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Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen

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Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen

Postby The Exodus » 03 Sep 2009, 16:25

Hey everyone,

So I want to read that great classic The Faerie Queen. Lewis taught on it, loved it, and it's considered a great Christian Classic. Many of my favorite Christian writers have praised it, and so I want to give it a go. I have not yet dipped into anything Spenserian.

My questions are not really specific, other than what edition would be best. I'd just like any thoughts some more veteran Spenser readers may have. Anything I should know or get first aquainted with? I've read Virgil, Homer, Ovid, and Dante, but am by no means a scholar, just having read the Illiad, Odyssey, Aeneid, some of Metamorphosis, and the Inferno.

I also know Lewis taught TFQ, but don't know how to find any of his lectures. For example, here is a copy of one - http://www.enotes.com/poetry-criticism/ ... -date-1936

But I don't want to pay for something like that if I don't have to. I could also, of course, check my university library.

Thanks!
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Re: Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen

Postby Sven » 03 Sep 2009, 19:15

I'm going to move this to the Inklings and Influences sub forum, TE. I think you might get more responses there.

Two books by Lewis that should supply most of your wants. The first is English Literature in the Sixteenth Century excluding Drama, which is out of print by that title but still in print under the title Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century. The other book is Spenser's Images of Life, edited by Alastair Fowler. Both books are either hard to find or pricey, but if you have access to a university library you may find them there. Even if they don't have them in the stacks at that university, speak to the librarians about the possibility of an inter-library loan. I've gotten books that way from other states via my local college.

For anyone who isn't aware, most colleges and universities allow local residents to gain borrowing privileges, even if they have never been students at that school.
Rat! he found breath to whisper, shaking. Are you afraid?
Afraid? murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
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Re: Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen

Postby Adam Linton » 03 Sep 2009, 21:15

The Exodus,

Best wishes on your reading of The Faerie Queene! It is magnificent. My general recommendation is to read primary literature first, i.e., the texts themselves--and only then the secondary literature, i.e., the texts about the texts.

In addition to Sven's recommendations (of Lewis on Spenser), which are classics--and very good, I would also point out Elizabeth Heale's The Faerie Queene: A Reader's Guide (Cambridge University Press, second edition, ISBN-13: 978-0521654685). This last is helpful in launching one into the text itself.

But first, the great work itself. For price and quality I don't think one can beat the Penguin Classics edition. One needs to adjust to the older spellings--but this doesn't take that long. Very good end-notes, as well. For starters, just take on Book I (The Redcrosse Knight). This is plenty long in itself! It may help to check out a brief summary of the action (there are a number on-line), especially if one is new to extended narrative poetry. Read the text out loud--enjoy the flow and sound of the words. Go for it--and let the flow of the words take you where it will.

Good luck!
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Re: Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen

Postby Tuke » 03 Sep 2009, 21:34

Among the many editions, I recommend the Penguin Classic edited by Thomas P. Roche, Jr. It has good notes, glossary, bibliography and an excellent suggestions for further reading section, not the least of which is Shaheen's Biblical References in The Faerie Queene (there are over 500).
Additional Lewis criticism includes The Allegory of Love, The Discarded Image, and Medieval & Renaissance Literature. Additional bibliography includes Ariosto, Boccaccio, Boiardo, Tasso, The King James/Authorized Bible, and several studies in philology are listed.
I have spent the last ten years reading all of these in preparation for my second reading of The Faerie Queene; however, I strongly recommend, as did Lewis, that you read The Faerie Queene itself first. Just as there are no commentaries better than the Bible, so likewise with Spenser. Also, Lewis said The Faerie Queene was Spenser's best work and I agree, although all of his poems are worthwhile.
To Adam's "Good luck" I would add, sweet dreams. I envy your maiden venture. Jack's praise was not misplaced nor in vain!
"The 'great golden chain of Concord' has united the whole of Edmund Spenser's world.... Nothing is repressed; nothing is insubordinate. To read him is to grow in mental health." The Allegory Of Love (Faerie Queene)

2 Corinthians IV.17 The Weight of Glory
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Re: Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen

Postby The Exodus » 04 Sep 2009, 15:21

Thanks for the suggestions,

I've purchased the Penguin version and must admit I like it. It is a simple enough edition to suit my purposes. If the epic turns out to be something of Miltonic or Tolkienien quality (to me) I can always purchase an expensive, more erudite and durable edition.

I ordered Elizabeth Heale's guide for $.44 on amazon. If you guys get the time you ought to check out the difference in prices on that particular work. The used books range from $.30 to $999. (No, that's not a typo.) On top of that I'd like to purchase Sven's suggestion of Spenser's Images of Life, if I can find an affordable copy. If not, I'll try the library idea.

I think I'm going to do my university "culminating project" on The Faerie Queen, although I haven't yet narrowed down exactly what my topic will be. I'm thinking maybe something about the Aristotilean virtues "clothed in Christianity", but that is only a vague idea.

And for the most part - the first 2 canto's being my basis for such a judgment - Spenser is not *that* difficult. He doesn't make as many allusions as, say, Milton. But like Milton, he does has his own peculiar way of syntax, which makes it more difficult to unpack what he is saying until one grows familiar with it. But I can already tell - just like I could with Milton - that I like it and that the work definitely reaps great reward. I can also tell that this is a work which one can come back to again and again and gain layer upon layer of enjoyment and meaning.

Thanks for the help so far! And if anyone has any suggestions for a "culminating project" I'm all ears! :toothy-grin:
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Re: Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen

Postby Tuke » 04 Sep 2009, 16:51

Milton adored and emulated Spenser; Spenser, in turn, emulated Chaucer. If you like Chaucer's and Milton's philology and style, you should take to Spenser facilely.
BTW, here's my favorite Chaucer tribute. From John Foxe, the author of The Actes and Monumentes of the Martyrs no less, "... by reading of Chaucer's works, they were brought to the true knowledge of Religion." Another take than the "bawdy" Chaucer, shizzle.
"The 'great golden chain of Concord' has united the whole of Edmund Spenser's world.... Nothing is repressed; nothing is insubordinate. To read him is to grow in mental health." The Allegory Of Love (Faerie Queene)

2 Corinthians IV.17 The Weight of Glory
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Re: Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen

Postby Larry W. » 22 Sep 2009, 04:06

Not too many people read the entire Faerie Queene for pleasure today. When I took the course "Spenser and His Times" many years ago in college there were only three people in the class including myself. In spite of this I actually enjoyed reading Spenser in his antiquated English. I had wished that a more readable edition of Spenser's had been available with footnotes and helps for the modern reader. The text I read was in very tiny print and contained just the poems with no explanations of the archaic words and their meanings. Being a young student at the time it looked rather foreboding but as time went on I became more comfortable with it. I never understood why so much much care was taken in having Shakespeare available in easily readable texts, but those of Spenser left the student on his own to understand the poet who wrote in something close to medieval English (even though he lived in a later time). Spenser was still very enjoyable as were his knights in their finest armor.

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Re: Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen

Postby Acrux » 09 Oct 2009, 02:16

Are there any other editions besides the Penguin version that you might recommend? I began reading TFQ several weeks back, but the archaic spellings were simply too much, which is strange because an issue like that doesn't typically bother me - perhaps it was an interaction with the small font as well?

In any case, if you know of a good edition with updated spelling (or perhaps simply larger font! :smile:) I'd love to hear it.

Thank you.
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Re: Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen

Postby Adam Linton » 09 Oct 2009, 19:00

Acrux wrote:Are there any other editions besides the Penguin version that you might recommend? I began reading TFQ several weeks back, but the archaic spellings were simply too much, which is strange because an issue like that doesn't typically bother me - perhaps it was an interaction with the small font as well?

In any case, if you know of a good edition with updated spelling (or perhaps simply larger font! :smile:) I'd love to hear it.

Thank you.


I don't know of any modernized spelling editions. In terms of typeface, either the Longman second edition edited by A. C. Hamilton--or the multi-volume edition published by Hackett might be worth looking at. Both of these will run you rather more money, however.

All the best.
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Re: Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen

Postby Tuke » 09 Oct 2009, 21:13

Acrux wrote:.... In any case, if you know of a good edition with updated spelling (or perhaps simply larger font! :smile:) I'd love to hear it.

I'm not so sure. Spenser intentionally used archaic medieval spelling in imitation of Chaucer. I should think modern spelling would spoil the sweetness of the style. As with Chaucer, part of the fun of the Faerie Queene is acquainting yourself with his poetic diction. I had trouble with it at first, too, but with each page, and frequent use of the glossary, comes apprehension and appreciation of the style. I cherish it now.
"The 'great golden chain of Concord' has united the whole of Edmund Spenser's world.... Nothing is repressed; nothing is insubordinate. To read him is to grow in mental health." The Allegory Of Love (Faerie Queene)

2 Corinthians IV.17 The Weight of Glory
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Re: Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen

Postby Adam Linton » 10 Oct 2009, 12:27

Tuke wrote:
Acrux wrote:.... In any case, if you know of a good edition with updated spelling (or perhaps simply larger font! :smile:) I'd love to hear it.

I'm not so sure. Spenser intentionally used archaic medieval spelling in imitation of Chaucer. I should think modern spelling would spoil the sweetness of the style. As with Chaucer, part of the fun of the Faerie Queene is acquainting yourself with his poetic diction. I had trouble with it at first, too, but with each page, and frequent use of the glossary, comes apprehension and appreciation of the style. I cherish it now.


I didn't mention it in my post, but I agree with Tuke. And it's not just appearance on the page, either. Sometimes the archaic spellings give some still relevant pronunciation clues, as well.
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Re: Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen

Postby Larry W. » 11 Oct 2009, 02:19

How about the modern English translation along side with the old? I saw editions of Chaucer and Shakespeare that were printed that way. Barnes and Noble has a nice edition of The Canterbury Tales, and another publisher has "No Fear Shakespeare" with the plays printed with the original along side of the modern translation, They are very readable and easy to use for the average person. Of course a student assigned by a teacher to read the original could cheat by reading only the modern text. Using those editions as textbooks for the classroom may remove too many obstacles and result in a poorer understanding of the original. Also, Spenser seems to be less popular then Shakespeare or Chaucer, whose writings are taught more often in college/university courses. Somehow, publishers don't feel they can make much money by printing a Spenser book designed for someone with a high school reading ability, which would include many of today's adults. :sad:

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Re: Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen

Postby Adam Linton » 11 Oct 2009, 04:04

Larry W. wrote:How about the modern English translation along side with the old? I saw editions of Chaucer and Shakespeare that were printed that way. Barnes and Noble has a nice edition of The Canterbury Tales, and another publisher has "No Fear Shakespeare" with the plays printed with the original along side of the modern translation, They are very readable and easy to use for the average person. Of course a student assigned by a teacher to read the original could cheat by reading only the modern text. Using those editions as textbooks for the classroom may remove too many obstacles and result in a poorer understanding of the original. Also, Spenser seems to be less popular then Shakespeare or Chaucer, whose writings are taught more often in college/university courses. Somehow, publishers don't feel they can make much money by printing a Spenser book designed for someone with a high school reading ability, which would include many of today's adults.


While I know and agree with you about present day sub-literacy, I really have my own qualms about the sort of editions you mention--at least some of them. I hope that I'm neither elistist nor getting cantankerous. I'm all for good introductions, notes, summaries of the action [all which can be helpful in particular with the Faerie Queene]. But for me, "updated" texts are another matter. While I don't rule out modernized spellings (much less problematic, I think, in some writers than in others), simplified texts may only delay the work of learning to read. I know that there are no easy educational solutions to the problem, but where does such a thing stop? Expedited Joseph Conrad? Joyce's Ulysses with all the confusing stuff with the language ironed out? And since The Canterbury Tales is in Middle, not Modern, English, what we're talking about with its modern versions is translation, rather than update. (This isn't to deny, of course, that some translations include overly strong elements of update, as well.)

I'm convinced, by the way, especially with poetry and drama, that reading aloud can be a key part of English education. Maybe it's class sizes that have become way too large, but it's unfortunate that reading aloud is much less stressed than it used to be.

Anyway, not to argue here; just a few musings for the mix...
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Re: Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen

Postby Tuke » 11 Oct 2009, 22:12

Larry W. wrote:.... Also, Spenser seems to be less popular then Shakespeare or Chaucer, whose writings are taught more often in college/university courses. Somehow, publishers don't feel they can make much money by printing a Spenser book designed for someone with a high school reading ability, which would include many of today's adults. :sad:

I don't think Spenser's language and style present that great of a problem for today's high school students. His colloquialisms and linguistic rhythm are often not dissimilar to, indeed reminiscent of, modern rap, Ebonics and hip hop. I think the real problem with teaching Spenser in public schools would be the preponderance of Holy Scripture references and allusions (there are over 500). There is no equivocal morality or gratuitous bawdiness in Spenser as in Chaucer and Shakespeare. Christians and infidels are clearly delineated. I would support any teacher courageous enough to try the Faerie Queene, but he might need a lawyer as well for common opponents such as the ACLU. After four decades I still remember the moral oasis The Screwtape Letters was for me in high school English class. We mostly studied postmodern secularists and deconstructionists (who were valiantly resisted by the Inklings).
"The 'great golden chain of Concord' has united the whole of Edmund Spenser's world.... Nothing is repressed; nothing is insubordinate. To read him is to grow in mental health." The Allegory Of Love (Faerie Queene)

2 Corinthians IV.17 The Weight of Glory
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Re: Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queen

Postby Larry W. » 12 Oct 2009, 01:44

Adam Linton wrote:
Larry W. wrote:How about the modern English translation along side with the old? I saw editions of Chaucer and Shakespeare that were printed that way. Barnes and Noble has a nice edition of The Canterbury Tales, and another publisher has "No Fear Shakespeare" with the plays printed with the original along side of the modern translation, They are very readable and easy to use for the average person. Of course a student assigned by a teacher to read the original could cheat by reading only the modern text. Using those editions as textbooks for the classroom may remove too many obstacles and result in a poorer understanding of the original. Also, Spenser seems to be less popular then Shakespeare or Chaucer, whose writings are taught more often in college/university courses. Somehow, publishers don't feel they can make much money by printing a Spenser book designed for someone with a high school reading ability, which would include many of today's adults.


While I know and agree with you about present day sub-literacy, I really have my own qualms about the sort of editions you mention--at least some of them. I hope that I'm neither elistist nor getting cantankerous. I'm all for good introductions, notes, summaries of the action [all which can be helpful in particular with the Faerie Queene]. But for me, "updated" texts are another matter. While I don't rule out modernized spellings (much less problematic, I think, in some writers than in others), simplified texts may only delay the work of learning to read. I know that there are no easy educational solutions to the problem, but where does such a thing stop? Expedited Joseph Conrad? Joyce's Ulysses with all the confusing stuff with the language ironed out? And since The Canterbury Tales is in Middle, not Modern, English, what we're talking about with its modern versions is translation, rather than update. (This isn't to deny, of course, that some translations include overly strong elements of update, as well.)

I'm convinced, by the way, especially with poetry and drama, that reading aloud can be a key part of English education. Maybe it's class sizes that have become way too large, but it's unfortunate that reading aloud is much less stressed than it used to be.

Anyway, not to argue here; just a few musings for the mix...


It seems like it was the best thing for me to read Shakespeare and Chaucer in the original back in college so many years ago, though doing it with Chaucer was much harder than Shakespeare. Footnotes aren't too hard to follow with Shakespeare, though using them with Chaucer takes more effort, although it works reasonably well at least with most college students. I read the Faerie Queen in a Spenser class that had only three students including myself. The textbook had very small print and no footnotes. I wished that it were more readable. Still, the poem was enjoyable, though that edition would be extremely difficult for high school and some college students because of the print size and no helps. The college library had a larger, more readable print edition which I borrowed for some time, but it also contained only the poem. Translations aren't completely bad, but often much more is sacrificed than editions that provide extensive footnotes or help of some other kind. The Folger library Shakespeare paperback series is quite good since it has the plays and poems with a lot of help,

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Last edited by Larry W. on 12 Oct 2009, 02:09, edited 1 time in total.
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