Contemporary Thought on Edmund Spenser

By Richard C. Frushell; Bernard J. Vondersmith | Go to book overview

6
CAROL V. KASKE Spenser's Pluralistic Universe: The View from the Mount of Contemplation (F.Q. I.x)

MOST MODERN READERS distrust a writer, such as Aquinas or Dante, with a unified system that furnishes an answer for everything. While Spenser does give answers, so that C. S. Lewis could maintain that "no poet was ever less like an Existentialist," he often gives contradictory ones and thus is more akin to our present world view than he is to that of Aquinas, Dante, or even Milton. It has been generally recognized that Spenser was interested in various combinations of what Arnold Williams has called "the two matters" of Renaissance art and thought--Christianity and classical culture. Because of this, Spenser is usually characterized as a syncretist, and if this is all syncretism means, he certainly is. But in what ways does he combine the two matters--in a reasoned Aquinian synthesis, in a loose, Ficinesque synthesis, in simple juxtaposition merely evoking a feeling of paradox, or in deliberate opposition taking one side or the other? (Explanations in terms of confusion or failure must of course be tabled as last resorts.) I suggest that while he uses all of these combinations at one time or another, his most basic position, as expressed by three crucial passages, is something else--opposition and yet affirmation of both sides. This qualified relativism of Spenser's should, I believe, be characterized as pluralism. Among literary works, some other specimens which I take to be pluralistic regarding their particular topics are Spenser's own Fowre Hymnes, Blake Songs of Innocence and Experience, and, as extreme examples, The Ring and the Book and Akutagawa's "In a Grove," basis of the film Rashomon.

The most obvious though perhaps not the most conclusive evidence of pluralism in The Faerie Queen is its multiple structure. As Spenser Letter to Ralegh will tell anyone who does not know it already, The Faerie Queene is an epic involving not one but many

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