"The Faerie Queene"
The Faerie Queene, long as it is, is not nearly as long as the poem that Spenser intended to write, according to his letter to Raleigh and two of the Amoretti sonnets. It therefore at once raises the problem of whether the poem as it now stands is unfinished or merely uncompleted. If merely uncompleted, then it still may be a unity, like a torso in sculpture; if unfinished, then, as in Dickens' Mystery of Edwin Drood, certain essential clues to the total meaning are forever withheld from us.
Many readers tend to assume that Spenser wrote the poem in the same way that they read it, starting at the beginning and keeping on until he collapsed with exhaustion. But while The Faerie Queene probably evolved in a much more complicated way than that, there is no evidence of exhaustion. In the eightieth Amoretti sonnet he sounds winded, but not bored; and of course he is not the kind of poet who depends on anything that a Romantic would call inspiration. He is a professional poet, learned in rhetoric, who approaches his sublime passages with the nonchalance of a car-driver shifting into second gear. All the purple patches in Spenser— the temptations of Despair and Acrasia, the praise of Elizabeth in Colin Clouts Come Home Again, the "Bellona" passage in The Shepheards Calender— are deliberate rhetorical exercises. There may be passages in The Faerie Queene that we find dull, but there are very few in which Spenser's own standards are not met. In some cantos of the fifth book, perhaps, he____________________