Between Nations: Shakespeare, Spenser, Marvell, and the Question of Britain

By David J. Baker | Go to book overview

Coda

Britain receives one of its best-known invocations in book 2 of Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene. 1 In the house of Temperance, in a chamber "hangd about with rolles, / And old records from auncient times deriu'd" (IX.57.6-7), the knights Arthur and Guyon peruse the "antique Registers" (IX.59.4) that Eumnestes, "an old oldman" (IX.55.5), and Anamnestes, his factotum, keep in shabby disarray. "There chaunced to the Princes hand to rize, / An auncient booke, hight Briton moniments" (IX.59.5-6). While Guyon traces his own lineage in a volume "hight Antiquitie of Faerie lond" (IX.60.2), the "Briton Prince" reads of his kingdom's past, from its beginnings as a "saluage wildernesse, / Vnpeopled, vnmanurd, vnprou'd, vnpraysd" (X.5.3-4) to the "Deare countrey" (X.69.3) that he knows as his own. "[N]ation" (X. 15.1) supplants "nation" on Albion; its kings and queens butcher, conquer, and betray one another reign after reign. If this seems an unedifying history, Arthur does not take it so. "At last quite rauisht with delight, to heare / The royall Ofspring of his natiue land'" he "Cryde out":

O how dearely deare Ought thy remembraunce, and perpetual! band Be to thy foster Childe, that from thy hand Did commun breath and nouriture receaue? How brutish is it not to vnderstand, How much to her we owe, that all vs gaue, That gaue vnto vs all, what euer good we haue.

(X.69.1-9)

-169-

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