Hurst Lecture with Visiting Hurst Professor Melissa Sanchez
To Giue Faire Colour”: Sexuality, Courtesy, and Whiteness in The Faerie Queene
This essay explores the losses that Spenser studies has incurred in its neglect of the scholarship on early modern race that has compounded over the past thirty years. Much of this work has been produced by scholars of color, and particularly feminist scholars of color, who remain strikingly underrepresented in Spenser studies. If we treat this body of knowledge as central rather than peripheral to analysis of The Faerie Queene, we can expand our understanding of the multidimensional nature of Spenserian racial formations, which collaborate with white norms of gendered hierarchy and sexual innocence. The representations of slander, assault, and shame in Book VI offer particularly salient examples. Extensively, even obsessively, allegorizing female appetite and autonomy in racialized terms, Spenser’s Book of Courtesy allows us to appreciate the centrality of whiteness to the seemingly race-neutral ideals of courtesy and civility, as well as the dependence of those ideals on the selective deployment of slander and violence.