FOSTER PROVOST Treatments of Theme and Allegory in Twentieth-Century Criticism of The Faerie Queene
"NO CRITIC, NO POET, no age has yet fully appreciated The Faerie Queene." Thus Herbert E. Cory, in 1917.1 In the past twenty years, a rush of monographs and articles on the poem has demonstrated the continuing validity of Cory's statement, and has reduced the gap between current and full appreciation.
In these years no movement in the study of Spenser's poem has been more striking than the advance in the study of the allegory. It is the chief purpose of the present essay to review the major treatments in the twentieth century of the theory and techniques of allegory in The Faerie Queene. In pursuing this purpose, we shall begin with a general review of twentieth-century speculations on the theme of the poem, a preliminary dictated by the fact that allegory for Spenser is a poetical mode and technique which he employs to achieve certain ends, ends which are addressed in the thematic speculations. In this way we shall avoid discussing how Spenser's poem is made before we have at least a general view of what his poem is about.
I should acknowledge that this brief essay, aiming at the general picture, will bypass much of the detail, sometimes perhaps some very important contributiins;2 conversely, some of the influences which I trace will have been transmitted in ways which I do not account for, and in some instances what I call influences may not be influences at all. There is a Zeitgeist in critical thought; first an idea is nonexistent, and then it is everywhere, and no one can fully separate direct influence from indirect, or influence from independent occurrence. What I hope to demonstrate is the broad cooperative pushing-forward of knowledge and thought about the greatest of English allegories.
One line of speculation on the theme or themes of The FaerieQueene