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Spenser Studies: A Renaissance Poetry Annual vol. XXVII
by Roger Kuin

Prescott, Anne Lake, William A. Oram, and Andrew Escobedo, eds. Spenser Studies: A Renaissance Poetry Annual XXVII (2012) New York, NY: AMS Press. 342pp. ISBN: 978-0404192006. $178.50 hardback. 

The arrival of a new volume of Spenser Studies is a kind of Harvest Home, and one feels like having a harvest festival and thanksgiving. There is enough material to see one comfortably through the long winter evenings, and food for thought to last one till the next issue.

Volume XXVII, handsomely produced as ever, begins with the 2010 Kathleen Williams Lecture given for Spenser at Kalamazoo by Carol Kaske, which will be a particular pleasure for all those Spenserians who remember the occasion and who are fond of Carol. “Chivalric Idealism versus Pragmatism in Spenser and Malory: Taking up Arms in a Wrongful Quarrel” deals with “stories in which admirable people contradict themselves, acting in ways that they condemn elsewhere” as the opening abstract puts it (1). The section on Malory focuses on the Pentecostal Oath, in which King Arthur charges his knights never to take “batayles in a wrongefull quarrel,” yet violates his own oath when he fights Outlake on Damas’s behalf (3). In Spenser’s case the lecture concentrates on two episodes, that of Sir Turpine ( and that of Sir Burbon (V.xi). In the former, Arthur states that fighting in a wrongful quarrel is better than cowardly behavior, while in the latter Artegall first criticizes Burbon for relinquishing his shield yet later helps him to win Flourdelis, and is praised by the poet despite abandoning his own shield. The new world dictates a certain pragmatism to chivalric idealists. Moreover, it is valuable to “read Spenser and Malory against each other . . . to see how Spenser adapted Malory to the topical question about helping Henri IV” (18). In this Williams Lecture, as in a number of the volume’s other items, the notes (placed at the end of each text) are extensive, and add a great deal of valuable material.

Jonathan Lux’s “‘Th’eternal Brood of Glorie Excellent’: Infants and the Battle for the Future in The Faerie Queene” is a stimulating discussion of the poem’s children, which follows Linda Pollock in refuting “Philippe Ariès’s shop-worn thesis that a conception of childhood and infancy as a separate state did not develop in England until the seventeenth century” (28). Lux deals with “Generation, Regeneration, and Reproduction” (the creation of Errour’s brood and of Belphoebe), with Renaissance attitudes to childhood as seen in a number of metaphors, as well as found children (Ruddymane and, in an excellent section, the child rescued by Calepine). He ends with an interesting section on the “adult foundling[s]” (38), such as Arthur, Britomart, Red Cross, Artegall and others who are crucial to the future of the world, and pays particular attention to the tale of Pastorella.

An especially rich article is Sean Henry’s “Hot and Bothered: The Lions of Amoretti 20 and The Faerie Queene I.” In treating of the lion both as an animal and a symbol of royalty, Henry shows the ways in which Tudor thinking on the subject mixed the two categories, and frequently (as in the case of Edward Topsell) discussed the animal in terms projected from the metaphor of royalty. The result was to make the lion a surprisingly ambiguous image, suggesting heat and lechery on the one hand and magnanimity and forgiveness on the other.  What strikes one in the image’s use, by Spenser and others, is a kind of cognitive dissonance that, while clearly conscious of the full range of connotations, in practice ignores half of these while activating the other half.

Michael Ullyot’s “Spenser and the Matter of Poetry” shows Spenser resisting two sorts of material constraints on poets: the reliance on historical circumstance for poetic “matter” and poets’ dependence on patrons for material support. Ullyot discusses “The Teares of the Muses,” “The Ruins of Time,” and The Shepheardes Calender’s October eclogue to argue that Spenser uses the mode of complaint to address the generic decorum of occasional verse or poets’ choice of genre to suit their historical circumstances. A dense and disciplined argument leads Ullyot to the conclusion that both Spenser and Ariosto are concerned to modify the concept of poetry’s divine origin with a more modern concept of its material circumstances and demands, but that Spenser, more than Ariosto, stays with a belief in “the rhetorical potential of generic decorum” (92).

Judith Anderson, in her admirable “Milton’s Compressed Memory in Areopagitica of Spenser’s Cave of Mammon,” reminds us that Milton writes as if the Palmer had accompanied Guyon into the Cave, and argues that this apparent lapse is best understood as a mnemonic compression, which comprises and reveals an interpretation of the Spenserian episode. This Miltonic shorthand for the relation of Guyon to his Palmer should be understood “not as an abstraction but . . . as the evolving relation between virtue and embodiment, or abstract rationalized Temperance and Guyon” (103). This is one of the articles from which, but for space restrictions, one would like to quote much more often.

Gillian Hubbard’s “‘Send your angel’: Augustinian Nests and Guyon’s Faint” applies to Guyon’s angelic rescue a prayer from St Augustine’s Confessions for one who, in a premature desire for more complex theological language than the Bible’s, “in proud weakness pushes himself outside the nest in which he was raised” and falls to the ground (111-112)—send your angel, Lord, that he may not be trodden by passers-by. Upon this Hubbard constructs a lengthy and wide-ranging theological discussion of strength, weakness, and carnality.

In her excellent “Art and Objectivity in the House of Busirane,” Rachel Eisendrath analyzes the two rooms Britomart traverses, showing that while the first, in its tapestry, provides “an immersive experience of art,” the second room’s objects, equally bright, seem nevertheless “to have receded into the status of artifacts” (139). In her discussion of this change from immersion to detachment, she argues that it “parallels a larger historical development . . . toward epistemological objectivity” (133). She then moves to the image of the hermaphrodite in the 1590 conclusion to Book III, and after a remarkable analysis proposes that “[i]n forming this image, the poem overcomes the tension that had . . . generated the poem . . . The effect is that of closure, and, for this reason, Spenser had to change the image in order to be able to continue the poem for the 1596 edition” (152).

Book VI is the subject of Patricia Wareh’s “Competitions in Nobility and Courtesy: Nennio and the Reader’s Judgment in Book VI of The Faerie Queene,” which brings together the patron of Courtesy with Giovanni Battista Nenna’s 1542 Nennio, or a Treatise on Nobility, published in England in 1595. The characteristic argument of inward as opposed to outward nobility (invariably decided in favor of the former, though Wareh perhaps underestimates the age’s positive appreciation also of the latter) is, she argues, complicated by Spenser, who trains his readers’ judgments to understand the complexity of courtesy in action.

Evan Gurney deals with “Spenser’s ‘May’ Eclogue and Charitable Admonition,” and suggests that Spenser’s apparently inconsistent treatment of Piers and Palinode reveals a concern to “dramatize the challenges of conducting religious discourse in a contentious atmosphere”—an atmosphere such as was created by the Admonition controversy during the 1570s, in which “the virtue of charity could be coopted by any religious faction” (205).

One of the most pleasantly-written articles in the volume is Lauren Silberman’s “Aesopian Prosopopoia: Making Faces and Playing Chicken in Mother Hubberds Tale.” She examines Aesopian fable in terms of its deniability: using beasts allows the poet to utter political comment while denying the reader a clear identification. Spenser’s skill in using it makes it more available to others as an instrument of political thought. At the same time, the text “intervenes in the political conversation of the English-speaking world and beyond in ways that are unpredictable but genuine” (242).

Not all the articles are directly concerned with Spenser’s texts. Debra Rienstra provides a very long but useful piece on “‘Disorder Best Fit’: Henry Lok and Holy Disorder in Devotional Lyric,” which reminds us that this busy poet, writing almost 400 devotional sonnets in the 1590s, repays more attention than he has been given. Lok, who works with the complexity of the Psalms and their pseudo-authorial voice, deliberately highlights the moments of tension that the sonnets incarnate and complicates the speaker’s voice, thus urging his readers to engage in a more active form of reading, an activity paralleled by the confusions and frustrations of the spiritual life that is the poems’ matter.   

Rachel Hile, in her “Spenserianism and Satire before and after the Bishops’ Ban: Evidence from Thomas Middleton,” finds debts to Spenser in Middleton’s Micro-Cynicon (1599) and his Father Hubburds Tales (1604). These debts not only tell us something about Middleton but also indicate how Spenserianism could be used “as a tool for satirical meaning-making during this period of harsh and often capricious censorship” (290). Hile concludes that while in the 1590s authors saw Spenser’s Mother Hubberds Tale as an unsafe stylistic model for satire, the 1599 Bishops’ Ban against mainly Juvenalian satire made Spenser seem a more acceptable model.

Two short “Gleanings” conclude the volume: an intriguing piece by Joe Moshenska on Kenelm Digby’s transcription, in his copy of The Faerie Queene, of William Alabaster’s Latin epitaph “Spencerus isthic conditur,” and Andrew Hadfield’s transcription of, and comment upon, a 1673 mortgage agreement between Spenser’s grandson Hugolin and one Pierce Power.

A couple of concluding remarks may perhaps be permitted the reviewer. In the first place, one is struck by the usefulness of both the introductory abstracts the journal insists on and the often extensive endnotes. The first help readers find their way and choose the most relevant and interesting from among a large number of frequently very long articles; the second provide not only references for study but on occasion a useful or quirkily intriguing parenthesis to the main text.

The second concerns the excellent job done by Spenser Studies’s editors, rightly thanked by several contributors, who have once again produced a handsome volume full of interest and remarkably empty of typographical errors (I have only found three). In a publication such as this, the role of conscientious editors (helped by the staff of a scrupulous press) is often as crucial as it is discreet, and their encouragement of, and help with, authorial revision and improvement is decisive.

Once again, those willing and able to pay the volume’s high price have here a valuable addition to their library, while those depending on their institutions’ acquisitions will have good reason to urge librarians to maintain their subscription. Even in spring, a small harvest festival is in order.


Roger Kuin

York University (emeritus)


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Cite as:

Roger Kuin, "Spenser Studies: A Renaissance Poetry Annual vol. XXVII," Spenser Review 43.1.8 (Spring-Summer 2013). Accessed April 14th, 2024.
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