Humour and heroism
in Comic Spenser
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This chapter reflects on the conflict between heroism and holiness in Book I of The Faerie Queene, and demonstrates Spenser’s use of mock-heroic humour to expose the inappropriateness of classical ideals of self-sufficiency in a Christian context. In particular, the chapter investigates Spenser’s comic handling of three conventions associated with classical epic: the exemplary qualities of the hero, the superiority of epic over pastoral, and heroic violence. The primary target of the book’s satire is Red Crosse, but Spenser’s own authorial persona as a newly invested epic poet is ironically implicated. Both Red Crosse and ‘Spenser’ rise above their humble backgrounds to serve a queen, and both have pretensions to a heroic vocation. While Spenser’s narrator explicitly renounces pastoral for the higher calling of epic, pastoral will not stop ‘interrupting’ his hero’s progress. Initially, such interruption has derogatory implications, but bathos ultimately proves to be spiritually restorative.

Comic Spenser

Faith, folly, and ‘The Faerie Queene’

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