Renaissance Feeling in Spenserian Poetry

Also Read

       The Renaissance reached its flowering time in England about 1590. But it had been long prepared for by the earlier humanists like Wyatt, Surrey, Erasmus, Sir Thomas More, etc. During the early days of Renaissance, the medieval tradition too persisted side by side with it. The earlier humanists were Catholics. In the meantime, the Renaissance had intervened. Henry VIII's breach with Rome marked the initiation of the Reformation in England. Under Henry VIll it did not involve any formal change in liturgy. Queen Elizabeth established the English Church on the middle line and took the role of the Protestant Champion. The revival of letters in the age thus merged into the Protestant revolution. The Puritan side, i.e., insistence on morality was reconciled to the Renaissance ideal namely love for beauty. Spenser was thus at once the child of the Renaissance and the Reformation. "On the one side, he was the sage and serious Spenser" as Milton calls him, "on the other, he is the humanist, alive to the fingertips with the sensuous beauty of southern romance". His poetry particularly the Faerie Queene reflects this fusion.

The Renaissance reached its flowering time in England about 1590. But it had been long prepared for by the earlier humanists like Wyatt, Surrey, Erasmus, Sir Thomas More, etc.

      Spenser had high poetical endowments. An intense love of beauty love of classical art and its deep humanity, freedom of imagination and thought, sense of wonder-all these were the features of his poetic genius. His earlier poems are no mere classical imitations but reveal genuine poetic merits. His Shepheard's Calendar is based on the pastorals of the classical writers like Theocritus, Virgil, Bion and especially Mantuan. It was a great success. The imagination of the poet and the music of his verse have raised it to a high level of art. But Spenser's object was not purely poetic or aesthetic. Like Mantuan, he used the pastoral for religious propaganda. Spenser was a moralist at heart and an ardent Protestant. Hence in the poem, under the cover of the pastoral convention, he struck some shrewd blows at the grim wolves and priests who were stealing the English souls for Rome, at the idle pastors who for 'bellies sake' had crept into the Anglican fold. Thus the elements of the Renaissance and Reformation were harmoniously blended in the 'eclogues'.

      In the Faerie Quene, this fusion of Renaissance love of beauty and mediaeval tradition of moral teaching is effected through allegory. The form is that of the medieval romance, dealing with the adventures of the Knights. The whole poem, consisting of twelve cantos breathes the air of romance. In reading the poem we are transported into the land of medieval romance and chivalry. For beauty long and richly wrought, for subtle and sustained melody, for graphic word-picture, for depth and magical color of atmosphere, the poem stands supreme in English. But that is not all about the poem. The poem is informed with a deep moral earnestness and a desire for teaching. The fusion between poetry and philosophy has been effected through the allegory. As the poet has said in the opening lines of the poem - "Fierce war and faithful love shall moralize my song".

      Spenser meant the Faerie Quene to be a text book of morals and manners for noble and gentle persons, couched in the delightful form of the medieval romance of chivalry. The eternal war of good and evil, that is the theme of the poem. Though love plays a great part in the poem, it is not primarily an allegory of love. Spenser is here concerned with the whole of man's life, seen as a war against evil and sin that beset man. The Knights and ladies of the poem, stand each for a Christian virtue and their trials and sufferings stand for man's spiritual experience Thus more is meant here than meets the eye. The 'allegory' of the poem has been the subject of much discussion. Many have dismissed it lightly. Hazlitt, for example, recommends the poem to the readers with the assurance- "The allegory will not bite you". But the fact remains that the moral allegory is the backbone of the poem, without which it would fall into a mere heap of disjointed episodes. What value it has for the imagination is another question. But to Spenser, it is a highly important consideration. He is no mere decorative artist out to tell a tine-spun story of romance and adventure. It is when his rich pictorial imagination is informed not so much by a moral purpose as by a moral experience that he rises to his greatest heights or poetry. And this he does by means of allegory. As an artistic blend of medieval morality and Renaissance feeling for beauty, the poem is unique in English literature.

Previous Post Next Post