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Friday, March 20, 2015

Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene's Glory

Edmund Spenser wrote his work in homage, and epic form allegory for the woman who held ultimate power over one of the few powerful countries in his world of the late 1500s.  His desire was to present both to that woman and to the world her great worthiness of the crown she wore.

He presented Queen Elizabeth I of England as the Queen of Faeriedom, all powerfully magical, with six great virtues.  They were: Holiness, Temperance, Chastity, Friendship, Justice, and Courtesy.  He included more, using the equally great and powerful King Arthur (called Prince Arthur, Knight of Magnificence) to display a number of private virtues.  This was meant to show how great Elizabeth was, in times of religious and political trials.  She had taken over after her half sister Mary had fully pushed Catholicism as the state religion, and now she returned England to that religion favored by her father, King Henry the VIII.  Politically Elizabeth I was somewhat isolated, being unmarried and without an immediate heir, her goals were thought by outsiders to be divided between finding a spouse so that she might procure an heir, and matters of state.  But as Spenser points out, her goals were unlike those of anyone else in power.  It was her England that was her husband, and she was perfect, serene and able.


The Allegory upon many fronts is clearly seen, and Spenser was trying to please Elizabeth.  He received a royal patronage as a result, and he nearly was able to finish the enormous work prior to his passing.

I absolutely love the book the Faerie Queene.  But anyone interested in reading the Faerie Queene will find the language to be archaic and somewhat difficult.  The language was not yet fully formalized in spelling or use.  And much like how chat and texting languages have changed words and uses of English in the present, the writers of the past were also able to use words creatively with spellings that were meant to achieve a close proximity of accuracy, rather than precision of a dictionary use.  But, it is good.

"No daintie flowre or herbe that growes on grownd,
No arborett with painted blossoms drest
And smelling sweete, but there it might be fownd
To bud out faire, and throwe her sweete smels al arownd."    Edmund Spenser The Faerie Queene Canto 6 Stanza 12



"The Faerie Queene is the most extended and extensive meditation on sex in the history of poetry. It charts the entire erotic spectrum, a great chain of being rising from matter to spirit, from the coarsest lust to chastity and romantic idealism. The poem’s themes of sex and politics are parallel: the psyche, like society, must be disciplined by good government.  Spenser agrees with the classical and Christian philosophers on the primacy of reason over animal appetites. He looks forward to the Romantic poets, however, in the way that he shows the sex impulse as ultimately daemonic and barbaric, breeding witches and sorcerers of evil allure. Like the Odyssey, The Faerie Queene is a heroic epic in which the masculine must evade female traps or delays."

Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae





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