and self-advancement in the hierarchy of power and favour. The main
contention of this analysis is that the convergence of female
pleading with the hidden operation of divine providence or fateful
coincidences lays the bedrock for a political partnership that will
ultimately deliver justice and preferment for the persecuted Jewish
Getting to grips with the Book of
Edmund Spenser and the first readers of The Faerie Queene routinely heard their national concerns—epidemics, political plotting, recent Tudor history—discussed in biblical terms. This book samples contemporary sermons, homilies, and liturgies to demonstrate that religious rhetoric, with its routine use of biblical types (for Elizabeth, the Spanish threat, and Mary Stuart, among many others) trained Spenser’s original readers to understand The Faerie Queene’s allegorical method. Accordingly, the first three chapters orient the reader to allegorical and typological reading in biblical commentary, occasional liturgies, and sermons. This pulpit literature illuminates many episodes and characters within the poem, and subsequent chapters discuss some of these. For instance, the genealogies Guyon and Arthur discover in Book Two parallel sermon lists of Elizabeth’s kingly forebears as well as biblical commentary on the genealogies provided for Jesus in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Florimell’s adventures in Books Three and Four, like contemporary marriage sermons, develop an allegory of the superiority of marriage over the single state. Likewise, the preachers’ treatment of the Northern Rebellion and the threat posed by Mary Stuart show biblical typology in the service of nationalism, much as the allegory of Book Six finds a way to celebrate Elizabeth’s execution of her cousin. In these cases, as in the Souldan episode, Book Six’s analysis of courtesy, and the Mutability Cantos, Elizabethan religious rhetoric lends support to traditional readings of the poem, indicating that Spenser’s original readers probably found The Faerie Queene less conflicted and subversive than many do today.
Genealogy in biblical exegesis and the Legend of Temperance
or materialistic concerns, in remembering their ancestors Elizabethans
were continuing the practice of biblical heroes and patriarchs. Many
chapters of the Bible are given over to genealogies of the Old Testament
worthies and of Christ. Thus, two useful parallels to Spenser’s “chronicle
history” canto, viewed from a genealogical standpoint, are biblical genealogies and sermon references to the Queen’s family tree.
Elizabethan discussion of biblical genealogies
The 1560 Genevan commentators asserted the spiritual lessons of genealogy from the earliest
Scriptural tradition and the close of The Faerie Queene
lesson from the New Testament.8 Thus
Queen Elizabeth in obedience to her own Act of Uniformity daily gave
thanks for spiritual fulfillment and renounced her earthly life.
Some Elizabethans considered their queen’s political expropriation
and rote liturgical invocation of the nunc dimittis inadequate, among
them her court preachers (most notably Anthony Rudd) and Spenser
4 J. E. Neale, Elizabeth I and Her Parliaments, 2 vols. (NewYork: St. Martin’s Press, 1958),
5 Ibid., 1:127.
6 See also Ibid., 1:149, 367; 2:100, 129, 321, 389, 391.
7 “Nunc dimittis,” New
Court: Politics and Religion in Elizabeth and Jacobean Preaching (Cambridge,
1998), The English Sermon Revised: Religion, Literature and History 1600–1750, co-edited
with Lori Anne Ferrell (Manchester University Press, 2000), and The Oxford Handbook of
the Early Modern Sermon, co-edited with Hugh Adlington and Emma Rhatigan (Oxford
University Press, 2011).
Introduction: a context for The Faerie Queene
text subject to this kind of reading, although the extent to which it was
properly read as allegorical was hotly debated in the sixteenth century.
’s behavior by
presenting typological parallels. They expect their audience to hold more
than one story in mind at a time, and to relate them allegorically: the
Bible to current English issues, or Books I and V to recent English events.
19 Ibid., sig. K3.
20 Peter E. McCullough, “A Calendar of Sermons Preached at Court During the Reigns of
Elizabeth I and James I,” a diskette included with Sermons at Court: Politics and Religion
in Elizabethan and Jacobean Preaching, Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British
History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
shortage of preacherly attacks on courtly vices, many
published Elizabethan sermons discuss courtesy in theological terms,
while others analyze or celebrate figures like Abraham, an exemplary host
in a pastoral setting, and Nehemiah, an exemplary courtier – analogues
of figures embodying courtesy in Spenser’s poem.4 Spenserians of the
past eighty years have disagreed about whether the courtesy celebrated
in Book VI of The Faerie Queene is a political strategy, a social grace,
a Christian virtue, or all three,5 but comparing contemporary religious
rhetoric with The Faerie
audience, the moral message, once established, could
inhere in the historical reference. In officially sanctioned religious texts,
at least, the Peasants’ Revolt evoked such a negative response that participants’ names could be brought to bear against the evils of ambition or, as
we will see, the attempted “innovation” of Essex.
Since kings ruled by the will of God, the example of an unsuccessful
rebellion of any magnitude held, at least in Elizabethan sermons, negative
moral value. The failure of such revolts was thus a moral and spiritual, as
well as a political
it haue but one hole where it leaketh, it may make
shipwracke of faith and a good conscience.15
A single fault may have disastrous spiritual consequences. So fragile is the
soul’s poise, in fact, that only a seafaring image can suggest adequate peril.
Sophocles, Horace, and Cicero had compared the political fate of a
state to a storm-tossed ship. For England as an island nation, this conventional figure was especially pointed: preachers used it to symbolize
foreign threats like the Armada, as John Prime did in a 1588 Queen’s
13 Sic (perhaps) for “supplie.” But
(Aldershot, England; Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006).
82 John N. King, Spenser’s Poetry and the Reformation Tradition (Princeton, NJ: Princeton
University Press, 1990), 133, 229; David Norbrook, Poetry and Politics in the English
Renaissance, 2nd edn (1984, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002); Richard Mallette,
Spenser and the Discourses of Reformation England (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska
Allegories of the Armada
an overarching providentialist view of history, which takes in the entire
Bible and all of secular history as its material