Mutability and the
Theme of Process

In style and structure as well as in conception, [ The Faerie Queene] has to be situated on the far edge of the Renaissance, at a stage where new forms and ideas and techniques were still filtered through a late medieval atmosphere. Spenser was stirred by those intimations of the Renaissance which reached him—doubly removed as he was in Ireland—but we must not attribute to him, as man or poet, the suavity and self-consciousness of the continental authors he meant to imitate. He did not share their sharp sense of a gulf between the enlightened present and the Gothic past, nor did he share the depth of their veneration for antiquity. If he sometimes echoed Homer and alluded to Virgil, he paid warmest homage to Chaucer.Even his irony—for Spenser was quite capable of irony—is blurred for us by its unclassical temper. All this being so, one must not look to him for the classical virtues of poise, clarity, economy, and shapeliness. His poetry rather is penetrated by other virtues whose names one scarcely knows, virtues which take their definition from his placid, earnest, ceremonious voice. One grasps those virtues, and all the charm and profundity they bring into being, only by accepting Spenser's poetic mode—a mode whose obvious attributes are quaintness and naïveté. Naïve perhaps Spenser is, but you must be careful not to apply the word unguardedly, lest it return to mock your wisdom. For heading the list of Spenser's insidious virtues are his intractability to useful categories and his impermeability to worldly condescension....

From The Descent from Heaven: A Study in Epic Continuity. Copyright © 1963 by Thomas Greene . Yale University Press.


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Edmund Spenser


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