Arthur’s “Secret Wound” and the
“Lamentable Lay” of Elegy
Spenser’s organization of Arthur’s quest for the faerie queene bespeaks a deliberate transformation of the melancholic paradigm that I have argued informs the structure of romance. Rather than moving beyond melancholic romance to epic (as Orlando’s quest does), or choosing the atra voluptas of romance over the austere, elegiac structure of epic (as Tancredi’s quest does), Arthur’s quest reworks romance from the inside, incorporating elegy into its very structure. This chapter begins with an examination of the ways in which Arthur’s quest intersects with the melancholic structure of the poem’s alternative quests. We shall see how closely his quest mirrors that of Red Crosse, whose “melancholic” wandering away from Una leads ultimately to the cave of Despair. Despair represents the telos of Spenser’s spiritualized version of love-melancholy: the suicide whom Red Crosse encounters there (Sir Terwin) has killed himself because of unrequited love for a “Ladie gent” who “ioyd to see her lover languish and lament” (1.9.27). I also analyze the quest of Arthur’s squire, Timias, whose obsessive, unrequited love for Belphoebe (his “sad melancholy,” 4.7.38) is explicitly modeled on an Ariostan conception of love-melancholy. Finally, the chapter considers the intertextual models that illustrate Spenser’s turn away from the melancholic paradigm of romance. Orlando’s fateful dream of Angelica anticipates Arthur’s dream of the faerie queene, insinuating the possibility that Arthur’s quest might easily slip into Orlando’s maddened amorosa inchiesta (OF 9.7). In a lighter vein, Chaucer’s Sir Thopas dreams of the “elf-queene” before lapsing into a futile and heavily ironized “lovelongynge” that threatens to undercut the gravity of Arthur’s own dream of a faerie queene.