The Faerie Queene


Edmund Spenser

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The Faerie Queene: Style 1 key example

Book I: Canto I
Explanation and Analysis:

In The Faerie Queene, Spenser adopts a heavily stylized and ornate style to present his ambitious epic of English history. Throughout the poem, his highly ornamental language is suffused with poetic devices, extended metaphors, and classical allusions that highlight his rhetorical prowess and give the poem a sense of grandeur. In crafting an epic, Spenser frames his poem as a rival to such celebrated classics as The Odyssey and The Aeneid, and he even invents a complex new stanza form, now known as the Spenserian stanza, to meet this formidable goal. This ornate style can be seen in the first stanza of the poem: 

A Gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine, 
Y cladd in mightie armes and siluer shielde, 
Wherein old dints of deepe wounds did remaine, 
The cruell markes of many a bloudy fielde; 
Yet armes till that time did he neuer wield: 
His angry steede did chide his foming bitt, 
As much disdayning to the curbe to yield: 
Full iolly knight he seemd, and faire did sitt,
 As one for knightly giusts and fierce encounters fitt.

These opening lines of The Faerie Queene exemplify the style and structure of the new stanza form that Spenser invents for this poem: eight lines of iambic pentameter (ten syllables per line, with alternating stressed and unstressed syllables) followed by a single Alexandrine line (iambic hexameter, with twelve syllables), with an BABBCBCC rhyme scheme. This is a complex and difficult poetic style, in which lines are carefully interwoven with each other, requiring a good deal of planning. So too does this stanza reflect his lofty and elevated diction, including medieval rhetoric and spelling that was already antiquated by Spenser’s own time, such as “y cladd” for “wearing.”