Spenser: The Faerie Queene, Book I

  • Colin Manlove


In many ways The Faerie Queene (1590–6) seems similar to the French Queste. The context is one of knights and knightly contest; we move through a landscape of forests, valleys and plains with occasional castles; there is a quest; there are apparently random encounters with knights, damsels, demons and succubae; and above all there is allegory, whereby we are invited to see spiritual significance in or under the narrative. It is hard indeed to believe that Spenser was not as indebted to the Queste as to Ariosto.


Parent Prisoner Paradise Lost Random Encounter Spiritual Significance Literal Level 
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  1. 1.
    C. S. Lewis traces the cause to the recovery in the twelfth century of the texts of the ‘philosopher of divisions’, Aristotle: ‘Heaven began, under this dispensation, to seem further off.’ But for him the full consequence is not evident until the seventeenth century and Descartes. See C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958) p. 88.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The Terrors of the Night, or, A Discourse of Apparitions (1594), in The Works of Thomas Nashe, 5 vols, ed. R. B. McKerrow, rev. F. P. Wilson (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958) I, 349, citing St John Chrysostom.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    The Quest of the Holy Grail, tr. Pauline Matarasso (Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin, 1969) p. 158.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    Contrast Frederick W. Locke, ‘The Quest for the Holy Grail’: A Literary Study of a Thirteenth Century French Romance (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1960) p. 67: ‘The Queste is not a “darke conceit”. Spenser, in his dedicatory letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, felt a need to supply a key to his poem. The author of the Queste, on the other hand, presented his work with an assurance that he would be understood in spite of the incontestable darkness that envelops his book at certain points. His was a confidence based on the knowledge that his readers possessed a body of symbols that were public in nature.’Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    This is not to exclude her roles as a cult epithet for Queen Elizabeth, and as figuring the One True Church of England in opposition to Roman Catholicism: for recent accounts of which, see, respectively, Michael O’Connell, Mirror and Veil: The Historical Dimension in Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queene’ (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1977) pp. 44–51, 60–5,Google Scholar
  6. and Anthea Hume, Edmund Spenser: Protestant Poet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984) pp. 85–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 8.
    The evidence of R. M. Cummings (ed.), Spenser: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1971) pp. 6–10, is that it did not.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    References are to the Longmans Annotated English Texts edition of The Faerie Queene, ed. A.C. Hamilton (London and New York, 1977).Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Paul Alpers, ‘Narrative and Rhetoric in The Faerie Queene’, SEL, 2 (1962) 28.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    See also A. C Hamilton, ‘The Structure of Allegory in ‘The Faerie Queene’ (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961) pp. 1–43, on the importance of the literal, or narrative, level in the poem; and on Spenser’s debt to Dante.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    On which see also Rosemary Freeman, ‘The Faerie Queene’: A Companion for Readers (London: Chatto and Windus, 1970) ch. 4, pp. 87–127.Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    On the flexibility of interpretation required cf. Thomas H. Cain, Praise in ‘The Faerie Queene’ (Lincoln, Nebr., and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1978) ch. 3, pp. 58–83, esp. pp. 71–3.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    James Nohrnberg, The Analogy of ‘The Faerie Queene’ (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976) pp. 103–5, 119–30, puts a similar view much more fully.Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    Isabel G. MacCaffrey, Spenser’s Allegory: The Anatomy of Imagination (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976) pp. 67–71, also sees Fairy Land in these terms.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    For an interpretation of the development of Redcrosse in terms of a gradual movement from a corruptible ‘fantasy of faith’ to true vision see Sean Kane, ‘Spenser and the Frame of Faith’, UTQ, 50 (1981) 253–68.Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    For an interesting argument for the literalising of metaphor in literature see Samuel R. Levin, Metaphoric Worlds: Conceptions of a Romantic Nature (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  17. 22.
    Sir Philip Sidney, An Apologie for Poetrie (1583), in G. Gregory Smith (ed.), Elizabethan Critical Essays, 2 vols (London: Oxford University Press, 1904) I, 156. The view of the poet as maker of a new and self-consistent world imitating God’s is also advanced by Tasso, in Discorsi del Poema Eroico (1594):Google Scholar
  18. see Torquato Tasso, Discourses on the Heroic Poem, tr. Mariella Cavalchini and Irene Samuel (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973) pp. 77–8.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Colin Manlove 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colin Manlove
    • 1
  1. 1.University of EdinburghUK

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