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Lo I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske, As time her taught in lowly Shepheards weeds, Am now enforst a far vnfitter taske, For trumpets sterne to chaunge mine Oaten reeds, And sing of Knights and Ladies gende deeds; Whose prayses hauing slept in silence long, Me, all too meane, the sacred Muse areeds To blazon broad emongst her learned throng: Fierce warres and faithfull loues shall moralize my song. Read the first page
"For the method of a poet historical is not such as of an historiographer; for an historiographer discourseth of affairs orderly as they were done, accounting as well the times as the actions; but a poet thrusteth into the midst even where it most concerneth him, and there recoursing to the things forepast, and divining of things to come, makes a pleasing analysis of it all" Spenser wrote a letter to Walter Raleigh (above excerpted) to explain this strange cacophony of FQ, a mixture of ancient mythology, Renaissance Christian morality and enough obscure symbolism for an academic brigade; a tribute to country and queen. Knights from the court of the Faerie Queen conduct a search and destroy mission against evil in the form of a pack of minor villains pecking away at the heroes of the poem, but each one perpetually foiled. Such as Archimago, the witch Hectate, the philanderer Malbecco receive comeuppances in jousts, internecine squabbles or palace tours, with this type of constant action occupying canto after canto that at some point the content aspect becomes a bit wearisome. Amid this "action" are endless lists of virtues allegorized in each book, the reader being skewered to a Platonic ideal especially evident in females with such as the knight Britomart representing strenght and accomplishment in women, Una, the ultimate fantasy chick, and several others with such heights of description one does expect something mind blowing ahead, perhaps at last the perfect woman, to which in FQ Spenser comes close without cigar. The joust with the evil forces of nature seems unique to Spenser, who seizes the reader by the lapels with an in one's face style of optimism such that worst elements suffer defeat by contrast with more worthy opponents. There is little in FQ of the the weird, off the wall bastardizations of human nature being written almost at the same time by the playwright down the road. This world of Spenser's appears mostly black and white, and totally devoid of the perceptual uncertainty or moral relativity of a Lear or Hamlet, though one senses toward the end with introduction of "mutability" a weakening in the poet: "Then since within this wide, great universe nothing does firm and permanent appear." It is faint criticism of genius to call FQ a shade below the top with its questionable, archaic content simply outweighed subsequently, but for the glaring and obvious truth that this is some of the greatest poetry that has been written by one of the best poets. FQ is saved by its lyrical verse, by the brilliance of its expression; by the talent of this tremendous intellect to place into rhyme over hundreds of pages such enormous complexity of expression. To call this accomplishment "a pleasing analysis" though as well said as the rest of this poem, is understatement. Shakespeare tends to stir with eerie omniscient intellect, and Spenser does the same, but in a tone and manner so sharply in contrast. FQ contains cleverness, insight, a piercing intelligence, but all rendered with such brushstrokes of eloquence as is simply unequaled. As happens too often, Spenser died before he finished, and one speculates had he lived what else might have been "thrustest into the midst".Read more ›
THE FAERIE QUEENE. By Edmund Spenser. Edited by Thomas P. Roche, Jr with the assistance of C. Patrick O'Donnell, Jr. 1247 pp. Penguin English Poets, 1978 and Reprinted. Although everyone has heard of Edmund Spenser's amazing narrative poem, 'The Faerie Queene,' it's a pity that few seem to read it. To a superficial glance it may appear difficult, although the truth is that it's basically a fascinating story that even an intelligent child can follow with enjoyment and interest. It appears difficult only because of Spenser's deliberately antique English. He needed such an English because he was creating a whole new dimension of enchantment, a magical world, a land of mystery and adventure teeming with ogres and giants and witches, hardy knights both brave and villainous, dwarfs, magicians, dragons, and maidens in distress, wicked enchanters, gods, demons, forests, caves, and castles, amorous encounters, fierce battles, etc., etc. To evoke an atmosphere appropriate to such a magical world, a world seemingly distant in both time and place from ours, Spenser created his own special brand of English. Basically his language is standard Sixteenth Century English, but with antique spellings and a few medievalisms thrown in, along with a number of new words that Spenser coined himself. The opening lines of the poem are typical : "A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plain, / Y cladd in mightie armes and siluer shielde, / Wherein old dints of deepe wounds did remain, / The cruell markes of many a bloudy fielde...." (page 41). If, instead of reading with the eye, we read with the ear or aloud, the strange spellings resolve themselves into perfectly familiar words such as clad (clothed), mighty, arms, silver, shield, deep, cruel, marks, bloody, field. And "Y cladd" is just one of those Spenserian medievalisms that simply means "clad" or clothed (i.e., wearing). The only two words in this passage that might cause problems for the beginner are "pricking" and "dints," and it doesn't take much imagination to realize that these must refer, respectively, to 'riding' (i.e., his horse) and 'dents.' But if you can't guess them, an explanation is provided in the useful list of Common Words at the back of the book. Once you've used that 2-page list for a little while, progress through Spenser's text becomes a snap. And learning a few hundred words is a small price to pay for entrance into one of the most luxuriant works ever produced by the Western imagination, and one that once entered you will often want to return to. The Penguin edition, although it contains the complete text of 'The Faerie Queene,' is significantly without an Introduction, presumably because the editors felt that we don't really need one. The book does, however, contain stanza-by-stanza Notes. These have been placed at the end where they can be referred to at need, and where they don't interfere with the flow of the story as we experience it. There have been many editions of 'The Faerie Queene.' Students who are studying the poem formally will want to have the fully annotated edition by A. C. Hamilton, a bulky edition with extensive and detailed notes, but in which the actual text of the poem is not so easy to read, being a rather poor and considerably reduced copy of the 3-volume Clarendon Press edition. The Penguin has always seemed to me to be the best available edition for the general reader. As is usual with Penguins, it has a clear and well-printed text, and the Notes are just about right, being neither skimpy nor excessive. Though fat, it's not too big to carry around, and you may just find yourself taking it along with you on your next trip. Spenser is one of England's very greatest writers. And he was writing, not for critics, but for you and me. Admittedly his language can be a bit tricky at first, and he certainly isn't to be rushed through like a modern novel. His is rather the sort of book that we wish would never end. His pace is leisurely and relaxed, a gentle flowing rhythmic motion, and that's how he wants us to read him. To get the hang of things, try listening to one of the many available recordings. And if you hit a strange-looking word, don't fret or panic. Try to hear the word in your mind, and guess at its meaning. That will often help, but if it doesn't, Roche's list or his brief and excellent notes should. So take Spenser slowly, and give his words a chance to work their magic. Let him gently conduct you through his enthralling universe, one that you will find both wholly strange and perfectly familar, since human beings and their multifarious doings are Spenser's real subject, and somewhere in one of his enchanted forests you may one day find yourself.Read more ›
I read Edmund Spenser's "Faerie Queene" as an assignment in my English Renaissance Literature class, but the book is one that I will keep in my own collection from here on out. The story was delightful and encouraged the imagination with just enough description to outline the picture, while leaving plenty of room for the audience to fill in the colors. Look for the vast amounts of symbolism throughout the poem. My favorite character of the play was Una. The princess who travels with the destined Saint George and remains faithful to both God and her love despite what harsh elements might come in her way. She was human in the sense that she was frightened, she cried, and she got herself in trouble, but she was an admirable character in her strengths, endurance and patience. Within her character, she encouraged a strong female role in a time when the potential of women had yet to be recognized. With Elizabeth as queen, the patriarchal dominance that was known through most of the world was startled. Edmund Spenser, however, knew the strength in his queen and admired it. Perhaps it his respect for Elizabeth that is carried through in his development of Una. As a whole, the "Faerie Queen" was simple enough for those who are not absorbed in classical literature. It had gory battles, risky sexual encounters, and a tender message of love and forgiveness. Most of all, it emphasized the mercy and grace that is found through the love of our God and the sacrafice of his son Jesus Christ. Another strong message that was conveyed through "Faerie Queene" was that of personal growth and taking the chance to discover what you have inside, not what you have always been. Red Cross has a destiny to fullfill before becoming Saint George, but until he realized that he could overcome temptations and evil and seize the elements of truth than his destiny would be kept further and further away from him. How many times in our own lives have we decided not to try for something that we know we wanted only because we were afraid to the take the chance? How many times have we kept ourselves further away from our own futures? All in all, the "Faerie Queene" was an excellent piece of epic poetry and I hope that others will find it as enjoyable and impacting as I have. Jin of Vanguard University of Southern CaliforniaRead more ›