage of Book Four with its cartographically delineated personification of Britain’s internal waterways. Working in the decades after The Faerie Queene’s publication, the sprawling poems by the self-declared Spenserians, Michael Drayton’s Poly-Olbion (1612) and William Browne’s Britannia’s Pastorals (1616), are known for their use of Spenser’s river marriage to present their politicized representations of the nation’s landscape. Focusing on Spenser’s decidedly indefinite “faerie” coast, I hope to open an alternative perspective on the chorographical poetry of the Jacobean period. Writing alongside the margins of Spenser’s epic romance, this new generation of poets commits to, but also questions, the constrained conventions of cartographical description that were an undisputed part of their Spenserian inheritance. Drawing on the specifically lyric resources of Spenser’s faerie shoreline, the poets work to describe, and implicitly theorize, the advantages of a more fluid and tenuous geography of the early modern shore.
Andrea Walkden is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Toronto and the author of Private Lives Made Public: The Invention of Biography in Early Modern England, winner of the John T. Shawcross Award from the Milton Society of America. She is currently co-editing with Carrie Hintz volume 8 of The Correspondence of Richard Baxter for the Oxford University Press and working on a monograph, “Foreign Policy Poetics,” which considers the early modern lyric as an unexpectedly rich form for exploring Britain’s evolving relations with Europe.