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.