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‘The Faerie Queene Book III: Genealogy and Providential Contingency’

‘The Faerie Queene Book III: Genealogy and Providential Contingency’

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Ian Hennessy. Originally submitted for EN3065 'Medieval and Renaissance Romance' at University College Cork, with lecturer Dr. Andrew King in the category of English Language & Literature
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Ian Hennessy. Originally submitted for EN3065 'Medieval and Renaissance Romance' at University College Cork, with lecturer Dr. Andrew King in the category of English Language & Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
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Essay Question:
6) Discuss the theme of genealogy in Book III of 
The Faerie Queene 
.How is Britomart's epic quest challenged?
Essay Title:
 
The Faerie Queene Book III 
: Genealogy and Providential Contingency
 
 
2
Question: 6) Discuss the theme of genealogy in Book III of
The Faerie Queene 
. How isBritomart's epic quest challenged?
The Faerie Queene 
Book III: Genealogy and Providential Contingency
Britomart‟s genealogy can be broken in
to two different segments. Her 
„regressive‟ genealogyis her concatenation to Brutus, while her „progressive‟ genealogy is her concatenation to
Elizabeth I. Although they are contiguous, their foundations in the narrative are completelydifferent. For this
reason, analysis will be restricted to Britomart‟s progressive genealogy, for 
the additional reason that its formulation and development is concurrent with Britomartherself.
Britomart‟s progressive genealogy is incredibly problematic.
It finds its expression in theinteraction of various themes within the narrative. Providence, destiny, fate, and prophecyform some of the constituent parts of genealogy in Book III, and the success or failure of genealogy as an integral theme in the narrative is contingent on how these themes interact. As such, an examination of these themes and their implications on genealogy is far morefruitful than merely examining genealogy on its own.There is a tension between Britomart on one side and Merlin and the narrator on theother. Britomart continually cites and curs
es fortune, saying it is her “wicked fortune” (III.ii.44)
 
to fall in love with a “body far exyld” (III.ii.44)
and
that “misfortune led” (III.ii.38)
her to look in
her father‟s mirror and see Artegall.
This recurrent citation imputes the aetiological origin of the things that happen to her, and the beginning of her progressive genealogy, on fortune.
This is not to be confused with fortune in the „divine‟ sense, as “[f]ortune has a very strong
claim to be counted [as not being divinity], and nobody will dissociate fortune from
inconstancy and haphazard action, which are certainly unworthy of deity” (Cicero 3.24.61).
 On the other hand, providence is cited both explicitly and implicitly by the narrator as guidinggenealogy. Any doubts about this are extirpated when we look at the Garden of Adonis. It isin the garden of Adonis that regeneration and love (and the product of their synthesis,
 
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genealogy) receive their “grandest affirmation” (Larsen Klein, in Hamilton (g
en. ed.) 302) asprovidentially ordered. However, while this notion of providence as guiding genealogy is apart of the narrative, in an important and crucial way it is separate from the story that issituated in faerie land. The reaffirming of providence is almost extra-diegetic. It is reaffirmedby the overt authorial voice that governs the narrative, and its power comes from theretrospective position that separates the time in which the action in faerie land is occurringand the time in which the story is being narrated. In effect, the narrator is temporally externalto faerie land. For this reason, when examining the theme of genealogy, it is far moreinteresting to abrogate any mention of providence (in the Christian sense) by the narrator asa guiding force entirely. This approach will permit an examination of genealogy in terms of what occurs in faerie land in and of itself,
apart from the narrator‟s interjections and praise of 
providence. The frequency with which the narrator externally cites providence, in contrast to
Britomart‟s citation of fortune, perhaps illustrates an underlying anxiety about genealogy in
light of change, randomness, or mutability. This anxiety is well founded, as we shall see indue course. Apart from the narrator, Merlin is the bulwark of Christian providence, expounding itas the determining factor in genealogy. As
“Providence heuenly passeth liuing thought”
(III.v.27)
according to the narrator, its workings and plan need to be explained by “variousvatic figures” (McCabe, in Hamilton (gen. Ed.) 565).
Merlin
says that Britomart‟s glance intothe mirror was not by chance and that “the streight course of heuenly destiny,
/ Led by
eternal providence” (III.iii.24) is what caused her to look into the mirror and see Artegall. According to Merlin, “the heuens haue ordayned” (III.iii.26) that Britomart and Artegall are to
be together, and they are destined to beget a line
of “fruitful Ofspring” (III.iii.23) leading
directly to Elizabeth I. By having Merlin prophesy the genealogy of Britomart, the text has theconfirmation and reaffirming of a genealogy of aristocracy by a figure that appears in thegenealogy of Britain itself. Th
is „confirmation from within‟, the confirmation of one mythos by
another, extirpates the notion that Merlin is merely a character in the narrative. Rather,Merlin is a structural tool used by Spenser to add credence to the concatenation between

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