NORTHROP FRYE


The Structure of Imagery in
"The Faerie Queene"

The Faerie Queene, long as it is, is not nearly as long as the poem that Spenser intended to write, according to his letter to Raleigh and two of the Amoretti sonnets. It therefore at once raises the problem of whether the poem as it now stands is unfinished or merely uncompleted. If merely uncompleted, then it still may be a unity, like a torso in sculpture; if unfinished, then, as in Dickens' Mystery of Edwin Drood, certain essential clues to the total meaning are forever withheld from us.

Many readers tend to assume that Spenser wrote the poem in the same way that they read it, starting at the beginning and keeping on until he collapsed with exhaustion. But while The Faerie Queene probably evolved in a much more complicated way than that, there is no evidence of exhaustion. In the eightieth Amoretti sonnet he sounds winded, but not bored; and of course he is not the kind of poet who depends on anything that a Romantic would call inspiration. He is a professional poet, learned in rhetoric, who approaches his sublime passages with the nonchalance of a car-driver shifting into second gear. All the purple patches in Spenser— the temptations of Despair and Acrasia, the praise of Elizabeth in Colin Clouts Come Home Again, the "Bellona" passage in The Shepheards Calender— are deliberate rhetorical exercises. There may be passages in The Faerie Queene that we find dull, but there are very few in which Spenser's own standards are not met. In some cantos of the fifth book, perhaps, he

____________________
From Fables of Identity: Studies in Poetic Mythology. Copyright © 1963 by Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.

-23-

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Edmund Spenser
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Edmund Spenser *
  • Edmund Spenser *
  • Contents *
  • Editor's Note ix
  • Introduction 1
  • The Structure of Imagery in "The Faerie Queene" 23
  • The Structure of Allegory in Books I and II of "The Faerie Queene" 41
  • Mutability and the Theme of Process 57
  • The Marriage of the Thames and Medway 73
  • Gardens of Adonis 81
  • The Bower of Bliss 97
  • The "Mutabilitie Cantos": Archaism and Evolution in Retrospect 111
  • Allegory and Pastoral in "The Shepheardes Calender" 141
  • Imagery and Prophecy in "The Faerie Queene" 161
  • The Romance of Romance 181
  • Spenser and the City: the Minor Poems 191
  • Mythologies and Metrics in Spenser 211
  • The Image of Source in "The Faerie Queene" 219
  • "Astrophel" 239
  • "The Footing of His Feet": Spenser's Early Error 251
  • Envy in the Middest of the 1596 "Faerie Queene" 267
  • Chronology 285
  • Contributors 287
  • Bibliography 289
  • Acknowledgments 295
  • Index 297
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