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Drayton, and Daniel paid tribute to his inspiration ; Milton was deeply indebted to him, especially in Lycidas; and many of the pensive poets of the seventeenth century show traces of his influence. • Spenser delighted Shakespeare,” says Mr. Church ; "he was the poetical master of Cowley, and then of Milton, and in a sense of Dryden, and even Pope.” Giles and Phineas Fletcher, William Browne, Sir William Alexander, Shenstone, Collins, Cowley, Gray, and James Thomson were all direct followers of Spenser. His influence upon the poets of the romantic revival of the nineteenth century is even more marked. “Spenser begot Keats," says Mr. Saintsbury, " and Keats begot Tennyson, and Tennyson begot all the rest.” Among this notable company of disciples should be mentioned especially Rossetti, Morris, and Swinburne. If we include within the sphere of Spenser's influence also those who have made use of the stanza which he invented, we must add the names of Burns, Shelley, Byron, Beattie, Campbell, Scott, and Wordsworth. When we consider the large number of poets in whom Spenser awakened the poetic gift, or those to whose powers he gave direction, we may safely pronounce him the most seminal poet in the language.
III. STUDY OF THE FAERIE QUEENE 1. A ROMANTIC EPIC. The Faerie Queene is the most perfect type which we have in English of the purely romantic poem. Four elements enter into its composition : “it is pastoral by association, chivalrous by temper, ethical by tendency, and allegorical by treatment” (Renton). Its subject was taken from the old cycle of Arthurian legends, which were brightened with the terrorless magic of Ariosto and Tasso. The scene of the adventures is laid in the enchanted forests and castles of the far away and unreal fairyland of mediæval chivalry, and the incidents themselves are either highly improbable or frankly impossible. The language is frequently archaic and designedly unfamiliar. Much of the machinery and properties used in carrying on the story, such as speaking myrtles, magic mirrors, swords, rings, impenetrable armor, and healing fountains, is supernatural. All the characters — the knights, ladies, dwarfs, magicians, dragons, nymphs, satyrs, and giants — are the conventional figures of pastoral romance.
The framework of the plot of the Faerie Queene is vast and loosely put together. There are six main stories, or legends, and each contains several digressions and involved episodes. The plan of the entire work, which the author only half completed, is outlined in his letter to Sir Walter Raleigh. This letter serves as an admirable introduction to the poem, and should be read attentively by the student. Gloriana, the Queen of Fairyland, holds at her court a solemn feudal festival, lasting twelve days, during which she sends forth twelve of her greatest knights on as many separate adventures. The knights are commissioned to champion the cause of persons in distress and redress their wrongs. The ideal knight, Prince Arthur, is the central male figure of the poem. He is enamoured of Gloriana, having seen her in a wondrous vision, and is represented as journeying in quest of her. He appears in all of the legends at opportune moments to succor the knights when they are hard beset or in the power of their enemies.
The six extant books contain respectively the legends of (I) the Knight of the Redcrosse, or Holiness, (II) Sir Guyon, the Knight of Temperance, (III) Britomart, the female Knight of Chastity, (IV) Sir Campbell and Sir Triamond, the Knights of Friendship, (V) Sir Artegall, the Knight of Justice, and (VI) Sir Caledore, the Knight of Courtesy. Book I is an allegory of man's relation to God, Book II, of man's relation to himself, Books III, IV, V, and VI, of man's relation to his fellow-man. Prince Arthur, the personification of Magnificence, by which Spenser means Magnanimity (Aristotle's meyaloyvxía), is the ideal of a perfect character, in which all the private virtues are united. It is a poem of culture, inculcating the moral ideals of Aristotle and the teachings of Christianity.
2. INFLUENCE OF THE NEW LEARNING. Like Milton, Gray, and other English poets, Spenser was a scholar familiar with the best in ancient and modern literature. As to Spenser's specific indebtedness, though he owed much in incident and diction to Chaucer's version of the Romance of the Rose and to Malory's Morte d'Arthur, the great epic poets, Tasso and Ariosto, should be given first place. The resemblance of passages in the Faerie Queene to others in the Orlando Furioso and the Jerusalem Delivered is so striking that some have accused the English poet of paraphrasing and slavishly borrowing from the two Italians. Many of these parallels are pointed out in the notes. To this criticism, Mr. Saintsbury remarks: “Not, perhaps, till the Orlando has been carefully read, and read in the original, is Spenser's real greatness understood. He has often, and evidently of purpose, challenged comparison ; but in every instance it will be found that his beauties are emphatically his own. He has followed Ariosto only as Vergil has followed Homer, and much less slavishly."
The influence of the New Learning is clearly evident in Spenser's use of classical mythology. Greek myths are placed side by side with Christian imagery and legends. Like Dante, the poet did not consider the Hellenic doctrine of sensuous beauty to be antagonistic to the truths of religion. There is sometimes an incongruous confusion of classicism and mediævalism, as when a magician is seen in the house of Morpheus, and a sorcerer goes to the realm of Pluto. Spenser was guided by a higher and truer sense of beauty than the classical purists know.
A very attractive element of his classicism is his worship of beauty. The Greek conception of beauty included two forms – the sensuous and the spiritual. So richly colored and volup- No one,”
tuous are his descriptions that he has been called the painters' poet, “the Rubens," and "the Raphael of the poets." As with Plato, Spenser's idea of the spiritually beautiful includes the true and the good. Sensuous beauty is seen in the forms of external nature, like the morning mist and sunshine, the rose gardens, the green elders, and the quiet streams. His ideal of perfect sensuous and spiritual beauty combined is found in womanhood. Such a one is Una, the dream of the poet's young manhood, and we recognize in her one whose soul is as fair as her face an idealized type of a woman in real life who calls forth all our love and reverence.
3. INTERPRETATION OF THE ALLEGORY. - In the sixteenth century it was the opinion of Puritan England that every literary masterpiece should not only give entertainment, but should also teach some moral or spiritual lesson. says Mr. Patee, “after reading Spenser's letter to Raleigh, can wander far into Spenser's poem without the conviction that the author's central purpose was didactic, almost as much as was Bunyan's in Pilgrim's Progress." Milton doubtless had this feature of the Faerie Queene in mind when he wrote in Il Penseroso :
" And if aught else great bards beside
Where more is meant than meets the ear." That the allegory of the poem is closely connected with its aim and ethical tendency is evident from the statement of the author that “the generall end therefore of all the booke is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline. Which for that I conceived should be most plausible and pleasing, being coloured with an historical fiction, the which the most part of men delight to read, rather for varietie of matter then for profite of the ensample.” The Faerie Queene
is, therefore, according to the avowed purpose of its author, a poem of culture. Though it is one of the most highly artistic works in the language, it is at the same time one of the most didactic. “It professes,” says Mr. Church, “to be a veiled exposition of moral philosophy.”
The allegory is threefold, — moral, religious, and personal.
(a) Moral Allegory. The characters all represent various virtues and vices, whose intrigues and warfare against each other symbolize the struggle of the human soul after perfection. The Redcross Knight, for example, personifies the single private virtue of holiness, while Prince Arthur stands for that perfect manhood which combines all the moral qualities ; Una represents abstract truth, while Gloriana symbolizes the union of all the virtues in perfect womanhood.
(6) Religious or Spiritual Allegory. - Under this interpretation the Redcross Knight is a personification of Protestant England, or the church militant, while Una represents the true religion of the Reformed Church. On the other hand, Archimago symboNzes the deceptions of the Jesuits and Duessa the false Church of Rome masquerading as true religion.
(c) Personal and Political Allegory. - Here we find a concrete presentation of many of Spenser's chief contemporaries. One of Spenser's prime objects in composing his epic was to please certain powerful persons at court, and above all to win praise and patronage from the vain and flattery loving queen, whom he celebrates as Gloriana. Prince Arthur is a character that similarly pays homage to Lord Leicester. In the Redcross Knight he compliments, no doubt, some gentleman like Sir Philip Sidney or Sir Walter Raleigh, as if he were a second St. George, the patron saint of England, while in Una we may see idealized some fair lady of the court. In Archimago he satirizes the odious King Philip II of Spain, and in false Duessa the fascinating intriguer, Mary Queen of Scots, who was undeserving so hard a blow.