Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Introduction to Edmund Spenser

Literature can be defined as the collected oral and written works of a society that depict the people’s beliefs, values, mores and aspirations, as well as their struggles in life.

In this column, Vanessa and Bones will publish their views and reviews on English Literature hoping to provide insight and aid to those interested in this subject. Whether you are taking English Literature as part of your course and presently suffering from lazy-ass syndrome or just into it out of love here’s to ya.

The works in question are not presented chronologically but by availability and demand for the said topic.

Due to the rarity of material about Edmund Spenser and some college professor’s insistence on assigning “fool’s errands” to unfortunate students. This is a good place to start.

Edmund Spenser (c. 1552-1599)

Edmund Spenser was born in East Smithfield, London. He first studied at the Merchant Tailors’ school and then to Pembroke Hall, Cambridge (that’s England). At college, he was fortunate in getting acquainted with Gabriel Harvey, a notable scholar and critic back then. Harvey was instrumental in getting the young author appointed to the Earl of Leicester’s household. Thus earning the patronage of royalty that later allow Spenser to be noticed by the greatest patron of the arts in all of the British Isles at that time, Queen Elizabeth I.

Edmund Spenser’s Contribution to English Literature

By: Bones

Spenser developed a format in poetry called a Senserian Stanza. A kind of Iambic pentameter that is very useful in describing vivid imagery in a poetic sense that is widely adapted by latter poets like Keats, Milton, and Pope.

His use of allegory in subtly describing his own political beliefs or opinions won the praise of readers and critics throughout the ages for its artistry and intricate imagery.

His epic poems are a challenge to read through, but satisfying once you’ve finished them like Bjork’s Homogenic album.

The Faerie Queen

A critical reflection of one of Edmund Spenser’s most famous work.

By: Vanessa Uy

The Faerie Queen to me is a political and moral allegory that establishes the views of Edmund Spenser regarding the local and foreign policies of Queen Elizabeth I’s kingdom. At the time, most of the nations of the world were ruled by a political system called “Absolute Monarchy.” Artisans like poets, painters, sculptors, and architects were vying for patrons. Luckily, monarchs like Queen Elizabeth I was a very generous patron for the arts. She employed Spenser as a royal poet. After this, Spenser only has to worry about writing poetry, because Spenser would be provided with amenities: like food, shelter, or means of travel by the Queen.

The poem is divided into six books. Each book tells how various virtues allow a knight and his lady or paige to accomplish their mission given by Queen Gloriana, the Faerie Queen. The first book is about the virtue of holiness typified by the Red Crossed Knight. The second: temperence; the third, chastity; the fourth, friendship; the fifth, justice; and the sixth, courtesy. There were supposedly twelve books that should have been completed by Spenser describing the twelve Aristotolian virtues that would make a person noble.

Two of the characters that I can relate to in this poem were Talus the Iron Man, and Brittomart the Lady Knight. Talus the Iron Man was Queen Gloriana’s instrument of retribution, which also makes him known as “the punisher.” Together with Artegal, they punished the thieving Saracen King for his crimes against the traders and travelers passing through his domain. Talus is like an allegory of the American foreign policy of “dropping the hammer” on her enemies. While Brittomart, one of the knights appointed by Queen Gloriana to hold Archimago’s plans at bay. Spenser’s engendering her the virtue of chastity might be an allegory for integrity which means her ideals cannot be corrupted by the “false teachings” of Archimago. To me Brittomart is more an allegory of a woman in power like the then Secretary of State Madeleigne Allbright or Condeliza Rice than a female U.S. Army ground pounder.

Spenser conveys the description of Queen Elizabeth I’s kingdom as faerieland maybe because most common people have difficulty understanding the rigmarole of running a kingdom. The domestic and foreign policies that are to be enforced i.e. the clash between Anglicanism and The Roman Catholic Church and the raids committed by the Saracens (read that: lawless Arab Muslims) on the merchants with cargo from the Orient (silk and spices from China/Cathay) which have to pass through Arab lands before reaching their European buyers. These things might have left a lot of people stumped. But by using allegory and some elements of classical Greek and Roman literature, Faerie Queen could be accessible by most of Queen Elizabeth I’s subjects with reading skills a few rungs above the basic.

Spenser’s portrayal of some Muslims as bandits might be viewed as prejudicial in today’s culturally sensitive and politically correct climes. It’s just to bad that there’s been very little progress in forging understanding between the Islamic World and the West.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

The economist John Maynard Keynes once criticized the then US President Woodrow Wilson and the then Prime Minister of England Lloyd George for their "Faerie Queen" like naivëté in tackling Germany's "expansionist" foreign policy. Your comparrison of the Faerie Queen to the "Machiavelian Machinations" of the current Bush Administration / oligarchy's "Foreign Policy" is reminiscent to what John Maynard Keynes' views of post-World War I treatment of the "Victorious Nations" upon the German nation which allowed Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party to gain power. Does this remind you of the rise of Osama Bin Laden's Al Qaeda due to the Foreign Policy "blunders" of the Republican / GOP style politics?