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Schoendfeldt, Michael. “The Construction

Schoendfeldt, Michael. “The Construction

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Page 1

The Faerie Queene from Hackett Publishing Company

General Editor, Abraham Stoll

Spenser’s great work in five volumes. Each includes its own Introduction, annotation,

notes on the text, bibliography, glossary, and index of characters; Spenser’s “Letter to

Raleigh” and a short Life of Edmund Spenser appear in every volume.

Book Two

Edited, with Introduction, by Erik Gray, Columbia University

Books Three and Four

Edited, with Introduction, by Dorothy Stephens, University of Arkansas

Book Five

Edited, with Introduction, by Abraham Stoll, University of San Diego

Edmund Spenser


Faerie Queene

Books Three and Four



Book One

Edited, with Introduction, by Carol V. Kaske, Cornell University

The Faerie Queene

These paired Arthurian legends suggest that erotic desire and the desire for companionship undergird national politics. The maiden Britomart, Queen Elizabeth’s

fictional ancestor, dons armor to search for a man whom she has seen in a crystal

ball. While on this quest, she seeks to understand how one can be chaste while

pursuing a sexual goal, in love with a man while passionately attached to a woman,

a warrior princess yet a wife. As Spenser’s most sensitively developed character,

Britomart is capable of heroic deeds but also of teenage self-pity. Her experience is

anatomized in the stories of other characters, where versions of love and friendship

include physical gratification, torture, mutual aid, competition, spiritual ecstasy,

self-sacrifice, genial teasing, jealousy, abduction, wise government, sedition, and the

valiant defense of a pig shed.


The Faerie Queene, Books Three and Four

Book Six and the Mutabilitie Cantos

Edited, with Introduction, by Andrew Hadfield, University of Sussex


Edited, with Introduction, by

FnL1 00 0000

9 780872 208551


ISBN-13: 978-0-87220-855-1

ISBN-10: 0-87220-855-9



Edmund Spenser


Books Three and Four

Edmund Spenser


Books Three and Four

Edited, with Introduction, by

Dorothy Stephens

Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.


Copyright © 2006 by Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.

All rights reserved

09 08 07 06

1 2 3 4 5 6 7

For further information, please address

Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.

P.O. Box 44937

Indianapolis, IN 46244-0937


Cover art: Walter Crane illustration and ornament for Book Three, The Faerie

Queene, ca. 1890.

Cover design by Abigail Coyle

Interior design by Elizabeth Wilson

Composition by Professional Book Compositors

Printed at Edwards Brothers, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Spenser, Edmund, 1552?–1599.

The faerie queene / Edmund Spenser.

p. cm.

Series general editor, Abraham Stoll; volume editors: bk. 1, Carol Kaske; bk. 5,

Abraham Stoll.

Includes bibliographical references and indexes.

ISBN 0-87220-808-7 (bk. 1) — ISBN 0-87220-807-9 (pbk. : bk. 1) —

ISBN 0-87220-802-8 (bk. 5) — ISBN 0-87220-801-X (pbk. : bk. 5)

1. Knights and knighthood—Poetry. 2. Epic poetry, English. 3. Virtues

—Poetry. I. Stoll, Abraham Dylan, 1969– . II. Kaske, Carol V., 1933– .

III. Title.

PR2358.A3K37 2006



ISBN-13: 978-0-87220-856-8 (cloth, bks. 3 & 4)

978-0-87220-855-1 (pbk., bks. 3 & 4)

ISBN-10: 0-87220-856-7 (cloth, bks. 3 & 4)

0-87220-855-9 (pbk., bks. 3 & 4)

eISBN: 978-1-60384-041-5 (e-book)




The Faerie Queene, Book Three


The Faerie Queene, Book Four


The Letter to Raleigh

The Life of Edmund Spenser

Textual Notes


Index of Characters

Works Cited








For Wesley and Annette Stephens,

who know the pleasure of a good detour.


1. Domesticity and Strangeness

In her private journals, written between 1798 and 1803, Dorothy

Wordsworth frequently mentions sitting at the fireside in Dove Cottage

with her brother to read Spenser’s poetry aloud. Some mornings they

walked in the orchard reading cantos of The Faerie Queene. For them,

Spenser was a domestic practice, and the sound of his poetry was that of

their own voices, even though the poetry that William Wordsworth

wrote hardly resembled Spenser’s.

Edmund Spenser lived more than two hundred years before the

Wordsworths, during the English Renaissance, and he participated in a

reflowering of English literature that included Marlowe, Shakespeare,

Donne, Wroth, Jonson, Marvell, and Milton. Spenser’s poetry strongly

influenced his contemporaries and many writers who came afterward;

Shakespeare borrowed from him, and Milton considered him a great

moral teacher. (Milton admired him for his understanding that the willful ignorance of sin does not enable an intelligent embrace of goodness.)

Two centuries later, the musicality of Spenser’s verse exerted a powerful

pull, not only on the Wordsworths, but also on other Romantic poets:

Keats, Shelley, and Byron. But the Romantics had a passion for Shakespeare, as well, and it is with the latter passion that modern readers are

more likely to feel a kinship. Because modern readers grow up hearing

Shakespeare’s plays quoted and then begin to read them in high school,

we have at least the illusion that Shakespeare belongs to us. It is easy to

imagine Dorothy and William Wordsworth reading Shakespeare by firelight; he is familiar, and he tells us who we are. The fact that this domestic

Shakespeare is, to a great degree, a figment of our own imaginations—

that the more carefully one looks at him, the stranger he becomes—does

not impair our gut-level sense that he speaks our anxieties, desires, and

hopes. In contrast, few modern readers grow up with Spenser. His

strangeness—the distance between his thought processes and ours—is obvious, and it takes longer to fall in love with him than with Shakespeare.

Once one begins to love Spenser, however, the process is irreversible, and

his incontrovertible strangeness turns out to be one of his greatest assets.

The Faerie Queene is far from what most readers of the past two hundred years have expected of narration. Spenser’s romance epic is not realistic: only a few of its characters have any psychological depth, and the




most extensively developed character silently disappears three-fourths of

the way through the poem. The six virtues illustrated by the six books are

defined in ways that seem odd to modern minds. The poem’s plots have

several beginnings but no endings; there is no central crisis or dénouement;

and, indeed, plot progression is secondary to almost everything else.

Spenser’s narrator positively glories in repetition at every level: not only

do characters re-enact each other’s stories, but they re-enact their own

discoveries as though having forgotten the previous pages. Even the sentence structure and diction are repetitive, unabashedly indulging in double or triple negatives, redundant adjectives, and self-quotation.

To put a cap on it, when the author expresses his political opinions,

they are as likely as not to be hotly contested by modern readers. His notions about the benefits of military suppression in Ireland make us cringe,

and the poem declares more than once that the ideal woman is one who

keeps her eyes fastened modestly on the ground.

Yet we read and learn from this poem precisely for all of the above reasons, intrigued by the knowledge that through poetry we can encounter

a culture that had expectations, assumptions, and needs oddly different

from our own. While acknowledging that we will never be able to understand Spenser or the Elizabethans fully, we can take steps in that direction. In the process, we may have the beneficial experience of looking

back at our own culture only to find that it, too, has become strange and

wonderful to us, no longer seeming purely inevitable and natural. So, for

instance, we may become attuned to the fact that when we call a modern

film, novel, or sculpture “realistic,” we are heavily influenced by our own

culture as to what makes a piece of art deserve that adjective. We are

quite likely to consider a film realistic even though each of the rooms

being filmed has only three sides, large blocks of time are skipped in the

course of the story, and no actress in the film has pores. We are trained to

overlook these anomalies.

But if various cultures achieve artistic realism along various routes, it is

even more important to realize that realism has not been the goal of most

artists throughout history. Indeed, although a modern reader might criticize Elizabethan literature for being unrealistic, our own culture’s art

aims for realism only fitfully. At some level, we know that flagrantly artificial musical lyrics or science-fiction stories may uncover deep truths

about the pain of erotic rejection, desire, ambition, or prejudice, conveying these in ways that realism cannot.

Elizabethans admired artificially and intricately patterned surfaces. This

does not mean they were more psychologically superficial than we are

today; their interest in emblematization and allegory demonstrates their

recognition that surfaces inevitably carry meaning. Instead of believing



that surfaces merely conceal inner truth, they believed that we construct

ourselves through our manipulation of surfaces. For example, if I dress in

a certain way, I am making myself into the sort of person who dresses

that way. Elizabethan artists and audiences were astutely aware that the

human mind addresses the problems in our lives by means of emblems,

metaphors, analogies, transferences, hypothetical thought experiments,

and evasions that are anything but simple representations of what goes on

in the world outside the mind. In fact, one could say that the average

human mind produces an almost constant stream of allegory; that is, it

weaves incoming bits of data into large and highly symbolic patterns.

Neuroscientists and psychologists tell us that without this ability to allegorize and to construct patterns out of chaotic data, we human beings

would be unable to perform many of the simplest intellectual operations

and would have little sense of ourselves.

One type of artifice that may cause trouble for the modern reader of

Elizabethan literature is repetition. Although the high rate of repetition

in Elizabethan poetry is foreign to us, much of our music today is actually more repetitious than any music produced during Elizabeth’s reign.

We can learn a great deal about both Spenser’s contemporaries and ourselves by noticing that what we might find tiresomely iterative, they

found invigorating, and vice versa. Their appetite for repetition centered

upon the written and spoken word, as they developed hundreds of ways

to vary each literary theme and sound. When we read Spenser’s entire

canto devoted to the names and descriptions of rivers, we should ask ourselves seriously, rather than scathingly, what made this canto so admirably alive for its first audiences. We might remind ourselves that

nature itself, at the most basic cellular and atomic levels, is highly invested

in repetition. It is no wonder that every society that has ever existed on

this planet has developed artistic forms in which to mimic, interpret, and

ornament this natural investment.

At the same time, like many other remarkable works of literature,

Spenser’s romance epic is wonderfully inconsistent—which is another way

of saying that it looks at every problem from multiple perspectives and

gives voice to counter-arguments. So, for example, Spenser’s frequently

invoked image of the perfect woman as being modest and retiring finds a

counter-argument in Britomart, the heroine of Book Three, who dons

armor and goes on a quest to find her beloved, a man whom she has seen

only in a crystal ball. Britomart is the Knight of Chastity, yet she does not

fit the common sixteenth-century ideal of a chaste woman as someone

who does not feel erotic desire before marriage. These inconsistencies cannot easily be smoothed over by saying that Spenser “really” wants women

to be like Britomart, rather than like the shy and blushing paragons

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