Braggadochio and the Schoolroom Simile


  • This essay is indebted to a number of extraordinary readers, including Ann Baynes Corio, Emily C. Bartels, Michael McKeon, Thomas Fulton, Jeff Dolven, Sarah Kennedy, and Carrie Hyde; it is especially indebted to Jacqueline T. Miller.


Braggadochio travels through Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene collecting other men's ornamenta, a word that describes both the figures of rhetoric and the weapons of war. His story proceeds according to the paradigm of accumulation that dominated early modern pedagogy and underwrote its central claim that the collection of knowledge might facilitate social mobility. The early modern simile acted as an engine of accumulation and its copious productivity resisted the very abstraction upon which an art of thinking was predicated. Humanist pedagogy suggested that the success of a given composition depended upon disguising the labor of making. Having shown men the path “from cart to schoole, and from thence to Court,” George Puttenham also warns in his Arte of English Poesie (1589) that his students are in danger of returning whence they came: “being now lately become a Courtier,” the student must “shew not himself a craftsmen, & merit to be disregarded, and with scorne sent back againe to the shop or other place of his first facultye and calling.” Spenser casts Braggadochio's accumulation of comparative images as a means to social mobility while also implicating himself as poetic laborer in acts of accumulation. For Spenser, the simile encodes the time of poetic practice into The Faerie Queene and reveals both the craft and the schoolroom. (C. R. R.).