The Faerie Queene

Dark Conceit: Surface and Meaning in the First Book of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. College

In his prefatory letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, Edmund Spenser sets out his intention in constructing The Faerie Queene as allegory. Its aim, he writes, is to ‘fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous or gentle discipline’ He continues; the Knights of each book depict a journey towards respective states of virtue and Spenser’s re-imagining of the mythological Arthur prior to his kingship embodies the over-arching state of ethical consistency or ‘magnificence’ that both his fictional knights and his reader must strive to achieve. The virtues described are derived from Aristotle and, by overcoming the vices that they meet along the way, each knight reaches a state of virtue that evokes those set down in Nichomean Ethics. Yet, they also align Spenser with Courtesy literature of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier sets out, by way of example, the models of behaviour and social conduct to which the nobility ought to adhere to and cultivate. Yet if like Castiglione’s model, Spenser’s poem is effective by its transparency, why the elaborate detour of allegory? Because allegory communicates things that other media cannot? Spenser’s reason advocates ‘delight’ in reading over ‘good...

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