Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1989
Sixteenth-century England is framed by two fictional works that depict an ideal society. Sir Thomas More's Utopia (1516), which began the century, and Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene (1590), which ends the century, both create an ideal world where men behave with dignity and with truth and valor. This is a world in which personal values are more important than greed or lechery. When More creates his Utopia, he is responding to changes in English life, as English society moves from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance. In More's world, education is changing, as men are being educated for public service. In addition, the people are moving away from the church and a career in the clergy and into more secular interests. At the end of the century, when Spenser writes his epic, The Faerie Queene, England is once again facing change. Queen Elizabeth has ruled more than thirty years, nearly all of Spenser's life, and the country has begun to worry about an heir to the throne. Although the queen is healthy (she lives until 1603), the idea of a virgin queen has been losing its appeal for some time. Elizabeth has resisted all efforts, first to marry and give birth to an heir, and second, to name anyone as heir to her throne. In short, the Elizabethan world is on the cusp of change, just as More's Tudor world was eighty years earlier. As one way to respond to political and social tensions, Spenser illustrates the usefulness of literature, especially when combined with religion, history, and philosophy, as a means to effect social change.
In The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser presents his ideas of what constitutes an ideal England. In the letter to Sir Walter Raleigh that was published with Books I-III, Spenser states that his purpose in writing is to create a model for educating young men, but he is not simply providing an academic model. Spenser maintains that his purpose is to, "fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline." To ease this learning, Spenser points out that his work will, "be most plausible and pleasing, being coloured with an historicall fiction, the which the most part of men delight to read." Spenser understands that his audience needs to find education palatable, and he continues in his letter to state that he has chosen King Arthur and his world as the topic of his epic because Arthur's story carries no political implications. In fashioning his epic as a means to teach valor and graciousness, Spenser is meeting the challenges set forth by Sir Philip Sidney only a few years earlier. In his Defence of Poesy (1579), Sidney argues that poetry creates pleasure and that pleasure makes learning more enjoyable. Sidney pointed out that men learn best when they want to learn, when they are eager to learn. Making learning pleasurable is one goal of the poet, according to Sidney: "he [the poet] doth not only show the way, but giveth so sweet a prospect into the way, as will entice any man to enter into it." The poet, says Sidney, has the power to make the distasteful, more agreeable: "even as the child is often brought to take the most wholesome things by hiding them in such other as have a pleasant taste." Thus the poet is akin to the mother who puts cherry flavoring in medicine to entice a child to swallow. For Spenser, the cherry flavoring is Prince Arthur and his knights, who teach honor and truth, through entertainment.
A classical epic, such as those composed by Homer or Virgil, requires a hero of imposing stature, one of national importance. Prince Arthur, the Red Cross Knight, Guyon, Artegall, and Calidore, fit this definition, since each knight engages in adventures and rescues damsels, requiring abilities far beyond the means of ordinary men. Their deeds are those of great valor, often demanding super human courage, just as the epic tradition requires. Spenser draws on England's legendary past, which recalls a time of greatness and of grandeur. He implies that with these models to guide them, England's people can achieve this greatness again. In Spenser's world, there is sin and evil, balanced by virtue and goodness. Moreover, the manifestations of these qualities are interesting and alive, filled with plotting and deception, and the ability to create change. Spenser's heroes and villains are representative stereotypes. The Anglicans against the Catholics is a plot, really no different than the cowboys against the Indians of twentieth century cinema. An effective writer needs both heroes and villains to illustrate an idealized world. Unlike Sir Thomas More in Utopia, Spenser takes a chance and reaches back into England's history to appropriate his knights and their quests. Like More, Spenser was an apostle of humanism, but Spenser sought to use his text to educate the nobility to chivalric ideals, which he thought were superior to contemporaneous ideals. In his reading of Spenser, Graham Hough says that Spenser intended to educate the nobility to chivalric integrity by recalling the medieval romance that he thought represented a better society. Hough points out that there are no exact locations, with everything in Spenser's epic appearing rather dream-like. This vagueness of location adds to Spenser's ability to depict an ideal world and makes it safer for him to do so. He is not competing with his own rather politicized world, and no one can condemn the poet for wanting to replace England with a dream—no matter how idealized.
In his work, Spenser is reflecting the Renaissance emphasis of leading a life of beneficial action. At the same time, his text reflects the real-life tensions between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England (established by Elizabeth I in 1559). Northrup Frye argues that Spenser saw The Faerie Queene as a means to reclaiming the virtue and education necessary to return fallen men to a higher level of nature in the upper world (Frye divides nature into four worlds and man should be closer to the top). Frye argues that education is the central theme of The Faerie Queene, pointing out that, "if we had to find a single word for the virtue underlying all private education, the best word would perhaps be fidelity: that unswerving loyalty to an ideal which is virtue, to a single lady which is love, and to the demands of one's calling which is courage." This emphasis on fidelity is the underlying ideal that motivates all of Spenser's heroes and heroines. For Spenser, the Anglican Church epitomizes this fidelity. Thus, Spenser's text relies on biblical allegory to present his perfect world. The imperfect world is represented by allusions to the Catholic Church. For instance, Archimago is first seen as a hermit singing Latin, the Ave Maria, the language of the Catholic Church. He represents evil and deception and the Pope. His accomplice, Duessa, is false, and at different times, she is Mary Queen of Scots, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Whore of Babylon. Her attempts to deceive the Red Cross Knight reveal the attempts of the Papacy to deceive the faithful. To serve as contrast to the evil of Archimago and Duessa, Una is truth, the Anglican Church. Red Cross Knight, the hero of Book I, represents St. George, the Christian man who must rescue Una's parents and defeat hypocrisy. When he is driven to the brink of despair (a considerable sin in Renaissance life), only the teachings of the church (in the House of Holiness) restore him. In this epic, truth defeats the world (the House of Pride), flesh (Duessa at the fountain), and the devil (the cave of despair). Prince Arthur (ancestor to Elizabeth) defeats the giant, Orgolio, and the Catholic Church is defeated by the Anglican. The characters in Spenser's epic are allegorical representations of this tension between Protestant and Catholic belief. The setting is medieval England, but the topic is Renaissance in origin. As Sidney argued, poetry has merit in its ability to make education sweeter and easier to swallow. Spenser accomplishes this by resurrecting the medieval romance and the chivalric knight as instruments to demonstrate the righteousness of the Church of England.
Spenser's attempt to create an ideal world and to remind men of the importance of virtue was not a new idea. Sir Thomas More had attempted something similar at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The setting for More's Utopia (1516), is the ideal community that More wishes could be created in England. This is More's opportunity to criticize government and the ruling class in a less obvious way. If, as Horace argues (and later Sidney), the purpose of art is to educate, that must certainly be what More had in mind with Utopia. In this work, More offers political solutions disguised as fiction. Reform is at the center of More's design, and religious tolerance is his purpose. More felt that only an objective outsider could see the problems that plagued England. His work, then, is a guide for how to improve the world. Utopia's ideal society is defined as a democracy of equal representation and equality of class. More envisioned the responsibilities of government being shared by the people—at least through their elective choices. Tyranny in a ruler would not be tolerated. In this sense, More is echoing his own History of Richard III, with its condemnation of rulers who misuse power. He is nonpartisan in that text just as he is in Utopia. The History of Richard III, is not directed at one particular king but at the despotism of poor government.
Interestingly, More rejects the chivalry of the medieval period, which Spenser will embrace in The Faerie Queene. Because More is really on the cusp between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, this omission is curious. Warriors have no place in his world. Perhaps More is saying that his Utopian people are better Christians than his contemporary Englishmen. Asking such questions in England could be dangerous, as it ultimately was for More. Because of this danger, More uses fiction and a fictional faraway location to ask serious questions and propose solutions to the domestic, political, and religious strife that defined English society. The problem with More's idealized world is that it is boring. There is no art, literature, or drama. There is no difference of opinion, and it is too safe. Why does man need god if his life is already perfect? This Utopian ideal contradicts human nature, which thrives on dissention and argument. Creativity and new ideas evolve out of conflict. Edmund Spenser appears to understand this, since his text, while presenting an idealized world, also makes a world that is rich in conflict and danger, full of risk, and offering the opportunity for redemption. Spenser's world still needs God and the Anglican Church to survive.
In each author's need to create an ideal world, there exists a desire to make England a better place. A heroic past, which emphasized honor and truth, was particularly important in a society where so much disorder had reigned. Peace and the end of the War of the Roses were only a century old. In addition, the reign of Mary, which was particularly bloody and painful, was still a recent memory. There had also been recent rumblings from Mary Queen of Scots and plots to seize the throne. Elizabeth I craved order, as did her subjects. Peace and order in the monarchy were too recent to be taken for granted. The setting of The Faerie Queene may not be Renaissance England, but the content was still topical and important to that culture. By recapturing the past, Spenser has made the present more palatable, and he has instilled hope for the future.
Source: Sheri E. Metzger, for Epics For Students, Gale, 2001.
Metzger has a Ph.D., specializing in literature and drama at the University of New Mexico, where she is a Lecturer in the English Department and an Adjunct Professor in the University Honors Program.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1123
The entrapment of the newly betrothed Amoret in the house of the magician Busirane in The Faerie Queene, book IV—and her extreme reaction to that place—has for decades sent readers scrambling for a satisfactory explanation. Why is she there? Whom should we hold responsible? Busirane has been seen as a presentation of the male sexual imagination "trying busily (because unsuccessfully) to dominate and possess woman's will". Scudamour, Amoret's aggressive new husband—who, while a complete stranger, abducted her against her will from her home in the Seat of Womanhood—is cited as the one responsible for engendering such terror in the young maiden toward this masculine force. It is he who reveals "the tension between husbandly love and its implicit antagonism to women." According to this reading, Scudamour, though he tries to rescue his wife from the magician's house, is, ironically, the one who put her there.
I, however, following Roche, find the source of Amoret's trials in her own character and upbringing. One must recall that Amoret was taken by Busirane during her wedding celebration, only hours before her marriage was to be consummated. In her blooming fear of her first sexual experience, she is blind to the difference between chaste love in a Christian marriage and lawless lust outside that institution: "Amoret makes no distinction between them, for her there is only the horror and enslavement of physical surrender."
Amoret, having spent time both in the Garden of Adonis, where she witnessed the beauty of natural generation, and at the Seat of Womanhood, where she learned the role of the virtuous lover, appears to have forgotten the lessons of the former and corrupted the lessons of the latter. For if Amoret, as most agree, stands for chaste affection, it can hardly be appropriate for her to withdraw from conjugal love with her presumably Christian husband. Even Paul, who thought the celibate state preferable for a Christian, taught: "Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. […] Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer." (Corinthians 7.3, 5)
Nor is Amoret the only character who makes this mistake. When the beautiful maiden is first grabbed by Scudamour in the Temple of Venus, the figure of Womanhood castigates him: "it was to knight vnseemly shame, / Vpon a recluse virgin to lay hold, / that vnto Venus seruices was sold." Here Womanhood is making what to Spenser would be a tragic, almost perverse, error: She is equating reclusive virginity with divine service. Representing only the civil, confined, retiring idea of woman, Womanhood is apparently unaware of the procreative nature of woman celebrated in the Garden of Adonis. That procreation, of course, is just as much a part of "Venus seruices" as Shamefastness and Obedience. It is unavoidable that if Amoret is destined to be married she must partake in both aspects of Venus; her education is designed to make the two complementary. Both aspects are necessary, yet neither can be regarded as sufficient in itself, or an end in itself; each can only find its completion and its harmony in the other. Womanhood, however, would deny "the lore of loue" that Amoret learned in the Garden and would argue for half an education—and half a responsibility—as a whole. She views any affection beyond that half as "vnseemly shame."
This is the attitude Amoret appears to have brought to her wedding. The polite circle of ladies in the Temple, then, because their tutelage expands beyond the designated half of Amoret's learning, is not merely a circle but a chain, restricting Amoret with links of fear and false notions of love. And given that Amoret is later trapped in the Cave of Lust, we should not dismiss the reality of her own sexual nature. It is not unthinkable that a portion of her fear and disgust is directed at her own sexual feelings, which she only begins to recognize after meeting Scudamour.
Busirane, then, cannot simply be regarded as a lust figure, or the overactive male sexual imagination. For regardless of Scudamour's claim that Busirane tortures his bride because "to yield him loue she doth deny," love—whether carnal or emotional—is hardly what Busirane seems to be after. He does not lust after Amoret in any way heretofore understood in the poem. Indeed, he looks nothing like the figure of Lust who later traps Amoret in his cave, or the more courtly lust figure Corflambo, who "cast[s] secret flakes of lustfull fire / From his false eyes." The poet actually gives us very little sense of Busirane's appearance, only that he is a "vile Enchaunter […] Figuring straunge characters of his art."
What Busirane seems to be doing in removing the "living bloud" from Amoret's heart is not generating lust in her, or satisfying his own, but emptying her of the spirit of chaste affection, leaving a cold "dying heart" whose chastity is the brittle, life-denying kind which Spenser abhorred. It is the chastity that regards any and all forms of sexuality with suspicion and distaste; the chastity that denies the dual aspects of Venus and creates an Amoret who "cannot distinguish between the act of marriage and adulterous love".
The House of Busirane, therefore, should more rightly be termed the House of Fear. The reason Busirane is so vaguely described by Spenser is that the poet wishes to mimic the very formless and indecipherable nature of fear itself, which becomes more debilitating as one's apprehensions become less localized and less justified. The reason Britomart must not merely kill Busirane but make him reverse his magic is that Amoret needs not only to shirk off her unwillingness to consummate her marriage, but also to be cured of the essential fear which caused her reluctance in the first place. The life blood of ideal chastity must be restored to her.
Britomart's rescue, then, should be regarded not simply as one woman rescuing another from the evils of male domination, but as a character more experienced in the trials of the heart helping another, who is much less so, to put aside wildly exaggerated and frightful notions. Britomart, who herself has felt the painful wound of love and been succored by Merlin's instruction that her affection is not an ignoble one, is the lone character in the poem, male or female, with the requisite sympathy, serenity, and power to free Amoret from her fear. After all, Dame Concord approved of Scudamour's stealing his would-be bride from the safe, virginal Seat of Womanhood. Timid Amoret cannot possibly understand that benediction. Britomart can assure her of it.
Source: John Vanderslice, "Spenser's The Faerie Queene," in The Explicator, Vol. 57, No. 4, Summer, 1999, pp. 197-199.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7103
The decrees of society are temporary ones. —Nabokov
In the first half of his Faerie Queene, published in 1590, Edmund Spenser generally looks to the distant past for those values that would fashion a gentleman to the ideals of chivalry. By the time he published the second installment of his poem in 1596, Spenser seems to have struggled more openly with the relationship between social practice and values: Should one tolerate customs of which one disapproves? What can be done when others condemn what one believes is right?
The allegory of Book VI, the legend of courtesy, foregrounds these questions. The hero of this section of Spenser's romantic epic is Sir Calidor, charged by the Faerie Queene to track down the Blattant (or Blatant) Beast, a hound-like creature that Spenser named after the beste glattisant that the pagan knight Sir Palomides tracks as hopelessly as he pursues the love of Isode in Malory's Morte Darthur. Calidor's quest is also incomplete, for he finds the baying animal but cannot muzzle it permanently.
The critical consensus that the Blattant Beast represents the inevitability of slander or detraction has not been matched by agreement over the way the rest of Book VI manifests the operation of courtesy. Hamilton's introduction finds no adequate social context for the story, declaring that "allegorical interpretation [is] entirely inadequate, irrelevant and disposable. Of all the books, Book VI seems closest to romance with its aura of manifold, mysterious meanings conveyed in a 'poetic' context and not at all in any abstract moral, philosophical, or historical argument." Most critics find the central theme of the legend in Calidor's vision of the Graces during the pastoral interlude in cantos 9 through 11.
What Hamilton and others attribute to the magic of romance, however, can be shown to be a deliberate vagueness that solves a problem that an enthusiastic reformer like Spenser could not avoid: how to establish good conduct, when too radical a theory of change will leave one's own system exposed to a similar revolution. Only by defining "custom" in general and universal terms as "courtesy" can Spenser open up the possibility for change and claim the prerogative to effect it. Faced with the problem that no simple rule or persuasive argument suffices to establish the priority of one of two competing moral systems, Spenser constructs a narrative solution in The Faerie Queene by drawing on the conventions of chivalric romance, which he read in ethical terms. Three times in the first half of Book VI, once at Crudor's Castle and twice at Sir Turpine's Castle of the Ford, Spenser uses the custom of the castle topos, a narrative structure in which clashing standards of behavior open a gap between moral knowledge and moral action. Spenser could have found the topos in many chivalric romances, but he certainly knew it from Malory's Morte D'Arthur and Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. In earlier books Spenser adopted the convention for the unchaste usage of Malecasta, the suffocating social arrangements of the Castle of Couples, and the injustice of Pollente's bridge. Unlike Britomart and Artegall, the heroes of Book VI find greater difficulty in countering charges of their own ill conduct, as first Sir Calidor, then Sir Calepine, and finally Prince Arthur face customs that someone else regards as proper. Their tribulation—the difference between what they think is right and what action they can effect—foreshadows Calidor's ultimate failure to eliminate detraction.
The narrative convention of the custom of the castle, as a model of moral uncertainty, allows the Book of Courtesy to make its point that courtesy is characterized by imprecision and vagueness. This lack of formal definition characterizes other virtues, but it seems more paradoxical in Book VI, since we usually associate courtesy with show and explicit forms of behavior. Red Crosse takes precise steps and learns fairly exact lessons (the seven acts of mercy) in the House of Holiness. But Spenser's letter to Walter Raleigh emphasizes what Spenser calls "the show" rather than "precepts … sermoned at large." Sir Calidor therefore properly enters a world of romance, pastoral woodlands and pirates, whose surface hides practical reasoning. For if good customs are merely equivalent to manners and fashion, then their social construction and relativity become embarrassingly obvious in the encounter with the Other. But if courtesy resides in the mind as some sort of universal ideal, then it can assume various outward forms.
The need for a general understanding of courtesy coincided with Spenser's early experience in Ireland. The flexible planning necessary to implement English social control over Ireland encouraged the optimistic attitude toward social change that Book VI explores. The other lesson of Book VI, that denigration accompanies accomplishment, warns that if a courteous knight wants to be a reformer, his reputation will fare better in Fairyland than in Ireland.
We first see Sir Calidor, a knight known for his "faire usage" (his moral habits), congratulating Sir Artegall, from whom he learns that Artegall's attempts to embody Justice in Book V have aroused Envy and Detraction and attracted the Blattant Beast. Artegall's perhaps misplaced certainty of his own virtue ("I that knew my selfe from perill free") contrasts to Calidor's perhaps overly pessimistic fore-knowledge that his quest is endless and without instruction ("an endlesse trace, withouten guyde"). Their encounter suggests that a clash of values may be resolved not by proving the invalidity of another culture (Artegall's task) but by striving to put one's own house in order. But few rules suffice for all occasions in the Book of Courtesy.
Sir Calidor attempts to apply the self-reliance Artegall preaches during his first adventure, when he confronts the foul customs of Briana and Crudor. The knight travels until by chance he finds a squire tied to a tree, who tells him about the local practice of exacting a toll (a form of custom) from passing knights and ladies:
Not farre from hence, uppon yond rocky hill, Hard by a streight there stands a castle strong, Which doth observe a custome lewd and ill, And it hath long mayntaind with mighty wrong: For may no Knight nor Lady passe along That way, (and yet they needs must passe
By reason of the streight, and rocks among, But they that Ladies lockes doe shave away, And that knights berd for toll, which they for
passage pay. (my emphasis)
Calidor also learns that the source of the custom is Sir Crudor, who demands that Briana make a mantle "with beards of Knights and locks of Ladies lynd" to win his love. Calidor unbinds the squire and then rescues the squire's maiden by killing Maleffort, who works for Briana. Calidor next invades Briana's castle and slays the porter. He is putting the castle to the sword, sweeping away the inhabitants like flies ("bryzes"), when Briana accuses the knight of courtesy of murdering her men—and of threatening to rob her house and ravish her. Hamilton hears an invitation in her declaration of helplessness, but surely the point of the scene is to force Calidor verbally to defend his attack on the custom of the castle. The rules of civility vary in different times and places. Spenser's scene therefore gives prominence not just to the difficulty but to the uneasiness that accompanies the establishment of civility. Briana's charge that the knight of courtesy has vilely murdered her men dramatizes the perception that one has a difficult responsibility when imposing upon the customs of others.
False traytor Knight, (sayd she) no Knight at all, But scorne of armes that hast with guilty hand Murdred my men, and slaine my Seneschall; Now comest thou to rob my house unmand, And spoile my selfe, that can not thee withstand? Yet doubt thou not, but that some better Knight Then thou, that shall thy treason understand, Will it avenge, and pay thee with thy right: And if none do, yet shame shal thee with shame requight.
Chagrin takes hold of Calidor, as he listens to Briana: "much was the Knight abashed at that word." Puttenham's term for this significant pause is "aporia," whose effect is to raise doubt, as "when by a plaine manner of speech wee might affirme or deny him." The nervous anxiety raised by the question of customary behavior gives a false edge to Calidor's response to Briana. First Calidor denies responsibility for what he has done. "Not unto me the shame, / But to the shameful doer it afford." Calidor's speech implies that good customs, which characterize civility, preexist the evil efforts of Briana and her people to negate them.
Bloud is no blemish; for it is no blame
To punish those, that doe deserve the same;
But they that breake bands of civilitie,
And wicked customs make, those doe defame
Both noble armes and gentle curtesie.
No greater shame to man then inhumanitie.
Briana, however, remains deaf to the "courteous lore" of Calidor, forcing him to fight Crudor.
The battle between Calidor and Crudor figures the particular strain felt by someone who alters the custom of others. Their lives are compared to castles, impenetrable, as each seeks entrance to the other. With no direction—no fixed rules of deportment—Calidor and Crudor "tryde all waies." Their battle mirrors Calidor's perennial pursuit of the Blattant Beast, "an endlesse trace, withouten guyde". The phrase tells us that no written manual of instruction exists. The duel of Crudor and Calidor therefore figures the wandering ways, the labyrinth of fairyland.
Calidor's strain and chagrin undercut his reformation of Crudor. The battle technically ends when Calidor reduces Crudor's pride and cruelty, imposing humility on the fallen foe whose life he spares. Calidor then lectures Crudor on the Golden Rule and demands that he marry Briana without a dowry. Glad to be alive, Crudor agrees to his terms. At once something snaps in Briana (her sudden "affect"). She quiets down and gives her castle to Calidor, who redistributes the property to the squire and lady to recompense their lost beard and hair.
The moral would seem to be that a rude population will offer up their property in grateful exchange for lessons in civility—a fit fantasy for an English colonist in Ireland—were not Crudor's reformation curiously incomplete. How can Calidor's lesson in chivalry ("Who will not mercie unto others shew, / How can he mercy ever hope to have?") guarantee a new mode of conduct? Pressured by the threat of death, forced to swear allegiance on his conqueror's sword and the holy cross, Crudor bends to superior power rather than to reason. Does his mind remain stubborn?
Spenser never lets us trust what we see as each quest of The Faerie Queene opens. Here, he casts doubt on the extent to which Crudor takes to heart the new custom of courtesy, for if Crudor arises as bidden, he does so "how ever liefe or loth." This episode is self-contained in the canto and never referred to again. Yet there are enough clues to the problems of reformation that we may suspect we are not violating the poem's artistic premises by wondering whether the new custom has indeed become customary, or whether Crudor's behavior may revert in an instant. Faced with a similar scoundrel, Boiardo's Brandimarte says, "A frog will never leave the mud!" Spenser's attitude is not devoid of such aristocratic disdain for the lower classes, but in contrast to Boiardo's rule of force in the face of hopeless intransigence and his appeal to a limited audience, Spenser's epic promises to fashion a gentleman without distinguishing whether he means to fashion one from scratch or merely to polish a gentleman born.
A spectacle, rather than specificity, solves the problem for one who, like Spenser, stands in the present and wonders what is the right thing to do today and how to ensure that pattern of behavior for the future. Cicero regarded eloquence as the source of civility, and we usually regard Spenser as promoting this humanist view. But the first custom of the castle scene in the legend of courtesy suggests that eloquence is a necessary but limited means of shaping social behavior. Calidor makes Crudor agree not to mistreat strangers. He tells him to help ladies, without explaining how. Crudor must marry Briana without demanding a dowry, but he receives no instructions on daily behavior. Such negative injunctions merely check the inclinations, including such selfishness as Crudor and Briana show. The purpose of the scene in the legend of courtesy is therefore not to promote Calidor or condemn Crudor and Briana, let alone to propose a blueprint for land appropriation or marriage settlements, but to explore social customs as a scene of contested values.
Spenser adopted the archaic mode of chivalric romance both for its essentially arbitrary form and to allow him to claim the authority of the past for those virtues he was keen to convey as guides for the future. But other people's customs represent formidable obstacles, because they too can claim the authority of the past. How can a reformer justify change without generating an uncontrollable force that can destroy the reformation process? To illustrate this issue, the custom of the castle motif operates as a dialectical structure in which social issues may take narrative form without our resorting to the ethical habit "of ranging everything in the antagonistic categories of good and evil" with the result that "what is bad belongs to the Other." The custom of the castle raises, as Jameson phrases it, "in symbolic form, issues of social change and counter-revolution."
There is, therefore, no bright line test for courtesy in The Faerie Queene. The Blattant Beast represents neither good nor evil but the way of the world: not just slander, but inevitable slander, from which no pastoral retreat provides protection. His bite seems arbitrary, like fashions or the complex set of duties determined by the rank of those one faces. Following the reformation of Crudor's castle, Spenser's narrative voice suggests that such courtesies are so bewildering that nature eases things for some people by making them naturally civil. Calidor, for example, has nature's gift, but Sir Calepine, Calidor's lesser image, is less fortunate in this respect, as the narrative proceeds to demonstrate.
The rude forest figures the uncertainty of moral guidelines by offering Calepine and his lover Serena opportunities for behavior that others—courtiers in a castle, for example—might regard as uncivil. Calepine and Serena are sporting in the forest when Calidor happens upon them, replaying a previous adventure in which a discourteous knight (slain by Tristram) stumbled on Aladine and Priscilla making love outdoors. Unlike the earlier knight, Calidor is too well heeled to stoop to jealous envy of their game; instead, he engages Calepine in conversation until they hear the screams of Serena, whom the Blattant Beast snatches in his jaws as she wanders away to make a garland for her head. The beast soon releases her, but Calidor continues chasing it, and we do not see him again until he begins his pastoral interlude in canto 9. Meanwhile, Calepine finds Serena wounded and travels with her till nightfall, when a "fair and stately place" beyond a river comes into view as they seek shelter.
The place is Turpine's castle, and its custom is discourtesy. Turpine refuses to help Calepine carry Serena across the ford. Calepine crosses anyway, then calls on Turpine to fight and justify his failure to lend assistance to those in need. When Turpine ignores him, Calepine calls him a coward, as Arthur will later. Turpine represents more than cowardice, however. He stands for the inevitability of social detraction when two competing sets of values confront each other.
Normally the foul custom of a castle is that one must fight for lodging rather than receive unquestioned hospitality. Turpine's custom adds a twist by setting this battle not in the present or future but in the past. The porter shuts the gates in Calepine's face and tells him:
that there was no place
Of lodging fit for any errant Knight,
Unlesse that with his Lord he formerly did fight.
The custom doubly bars Calepine from entering since not only does Turpine fail to appear at his castle, but he has already refused to battle him at the ford. Turpine's barrier to entry is the kind of catch-22 or double bind that Spenser characteristically gives to villains who keep castles in Book III, the legend of chastity: the custom of Malecasta' s Castle Joyous precludes any escape; Paridell will seduce Hellenore whether Malbecco watches jealously or not; and Amoret suffers whether she yields to or resists Busirane's black magic. Spenser does not label these practices as customs, but where a central personality organizes events, the pattern of behavior established by the moral habits of the individual symbolize those of an institution, as in the Roman de la Rose, the allegorical ancestor and source for medieval conventions of love.
Like the complex game of love that hinders access to the Rose in Jean de Meun's poem, the logic of Turpine's custom bewilders a naive Calepine. Turpine fails to abide not just by the rules of hospitality, but even by the normal foul custom of a castle, where a host insists on fighting his guests before giving them harbor. Calepine misses the point that he is therefore ineligible to enter. Sounding like Malory's Sir Dinadan, he tells the porter, who "no manners had," that he is weary, his lady is wounded, and he is in no mood to fight his host. He does not know that the man who refused to help him cross the ford also owns this castle. When he asks the porter for the name of the "Lord / That doth thus strongly ward the Castle of the ford," it seems that he has not conceived who and what he is up against. The custom of Turpine's castle finally forces Calepine and Serena to sleep outdoors, under a bush—appropriately for them, for they earlier made love outdoors "in covert shade."
Calepine's obtuseness reflects his incomprehension of the basis on which others disapprove of his conduct. The custom of Turpine's castle, which Calepine cannot overcome, therefore represents the larger social power that underlies the force of detraction. By keeping Calepine out, the society he faces robs him of his dignity. The custom of the castle distorts Calepine's reputation. Even Turpine's name infects the final syllable of "Calepine," which otherwise echoes Calidor as well as the generic Renaissance word for a dictionary: both Calepine and a word book are open to the inspection of others not familiar with their culture or language. They list rules for those not to the "manner" born. Moreover, Turpine causes not just mischief to Serena but inconvenience. English law distinguished an inconvenience from a mischief. An "inconvenience" results when the public is affected (publicum malum), while a "mischief” (privatum damnum) concerns private individuals. Serena inconveniences Turpine, in this public sense, so he refuses to admit her. Turpine's response is that of society—of those who believe the slander of the Blattant Beast, whose bite has wounded her.
As a "dark conceit" of detraction, Turpine continues his attacks after Calepine and Serena proceed on their way. Just as Calepine did not equate the knight at the ford with the keeper of the castle, so he does not realize that the knight who attacks him the next day is that lord of the castle whom he never saw the night before. The image of Calepine hiding behind "his Ladies backe" as Turpine attacks shows not a coward but someone who pays a social penalty for his actions. Calepine lacks awareness, as happens when one does not suspect the ill will of others. Turpine and his castle hold a distorting mirror up to the social reputation of whoever approaches them. They represent the sheer otherness of customs.
Detraction cannot harm one outside the society that circulates a slander. Once away from society, Calepine and Serena are safe. It is therefore fitting that "a salvage man" rescues them from Turpine. The savage's invulnerable skin, a romance image of his outsider status, makes him immune to the uncivil society Turpine represents. After chasing Turpine away, the savage invites Calepine and Serena to his forest home. Ensuing events suggest, indirectly, that Serena gives birth and Calepine arranges a foster family for the baby. When Calepine wanders away from her, he suddenly has an infant on his hands, which he gives to Matilda. Serena meanwhile is lodged in rustic solitude. She hurls herself down until her bleeding "did all the flore imbrew" as she lies "long groveling, and deepe groning." Spenser's romance uses uncertain, vague imagery and the temporal dislocations of entrelacement to avoid limiting the social allegory of Turpine's castle to a particular attitude about one issue, in this case the one raised by Serena's pregnancy. Serena's condition offers a specific but morally unnecessary reason why she and Calepine are not allowed inside Turpine's castle. The point is that the society of Turpine's castle, whatever one thinks of it, finds them unfit.
Spenser criticism is still reeling from the picture in Stephen Greenblatt's Renaissance Self-Fashioning of a poet participating in the cruder moments of colonization, repressing his sexual instincts in the name of a false civility, and helping himself to the wealth of a nation whose presence and practices provoked Spenser's deepest fears about his own stability. But the darkening of Spenser's world has the paradoxical effect of keeping his poem alive. For if Spenser's View of the Present State of Ireland and parts of Book V, the legend of justice, show us a man willing to starve a population or threaten it with the sword, Spenser's thought in The Faerie Queene depends on the narrative mode of romance.
The custom of the castle topos offered Spenser's romance a way to present social solutions without promoting specific programs. Arbitrary rules characterize the artificial castles where custom demands one's beard or locks or upper garments of travelers. Such rules also characterize the pastoral world that Sir Calidor enters in canto 9, where Calidor attempts to win Pastorella's love by his considerate treatment of his rival Coridon. Calidor gives Coridon a garland that he had himself obtained from Pastorella: "Then Coridon woxe frollicke, that earst seemed dead." Despite Coridon's delight, the garland seems like the sign of a loser, for Calidor gives Coridon another one after he throws him in wrestling. Boccaccio's Filocolo questions what it means for a lady to give someone a garland: is it a mark of favor, or a sign that the receiver is too poor to provide for himself? Boccaccio suggests that the meaning of the action can only be interpreted in terms of the customary behavior of lovers.
Such ambiguous images and courtly love games provided romances with materials to symbolize larger questions of how to conform to social customs: how to talk, eat, get ahead, or survive. Puttenham gives a nice example of how one must tailor one's actions to what others are doing when he discusses the trope of hysteron proteron. What he calls "the preposterous" occurs "when ye misplace your words or clauses and set that before which should be behind, & è converso, we call it in Englishe proverbe, the cart before the horse." Whether the sentence "I kist her cherry lip and took my leave" is a figure of speech depends on whether it is the custom to kiss first and then bid farewell, or to first take your leave and then kiss, thereby "knitting up the farewell," in which case the order of events is reversed. He wryly advises to "let yong Courtiers decide this controversie."
Spenser relies on romance images of arbitrary and symbolic behavior—bearding knights, denying hospitality, stripping upper garments—because he seeks a nonspecific picture of courtesy, conceived as a struggle to promote civic welfare. "Vertues seat," Spenser says, "is deepe within the mynd, / And not in outward shows, but inward thoughts defynd." A virtue that lies deep within the mind would create a problem for a mimetic poet precisely because the virtue cannot be seen. But nothing Spenser shows us in his non-mimetic mirror of chivalry need be courtesy itself.
When Spenser makes courtesy a mental phenomenon, he parts from Renaissance theorists like Erasmus and Bacon and Montaigne, who almost invariably defined custom as a form of pedagogy, the training of the individual to perform or to endure. Bacon's essay on custom amounts to a program based on the idea that one can get used to anything. His real subject is habit, which has a notable power of persuasion, as when Hamlet tells his mother she can overcome the "monster custom" to develop a taste for abstinence in her relations with his uncle. The first half of Montaigne's essay "Of Custom" is similar to Bacon's essay. It is about how habits developed since childhood create one's character. In the second half, Montaigne switches to public usages, which a strong educational system helps one adopt as personal habits.
In terms of fashioning a gentleman, Spenser's retreat to generality answers a paradox that Jacques Derrida identified in Rousseau's Emile: "Pedagogy cannot help but encounter the problem of imitation. What is example? Should the teacher make an example of himself and not interfere any further, or pile lesson upon exhortation? And is there virtue in being virtuous by imitation?" A measure of humility for the teacher is also involved, since as Descartes observed, "those who take the responsibility of giving precepts must think themselves more knowledgeable than those to whom they give them, and, if they make the slightest mistake, they are blameworthy." Descartes suggests a practical solution: a historical account or a fable may be allowed to contain examples one may follow as well as "others which it would be right not to copy." Philip Sidney's Defense of Poetry recommends fables over history for one who seeks to create role models. Spenser avoids the problem of constructing role models by adopting the form of non-imitative romance.
Vagueness, or generality, fittingly attends to the three goddesses who dance on Mt. Alcidale, near the end of the legend of courtesy. They are said to be the source of all civility, but they are not models for imitation. Euphrosyne, Aglaia, and Thalia offer no specific instruction in the general fields of "comely carriage, entertainement kynde, / Sweete semblaunt, friendly offices that bynde, / And all the complements of curtesie." Another hundred graces circle them to the tune played by Colin Clout, who represents Spenser in his role of inspired poet. They are said to be the "complements" (specific ceremonies) of courtesy, but Spenser does not name their qualities. The omission seems deliberate in a poem capable of listing every river in England and Ireland. The name of the goddess whom Colin calls the mother of the graces reinforces Spenser's representation of a wide picture of courtesy rather than a list of rules: She is Eurynome, and her name combines a suffix for laws, custom, or organization (-nomy, perhaps from nomos) with a modifier (eury) meaning broad. Her presence on Mt. Alcidale indicates that courtesy requires a wider ability than that of mastering rubrics in a handbook. Aladine and Calepine and Tristram, knights whose names come from books, never reach the standard of behavior of Calidor, whose generic name says that good conduct is a gift.
Spenser's fascination with transcending customs sets his romance beyond the clash of English and Irish cultures or the skeptical acceptance of a Montaigne or More or any of the Renaissance thinkers (Bacon is often cited) who realized that customs were a suitable instrument of social control. The mode of the poem mirrors the poet's mode of life. Spenser always operated with an eye to the future, conceiving plans for his career, organizing the vast project of The Faerie Queene, and eagerly participating in property speculation in Ireland. This latter activity gives us a clue to his imaginative association of courtesy and the spacious ways of romance as a literary form.
The Munster settlement in which Spenser participated in the late 1580s, as he finished the first three books of The Faerie Queene, raised the issue of any large entrepreneurial enterprise, how to plan when tomorrow brings change. The English resettlements gave this issue unprecedented scope. Elizabeth's privy council under Lord Burghley promoted settlement not under color of military conquest, though soldiers and their attendant violence were common, but through the subtler procedures of property development and social engineering. The result was a keen awareness of the difficulty of planning, of allowing for delays, disappointments, and competition. This activity gave Spenser a felt need for modes of conduct that would be both widely applicable and flexible.
The experience of the undertakers reinforced an axiom of anticipation that applies today. Where the future is uncertain, an employer, or undertaker, will find his or her interests best served not by constructing laws for his employees but by guidelines full of vague references to fairness and best efforts, to following standards according to the customs of others in similar enterprises, to duty and loyalty—in short, to equity and values. Equity is a judgment that depends on a total context, not strict rules. It offers open-ended flexibility. The drawback is that it courts uncertainty, especially in costs. Trying to account for activity in Ireland, the government regularly inquired into the exact numbers of English settlers transported to Ireland. Significantly, Sir Walter Raleigh was probably the most successful at settling large numbers of English tenants. But Raleigh's "short, rather vague, and detached" responses to the crown's 1592 inquiry were too imprecise to satisfy Burghley. According to MacCarthy-Morrogh, "Back came a letter demanding amplification upon a number of points including the English population: 'whose those be, or to what number, is not expressed, as the articles of the instructions did require.'" In fact, Raleigh raised working capital by offering land to Londoners whose goal was to profit by resale, not settlement.
The undertakers resorted to vagueness precisely because they bore the onus of day-to-day management and accountability, which belied the numbers Burghley might conjure up, sitting before his maps in his London chamber. Spenser must have felt the weakness of the settlement scheme as he wrote or revised Book VI during the 1590s. There should have been 1,575 armed settlers according to Burghley's covenants; in fact, there were hardly that many Englishmen in Munster, of whom perhaps three hundred were ready to fight, and there was lack of provision for enclosures or defensive buildings. In 1598, for reasons still obscure, the authorities suppressed publication of Spenser's analysis of what was wrong with the laws, customs, and religion of Ireland. The settlement plans failed completely that year, when the local Irish rebelled, and Spenser's castle at Kilcolman was burned. Spenser had become sheriff of Cork, but died in 1599 after sailing to London, paradoxically, to petition for help in controlling a society whose ways he knew as well as any man alive.
As romance versions of the Irish Other, Crudor and Turpine, Briana and Blandina base judgments on their own provincial terms, twisting the good intentions of Calidor, Calepine, and Prince Arthur. Turpine's detraction, in particular, stands for a "can't do" attitude, which must have been anathema to the poet who wrote the most mellifluous rhymed epic in English. Such an attitude never dies, but must be ignored by the successful undertaker, just as Turpine is not eliminated, only baffled, probably temporarily, like the Blattant Beast. That the conflict between another's views and one's own may seem preposterous (the key notion of Puttenham' s definitions of asteismusand hysteron proteron) finds expression in the outcries of Briana and Blandina, in Serena's belated labor (after Calepine gives away a baby), and in Arthur's inability to punish Turpine because of slander that has always already occurred. The successful person, planning for tomorrow, learns to tolerate carping. The ultimate failure of Spenser's own career may disprove his message in particular but does not lessen the general power of courtesy conveyed by his chivalric romance.
Prince Arthur offers an ambiguous solution to the problem of the uncivil social other when he confronts Turpine in the middle of the legend of courtesy. The ambiguity arises because, if Turpine represents society's judgment of others, Arthur is not only judged but discriminates too. The narrative raises the question of Arthur's opinion in a subtle way, by sending him to Turpine's castle not by chance but to "avenge th'abuses" that Serena complains of. Elsewhere in Arthurian romance, knights errant do not usually witness foul customs in operation before personally confronting them. In Spenser's poem, however, Calidor finds a squire tied to a tree and sees Maleffort tearing the hair from a maiden's head before he takes action. Serena suffers from Turpine's discourteous custom and then tells her story to Prince Arthur. The pattern continues when the narrator of The Faerie Queene mentions that Calidor once met Turpine ("that proud Knight, the which whileare/Wrought to Sir Calidore so foule despight"). Since we only see Calepine and Arthur, not Calidor, meet Turpine, this reference may be a misprint or a mistake. If "Calidor" is correct, however, it underscores the structural principle of the scene of Turpine's confrontation with Prince Arthur, who, it turns out, has heard yet another story about Turpine before he reaches his castle.
For Arthur accuses Turpine of despoiling knights and ladies of their arms or upper garments, although this practice is mentioned nowhere else in the poem. Turpine's counterpart in the Morte Darthur on this matter is Sir Turquin, or Tarquin, who beats his prisoners "with thorns all naked" as he goes about capturing King Arthur's knights during his search for Lancelot. Prince Arthur has such an act of public shaming in mind when he accuses Turpine of stripping his victims (also the practice of Ariosto's Marganorre, who short skirts ladies, and Malory's King Ryence, who collects beards and serves as a model for Sir Crudor). The public aspect that connects Turpine to Malory's Turquin is slightly roundabout, because we must consider the entire context of Turquin's story, but clear enough if we remember that the Turquin episode represents Lancelot's first appearance in the Morte Darthur and that Lancelot's reputation instantly becomes an issue. Because Lancelot rejects the sexual favors of four queens (Morgan, the queen of Northgales, the queen of Eastland, and the queen of the Out Isles) public speculation becomes so intense that "it is noised" that Lancelot loves Queen Guenevere. Lancelot denies the allegation but at the same time recognizes the logic of public infamy—"I may not warn people to speak of me what it pleaseth them". Public gossip makes it difficult for characters like Calepine, Serena, or Timias to alter the way of the world that Turpine represents.
Spenser added the motif of public opinion to the traditional topos of the custom of the castle to make Arthur's encounter with Turpine not a confrontation between right and wrong but a conflict between different opinions. That Arthur's own reputation may also be at stake at Turpine's castle helps explain his strange behavior there, for the strategy Arthur employs in attacking Turpine owes something to a trick Lancelot uses to defeat Sir Peris de Forest Savage, someone closely associated with Turquin in Malory's story ("For like as Sir Turquin watched to destroy knights, so did this knight attend to destroy and distress ladies, damosels, and gentlewomen"). In an unusual and seemingly ungallant maneuver, Lancelot sends a damsel before him while he keeps himself "in covert." When Sir Peris knocks the damsel from her horse, Lancelot rebukes him and cuts his throat. In The Faerie Queene, Prince Arthur easily passes through Turpine's gates, then, like Lancelot, he dissimulates. Arthur feigns distress to give Turpine's porter an opportunity to deny him hospitality, the usual foul custom of romance, just as Lancelot exposes Sir Peris by hiding while Sir Peris makes a damsel his victim.
Arthur's reformation of Turpine is inconclusive, as was Calidor's victory over Sir Crudor's custom early in Book VI, because in both cases the violence of the heroes distorts their intent. The savage man who accompanies Arthur tears Turpine's porter to pieces, while his attack on a biblical quantity of "forty" yeomen causes Turpine, like Briana, to blame Arthur for killing his people. Even though Turpine then attacks Arthur from behind and flees from room to room through his castle, he survives because he has used the issue of violence to cloud the moral certainty of Arthur's position. Arthur's sword twists in his hands, as happens in romances whenever the author wants to spare someone from the overwhelming force of a hero ("Yet whether thwart or flatly it did lyte, / The tempred steele did not into his braynepan byte"), while Arthur refrains from a second stroke because Blandina shrieks, shrouds Turpine, and entreats Arthur on her knees to spare him. Arthur calls Turpine a "vile cowheard dogge," then lectures him on social courtesy instead of killing him.
The prince of magnificence finds himself in a strangely unsettling situation—such as a foreign culture might offer—where he must abandon traditional notions of right and wrong as he instructs this allegorical figure of social detraction. Arthur accuses Turpine of cowardice, but at the same time, he oddly voices respect for Turpine's right to live as he pleases. We hardly believe Arthur when he informs Turpine that bravery in a bad cause is no vice ("for oft it falles, that strong / And valiant knights doe rashly enterprize, / Either for fame, or else for exercize / A wrongfull quarrell to maintaine by fight"). Turpine need not provide lodging for the wounded, Arthur says, as long as he does not attack secretly or from the back, since, even when defending bad causes, knights have "through prowesse and their brave emprize / Gotten great worship in this worldes sight. / For greater force there needs to maintaine wrong, then right" (my emphasis). Arthur means to persuade Turpine that it takes little pain to maintain what is right and that Arthur's own violent entry to the castle was of small moment compared to what it might have been had Arthur been in the wrong. Yet his message seems overly casuistic, ironically not forceful enough, since Arthur seems to praise the "greater force" needed to maintain wrong while he also he gives Turpine a choice how to behave. He seems to be saying, "your country, right or wrong," as long as you are strong. It is the colonizer's creed.
We recognize what is happening to Arthur from other examples of foul customs in chivalric romances. Normally a knight errant is trapped into upholding local law by the pressure of the population, a provision of the custom itself, or a double bind. Arthur succumbs to this literary tradition by agreeing to Turpine's practice of keeping people out. He ceases to reform the local inhabitants, an act figured by his calling off the savage, who kills yeomen downstairs while Arthur spares Turpine upstairs. Finally he settles down to a "goodly feast" and entertainment provided by Blandina, Turpine's wife, who hides her true aversion to his reform. At Malory's Weeping Castle, Tristram and Galahalt find a way to "fordo" the foul custom when they submit to each other under the guise of sparing one another the shame of defeat. Arthur spends the night at Turpine's castle after seeming to achieve a similar resolution.
But it is not clear that Arthur makes the correct choice when he yields to Blandina's persuasions and spends the night, although two examples of the custom of the castle topos in Malory's Morte Darthur show that a knight may ignore the behavior of others and depart without fully reforming their foul ways: Sir Dinadan refuses to lodge where the custom of the castle is to joust for bed space, and Galahad rightly forsakes to kill the seven brothers who maintain the foul custom of the Castle of Maidens. Here, however, Arthur's reformation proves useless because it depends on a sense of shame that Turpine does not feel. The next morning Arthur leaves Turpine's castle intact, and Turpine continues his attacks.
According to the narrator, Turpine's problem lies in his "vile donghill mind." Using his wits, he convinces two knights to kill Arthur by telling them that Arthur ravished his lady, which distorts but does not totally falsify Arthur's sojourn with Blandina. Arthur's response depends on both prowess and deception. He kills one knight and forces the other, Sir Enias, to bring Sir Turpine to him. Then, in a ploy that seems designed to attack not just Turpine's practice but his mental attitude, Arthur falls asleep—and his savage page wanders off in the woods—as Sir Enias, whose name recalls the medieval reputation of Aeneas as the betrayer of Troy, fetches Turpine by tricking him into thinking Prince Arthur is dead. The ruse works, and when the prince wakes and grabs his sword, Turpine falls on the ground and holds up his hands for mercy.
All values need to be examined. Nothing Arthur does eliminates the social power that Turpine represents and that finds its cause in Turpine's intractable attitude. Arthur sets his foot on Turpine's neck "in signe / Of servile yoke, that nobler harts repine," but since Turpine's heart is not noble, he cannot "repine" or feel shame. The gesture is lost on him and once again Arthur fails to reform his ways. Arthur calls Turpine names and strips him of his "knightly bannerall," but he did essentially the same thing earlier in the castle, when he forbade him to bear arms and call himself a knight. Arthur's final act is to hang Turpine by his heels as a warning to others, but what warning can counter detraction? Puttenham translates what the Greeks called asteismus into English as the "merry scoff” or the "civil jest." He gives the example of one who knocked Cato on the head with a long piece of timber, then bade him beware. "What (quoth Cato) wilt thou strike me again?" The humor, Puttenham explains, arises because a warning should be given before, not after. Turpine's punishment is always too late because it comes after the fact: after his slander is already circulating. The "civil jest" reminds us that detraction is not just a court foible, but a deeply rooted confrontation with the Other, because reputations depend on someone else's point of view. Arthur's encounter with Turpine shows a poet concerned about reforming society for a better future but in no sense an idealistic dreamer of utopias.
Source: Charles Ross, "Spenser's Customs of Courtesy," in The Custom of the Castle: From Malory to Macbeth, University of California Press, 1997, pp. 83-103.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9730
To begin his discussion of the allegory of The Faerie Queene's Book V, A. C. Hamilton voices the private opinion of even Spenser's greatest admirers, that "Spencer's fiction seems to break down in Book V. Probably for this reason the book is the least popular." A few pages later, however, Hamilton slightly revises his assessment of what happens to the poem's fiction in Spenser's Legend of Justice: not that the fiction has broken down, like some neglected machine in the garden, but that the fiction has been suppressed and restricted by Book V's adherence to a nonfictional point of reference: "Throughout Book V the reader is aware of fact pressing down upon the fiction." As it turns out, "fact" for Hamilton, as for most readers, exerts its greatest pressure not on the whole of Book V, but rather on the last five cantos, where the poem turns for the first time into a series of barely allegorized events in recent English history: the defeat of the Souldan (read Philip II and his Armada); the trial of Duessa (Mary Queen of Scots); Arthur's liberation of Belge; Burbon's fight for Flourdelis; and Artegall's rescue of Irena and subsequent slander by the Blatant Beast (read the adventures of Spenser's patron in Ireland, Lord Gray). One of the most difficult tasks for critics attempting a traditional explication of Book V's allegory has been to prove Hamilton wrong, and to demonstrate that even if fact seems to subsume fiction in these episodes, the reverse is actually the case, and history remains in the service of mythmaking and idealization. The trouble comes in contradicting centuries of readers' first and even second impressions to argue that what looks like mere fact is not mere fact, that history does not press down on fiction, but liberates it.
Of course "fact" in Spenser has, since Hamilton's complaint, enjoyed something of a critical renaissance. Insofar as Cantos 8 through 12 of Book V engage recent events, and especially in their interplay with the repressive and violent policies advocated in Spenser's View of the Present State of Ireland, they have recently attracted historicist commentary. At the same time, the episode of Book V featured just before the poem's turn to fact has increasingly drawn the attention of feminist critics—not because fiction is repressed, but because feminine authority is repressed. In this episode Britomart, the female knight who has been the intermittent focus of The Faerie Queene since the beginning of Book III, rescues her fiancé Artegall by decapitating the Amazon queen Radigund, then rules Radigund's city-state for a time only to turn sovereignty over to Artegall. But little work has been done in either the New Historicist or the feminist mode to bridge the gap between the central and final sections of Book V, to describe the killing of the Amazon queen and the turn to historical allegory as parts of versions of the same process or impulse. The discontinuous structure of Book V—its sudden, unexplained, and unsatisfying shift in mode from fiction to fact—is replicated by a criticism that takes up Book V only in piecemeal fashion.
In my view, neither the traditionalist desire to paper over Book V's structural shift nor the current tendency to treat Book V merely episodically does justice to a Book whose concern from the beginning is transformations of kind. The Proem to Book V not only dolefully announces that "the world … being once amisse growes daily wourse and wourse" (5.Pr.1), but also thinks of that decay in terms of materials once, but no longer, put to use:
And men themselues, the which at first
Of earthly mould, and form'd of flesh and bone, Are now transformed into hardest stone: Such as behind their backs (so backward bred) Were throwne by Pyrrha and Deucalione: And if then those may any worse be red,
They into that ere long will be degendered.
Breeding backward is the problem: it is also the solution. If humans have degenerated rather than evolved in kind, then a heroic poem must look backward for models and materials of literary types: "I doe not forme them to the common line/Of present dayes, which are corrupted sore." But Spenser's chronology deserves some examination here. In the second installment of The Faerie Queene the "present day" of the poem, the moment in which "form" has become so corrupt, has already been identified as the present in which the poem is invented, and in which the poem is therefore complicit: the "rugged forhead" of the Proem to Book IV "[m]y looser rimes (I wote) doth sharply wite, / For praising loue, as I haue done of late" (my emphasis). In light of the rugged forehead's attack, Book V's notoriously "tight" structure—especially, and especially in its last five cantos, its dispensing with the lush or knotty language, the odd twists of plot and identity beloved of Spenserians—seems a response to the "looseness" that The Faerie Queene has continued to perpetuate throughout Book IV. Book V begins with the degeneration of form through a history that turns out to be not only of humankind, but of the poem's production.
By using the word "degendered" rather than "degenerated" to describe the sorry pass to which form has and will come, Spenser not only easily catches a post-structuralist critic's eye, but also recasts the problem of form in the terms in which it will appear in Book V: the problem of feminine authority. The Proem's stony men look forward to Artegall's subjection to hint that Book V might illustrate Freud's Medusa effect, where men are no longer men because they are "degendered" stones, castrated by the phallic woman. By the 1611 folio of Spenser's complete works, "degendered" in this stanza had become the more purely francophonic "degenered," a substitution that encourages us to make a more explicit connection between the end of feminine rule showcased in Book V and the shift in literary form that immediately follows. To reverse the effect of men becoming "degendered," enthralled by the Medusa or the Amazon, The Faerie Queene must confront the perception that the poem itself has become "degenered," debased in literary kind from its original epic intent. Book V's repeal of feminine authority becomes both the motivation and the prerequisite for its turn toward the bleak new genre of historical allegory. If, as Fredric Jameson has contended, innovations in literary genre come about to address potentially discomfiting changes in politics and socioeconomics, then we should not be surprised that in this most self-conscious of poems, a shift in genre is baldly signalled by a shift in the gender of political regime. Britomart's returning the Amazons "to mens subjection" is an accomplishment labelled as "changing all that forme of common weale"; immediately thereafter, The Faerie Queene itself "changes all that form."
The genre in question for Jameson is romance, which expresses a nostalgia for "an organic social order in the process of penetration and subversion, reorganization and rationalization, by nascent capitalism, yet still, for another long moment, coexisting with the latter." But as Harry Berger reminds us, with The Faerie Queene matters of form are more complicated: if Spenser's poem expresses nostalgia for an earlier order, it does so with a canny awareness of the uses to which nostalgia can be put. As it turns out, romance in the poem is not itself a nostalgic mode, but rather an experimental mode that induces nostalgia—the poem's own display of nostalgia for a genre it occupied before, and other than, romance.
In The Faerie Queene order's "penetration and subversion" are laid explicitly at the feet not of Jameson's nascent capitalism, but rather of authoritative women. And implicitly, as Patricia Parker has demonstrated, order's penetration and subversion are laid at the feet of the genre of romance, which in Books III through V of the poem is intimately associated with those authoritative female figures and their characteristic modes of thought and action. Parker identifies romance and its failure to close off narrative as the foremost source of tension in The Faerie Queene, more recently, in a reading of Book II of the poem, she has identified that failure of closure with Acrasia's (and by extension any powerful woman's) ability to "suspend male instruments," holding men in thrall. Guyon's destruction of Acrasia's Bower has the effect of restoring narrative progress: "In Spenser, the 'suspended instruments' of Acrasia's male captives are recovered as the Bower itself is overcome, and as Guyon and his Mosaic guide move forward to the narrative 'point' or end of a Book of the Governor in which both a threatening female ruler and her suspect lyricism are finally mastered and surpassed." The genre of romance, the beauty of lush poetry, the power of a queen: all three elements that make the Bower so dangerously seductive are cancelled in Guyon's immoderate rampage toward conclusions. But as many critics have noticed, all three of these elements reemerge in Book III, hold sway in Book IV, and linger stubbornly into the central cantos of Book V. It is therefore Book V's turn toward history, not romance, that carries the force of nostalgia: nostalgia for Guyon's antiromantic narrative thrust, which managed in its "rigour pitilesse" to conquer the effeminacy induced by both a desiring queen and an arrested, uncloseable poetics.
My first task, then, is briefly to track the history of the alliances between poetry and femininity proposed in Books III and IV, alliances that eventually necessitate Book V's generic shifts. Because Book V's attachment to history arises just as soon as its attachment to Britomart ends, it is worth remembering that Britomart's entry into The Faerie Queene came hard upon the heels of a gap in history. Near the end of Book II, Arthur, in the castle of Alma, finds himself reading a chronicle of Britain, a chronicle that ends just after the name of Uther Pendragon, Arthur's father. Of course Arthur's name cannot be added to the chronicle because, in the time scheme of The Faerie Queene, he has not yet embarked upon the sequence of events that will lead him to the throne. Nevertheless, as Elizabeth Bellamy has pointed out, the chronicle's abrupt ending reveals that Arthur himself exists in an arrested moment, in a state of history that is not yet. Britomart's adventures, which commence as Book II ends and which inaugurate the poem's fullest experiment with the genre of Ariostan romance, therefore come to occupy that suspension of history, the breach made by Arthur's hesitation on the brink of his future.
Furthermore, Book III of the poem begins by taking the radical step of associating poetic power with feminine power, no matter how emasculating that power might be, no matter how it may dismay rather than fashion a gentleman. This extraordinary proposition is first voiced in the Proem to Book III, which describes the "ravishing" power of Walter Ralegh's poem "The Ocean to Cynthia":
But if in liuing colours, and right hew, Your selfe you couet to see pictured, Who can it doe more liuely, or more trew, Then that sweet verse, with Nectar sprinckeled, In which a gracious seruant pictured His Cynthia, his heauens fairest light? That with his melting sweetnesse rauished, And with the wonder of her beames bright, My senses lulled are in slomber of delight.
The dangling "that" clause of line 7 initially makes it possible that line 6's Cynthia, and not line 9's reader, is the one ravished by the poem. Yet Ralegh's verse ravishes by means of its "melting sweetnesse," a phrase that makes poetry a suspiciously liquid and hence potentially feminized medium. And the ravished receptor of that sweetness turns out to be not Cynthia at all, but instead the presumably male possessor of the "senses" in line 9 that "lulled are in slomber of delight." Feminized by a poetry that itself is feminine, Ralegh's reader rests passively in delightful "slomber." Book III here seems willingly to model itself after those moments in Books I and II that are most dangerous to the masculine integrity of both the adventuring knights and the male reader, as poetry becomes its most lush and enchanting exactly when it depicts an authoritative, seductive female and her hapless victim— Acrasia unmanning Verdant in her Bower, Duessa pleasuring and enfeebling Redcrosse at the fountain, false Una seducing Redcrosse in his dream. As a result Book III's substantial investment of both moral virtue and poetic narrative in its female knight Britomart raises the stakes of assigning gender to poetic success. Can The Faerie Queene invest authority, moral or poetic, in the feminine without suspending heroic progress?
With Britomart, Spenser's narrative at first displays some easiness with the associations between feminine and poetic authority, partly because Britomart's ultimate fate is indeed a progressive one, to accomplish Spenser's aim of revivifying masculine epic in the modern world. As Merlin tells her:
from thy wombe a famous Progenie Shall spring, out of the auncient Troian blood, Which shall reuiue the sleeping memorie Of those same antique Peres, the heauens brood, Which Greeke and Asian riuers stained with their blood.
Although the woman is the bearer of epic destiny, in Merlin's prophecy she does not taint it with her femininity; rather, she reproduces epic as it ought to be. Moreover, Britomart's quest is prompted not by a desire to dominate or incapacitate men, but rather by a vision of her intended spouse that takes the form of a mental pregnancy, "To her reuealed in a mirrhour plaine,/Whereof did grow her first engraffed paine;/… That but the fruit more sweetnesse did containe,/Her wretched dayes in dolour she mote wast." With this visionary lying-in Britomart is allied with Spenser himself, who in the letter to Ralegh writes of having "laboured" to "conceiue" the person of Arthur and the shape of his adventures throughout The Faerie Queene. Her fate is also Spenser's project: to produce a succession of heroes, which when complete will end in Elizabeth—The Faerie Queene. This version of authorial conception and birth, however, is altered by the abrupt end of Merlin's narrative, which halts as Arthur's history does, with no end in sight. "But yet the end is not," says Merlin. This cut-off marks both the suspension of future male enterprise, which "yet … is not," and the beginning of Britomart's adventures, which immediately take the form of narrative digression, not lineal progression. As Britomart rides along she forges her own idea of her lover, one that departs from Merlin's prophecies: "A thousand thoughts she fashioned in her mind,/ And in her feigning fancie did pourtray/Him such, as fittest she for loue could find." Britomart's "image" of her goal becomes one that she authorially invents not as a singular heroic purpose, but as a set of multiple and interchangeably pleasurable possibilities. And from this moment, Book III's narration itself begins its digressive turns, as if it too wished to fashion "a thousand thoughts." Unlike the severed genealogies of both Arthur's ancestors and Britomart's descendants, the romance adventures of Book III invest their energies not in the hope for a singular conclusion, but rather in potentially endless revisions of chase, discovery, reverie, and flight. By taking full advantage of Merlin's "but yet the end is not," Book III fully exploits as poetic form the feminized qualities attributed to Ralegh's verse. On the level not only of lyric but also of narrative structure, poetry in Book III becomes liquid, shifting, and diffuse, and these are the qualities meant to afford readerly delight.
Whether these qualities of a feminized poetic form do finally afford delight is quite another question, one that has recently engaged several Spenser critics in their evaluations of fulfillment and loss in Books III and IV of The Faerie Queene. Maureen Quilligan and Lauren Silberman both read Book III's Garden of Adonis, despite its elements of chaos, decay, and lamentation, as a privileged site of feminine production—of earthly forms, of chaste love and marital fecundity, and of a female reader's access to understanding. For them, Book III's center celebrates a satisfying feminine poetic power. By contrast, in a turn that slightly predates Quilligan's and Silberman's gendered readings, Jonathan Goldberg draws from Derrida, Barthes, and Lacan to contend that the poetic pleasure offered by Books III and IV is a writerly delight in castration and loss, in an excess of always-unfinished production. As Goldberg describes it, Book III's revised 1596 ending, in omitting Amoret's reunion with Scudamour and thus emphasizing Britomart's unconcluded quest for her mate, acts as a template for the continued deferrals of Book IV. For Goldberg, the pleasure of the writerly text of the entire Faerie Queene, but particularly of Book IV, arises from its failure to engage in unitary poetic ending. It is instead "an 'endlesse worke' of substitution, sequences of names in place of other names, structures of difference, deferred identities. It plays upon a void; it occupies the place of loss—where Britomart's wound is extended to Amoret, where Amoret is 'perfect hole.'"
Although Goldberg does not otherwise share a critical agenda with Quilligan and Silberman, all three focus on the delight afforded by these Books' feminized (or at least effeminized) constructions. My own view is quite different. Beginning with its exit from the Garden of Adonis (and perhaps even within the Garden itself, as Harry Berger has pointed out) The Faerie Queene starts to expose its own feminized poetics as eminently unsatisfying, whether those poetics produce a full harvest of invention or whether they disjunctively cut off those inventions. And once again, that dissatisfaction is bound up with the fortunes of the poem's authoritative women.
We must remember that most of the primary female characters of Books III and IV are in fact driving toward a particular conclusion, marriage. But as Books III and IV progress, both the desirability and the conclusiveness of marriage become deeply compromised, and weddings are largely either delayed or evaded. The narrative therefore finds itself in a double bind. In order fully to exploit the female knighthood that, beginning with Britomart, the poem has delineated, marriage must be acknowledged as a legitimate ending to a heroic story. But in the view of the male characters who are the necessary partners in this enterprise, marriage seems largely to replicate the dangers to heroism embodied in Acrasia's bower: marriage does not sharpen knightly instruments, it suspends them. Aside from some marginal or deflected weddings (the curiously quadrangular union of Cambell, Cambina, Triamond, and Canacee; the morally suspect Poeana's wedding to the Squire of Low Degree; and the unnarrated vows of purely allegorical rivers), Book IV's narrative effort is spent eluding rather than concluding wedlock. This avoidance is jumpstarted, as Goldberg points out, by the 1596 revision of Book III, which assigns not only Britomart but also Amoret to the category of frustrated brides. The abortion of Amoret's "conceiued" hope to find her husband rewrites her as a duplicate of the unhappy Britomart, who in the 1590 ending to Book III witnessed Scudamour's embrace of Amoret only to be reminded of her own incompletion: "In vaine she wisht, that fate n'ould let her yet possesse."
Considering that Britomart's quest was prompted by her conception of an envisioned Artegall, the 1590 ending's disjuncture of the "fate" of narrative from Britomart's wishful thinking signals the imminent demise of the feminine poetics that Britomart initially embodied. Although the 1596 ending leaves both Amoret and Britomart to "wend at will" while the narrator takes his breather, the female wanderings of Book IV have little to do with women exercising will. Rather, women's thought and desires in Book IV seem largely to be displaced by happenstance and mistake. Britomart carelessly misplaces Amoret and untowardly jousts for the false Florimell; Belphoebe "misdeems" Timias' attentions to Amoret. And more significantly, Book IV's "middest," the analogue point to Book III's superproductive, female-ruled Garden, seems pointedly to cancel Britomart's desired fulfillment. Britomart's encounter with Artegall in Canto 6 instead evades a permanent union of heroine and hero as Artegall immediately sues to leave upon his initial quest, "To follow that, which he did long propound." Artegall's ability to "propound," from proponere ("to put forward"), establishes him as the opponent of postponement and delay, even though it is he who is postponing their marriage. But in the prevailing opinion of The Faerie Queene's second half, marriage itself postpones rather than embodies masculine endings. What is a "conceiued" hope for Amoret or Britomart is, for Artegall, a return to Acrasia's bower. From the bridegroom's point of view marital union as the joining of man and woman—not as the barely mentioned preface to Book II's patrilineal genealogies—is a kind of suspended animation. And a male hero's safe response in Book IV is either to flee marriage (as in Canto 6's comic argument, where "Both Scudamour and Arthegall/Doe fight with Britomart,/He sees her face; doth fall in loue,/and soone from her depart") or to contemplate it only from several heavily mediated removes, as in the Temple of Venus, which hides its hermaphroditic goddess from view precisely because—as with man and wife become one flesh—she unites both sexes in one being:
The cause why she was couered with a vele, Was hard to know, for that her Priests the same From peoples knowledge labour' d to concele ... But for, they say, she hath both kinds in one, Both male and female, both vnder one name.
What must be covered up (and oddly so, in the Book that contains The Faerie Queen's most famous union, the rivers' wedding) is the very definition of marriage: "Both male and female, both vnder one name." Wedlock and its results are threatening enough that Venus is thrice removed from direct experience, not only by her veil, but also by the pains her priests take to mystify the truth of her form, and finally by the narrative's revelation of her only indirectly, through Scudamour's tale of finding Amoret at Venus' feet. Meanwhile Amoret herself has mysteriously disappeared from the scene, as if the allegory of marriage can be recounted only when actual marriage has once again become impossible.
In my view, this revulsion from the feminine endings imagined by female authority accounts for the inconclusive structure of Book IV—its turns and returns, engagements and disengagements. Having devolved so much of its action upon anticipated wedlock, Book IV's ultimate evasions of marriage leave the poem confronting its own heroic void; notoriously lacking a unitary hero, a Guyon to break the Bower's thrall, Book IV is seeded with ever-increasing narrative guilt for not properly ending things. The kinds of conclusions that Book IV does feature are necessarily strained—not naturally arrived at, but arbitrarily imposed by the narrative voice. Canto 10, for example, reaches for completion by flatfootedly ending both Scudamour's tale and the canto that contains it with the word end ("So ended he this tale, where I this Canto end"). Elsewhere Book IV begins to ask forgiveness for the cliff-hanger technique that The Faerie Queene has employed since Book I. Canto II opens by apologizing that Florimell has been left "languishing in payne" since 3.8. And Book IV itself ends on a hasty promissory note, a one-line uncompleted completion like the one Artegall effects by leaving Britomart: the marriage of Marinell and Florimell, "Which," says the narrative voice, "to another place I leaue to be perfected."
That "other place," that place of perfection, is Book V, which in fact begins by once again shunting aside Florimell's and Marinell's wedding in favor of Artegall's mission to rescue Irena. Hence Book V's narrative asserts openly what Book IV's indirections implied: that marriage is not perfection at all, and that it is at best a mere footnote to the glories of the heroic quest. Artegall attends the promised nuptials only as a brief stopover on his way to "his first adventure." The firstness, the originality, of that quest, as well as Artegall's often-repeated intent to continue upon that first quest despite minor skirmishes along the way, is a new emphasis for a knight of The Faerie Queene, and one that leads us to examine what is (literally) being prioritized in Book V: what is the first intent to which both Artegall and the narrative must insistently refer? Artegall's task is to restore originary justice but in the reiterated word that describes Artegall's judiciary pronouncements, the word doome, we hear how that "first adventure" is dependent for its achievement of this restoration on a sense of ending, of final, irrevocable closure. And as we will see, the opening pretexts of Book V firmly disenfranchise feminine authority from this return to finality.
Of all the proems in The Faerie Queene, Book V's features the most cursory and oblique reference to Spenser's queen. After declaring that God's justice, delegated to earthly rulers, allows princes "To sit in his owne seate, his cause to end," the proem addresses Elizabeth in only one stanza, as the "Dread Souerayne Goddess" who initially seems to have the apocalyptic power of bringing about that doomsday:
Dread Souerayne Goddesse, that doest highest sit In seate of iudgement, in th'Almighties stead, And with magnificke might and wondrous wit Doest to thy people righteous doome aread. (5.Pr.II)
Given Spenser's cunning hubris throughout The Faerie Queene, it is difficult not to read aread punningly: Elizabeth areads "righteous doome" not by discerning or pronouncing it herself, but by her act of a-reading Spenser's poem, which dispenses its own inspired judgments. The main action of Book V similarly weaves into its narrative structure a determination to achieve closure by substituting male for female authority. Just as the Proem addresses Elizabeth in the person of Astraea, a goddess whose naming here is prefaced on her absence from the poem and from the world, so too does Canto I go on to delineate Astraea's departure as the precondition for heroic action: only once she is reft from earthly sight can her foster child Artegall begin his career. Her removal from the poem therefore at last delivers narrative into the safekeeping of the masculine. As a substitute for herself Astraea leaves Artegall the iron man Talus, "And willed him with Artegall to wend,/And doe what euer thing he did intend." This absolute fulfillment of male intent seems a dream of narrative progress after the feminine postponements and beguilements of Books III and IV. Talus is never delayed or diverted on the way to a goal. Once he sets out after Sir Sanglier, for instance, he requires only three stanzas to find and bind his prey—a remarkable contrast to the pursuits in Books III and IV, some of which never end. Talus acts as an external manifestation of doome, with its connotations of finality as well as of certain judgment. In Cantos I-4 Artegall's doome extends even to narrative itself, as with the end of each canto an episode in his travels is firmly and finally concluded.
That conclusiveness, however, itself comes to an end as Book V approaches its center, a center we have learned in Books III and IV to associate with realized or potential feminine arrestiveness, with marriage and feminine (re)production. Cantos 5 through 7 of Book V in fact stage in small the extensive, interwoven problematics of marriage and of a feminine poetics mounted at length through Books III and IV. Radigund's capture of Artegall externalizes what might be Artegall's nightmare of marriage to Britomart: not only do Radigund and Britomart resemble each other in looks and actions, as many critics have noticed, but Artegall crucially consents to his bondage, "to her yeelded of his owne accord." Moreover, Radigund catalyzes at the precise moment of Artegall's quasi-marital oath a regression to Book III's literary model, in which a feminine poem equally effeminizes its reader. We witness this regression in a complex moment of reader-response that goes beyond the earlier instances of feminine ravishment it resembles, as Artegall unhelms Radigund and sees her features for the first time.
But when as he discouered had her face, He saw his senses straunge astonishment, A miracle of natures goodly grace, In her faire visage.
When he looks at her, he sees himself—and more than himself, his arrested self: "He saw his senses straunge astonishment." That reading of his own plight, of himself as Verdant in Acrasia's bower, causes him further to be emasculated, and finally further to emasculate himself by disarming: "At sight thereof his cruell minded hart/ Empierced was with pittifull regard,/That his sharpe sword he threw from him apart." At this point the doome that he has wielded until now returns upon himself, enforcing not masculine completion but effeminized thrall:
So was he ouercome, not ouercome,
But to her yeelded of his owne accord;
Yet was he iustly damned by the doome
Of his owne mouth, that spake so warelesse word,
To be her thrall, and seruice her afford.
The effeminization of the knightly reader is accompanied by a similar regression to the effeminized narrative of Books III and IV. Unlike Cantos I through 4 of Book V, Canto 5 ends with no ending; Artegall remains in bondage, and his release is postponed until another place, "Which in an other Canto will be best contayned." Worse yet, Canto 6 in fact fails to free Artegall, and he remains with knightly instruments suspended while Britomart makes her way to him. Thus, like Books III and IV, Book V has feminine authority at its heart. Significantly, Britomart in Book V's "middest" Canto 6 rearms herself.
The dilemma of the arrested text begins to be resolved as Book V works its way out of this feminine center, a process encapsulated in Britomart's stay in the Temple of Isis. The Isis Church episode has proven especially troubling for critics trying to assert a unity of purpose in Book V; as Clare Kinney has put it, the episode is one of those "exemplary union[s] of Justice and Mercy" that "seems oddly irrelevant to the actual narrative progress of Artegall and his automaton-slave Talus from one victory of force majeure to another." T. K. Dunseath, in contrast, has identified Isis Church as a necessary passageway to Britomart's restoration of Artegall's progress: "Once Britomart submits herself to Divine Providence in the Church of Isis, she discovers the true nature of her mission and is able to free her lover from woman's slavery." Chafing though Dunseath's condemnation of "woman's slavery" may now be, it is a condemnation shared by the poem at this point, and Isis Church becomes the site of the reiteration and recuperation of Artegall's stasis. This episode at first recalls and extends the state of overwhelming feminine power in which Artegall still lies languishing: Isis, as goddess of the moon, reminds us not only of Radigund, whose face was revealed "Like as the Moone in foggie winters night", but also of Britomart herself, whose own visage has borne the same comparison and whose chastity allies her with the moon-goddess. Moreover, the dream that comes to Britomart as she sleeps at Isis' feet consistently confuses her with Isis, using only "she" and "her," not a proper name, to describe the marvelous queen that subdues the crocodile. But unlike the close of Book III, where Britomart's state of feminine dismay and incompletion bled over into the state of the narrative, this moment of feminine governance and of feminine conception is safely framed. At first Britomart's dream seems to rediscover her former authorial mode: whereas in Book III she set out fashioning "a thousand thoughts" of her lover, here as she awakens "long while she musing lay,/With thousand thoughts feeding her fantasie." The dream's aftermath of interpretation, however, reduces those thousand thoughts to orthodoxy. First of all, the ambiguous or oscillating gender identities inherent in the temple sort themselves out. Not only do the priests, once of uncertain gender, now become in the person of their spokesman an unambiguous "he," but the crocodile of Britomart's dreaming—which had been given both feminine and masculine pronouns, as well as variously hermaphroditic powers of tumescence, pregnancy, engulfment, and impregnation—is now unquestionably male, a figure of both Osiris and Artegall himself. And even though in the dream Isis/Britomart exerts phallic authority over that crocodile, "turning all his pride to humblesse meeke," Isis' priest rereads this episode for her as pointing not toward Britomart's subjection of men but toward her eventual marriage and male offspring. The priest thus reincorporates feminine power into masculine heroics as Merlin did when he traced the careers of Britomart's male descendants. But signally unlike Merlin's vision, the priest's explication runs without interruption, "vnto the end." From this point Britomart will step, not into a maze of digressive, self-made visions, but toward a certain closure of masculine heroics that she must internalize and enforce. As critics have often noticed, in Britomart's subsequent defeat of Radigund the two women warriors are scarcely distinguishable: the fray is described as a challenge between a tigress and a lioness. Britomart's task is evidently to subdue herself.
We can see in Britomart's subsequent reconsti-tution of Radigund's city-state the full consequences of Spenser's reading of Plutarch's "Of Isis and Osiris," although Book V does not explicitly refer to Isis' reconstitution of her dismembered husband. Unable to find Osiris' penis, Plutarch's Isis replaces it with a consecrated replica; and so too does Britomart reerect her husband's phallic power. She not only rearms him and restores the Amazons "to mens subiection"; she also establishes Artegall's thralldom as but a holiday aberration: "Ah my deare Lord, what sight is this (quoth she)/What May-game hath misfortune made of you?" All of a sudden, and quite improbably, Artegall metamorphoses from an embarrassed, foolish Hercules to an epic Odysseus returning to his patient, waiting wife: "Not so great wonder and astonishment/Did the most chast Penelope possesse,/To see her Lord, that was reported drent." With Artegall's promotion to head of state, Book V's curious catalogue of ways to abuse the human head—its elaborately grisly panoply of hangings, beheadings, scalpings, and even haircuts—begins to make sense: all these illegitimate mishandlings of the head are cancelled in one stroke, Britomart's decapitation of Radigund. From this moment, too, the narrative itself seems to know where it is heading. Artegall ventures forth once again with purpose upon his hitherto delayed quest: "He purposd to proceed, what so be fall,/ Vppon his first aduenture, which him forth did call." And he leaves Britomart behind.
We have heard Artegall's rededication to his "first adventure" before the end of Canto 7: significantly, this resolution is repeated three times in quick succession in the brief interval between his attendance at Florimell's and Marinell's marriage, and his encounter with Radigund's crew. If first intent prevails only in the respite between weddings and Amazons, how could it hold up if Artegall stayed to marry his own Amazon-like fiancée? Artegall's second separation from Britomart in fact becomes an extended meditation upon the high stakes of avoiding feminine digression, both for Artegall and for the forward movement of narrative. After his announced departure at Canto 7's end, Canto 8 surprisingly begins not by portraying Artegall on his way, but by worrying again at the issue of female dominance:
Nought vnder heauen so strongly doth allure The sence of man, and all his minde possesse, As beauties louely baite, that doth procure Great warriours oft their rigour to represse, And mighty hands forget their manlinesse.
A comment on Artegall's recent imprisonment, it would seem—but as it turns out, the "louely baite" in question is not Radigund but Artegall's intended wife. Despite her recent role in suppressing female sway, Britomart still represents the "allure" that Artegall must resist if he is to escape the fate (says the narrator) of Samson, Hercules, and Mark Antony. Feminine rule of body and mind must be cut off, beheaded, as a way of propelling Artegall back upon his and the narrative's "first intent," the rescue of Irena.
As Artegall's earlier dismissal of Britomart in Book IV taught us, however, rejecting one version of feminine rule is not enough to restore with certainty either masculine heroics or a masculine model of poetic effect. More drastic measures are called for. To return to Goldberg's formulation: if Book IV conforms to the poetics of castration—of excess compensation for loss—then in keeping with its obsessive decapitations of illegitimate authorities, Book V castrates the castrators, proposing a thoroughgoing revision of literary construction that ought for good and all to sever the poem from feminine influence. Feminine rule and feminized poetics are repealed in favor of the most straightforward mode that The Faerie Queene will ever assume, historical allegory. At this point the poem assumes a new literary mode as a way of galvanizing the sense of an ending, the doome that Artegall's adventures first promised before his digression into serving a queen.
I earlier suggested that Book V's revision of form reaches back nostalgically for the completed heroic endeavors of Books I and II; if Books I and II can legitimately (if broadly) be described as the epic segments of The Faerie Queene, then the nostalgia that Book V expresses is for epic over romance. But Book V in its last five cantos also audaciously construes itself as more uniformly heroic than even those earlier books of epic (not to mention than the Aeneid and the Odyssey, if not also the Iliad), since it thoroughly discounts feminine otium as holding any allure whatsoever, either for the poem or for its hero. None of the women of these cantos poses any sensual danger for Artegall or for the late-arriving Arthur. Adicia's malfeasance is described as sexual only ex post facto, once she has been banished "farre from resort of men." The female monster of the Inquisition's dual appearance of foul and fair briefly recalls Duessa's ("For of a Mayd she had the outward face,/To hide the horrour, which did lurke behinde,/The better to beguile, whom she so fond did finde"); but her implied weapon of seduction is never put to use. Even Duessa's sexual transgressions are described with extreme economy, not with either the seductive or the repulsive flourishes of Book I. The prosecuting attorney at her trial, Zele, simply mentions "many a knight,/By her beguyled, and confounded quight." As well, these cantos decline to seduce their reader: their refusal of sensual appeal extends to their poetry, which Angus Fletcher may be alone in praising as "aesthetically lean and muscle-bound." Fletcher's personification of verse as a male warrior physique draws together precisely, if unintentionally, the aim of these cantos' poetic reformation, their expurgation of what Dunseath has called the poetic "suggestibility" we expect from Spenserian poetry.
I would argue that these cantos do not mean to be suggestive. Instead of dense wordplay and multiple allusiveness, their verse offers only a limited field of interpretation, a tunnel vision meant to afford narrative progress. Whereas The Faerie Queene's poetry typically engages its reader by withholding conclusions—or as Fletcher puts it, by holding the ear "captive in the chains of suspense"— these cantos eagerly draw toward singular conclusions both poetic and narrative. When Canto 11 repeats the word "shield" thirteen times, for example (as Hamilton notes with irritation), not only do we get the message that a knight must never discard his shield, but we also get no other message. And when Canto 8 sketches Arthur's triumphal march upon defeating the Sultan in only seven parsimonious lines, the reader is also reminded not to wallow in celebratory glee. Arthur, Artegall, and the reader all move on to the next adventure "hauing stayd not long" (my emphasis). Book 5's last reiteration of Artegall's recall to his "first aduenture" clearly navigates where he and the poem are going: "on his first aduenture [he] forward forth did ride" (my emphasis).
What minimal figurative language and swift narrative conclusions do for these cantos in small, historical allegory does writ large; the first attachment of these cantos to easily recognizable political and military events serves to cordon off all but the most straitened avenues of interpretation. We might be allowed a bit of wiggle room in the form of some referents that are not merely unitary. As David Norbrook points out, for example, we must hear in the rescue of Irena a reference not only to Ireland, but also to the French philosopher of absolutism Jean Bodin, who "used the term [eirene] to describe the highest kind of justice." Kenneth Borris strenuously argues, too, that these cantos not only depict such said-and-done events as the Armada's defeat and Mary Queen of Scots's sentencing, but also voice a Protestant rewriting of history into the approach of the apocalypse. For Borris, Spenser "transforms the particulars of history into vehicles for the ostensibly prophetic revelation of cultural destiny." But Norbrook goes on to remind us that for Spenser as for others with more radical religious leanings, Protestant apocalyptics (like Bodin's political theory) were also a matter of historical event and analysis. If Book V's Battle of Belge is seeded with allusions to radical Protestant apocalyptic commentary, it is because Spenser's hero Leicester sympathized with those Protestant factions, seeing his expedition in Belgium as a religious war as well as a containment of Spanish imperial ambitions. Spenser's portrayal of the battle for Belge as a resounding success runs counter to fact not because its eye is on the final victory at world's end, but arguably because Spenser was propagandizing in favor of continued military effort in the Low Countries, in hopes that Essex would be allowed to take up where Leicester had left off. Protestant messianics, far from being supra-historical, circle back around into realpolitik, into strategic militarism and jurisprudence.
The relentlessly optimistic depiction of Belge's fate, however, like the redemption of Irena in Canto 12, finally uncovers the pitfall of these cantos' dependence on diachronic historical allegory. These two episodes patently do not depict accomplished historical victories at all, but rather revise past English engagements, some of them not at all successful, into future triumph. When Arthur recovers a city that looks suspiciously like Antwerp, we are asked to acquiesce in an event that in 1596 has not yet taken place (and in fact never took place). In the same way, Irena's rescue comes about as elegantly as a challenge to single combat—truly a kind of wishful thinking, on the order of Hal's flyting of Hotspur on the eve of Shrewsbury. Even in the poem (not to mention in late sixteenth-century Ireland) matters are not really so easy, for like Hal's England, Irena's realm sees considerable bloodshed before single combat is undertaken. Artegall’s prosthetic Talus manages to massacre most of the barbaric hordes before Artegall calls him back, claiming a bit belatedly "that not for such slaughters sake/ He thether came." These intrusive details, these shadowy reminders that current uncompleted missions are not as neatly sewn up as famous past victories, expose the danger of engaging upon a historical allegory that extends from past to future. Standing in the road between past and future is the ineluctable present, where history's certain endings give way to the muddled and inconclusive status of recent current events, events that curtail any story of doome. Still the end is not.
In the end Book V's historical episodes make the case that even when barren and driven poetry replaces seductive lyric, masculine heroism is still subject to an undirected feminine authority. The liberation of Belge and of Irena, both fantasies that expose their own frustration, are framed (and hence, in The Faerie Queene's juxtapositional logic, arguably caused) by two dilatory queens and their tactics of diversion. In the first case, Mercilla's waffling pity for Duessa in Canto 9 is seemingly closed off by Artegall, whose judgment is accompanied by his usual epithet of first intent ("But Artegall with constant firme intent,/For zeale of Iustice was against her bent"). But Mercilla's wavering in a certain sense still carries the day, since the pronouncement of Duessa's final sentence is delayed until the beginning of the next canto, and even then her actual punishment is elided. Surprisingly enough in this book of beheadings, the poem remains silent on whether Duessa's means of demise also doubles Mary Queen of Scots's: most readers assume that Duessa is beheaded, but in fact the poem tells us only that Mercilla, having delayed judgment "Till strong constraint did her thereto enforce," then "yeeld[ed] the last honour to [Duessa's] wretched corse." In this light, Artegall's oddly gentle decapitation of Grantorto ("Whom when he saw prostrated on the plaine,/He lightly reft his head, to ease him of his paine") is better read not as a somewhat extraneous detail, but as a displaced dropping of Duessa's unenacted deathstroke, as if Artegall must carry out somehow, anyhow, what Mercilla has postponed. If he finishes off Grantorto with unwonted mercy, it is because he is momentarily usurping Mercilla's role. The point is minor enough, except that this queenly stay of execution recurs when Artegall tries to conclude his final task. His mission is the same as Britomart's in Amazonia, "How to reforme that ragged common-weale," but "ere he could reforme it thoroughly" he is recalled to Gloriana's Faerie Court, "that of necessity/His course of Iustice he was forst to stay." Blocked in the course of first intent, Artegall turns aside toward his queen's command with a final reiteration of straightforwardness that is by now entirely ironic: "he for nought would swerue/From his right course, but still the way did hold/To Faery Court, where what him fell shall else be told." This promise of narrative closure is never kept. No doome, no end for Artegall; back to the demanding, static embrace of Venus, or Britomart, or Radigund, or Gloriana.
Gloriana's whim serves further to highlight the difficulty of constructing historical allegory as heroic accomplishment. Although depending on current events to endow narrative closure would be futile enough in any era, events in late sixteenth-century England seemed to many observers, especially those sympathetic to militant Protestantism, particularly recalcitrant to fostering masculine endeavor and its fruition. By the mid-1590s Spenser's queen had been perceived for several years as hindering a Protestant crusade on the Continent; in her canny ambivalence Elizabeth was never willing to commit the funds or the manpower for a full-scale effort against Spain. R. B. Wernham details "a secret agreement" in the Triple Alliance among England, France, and the United Provinces that "limited the English military contribution [to the Netherlands] to 2,000 men … In fact, after 1594 England practically withdrew from the continental war, except for [these] forces in the Netherlands." Although Burleigh was partially if not primarily responsible for this policy, the Queen herself was blamed for womanish inconstancy and lack of will. J. E. Neale reports a story that circulated about the Queen's endless changes of mind: "the story of the carter who, on being informed for the third time that the Queen had altered her plans and did not intend to move on that day, slapped his thigh and said, 'Now I see that the Queen is a woman as well as my wife.'" Throughout her reign Elizabeth had used to her advantage the figuration of herself as her country's bride; in the 1590s certain factions within England found themselves wishing that, like Artegall upon his reunion with Britomart, they might simply ride away from the inaction their wife enforces. Such was the wish expressed by the Lincolnshire rector Henry Hooke, whose short manuscript treatise of 1601 or 1602 entitled "Of the succession to the Crowne of England" digresses from praising Elizabeth into desiring her replacement by a king whose "first intent" would overgo his predecessor's feminine stasis on the question of religious reform: "so the brightnes of [Queen Elizabeth's] daye … shineth still: and more & more may it shine vnto the perfect daye: that what corruptions in iustice, what blemishes in religion, the infirmitie, and inconueniency of woemanhead, would not permitt to discouer and discerne, the vigor, and conueniency of man sytting as king in the throne of aucthoritie; maye diligently search out, and speedylie reforme." Hooke's remarks couple a desire for the repeal of female authority with a hope for a new mode of monarchical endeavor entirely, one that brings heretofore unenacted intents to fruition.
But as Artegall's recall to Gloriana's court demonstrates, such a hope for reform in 1596 remains suspended, both in terms of English politics, where the anticipation of a king's succession only added to the internecine wrangling of Elizabeth's court, and in terms of The Faerie Queene's ambitions as an activist poem. Book V's revision of literary form might take the poem out of the realm of romance, but it cannot repeal the rule of queens, either of Elizabeth or of Gloriana. In this way Book V debunks the misogynist fallacy of The Faerie Queene's earlier scenes of seduction and of wedlock: Artegall's recall reveals that heroic expeditions are delayed not in the private female world—not in the illicit bower or the sanctioned bridal chamber—but rather in the public world of political aspiration. And if the poem's opposition between romance (to which that feminized private world corresponds) and masculine heroism is shown to be a false opposition, then the nostalgia for an epic form that predated romance no longer holds any attraction.
Instead The Faerie Queene overpasses the uncompleted ending of Book V by engaging upon yet another generic experiment. Book VI's pastoral stands in contrast to Book V not only as a conspicuously anti-epic form, but also as a conspicuously and innovatively masculine anti-epic form. Although Book VI seems to accept with pleasure poetry's suspension of experience—as does the narrative voice, which in the Proem admits itself "nigh rauisht with rare thoughts delight" in Faery land's delightful ways—it does so in a way untainted by the interruptive demands of feminine authority. Queen Elizabeth's appearance in this Book is a pointed non-appearance, as on the revelatory Mount Acidale Colin Clout eliminates Gloriana from his configuration of the graces' dance, replacing her instead with "certes but a countrey lasse." In contrast to The Shepheardes Calender's April eclogue, where Colin confidently fashioned his queen as an appropriate object for poetry, here Spenser's poetic alter ego apologetically but firmly defines poetry as that which takes shape when female rule is out of the way. Even more than splintering Elizabeth into "mirrhours more than one," displacing her entirely from consideration leaves room for poetic accomplishment.
Not that Book VI is therefore marked by triumphant poetic closure. The "untimely breach" of Arthur's rent chronicle not only recurs as Calidore's comically blundering "luckelesse breach" in Colin's perfect vision, but also might be taken as the model for Book VI's narrative, which is hardly famous for its seamless conclusions. And Book VI's end is similarly not one of perfection, either promised or fulfilled. Like Artegall's recall to Gloriana's court, the Blatant Beast's present-tense rampage at the end of Book VI wrenches poetry from the domain of the past(oral) to the unnatural shocks of the present day, so that conclusion once again is disrupted by uncertainty—in this case, uncertainty imposed by readers more willing to slander poetry than to be melted into sweetness by it: "Ne spareth [the Beast] the gentle Poets rime,/But rends without regard of person or of time". Books V and VI, although drastically different experiments in poetic form, thus share a mode of inconclusion. Both books play out fantasies of freeing politics and poetry from feminine rule; both envision a newly masculine poetics. And in the end both acknowledge those fantasies as fantasies, enacting the futility of imagining that a male-gendered mode, either of monarchy or of poetry, will bring about the wished-for consummation.
I come to this conclusion (or to The Faerie Queene's non-conclusion), however, with my ear still cocked to Berger's warning: what we hear in Spenser's magnum opus as argument—as assertion, refutation, judgment, revelation, demonstration, or any other of those rhetorical certainties we so often attribute to Spenser's poetry—cannot be taken as "Spenser's" or even "the poem's" settled opinion, but rather must be viewed skeptically as one of the discourses that, like dummies at a ventriloquists' contest, voice the competing desires that prompt their speaking. In his challenge to Paul Alpers' thesis that Spenser's stanzas are "modes of address by the poet to the reader," Berger argues that "Alpers misdescribes the transaction as an empirical one between the author and actual readers, whereas I take it to be a virtual or fictive transaction, one that the poem actively represents and subtly criticizes, and therefore one that constitutes a rhetorical scene of reading from which actual readers can dissociate themselves." Hence we can undertake "an ideological reading of The Faerie Queene as a critique of the cultural discourses it represents." Berger's subtle argument describes The Faerie Queene as radical in ways that all its Elizabethan source materials and cultural commonplaces, rampant as they are in Spenser's poetic field, could never countenance. I would like to make use of his insights to examine the radical critique ultimately disclosed by the generic experiment of Book V; not a critique of attempting closure by way of masculinized poetic form, but rather a critique of desiring closure in poetry at all. In particular, the failures of Book V's final cantos unsettle the impulse toward closure that is, or at least can be, the impulse toward allegory. Allegory proposes that we can metonymically replace what is troublesome and undefinable by something that looks hermetically sealed: not sexuality, but Immoral Lust or Wedded Love; not savage massacres in Ireland, but a gratefully free Irena; not Elizabeth, but Gloriana. The problem of obtaining allegorical closure, however, is akin to the difficulties critics have had in plotting out Book V's structural, mythical, or moral unity. To create a transcendent order, one must repress the messy and conflicting nature of the facts or events that are transcended. In this clunkiest portion of The Faerie Queene, then, Spenser anticipates how ballasted allegoresis of his poem can become, by showing how ballasted his own poetry can be when it succumbs to a fully allegorizing impulse. For that reason I think we should see Book V's historical allegory not so much as a failed experiment, but as an experiment whose failure is allowed to stand for all failures to impose univocal meanings upon complicated poems. Like the nostalgia for an unsullied genre before romance, Book V shows us, so too is the desire for unsullied truth based on false premises. Just as the "problem" of female authority precedes and enwraps and even motivates The Faerie Queene, and hence is not to be "solved" by backward glances to some golden age, so too are Spenserian irresolutions not to be wished away.
Book V's demonstrated failure forewarns of the dangers of excess complacency toward the Mutabilitie Cantos, which most critics describe as the consummate enactment of allegorical closure. A. C. Hamilton's edition of the poem approvingly quotes a number of these judgments, including William Blissett's that the cantos are "a detached retrospective commentary on the poem as a whole, forming as they do a satisfactory conclusion to a foreshortened draft, a stopping place at which, after a seriatim reading, can be made a pleasing analysis of all." But as Gordon Teskey has recently pointed out, Blissett's essay also addresses the ways in which Mutabilitie, not so detached from its historical moment as it seems, in fact troubles itself again with the problematics of late-Elizabethan female rule. As Teskey paraphrases Blissett, Mutabilitie undertakes "the shocking representation, in the late 1590's, of Cynthia dethroned by Mutabilitie"; and Teskey adds the comment that "[c]riticism has yet to grapple with Mutabilitie's being not only unpublished in Spenser's lifetime but unpublishable in Elizabeth's." In a brilliant analysis Teskey goes on to suggest that Mutabilitie does not transcend political struggle, but rather exposes that struggle by means of yet another Spenserian gap: in this case the gap is Mutabilitie's omission of a Tudor-style myth of genealogical precedence, which we expect to be brought to bear against Mutabilitie's titanistic blood-claim to Jove's throne. Omitting that myth causes us to remember, rather than forget, the fact that Jove's rule, like Henry VII's, was brought about only by faction and bloodshed; and to remember, rather than forget, that the placid cycles of seasonal recurrence paraded in Mutabilitie were brought about only by Jove's thunderbolt. Teskey describes the thunderbolt' s trajectory as the "least allegorical" moment of the myth: "it unmasks the foundation of world order in an absolute violence the forgetting of which is that foundation." Allegory's violent begetting, so easily passed over in Mutabilitie's lovely pageant of times, is laid much more bare in Book V's stark poetic reformation into historical allegory, which can be put into motion only by the "dreadfull sight" of Radigund's headless corpse.
No wonder, then, that Mutabilitie's last stanzas admit a powerfully subversive reading. Most readers hear the narrator's declaration that Mutabilitie's argument "makes me loath this state of life so tickle,/And loue of things so vaine to cast away" as reaching toward the transcendence that allegory seems to offer. But Berger has given us an alternate cast to these lines that resists the allegorical temper: "I am loath to cast away this state of life and this love of things." The compounding in Mutabilitie’s final lines of Sabbath and Sabaoth—of peaceful rest and armed hosts—gives us reason to refuse what Susanne Wofford has called "figurative compulsion" in the poem, to evade allegorical conclusions for the "vain and tickle" present. Elizabeth Bellamy has pointed out that the prayer in these lines to "that great Sabbaoth God" disfigures Elizabeth's own name (Eli-sabbath, God's rest). That truncation, I would add, in turn enforces the "trunk-ation" of queens—Radigund's beheading, Britomart's abandonment—as the principle behind Mutabilitie's downfall and hence behind eternal rest. But if apocalyptic allegorical conclusions require the grim armed forces that brought about Book V's historic ends, then the final downstroke of that "Sabbaoth God" to whom the narrator prays might show us that we have shaken off the powerful embrace of The Faerie Queene's last seductive queen only to lie down with Talus, Artegall's right-hand iron man.
Source: Katherine Eggert, “‘Changing all that forme of common weale': Genre and the Repeal of Queenship in The Faerie Queen, Book 5," in English Literary Renaissance, Vol. 26, No. 2, Spring, 1996, pp. 259-90.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5884
To give unity to so complex a poem as The Faerie Queene would seem a formidable task, and it was a task which Spenser left unfinished. Our loss, in the six unwritten books, is great; and all the greater because of the cumulative method by which the poem's meaning is revealed. The later books enrich the content of those which have gone before, so that from the first book to the fragmentary seventh the reader becomes increasingly aware of a clear and comprehensive vision, and of a steady purpose which impels him, through a mass of significant detail, towards a final unity.
That unity, at the court of Glory herself, was never reached, and without the unwritten books our appreciation of those we have must be incomplete. But even as it stands, half-finished and culminating in the fragment of the presumed seventh book, the poem is a unified whole. For the kind of unity which Spenser achieves, though cumulative, is not architectural; he works not by adding section to section so that the structure is meaningless until it is finished, but by revealing new levels of a structure which we thought complete at our first sight of it. Faeryland is only partially revealed, but it is unified and consistent as far as we know it, though if the poem had been completed it would be seen as only part of a greater unity and a fuller truth. The first book of The Faerie Queene has a simplicity which is proper both to its theme and to the plan of the poem; Spenser begins at the centre of his universe, with the proper conduct of man in relation to God, and the link which still exists between the world of mortality and the realm of eternal truth. Book II shows, almost as simply, the control which is a necessary part of the good life. Themes so essential must be firmly and directly established, but in later books the concern is less exclusively with man, and the natural world too plays its part. Around the centre other and related themes appear, making a richer and more complex whole.
Yet Spenser's method is not a matter only of decorum or deliberate choice. As with any great poet writing seriously about the nature of man and of the universe, his method arises directly out of his vision. An eighteenth century poet, like Pope, will find it natural to write in contrasts, extremes whose balance will produce a truth more central than either. Spenser too sometimes uses a set framework of the Aristotelian mean and its two corresponding extremes, and finds it on occasion a useful piece of machinery; but it is not, as with Pope, his most natural way of seeing things. The living world of The Faerie Queene is not one of contrast and balance, but of analogy and parallel, with many kinds of life each complete in itself yet only fully comprehended when seen in relation to the rest. The full poetic effect cannot be contained in Spenser's own statement to Raleigh, "The generall end therefore of all the book is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline." Man holds a place of prime importance in Spenser's vision of the world, but the conduct proper to mankind cannot be divined by looking at man alone. The other planes of existence must be comprehended too. So Spenser's is not a simple allegorical world of black and white, concerned only with the "twelve morall vertues as Aristotle hath devised." There are degrees and kinds of goodness, and these can be seen only when all the parallels are drawn, all the analogies completed. Allegory may present an ideal of moral or political conduct, but beyond a certain point the reader must, to apprehend all of Spenser's vision, yield to the deepening effect of the poem as a whole. The Aristotelian framework and the allegory of the virtues, the vices, the parts of the mind, form a pattern; one may fit together into a satisfying unity the various kinds of chastity as shown in Belphoebe, Britomart, Amoret, and Florimell. But there is another and more organic pattern, resulting from the inevitable ordering of the material in accordance with Spenser's way of seeing the world, and developing from book to book to a temporary culmination in the Cantos of Mutability. In this pattern, the shape of the poem is part of its meaning, while characters like Belphoebe and Florimell are symbols which release certain aspects of Spenser's apprehension of life, and cast about them "shadows of an indefinable wisdom."
Much of the significance of The Faerie Queene is conveyed in the correspondences and parallels which are gradually established throughout the poem, and of course in the choice of symbol; and in both it is the Platonic rather than the Aristotelian influence on Spenser's mind which is most noticeable. For a poet so much in tune with Neoplatonism it is natural to express not personal reactions only but an interpretation of the universe by means of symbol. "All things that are above are here below also," and material things which more or less embody the Ideas are themselves already latent symbols of those Ideas. Spenser is always conscious of things as deriving from, and partially embodying, their heavenly counterparts, and as bound together by their common derivation, their common if varying possession of ideal truth. Chastity lives in heaven, but is embodied and displayed in each chaste woman. Shamefastness exists as the fountain of Guyon's modesty, and is not a mere abstraction formed by generalising the modesty of many individuals, as so often in the personifications of later ages. Courtesy, like all virtues, grows on Parnassus, but its "heavenly seedes" were planted on earth, while as a copy among men of this heavenly process the Queen is an ocean of courtesy, from whom all virtues proceed to those who surround her, and to whom they return as rivers to the sea.
Such an outlook enables the poet to see about him a multiple unity which is embodied in the development of his poem. There is no division between literal and symbolic truth, for things exist in an order of precedence which is valid in itself, but they have at the same time a symbolic validity as imperfect copies of the world of spirit from which they take their source. In The Faerie Queene events are never merely events; they partially show forth something beyond themselves. Spenser's battles, it has often been remarked, have less variety of incident and less actuality than Ariosto's or Tasso's, but Spenser is interested in something else. Tasso's Dudon strives three times to raise himself before he dies, and there is a gain in suspense and dramatic climax, but when Red Crosse falls three times to rise again during his fight with the dragon Spenser is concerned less with the dramatic effect of the particular event than with the greater struggle of which it is a shadow. The four-fold repetition of "So downe he fell," at the death of the dragon is again not only dramatic, it is a solemn ritual repetition meant to emphasize not the size of a dragon but the terror of sin even at the moment of its defeat: The knight himselfe even trembled at his fall. Symbol and allegory, often difficult to separate, are especially so in Spenser's case, for he often uses the same figure now as part of a moral or political allegory, now as a symbol of an indefinable truth. His characters move freely from one plane to another, or exist simultaneously on more planes than one, and that existence is at once both a means of unifying the poem and a symbol of the multiple unity of the world which—among other things—the poem expresses.
Occasionally Spenser makes use of incidents or figures which might support the definition of allegory quoted by W. B. Yeats: "Symbolism said things which could not be said so perfectly in any other way, and needed but a right instinct for its understanding, while Allegory said things which could be said as well, or better, in another way, and needed a right knowledge for its understanding." The giant of false justice, in Canto II, of Book V, is such a contrived and limited figure, fitting one occasion, but not suggesting others. But the Giant, and those like him, serve to throw into relief the far greater number of creatures in The Faerie Queene who, like Wordsworth's monumental shepherds and travellers, hint at the terrible greatness of the events of this world. Nothing exists in isolation, but draws with it an immense but controlled suggestion of other occasions which are yet the same. Another of the figures of Book V, the deceitful Malengin who harries Mercilla's kingdom, may refer to the guerilla warfare and treacherous behaviour of the Irish, but this falsity is a part of, and a symbol of, all deceit. The chase and the traditional beast transformations suggest the old menace of the covens, and even the primal deceit of the devil; for Malengin is killed as he changes into a snake, and his dwelling goes down to hell.
Malengin is one of the representatives of that evil which devil and man have brought into the world, and evil is shown here, as so often in Spenser, as deceit. Like the giant Orgoglio, who vanishes when Prince Arthur kills him, it is based upon nothingness, upon a false view of things. It tries to break the unity and shatter the truth of the universe, but it is doomed to defeat, for "Truth is One in All," and against that solid truth, present in some degree throughout the created world, evil can have no lasting force. It is seen as an alien intruder into the world of reality, and is embodied in the evil spirits which are used to make the false images of Una and Florimell, or in the devilish Malengin, Despair, and Archimago. To the clear sight of complete virtue it is irrelevant, but to a lesser goodness it is formidable indeed, for it is part of man's inheritance, making impossible for him the innocence of the natural world, and present in man alone. Nature may be involved in the fall and the suffering of man, but not through its own fault. It is only through the presence of a fallen angel that the snow which makes the false Florimell is corrupted.
The world of The Faerie Queene is one in which the values of Neoplatonism and of Christianity are familiarly blended, and of course it is very far from being peculiar to Spenser; but it is expressed in his poetry with a particular vitality. What other poets must show in the flash of an image, Spenser develops through the six Books of The Faerie Queene into a living and consistent universe. Through the growing pattern of the poem can be traced levels of being which extend from pure intelligences to inanimate nature, distinct but related by their common reference to the guiding and informing spirit which gives unity and order to a multiple world. It is not a dual world of pointless change contrasting with eternal changelessness; the changing world derives from, and returns to, unity, and each of its levels is good in its degree, being a reflection of the eternal. In ascending scale, created things are more beautiful because more pure—clearer manifestations of the spirit which informs them;
Still as everything doth upward tend, And further is from earth, so still more cleare And faire it growes, till to his perfect end Of purest beautie, it at last ascend.
But though distance from the home of pure spirit, and involvement in matter, must lessen the purity and beauty of the creatures at certain levels, all have their beauty and in Spenser's symbolism their goodness:
All are made with wondrous wise respect,
And all with admirable beautie deckt,
and in no part of Spenser's universe is the hand of God absent. His providence sustains and guides even the apparently lawless world of the beasts and the apparently aimless world of inanimate nature, but in this orderly universe springing from and guided by God the disruptive and unruly element is man. Spenser writes in Book V of the:
impotent desire of men to raine, Whom neither dread of God, that devils bindes, Nor lawes of men, that common weales containe, Nor bands of nature, that wilde beastes restraine, Can keepe from outrage, and from doing wrong.
Other created things are restrained by the laws proper to their being, and when Spenser considers evil the emphasis is, here as in An Hymne of Heavenly Love, on the sin of man, rather than on any sinfulness inherent in the whole material world. Our "sinfull mire," in which we endure fleshly corruption and mortal pain, is part of the inherited frailty of fallen humanity:
We all are subject to that curse, And death in stead of life have sucked from our Nurse.
Amavia, telling Sir Guyon the story of her husband's submission to Acrasia, accepts it as part of the weakness of man when faced by temptation through fleshly lusts:
For he was flesh: (all flesh doth frailtie breed).
The same emphasis appears in the myth of Chrysogone and her two children. In the world of humanity, conception is involved in the "loathly crime" of the fall; but Chrysogone conceives in all the lustless innocence of the natural world, without sin and without pain:
Unwares she them conceived, unwares she bore: She bore withouten paine, that she conceived Withouten pleasure.
Her children are born of sunshine and moisture, sharing the purity which characterises all the natural world when uncontaminated by the inherited sin of human flesh. Belphoebe is:
Pure and unspotted from all loathly crime, That is ingenerate in fleshly slime,
but Amoret too shares in the innocent birth, and the fruitful Garden of Adonis in which she is reared is presumably as much a symbol of primal innocence as are the cool chaste forests through which Belphoebe ranges.
The innocence and even holiness of nature, when considered without reference to the contamination of sin in the case of humanity, is one of the most noticeable features of Spenser's world, but there is nothing of that sentimental idealisation of the "natural" to which a later age was to fall victim. Spenser's clear vision of the ascending planes of existence prevents any loss of proportion, any concentration on a part of life to the detriment of the rest. The satyrs of Book I are innocent and, in their degree, good. Only the sacredness of the old religious rites is shown in their worship of Una, and they are an instrument of "eternall Providence exceeding thought," an example, like the noble lion of natural law who is killed by Sansloy, of the guidance of God even in the non-human world. But this is not the whole truth about the satyrs, for there is a parallel picture in Canto 10 of Book III, where Hellenore, garlanded like Una, is escorted by a similar band of dancing satyrs. Here the word used is not, as in Una's case, "queen," but "Maylady," and in the scenes which follow the license of the old nature cults, which the word suggests, is fully revealed. The satyrs have not changed; they are still charming, innocent, a "lovely fellowship," but Spenser is looking at them from a different point of view, and drawing an exact parallel with Una's story to make clear both the likeness and the difference in their good and our own. Hellenore is capable, as a human being, of a higher and more conscious goodness than that of the innocent brute world, and in entering that world she misuses it just as, with Paridell, she had misused the natural goodness and the sacred symbolism of wine.
There are many of these lesser planes in The Faerie Queene, and Spenser shows them in themselves and in relation to man. In forests and above all in the sea, we are shown kinds of being which, good in themselves, are not proper to mankind. The seas and forests are unknown, lacking by human standards in morality and in spirit. They can contain creatures of non-human goodness, like Belphoebe, but those who go there from man's world—Hellenore, the forester who pursues Florimell, the fisherman who attacks her—become brutalised. But nature, even at its most remote from man, has its share of the spirit which is the meaning of Spenser's world. The mutable is not necessarily the meaningless, but can "work its own perfection so by fate." What is meaningless and dead is the work of sin, of pride and distorted values, the places of Mammon or of Malecasta, where the lifeless glitter of gold and jewels is shown up in all its emptiness by the sudden reference to the stars in their order, reflections of mind and symbols of the steady life of the spirit,
th' eternall lampes, wherewith high Jove Doth light the lower world.
It is, then, a universe with varying degrees of good, and evil which is a distortion, or sometimes a subtly distorted copy, of the good: the unnaturalness of Argante, Ollyphant, and the "damned souls" who capture Serena, or the magic and deceit of Acrasia, Duessa, and the false Florimell; and it is revealed partly by the gradual accumulation of correspondences between one kind of life and another. There are parallels between Una and Hellenore, Mercilla and Lucifera, the Garden of Adonis and the Bower of Bliss, Cleopolis and the New Jerusalem, the veiled Venus of Book IV, and the goddess Nature of Book VII. The virtues are seen, more and more, as various aspects of the same heavenly good, embodied in different ways in different kinds of life. "Truth is one in All," or to put it in another way, "O goodly golden chaine, wherewith yfere The vertues linked are in lovely wize." It is not a matter only of interlinked stories or of characters overlapping from one book into another. It is a linking, by symbol and allegory, of Justice with Constancy, Love with Courtesy; a deepening of content by reference to earlier themes so that nothing is lost, and so that certain passages, preeminently the Mutability Cantos, can call up by the briefest of references the more detailed treatment of earlier books, drawing all their diversity into unity.
One of the most far reaching of Spenser's series of inter-linked and expanding symbols is that of Florimell and Marinell, which stretches through three books and embraces many meanings and many characters. In the moral allegory, it is a story which displays Spenser's knowledge of humanity, and of the various temptations to which different natures will be subject. Florimell is one kind of chastity, the kind which maintains itself not by the awe which Belphoebe and Britomart inspire, but by fear and flight. Her temptation is not, like Amoret's, passion, but a timorous softness and gratitude. She escapes from her brutal pursuers by instinctive flight, but is disarmed by the protective kindness of Proteus, to be imprisoned by him as Amoret is imprisoned by Busyrane. On the same level of moral allegory, Marinell's is the nature which refuses to commit itself, and lives remote and self-sufficient, fearing the harm which may come to its own completeness by contact with others. But they are, both of them, more than this, for they play an important part in the network of symbol. Both seem to be creatures of the natural world which stands apart from the life of men but which yet, such is the unity of things, has its relevance to that life as it has to the life of pure spirit. The sea which is so intimate a part of their story is the remotest of all things from man, home of hydras and "sea-shouldring whales," and yet it is the most perfect of all symbols for the whole multiple, changing, but unified world, "eterne in mutabilitie." The sea can symbolize the character and meaning of the universe and so embodies a truth beyond itself, but it stands also, in its own right, for nature at its least formed and most nearly chaotic. It can show the thoughtless, blameless cruelty of nature, its blind suffering, and also the justice which works through it as through all creation. Such meanings play through the story of Marinell and Florimell, and the other stories which surround it, drawing even the Fifth Book, in which the justification of one man and one policy plays so large a part, into the scheme of the whole.
We meet first Florimell, "beautie excellent" and of a kind which delights the world,
For none alive but joy'd in Florimell,
but apparently of a lesser order of being than that to which the great champions of virtue belong. Britomart, usually so prompt to relieve distress, refuses to join in the pursuit of Florimell, and she is clearly right. Britomart's
Would not so lightly follow beauties chace.
She remains faithful to her search for Justice and noble deeds, one aspect of that quest for ideal goodness to which her companions also, Guyon, Arthur, and Arthur's squire Timias, are in their various ways committed. In abandoning their quest, these others are leaving their proper sphere of spiritual endeavour, constancy to an unchanging truth, to pursue the fleeting charm of a mutable world. As a result, even the steadfast Prince Arthur finds himself at the mercy of passing events and emotions, and is perceptibly a lesser figure during this period of pursuit. Forgetting for the moment his vision of Gloriana, the true object of his quest, he gives way to confused fancies, wishing that Florimell were the Faerie Queene:
And thousand fancies bet his idle braine With their light wings, the sights of
Oft did he wish, that Lady faire mote bee His Faery Queene, for whom he did complaine: Or that his Faery Queene were such, as shee: And ever hastie Night he blamed bitterlie.
After a night of sleepless irritation, Magnificence itself becomes almost petulant:
So forth he went,
With heavie looke and lumpish pace, that plaine
In him bewraid great grudge and maltalent.
Florimell's innocent beauty is too nearly empty of meaning for man to be other than harmful to high endeavour. She has little understanding of what is happening to her, but flies instinctively and suffers blindly, with the infinite uncomprehending pathos of nature. She has no place with the knights and ladies who represent human virtues but encounters, rather, creatures of nature like Satyrane and Proteus, and brutalized human beings who try to make use of her for their own ends. Yet this pathetic, fugitive creature, embodiment of transitory beauty, has her own element of constancy; her desire for union with Marinell, who is born of the sea, symbol of the source and home of all changing things. Her long flight and her suffering begin and end in her love for Marinell, and her story has its meaning, though to the world of men, of Arthur and of Britomart, it may seem to have none. Florimell's story is a parallel to that of Amoret, and their fates are compared at the beginning of Book IV, while Amoret alone can wear the girdle Florimell has lost. Both are held captive, and the tapestries portraying Jove's metamorphoses in the House of Busyrane are an echo and reminder of the transformations which Proteus undergoes earlier in the same book in his attempts to win Florimell.
It may be that in trying to define the meaning of such myths as these one can only rob them of their power. "Symbols are the only things free enough from all bonds to speak of perfection," and to limit them to a definable meaning is to bind them. Yet one may perhaps suggest, if only as one possible meaning among the many meanings which Spenser's myths contain, that Florimell is the prototype, in the world of inanimate nature, of the steadfast womanliness of Amoret. Both are saved by truth to the nobler and more constant elements of their own being, for Amoret overcomes enslavement to physical passion by the power of chaste and enduring love, while through her love for Marinell Florimell escapes from the mutable Proteus and so finds safety and the unchanging peace at the heart of a changing world. The two may be remote from one another, but they embody the same truth: that escape from bondage to what is fleeting and inessential can be achieved by a steadfast attention to eternal values, and that so we may work our own perfection. Man and nature both, apparently bound by the physical, subject to chance and change, have none the less their share in lasting truth. So Florimell’ s world and Marinell's can shadow the things above them, just as Cymoent's bower of hollow waves imitates the home of the gods, being vaulted
like to the sky
In which the Gods do dwell eternally.
Contemplating their life, we may "in those weaker glories spy Some shadows of eternity."
But it is a blind and innocent life, striving only for survival and self-protection through avoidance of danger, and unable to comprehend the decrees of fate and justice which work through it. Cymoent and Proteus have only faint inklings of the true meaning of the prophecy which Proteus himself makes. Yet justice works even by means of that blindness, and the sea, which is its instrument in ending the troubles of Florimell, forms a background still to the adventures of Artegall in Book V. Artegall himself enters the story of Florimell and Marinell when he deals justice at their wedding in the affair of the false Florimell, and the Book of Justice draws together some of the themes of earlier books. The Proem is another version of the theme which appears in so many guises in The Faerie Queene, and is hinted at in Florimell's story; that of change and constancy. Mutability in the natural world is paralleled by inconstancy and a lack of proper values in man, but beyond this instability Justice, the "most sacred vertue," lives unchanged,
Resembling God in his imperiall might.
Artegall's reply to the giant in Canto II continues the theme, with its echoes of the Garden of Adonis and of Concord who holds the parts of the universe together
As their Almightie Maker first ordained.
Concord persists even through the hostility of the world, and Providence works through apparent change and loss in the interests of a wider justice.
What though the sea with waves continuall Doe eate the earth, it is no more at all: Ne is the earth the lesse, or loseth ought, For whatsoever from one place doth fall, Is with the tide unto an other brought: For there is nothing lost, that may be found,
Likewise the earth is not augmented more, By all that dying into it doe fade. For of the earth they formed were of yore, How ever gay their blossome or their blade Doe flourish now, they into dust shall vade. What wrong then is it, if that when they die, They turne to that, whereof they first were made? All in the powre of their great Maker lie;
All creatures must obey the voice of the most hie.
The giant's notion of justice is presented as false not only in the case of human institutions but in relation to the whole of the created world, and it is the sea, symbol of ultimate unity and of the justice present in all things, which swallows the giant and all his works. The "mighty sea" is again the instrument of Providence in the episode of Amidas and Bracidas, for its "imperiall might" is a manifestation of the power which disposes of things justly for nature and man alike.
Spenser's interlinked themes are now so well established that in Book VI he is able to add to his symbols, but here too he writes much of nature, and of the exchanges of courtesy proper to it, for the charm of courtesy in man has its counterpart in the poetry of a pastoral world. Florimell has her place here too, for she was reared by the Graces on that same Acidalian mount on which they appear to Colin, where nature is at its loveliest and most fruitful, the heightened but still truthful nature of poetry. Spenser indicates the importance of the passage by his almost reverent preparation for it; and part of its importance may lie in the impression it gives of the order and unity of things as they appear to the shaping mind of the poet. The double circle of the dancing ladies moves, to Colin's piping, around his "countrey lasse," poetic symbol of all grace and virtue, while the imagery suggests earlier, related themes. The treatment of nature contrasts with that of the Bower of Bliss, the bridal imagery of Ariadne is a reminder of the Garden of Adonis and the Temple of Venus, and Florimell, child of the Graces, is also part of this ceremonious world of love, poetry, and natural grace. The passage is almost a copy in little of the widening circles of the poem and its meaning.
But the latest and fullest of such unifying passages as these is to be found in the fragment Of Mutability, a more explicit statement of the great theme which earlier books express chiefly by symbol and by arrangement of material. These two cantos, and the two final stanzas, are the culmination of the poem as it now stands, both unifying and illuminating it. Spenser's description of Nature, and Mutability's address to her, show her as the source—or rather as nearest to that source which man may know—of the conceptions in other books. She embodies Justice and Concord, she is veiled like Venus, and by her likeness to the transfigured Christ she suggests the Holiness of Book I. Mutability, on the other hand, is Corruption, sin, or the consequences of sin as seen in our world:
For she the face of earthly things so changed, That all which nature had establish first In good estate, and in meet order ranged, She did pervert, and all their statutes burst: And all the worlds faire frame (which
none yet durst
Of Gods or men to alter or misguide) She alter'd quite, and made them all accurst That God had blest; and did at first provide In that still happy state for ever to abide.
She is of mortal race, for it is this which saves her from the anger of Jove, and it is she who
death for life exchanged foolishlie;
Since which, all living wights have learned to die.
In her pride she has distorted what God had left in good order, has broken the laws of nature, justice, and policy, and has brought death into the world. She is a composite creature, for in her beauty can be seen the charm of Florimell's world of innocent partakers in the sorrows of man, but in her too is the guilt of man himself. The story of Faunus and Molanna is a pathetic and absurd parallel to the high seriousness of Mutability's trial and its theme of the effects of sin upon the world. Through the stupid presumption of Faunus the sacred Arlo hill, once the haunt of Diana and the setting chosen for Nature's court, becomes a place of desolation.
The issue of the trial is made clear. Mutability's claim to rule over the earth is allowed, but Jove retains his sway over "Heaven's empire," and is "confirm'd in his imperiall see." Indeed, once the realm of earth is left behind, and the higher places of the Universe are approached, Mutability's arguments lose much of their force. Her struggle with Cynthia in the sphere of the moon, traditionally the border of the regions of decay, is left unresolved, and her answer to Jove's claim that the gods control time and change is hardly conclusive. She begins with a flat denial:
What we see not, who shall us perswade?
and continues with a description of the changes of the moon and the motions of the planets which Nature has no difficulty in answering. The moon may have its phases, and the spheres move, but they return again to themselves.
They are not changed from their first estate,
for time and change are, as Jove has claimed, part of God's plan. But Nature's reply presumably deals with the whole of Mutability's case, including her claim to earth, and one may suppose that even there, where through sin and death she does now rule, the guidance of Providence is not absent. Even there things "by their change their being doe dilate," and are being led to
that same time when no more Change shall be, But stedfast rest of all things, firmely stay'd Upon the pillours of Eternity.
On earth, the calm and orderly process through which the universe works it own perfection has been disrupted by sin, and is more difficult to perceive; but heaven can make use even of the disasters which sin has brought, and will at last bring the earth "to itselfe again," resolving change and death in eternal rest.
It is the world through which all the characters of The Faerie Queene can be seen to move, a world in which the linked orders of created things range from the least conscious and least spiritual upwards to the ranked angels
Singing before th' eternall majesty, In their trinall triplicities on hye,
and in which God has ordained for each creature a steady movement towards its own perfection. Even in the life of man and of the hapless creatures which share in his fall, the remnant of this joyous order may still be seen in the justice and love which Spenser shows us at work in so many spheres and embodies in myth and symbol. Even now, if he is steadfast in devotion to truth, man may experience directly some part of the glory of eternity. Red Crosse, his quest over, delights in the company of Una,
Yet swimming in that sea of blisful joy,
and hears for a moment the songs of the angels themselves. All the virtues have their home in that Sabaoth, and on earth they are all—Holiness, Chastity, Temperance—made manifest by a constant attention to the unchanging truth. It is this proper movement of all the richness of created things towards the unity which produced them and works through them that the poem expresses, and by one of the fortunate chances of poetry it ends, as we have it, with the two great stanzas which sum up the Spenserian universe:
For, all that moveth, doth in Change delight: But thence-forth all shall rest eternally With Him that is the God of Sabbaoth hight: 0 that great Sabbaoth God, grant me that Sabaoths sight.
At the end of the poem, "the total life has suddenly displayed its source."
Source: Kathleen Williams, “‘Eterne in Mutabilite': The Unified World of The Faerie Queene," in ELH, Vol. 19, No. 2, June, 1952, pp. 115-130.
Unlock This Study Guide Now
- 30,000+ book summaries
- 20% study tools discount
- Ad-free content
- PDF downloads
- 300,000+ answers
- 5-star customer support