Sonnets [Illustrated] (With Active Table of Contents)

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Only by resolutely ignoring crucial details can one read the poem as a "continued" metaphor with a single pat "meaning. Spenser calls her simply "truth" and seems to have in mind the sense of oneness expounded by Renaissance Neoplatonic philosophers, who saw the world as a sometimes discordant multiplicity that emanates from the perfect unity and simplicity of the divine mind. To depart from Una is to lose sight of the truth apprehended by contemplating the eternal Ideas that inform everything in the material world.

To take up with Duessa duality, duplicity is to depart from truth and break one's union with the one source of all that is good. Elizabeth lived under constant threat of military attack or assassination by the great Catholic princes on the Continent, who wanted to reverse the Protestant Reformation in England and to return the nation to the Catholic fold.

In the historical allegory of the poem Duessa represents Mary, Queen of Scots, who had legal claims to the English crown and who vied with Elizabeth for the allegiance of the English people. In polemics of the day, Mary was sometimes pictured as the "whore of Babylon" mentioned in the Book of Revelation, who rides on a beast with seven heads and is associated with Rome. In Canto viii Spenser employs this imagery when Duessa rides out on a "manyheaded beast" to attack the heroic representative of England, Prince Arthur, who defeats her and forces her to cast away her "golden cup" and "crowned mitre," which are symbols associated with the wealth and priTX Even the three quite different interpretations of Una discussed here may not exhaust the allegorical possibilities.

Spenser was a master of compression and deep implication who recognized the multiplicity of meanings inherent in certain primal concepts and images, such as oneness and duality, and it is that multiplicity that lies at the heart of the fascination that The Faerie Queene has exerted over many of its readers. Rather than interpret the poet's "darke conceit" simply as an extended metaphor, one does better, particularly in analyzing the plots of the poem, to take it more broadly as a governing thought or form.

Spenser's literary friend Sidney wrote in The Defence of Poetry that the poet begins with an "Idea, or fore-conceit," which he embodies in the matter of the poem--its stories, characters, and images. The reader then uses that matter as an "imagination ground-plot of a profitable invention," comprehending the author's "conceit" by an act of mental re-creation. The richer the author's initial idea and the clearer the matter of his creation, the richer and more profitable the reader's own act of "invention" will be.

So long as one remains true to the details of the matter, the possibilities for meaning are limited only to the extent that the primal forms or ideas are limited in their inherent implications. As one learns in Canto x, he is Saint George, the patron saint of England. In many ways he is also the Everyman of medieval Christian tradition, who, after a fall into sin and a recovery in the House of Holiness, imitates the life of Christ by fighting the dragon, falling in the battle, and being resurrected in victory on the morning of the third day.

He also represents the English people at the time of the Protestant Reformation, defending the "one true church" against the late-medieval corruptions of Roman Catholicism. More particularly, he may represent Christian writers and intellectuals in sixteenth-century England who were prone to error and were in need of firmer doctrinal foundations. The knight begins his quest in Canto i with a battle against a lesser dragon named "Errour," which is associated with religious books and pamphlets, and only after he has been rescued form doctrinal error himself, represented in the false philosophy of Despair, can he fulfill his quest.

After a period with the hermit Contemplation and other teachers in the House of Holiness, he fights a second and greater dragon, and this time, with God's grace, he prevails. They are themselves the ends of the poet's labors, figures capable of transforming barren philosophy into what Sidney 's friend Fulke Greville, first Lord Brooke, once called "pregnant images of life. It is these latter points that most interested Spenser. Yet it is the extraordinary detail with which the poet depicts them that matters, not simply what they represent. In a series of exquisitely painted miniatures, Spenser depicts each of the six counselors on one of the beasts that draw Lucifera's coach: Idleness on an ass, Gluttony on a pig, Lechery on a goat, Avarice on a camel, Envy on a wolf, and Wrath on a lion.

Each detail in the imagery of coach and team--from the animals themselves to the clothing and behavior of their riders and the things that they bear in their hands--serves to characterize the six vices and Pride, their queen. Even the order of the riders is significant, for Spenser has dramatically altered the traditional Catholic sequence in order to place Idleness first as the "nourse of sin. Much of its appeal lies in plain sight, in its strange and marvelous stories and its colorful pageantry.

In probing its deeper implications, however, it helps to begin with what are sometimes called the allegorical "cores" or "shrines" of the poem. In the great temples, palaces, noble houses, gardens and caves that dominate the landscape, Spenser provides the main distinctions needed to comprehend the philosophical concepts that he is exploring, often revealing key points in the names of the characters and in the details of their appearance or their surroundings.

In the narratives that lead the main characters to and from such places of instruction, the poet often provides less concentrated allegories in their actions, as in Una's wanderings after she is separated from the Red Crosse Knight. And finally, in the subsidiary stories and episodes constantly woven into the main lines of plot in each book, Spenser provides moral examples that further illustrate his main themes.

An instance of such a tale in Book I is the story of Fraelissa and Fradubio, two lovers who are parted by Duessa in much the same way that the Red Crosse Knight is parted from Una. In Book II, the first core leaves the impression that temperance is a "natural" virtue, that is, one that can be grasped without the divinely revealed truths of Scripture. Spenser offers portraits of three sisters: Elissa "excess" , Perissa "deficiency" , and Medina the "golden mean" , and the Latin roots of their names call to mind the philosophy of Aristotle.

One who is temperate, in Aristotle's view, has formed the habit of taking the mean between extremes, such as squandering and miserliness, foolhardiness and cowardice. The suitors courting Elissa and Perissa illustrate this point in a colorful way. Huddibras represents a "forward" nature that tends to draw back from others in arrogance or anger, and Sansloy represents a "forward" nature that draws toward others in uncontrolled desire. A temperate person would restrain impulses toward either of these extremes.

To take its classical philosophy as his final word on temperance, however, would be a mistake. Guyon's attempt to put into practice the rational ideal embodied in Medina is successful, but only for a time. To be sure, he avoids the corruption inherent in characters such as Pyrochles and Cymochles, who allow themselves to be governed by excesses of the bodily fluids or "humours" of choler and phlegm. The brothers provide emblems of the two great temptations of the book: irascibility, which is seen in the hotheaded characters of the early cantos, and concupiscence, which appears in lazy and self-indulgent figures later in the book.

Guyon avoids both. Yet, as early as Canto iii, he makes a crucial blunder, allowing a buffoon named Braggadocchio to steal his horse and so becoming the only pedestrian hero in the poem. At the midpoint of the book, in Canto vi, he makes a second mistake in parting from his Christian counselor and friend, the Palmer. By accepting a boat ride from a languid and sensuous lady named Phaedria at Idle Lake and allowing the Palmer to go on by foot, Guyon needlessly subjects himself to temptation.

He does so again in the next episode by voluntarily undertaking a traditional epic descent into the underworld, where he is tempted with every imaginable form of worldly excess. These are represented in three subterranean chambers: the treasure house of Mammon, god of money and possessions; the temple of Philotime, the goddess of honor and ambition; and the garden of Proserpina, the goddess of worldly pleasure and rest. The very sense of his own self-sufficiency that prompts the hero's needless descent into hell is a sign of danger, for, in Spenser's view, no one can long resist the sinful tendencies inherent in fallen human nature without the grace of God.

An angel is required to save him, and does so by fetching the Palmer, who stays with Guyon until Prince Arthur arrives to beat back the figures of intemperance attempting to despoil the hero of his armor. A stay in the House of Alma, which is the second important locus of instruction in the book, educates Guyon in the limits of his strength, presenting in the very structure of the house an emblem of the human body and the human psyche for his instruction.

It is a place besieged by assaults on the senses, which are represented in the attacks of lawless rebels outside the castle. Their leader, Maleger who represents appetite and passion , has the ability to regain his strength simply by touching his mother, the earth. As Prince Arthur later discovers, Maleger can be defeated only when he is cast into the water. The water in which Maleger drowns is an emblem of baptism, and his defeat is related to the episode that first set Guyon forth on his quest.

In Cantos i--ii he and the Palmer had come upon the body of a knight, Sir Mortdant, who had been lured to his destruction by a false enchantress named Acrasia whose name means both "badly mixed," referring perhaps to the bodily humours, and "incontinent," implying an inability to contain her desires. The knight's wife, Amavia, had stabbed herself in grief at his loss, and their baby, Ruddyman, had stained his hands in her blood. When Guyon had attempted to wash the child's hand in an enchanted spring--one associated with pagan mythology and the goddess Nature--the stain would not wash away.

It had remained as an emblem of Original Sin, which can be cleansed only by the Christian sacrament of Holy Baptism. At the time, Guyon had not understood the meaning of this incident, but in the battle against Maleger the point comes home. After a sea voyage on which he encounters fresh allegorical representations of the Seven Deadly Sins, he ruthlessly destroys Acrasia's Bower of Bliss, releasing the many men whom she has transformed to beasts and binding the witch herself.

At the outset he pauses, as he often does, to show the relation between the central virtues of adjoining books by having their heroes meet briefly in conversation and in feats of strength. Here, the superiority of the social virtue of chastity, represented by the heroine Britomart, over the personal virtue of temperance appears clearly in Britomart's defeat of Guyon in a joust. Other episodes suggest further contrasts between the books. Whereas the Bower had been a false Paradise, apparently natural but actually created by self-indulgent art see II.

The two passages are linked by the classical myth of Adonis, presented first in a bad form in Acrasia's Bower and then in a good form in the Garden of Adonis. Though the healthy garden embodies a philosophy of divine generation that is as rich and enigmatic as any other conceptual scheme in the poem, the place of the passage in the unfolding narrative is fairly straightforward. The chaotic inner forces of the psyche explored in Book II are here presented in ordered and temperate manifestations, with particular stress on healthy sexual desire. Whereas Acrasia is governed by an insatiable appetite for young men, the characters Amoret and Belphoebe, who were born and reared in the Garden of Adonis, seek higher goods.

Amoret takes as her goals marriage and family, whereas Belphoebe chooses lifelong virginity and an active life outsiTX The classical myths woven into these and other episodes in Book III do much to illuminate the characters. The myth of Cupid and Psyche, which is retold in the episode at the Garden of Adonis, shows the human mind brought into proper and fruitful union with the divine power.

Britomart, the heroine of the book, best fulfills this ideal. She is not like the delicately beautiful Florimell, who is timid and inclined to flee from men. She is not like Belphoebe, who seems contemptuous of affairs of the heart. Nor is she like Amoret, who lives for such experiences. Britomart combines the best qualities of all three women, drawing them toward a golden mean. She shares, for example, Florimell's determination to leave the comforts of courtly life and search through the world for the man whom she is destined to marry. She matches Belphoebe in mental prowess, courage, and skill in manly pursuits such as hunting and jousting.

Yet she also shares Amoret's capacity for warmth and nurturing. The "Letter to Raleigh ," which identifies major figures for the queen in the poem, makes no mention of Britomart in this regard. As the wise magician Merlin reveals in Canto iii, she is actually an ancestor of the English queen, though one who displays a close family resemblance. Britomart is, in fact, a far more glorious figure than either of the other main embodiments of Elizabeth: the noble but somewhat icy Belphoebe, who represents the queen in her private life, and the magnificent but absent Gloriana, who represents Elizabeth in her public role as a ruler but who appears only in the dreams of Prince Arthur I.

Some scholars see Britomart's quest for her future husband, Artegall--which begins with a vision of him in a crystal ball and is destined to end in marriage, joint rule over England, and a long line of glorious offspring--as a reference to Elizabeth's often-stated desire to marry no suitor but England itself. This way of reading the poem makes a good deal of sense of later passages in Book V, where the character Radigund represents Mary, Queen of Scots; Britomart resembles Elizabeth; and Artegall suggests some of Elizabeth's most powerful noblemen at court, who were torn in their allegiances between the two queens.

When Britomart rescues Artegall from captivity in Radigund's city of Amazons, there is reason to believe that the incident represents Elizabeth's salvation of England from the threat of Catholic domination under Mary. Yet the potentially fruitful Britomart stands in notable contrast to the virginal and childless Belphoebe, and it may be that one of Spenser's points in the poem was to criticize Elizabeth for not marrying and providing England with a proper heir.

The first is Malecasta in Canto i, who represents the tradition of Courtly Love. She leads men on by the gradual stages of courtship represented in the six knights who fight on her behalf: Gardante "brief glances" , Parlante "enticing words" , Iocante "courtly play" , Basciante "kissing" , Bacchante "wine drinking" , and Noctante "spending the night". Once Malecasta has conquered a man, she makes him a slave to her whims and desires.

She represents woman as predator. The tapestries depicting Venus and Adonis that hang in her castle link her with the more classical figure of Acrasia in Book II. Like Helen of Troy, she yields to the seductions of a guest named, appropriately, Paridell and allows herself to be carried away from her aged and jealous husband Malbecco, only to be discarded by her new lover and left to satisfy the lusts of forest satyrs.

She represents woman as prey. For Spenser, lines of dynastic descent are important, as they had been for earlier epic poets such as those mentioned in his "Letter to Raleigh. Like Paridell and Virgil's Aeneas , she traces her ancestry back to the old stock of Troy. Unlike Paridell, however, she descends from the worthy hero Brutus, the founder of Troynovant or London , not from the lustful and irresponsible Paris III. Through passages such as this--along with depictions of legendary English heroes throughout the poem and accounts of early English history, such as those that Arthur reads at Alma's castle and Britomart hears in Merlin's cave--Spenser establishes himself as a writer of "an historicall fiction" on which England may establish a sense of its national heritage.

As the reader subsequently learns in Canto i of Book IV, she was kidnapped by Busirane during a ribald entertainment or "masque" performed on the night of her wedding, and clues in various rooms of the enchanter's house suggest that he represents the power of poetry and the visual arts to shape the attitudes of one gender toward the other.

At least one of Amoret's problems on that night was a clash of cultural expectations. In the second room, golden ornaments suggest the dominance of women over men found in the tradition of Courtly Love in the late Middle Ages. In the third room, where Amoret herself appears, the reader find what seems to be a Renaissance confusion of masculine and feminine dominance, fostered by an attempt to combine classical and medieval erotic ideals. As we learn in Book IV, Amoret's husband Scudamour sees himself as a domineering male of the classical sort, who bears the sign of triumphant Cupid on his shield see III.

Amoret, however sees herself as a "recluse virgin," whose education at the Temple of Venus has elevated her to a station much like that enjoyed by women in the medieval tradition of Courtly Love see IV. If we may assume that Amoret's mental state following the night of her marriage is represented in the nightmarish procession known as the Masque of Cupid that appears in Busirane's third room, then the lady is not only suffering from a virgin's fears of the bridal night but also from confusion over her proper role as a wife.

The allegorical figures surrounding her in the masque represent the course of her relationship with Scudamour. It begins happily enough with Ease, Fancy, and Desire, but eventually graduated to more-turbulent emotions such as Fear and Hope, Grief and Fury, and ends with feelings of Cruelty and Despight. Following these personifications comes the cause of her distress, depicted as Cupid riding on a lion. This figure reminds us of Scudamour's shield and probably represents his aggressive desire to dominate.

Although Scudamour has attempted to release his bride from Busirane, only a third party such as Britomart, who understands the problem from a woman's point of view, can subdue the enchanter and dispel Amoret's fears. In Book IV she transfers her affections to her new friend Britomart, is captured by a lustful giant and rescued by Timias, and passes through a series of painful adventures ending in the Castle of Corflambo or "burning heart" , from which she can be saved only by the intervention of Prince Arthur himself. Meanwhile, Scudamour mistakes the armed Britomart for a man and, after she goes off with Amoret, suffers a fit of jealousy in the Cave of Care.

Not until Canto vi, in which he attacks Britomart, does he discover her gender and his own folly. After these incidents, we hear little more of him or of Amoret. In the first edition of the poem published in , however, Spenser fully resolved the tensions between the newlyweds. Upon Amoret's release from captivity to Busirane, she and Scudamour embrace and fuse with one another in a single hermaphroditic form, which seems to symbolize not only sexual union but also a golden mean between masculine and feminine forms of dominance and the consummation of an ideal Christian marriage.

The first two books follow a fairly straightforward and self-contained pattern: the hero sets forth on his quest, suffers a disastrous fall, is rescued by Arthur in Canto viii, joins forces with the prince for a time, undergoes a process of reeducation, and finally completes his quest with a victory in Canto xii. This may be the case because the god Cupid has come into the picture.

Arthur appears with his squire Timias, Guyon with the Palmer, Britomart with her nurse Glauce--and, not far away from them, the women also encounter the Red Crosse Knight. Almost as soon as the heroes meet, however, Florimell rides by, fleeing a forester who intends to rape her, and the men in the party ride off in hot pursuit. Guyon and Arthur pursue the lady more, it seems, for her beauty than for her safety, and they soon become separated and lost. Timias nobly rides off to subdue the forester, but afterward falls in love with Belphoebe, forgetting about Arthur and eventually becoming entangled in a romantic scandal involving Belphoebe and Amoret that drives him to despair and turns him into a hermit.

Thereafter, hardly a male in the poem can guide his own affairs sensibly until a semblance of order has been restored in Book V. The point seems to be that, in matters of love and friendship, women do better than men, and no one does very well. The beauty of a woman such as Florimell is like a comet, an astrological sign that "importunes death and dolefull drerihed" III. In the Renaissance many took from antiquity the view that bonds between two men were nobler than those between a man and a woman or between two women.

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Spenser undercuts this view by exalting marriage over friendship and also by idealizing amicable relationships between women and between members of the opposite sexes. In the first episode of Book IV, Britomart and Amoret arrive at a castle where no knight may enter without a lady. Britomart's solution is to exploit her disguise as a knight in order to enter as Amoret's champion, thus raising interesting issues of homoerotic attraction between the two ladies but also exalting the importance of their friendship. Later, Prince Arthur saves Amoret at the Castle of Corflambo, acting magnanimously as her male friend rather than as a potential lover.

This pattern is seen most clearly in the main heroes of the book, Campbell and Triamond, and in the ladies whom they love. Before Campbell will allow anyone to marry his sister Canacee, he requires that they first defeat him in battle. Triamond's two brothers, Priamond and Diamond, try and fail.

Because, however, their mother, Agape or "love" , has made a pact with the Destinies that Triamond should inherit the spirits and the strengths of his brothers, he is able to succeed where they failed. Later, Campbell marries Triamond's sister Cambina, and the four become fast friends. Since the men are altogether faithless to one another and to their ladies, they quarrel over a third woman, a demonic copy of Florimell created by a witch in Book III. Poems by Edmund Spenser. Related Content. Articles The Imaginative Man.

More About this Poet. Region: England. Poems by This Poet Related Bibliography. Amoretti I: Happy ye leaves when as those lilly hands. Amoretti IV: "New yeare forth looking out of Janus gate". Amoretti LV: So oft as I her beauty do behold. Amoretti LXX: Fresh spring the herald of loves mighty king.

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Amoretti XV: Ye tradefull Merchants that with weary toyle. An Hymn Of Heavenly Beauty. Iambicum Trimetrum. Prosopopoia: or Mother Hubbard's Tale. The Shepheardes Calender: January. Show More. The Imaginative Man. By Laura C. Read More. Bynneman, The Faerie Qveene. By Ed. London: Printed for William Ponsonby, Colin Clovts Come Home Againe. London: Printed for William Ponsonby, --includes Astrophell. Amoretti and Epithalamion. Fowre Hymnes, Made by Edm. Spenser London: Printed for William Ponsonby, Henry Gilford, and M.

Meredith Hanmer Edmund Campion Smith Oxford: Clarendon Press, The Mutabilitie Cantos , edited by S. Zitner London: Nelson, The Faerie Queene , edited by A. The Faerie Queene , edited by Thomas P. Roche Jr. Harmondsworth, Penguin, Deuised by S. Unfortunately, however, none are of his literary or political works. The majority are official letters and documents that he prepared as secretary to Arthur, Lord Grey, and later to Sir John Norris in Ireland, and the rest are addresses, endorsements, receipts, and legal documents relating to his landholdings and other matters.

The only literary items are his transcriptions of two Latin poems by Lotichius and a Latin letter on poetry by Erhardus Stibarus. A complete listing may be found in Anthony G. Petti's article on Spenser's handwriting in The Spenser Encyclopedia. Further Readings. Francis R. Dorothy R. Waldo F.

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