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The Faerie Queene – Book II

The Faerie Queene Frontispiece

Book II was, for me, the cementing of Spenser as a thesis topic. Although I did not know which direction I would take, I knew that he would have to be involved. I had explored other paths prior to this but Spenser was where they all eventually led back to.

I have flitted between many a potential thesis topic this year and one thing they all had in common was the external invader, medicine. The first thing to catch my attention this year was in Henryson’s The Testament of Cresseid, his graphic depiction of Cresseid’s leprosy and the fact that it was suspected that Henryson himself potentially had some medical background. This idea of mixing the medical, with which I am fascinated with the world of English and imagination had never dawned on me before. Having said that, my long term affair with Edmund Spenser was still on-going, much to Shakespeare and Chaucer’s dismay I am sure. I just was not quite ready to turn my back on him (Or on my addiction the The Spenser Encyclopedia!).

Oil Painting of Edmund Spenser

The depiction of Alma’s castle in Book II was really what ensnared my attention. Alma’s castle is the image of achieved temperance but it is also a depiction of the human body. On reading this, naturally, the medical professional inside of me jumped at the idea of finally finding a way to mix the medical with Spenser. This, however, was a complete failure. Spenser, it was evident, did not care for medical authorities at the time, nor for anatomical correctness. And in the midst of my despair, I was quiet like the red-crosse night in Book I, I found exactly what I had been looking for, not medicine, but psychology, and philosophy buried deep under allegory.

I was always aware of the density of Spenser’s work, but it was only when I really focused in on a small number of stanzas, and began to peel back the layers upon layers of meaning that was within them, that Spenser and I truly took our relationship to the next level. His work  is deliciously rich, disturbingly complicated and anxiously intentional. Every sentence, every syllable, there is nothing exists within The Faerie Queene that Spenser did not intend to have there. I must admit my disappointment when I discovered that medicine and Spenser in Book II was not going to work out, but when I reflected on my journey through my Masters, even through my blog posts alone, I saw that the idea of psychoanalytic literary criticism  had materialized in many places.

An example of where modern day psychology meets the philosophical ideas that Spenser would have believed in is, for me, demonstrated in Sigmund Freud and The Tripartite Soul. Many people believe that Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, (who did more than just create the Oedipus Complex) was the original founder of the Id, Ego and Superego. But I think he may have had some help. In case anyone does not know what the tripartite soul is, according to both Plato and Aristotle, the rational soul is located in the brain, the sensitive soul’s seat is in the heart and the natural or vegetative soul’s seat is in the liver or stomach.

The idea of the tripartite soul for me, is echoed in Sigmund Freud’s theory of personality. Freud created the idea of the id, the ego and the superego as a theory on how we make decisions. The id is the most primitive self, the pleasure seeking self, appetite, lust and no knowledge of delayed gratification. Ie. The stomach. The ego attempts to mediate between id and reality. The balanced self. It has some of your primitive urges, but at the same time is highly influenced by the superego. The superego being the brain. The superego is the rule governed, logical self, in contrast to the rational soul, which is the search for greater knowledge, it can occasionally be suppressive. It is our inner critic. The most significant difference between these two models is that Freud makes no associations between physical placement and his theory.

This is just one link I have discovered and I look forward to finding more associations.


Images Cited.

Buchraeumer. Portrait of Edmund Spenser. 2011. Photograph of Painting. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 14 Mar. 2014.

Lumos3. Frontispiece of The Faerie Queene. 2013. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 14 Mar 2014.

Digital Arts

During the year I attended one of Dr. Mike Cosgrove’s lectures on Digital Arts for the Digital Humanities MA. It was an attempt to gain a better understanding of the term digital humanities and gain further understanding and appreciation for this area of academia. They were discussing computing as a flexible tool for the artist, particularly, in relation to the theatre.  It was a fascinating lecture full of passionate and intense debates.

The first debate surrounded the authenticity of a theatrical performance if it is too digitized. The idea that the digital aspect is being used more for commercial aspects than for artistic development; the idea that Broadway is becoming too ‘bright’. The digital age allows for the constant production of new work meaning modern work never falls into the repertoire of classics. Considering my MA has quiet a significant ‘classic’ element, this struck a cord with me. But as we went on further into the discussion of digital in the theatre I began to realize, even the digital age has its roots in the classical. The Greeks were the first institute to use lighting of any kind. They used ‘gas lights’. They were the first to use the idea of ‘sets’ and different ‘sets’. They were even the developers of the first trapdoors.

Greek Theatre

The next debate enveloped to what extent can ‘digital’ change the theatrical performance before it becomes a new genre? If we’re so surrounded by digital does the theatre then HAVE to be digital to be endearing/sustainable? Is it a new ‘genre’ of theatre or is it incorporating a new style into the same theatre? There were many different opinions on this topic but all agreed that the creation of a suspension of disbelief is the ultimate goal regardless of how it is achieved.

As a theatre-goer I had simply attended and enjoyed the experience of a show and had never given too much contemplation to the digital aesthetic of a production. Suffice to say this will no longer be the case.

 Images cited.

Suben, Matthias. Ancient Greek theatre (Segesta). 2012. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.

Julian of Norwich and Margery Kemp from a Psychological Perspective.

Having studied Psychology in my undergrad it is impossible to imagine that it doesn’t influence my interpretation of a text or author. The same way early modern readers influenced the construction and representation of Jonson and Taylor’s authorial identity, my biased is of the psychological variety. I found my inclination to view texts from a psychological perspective came to the fore in my study of Margery Kemp and Julian of Norwich.

Julian attempts to de-humanize herself within her text. In her attempt to reach enlightenment and become closer to God she lives life as an Anchoress, locking herself away from the world. This demonstration of what we would normally consider an unnatural isolation is used to show us that Julian believes that physical isolation does not mean that God is not there. She believes that God cannot be absent from any place and so the idea of loneliness for her, simply does not exist. This lifestyle choice, however, does lend itself to the idea of unending voyeurism. Her decision to exclude herself from society follows a long established ascetic tradition by earlier religious figures. Julian was the queen of a kingdom of isolation and that alongside much self-deprivation would have caused a lot of psychological disturbances. She gives herself entirely over to mysticism which may well have had detrimental effects on not only her body but also her mind. The word anchoress is derived from the Greek verb ‘anacwre-ein’ meaning ‘to withdraw’. An Anchoress such as Julian, who was attached to the church would have had three windows including the ‘squint’. The squint was the Anchoress’ access to the church, so it was possible to receive communion, the second window was for the exchange of food and refuse and the third was for those looking to seek advice from the anchoress. (Alchin). This isolation and meagre existence would have been quiet traumatic. It is possible that this traumatic existence was the trigger for some of Julian’s visions although there is little evidence to back this up.

Julian of Norwich

Margery Kemp also suffered her own share of psychological trauma. From the conception of her first child Margery’s psyche began to suffer. She describes how ‘aftyr that sche had conceyved, sche was labowrd wyth grett accessys tyl the child / was born’ (Kemp 132-133) Her first vision of the devils at her bedside during the birth of her first child may have been a result of the trauma of the pregnancy or of internal feelings and insecurities about not wanting to be a generic maternal figure. Her actions after her fourteenth child may be considered an extension of this, possibly untreated post-natal depression or potentially manic post-natal depression. “The notion of the maternal instinct underpins the contemporary construction of motherhood. It underlies notions of femininity and required maternal behaviour, and its absence is used to explain women’s maternal failures’ (Nicolson Post-Natal Depression 14). Margery displayed certain actions after her pilgrimage such as constantly crying or wailing in the presence of anything that reminded her of God’s suffering or wearing white, a symbol of virginity and a rebellion against her previous life, actions and self. These actions suggest she may have been suffering from a psychosomatic illness. Psychosomatics believe in the physical manifestation of our psychological state. Alongside this is the bio-psychosocial model. The bio-psychosocial model views the being as a whole and that any physical or mental illness is a combination of your biology, psychology and social environment. It believes that these are intrinsically linked and cannot exist independently. Margery’s actions such as when she ‘cryed […] and wept wythowtyn mesur / that sche myth not restreyn hirself’ may have been a coping mechanism for her body when she was unable to put into words the impact that all of her experiences had on her (Kemp 1653-1654). Margery also appeared to be suffering from severe anxiety. She is hugely insecure and is continuously searching for verification of her visions. She expresses fear throughout her text and her inability to trust that her visions are from God suggests that she has no self-belief. She even crossed paths with Julian of Norwich ‘for the ankres was expert in swech thyngys and good cownsel cowd / gevyn’ (960-961). Margery’s quest is not merely a search for enlightenment; it is a quest for authority, a quest for her worth and the validation of her visions.


Looking at the way these women are presented from a psychological perspective is significant as it gives us an insight not previously gained through literary criticism alone. It allows us to strip each person down and view them as humans and as equals but obviously due to temporal restrictions as well as dependency on biased literary accounts, it is hard to offer more than conjecture.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Works Cited

Alchin, L.K. Lords and Ladies. Retrieved 16/07/12 from            Web. 02/02/2014.

Kemp, Margery. The Book of Margery Kemp. Ed. Lynn Staley. Middle English Texts Online. University of Rochester, 1996. Web. 04/04/2014.

Nicolson, Paula. Post-Natal Depression Psychology, Science and the Transition to Motherhood. London and New York: Routledge. 1998. Print.

Images Cited

Jtneill. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. 2009. Image. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 02 Feb 2014.

Rocketjohn. Julian of Norwich. 2010. Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 02 Feb. 2014.


A consideration of Spenser’s framing of his continuation of Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale.

This blog will investigate ideas surrounding what extent Chaucer can be considered a legitimate inspiration for Spenser in his desire to complete The Squire’s Tale, or whether we must consider the poetic authority of Chaucer to be a burden that Spenser must overcome and efface in his transformative supplement to the original tale. I will look at the idea of authorship and authorial identity and whether one must sacrifice one’s own identity when interpreting another source, or whether it is possible to change it in such a way it becomes unique but still retains some of its former roots. Spenser’s continuation of The Squire’s Tale raises many questions about his relationship to, and imitation of Chaucer.

Page from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Spenser uses the term “’Dan’ an archaic title of respect derived from Latin dominus [which] is otherwise used by Spenser only of classical gods and heros” (Hamilton, The Spenser Encyclopedia, 144). By using this title specifically in such an obvious reference to Chaucer it could be interpreted that he is making a sardonic joke about the idea of Chaucer being in the same league as the gods, unattainable in stature and accessibility.It could also be interpreted that Spenser may have indeed considered Chaucer an inspiration at the time but as Craig A. Berry mentions; “for Spenser, the well of English may be undefiled, but it needs filtering before it is served to a sixteenth-century audience.”(116) Berry had previously discussed how the Elizabethans viewed the Middle Ages with a paradoxical nature (107) and how “even the greatest English poets” were considered “barbarous and rude Ryming”. (108)

It is possible that Spenser truly did believe that “Of thine owne spirit, which doth in me survive” (IV.ii.34. 7). But, due to the general distaste for Chaucer, he decided to refine and adapt Chaucer’s meaning to suit his own style and the societal demands that he faced. This can be observed in Spenser’s complete avoidance of Cambalo and Canacee’s incestuous relationship. He decides that Cambalo “That faught in lystes with the bretheren two / For Canacee er that he myght hire wynne.” (Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, 177) will fight instead for a suitor for his sister thus removing any incest from the story. A. Kent Hieatt reaffirms this point when he says that Spenser “turns Chaucer’s original into a more obvious member of a more structured Marriage Group” (158).

Spenser may have chosen The Squire’s Tale not just because it was left unfinished but due to the character of the Squire himself. Spenser may have interpreted the Franklin’s praise of the Squire, when he interrupts his tale, as a false compliment or ironic. This is how he may have viewed the response to his own work. The Squire’s anger at King Cambyuskan’s courtiers’ inability to decipher the magic horse in Chaucer’s The Squire’s Tale may have echoed Spenser’s own constant fear of being misunderstood.

Portrait of Chaucer

“Of sondry doubts thus they jangle and trete, / As lewed peple demeth comunly / Of thynges that been maad moore subtilly / than they kan in hir lewednesse comprehende” (Chaucer, The Riverside Chaucer, 171)

Finally, the Squire’s burden of having to impress people in the presence of his father who largely outranked and overshadowed him by being a knight as well as his elder and the fear and pressure of potential failure may have resonated with Spenser in his attempt to “follow here the footing of thy feete, / That with thy meaning so I may the rather meete.” (FQ IV.ii.34.8-9)

It is more than likely that readers of Spenser in the sixteenth century would have been well educated and familiar with Chaucer and would have picked up on Spenser’s subtle and obvious references to him. In one sense it could be argued that Spenser attempted to manage his audience’s response to his adaption of The Squire’s Tale by not only making it more socially acceptable and attempting to turn it into an epic but also by his detailed completion of it; leaving no room for question or misinterpretation, unlike Chaucer. However Berry argues that;  “A poem that represents its author as reading his sources in the same figures that represent it readers reading – or failing to read – the poem itself becomes an arena where the past-orientated concerns of intertextuality meet the present-orientated concerns of contemporary reception” (107). This reiterates the perception of the end of the Chaucerian era and his incompatibility with the fashion of literature in the sixteenth century.

Richard Helgerson argues in Self Crowned Laureates that Spenser distinguished himself as a Laureate by publicly abandoning “all social identity except that conferred by his elected vocation” (63). It can be argued that by losing his identity to his work, he truly did embrace Chaucer’s essence and, in doing so, used him as a legitimate inspiration to create his transformative supplement to the original Squire’s Tale. It is arguable though that Spenser placed himself in Book IV more than in any other book. Not only did he change his style of narration but he made it more personal in the time between the release of the first three books in 1590 and the subsequent others in 1596. His narrator also out-rightly disturbs the story to tell us of Chaucer’s greatness; this narrative interjection a classic element of Chaucer’s own narrative style. “Again the reel has stopped, the major characters have frozen, and then the poet steps forward” (Anderson, The Growth of a Personal Voice,118). This style of Chaucer is exceptionally relevant in The Squire’s Tale as the text is primarily concerned with how to tell the story rather than the storyline itself. The narrator’s voice is consistent and dominates the tale up until the Falcon begins to speak: there is almost no direct speech throughout the tale (Cooper, Oxford Guide to Chaucer, 227).

Hamilton mentions that no writer in the Elizabethan period demonstrates a kinship to Chaucer the way that Spenser does. The epitaph on Spenser’s tomb reportedly says “’Hic prope Chaucerum situs est Spenserius, illi / Proximus ingenio, proximus ut tumulo’ (‘Here buried next to Chaucer, lies Spenser, close to him in wit, and as close in his tomb’)” (Hamilton, 144).   In short, Chaucer can be considered a legitimate inspiration for Spenser in his desire to complete The Squire’s Tale, but this did not come without the occasional burden.

Works Cited

Anderson, Judith H. The Growth of a Personal Voice. London: Yale University Press, 1976. Print.

Berry, Craig A. ‘“Sundrie Doubts” Vulnerable Understanding and Dubious Origins in Spenser’s Continuation of the Squire’s Tale”: Refiguring Chaucer in the Renaissance. Ed. Theresa M. Krier. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1998. Print. (106-127)

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Riverside Chaucer. Ed. Larry D. Benson. Oxford. Oxford University Press, 1987. Print.

Cooper, Helen. The Oxford Guide to the Canterbury Tales. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1989. Print.

Hamilton, A.C. The Spenser Encyclopedia. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990.

Helgerson, Richard. Self-Crowned Laureates. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983. Print.  

Hieatt, A. Kent. “Room of One’s Own for Decisions: Chaucer and the Faerie Queene”. Refiguring Chaucer in the Renaissance. Ed Theresa M. Krier. Gainesville, University Press of Florida. 1998. Print. (147-164)

Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. Ed A.C Hamilton. Harlow, Pearson Longman.2001. Print.

 Images Cited

British Library. Portrait of ChaucerA photographic reproduction of a manuscript illumination. 2014. Portrait and Life of ChaucerWikimedia Commons. Web. 18 Jan. 2014.

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Page from “The Canterbury Tales. A photographic reproduction of a manuscript illumination. 2011. The Canterbury Tales. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 18 Jan 2014

The role of the reader in the representation and construction of a writer’s authorial identity – Ben Jonson and John Taylor

As part of the Book History module I took part in I developed an essay surrounding Ben Jonson and John Taylor, and how the reader and consumer affect the construction of a writer’s authorial identity.

For me the notion of authorial identity is complex even by definition. It can be simply the person who has written the piece one is investigating or the person who came up with the original idea for it. It can be the personality of that writer transcending through the piece and it is almost impossible for authorship to remain uninfluenced by the readers own ideas and notions about the author and the context in which he is writing.The complete disparity between Ben Jonson and John Taylor are an example of this. Both part of the same country at the same time and yet their context could not be further apart.

The title page of Ben Jonson’s Workes (1616)

If we first explore the frontispiece of Jonson’s Workes (1616) it is possible to get an insight into how the early modern readers and consumers of the time may have interpreted the piece and how this may have contributed to their notion of authorial identity. Sara Van Der Berg said in Ben Jonson’s 1616 Folio “The multiple definitions of the word author worked out in Jonson’s Folio is implied in the iconography of the frontispiece. Because Ben Jonson took such care with the preparation of his book, the title page can be considered a visual depiction of his personal ideology in relation to the general ideology of authorship available in his culture.”(114) Peter Berek states that “Title pages functioned as a form of what we would call advertising: They tried to persuade potential customers to buy a book.” (The Book of the Play, 162)The intricate detail of the frontispiece proposes the idea that Jonson was either comfortable with this form of ostentatious display or else deeply desired to be among it. It is evident that he considered only the elite eligible to read his work. Van Der Berg also discusses how the frontispiece “links Jonson to the coterie audience of humanist scholars and aristocrats who presumably shared his classical learning and values.” (Ben Jonson’s 1616 Folio 114) The early modern readers and consumers may have been repelled by Jonson’s arrogance or intimidated that they would not understand his work or indeed may have been attracted to the invitation for the elite only. Its elaborate columns and Romanesque architecture would have been relevant and would have appealed only to the upper educated classes.

The title page of John Taylor’s Workes

Contradictory to Jonson as Nigel Wheale argues in Writing and Society: Literary Print and Politics in Britain that “The life and works of John Taylor (1578-1653) arguably England’s first self-taught successful author, illustrate the new opportunities which literacy offered to low-status individuals” Wheale also includes the quote from Taylor’s Workes “’To any Reader He or She, / It makes no matter what they be’: / John Taylor the Water Poet” Taylor marketed himself as accessible to everyone unlike a quotation from Jonson’s frontispiece which makes his intentions entirely transparent.  “-neque, me ut miretur turba, / laboro: / Contentus paucis lectoribus” [I do not work so that I will be admired by the crowd, but am content with a few readers] (Van Der Berg, Ben Jonson’s 1616 Folio 114) Taylor’s frontispiece is designed to embody what he himself represented and not who he wished to represent. It’s filled with boatman symbolism which demonstrations Taylor’s continual commitment to his literary persona. It is largely understated by comparison to Jonson’s and this is what made it attractive to readers of Taylor’s own class. While it is obvious he wishes to succeed in the upper classes especially considering the importance of patronage, Taylor never forgets his lower class audience. We see this by his use of marginalia throughout his Workes and again when we see who he often addresses his pieces too. In the text An Arrent Thiefe Taylor invites “To any Reader Hee or Shee, / It makes no matter what they bee.” (115) This unbiased and welcoming approach allowed Taylor to transition with ease through the classes.

This example of the title page is only the tip of the iceberg regarding how we as readers can influence the representation of the author subconsciously. But even though it isn’t an extensive example, it does give us reason to pause and reflect on our own interpretations and biased.


Works Cited.

Berek, Peter. “Genres, Early Modern Theatrical Title Pages, and the Authority of Print” The Book of the Play Playrights, Stationers, and readers in Early Modern England. Ed. Marta Straznicky. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. 2006. Print.

Jonson, Ben. The Workes of Benjamin Jonson. London. 1616. Early English Books Online. Web. 4 Jan 2014.

Taylor, John. The Workes of John Taylor the water-poet. London. 1630. Early English Books Online. Web. 4 Jan. 2014

Van Den Berg, Sara. “Ben Jonson and the Ideology of Authorship. Ben Jonson’s 1616 Folio. Ed. Brady and Herendeer. Newark: University of Deleware. 1991. Print. (111-136).

Wheale, Nigel. “Penny Merriments, Penny Godlinesses” Writing and Society: literacy, print and politics in Britain, 1590 – 1660. London, Routledge. 1999. Print.  


Images Cited. 

Mzilikazi1939. The title page of All the Workes of John Taylor. Photograph. 2011. John Taylor. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 12 Jan 2014. 

Reedy, Tom. The Workes of Beniamin Ionson. Photograph. 2010. Ben Jonson. Wikimedia Commons. Web. 12 Jan 2014