I'm reading The Faerie Queene for Heather's challenge this year and have started reading Book I. I've decided the best thing for me to do, because there is so much here, is to do a few posts on it as I read my way through it. Today, I thought I'd let you know ten things I should have known but didn't learn until I started reading this:
1. The English language used to have contractions of m & n represented by a tilde above the preceding vowel (e.g. "from" would be "frõ"). Cool. I wish we still did that; don't you?
2. The Faerie Queene is Queen Elizabeth I. Surely I learned that when we studied bits of it in my Brit. lit. survey course in college, but I'd completely forgotten it. I seem, since I was a child, to have always mixed up the Snow Queen and the Faerie Queene. Ridiculous, I know, but so be it.
3. Spenser is thought of as the great precursor to Milton. I can see why, and how that has managed not to sink in until now is beyond me.
4. Apparently, we don't know Spenser's exact birth date, but he was only something like six years old when Queen Elizabeth took the throne. That's plenty of time to build up some boyhood idolatry (despite the fact that if he's writing Christian allegory, which he is, he should know better than to be dabbling in idolatry).
5. C.S. Lewis was apparently enamored of Spenser. Maybe that's why I confused the faerie and snow queens as a child (see The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe).
6. Spenser was not beyond making grave literary mistakes that were actually grave political mistakes, so he started off with 10 dedicatory sonnets to this work, but ended up having to do another version with 17 sonnets. That's because he forgot to write a sonnet for William Cecil, a.k.a, Lord Burleigh (a man not to be forgotten). In order to add him, he had to add another book signature, which meant lots of blank pages to fill (hard to believe, but the production piece of publishing was even more difficult in those days than it is today).
7. Reading dedicatory sonnets, no matter how cleverly and beautifully written, gets awfully tedious after a while, when you're ready to get on with the meat of the work.
8. If Spenser's "Letter of the Authors" is any indication, he was much better at writing poetry than prose. I lost count of how many times I found myself thinking "Huh?" and going back to re-read a line thrice over.
9. Nonetheless, Spenser is a man I knew I was going to love the minute I read this quote from that very letter:
"So much more profitable than gratuitous is doctrine by ensample than by rule." (p. 16)(I think I'm in for a very long "ensample" of this.)
10. I wish we still used "Your most highly affectionate" as a signature for letters. Maybe I'll start using that when I write to my 2009 pen pals, especially Heather. Any of the rest of you pen pals object to that?
More to come (though probably not in list form). I will give you a sneak preview by telling you that I'm just about to begin "Canto III," and I am enjoying it immensely. Dare I even saying "loving it?" Dare I even say this is the sort of thing that is right up Emily's alley: Knights and Ladies and Dragons and Magicians and Sprites Performing Dastardly Deeds...?