The wounding of Spenser's "Faerie Queene": The literal and metaphorical imagery that guides the reader's journey

Christine Monica Manion, Marquette University


In The Fairie Queene, Edmund Spenser writes an "Allegory, of darke conceit" using complex imagery. However, as he seems to offer metaphorical and literal language for interpretation, he also undermines the stability of that language by inverting many of these metaphors--literalizing them. The process of reading these inversions becomes two-fold: the characters interpret the language and images within the narrative while the reader interprets both the characters' actions and their interpretations. This bi-level reading process creates a reader-response situation whereby the reader's educational process runs parallel to that of the characters. However, the reader and characters separate at various points within the narrative when a character fails to read this linguistic world correctly. I assert that Spenser's intention to "fashion" his reader in various virtues lies within the context of first fashioning her in the act of reading and interpreting allegory. My study of the language within this epic includes a close reading of the text that notes linguistic patterns and lessons to be heeded by readers inside and outside of the poem. In an epic about knights and battles, Spenser uses the word "wound" hundreds of times. However, the significance of this image is not only its frequency, but that it is a central image in which Spenser exposes the problematic nature of literal and metaphoric language. "Wounds" are the cornerstone of the plot structure and narrative of the poem, as well as the locus for the exploration of prominent themes such as unrequited love, the sins of pride and lust, libelous friendships, honor, faith, slander, and the gender bias of courtly love. The ambiguous wound imagery forces the reader to constantly recuperate meaning. It compels the reader to pause and reevaluate the assumption that the language contains a definite reality, and thus it educates the reader in the very act of reading. Through the ambiguity of these images, an ambiguity that can be acknowledged but often never resolved, the reader becomes "fashioned" on the Christian virtues within each Book by first being "fashioned" on the virtue of reading.

Recommended Citation

Manion, Christine Monica, "The wounding of Spenser's "Faerie Queene": The literal and metaphorical imagery that guides the reader's journey" (1996). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9634272.