'Straunge disguize': Allegory and its discontents in Spenser's "Faerie Queene"

Galina Ivanovna Yermolenko, Marquette University


The study addresses the problem of interpretive ambiguity in The Faerie Queene , focusing on the episodes in which both the characters and the readers 'hesitate' between what is 'real' within the story and what is imaginary, or what is literal and what is figurative. Such interpretive dilemmas lie at the core of the heroes' ability to understand themselves. They must either choose between the two 'readings,' thereby separating the Truth from multiple illusions, or integrate the two into an authentic allegorical vision. Underlying the readers' ambiguous perception of such episodes is the conflict between the 'norm' and the 'deviation from the norm,' i.e., between the standard conventions they come to expect in a narrative allegory and the stylistic violation of these conventions which causes the thwarting of their expectations. Such interpretive ambiguity precludes the successful recuperation of allegorical meanings. The protagonists/readers face not only the challenges of understanding the events presented before them, but also the challenges of reading the obscure figurative forms in which these events are presented. These situations become the esoteric 'texts' which the characters/readers must correctly decode in order to make their 'informed' moral choices. The present study connects the issue of the heroes'/readers' interpretive 'hesitation' in The Faerie Queene with the concomitant textual--stylistic and narrative--processes, working on the structuralist assumption that interpretive ambiguity is represented within the work itself, as well as on the widely accepted premise that the poem's writing modes are heterogenous. The focus is on the parallelism, interplay, and tension between the poem's thematic and formal procedures which produce the gaps between the allegory's straight assertions and the text's subversion of these claims. The term metalepsis is used to mark a transgression/collapse of the distinctions between narrative and allegorical processes, as well as between various narrative perspectives and writing styles. Metalepsis is viewed as both the stylistic analogue and the source of the characters'/readers' interpretive hesitation. Overall, the 'discontents' of Spenser's allegorical method are believed to be the necessary condition for the poem's functioning as a cautionary tale against the seductive dangers of figurative and formal ambiguity.

Recommended Citation

Yermolenko, Galina Ivanovna, "'Straunge disguize': Allegory and its discontents in Spenser's "Faerie Queene"" (2001). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3028686.