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

To Matthew Hall, or Whom it May Concern:

I am writing to inform the relevant parties that while attempting to peruse Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene”, a work reproduced and remediated by Vanderbilt University for the use of its students in its English 115F “Worlds of Wordcraft” seminar, I found numerous errors that make the work incredibly hard to read and therefore difficult to utilize.  This difficulty ultimately lead to the spending of more time than necessary reading what this university seemingly deems “a poem”.  The time lost by Tyler Gilcrest U.G.S. (Undergraduate Student) relates directly to future dollars and cents in an exponential, but indeterminate, relationship (fig. A) and is due to the fact that he was forced to spend undue amounts of time with your organization’s product.

Fig. A

One error encountered during the use of your product was the presence of numerous and grievous spelling errors.  Spellings such as “gealous”, “farre” and “raine” (for the word “reign”, not “rain”, mind you) are clearly gross oversights in your efforts for remediation for the use of Vanderbilt students such as my client.  one particularly atrocious example, “dreryhedd”, can only be speculated as to its actual meaning.  Not only do such examples occur, but they do so with such egregious abundance that it begs us to question who you employ for editing service, or whether you request that he take off his winter gloves when he types.  Such simple errors like said spelling errors reflects poorly on your efforts at this remediation.

Another problem with the product lies in the sheer length of the remediation.  The work is supposed to be a “poem”.   A poem implies a short work of fiction.  However this published version is longer than most novels.  In fact, our research indicates that this is the longest poem in the English language.  The length of this poem severely increases the amount of reading time.  And much of the excess is merely fluff.  The first stanza of Book III, Canto I, for instance, can be summarized the following way:  “The Briton Prince and Fairy Knight rested and were healed so that they could continue their adventures”.  Instead the author decides to take an inordinate amount of lines to explain this simple statement.  Again, the amount of money this has cost my client is inexcusable.

The following are suggestions to improve the remediation of the product so as to make it a more efficient and therefore desirable read:

  1. Use spell check.  This functionality comes in most modern word processors.  Comprehension of the material increases greatly with such a tool.
  2. Use a different format other than portable document format.  Not only does this limit the amount of mutability in remediation but it also limits the ability to perform suggestion 1.
  3. Fire your editor.
  4. Shorten the length of the work, add some visuals and/or vibrant flash animation, and make sure the final product can be understood by most 11th grade students.  Tyler Gilcrest cannot be bothered to think over allusions, archaic constructs or difficult vocabulary words.

With these changes implemented, both parties will undoubtedly be happier.  Any questions, comments or concerns can be returned along with explanation to this office and will be forwarded accordingly to Tyler Gilcrest U.G.S.  We appreciate your future compliance.


Samuel Thompson

Office of Wrongly Assigned Students

Thompson and French P.A.

B r i t o m a r t

~ by Jim B.

Britomart is hard to look at on a sunny day; her armor is blindingly white, so as to represent Chastity. Her hair is indeed blond (no arguments !), and she keeps it short in order to be unhindered in battle, though it also helps her to masquerade as a man when she’s in the mood. Because travelling around in a suit of heavy armor can be uncomfortably warm, Britomart chooses to wear few garments beneath her blinding white plates. These garments include: a short white robe, occasionally stained with purple; an enticingly dainty white undergarment; and two thick, battleworthy white stockings. The shaft of her spear is bleached, and its blade glows softly (it’s enchanted, duh). Britomart is of very imposing stature, standing tall and proud in the face of danger. She commands the respect of all who meet her.

Britomart would vote for neither McCain nor Obama. In fact, she wouldn’t have time to vote at all. Even if she did, though, she wouldn’t have enough time to develop an informed opinion on the issues, and because she is honest and virtuous, would not cast a half-boiled vote. Why doesn’t she have any time ? Because she’s always questing, of course.

The following is what I imagine would happen if ever I were to meet Britomart:

Britomart: “Hail, who goes there ?”

Me, wearing sunglasses because of the shiny armor: “Would you mind standing in the shade ? I can’t see.”

Britomart: “Whate mannere of sorcerie be this ?! Darken spectacles whichen blocketh the gentle rayes of yonder sonne !”

Me: “Umm, yeah, please stop pointing that spear at me.” <_< *start backing away from the crazy lady*

Britomart: “Do not essaye to flye from battle, for I shall smite thee and thy foul magicked spectacles !”