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Scholarly Horizons: University of Minnesota, Morris Undergraduate Journal

Abstract

Although the term “ecology” did not exist when Edmund Spenser was writing, forms of ecological understanding were present during Spenser’s time. Therefore, the modern phrase “nutrient cycling” provides a useful vocabulary with which to discuss two of Spenser’s most prominent works: The Faerie Queene and A View of the State of Ireland. Throughout these texts, Spenser exhibits an awareness of the cyclical patterns that govern the natural world, especially regarding the rich Irish soil. While emphasizing the fertility of the Irish landscape serves to advance his colonial agenda, Spenser’s apparent ecological awareness also poses a paradox: the valuable soil is composed of exactly what he wants to get rid of – the Irish. In the first part of this essay, I discuss Spenser’s rhetoric surrounding the Irish landscape in A View and consider the forms of ecological understanding present during the early modern period, placing Spenser in the context of the English movement toward agricultural order. In the second part of this essay, I argue that anxieties about the presence of Irish bodies in the soil appear in Book V of The Faerie Queene, illustrating that Spenser himself was aware of the flaws in his colonial rhetoric. Although Spenser’s goal is to excise the Irish and cultivate a new English society, “planting” the English in soil that is full of decomposing Irish bodies will only result in the cultivation of another Irish society.

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