Tuesday, May 20, 2014

In the House of Holiness - Faerie Queene, Book 1, Canto 10

Speranza's poems
Oscar Wilde's mother was born Jane Frances Elgee, though she later morphed her middle name into Francesca. As a poet, before her marriage, she adopted the pen name "Speranza." More than just some vague personification of Hope, I suspect the future Lady Wilde was thinking of The Faerie Queene when she took her pseudonym.

In canto 9, Spenser lays on the allegorical personages thickly. There's never a doubt about who an individual might be. Una takes the knight to the house of Cælia, with her daughters the Graces, Fidelia, Speranza, and Charissa (Faith, Hope, and Charity).

Then we meet the various servants who attend on Heaven: Humilitá, Zele, Reverence (Humility, Zeal, Reverence). But the real journey in this part of the poem, where—finally—no one is in peril, is the education of the Redcrosse Knight, who (though our allegory of the soul seeking holiness) needs to be prepared. In a way, this is the didactic poem I feared.

But it isn't all being taught by three fair maidens (and you know that Charity is going to cut you some slack on the grading). In order to heal, purge, and purify him so that he can learn from the three, they send the knight to Patience who actually gets to work straightaway. He's got three colleagues, and sure, they say this is for your own good, but
And bitter Penaunce, with an yron whip,
Was wont him once to disple every day:
And sharp Remorse his hart did prick and nip,
That drops of blood thence like a well did play:
And sad Repentance used to embay
His blamefull body in salt water sore,
The filthy blottes of sin to wash away
I don't know. Those three sound as bad as the vices the knight was battling in earlier cantos. Finally, they let up, and the knight gets to meet Mercy. But, wait, there's more.

After the torture from Penance, Remorse, and Repentance, the poor knight still isn't cured, but goes
Eftsoones unto an holy Hospitall,
That was foreby the way, she did him bring;
Happily, no torture here. Gotta rest up after the iron whip, the bloodletting, and the salt in the wounds. Instead, at the hospital, the knight is given a look at
The new Hierusalem, that God has built,
Statue of St. George.
It's in Berlin. I'm not sure why.
which is even nicer than Cleopolis, the city of the Faery Queene (whom, we should note, is Queen Elizabeth herself). Okay, but this is the only place nicer than Cleopolis. We learn that the Redcrosse Knight is none other than Saint George, he of dragon fame, the patron saint of England.
thou Saint George shalt called bee,
 Saint George of mery England, the signe of victoree.’
So, we're not done with the book (I turned the page), but we've hit a point that seems to be devoid of further adventure. What next for our knight?
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