Mirror and Veil: The Historical Dimension of Spenser's Faerie Queene

By Michael O'Connell | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

The Method
of the Poet His torical

In the editorial material that accompanied the publication of the first three books of The Faerie Queene, Spenser fosters an air of mystery about the relation of his poem to the contemporary world. He provides a number of tantalizing hints that do not so much define the relation as pique the reader's curiosity about how—and to what extent—the poem will reflect contemporary reality. He speaks in the letter to Raleigh, for example, of a dual purpose in the character of Gloriana:

In that Faery Queene I meane glory in my generall intention, but in my particular I conceiue the most excellent and glorious person of our soueraine the Queene, and her kingdome in Faery land. And yet in some places els, I doe otherwise shadow her. For considering she beareth two persons, the one of a most royall Queene or Empresse, the other of a most vertuous and beautifull Lady, this latter part in some places I doe expresse in Belphoebe, fashioning her name according to your owne excellent conceipt of Cynthia, (Phoebe and Cynthia being both names of Diana.)

Since Spenser first suggests the double significance of Gloriana then explains that his representation of Elizabeth will not be limited to this character, we realize that we can expect no simple correspondence between fiction and reality. The poet is making distinctions about reality, and these distinctions are to be reflected in his fictional world. The very words he uses—"in some places els, I doe otherwise shadow her"—are a challenge to his reader's powers of perception and judgment. Where else is the queen represented, and what aspects of her person or rule are portrayed? The answer he

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Mirror and Veil: The Historical Dimension of Spenser's Faerie Queene
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Mirror and Veil - The Historical Dimension of Spenser's Faerie Queene *
  • Contents *
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Explanatory Note xiii
  • Mirror and Veil *
  • Introduction 3
  • Chapter 1 - The Method of the Poet His Torical 16
  • Chapter 2 - Holiness and Historical Fulfillment 38
  • Chapter 3 - History and the Poet's Golden World 69
  • Chapter 4 - Mirrors More Than One 99
  • Chapter 5 - Myth and History in the Legend of Justice 125
  • Chapter 6 - The Return to Pastoral Vision 161
  • Epilogue - Escape from Mutability 190
  • Notes 195
  • Works Cited 207
  • Index to the Faerie Queene 213
  • General Index 217
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