Edmund Spenser likens the words swallowed by Old English infants to the milk expressed by their nurses’ breasts; their identities are formed by the ingestion of this speech, which has to it a material quality, a ‘smacke’ or taste, a kind of liquid ideology. In turn, Spenser could argue that the Irish thought the way that they did because their landscape and political institutions together with their cultural forms and social practices required them to do so. The implications of Spenser’s account of eating have various modern parallels, perhaps the most striking of which is a well-known argument developed by the linguist Valentin Volosinov in 1923, that it is not the inner self that creates language, but language that constructs the inner self. Spenser is acutely self-conscious about the semiotic practices of which literary writing is fundamentally constituted, worrying about the unconscious assimilation of oral utterance as he engages in the conscious deployment of citation and allusion.