1000 Books In 10 Years; Vol. 205: The Faerie Queene (Book One), by Edmund “Ass-kissing” Spenser

Edmund Spenser


Ah… Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queen” (Book 1)!  Where do I begin with a work that has so much wrong with it!  When Milton when on about how rhyme was “the Invention of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched matter and lame Meter,” I am sure it was Spenser’s Faerie Queene that he had in mind.   So let us start with that!  A stanza that is nine lines long?  Come on Spenser… rhyming verse needs an even number of lines!  Everybody knows that.  And your rhyme scheme: ABABBCBCC?!?!?!? Where the fuck did you come up with that?  That pattern totally ruins the rhythm of the rhyme scheme.  And the last line… 6 feet?  When all the other lines are 5 feet?  And once we get on from the form, how about the spelling?  Yes, I know that Spenser was purposely using antiquated spellings to call upon the traditions of great middle-English poets like Chaucer (though why he didn’t use rhyming couplets like Chaucer is beyond me), but Spenser, in many instances fabricates this antiquated spelling, and then applies it inconsistently!  Seriously?  And let us not forget that the entire poem is just Spenser kissing Queen Elizabeth’s ass with the hopes of being named poet laureate or some shit like that, with the hopes off getting out if Ireland.  Ironically, Queen Elizabeth loved the ass kissing of Spenser so much that she gave land…. in Ireland… lol.

Queen Elizabeth I, the woman whose ass Spenser was so eager to kiss.

Oh, and before the start of each Canto is a quatrain that summarizes what goes on in that canto.   It should read: SPOILER ALERT, because seriously, when you know what happens at the end, there is no suspense.  And yes, I am aware that this is a convention of epic poetry, I just think it’s lame.

Una shows Redcross how much hotter she is than Duessa.

So yes, Spenser is clever and packs in all kinds of levels of allegory within the poem (though at some points he gets quite lazy with the allegory such as in Canto 10 when he starts naming the “Bead-men”… Almner reprsents… almoner? WOW!! That’s deep.  Seriously… all he did was take out the letter “o”.   And then there is Mercie, who represents… um… mercy?  You guessed it!  And guess what people do in the House of Penance?  Penance.

Una, the lion and the lamb. The lion protects Una after Redcross abandons her because he thinks she’s a whore. Silly knights.

So basically the story goes like this.  A maiden named Una goes to the Faerie Queene (sic) and asks for a knight to help rescue her parents who are held captive by a dragon in their kingdom of Eden (which represents, you guessed it, Eden, and her parents are Adam and Eve, even though Adam and Eve had two boys, but I digress).  And for some reason Una brought her own armour, so the Queene lends Una this country bumpkin that’s been sleeping on the floor, because god forbid she lend out one of her actual knights, and he puts on this armour and becomes Redcross!  They meet trouble along the way and eventually they get to where they are going and the dragon gets killed and Una is betrothed to Redcross who must first return to the Faerie Queene and serve her as a knight for six years before returning to pierce this young maiden’s maidenhead.  Why he didn’t get married first and enjoy his wedding night before going off to fight and perhaps die in battle a virgin is beyond me.

Redcross pimping it up with Duessa after he dumps Una.

Anyways, the work is supposed to be a satire of sorts on the Catholic church, and uplifting the protestant faith, or more specifically the Anglican church.  So how does Spenser start the poem off?  By asking the Christian god to inspire him to devout words? Nope.  He calls upon pagan muses to help him write a Christian epic!  I can just see god rolling his eyes when he started reading this hunk of shit.  Yes, calling on pagan muses is what Virgil and Homer did, but remember Spenser, Virgil and Homer are in hell for worshipping false gods!  And whenever Spenser references the sun coming up or going down, it is always Phoebus and his team of horses bringing light upon the world, not Jesus.  I can just picture Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit in a writing workshop class with Spenser’s The Faerie Queene before them.  “Um, yeah, this spot here where you have Phoebus causing the day and night.  I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with that.”  Seriously… Spenser is SUCH a heathen.  All kidding aside, Spenser claims to be promoting Protestantism, and putting down the Catholic church, but in reality he is up lifting a mirror of the Catholic church in the Anglican church, which essentially copied the Catholic church in nearly every way with almost the sole exception being that instead of the Pope as the head of the church, the reigning monarch is the head of the church.  Though many protestant reformers were hopeful that the Anglican church would reflect the ideas expressed in Martin Luther’s The Ninety-Five Thesis, most were distraught to learn that Henry VIII very much liked everything about Catholicism with the exception of the Pope being an authority over him.  So his church was essentially a mirror image of the Catholic church.  There are still saints, and Bishops and Archbishops, who all dress in fancy garb.  The sacrament is the same.  Penance.  So many of the issues that Martin Luther had with the Catholic church, he also would have had with the Anglican church.  So Spenser essentially wastes his time putting down the Catholic church, because everything that is wrong with the Catholic church which he was railing against, was also wrong with the Anglican church which he sought to uplift.  For example, when Spenser introduces Duessa, one of the main villains of the poem, we are meant to see the fact that she is richly dressed as not only an allusion to the Whore of Babylon, but also to the Catholic church, whose high ranking members also dressed richly.  The thing is, so did the high ranking members of the Anglican church.  And if Duessa was dressed richly, and meant to be seen as a representation of sin as a result, then when we see the hero of the poem introduced, King Arthur, he too should be see in the same light, for the richness in which he is dressed puts Duessa to shame.  I mean the dude has a shield that is entirely made of diamonds!  And, I bet when he bought that shield, he didn’t even bother to askif they were blood diamonds or not.  He seems that callous.  And he’s got gold all over his armour.  Likewise, when we meet Archimago, another of the villains of the poem, he is seen a barefoot and praying, doing penance, and we are meant to see him as a Catholic monk and note that he is evil because of that.  But in Canto 10 Stanza 46 we see a man who looks the same, but whom we are supposed to recognize as holy.  In Canto 3, when we meet Abessa and Corceca (daughter and mother respectively), we are told that the daughter is deaf and mute and the mother blind, and are in turn meant to align that with Catholic nuns, who, by spending their days in solitude, do not see the outside world.  This, we are supposed to see as a flaw, but the holy man in Canto 10 Stanza 46 is much the same.  He spends “day and night” in devotion and to no “other worldly business did apply” and we are supposed to see this as a virtue.  Oh, and his name was Contemplation, he was an allegorical figure for, you guessed it, contemplation (specifically holy contemplation of course).  Let us just say that Spenser was the king of compartmentalizing and not read the other books, and be thankful that he didn’t finish all 12, because if I had to read 12 books by Spenser to complete my undergrad, I would have likely hung myself.  I seriously can’t believes trees were cut down for this shit.

Martin Luther. The man whose Ninety-Five Thesis Spenser apparently DID NOT read.

Edmund Spenser’s life had a happy ending of sorts.  After his wife and chilrden were burnt to death and he was run out of Ireland, he finally got to leave Ireland, the land he so hated, and lived in London.   Where he apparently starved to death?  Not enough potatoes in London apparently.  I guess he should have stayed in Ireland.

And here, I’ve decided to share a clip from the classic 1986 film Troll, which I’m sure is exactly what Spenser had in mind for this work when he wrote it.

Hey, if the royalties would have got him enough money to move out of Ireland I’m sure Spenser would have approved.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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