Praise, Critique, and Reflection on TFQ

The Faerie Queen is a piece that is routinely brought up when discussing allegorical literature.  Literary critic Northrop Frye refers to The Faerie Queen as an example of “naive allegory.” By naïve, he means that the characters within the allegory are not completely three-dimensional, and while reading through the assignments, I have to admit that I noticed the same thing.  I think that more detailed explanations of the background of characters involved in Book III would have made the story more interesting, not to mention easier to understand.

However, Spenser’s use of allegorical rhetoric kept me fascinated the whole way through; I especially admire how he allegorized love, seduction, and jealousy through the characters of Britomart, Paridell, and Malbecco.  He also includes two characters, Florimell and Belphoebe, who symbolize Chastity, but not to the perfect degree that Britomart obviously represents.  Unlike Britomart, they don’t have the ability to love while maintaining their chastity.  Britomart is actively chaste, but nonetheless pursues Arthegall for true love; on the other hand, Florimell is barely active in being chaste and Belphoebe is as chaste as one can be without possessing love.  As Professor Clayton remarked in class, chastity does not necessarily involve avoiding sex if pure love is involved.  In the case of pregnancy without sex, the flaw was found in man, and not sex.  Spenser creates Argante, the incestuous “giauntesse” to make Florimell and Belphoebe look flawless, although that most certainly is not the case.

Paridell is the knight that seduces Helennore away from Malbecco.  Notice Paridell’s name resembles Paris the Trojan and likewise Helennore’s resembles Helen, who was stolen from Agamemnon.  What’s more is that Paridell, at dinner, claims that the Trojans were his ancestors.  That was skillful allegory on Spenser’s part; it grabbed my attention while I was about to doze off.  The foreshadowing of Paridell succeeding in stealing Helennore was also made very obvious here through the character names.  Paridell and Helennore reinforce a point that Professor Clayton made in class when he mentioned that Spenser based much of his literature on classical poets like Homer.  And here we have an example in Spenser’s writing taken directly from Homer’s Iliad – how convenient.  Malbecco chooses his money over his wife, and consequently loses Hellenore.  Shortly after, he loses his money as well. He spends the rest of his life alone with thoughts of jealousy.  Malbecco thinks so much about jealousy that he comes to represent Jealousy itself just like how Britomart represents Chastity.

Braggadocchio and his squire Trompart are two characters whose contributions to the story’s plot can easily be omitted; but they enrich the story in another way, by providing comic relief.  Well, to me at least.  But it is also intriguing to dissect the names of the characters, often their roots in another language will serve as a reliable description of them.  For example, Braggadocchio, as one would assume from his name, brags a lot while, Trompart, whose name comes from the French word “tromper”, means to deceive.  Spenser does not arbitrarily give out names to his characters, as shown by the names of Hellenore and Paridell.

Two landscapes that I found especially rich in allegory were the Garden of Adonis and the Castle of Joyeous.  The former was discussed much in class, so I’ll spend more time on the latter.  The Castle of Joyeous is exactly what its name implies.  It is a castle of a lot of joy, but not just any type of joy – it is the joy of indulgence, pleasure, and lust.  Malecasta, who resides in the castle, is characterized by all three of these things.  She was so hungry for sex that she was attracted to Britomart even before a) seeing her under her armor and b) verifying that her crush was of the opposite gender.  Now that’s what I call easy.

The list of allegorical examples presented by Spenser in Book III alone is endless, but these are the ones I found most interesting.  And as much as I enjoyed Spenser’s allegories, I have to end by saying that I was disappointed at the fact that he failed to conclude Britomart’s story.  After finishing Book III, I remember asking myself out loud, “What the heck ever happened to Arthegal?” And that was only the first of several questions left unanswered by the end of the story.  The only logical explanation I can think of would be that she encounters him in Book IV, V, or VI.  I hope so.



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