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Teaching and delighting in the Faerie Queene : an analysis of Spenser's use of the two Renaissance critical ideals Pavelich, Joan Lena

Abstract

This analysis attempts to establish that the Faerie Queene is a poem written on the basis of the two main ideals of Renaissance criticism, teaching and delighting. It begins by showing that Elizabethan critics state the primary importance of the two ideals, but never explain how they used them as practical guides for writing poetry. Even Spenser himself, though he wrote a long preface to the Faerie Queene, never explains how he intended to teach and delight in the poem. Furthermore, no critics since the Elizabethan have demonstrated adequately how Spenser applied the ideals. To answer this question, the analysis seeks specific answers throughout the Faerie Queene. Yet all such evidence cannot add up to a complete solution of the poem, for in its thousands of lines it accomplishes many purposes and lends itself to many analyses. Nevertheless the two ideals of teaching and delighting represent one important approach which offers one basis for understanding the poem. The analysis divides the poem into two levels, narrative and allegorical, and approaches first through the simpler narrative. The discussion begins with Canto One Book One and demonstrates that Spenser unfolds a story which ordinary readers can follow with efficiency and interest. He sets it in a deliberately artificial world which allows incidents and persons to be both natural and unreal; He reveals its main conflict with a sufficiently brisk pace, and weaves that conflict firmly through the interaction of character and event. With this simple story-telling level Spenser therefore attempts to retain the attention of ordinary readers to his poem, and hereby reveals his conception of delighting to lie mainly in interesting his readers, in motivating them to read on. The analysis also shows that he begins his teaching within the narrative level through such obviously important instruments as his main characters, who teach because of the kinds of persons they are and the kinds of conflicts in which they become involved. The analysis turns then to the allegory, and since this is a more complex level, attempts first to offer a simple definition of allegory. From this base, the argument shows in detail how Spenser painstakingly develops an allegorical incident. He inserts it carefully within a story sequence; he foreshadows its coming; at exactly the right moment he arranges a marked, symbolic shift from the narrative world into the allegorical and, lastly, he guides his reader into the scene by a series of intricate clues. In such ways Spenser therefore organizes the mechanics of allegory so his reader can follow him efficiently and, at the same time, so designs his clues that he motivates the reader to want to pursue his meanings throughout the entire scene. Hence on the allegorical level, too, the poet's conception of delighting lies in capturing reader interest and here, too, he is able to use the very essence of his pleasure to accomplish his teaching. But the allegory teaches and delights more subtly, and thereby retains the attention of even the most advanced reader. To illustrate this most subtle level fully, the analysis will discuss both humorous and serious allegorical scenes.

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