Introduction of the Faerie Queene
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Evidence for the Faerie Queene
dates back to 1580 in a letter from Edmund Spenser to Gabriel Harvey
requesting the return of the manuscript. Published references exist to The
Faerie Queene in the late 1580s, although the first edition of the
work containing the first three books was not issued until 1590. Three
more books were added in 1596 just before Spenser's death. Spenser held a
considerable reputation as a poet prior to the release of The Faerie
Queene, yet this work has overshadowed his other writings.
The Faerie Queene was
immediately successful, thanks in part to its finding favor with Queen
Elizabeth. She named Spenser poet laureate, and he assumed a position with
Geoffrey Chaucer as a premier poet of England. Scholar Graham Hough writes
on the importance of The Faerie Queene throughout history: In
[Spenser's] own day a large part of the interest in The Faerie Queene
was political and dynastic.
The celebration of the Tudors,
culminating in Queen Elizabeth, as the true continuators of Arthur's line,
the allegorical references to the English Reformation in Book I, the
transformation of the Duessa into Mary Queen of Scots in Book V, and the
many allusions in the same book to events in France, Ireland and the Low
Countries -- all these were of the liveliest contemporary interest. Great
figures such as Raleigh, Leicaster, Sidney, and Lord Grey appear under a
light disguise among Spenser's immense array of characters. [The
seventeenth century] saw Spenser in different colors.
The avowed Spenserian poets, Browne
of Tavistock and Giles and Phineas Fletcher, drew chiefly on the pastoral
and allegorical romance elements in the poem. Milton's discipleship was of
a different order again. He understood Spenser's loftier aims, and hailed
him as "our sage and serious Spenser, a better teacher than Scotus or
Aquinas". . . .
In the later part of the century
there was a serious critical vindication of Spenser's achievement [by
Thomas Wharton and Bishop Hurd] who both argues that a special place in
the literary pantheon should be accorded to the romantic epic of which The
Faerie Queene was the prime example. The Romantic generation itself
was even more obviously attuned to Spenser, and directly or indirectly all
the great poets of that age were receptive to his influence.
Spenser the moralist was in
abeyance; it was the music of his verse and the atmosphere of fantastic
enchantment that attracted most admiration. In our own day . . . a revival
of interest in allegory and great symbolic constructions has again brought
The Faerie Queene into the forefront of critical attention, so that
a poem which a few years ago seemed to have only a remote and specialized
appeal has now shown itself to possess a many-sided power which ensures
its place among the great central achievements of English poetry.
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