Contemporary Thought on Edmund Spenser

By Richard C. Frushell; Bernard J. Vondersmith | Go to book overview
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A. C. HAMILTON On Annotating Spenser's Faerie Queene: A New Approach to the Poem

OF THE MAJOR POEMS in our language, only Spenser Faerie Queene has not been adequately annotated. I came to realize this fact only through considerable personal anguish. Several years ago when I was asked to produce an annotated edition of the poem, I refused because I knew that the text did not need to be edited and I assumed that any annotation required by a reader was enshrined in the fat volumes of the Johns Hopkins Variorum. Later upon being asked again, I accepted for two reasons. First, I saw more clearly that the poem ought to be easily available in a readable text: the two-volume Oxford edition is too expensive, the one-volume is notoriously unreadable, and the standard Cambridge Poets' edition with its double columns allows no space for a reader's marginal notes. The thirteen hundred pages of the edition proposed to me would provide at least a readable text even for a poem of some four thousand stanzas. Secondly, I was prepared to allow that the general reader needs a text with commentary at the bottom of the page. The only available edition with any annotation at all, the Cambridge, includes only spasmodic notes hidden at the end of the volume where they are awkward to consult and too brief to be of much use.

I was confident that the text itself would cause no trouble. By the grace of the gods, no manuscripts had been allowed to survive; the 1590 and 1596 editions apparently were guided through the press by the poet himself; and a thoroughly reliable modern text had been established by J. C. Smith for the Oxford edition and by a panel of distinguished editors for the Variorum Edition. I was unaware, however, that there was no tradition of annotating the poem. The poem has been subjected to much scholarship and interpretation but to very little commentary, glossing, and annotation. I discovered that the Variorum Edition, by what must have been deliberate editorial policy, excludes

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