Scriptural tradition and the close of The Faerie Queene
Preachers had reminded the queen of her own mortality from time to time throughout her reign: Thomas Drant in 1570, Richard Curteys in 1575, the anonymous "L.S." in 1593, and Anthony Rudd in 1596. In the context of the memento mori sermon, the Cantos of Mutabilitie, in particular the two stanzas of the "unperfite" eighth canto, emerges as a nunc dimittis in Elizabeth’s voice, meant to be understood as the queen’s response to Mutabilitie’s challenge and Nature’s vindication of Cynthia. The pun on Sabaoth/Sabbath in the final line echoes a pun in a 1589 Accession Day sermon by Thomas White (Elizabeth/Eloi Sabaoth/Eloi Sabbath), preached and printed while Spenser was in London overseeing the 1590 publication of The Faerie Queen.
Some 20th and 21st century literary critics treat allegoresis as a project fraught with psychological and philosophical complexity and The Faerie Queene as deliberately obscure or ironic. Most early marginal comments demonstrate that Spenser’s first readers found the poem’s allegorical message accessible and mainstream. Sermons, aspiring like Spenser (in this work) to orthodoxy, are similarly didactic. When a preacher addressed a public audience, biblical types of Elizabeth like Moses, David, and Hezekiah, appeared without reference to unedifying details. The implication for The Faerie Queene (though not for all of Spenser’s work): ostensible praise and blame may be taken at face value.