Academic journal article Spenser Studies

Friends, Rivals, and Revisions: Chaucer's Squire's Tale and Amis and Amiloun in the Faerie Queene, Book IV

Academic journal article Spenser Studies

Friends, Rivals, and Revisions: Chaucer's Squire's Tale and Amis and Amiloun in the Faerie Queene, Book IV

Article excerpt

MIDDLE ENGLISH ROMANCES and Spenser's Faerie Queene make for interesting friendships. Spenser eclectically appropriates certain texts from this genre and creates seemingly peculiar connections. For example, Chaucer's famously terrible Tale of Sir Thopas-a tale "nat worth a toord!" (VII.930)-is a source for the first line of Book I, Canto i as well as for Arthur's quest for Gloriana.1 Not dissuaded by the judgment of Chaucer's Harry7 Bailly, Spenser integrates such potentially troublesome texts into the fabric of his narrative. In Book IV of The Faerie Queene, he looks to two problematic Middle English romances to provide material for two key episodes: Chaucer's Squire's Tale for the Cambell-Triamond episode and Amis and Amiloun for the Amyas-Aemylia episode. While Spenser's explicit reference to his adaptation of the Squire's Tale has caused considerable critical commentary, the unannounced use of Amis and Amiloun has been mostly neglected. And no scholar to my knowledge has examined the two episodes together. By examining both adaptations, one can see that Spenser is far from a passive imitator of these sources. He actively engages with the source material, exploring his vexed intertextual relation to England's medieval literary traditions-a relation that both pays homage to past writings and attempts to surpass their efforts. As these engagements take place in The Legend of Friendship, Spenser revises the Squire's Tale and Amis and Amiloun in a manner which embodies his own theory7 of friendship developed in Book IV. As Spenser plays with these intertextual relations in which he occupies dual roles as both reader and author, he shows how such literary interactions benefit all parties involved.

Before examining how Spenser embodies friendship in these textual transformations, I believe it would be fruitful to analyze his treatment of this virtue. Spenser, of course, is not beginning a monologue on friendship; rather, he joins in a long history7 of debate about the topic. Plato's Lysis, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, and especially Cicero's Laelius de Amicitia, all question what friendship is, how it forms, how it can last, and how it relates to other affections. These issues are primary concerns for Spenser, ones that he attempts to address through his theory7 of friendship. Specifically, he examines how difference and similarity function in friendship and how erotic, familial, and friendly affections can possibly coexist.2 In Book IV, Spenser comes closest to giving us a concise theory7 of friendship at the beginning of Canto ix. In the first stanza, he details the three different kinds of human affection-heterosexual love, kinship, and friendship-and how they often conflict:

Hard is the doubt, and difficult to deeme,

When all three kinds of loue together meet,

And doe dispart the hart with powre extreme,

Whether shall weigh the balance downe; to weet

The deare affection vnto kindred sweet,

Or raging fire of loue to woman kind,

Or zeale of friends combynd with vertues meet.

But of them all the band of vertuous mind

Me seemes the gentle hart should most assured bind.


Here, Spenser argues that the question should not be which type of love to choose and which to exclude. The "vertuous mind" should seek to "band" these human affections together, for friendship is an inclusive virtue. This desire for an inclusive friendship is further developed in the next stanza when the narrator describes the transience of passions:

For naturall affection soone doth cesse,

And quenched is with Cupids greater flame:

But faithfull friendship doth them both suppresse,

And them with maystring discipline doth tame,

Through thoughts aspyring to eternall fame.


Spenser recognizes that there is something more lasting about friendship than about other affections. This is not to say that friendship simply ranks higher; rather, it is a necessary tempering influence on the other passions, preserving all types of love between family, friends, and spouses. …

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