In celebration of Poetry Month for the month of April, several bloggers are participating in reading Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene and despite my recent return, I could not help but jump at the opportunity to tackle one of the preeminent literary works to come out of the English Renaissance. While Spenser's epic is unequivocally one of the most challenging poems ever written, reading it with others should prove to be far more rewarding as well as super helpful in making sense of the immense complexities found in this text. My initial approach was to write an in-depth review for each Canto but that seems impractical and doomed to fail, especially considering how daunting such a task would be. Instead, I plan to provide short reviews on only some of the Cantos from each Book while focusing on how the allegory works in the poem.
Before we even jump into Book 1, let us take a closer look at the prefatory letter addressed to Sir Walter Raleigh that provides some insight into how this poem ought to be read according to the author. Spenser describes his work as a "continued allegory, or darke conceit" in which "the generall end therefore of all the booke is to fashion a gentleman or noble person in vertuous and gentle discipline." Taking up similar ideas found in Sidney's 'Defense of Poetry,' Spenser claims that his poem functions an allegory to instruct and delight the reader to instill a moral self-fashioning but the actual meaning is hidden within this 'dark conceit.' Incidentally, the letter is also a 'dark conceit' and reveals that the allegory does not function as mere didacticism or sententiousness; one cannot be simply taught a lesson and must work through the text to figure it out.
Spenser always withholds complete understanding, which makes reading this poem increasingly difficult. Not only does he put a fence around meaning with many possibilities of interpretation, the reader must learn how to read allegory properly and must always stay on the quest for meaning. This letter also highlights how allegories can be misinterpreted and this problem has larger implications in the context of the poem, especially in relation to RedCrosse's spiritual journey in Book 1. For Spenser, misreading is the difference between being saved or falling into sin. I intend to explore this concept of the "dark conceit" further and see how Spenser's allegory operates to conceal and reveal meaning simultaneously.
And so it begins...