Spenser’s Underworld in the 1590 Faerie Queene

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Using a range of interpretive strategies to reevaluate episodes that portray or relate to hell, this monograph argues that Redcrosse, Guyon and Britomart are on parallel journeys that support a heightened sense of Books I-III as a thematic unit.


“This well-written, wide-ranging, and carefully argued study sheds new light on the thematic unity of the 1590 Faerie Queene (Books 1-3) as well as on the interpretation of specific passages. It details Spenser’s use of figures from both classical and Britannic mythology and his negotiation with contemporary works of theological controversy, popular piety, and social criticism. Some established critical positions are reexamined and extended or corrected; new ground is broken by attention to aspects of Spenser’s cultural milieu previously overlooked.” – Charles A. Huttar, Hope College, Emeritus

“…Fike offers us both new readings of some familiar Spenserian texts and a new way of conceiving the unity of the 1590 Faerie Queene….Fike brings an impressive range of learning to bear, drawing from Freudian and Jungean psychology, scripture, Greek and Roman mythology, and a wide range of recent and earlier Spenser criticism. Most impressive, though, is his use of contemporary social history, reminding us that if we are truly to understand Spenser and his intentions for The Faerie Queene, we must understand his society as well. And that understanding must include the underbelly of Elizabethan culture as well as its more lofty love for classical or biblical learning….Using Thomas Coryate’s description of his encounter with a Venetian courtesan and contemporary attitudes toward London prostitution, Fike leads us to a clearer understanding of Sir Guyon’s virtue, but of his humanity as well….His interest is right where it brings us to the greatest understanding of the poem: on the parallel psychological development of the hero-knights. He demonstrates that far from needing the closure provided by Book IV, Britomart’s adventure in Book III brings its own unity and closure to the 1590 Faerie Queene.” – Russell J. Meyer, University of Southern Colorado

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Preface; Introduction
1. The Art of Dying Well and the Avoidance of Hell in Book I
2. Theseus as Harrower of Hell in Book I
3. Prince Arthur and Christ’s Descent into Hell in Books I and II
4. The Criminal Underworld and Guyon’s Continence in Book II
5. Merlin’s Ambiguous Hell Power in Book III
6. Britomart and the Descent into Hell in Books I-III
Bibliography; Index

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