Academic journal article Studies in the Literary Imagination

Behind the Back Matter: The Liminalities of the Faerie Queene (1590)

Academic journal article Studies in the Literary Imagination

Behind the Back Matter: The Liminalities of the Faerie Queene (1590)

Article excerpt

And it desir'd at timely houres to heare

--Spenser, Colin Clouts Come Home Again, 362

Most discussion of the varied material surrounding they text of The Faerie Queene has focused on the peculiarities of Spenser's Dedicatory Sonnets. (1) Some issues of the text contain ten sonnets; others contain twenty-five, though some of these represent duplicates. Whether this confusion was the result of an attempt by Spenser to correct the potentially serious misjudgment of omitting Lord Burghley from the dedicatees or resulted from shuffled or dropped papers in the office of John Wolfe, the printer, or of William Ponsonby, the publisher, will presumably remain a mystery, though recent work by Jean Brink has at least narrowed the possibilities ("Materialist" 1-26). But the mix-up in the order of the Dedicatory Sonnets, while important, is only one puzzle among several. The sheer quantity of dedicatees might well have raised hackles at the time and certainly raises questions now. The same might be said about the decision to put the Commendatory Verses, the Dedicatory Sonnets, and the Letter to Ralegh at the end of the book rather than at the beginning. Finally, the placement and form of the dedication to Queen Elizabeth is unusual enough to present us with still further questions.

There has, of course, been some previous discussion of these matters--it is hard to imagine anything connected with Spenser that has not received at least some attention. But even a cursory glance at the rather limited material available demonstrates that there is very little agreement about what is going on. No one can be sure whether the anomalies in the presentation of the "liminalities" were intentional, nor--if they were--whether they resulted from actions by Spenser himself or by his publisher or printer. I shall not claim to have solved the mysteries nor resolved the contradictions. However, it does seem to me that a careful examination of the nature of patronage in Renaissance Europe in general and in England in particular will help us understand just what was happening. It is also clear that we must be careful to scrutinize patronage at the precise moment of The Faerie Queene's appearance in 1590, for the patronage system was heavily dependent on the nature of the royal court, and it is clear that what was happening in the early seventeenth century cannot safely be read back into the last decade of Queen Elizabeth's reign. In addition, another look at the way in which dedications, both manuscript and print, actually worked, and how they fit into the patronage system generally may help us understand and perhaps unravel the peculiarities that we face when we open one of the original copies of The Faerie Queene. I shall not argue that a close attention to the historical and literary milieu of the book will remove the need for speculation; on the contrary, I hope that a careful examination of the background will lead to more, and perhaps better, theorizing about just what went on. (2)


Most discussions of patronage begin in Italy, usually in the Rome of Cicero and Seneca or in Medicean Florence. The historians of ancient Rome, who have long been accustomed to analyzing a society organized around clientelae, define patronage as involving "the reciprocal exchange of good and service," but differentiate it from commercial transactions by arguing that "the relationship must be a personal one of some duration" (Sailer 1). In addition, the relationship must be "asymmetrical, in the sense that the two parties are of unequal status and offer different kinds of goods and services in the exchange--a quality which sets patronage off from friendship between equals" (Saller 1). (3) The details of the relationship between patronus and cliens were subject to a great deal of variability, though commonly the client received a certain amount of money and--often more important--protection from the hazards of Roman political life. …

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