RE: Spenser

This is addressed to all IT professionals who have expressed interest in reading Edmund Spenser’s Fairie Queene.  This work is recommended only for the most advanced English students, proceed with caution.  Please carefully review all proceeding points for best results.

(1) Don’t Panic

Prepare yourselves ladies and gentlemen, what you are about to see may be quite disturbing.  Roughly 90% of the words in Faerie Queene fail to conform to modern spelling conventions. You must resist the urge to copy and paste the text into a word processor and run spell check, the results would be incomprehensible.   Instead I suggest you use the “Clayton Method”, sounding out words in order to derive meaning.  Proceed extremely slowly, associating each word with its modern equivalent.  Reading Spenser is a lot like reading a new programming language.   It may seem baffling at first but you will get the hang of it soon enough.

(2) Get help!

Now you may technically be ‘reading’ Faerie Queene, but you probably don’t understand any of it.  A few hours in you may find yourself asking, “wait, what the **** is going on?” (Zack Goldman, 11/5/2009).  Lets face it, having a non-English major read Spenser is like putting a kindergartner in a graduate level Engineering course.  Don’t be afraid to get help.  Online review resources can be extremely helpful, but they are not a substitute for reading the actual text.  Reading a plot summary of a given Canto before delving into the text will serve to familiarize you with the unknown.  Bear with it!

(3) No. You aren’t going crazy.

So at this point you should be capable of reading Spenser, and maybe even following the plot.  Soon enough however, someone is going to ask you what it all means.  When this moment comes do not be surprised, you will realize that you have been slaving over a roughly 400 year-old poem for hours on end… and you have no idea what it all means.  This is the point at which most people give up, but if you’ve made it this far you have proven to be resilient.  Now is the time to seek the help of Renaissance poetry expert.  You can find one at most major universities.  Don’t be scared, they are just like you and I.  If you mention Fairie Queene to of one of these experts they may faint out of excitment.  Don’t worry; they will come around soon enough (smelling salts expedite this process).  When these individuals do come to they will regale you will all sorts of obscure knowledge, helping you to understand the ever so cryptic allusions.  Now you can drop this knowledge into every day conversations, paralyzing unsuspecting victims.  But remember, “With great power comes great responsibility”.

Armed with the “Clayton Method”, online resources, and a Renaissance poetry expert, you should be able to tackle Spenser’s Faeirie Queene in the next 7 to 10 years.  Enjoy!


-Zack Goldman

The Joy of Reading Spenser’s Poetry

– Matt Almeida

When first sitting down to write this blog I was asking myself, why am I telling Professor Hall about my experiences? I’m sure he knows more about English than I do  as he does indeed teach the class I am in, and did he not say having read Spenser’s The Faerie Queene  is like wearing badge of honor? Perhaps he should be telling me about reading The Faerie Queene, but regardless I shall discuss my experiences. I assume other IT professionals have much less interest in or knowledge of Spenser’s poetry. Also, sorry Professor but after reading just a few cantos I have no desire to acquire this badge of honor you spoke so highly of.  

Well what can I say? Reading parts of this complex, lengthy, ridiculous excuse for a poem was more or less like slamming my head into a wall. Repeatedly. I was debating whether or not it was less enjoyable than playing LOTRO, and I think I’ve made it clear through my blogs that I thoroughly do not enjoy LOTRO. It wasn’t even close. I would rather be locked in a room playing LOTRO for a weekend then read Spenser for an hour. At least I would be able to level my character up, and that’s always a plus as I don’t really see anything to gain from reading Spenser’s barely coherent poetry.

Spencer’s words are just so hard to read and the poem is very difficult to get through for a few reasons. From just looking at the poem you can see that the English is not quite what us 21st century folk are used to. We were told it was slightly more difficult than Shakespeare, but I’d say it’s a bit more than only slightly more difficult. Granted, I have seen some Old English such as that written in Beowulf, and Spenser is not nearly as difficult. The Old English barely even looks like letters, more like symbols, and at least Spenser uses normal English letters in his poetry. But regardless the words which he uses are often beyond my immediate comprehension. Spenser switches up certain letters and spells words in alternative forms that are not always instantly recognizable. This makes for not only a very slow read but also a very painful and un-enjoyable one. On top of that Spenser uses ridiculous words that sometimes don’t even make the slightest bit of sense. I weet (apparently this means know?) some words or can figure them out but even that is sometimes impossible which is why notes are often provided. It’s not even as if I can use or some other useful technology as these words seem to not exist anymore, only in Spenser’s fantastic world of poetry.

Spenser not only uses this complex and confusing version of the English language in his poetry, but he also writes in an incredibly complex manner and ties in deep meaning to all his cantos. He is writing poetry and he uses a specific rhyming scheme. I often felt when reading the poem some words were forced or altered in some way to make a rhyme, further adding to the confusion of the poem. Additionally, the poem seems to jump around a lot. There are a few different story lines going on and Spenser jumps back and forth between them, making the poetry not always easy to follow. Also, it appears that Spenser was a crazy smart guy who just couldn’t find enough things to tie into his poem. After going through all the various allegories today in class I felt as if my head was about to explode. We had such difficulty picking up on and noticing these allegories and I’m sure we didn’t even see half of them. As was noted in class each symbol in Spenser’s poetry has more than one meaning and has ties to more than one thing. All these allegories were pretty overwhelming and to think Spenser actually wrote this stuff with all those ideas in his head prior to actually writing them is almost unfathomable. To fully understand Spenser’s poetry, you must pick up on and explore these allegories as they provide a much deeper meaning to the poetry. This just further piles on to the agony and frustration that comes with reading The Faerie Queene. I think I’ll go play LOTRO now. Just kidding.

I’ll Take a Stab at It

Professor Hall!  How could you have missed this!  This exciting time!  This week of weeks!  For this week was no ordinary week; nay this week was the week I called off my War on Poetry.

I’m not an art guy.  I’m the guy that scoffs at the abstract stuff hanging on the walls of people’s homes. My friends who are into that sort of stuff tell me I have to find a specific art form and try to “feel” it.  I in turn tell them to put down the hippie lettuce and come back from the 60’s.  Then they tell me I’m not sophisticated.  Eh, so be it.

I tell you this because you need to know my reasons of originally going to battle.  I haven’t enjoyed a poem since Shel Silverstein’s masterpiece Where the Sidewalk Ends. So, assigning me Faerie Queene is like teaching my grandmother how to play middle linebacker.   Yeah, you could try.  Heck, she might even learn something.  But what would she do with that information?  How is it relevant?  I originally declared my War on Poetry because poetry, as a form of writing and an art, is one of the least efficient ways of expressing an idea.

Then, after our Tuesday class, I learned a little bit about Edmund Spenser.  I learned about his inspirations: the great thinkers of our past.  Me and Ed, we share the same literary heroes.  Maybe this guy ain’t so bad after all.  I gave it a try, but found I was shamefully incompetent.  Translating Spencer into modern English after years of not practicing was dreadful.  So I developed a fool-proof method of reading, and understanding his work. Oh, and I wrote it in Spenserian stanza.

First grab a drink, maybe something of strength

Chill, grab your snuggie, prepare for a ride

A poem of virtues, but above all: length

It’s free fr’all spelling, where u equals y

Britomart is Chaste, and a knight she lies

But her Beauty pales to Lady Florimell

Una is good, Duessa is the bad guy

A religious piece, it’s virtues or Hell

And if none of it makes sense, read again. Oh well.

Wow, that’s in the right meter and everything.  That wasn’t even that hard. Spenser isn’t so impressive after all.  The War is back on.


-Jake Karlsruher

Bloody Tears of Agony

by Calvin Patimeteeporn


Professor Hall:

Imagine you are playing the game Tetris. You’re playing along but you slowly begin to realize that the game is only giving you the awkward (and devastating) “Z” shaped blocks and you can never make a line. No matter how hard you try, the blocks fall down in unwanted patterns, creating tiny spaces that prevent you from your goal. Even though these “Z” blocks have the same number of blocks (4) as the other pieces you need, you are not able to win.

Now retain with this image but add bleeding tears of agony.

This, Professor Hall, is what reading Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser is like:


If you think this is bad, you should see me when I read Twilight.

Continuing with my Tetris metaphor, while the number of “blocks” of the “Z” shaped blocks are the same as the others, its the arrangement that throws you completely off. Spenser wrote this epic (epic in its actual definition, rather than the modern slang) in a time where spelling was just as set in stone and mature as Stephanie Meyers’s writing ability. Thus, words he used were spelled completely differently than that of today, resulting in eye-bleeding-worthy confusion. Misspellings and archaic diction both contribute to the verbal pandemonium that ensues when encountered with non-literature savvy people. Much like the scenario in the game above and with Spenser’s work, you can’t win.


As well as confusing words, the structure of Spenser’s writing brings grief and frustration as well. Last week in biology, I learned that only 3% of the billions of base pairs in our genome actually code for proteins. This is much like Faerie Queene where basically most of the words used are, for the lack of a better term, junk. There is a small percentage however that actually contribute to story. In Book III Cantos iii, Glauce, the nurse to warrior maiden Britomart, takes said maiden to Merlin to seek help, as Britomart has been struck and sickened by love. Merlin explains to her that she is falling for her destined husband, Arthegall. He could have done so in maybe a few stanzas. However, Spenser decides to switch the characteristics of the wizard Merlin out with that of the Twilight saga, boring and far too long.

Faerie Queene is filled with enough odd spellings to make anyone think they are as illiterate as R. Kelly, and enough unwanted material that Matthew McConnaughey would think he has competition for the next  new romantic comedy movie. So here I warn you Professor Hall, approach Faerie Queene with the caution you would use with a rabid bear. Now if you will excuse me, I feel like this eye bleeding problem has gone out of control.

A Letter to the Professor:

November 5, 2009

Dearest Professor Hall,

I am writing you with deep regret to inform you that my experience of reading Renaissance poetry has been horrific beyond belief. The word on the street is that this Edmund Spencer guy is a genius and writes better than Shakespeare, but boy did I think I was a bad speller; this guy is terrible. That Cambridge degree must not have been worth much back then. I feel like I am reading one of my litter sisters’ 1st grade papers except this one rhymes better.

I do not understand why he has to write like that anyhow. Why cant poetry people just straight up say what they mean? He makes everything so much more confusing and difficult by trying to make everything rhyme, and like every three words is an allusion to this, or an analogy about that. No one actually enjoys reading stuff like that except for maybe super English nerds like Professor Clayton. But what average 18 or 19 year-old would enjoy being confused for two hours trying to decipher the English version of Morse code?

Sure Professor Hall, I know you are a smart guy and all, but just like we [the entire student body] feel, I’m sure you could think of far better things to do with your life than attempt to read the worlds hardest poetry. And another thing, why is the book so freaking long? I mean I know we are not reading the whole thing in class but I could kill people with this book it is so huge. Where someone can find the motivation to write poetry for 10 years straight is quit impressive though.

I have to admit, the idea as a whole of each book being about a certain virtue. That is pretty cool. It kind of reminds me of the horror movie called SE7EN where a serial killer is out to get characters that represent each of the seven deadly sins. Including the horror part that is how I imagined reading this Renaissance poetry would be!

But you know what Professor Hall? Thank goodness for IT people like you because even though I might want to throw my computer across the room sometimes, without technology I would not have been able to use the amazing GOOGLE search engine or SparkNote this crazy piece of work as soon as I become totally lost. So thanks for all your hard work and I hope that since you’re a tech person you never have to go through this misery like we do.

All the best,


The Faerie Queene For Techies

So….you’re about to read The Faerie Queene. You’ve got your book (or more likely Kindle) ready to go, and then you look at the file size, the terrible, terrible  spelling, and the tiny print, and you shut that book, and decide to ask SparkNotes instead. Well, Professor Clayton knows about SparkNotes, and the stuff you get there won’t be on the test. That being said, here’s a better guide to getting you through the longest poem ever written in the English language.

  1. Reading the Farie Queene is an interesting experience, for one. The language is not quite Shakespeare, not quite Chaucer, and to say that it is not quite spell checked  would be an understatement. However, there is a meter to the words, and once you get the hang of it, the road to understanding what Spenser is trying to tell you is only marginally bumpy. Reading aloud works; it slows you down so you have time to understand one line before reading the next. The footnotes and word replacements help too, even if they mess up your reading rhythm.
  2. Now that you can read the words, it’s time to figure out what you’re reading, and trust me, it’s about as far away from C++ as you can get. The Faerie Queene is, on the surface, a poem and a story, but a heavily allegorical one that uses characters, places, and events (sometimes not so subtly, either) to impart messages. Spenser’s messages are mostly concerned with the nature and different facets of virtue, along with praising Elizabeth I far too much for her own good. He’ll often link events in his stories back to classical mythology, but doesn’t always make the connection obvious. For example, the impregnation of Chrysogene, mother of Belphoebe and Amoret, takes place via a ray of sunshine, which connects her to both the Virgin Mary and Danae, a figure from Greek mythology who experienced the same thing. Or, take this allegorical chain of symbols for Elizabeth: Belpheobe’s name comes from Diana, the chaste warrior maiden, who is goddess of the moon, another name for which is Cynthia, which is a name Sir Walter Raleigh sometimes used for Elizabeth–so really, Belphoebe = Elizabeth I! Does this seem convoluted to you? Well, too bad. Spenser’s audience, the Renaissance-educated nobility of England, expected stuff like this in everything they read: deeper meanings, double, triple and quadruple connections, and thin or complex metaphors were searched for in nearly every word an author wrote. Spenser did not disappoint on this expectation, and as a result there are still books and dissertations and whatnot being published on him today.
  3. Feeling a bit overwhelmed? Go on, open up SparkNotes. It’s ok, I won’t tell Professor Clayton. Now, read the canto summary. Doesn’t that feel just great? You’re reading modern, spellchecked English words written by someone who is still alive. AND you know what’s going on in the canto, which means it’s time to close that lovely Mozilla window and return to the Kindle. Getting a summary before you do the reading can be useful; when a new character appears out of the blue or something new happens, you’re not totally thrown by trying to process all of the story events, allegories, and language at the same time. Since you are pre-informed, you can focus on the language itself and the more nuanced bits in the plotline.  Just be sure to keep an eye peeled! There’s way more to the poem than can be covered by a single page summary, even if it is on SparkNotes.
  4. Lastly, enjoy yourself. If you sit there and make the reading a drudgery, it will be one. Instead, picture the forest, or Britomart saving the Redcrosse Knight, like a movie, or even think about how awesome  different scenes might look when remediated to the Faerie Queene Online game. If you can engage yourself and take an interest in what’s happening, then you don’t need any other advice.


Spenser for Dummies

Viciously, wrathfully, they descended upon him, surrounding him on all sides. Weariness began to spread through his aching arms, and the breath came from his mouth in short, shallow spurts, but he refused to give up. Blood gushing from his sides, he continued to deftly deal blows onto his attackers. Every time he made a move, wreaking a storm of violent wrath in his wake, they recoiled, death flashing before their eyes.

Now, we will read another account of this same incident, rendered in a different style:

“Mainly they all attonce upon him laid,

And sore beset on every side around,

That nigh he breathless grew, yet nought dismaid,

Ne ever to the yielded foot of ground

All had he lost much bloud through many a wound

But stoutly dealt his blowes, and every way

To which he turned in his wrathfull stound,

Made them recoile, and fly from dred decay,

That none of all sixe before, him durst assay.”

The second passage, an excerpt from Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, is wrought in a style so eloquent, so timeless, that it defies replication. It is a relic of a beautiful, long-forgotten way of speaking that has all but disappeared, erased by centuries of linguistic upheavals and sullied by the informality of modern slang.

But there’s one little problem: what, exactly, is Spenser trying to say???

There’s no doubt about it: in terms of sheer readability, the first passage wins hands-down. However beautiful Spenser’s prose may be, it’s not exactly ideal for your typical lounge-on-the-beach or curl-up-by-the-fireplace sort of book. Reading the The Faerie Queene is no light endeavor. I’m not just referring to the fact that the poem is of mammoth proportions, as large and as cumbersome as a high school science textbook. Rather, the biggest challenge reading Spenser lies in achieving basic comprehension. Slowly, painstakingly, the reader is forced to trudge through line after line of archaic Old English, struggling to uncover meaning somewhere within that jumbled heap of peculiarly-spelled words and outdated vocabulary (um, since when does “yode” mean “went”?). Even with a handy vocabulary bank, I still often find it necessary to stop and re-read (and even re-re-read) certain stanzas just to figure out what the heck is going on.

In this sense, The Faerie Queene, although undeniably eloquent, doesn’t exactly engage or immerse the reader as much as, say, Harry Potter would. In my opinion, reading Spenser feels more like piecing together a puzzle or solving a math problem than anything else; I spend too much time fumbling over the language to become fully engrossed in the storyline. But this could be because I am a decidedly right-brained individual who cowers at the idea of basic math computation. Discerning codes and patterns was always my demise on the Math portion of the SAT. Sudoku? No thank you.

On the other hand, someone like an ITS programmer—someone who is science-oriented and familiar with the complex language of computer processing—might gladly accept the challenge of decoding the bewildering, quirky language of The Faerie Queene. Aided with a math and science background, such a person would be more adept at picking up on the subtle nuances and patterns of Old English than a math wimp like me. Surely, if you are able to read binary code, decoding Spenser will be a breeze.

So, Professor Hall, perhaps you could be persuaded to take pity on a math-and-puzzle-challenged soul and make another one your impressive educational YouTube videos, this time entitled “Spenser for Dummies.”

-Anna Dickens