Frank Cadogan Cowper, Vanity

The Faerie Queen: Reverie, Romance, and Power (In-Person)

Instructor: Rebecca Ariel Porte
BISR Central
68 Jay Street, #308
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Edmund Spenser’s great, unfinished long poem The Faerie Queene presents a microcosm of the anxieties of the Elizabethan Age. Equal parts epic and romance, shot through with political, moral, and religious allegory, the poem reflects the fraught circulations of power in the late sixteenth century—from the upheavals of the Reformation to the traumas of monarchical succession to the bloody wars with France and Spain. It’s also a meditation: on the workings of virtue, vice, authority, economy, gender, sexuality, and art. Drawing on the legacy of Arthurian romance as well as the Italian poet Ariosto’s epic, Orlando Furioso, Spenser’s narrative poem is also poetically innovative, reliant on a novel form now known as a “Spenserian stanza.” Written, at least in part, to help the Irish poet secure a pension from Elizabeth I (who may never have read a word of Spenser’s efforts), the poem is, too, a meditation on patronage and the role of poets and poetry in a rapidly modernizing world. In one of his letters, Marx referred to Spenser as Elizabeth’s “Arschkissende [arse-kissing] poet.” Is Spenser’s poem truly a paean to Elizabeth I and her reign? To what degree is The Faerie Queene a critique? How should we understand its contradictions and its legacy?

In this course, we’ll read long stretches of The Faerie Queene as well as consider its critical and theoretical traditions and its reception history. What is distinctive about Spenser’s poetics? How should we read its complicated allegories? What kind of poem is The Faerie Queene and what kind of propaganda? How should we understand an unfinished poem? What does literary form have to do with the poem’s moral, political, and religious aspirations? How does the poem mix epic and romance and to what ends? This course will contextualize Spenser within his contemporary historical milieu and the work of his contemporaries, including Ben Jonson and Shakespeare, as well as tracing his influence on poetry and literary criticism from Milton to Coleridge, Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley. 

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
June 06 — June 27, 2022
4 weeks


Registration Open

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