previous next
[170] the innocent shepherdesses into which he travesties them.1

In his great poem he had two objects in view: first, the ephemeral one of pleasing the court, and then that of recommending himself to the permanent approval of his own and following ages as a poet, and especially as a moral poet. To meet the first demand, he lays the scene of his poem in contemporary England, and brings in all the leading personages of the day under the thin disguise of his knights and their squires and ladyloves. He says this expressly in the prologue to the second book:—

Of Faery Land yet if he more inquire,
By certain signs, here set in sundry place,
He may it find;....
And thou, O fairest princess under sky,
In this fair mirror mayst behold thy face
And thine own realms in land of Faery.

Many of his personages we can still identify, and all of them were once as easily recognizable as those of Mademoiselle de Scudery. This, no doubt, added greatly to the immediate piquancy of the allusions. The interest they would excite may be inferred from the fact that King James, in 1596, wished to have the author prosecuted and punished for his indecent handling of his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, under the name of Duessa.2 To

1 Taste must be partially excepted. It is remarkable how little eating and drinking there is in the ‘Faery Queen.’ The only time he fairly sets a table is in the house of Malbecco, where it is necessary to the conduct of the story. Yet taste is not wholly forgotten:—

In her left hand a cup of gold she held,
And with her right the riper fruit did reach,
Whose sappy liquor, that with fulness sweld,
Into her cup she scruzed with dainty breach
Of her fine fingers without foul impeach,
That so fair wine-press made the wine more sweet.

B. II. c. XII 56.

Taste can hardly complain of unhandsome treatment!

2 Had the poet lived longer, he might perhaps have verified his friend Raleigh's saying, that ‘whosoever in writing modern history shall follow truth too near the heels, it may haply strike out his teeth.’ The passage is one of the very few disgusting ones in the ‘Faery Queen.’ Spenser was copying Ariosto; but the Italian poet, with the discreeter taste of his race, keeps to generalities. Spenser goes into particulars which can only be called nasty. He did this, no doubt, to pleasure his mistress, Mary's rival; and this gives us a measure of the brutal coarseness of contemporary manners. It becomes only the more marvellous that the fine flower of his genius could have transmuted the juices of such a soil into the purity and sweetness which are its own peculiar properties.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Edmund Spenser (2)
Mademoiselle Scudery (1)
Mary Queen (1)
Ariosto (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1596 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: