THE PAINTED DRAGON: ALLEGORY AND CHARACTERIZATION
WELL over a century ago Hazlitt in a series of lectures on the poets laudably attempted to win readers for the Faerie Queene: "Some people will say that all this may be very fine, but that they cannot understand it on account of the allegory. They are afraid of the allegory, as if they thought it would bite them; they look at it as a child looks at a painted dragon, and think it will strangle them in its shining folds. This is very idle. If they do not meddle with the allegory, the allegory will not meddle with them."1
Just as later Arnold was to recommend throwing overboard Wordsworth's philosophy in order to salvage his poetry, so Hazlitt is willing to re-establish Spenser on the basis of poetic and narrative appeal. Taken on this level, the Faerie Queene has the charm of Ovid Metamorphoses, in which stories are strung together with much less pains at connection and transition, in which the constant stream of new faces (all, as in the Faerie Queene, conspicuously alike), strange happenings, changes from animal to vegetable and bird, are in themselves enough to hold our interest. But Ovid has more in mind in his Metamorphoses than perpetuating in beautiful form the ancient myths that he loves. And Hazlitt's solution is not merely unjust to Spenser, it is unjust to us. I intend to be very idle, to meddle with the allegory, for, despite Hazlitt's specious comfort, the allegory meddles with any intelligent reader of the Faerie Queene.
When Mr. Bush tells us that "John of Salisbury, the best scholar and one of the best minds of the twelfth century, read the Aeneid as an allegory of the life of man, and found precepts of morality in the Georgics" and even in parts of Ovid,2 we may, if