the light fantastic

vague ramblings re: early british lit

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Faerie Queene, Book I, Canto IV

And proud Lucifera men did her call,
That made her selfe a Queene, and crownd to be,
Yet rightfull kingdome she had none at all,
Ne heritage of native soveraintie,
But did usurpe with wrong and tynrannie
Upon the scepter, which she now did hold:
Ne ruld her Realmes with lawes, but pollicie,
And strong advizment of six wisards old,
That with their counsels bad her kingdome did uphold.

The 'her' in this stanza is referring to is Pride, the lady of the shabbily built castle. The previous stanzas go into depth about her appearance, her lineage, and her court, but this passage is pivotal since it shows how she rules her kingdom. The six wizards that advise her are also introduced in the latter half of the canto and they include Idleness, Gluttony, Lechery, Avarice, Envy and Wrath.

First, the allusion to Lucifer is blatantly obvious. Lucifer fell from Heaven because of his pride, and now Pride is being named "Lucifera." She is also described with words such as "gorgeous array" and "shone as Titans ray." Her throne is bright, but she herself is brighter and so forth. It even says in stanza 11 that she did aspire to the highest, paralleling Lucifer's ego. Other descriptions of Pride is that her father is Pluto, the Lord of the Underworld, the milder equivalent of the Devil. (Mild in the sense, where religion tells that the Devil is just plain evil, but mythology tells us that lots were picked to see which of the gods would rule which kingdom. It was just bad luck for Pluto that he picked the short straw.) The reference to "a dreadfull Dragon" in stanza 10 brings to mind the prostitute in Revelations of the Bible. Thus, it's clearly defined who the lady of the castle is, and how she is quite dangerous to our Hero.

Descriptions aside, the important part of the stanza is the middle. She has no rightful claim to a kingdom, no native heritage and still she holds a sceptor. She doesn't rule by laws, but by political cunning and the six deadly sins. In the context of the religious perspective, the Devil rules the world even though he has no claim on what God created. The native heritage points out that God has been a man and is connected to humanity in this way, but the Devil can't make the same claim. He can't rule it by laws since he doesn't uphold them himself, but he twists words and uses cunning to get things his way.

Before this stanza and after this stanza, Spenser describes various physical and characteristic traits of the sins, but this is the one stanza where he isn't being cryptic about his symbols.


Blogger Daniel Lupton said...


I think your writing here is very good; your prose is very fluid and readable. However, I'm not sure that you've really identified any subtext in the passage; your interpretation seems like it's working more on the surface level of the text (perhaps not quite the literal level, but only the first level of the allegory). In future posts you should work hard to make an argument that defies one's initital impressions of the text; I know it's a hard thing to do, but I'm sure that once you come up with that argument you'll have no trouble supporting it with analysis of the text.

2:20 PM  

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