Academic journal article Medium Aevum

'The Faerie Queene' and Middle English Romance: The Matter of Just Memory

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

'The Faerie Queene' and Middle English Romance: The Matter of Just Memory

Article excerpt

Andrew King, 'The Faerie Queene' and Middle English Romance: The Matter of Just Memory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000). xiv + 246 pp. ISBN 0-19-818722-- X. L40.00.

At the beginning of Andrew King's new book, The Faerie Queene' and Middle English Romance, the reader is invited to consider Spenser's bookish conception of the literary past, when Guy and Arthur visit a chamber hung with old records and parchment scrolls. Eumnestes', or Memory's, chamber is a medieval treasury - a thesaurus, comprising old books which are themselves miscellanies or rich storehouses of traditional literary tropes and concerns. This is where King locates Spenser's poem: in the context of Elizabethan medievalism and the bibliographical profusion of Renaissance antiquarian libraries such as John Stow's, replete in 1568 with 'folishe fabulous bokes of olde prynte as of sir degorye, tryamor & c.' (described in London, British Library, MS Lansdowne 11, fol. 5^sup r^).

King's book describes the importance of the English literary past to The Faerie Queene's formulation of the `matter of iust memory' (ii.Proem.i), specifically, Spenser's reading and use of Middle English romances such as those of `sir degorye, tryamor', Havelock, Guy of Warwick, Isumbras, Eglamore, and Octavian, still extant in manuscript and print in Spenser's time. The topic is an important one given the tendency of critics to dismiss the 'folishe fabulous' medieval antecedents for the Renaissance, Protestant poetic of The Faerie Queene. King makes a very persuasive case for locating the native romance tradition at the heart of that poetic. He describes the archetypes of Middle English romance - slandered ladies, youths displaced from their rightful patrimony - that provide matter for later texts, first Malory's Le Morte

Darthur, and then Spenser's epic poem. For King, native romance is also the necessary foundation for a representation of the English Reformation as providential enactment. …

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