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KINDLE ⚫ The Faerie Queene ⚸ The Faerie Queene was the first epic in English and one of the most influential poems in the language for later poets from Milton to Tennyson Dedicating his work to Elizabeth I, Spenser brilliantly united medieval romance and renaissance epic to expound the glory of the Virgin Queen The poem recounts the quests of knights including Sir Guyon, Knight of Constance, who resists temptation, and Artegall, Knight of Justice, whose story alludes to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots Composed as an overt moral and political allegory, The Faerie Queene, with its dramatic episodes of chivalry, pageantry and courtly love, is also a supreme work of atmosphere, colour and sensuous description Update: I finally finished the whole book and most especially loved the Book 7 fragment Diana/Cynthia, the moon Right up my alley and so beautifully written A lifelong desire fulfilled Now I am starting to enjoy and understand the language much quicker This section especially reminded me of Monty Python with the cutting off of arms and other flesh wounds :)This review is for Book 5 but the edition changed here midstream. To me, this is the great long poem in English, beside which Paradise Lost seems like a clumsy haiku Where Milton is precise and sententious, Spenser is exuberant, almost mad, and always focused on sheer reading pleasure His aim is to take you on a crazed swordandsorcery epic, and his style combines godlike verbal inventiveness with the sort of eye for lurid details that an HBO commissioning editor would kill for.It's almost like fan fiction One imagines Spenser getting high over his copy of Malory one night, and then falling asleep and having a feverish opium dream about it The Faerie Queene is the result: errant knights, evil witches and dragons, crossdressing heroes, splenetic deities, and lots of damsels who get tied up in becomingly abbreviated outfits to await rescue Despite this list of clichés, though, Spenser can also be fascinatingly transgressive, especially when it comes to gender roles: women in the Faerie Queene are by no means all passive weaklings, and there are no fewer than two different ‘warrior maids’ who ride around in full armour kicking the shit out of people who question their sense of agency or look at them funny Note also the intriguing walkon parts such as the giantess Argantè, who keeps men locked up ‘to serve her lust’ – a nice inversion of the usual trope of women being carted off as sexual prizes – and who is over defeated by the female knight Palladine.Incidentally, Spenser likes to come up with inventive perversions to characterise his villains: Argantè is accused of prenatal incest, which I have to admit was a new one on me:These twinnes, men say, (a thing far passing thought)While in their mothers wombe enclosd they were,Ere they into the lightsom world were brought,In fleshly lust were mingled both yfere,And in that monstrous wise did to the world appere.I don't think enough has been written about Spenser's language There is a tendency for modern readers to gloss over the tricky bits, and think: ‘Well, presumably this was an easy read back in the 1590s.’ It really wasn't Spenser's language was, even to his contemporaries, extremely archaic and convoluted, with a distinct taste for inventive coinages It's like a kind of Elizabethan Clockwork Orange (A Clockwork Potato?) Some of this is now invisible to modern readers Words like amazement, amenable, bland, blatant, bouncing, centered, discontent, dismay, elope, formerly, gurgling, horrid, invulnerable, jovial, lawlessness, memorize, newsman, Olympic, pallid, redhanded, sarcasm, transfix, unassailable, violin, warmonger – all of them, and hundreds , seem uncomplicated now, but that is only because Spenser invented them and we have become used to them in the centuries since This is not to mention the hundreds of other words he coined that did not catch on and have now become obsolete (there's another).I particularly like his flair for euphemism Here's another awesome section, where a hapless husband has tracked down his wife after she was kidnapped by a group of satyrs He hides nearby in the bushes, only to find out that she's actually having quite a good time:At night, when all they went to sleepe, he vewd, Whereas his louely wife emongst them lay, Embraced of a Satyre rough and rude, Who all the night did minde his ioyous play: Nine times he heard him come aloft ere day, That all his hart with gealosie did swell…‘Come aloft’ of course meaning something along the lines of ‘mount sexually’ There's a lot of this kind of thing – Spenser not always coming across as the most secure guy in the world The stanza concludes with another fun figurative flourish:But yet that nights ensample did bewray,That not for nought his wife them loued so well,When one so oft a night did ring his matins bell.Haha Love it This form of stanza – now known as ‘Spenserian’ – was his own creation, and the way each one concludes in a jaunty rhyming couplet makes him very quotable I actually wrote this bit out in a notebookthan two years ago, which shows how long I've been reading this – it's been a sort of longterm project that I've dipped in and out of in between other books This makes it hard to review, because I've now long forgotten half the stuff that happened in the first couple of sections (Indeed when I started reading it, I was using a version on the internet, but I fell in love with the poem so hard that I ended up buying a luxury Folio Society limited edition bound in goatskin, probably the most expensive book in my entire collection – which, as Hannah was not slow to point out, seems hard to justify for a poem that you can read online for free.)So OK, the paperback looks incredibly dull and imposing, and, yes, the idea of a 1500page allegorical poem about Queen Elizabeth I does sound like a living nightmare – but The Faerie Queene is the opposite of boring It's pure incident from start to finish And if there's a message to the epic, taken as a whole, I think Spenser's closing lines point us in the right direction He shows us that what matters in this world is not money or power – nor even, in the final analysis, the virtues that he has been exploring for nearly 40,000 lines What matters is taking the time to find pleasure – in love, in knowledge, and, most of all, in literature:Therefore do you, my rimes, keep better measure,And seeke to please; that now is counted wise mens threasure.
How astonishing is the literary fecundity of England's Elizabethan Age Spenser, Sidney, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson, the list can go on and on I last read The Faerie Queenethan fortyfive years ago in a college English class, and then only in snippets I felt that now was the time to read the poem in its entirety, and what a treat it has been.The poem consists of seven books (the last being foreshortened to only two cantos) of twelve cantos each Each canto contains about fifty stanzas, the total work running tothan 400 pages Each stanza is constructed as, appropriately named, a Spenserian Stanza with the nineline rhyme scheme ababbcbcc, the first eight lines being in iambic pentameter and the final in iambic hexameter Within this scheme is astonishingly great variety, and I was amazed that Spenser could sustain a poem of this length without the form becoming restricting and tedious His frequent use of enjambment serves to avoid a repetitive singsong quality to which the work might otherwise have been prone, and part of the freshness and inventiveness is also provided by his extensive use of alliteration Let me share just the last three lines of one stanza as an illustration of his alliteration:All flesh is frayle, and full of ficklenesse,Subject to fortunes chance, still chaunging new;What haps to day to me, to morrow may to you.As is apparent, Spenser uses archaic language throughout He owes a great debt to Chaucer in many ways, and his use of archaic language and spelling suggests Chaucer's Middle English I found it charming, and one quickly and easily becomes accustomed to it.The work was written as homage to Elizabeth I and describes the adventures of various knights each representing a chivalric virtue Holinesse, Temperaunce, Chastitie, Courtesie, etc The basic conceit would seem to derive from Medieval morality plays, and one is also reminded of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress (again, however, the virtues praised aredistinctly chivalric than Christian), but Faerie Queene is to my mind farcharming and less preachy than the latter Arthur plays a role as well, but the premise seems to be that these adventures predate his golden age There are innumerable captivating and memorable characters and endless delightful adventures.I was charmed by this work It was simply one that I would have regretted having lived a lifetime without having read in its entirety Highly recommended! A Note on the TextTable of DatesFurther ReadingA Letter of the Authors Expounding His Whole Intention in the Course of this Worke: Which For that it Giveth Great Light to the Reader, for the Better Vnderstanding is Hereunto AnnexedCommendatory VersesDedicatory SonnetsThe Faerie QueeneTextual AppendixNotesCommon Words