Inconveniencing the Irish: Custom, Allegory, and the Common Law in Spenser's Ireland

Bradin Cormack

in A Power to Do Justice

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print February 2008 | ISBN: 9780226116242
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226116259 | DOI:
Inconveniencing the Irish: Custom, Allegory, and the Common Law in Spenser's Ireland

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Focusing on late Elizabethan England, this chapter analyzes Books 5 and 6 of Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene (1596) in light of the Elizabethan attempts to imagine in colonial Ireland a place for English common law. It focuses on the pressure applied by England's colonialist policy on two terms, common and custom, through which English lawyers celebrated the common law as it operated in England. Early modern Ireland presented a special problem in this regard, in that the customary Brehon law, which the colonizers were eager to displace for both symbolic and practical reasons, had to be imagined in opposition to English common law. Spenser deploys the generic resources of pastoral to rethink the status of property, this being one step in a program to implement the imperfectly coherent law through which English appropriations of Irish land could be rationalized. In the same vein, Spenser's allegory comes to stand for the system of interpretive coercion that transformed law's accommodation of jurisdictional difference into an administrative initiative to identify a distinct Irish legal identity only in order to suppress it.

Keywords: Edmund Spenser; Faerie Queene; common law; England; Ireland; custom; Brehon law; property; allegory; coercion

Chapter.  20168 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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