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

By Michael O'Connell | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

Holiness
and Historical Fulfillment

In book 1 of The Faerie Queene, Vergil's influence is more insistent than in any other book of the poem. Certain episodes, the Cave of Mammon in book 2, for example, may strike us as more Vergilian in tone than the whole of book 1, but no other book contains so many imitations in single lines, in motifs, or in whole episodes. It is evident that Spenser had the tradition of Vergilian epic very much in mind as he composed book 1. It should not seem surprising, then, that in the Legend of Holiness the poem should most successfully and most complexly achieve its historical dimension. In his provocative attempt to reopen the question of history in book 1, Frank Kermode has drawn attention to the Vergilian analogue of Spenser's accomplishment. Taking exception to the archetypal approach to The Faerie Queene, Kermode noted that Spenser used an apocalyptic pattern not so much for its value as archetypal myth but for its specific application to "now and England":

The achievement of Spenser in that heroic First Book is not to have dived into the archetypes, but to have given them a context of Virgilian security —to have used them in the expression of an actual, unique, critical moment of a nation's culture and history. He looks backward only to achieve ways of registering the density of the central situation: the reign of Elizabeth. Iam redit et Virgo. He does not convert event into myth, but myth into event. His mood is acceptance; he welcomes history, not seeking to lose his own time in some transhistorical pattern. Such patterns of course exist; but only the unique and present moment can validate them.... Spenser celebrates the Elizabethan renovatio with something of Virgil's sober exaltation. 1

We could not expect, however, that a poet would turn myth into

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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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