the light fantastic

vague ramblings re: early british lit

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Faerie Queene. Book 2, Canto 12

Before I had thought that Spenser had written this as a moral story of sorts and the fantasy elements were included so that it would be more entertaining (as opposed to having characters such as Good Deeds, Knowledge etc). The discussion in class focused heavily on hidden political critique of Queen Elizabeth. This and the footnote about the Bower of Bliss make it obvious that the imagery in this canto relates to the New World.

Then this canto could be a warning to Queen Elizabeth to stop funding exploration trips to America. The gate "wrought of substaunce light" (ln 386) show that building these colonies are not for war or something useful, but merely for pleasure. The wine spilled in stanza 57 could represent the bloodshed that excess (that is creating empires) is sure to cause.

The reference to the Virgin Rose could be another criticism at the Virgin Queen. But the chasteness of the Rose doesn't last long and eventually it fades and withers away. And the land is filled with naked damsels playing in the water who tempt Guyne and so is considered evil. So it could be seen as a commendation after all, for the queen's decision to stay chaste. In fact, the persona of Guyne, that of Temperance could be a double edged compliment to Queen Elizabeth.
First, for being neutral, rather than extreme, both in her personal life and religion. She was the one who ended the bloody religion swing by her tolerance for noncomformists and by her long reign. And by not marrying, she chose not to give favor to a certain family/country, and also to not be influenced by whatever political motives of her husband. Guyne could be a symbolic representation of Elizabeth, regardless of the fact that he's male and the faire Enchauntresse would be the queen Elizabeth might have been, surrounded by beasts.

Then again, the description of the Bower of Bliss and its allusion to New World and the conquest of land is an excess that Spenser obviously disapproves of.

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