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The Faerie Queene Paperback – January 25, 1979
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About the Author
Edmund Spenser was born in London in 1552, and was educated at the Merchant Taylor’s School from which he proceeded to Cambridge. He wrote his first poem, The Shepheardes Calender, in 1579. In 1580 he went to Ireland as secretary to Lord Grey de Wilton, Lord Deputy of Ireland, and stayed there most of his remaining life. While at his estate in County Cork, Spenser acquainted himself with his neighbor, Sir Walter Ralegh, who in 1589 brought him to London to present three books of The Faerie Queene (1590) to its dedicatee, Queen Elizabeth. After his return to Ireland in 1591, his two volumes Complaints and Daphnaida were published in London. His marriage to Elizabeth Boyle was celebrated in his sonnet sequence Amoretti and Epithalamion (1595), and in the same year his pastoral eclogue, Colin Clouts Come Home Again also appeared. In 1596 he brought out the second three books of The Faerie Queene as well as his Fowre Hymnes and Prothalamion. In 1598 his estate was burned during the Tyrone rebellion, and he fled to Cork and thence to London where he died in 1599. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. He is considered to be the great precursor of Milton, and his fame, denied him in life, has endured to this day.
Thomas P. Roche, Jr., Professor of English at Princeton University, was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1931 and was educated at Yale, Cambridge, and Princeton and has taught at Princeton since 1960. He is the author of The Kindly Flame: a Study of the Third and Fourth Books of the Faerie Queene (1964) and Petrarch and the English Sonnet Sequences (1989). He has edited the essays of Rosemond Tuve and is co-editor with Patrick Cullen of Spenser Studies: A Renaissance Poetry Annual. He has also published on Sidney, Shakespeare, Petrarch, Anosto and Tasso.
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In 1870, D. Laing Purves edited the major works of Chaucer and Spenser in a single volume "for popular perusal," condensing them somewhat and modernizing the spelling. In January 2014, Digireads released Purves' version of "The Faerie Queene" separately as both on-demand paperback and ebook.
Purves' condensation spans the length of the poem, but dispenses with many passages which, it must be admitted, can fairly readily be dispensed with. Still, some two-thirds of the poem is here, unexpurgated, with deft summaries bridging what is omitted. (As Purves points out in the preface to the 1870 volume, the unabridged "Faerie Queene" is nearly as long as "The Iliad," "The Odyssey," and "The Aeneid" combined!)
The spelling and punctuation are comparable to those in modern editions of nineteenth-century poets. The typography of the Digireads edition is brand-new and very legible.
In Purves' original volume, obsolete or obscure words are very curtly glossed at the bottom of the page. Digireads moves these minimalist glosses to the end of the book; they are hyperlinked in the ebook version.
If you are desperately seeking a modern-spelling edition of "The Faerie Queene," I don't think you'll do better than this one.
Another aid for those making their first inroads into the poem: reading along with the free, unabridged audiobook by Thomas A. Copeland, released online by LibriVox in January 2014. Despite less-than-commercial sound quality, for a volunteer effort Copeland's marathon undertaking, spanning some 32 hours, is, like "The Faerie Queene" itself, an always admirable and often wonderful achievement.
And, speaking of unabridged audiobooks: This review has now become attached to the much-anticipated unabridged performance of "The Faerie Queene" by David Timson. Timson has been prolific and accomplished not only as an actor and narrator, but as a writer, director, and producer of spoken-word presentations in many genres for both Naxos and the BBC. He will certainly have approached this project with a great deal of preparation, bringing a rare depth of historical understanding, imaginative sympathy, thespian versatility, and vocal virtuosity to the task of making Spenser's epic-romance pulsate and sing for a new millennium. If this release does not quite achieve the unsurpassable incarnation of author and characters found in his readings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Charles Dickens, it is still a five-star landmark.
In fact, having all but irretrievably bungled the posting of my full review on Audible (accidentally using a rejected draft I thought had been discarded), I might as well append the final version here:
-"EPIC FANTASY FROM SHAKESPEARE'S TIME"-
In most Arthurian romances, the noblest monarch in the world is King Arthur, and the greatest knight is Lancelot, who tragically falls in love with Arthur's queen. In the romances surrounding Amadis of Gaul, on the other hand, the noblest monarch is King Lisuarte, and the greatest knight is Amadis, who has the good fortune to fall in love not with Lisuarte's queen, but with his unmarried daughter, the Princess Oriana. Spenser takes this trend a bold step further: in his vast poetic fantasy, the noblest monarch is the Queen of Faerie, and the greatest knight is the young Prince Arthur, not yet a king in his own right, who falls in love with that same unmarried Queen, the tantalizing Gloriana. In fact, it is Gloriana who takes the initiative by making herself known to Arthur and declaring her love for him, but then vanishes, leaving him to seek her out in a world of pathless forests.
In "The Faerie Queene," then, Spenser is creating an epic-scale, alternate-history prequel to the Arthurian romances we already know: nearly a quarter of a million words of loosely intertwined adventures featuring (for the most part) an altogether new cast of amorous knights and ladies, new champions who must quest for true love and virtue while combating miscreants, monsters, wizards, and witches in a land drenched with symbolism and enchantment. (The fact that everything is symbolic is part of the enchantment.) In all this, he aims to do for England and Britain what Homer and Virgil (and Ovid) had done for Greece and Rome: his poem aspires to be a great epic in its own right, and if its characters are not quite as apt to recall Odysseus or Aeneas as Lancelot or Gawain, they are at least no more likely to encounter a guardian angel than an Olympian goddess.
In such unabashed intermingling of ordinarily disparate fantasy realms and genres, "The Faerie Queene" was a major influence on C. S. Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia; and, long before that, its trailblazing splendor of ancient, medieval, and modern learning, penetrating moral insight, vividly sensuous imagination, unexampled metrical fluency, and rapturous prosodic mastery had served as both incitement and inspiration to nearly every other poet of the English Renaissance, including Shakespeare, and to many others in the centuries that followed.
The challenge posed to any would-be narrator by both the nature and the stature of such a work is formidable, but luckily the supremely accomplished David Timson was willing to take up the gauntlet. True, Timson is not able to inhabit the author and his characters as fully as in his readings of Sherlock Holmes stories or Dickens novels. There is simply not much spoken dialogue in "The Faerie Queene" for a gifted character actor to latch onto, and not much that lends itself to a novelistic approach to oral narration. Spenser's is an older manner of romance: remote, exotic, stylized. A brisk willingness to wax rhapsodic even at the risk of sounding hokey may be the best way to engage such high-flown material; Timson has done that brilliantly in the Naxos "Poems of the Orient" collection, and so of course proves more than capable of warming up to what Spenser is doing here as well. His performance never falls short of eloquence, and, when the wheels of his spoken narration mesh fully with the thematic and emotive gears and springs driving Spenser's narrative from within, they achieve a remarkable forward impetus. At such moments, Timson fully captures the gripping incantatory pulse of Spenser's lines and stanzas as they weave their stirring, brooding, or exhilarating spell of power.
At other times, unfortunately, he seems to treat "The Faerie Queene" as if it were no more than a juvenile fantasy novel. But don't get me wrong: even in non-epic modes, Timson manages some astonishing feats. In fact, given that Spenser is a pre-Enlightenment poet and romancer rather than a pioneering novelist, it is amazing how much novelistic immediacy Timson is able to wring for us from his ringing cantos. When the poet tells us how the haughty Queen Lucifera lords it over her subjects and distinguished visitors, we now, thanks to Timson's performance, hear this as the projected narration she is listening to in her own head, as if she were imagining a newscaster's voiceover proclaiming her magnificence. And Timson is not freelancing here, not going rogue; he is foregrounding something that we can now see was always there. Forget what I said before: the supposedly remote, exotic, stylized Spenser, like one of the great classic novelists who follow him, is letting what seemed to be impersonal omniscient narration shade into direct, intimate, vivid expression of a character's mind.
Still, novelistic and dramatic methods are generally not the most salient means by which Spenser seeks to galvanize our insight and enjoyment, and in singling out the merits of this recording it would be wrong to overemphasize them. For one thing, Timson's repertoire of vocal characterizations, so expertly deployed to render the denizens of Doyle's or Dickens' London, often seems less suited to the knights and ladies of Spenser's Faerie Land, with the result that what is by rights an epoch-making masterpiece occasionally seems no more than an idiosyncratic minor classic. That's too bad; but Timson's exuberantly vigorous narration, strictly as such, is for the most part so dazzling as to make the unabridged Naxos "Faerie Queene" beyond question a five-star listening experience. For the most part, Timson, like Spenser, is simply amazing.
As a child, I loved the way Dr. Seuss unreeled his spools of proliferating improbability in intricate patterns of rhythm and rhyme; in fact, I loved it so much that I think he helped wire my brain for the more complex complexities unreeled by Spenser. Even so, when I came to the forests and castles of "The Faerie Queene," it was by way not of McElligot's Pool, but rather of Barsoom, Hyboria, Middle Earth, and Narnia--though I must admit that when C. S. Lewis conducted me across the frontier once and for all it was through "The Allegory of Love" rather than Professor Kirke's wardrobe. (I had previously accompanied the psychologists of the Garaden Institute on an inconclusive foray via syllogismobile.) You see, while reveling in the worlds of fantasy and adventure, I had also begun to look into more serious study of mythology, psychology, morality, and religion, and when on the threshold of my college years I learned from Lewis that all these enthusiasms were united in a single landmark work already enshrined on many a college syllabus, I was hooked.
Or, at least, hooked in principle. Knights and ladies, lady knights, quests and combats, a revenant corpse, wizards and witches, wild men, dragons and giants, demons, nymphs and satyrs, gods and goddesses, an iron automaton, a guardian angel--how could I resist? Yet making headway in the poem was difficult, and not only because of the alienating archaism and allegory that loomed before me. In those days it was hard even to find a copy of "The Faerie Queene" that wasn't in minuscule small print, and impossible to find one with helpful annotation for anything like the length of the poem. I persevered, and it was worth it; but it was tough going. But now! Nowadays there are not one but two splendidly legible, fully-annotated Kindle editions (by Roche and Hamilton). Many first-time readers seem completely unfazed by the features of the poem that I found off-putting. And for newcomers who, like my teenage self, are determined to take on the entire poem, yet need basic help from same-page annotation that doesn't threaten to engulf the text, there is Hackett Publishing's five-volume edition. From the darkest infernal depths to the Olympian luminosity of the lunar sphere, wherever the poem takes you, a Hackett editor is at hand with just the amount of information you need to get your bearings and keep on going.
It is, on the whole, an advantage of the Hackett set that we get the editorial perspective of a different expert scholar in each volume; the big disadvantage is that five separate volumes are cumbersome to carry around and fumble with if, rather than focusing on a single book at a time, you want to consider all the far-flung corners of the poem synoptically. It would be wonderful to have all five volumes in a single searchable e-book, and, luckily, such an edition does exist; I have it and consult it often. The penetrating introductory essays, succinct annotation, bright illustrated covers (with back-cover blurbs), and original pagination (in the form of page images) are all intact. Yet, apart from Book One, you're not going to find it on Kindle--and the flowing text of the Kindle version, while beautifully readable, not only dispenses with the original pagination, but fudges the traditional stanza format and introduces some confusing typos.
So. If you like proliferating improbabilities in intricately patterned rhythm and rhyme, to say nothing of fantasy, adventure, mythology, psychology, morality, or religion, you just might come to love "The Faerie Queene." If you'd like help from judicious same-page annotation, you may find the complete Hackett edition in any of its formats to be invaluable. But since the most convenient format is the e-book containing all five volumes, why, oh why is that not available for Kindle? I just can't fathom it.
ADDENDUM (September 2017)
I guess I should move the following information from the obscurity of the Comment section to the actual review: While you can't get the five-volumes-in-one Hackett "Faerie Queene" on the Kindle e-reader or the Kindle app, you CAN get it on recent iterations of the Fire tablet (Kindle Fire, as they used to call it). Give yourself five minutes with Jake Kovoor's instructions on his saintlad website to get the Google Play Store on your tablet and you'll be able to download either the five-in-one Hackett e-book or, if you prefer, any of the five volumes individually, thus bringing Spenser's prescient 1594 rave one step closer to full realization: "KINDLE FIRE ... WONDERFUL DEVICE" ("Amoretti," Sonnet 30, line 12).
The main story is of the Redcrosse Knight and his lady love Una, a princess who has asked her betrothed to rid the kingdom of a terrible dragon. Along the way they must face many challenges (and much allegory,) which makes for quite an entertaining tale. My favorite part of the story is the Redcrosse Knight's experiences in the House of Pride.
Overall, this is a rich allegorical tale full of knights, princesses, and evil creatures of myth and legend all written in a beautifully constructed verse that flows wonderfully. I haven't read any of the other books of the Faerie Queene, but Book 1 was fantastic.
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The language is stunningly beautiful, and it is an amazing work of art.Read more