Recent Spenser criticism has thrown much new light, and much doubt, on the nature of ‘The Faerie Queene’'s involvement in contemporary political and religious controversies. Material to these developments has been wide recognition of the unreliability of the poem's narrating voice and its often parodic relation to generic conventions. Nonetheless, some longstanding misconceptions about allegory still limit understanding of Spenser's approach to topical issues. This book re-examines ‘The Faerie Queene’'s allegorical method, showing what is gained by recognising that the poem's main locus of allegorical self-interpretation, as in the medieval ‘Quest of the Holy Grail’, is within rather than extrinsic to the story world. Like the knights of the ‘Quest’, Spenser's heroes are poised between rival codes of moral interpretation, in a way that illuminates the relative value of those codes as guides to action. But unlike its predecessor, Spenser's poem addresses an era violently divided as to which constitutes the true code of right and wrong. Amongst the oppositions it grapples with are the ideological conflict in England and Ireland between emergent monarchic absolutism and residual feudalism, the doctrinal division between the Elizabethan and Roman churches, and the Machiavellian challenge to received ideas about political and religious legitimacy. Dr PAUL SUTTIE is a Senior Member of Robinson College, Cambridge.
Self-Interpretation in The Faerie Queene