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In spite of its name and its unavoidable links with the Arthurian romance of the middle age, the Faerie Queene cannot be considered as a faery tale. Its real roots belong to another kind of tradition, far from the Celtic aesthetic, and which correspond more to th renaissance spirit: Its principal debt go to the Italian epic, particularly Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, because of their common purpose rather allegorical than merely narrative. Actually, it is difficult to recognize the traditional king Arthur in that young man which rescues the failing knights and serves as the major tool to link the different books of Spenser's epic. First of all, it is interesting to notice that Spenser chooses to describe Arthur in his youth and not yet crowned. That is a point which let him more free in the manner to treat the character because the adult age of Arthur was the principal subject of the mainstream of Arthurian literature. Here, Spenser is not obliged to mention the whole universe organized around Arthur (the round table; the complex status of Kai or Guinever) nor the famous Arthurian topics (Guinever's adultery; the Holy Grail). Equally important is the huge gap in deeds between Spencer's prince and the traditional king. In Chretien de Troyes's romances, for instance (but there is many other examples), Arthur and his court are the departure and arrivals of the adventures, but the king himself is far from being an active knight; even, he often seems unable to act when problems disturb his court. Here, Spenser is probably more aware of the memory of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae which describes a more active king in his conquest of Europe and take him from his youth also. Even if a lot of important topics around him are forgotten or changed (Monmouth's account begins with an Arthur of fifteen years old, however already crowned), Spenser keeps the concept (which is older than Monmouth's book) of Arthur as the mythic ancestor of kings of Britain. Actually, that permitted him to sing for Queen Elysabeth's glory through Arthur's deeds, because that archetype of perfect knight is, by this way, at the origin of her lineage and the "magnificence" which is Arthur's can run in her veins. That virtue is not a simple idea. Spenser, in a letter to Sir Walter Raleigh tells that "in the person of Prince Arthure I sette forth magnificence in particular, which vertue for that (according to Aristotle and the rest) it is the perfection of all the rest, and conteineth in it them all". The fact that Aristotle nowhere mentions this virtue is not without signification. Critic Tuve (cf. Allegorical Imaginary pp. 57-143) describes magnificence as a typically Christian virtue. According to that statement, we will base our study on the idea that Spenser tried to make of Prince Arthur an emblematic symbol of two different kind of perfection: first, and quite easy to recognize, is his status of perfect champion in fight as well as in courtesy, and afterwards (but probably above all) his status, more complex, as a symbolic Christian and "elected" knight. The first appearance of Arthur, in Canto 7 of the first book gives immediately - by the length of its description - a foresight of the importance of the character, but it is on the whole of his appearances that he must be judged. His courtesy is developed in book 1, in the way he is able to listen to Una as well as in his quest of the Faerie Queene (in which Spenser set clear allusions to Queen Elysabeth), which is based on model of courtly love poetry of the Middle Ages. Even the best knight as Arthur here, cannot avoid or being superior to Cupid's arrows. The text in itself is explicit: "Whose prouder vaunt that proud avenging boy / Did soone pluck downe, and curbed my libertie" (cf. Book 1, canto 9 stanza 12). With Una, Arthur shows - by convincing her to tell Redcross's story - his ability with verb that recalls knight such as Gawain in most of older middle age romances. His position is also
His perfection in chivalry his clearly set by the situations where he enters in these two books. His rescue of Guyon from Pyrochles and Gymochles (Book 2, canto 8, 17ff.) as well as his manner to release Redcross from the dungeon (book 1, canto 8, 37ff.) are proofs of his superiority on other knights which, however, possess each one a great virtue. But the best example of that superiority shimmers in comparative scenes: the description of Arthur's shield is an echo not only to Achilles's and Aeneus's shields, but also to Redcross's, which is depicted earlier, but in a less high scale of quality and precision (quotation). The Christian knight is a concept typical of the Middle Ages. The French epic "Queste del saint Graal" is one of the most archetypal masterpieces which are based on this idea. However, the English literature is particularly interested in this point. Earlier than the French epic was the old English fragment of Ancrene Wisse (sometimes named Ancrene Riwle) which describes the Christ as a knight coming to rescue Humanity. That fragment is really short but had a strong impact on the English imaginary of chivalry (even if the text himself was utterly forgotten during a long period). A simple example, and the most famous, is Milton's description of Christ leading armies of Heaven against Satan and his fallen angels in Paradise Lost. Spenser uses especially the symbolism of brightness to show how unique is Prince Arthur's status. The shield's brightness reflects the Christian aesthetic of light; pearls in general and particularly the diamond ("But all of damond perfect pure and cleene" cf. book 1, canto 7, stanza 33) are used to express purity (cf. Pearl, quotation). Another worth particularly Christian is Arthur's behaviour of humility. In book 1, for example, the fact that he takes a copy of the New testament from Redcross is not only a Christian act because of the containing of the book , but also by Arthur's acceptance (which shows that he has also things to learn from Redcross). Nonetheless, that must not be considered as a proof of weakness in Arthur's faith, but rather a consciousness of his condition and a pious attitude. The book 2, as an argue, does not shows any moral weakness in the character of Arthur, as shows his impressive defence of the Castle of Alma. The Christian symbolism is everywhere in the confrontation to Maleger (allegory of the Orgueil?) which death is not possible through Arthur's hands (which symbolised the whole of human's virtues) but only through an exterior element: the water, maybe a kind of parallel to the "holy water" as a symbol of the divinity. It is another witness of Arthur's condition as an elected knight. It is also possible to consider Arthur's dream of the Faerie Queene as a kind of spiritual revelation, in the way that it is the origin of his quest for her. And even if here the purpose is not merely religious but courteous, nothing can prevent to interpret the Faerie Queene also as an allegory of the divine light (the rejection of that idea is however generally strong because of the female symbolism which is a properly catholic tradition to which Spenser was opposed). Arthur, as we already said, is the symbolic origin of king's dynasty of England in literature since Monmouth's book. It must not be forgotten that the kings, in that period, are regarded as the men who represent God on the Earth. Thus, it is probably not without reasons that Arthur bear on his helmet a Dragon, which is not only his own symbol ("For all the crest a Dragon did enfold [...]" book 1 canto 7 stanza 31), but also, according to Montmouth, a symbol of England. Effectively, The Prophecies of Merlin gives the account of a fight between two dragons: "The Red Dragon represent people of England who will be overrun by the White One" (cf. History of the kings of Britain, Penguin p.171). If nothing permits to affirm without doubt that link, it is however, an interesting common point. To conclude, it is possible to consider Prince Arthur in the two first book the "perfect knight" not only on Spenser's scale of values but also on an older conception: Marie de France, in the Lay of Guigemar, gives the medieval meaning of the perfect knight as a character which is both courteous
and best on fight. If one knight is the greatest in one virtue but neglect the other one, he cannot be considered as a perfect knight. That's the case of Guigemar, for instance, who is a great fighter but has no interest in courtesy, or at the inverse, of Erec in Chretien de Troyes's romance Erec and Enide who forgets his duties of knight being blinded by his love affair. Here, Arthur keeps the balance between his love for the Faerie Queene and his value as a warrior. Looking at that love in a "quest" conception, he is the opposite mirror of Chaucer's hero, Troilus with his pessimistic and passive attitude in love. Also, Spenser used words such as "magnificience" or "perfection" to define Arthur in a more spiritual way, and it is not astonishing to find the three indo-europeans functions in Arthur’s qualities as Georges Dumezil defines them: his religious success (as a Christic knight) and his kingly lineage are archetypal of the first indo-European function; his strength in fights (quoth) which makes of him the purest warrior is proper to the second function; and finally, his courteous speech to Una and attitude towards the Faerie Queene as well as his brightness and beauty (quoth) belong to an old symbolism of the seductive power, which is linked to the third function. Thus, we can assume that Spenser made of his Prince Arthur a perfect knight not only in a Christian way but also in the manner that "pagan" described the perfect king in pre-Christian myths possessing (concentrating?) the three holy fonctions: as Prince Arthur in the Faerie Queene, we find these characteristics in the character of Charlemagne in the Chanson de Roland or in the scandinavian god Odin in Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda. Finally, in spite of his rare apparitions in the whole, Arthur is the concrete between the bricks of each book. In a way, his quest is the real subject of Spenser's poem and makes him the real hero of the whole teaching - Christian as well as courteous. nging to both worlds (and to none also): the seemingly 'real' world and another, which is at the same time a parody, an inverse of that human world (the 'grotesque' part) but also an Outside, which could correspond to the world of art, closed in itself, with its own rules, quite different from the human 'reality'.
L.A. NOTES: * It is clear than Shakespearian fairy world is not the world of the Dead, despite the place made in the play to Sleep - mythological brother of Death. For that inheritance, we must not search in this play but in Macbeth or Hamlet- where the fairy beings are witches and ghost. ** in On Directing Shakespeare (interview with Peter Brook).
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