Medusa’s Gaze: Casuistry and Conscience in the Renaissance

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Stanford University Press, 1991 - 344 pages
This book examines the central role of casuistry - the science of resolving problems of moral choice, known as 'cases of conscience' - in Elizabethan religious, political, and literary culture. In the process, that author develops a theory of casuistical hermeneutics in a synthesis of new historicist and post-structuralist methodologies, a synthesis made intelligible in terms applied within the discourses of ideological and epistemological crisis that late-sixteenth-century casuiatry both addressed and provoked. Casuistry gained unprecedented notoriety in the last two decades of Elizabeth's reign, emerging as an ambiguous practice that continued to be claimed as a heuristic procedure while it also came to function as a locus of moral and epistemological uncertainty. The author shows the equivocal nature of casuistry to be the effect of the inherently dialogic activity of the word 'conscience'. Believed to be a sacred repository of truth as well as a hermeneutic operation, conscience both embodied the culture's received norms and subjected to scrutiny the social and political negotiations that produced and maintained these norms. The author examines the application of casuistry in wide-ranging but interrelated documents: Elizabeth's two speeches to Parliament concerning the fate of Mary, Queen of Scots; representative manuals of casuistry; accounts of the secret movements of the English Catholic mission and Walsingham's intelligence network; the 'Siena Sieve' portrait of Spencer's The Faerie Queene. The author establishes casuistical hermeneutics as a central organizing principle of Spenserian narrative and charts the connection between Spenserian narrative and novelistic discourse (in Bakhtin's sense of the term). These documents yield new insights into the politics of ambiguity and misreading in the Elizabethan period, variously exploiting the casuistical doctrines of equivocation, 'honest dissimulation', and mental reservation, as well as what the author calls the rhetoric of inviolability, which was associated with the voice of conscience and appropriated by monarch and dissidents alike. That rhetoric depended on a politic self-censorship that proved indispensable to the maintenance of the culture's norms, producing narrative structures that represent scandalous - and theoretically unrepresentable - insights. Reading the text of casuistry in the Renaissance illumines the pivotal, complementary processes of reading and writing the texts through which Elizabethan culture defined itself - its texts of power, its hierarchy of values and norms, its taboos, and its tacit or naturalized protocol for determining canonical texts and 'good' readings.
 

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Contents

INTRODUCTION Casuistry in the Elizabethan
1
ONE The Text of Casuistry in Elizabeths Discourse
21
Honest
63
PART II
103
FOUR The Siena Sieve Portrait and Book 5 of The Faerie
123
FIVE Tempering by just proportions good venims from
141
Britomart Arte
169
SEVEN On Not Representing the Queens Answer
215
Gygess Ring Spensers
263
Notes
275
Works Cited
317
Index
327
Copyright

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