The Secret Life of Books II
On October 15, the BBC series The Secret Life of Books will broadcast an episode on The Faerie Queene, featuring interviews with Usual Suspects Andrew King, Simon Palfrey, and our own Book Review Editor Richard Danson Brown. Stay tuned!
The Faerie Queene
with Dr Janina Ramirez
Dr Janina Ramirez unravels Edmund Spenser’s Elizabethan epic The Faerie Queene to reveal how this fantasy world of elves, nymphs, and questing knights was written in the midst of the brutal Tudor occupation of Ireland and how the writer’s growing disillusionment with the conflict was coded into the poem’s restless verse.
Dr Janina Ramirez uncovers the surprising story behind one of the most influential poems in the English language: Edmund Spenser’s 16th century epic The Faerie Queene.
Written at the end of the 16th century, The Faerie Queene is a unique and ambitious work. By fusing Arthurian and classical influences with intricate layers of allegory and metaphor, it created a revolutionary new kind of poetry that would influence generations of poets and herald a new era in English literature. But it was also a work that would chart its author’s descent into despair and disillusionment.
Social and cultural historian Dr Janina Ramirez has been fascinated with the epic poem ever since she first encountered it as a teenager. For her, the world of the poem – a world of elves, nymphs, and questing knights – is undeniably attractive and romantic, but it also hides something much darker and emotionally complex.
Caught up in the turmoil that engulfed Ireland towards the end of the 1500s, the lowly civil servant Edmund Spenser began his epic as a thinly-veiled attempt to justify the Elizabethan colonial regime. But as the war around him descended into an intractable conflict with no clear winner and no end in sight, the poet began to lose faith in his monarch and himself – and slowly The Faerie Queene took on an intriguing life of its own.
From the dreaming spires of Cambridge to the starkly beautiful landscape of southern Ireland, the story of Spenser’s life takes us deep into the dark heart of Elizabethan society – a world of elaborate representation and uncompromising brutality. Woven through it all is the astonishing beauty of Spenser’s poetry, written in a style of his own invention which would later have a profound influence on the likes of Byron, Keats and Wordsworth. And at the end of the journey is a powerfully existential reflection on the human condition which resonates just as strongly today as it did over 400 years ago.