If Words be the Food of Love, Speak On: A Theory of Consumptive Language and Its Application to Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene
My undergraduate thesis explores the implications of consumption related rhetoric, references to eating, stomach, and digestion etc., within the context of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. I begin by developing my own theory and explain the basis by showing the connection between consumptive rhetoric and sexual attraction as defined by psychoanalytic theory. With this foundation, I link consumptive rhetoric and its sexual implications to linguistic writings about speech acts. Essentially, I argue that instances of consumptive rhetoric are speech acts that commit a sexual action with all the implications carried by an action, not a word alone. Within the context of Early Modem society, this has significant repercussions for gender roles and communication. Women in Early Modem society were expected to live within prescribed standards of sexuality, but women in the Renaissance, like women of all ages, experienced attraction and engaged in sexual activity outside of prescribed norms. The dichotomy between societal expectations and the reality of female sexual activity created a tension seen in consumptive speech acts. Via this rhetoric, women and the men they were attracted to, and who were attracted to them, were able to express their sexuality without directly violating social codes. Therein, women of the Renaissance gained a modicum of linguistic control that empowered them to assume typically assigned male power. As men engaged in consumptive rhetoric with women, the two sexes became linguistically, if not socially, equal.