The Object of Affection: Metamorphosis and the Unbound Subject in Early Modern English Literature
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This project explores examples of metamorphoses in early modern English literature, and argues that metamorphosis becomes a means of affective expression for characters who are otherwise constrained. The Ovidian assault on the firm distinction between subject and object tells us something about affective life in the early modern world – and perhaps especially, if not exclusively, the affective life of early modern women. My primary texts include Thomas Lodge’s Scillae’s Metamorphosis and William Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece; Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, Book III Cantos 10-12, and Book IV through Canto 10; Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and John Lyly’s Woman in the Moon; Anne Cecil’s Pandora sonnets, and selections of Katherine Phillips’ and Mary Sidney’s poems. In considering these texts, I explore how radical changes respond to or incorporate violence as a core facet of the expression of subjectivity, and how such change may provide opportunities for affective communication. Because of the way the subject may be construed in early modern England, much of the literature grapples with the fine line separating subject from object, and the idea that it is not difficult to cross that line oneself through a deterioration of boundaries. This progression is always disruptive, though not necessarily negative. This dissertation is indebted to Julia Kristeva’s model of subjectivity as being consistently mutable and reflective of external reality. Kristeva’s essays hinge on “the turning points” that situate the individual in relation to community, and the porous boundaries between self and other. Signification is a necessary ingredient for the formation of a definite subject, but signification is unstable, particularly in poetic language. What Kristeva describes is traumatic subject formation that can occur repeatedly. It is an ongoing process informed by external events that occurs “between social and asocial, familial and delinquent, feminine and masculine, fondness and murder. ”1 Metamorphosis renders these interstitial spaces visible, and produces a mimetic image that reduces the subject to a singular object, undoing complex organizing fantasies of self and shattering inner cohesion. The Ovidian epyllia develop an idea of metamorphosis in which transformation is made available as an individual response, as it is for Scilla, whose originates in “The wondrous force of her untam’d desire,” an emotional pageant that culminates in her fusion with the shoreline in a demonstration of how she had become “enthrald” (118. 6, 126. 2). The tool that the epyllia develop has a mobility of its own, and becomes portable to other genres; so one can find the same sort of crying-out in Hermione’s statue, and in Anne Cecil’s lamentations: the drive toward ossification becomes also a drive toward emotional force.
Chair and Committee
Jami Ake, Anupam Basu, Robert Henke, Jessica Rosenfeld,
Barth, Emily, "The Object of Affection: Metamorphosis and the Unbound Subject in Early Modern English Literature" (2020). Arts & Sciences Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2163.