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Spenser’s Forms of History$
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Bart van Es

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780199249701

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199249701.001.0001

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‘By Cyphers, or by Magicke Mighf’: Prophecy and History

‘By Cyphers, or by Magicke Mighf’: Prophecy and History

(p.164) Chapter 6 ‘By Cyphers, or by Magicke Mighf’: Prophecy and History
Spenser’s Forms of History

Bart van Es (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the attempts made to extend beyond historical endings through the practice of ‘political prophecy’. It is concerned with the changeable reading of old histories. It shows how the ‘Briton history’, so important in justifying the Tudor dynasty, was also the core narrative of highly subversive manuscript prophecies. It explains that such prophecies multiplied at crisis points in Elizabeth's reign. It adds that they were not only themselves culled from existing histories, they also made routine use of history in order to validate their own supposed prognostications. It establishes Spenser's personal contact with those involved in astrological prophecy, and, as a result, forwards a new understanding of the allusive strategies of The Shepheardes Calendar and the Spenser/Harvey Letters. Investigating the prophecies delivered to Britomart in The Faerie Queene, Books III and V, the chapter argues that this, ultimately, is the most dangerous form that historical narrative can take.

Keywords:   political prophecy, Briton history, Britomart, The Faerie Queene, Shepheardes Calendar, Spenser/Harvey Letters, manuscript prophecy, Elizabeth's reign

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