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The Faerie Queene (1590)

von Edmund Spenser

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This remarkable poem, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I, was Spenser's finest achievement. The first epic poem in modern English, The Faerie Queene combines dramatic narratives of chivalrous adventure with exquisite and picturesque episodes of pageantry. At the same time, Spenser is expounding a deeply-felt allegory of the eternal struggle between Truth and Error...… (mehr)
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Read it completely almost fifty years ago. I recall especially the Book of Courtesy, the Sixth Book, with its hero Calidore. I theorized at the time that Courtesy did not fit with the other allegorically systematized virtues. No wonder Spenser found he was concluding his epic before he'd really caught a head of steam to get through his 12 books, the first HALF.
He dedicates his poem to Sir Walter Raleigh, Lieutenant of Cornewayll, saying this a "continued Allegory, or dark fashion a gentleman or noble person," his having followed all the ancients, Homer, Virgil and even Ariosto. He began with a "tall, clownishe [contrified] young man" at the Queene's feast who desires an adventure. The Lady saying he must wear the armor she had, for a Christian knight. He put it on, and appeared the goodliest, took on knighthood and mounted a "strange Courser," "where beginneth the first book, viz, 'A gentle knight was pricking on the playne'"(408).

Calidore, for instance, silences the "monstrous Beast" of the thousand tongues,"some were of dogges, that barked day and night,/...And some of Tygres, that did seem to gren,/But most of them were tongues of mortal men,/ That spake reproachfully, not caring where or when."(VI.xii.27) Sounds like Elizabethan Courtesy runs at odds with modern democracy, which depends on reproaches against people in power.
But Calidore silences this monstrous Beast of cacophony-democracy (?!) and breeds politesse, instead of "venemous despite" which Spenser fully expects even for this his epic poem. Backbiting "Ne spareth he the gentle Poets rime, / But rends without regard of person or of time."

As an undergrad I wrote on this poem's prosody, especially the ottava rima concluded by an alexandrine (hexameter). Northrop Frye calls it, "The most remarkably sustained mastery of verbal opsis...which we have to read with a special attention, the abiliaty to catch visualization through sound." Hazlitt says, "His versification is the most smooth and the most sounding in the language. It is a labyrinth of sweet sounds." In fact, I come up against Spenser's beautiful verses for moral ugliness. Possibly Ben Jonson, a verse moralist, found the same, for "Spenser's stanzas pleased him not, nor his matter" (Drummond's bio).
I don't find Frye's opsis, but rather, the sound pursues its own system, attched to the poem much as in a contrapuntal musical composition (Frye calls allegory as here, a "contrapuntal technique" or canonic imitation.) As for alliteration, Frye finds its overuse by characters marking liars and hypocrites (wow--Spiro Agnew never knew this!), as in "But minds of mortal men are muchell mad..."

In his effective verses, the sensual vividness results in a frozen motion:
When on the ground she groveling saw to rowle,
She ran in hast his ife to have bereft:
But ere she could him reach, the sinful sowle
Having his carrion corse quite senseless left,
Was fled to hell, surcharg'd with spoile and theft.
Yet over him she there long gazing stood,
And oft admired his monstrous shape, and oft
His mighty limbs, whilest all with filthy blood
The place there overflowne, seemd like a sodaine flood. (

As for the Mutability Cantoes, on the Comet and perhaps the Supernova, changes in the Heavens, Spenser stands clearly against Galileo (sixteen years later) or Giordano Bruno, Spenser's contemporary, who was publishing his 400 pp Latin poem on the Infinite Universe and Innumerable Worlds in 1592, four years before the Fairie Queene.
By sheer happenstance, Bruno and Spenser died around the same year, 1600 and 1599, Spenser four years younger than Bruno. Spenser's last couple years were terrible, for though Yeats would approve that Spenser was driven from Kilcoman his family holdings in North Cork. (Ben Jonson says Spenser lost a daughter when native Irish troops torched the house.)

Read in Oxford Hardback. ( )
  AlanWPowers | Mar 18, 2021 |
This book has stacked underneath it the most extensive amount of lit crit of anything I've ever read, save Shakespeare (maybe!). If Spenser really intended all that everyone say he did, then he is a friggin genius. There are umpteen-thousand pages in this book, but if you give it a go (especially the A.C. Hamilton-edited annotation, paired with his [b:The Spenser Encyclopedia|6945228|The Spenser Encyclopedia|A.C. Hamilton||7178989], a tome so massive you could probably murder someone with it), you will learn almost everything you need to know about Elizabethan England, the feudal system that preceded it, and then some, not to mention meeting some strange women with odd genitalia, memorizing the honor code among knights and their passion for horses, and running into a few sprites, nymphs, giants, and other creatures. Based on Hamilton and others, pretty much every single stanza is loaded with allusions and things worth cross-referencing - quite a feat considering how many of them there are.

Oh, and for all you [b:Twilight|41865|Twilight (Twilight, #1)|Stephenie Meyer||3212258] fans, the Britomart storyline reads like a teen angsty dream, except for the part where her nurse spits on her to cure her of her love-sickness.

Seeing as Spenser intended six more books in addition to the six he wrote here (seriously), I wonder if that wouldn't have ended up like Quentin Tarentino's third Kill Bill which is rumored to bring back the daughter who saw her mother killed by Uma Thurman. I think the bloody-handed baby sucking the from the dead Amavia was meant to reprise a role in the latter six, if Spenser had been so spirited by his mere pittance from Elizabeth to continue writing. Just my two cents. To carry the Kill Bill comparison further than necessary, this story was pretty epic.

The stanzas make it very easy to take a break from reading every five seconds, but I wouldn't recommend it. Just trudge on through. Despite the intended six more books, the ending is quite satisfying - Spenser has his own personal drama that is almost as entertaining as the book, and is worth looking into especially given the poet's closing remarks. The stories are very visual and intricate. Hamilton's version has an indexed list of characters at the end that is thus very handy. It starts out being hard to read but you can probably get accustomed to the linguistic feats by the end of the first book. Also, look up the word 'puissance', since it seems to come up a lot. Some books are more episodic than others, but of course like every other word in this book, there are more than twenty people who will tell you that there is a good reason for that. Along with Hamilton, some good scholars to read in conjunction with this include Kathryn Schwarz, Stephen Greenblatt, Jean Feerick, Louis Montrose, and Mihoko Suzuki.

I read this for a class and by the end of it I think all of us had gone a little wacky. One of my classmates seemed bent on connecting this book to The Final Destination and something about aliens, regardless of what our highly-esteemed professor had to say. Another friend Justin posted the following Facebook status: "Move over 'Exit pursued by a bear' - bear carrying baby in its mouth has arrived. Three months of Spenser and I finally chuckled out loud. Perhaps that just means that I'm sick, perhaps it means that a bear making off with a baby like it's a pic-a-nic basket is actually funny. Thoughts?" By the end of the semester, we as a class found our sense of humor sickened to appreciable levels, to the point where mutilations, beheadings and bears eating babies were pretty darned hilarious. At least we know how to entertain ourselves. ( )
  irrelephant | Feb 21, 2021 |
2011 (my review can be found at the LibraryThing post linked) ( )
  dchaikin | Sep 26, 2020 |
2 v. ( )
  ME_Dictionary | Mar 19, 2020 |
Frightened of the Allegory? With Good Reason

In his letter to Sir Walter Raleigh that now serves as an introduction to the poem Spenser claimed that:

"The General end therefore of all the book is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in virtuous snd gentle discipline"

From the high sounding tone of the letter it seems to me that Spenser was clear in his mind that he had written (or was going to write) the most important epic poem of the English Renaissance. It harks back to the most popular of books for the gentleman reader: Baldassare Castiglione's [The Book of the Courtier] which had been translated into English some thirty years previously and was still immensely popular. Spenser was just as ambitious for his poem and for his own inspiration and for the edification of his readers he chose to base his poem on the myths of the knight errants of King Arthur's round table. The poem looks backwards rather than forwards and would have appealed to his readers for this very reason. His readers would also be familiar with the use of allegory, as much contemporary printed material and some popular stage plays were still steeped in its usage.

The first three books of the Faerie Queen were published in 1590. With Sponsorship from Sir Walter Raleigh he was able to get the Royal Seal of approval from Elizabeth I which guaranteed its success and obtained for Spenser a pension for life of £50 per year. The fact that Queen Elizabeth I is celebrated as the glorious queen of the faeries throughout the poem probably did not hinder Spenser's ambition.

Some of the reasons for the Faerie Queene's popularity with readers in the late 16th century, no longer hold good for readers today. It is a poem after all and a very long one at that. The whole thing of 6 (or 7 books if you include the Mutabilitie cantos) amounts to over 36000 lines. Spenser's intention was to write 12 books celebrating the adventures of 12 knights for the Christmas feast, some of us may be relieved that he only managed to get to half way. Then there is the allegory, familiar to Spenser's 16th century readers but not for many readers today and so when we are introduced to the very first character with that famous first line "A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine" it is Red Cross who symbolises Holiness; actually he is trying to achieve holiness and so the reader must have this in mind when trying to account for his actions in the story. Allegory is used in other ways; for example when describing the seven sins, they are characterised, here is Gluttony:

And by his side rode loathsome Gluttony,
Deformed creature, on a filthie swyne;
His belly was up-blowne with luxury,
And eke with fatnesse swollen were his eyne,
And like a Crane° his necke was long and fyne,
With which he swallowed up excessive feast,
For want whereof poore people oft did pyne;
And all the way, most like a brutish beast,
He spued up his gorge, that all did him deteast.

However Spenser rarely leaves his readers floundering, he usually tells us who the allegorical figures are or what they represent: at the start of each book we are told the name of the knight and his/her allegorical representation.

Spenser's language is adapted to fit into his poetic rhyming scheme, but this will be familiar to poetry readers, however his language was said to be archaic even by late 16th century standards, but really too much has been made of this and people who have been exposed to other 16th century writing and spelling will have no problem, for others if you can get to grips with the example above of Gluttony then you will enjoy the poem without a lot of trouble.

The epic proportions of the poem, the allegory and the language may be reasons to hesitate before starting in on a long read, but Spenser's Faerie Queene may be worth a little effort for other reasons. The poetry can be sublime and the syntax is not difficult to follow with most lines being end stopped. The poem is made up of nine line stanzas with a regular rhyming scheme and the final line more often than not provides a summary or commentary on the preceding eight lines.

This is an example of Spenser using the popular trope of a ship lost at sea to describe the hopelessness of ill fortune, or restless needs. It is the female knight Britomart the hero of book three, representing chastity;

"For else my feeble vessell crazd and crackt
Through thy strong buffets and outrageous blowes
cannot endure, but needs it must be wrackt
On the rough rocks, or on the sandy shallowes
The while the love it steres, and fortune rows;
Love my lewd pilot hath a restless mind
And fortune Boteswaine no assurance knowes,
But sail withouten starres gainst tide and wind:
How can they other do, sith both are bold and blind?

The battle scenes are inventive and full of action and Spenser's descriptive powers are in evidence throughout. Oh! and there is the eroticism that always seems to be just below the surface but can erupt out into some sensuous stanzas or into the realms of sadomasochism. There are plenty of purple patches but also some longueurs. Spenser saw himself as a historian or more accurately as a poetic historian and so there are some long sequences of stanzas that seem intent on naming all the mythical rulers of ancient England. These of course can be skimmed, but do hark back again to a late medieval feel.

There is no doubt the poem has layers of meaning, however it can be read as a straight forward epic adventure poem about knight errants. Some of the actions of the protagonists may seem strange, but the beauty of the poetry and the action sequences and vivid locations may be of enough interest. The next layer down is the allegory with which I think you need to have some idea to grasp the reasons why the characters do the things that they do. After all the poem is aimed to provide moral instruction and so missing out on this will put a brake on some of the enjoyment. There are also references to the politics of 16th century England and it's history, some of which will remain obscure. Spenser never aimed to be obscure and he is always there to help the reader; he usually speaks directly to the reader in the first two or three stanzas of each canto to set out his main themes or ideas and at the very start of each canto there is a four line synopsis of the canto. The Canto's can be read as separate poems, although characters do appear and reappear throughout the length of the poem the reader never needs to know the back story to make sense of the events.

Some critics have warned about reading too much into Spenser's allegory. The question Did Spenser really mean to say all of this? is pertinent and following through an allegorical, political or philosophical idea can lead to confusion. This is down to the choice of the reader, how much time do you want to spend teasing out possible meanings?

History has not been so very kind to Spenser's faerie Queene. The Cambridge History of English literature says:

"He tried to do too many things at once. and, in elaborating intellectually the allegorical plot he has confused the imaginative substance of the poetic narrative........ Spenser tried to tell his lies while clinging to a disabling kind of truth and so he does not convince his readers. He lives as an exquisite word-painter of widely different scenes and as supreme poet-musician using with unrivalled skill a noble stanza of his own invention. unparalleled in any other language"

This summary misses the excitement of the action and the underlying eroticism that lingers in the story telling. To my way of thinking Spenser has taken us into a wonderful world of faerie land, which sometimes resembles the real world too uncomfortably. It is a long poem with some passages more exciting and entertaining than others, however with a little knowledge of the allegorical structure the poem takes on another life and the reader can easily become absorbed. It is a 5 star read of course as there is nothing like it, but at times it can feel like a three star read. ( )
5 abstimmen baswood | Dec 22, 2019 |
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» Andere Autoren hinzufügen (94 möglich)

AutorennameRolleArt des AutorsWerk?Status
Edmund SpenserHauptautoralle Ausgabenberechnet
Austen, JohnIllustratorHauptautoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
Hales, John W.HerausgeberCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
O'Donnell, C. Patrick, Jr.HerausgeberCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
Oliver, IsaacUmschlagillustrationCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
Ricks, ChristopherHerausgeberCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
Roche, Thomas P., Jr.HerausgeberCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
Smith, J. C.HerausgeberCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
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LO I the man, whose Muse whilome did maske,
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This remarkable poem, dedicated to Queen Elizabeth I, was Spenser's finest achievement. The first epic poem in modern English, The Faerie Queene combines dramatic narratives of chivalrous adventure with exquisite and picturesque episodes of pageantry. At the same time, Spenser is expounding a deeply-felt allegory of the eternal struggle between Truth and Error...

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Durchschnitt: (3.8)
1 3
1.5 1
2 25
2.5 3
3 61
3.5 10
4 88
4.5 5
5 76

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