Laughing at love
The Faerie Queene III–IV
in Comic Spenser
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This chapter highlights Spenser’s talent for communicating the comic vulnerability of lovers through acute psychological observation and situational comedy. It argues that romantic love epitomises the intersection of sin and redemption in Christian life, and that humour foregrounds this intersection in the central books of the poem. Specifically, it shows how Spenser characteristically blurs the distinctions between love and lust, noble suffering and self-indulgence, altruism and self-interest even in heroes such as Britomart and Arthur. If there is cynicism in this amusement, it tends to be directed at the notional ideals themselves (and at the conventions of chivalric romance) rather than at the human imperfections that belie them. Working from the premise that a narrative and its allegorical suggestions are mutually revealing, the chapter as a whole defends our impulses to read The Faerie Queene ‘literally’ as well as allegorically.

Comic Spenser

Faith, folly, and ‘The Faerie Queene’

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