Comic Spenser

Faith, folly, and ‘The Faerie Queene’

Once a byword for Protestant sobriety and moral idealism, Spenser is now better known for his irony and elusiveness. Yet his sense of humour is still underestimated and misunderstood. Challenging the bias behind this neglect, this study shows that humour, far from being peripheral or superficial, goes to the heart of Spenser’s moral and doctrinal preoccupations. It explores rifts between The Faerie Queene’s ambitious and idealising postures and its Protestant vision of corruptible human nature. Figures to be comically ‘undone’ include the hero, the chivalric lover, the virgin, and the ideal monarch – as well as Spenser’s own epic-poet persona. Yet bathos has a positive significance in Christian theology, and Spenserian humour proves to be an expression of tolerance and faith as well as an instrument of satire. On this basis, Comic Spenser contends that the alliance of humour and allegory in The Faerie Queene affirms the value of the creative and ‘errant’ imagination.

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