Mirrors for Rebels: A Study of Polemical Literature Relating to the Northern Rebellion, 1569

By James K. Lowers | Go to book overview

CHAPTIER VI
THE DOCTRINE IN NONPOLEMICAL LITERATURE

IN VIEW OF the Elizabethans' pronounced and continued interest in the theme of civil obedience, it is hardly surprising to find that interest reflected in nonpolemical literature of the period. And among the belletristic writers, none was more orthodox in developing this theme than Edmund Spenser and Samuel Daniel. We are now to see how these poets introduced into their major works the same arguments which were kept alive in the ballads, tracts, and pamphlets relating to the Northern Rebellion.

As Padelford expressed it, " Spenser was essentially a conservative in his political ideas; today we would call him a thorough-going 'standpatter.'"1 This is to say that he shared the progovernment propagandists' unqualified belief in absolute obedience to the secular ruler. Among Spenser published works, the fifth book of The Faerie Queene ( 1596) is especially interesting for its expression of his political views, since it treats of the dangers of Roman Catholic aggression.2 Without attempting an exhaustive analysis of these views, we nevertheless may establish how a major literary figure joined the polemists in arguing the case for civil obedience. Admittedly, the exact interpretation of the historical allegory poses a problem, but it is a problem that is more apparent than real. For example, whether Grantorto be the Pope, Philip II of Spain, or the prototype of the Irish rebel leader, he clearly represents civil disobedience in Ireland partly resulting from foreign intervention. Although we shall necessarily have occasion to notice different interpretations of the historical allegory, our concern is limited to Spenser's political theories and to the arguments he uses to illustrate them.

Like the royal propagandists, Spenser repeatedly emphasizes

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