Spenser, Marine Life, and the Metaphysics of Extinction: Overfishing and the True Monsters of the Deep

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter plumbs Spenser’s representations of the sea and sea-life in the context of mounting anxiety about the decline of Britain’s fisheries. It reads the fisherman’s attempted rape of Florimell in Book 3 as a barbed critique of unsustainable fishing practices. The Faerie Queene contrasts Lucretian views of the ocean as the site par excellence of ecological instability with a Neoplatonic vision of the ‘fruitful’ ocean as a nursery of immeasurable fecundity and inexhaustible biodiversity. The crash of Britain’s fish stocks seemed to support Lucretius’ troubling theory that species could go extinct, but Spenser’s Neoplatonism spawns hope for the fisheries’ recovery. The chapter then turns to Guyon’s encounters with fish devouring sea-birds on the Rock of Vile Reproach (based on ‘Ireland’s Eye’) and the armada of sea monsters inspired by the drawings of Olaus Magnus. The episode both reinforces and debunks early modern notions of the monstrous alterity of marine life in ways that could alternately deter or encourage Britain’s incipient whaling industry and the expansion of fishing into the North Atlantic. Despite his recoiling from the idea of extinction, Spenser’s willingness to confront environmental problems and to navigate between stable-state and post-equilibrium ecologies makes him an important poet for eco-theory.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEdmund Spenser and Animal Life
EditorsRachel Stenner, Abigail Shinn
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan, Cham
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9783031426414
ISBN (Print)9783031426407, 9783031426438
Publication statusPublished - 21 Feb 2024

Publication series

NamePalgrave Studies in Animals and Literature
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISSN (Print)2634-6338
ISSN (Electronic)2634-6346


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