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Prudence and her silence: Spenser's use of Chaucer's 'Melibee.' (Edmund Spenser; Geoffrey Chaucer)

In an important recent essay on the relation of Spenser's late lyrics to The Faerie Queene, Paul Alpers is especially concerned to defend Spenser's Melibee, the kindly old shepherd destroyed in the sixth book by marauding brigands, from other readers' charges of laziness, carelessness, or blindness. In terms of traditional morality, Alpers seeks to defend Melibee from the charge of imprudence in the style of his life. To this end he asserts Melibee's "parity" in book 6 with Colin Clout, Spenser's own pastoral persona, who invokes the celebrated vision of the Muses on Mount Acidale.(1) By "parity," Alpers means that both characters "speak with pastoral authority," and therefore that they share the kind of lyric domain that he has earlier defined in a seminal essay on The Shepheardes Calender.(2)

As Alpers conceives this domain in the earlier essay, it is an "'aesthetic space' in terms of rule and authority," and it has "a qualified but nonetheless genuine independence" from history and politics - that is, from a world outside the poem. According to Alpers, its independence resembles the legal concept of demesne or, more generally, that implied by the word domain itself, a cognate of demesne similarly derived from Latin dominium. F. W. Maitland explains the legal concept of demesne as follows:

The ultimate (free) holder, the person who stands at the bottom of the scale, who seems most like an owner of the land, and who has a general right of doing what he pleases with it, is said to hold the land in demesne.(3)

As Alpers translates this definition to a poetic domain, the freeholder has "a kind of literary authority" over his lyric realm - whence the authority he attributes equally to Colin and Melibee, the focal singers of pastoral in book 6.

Much of Alpers' argument for the parity of these two pastoral figures hinges on their origin as "two kinds of pastoral song" in Vergil's first Eclogue.(4) For Alpers, the name of Spenser's Melibee evidently derives from that of Vergil's exiled Meliboeus, and in book 6 Melibee represents the "wisdom of the fortunatus senex," although he must represent it somewhat paradoxically since he turns out to be considerably less than fortunatus. Albeit not in name, Colin similarly derives from Vergil's more fortunate Tityrus in the same eclogue. Together, Vergil's Meliboeus and Tityrus voice two versions of pastoral, the one belonging to the romantic woodlands ("silvestrem musam") and the other to the open fields ("calamo agresti"). Spenser subsequently realigns these landscapes with Colin and Melibee, giving Melibee the fields, and Colin-Tityrus the "wood/Of matchlesse hight."(5)

I agree that Spenser draws on Vergil's Eclogue and that Melibee and Colin can be paired in the way Alpers outlines, but I also think that their pairing is greatly complicated by other ancestors, particularly by two of the native British ones, whose lineal burden is moral and whose bearing on the pastoral cantos limits their authority. This is particularly true in the case of Melibee, on whom my essay will focus, since he is the more problematic figure who is sacrificed to enable and to define Colin's paradisal landscape. Yet even in Colin's case, there are qualifying signs that hedge his lyric authority. His name comes directly from moral contexts - from Skelton's moral complaint Collyn Clout and from an eclogue by Marot, a poet who figures the moral dilemma of withdrawal and engagement, or - in Annabel Patterson's more politicized phrasing - of accommodation and dissent.(6)

Melibee's name carries a warning still stronger than Colin's. It alludes not only to Vergil's Meliboeus, who is dispossessed of his native lands and driven into exile, but also, with equal clarity, to Chaucer's relentlessly moral tale of a culpable Melibee. Chaucer's Prudence, the wife of Melibee, renders his name, "a man that drynketh hony," indeed, one who has "ydronke so muchel hony of sweete temporeel richesses, and delices . . . of this world," that he is "dronken" and has forgotten the conditions of his creaturely existence.(7) In Chaucer's tale, Melibee is clearly imprudent. Enemies break into his house, beat his wife, and wound his daughter Sophie, because, as Prudence informs him, "thou hast . . . nat defended thyself suffisantly agayns hire assautes" (C, 1422; xc[i.sup.r]). His plight thus bears a suggestive resemblance to that of Spenser's Melibee, whose dwelling the lawless brigands invade and whom they spoil "of all he had." In Spenser, Melibee and his aged wife are then with "his people captiue led away," conspicuous among them, his adopted daughter Pastorella - "little pastoral" (S, 6.10.39-40).

To borrow Alpers' terminology, Melibee is a poetic freeholder who mistakenly thinks that his only care is to "attend" - ambiguously to tend or merely to expect and await - what is his. As he serenely imagines it,

The litle that I haue, growes dayly more Without my care, but onely to attend it; My lambes doe euery yeare increase their score, And my flockes father daily doth amend it. What haue I, but to praise th'Almighty, that doth send it?

(S, 6.9.21)

The ready ease of Melibee's question intimates its complacency, which is lent a comic cast by the wavering referent of the phrase "my flockes father" (the ram or the deity) and the disyllabic rhyme (amend it/send it). Unfortunately, Melibee cannot so carelessly maintain his pastoral domain in the face of hostile intruders who imprison, enslave, and destroy its inhabitants (S, 9.21). Without admitting the inescapability of a reality outside his idyll, he is simply doomed - that is, judged. The judgment is at once cruel and biblically resonant.(8)

Even in summaries so brief and allusive, the invitation to read allegorically and morally is insistent in both Chaucer's and Spenser's tales of Melibee. In addition to basic plot and tropology, further coincidences between the concerns of the two works are distinctive. Both make the invention - here understood as the "discovery" and the "imposition" - of allegorical meaning problematical. Both make inescapably obvious a strain between a purposeful, interiorized allegorical interpretation and a more simply and externally fortuitous one. Notoriously, at one point in Chaucer's Melibee, for example, Prudence tells her husband that he should be merciful to his enemies and at another that their attack on his daughter is analogous to the assaults of "the three enemys of mankynde - that is to seyn, the flessh, the feend, and the world," whom Melibee has suffered to enter into his "herte wilfully by the wyndowes of . . . [his] body, . . . so that they han wounded . . . [his] soule in fyve places" (C, 1420-22). If we employ an allegorical reading consistently, Prudence is in the curious position of advising Melibee to go easy on the world, the flesh, and the devil when she counsels forgiveness; if we discount her analogy, we fly in the face of Wisdom, Sophia, his daughter Sophie's figurative identity.(9) At the outset of the tale, it is Sophie who has been wounded in five places, suggesting the vulnerability of the senses, and in the preceding quotation it is she who explicitly represents Melibee's wounded soul.(10) Given the interpretive strain in the tale between interiorized and exteriorized readings, we have cause additionally to reflect on a homologous disparity between wisdom and prudential knowledge, or, more simply, between ultimate ends and appropriate means. These are considerations that apply with peculiar force both to the conduct of the good life and to a poetics meant to delight as well as to instruct; thus they also apply to the styles chosen for the complementary arenas of life and poetry.

Comparably, in Spenser's sixth book, Melibee's kindness to Pastorella, the foundling whom he has adopted, his hospitality to the errant knight Calidore, and the wisdom evident in his Boethian stoicism - "It is the mynd, that maketh good or ill,/That maketh wretch or happie, rich or poore" - contrast starkly with his harsh fate at the hands of the brigands (S, 6.9.30). In an allegorical poem such a fate implies that he has seriously erred in some way, and once this suspicion arises - a likelihood that his resemblance to Chaucer's culpable Melibee increases - many of the verses he sings fall under its shadow. Take these lines characterizing his lifestyle for another striking example:

To them, that list, the worlds gay showes I leaue, And to great ones such follies doe forgiue,

Me no such cares nor combrous thoughts offend, Ne once my minds vnmoued quiet grieue, But all the night in siluer sleepe I spend, And all the day, to what I list, I doe attend.

Sometimes, Melibee adds,

I hunt the Fox, the vowed foe Vnto my Lambes, and him dislodge away; Sometime the fawne I practise from the Doe, Or from the Goat her kidde how to conuay; Another while I baytes and nets display, The birds to catch, or fishes to beguyle: And when I wearie am, I downe doe lay My limbes in euery shade, to rest from toyle, And drinke of euery brooke, when thirst my throte doth boyle.

(S, 6.9.22-23)

Pondering the intricacies of Melibee's ancestry, I sometimes dally with the surmise that Spenser had seen a manuscript copy of Marlowe's "Passionate Shepherd" and that his treatment of Melibee's fate is the first of the many replies to it, of which his friend Ralegh's is the best known.(11) By Alpers' definition in yet another work, Melibee's is the landscape of idyllic pastoral, which "responds to and is in a sense created by man's desires," and it is woefully vulnerable to assault from other kinds of reality.(12) Like Chaucer's, Spenser's Melibee has drunk too much honey and has forgotten the realities of his creaturely existence. He has blurred the mind's domain, which "maketh good or ill, . . . wretch or happie, rich or poore," with the world's, and his error highlights the division of mind and world that has been an urgent pressure in the poem since the outset of book 4, the beginning of the 1596 installment. Still more to the immediate point, the idyllic landscape at issue belongs to Melibee; it is his creation, one that exists in his voice, and not in the narrator's. It is where he lives, or has his being.

That it is landscape at all is important, since the meaning of landscape itself is an issue in book 6. The hapless Serena's problems might be said to have started when she carelessly stepped into an allegorical landscape in canto 3: thus "Allur'd with myldnesse of the gentle wether,/And pleasaunce of the place," she "Wandred about the fields, as liking led/Her wauering lust [that is, 'pleasure,' 'delight,' 'desire'] after her wandring sight" (S, 23; emphasis added). She does nothing specifically wrong, but her simplest actions and inactions become morally significant. Landscape in book 6 is not simply neutral or innocent; it comes charged with meaning. Similarly, Melibee's spending all night in silver sleep or attending all day to what he pleases ("listes," that is "lustes"), his laying his limbs in every shade, or drinking from every fountain suggest his vulnerability, his imprudence, his willful misperception of related dimensions of meaning.(13)

Alpers has astutely observed that Melibee can have a pastoral voice and "be a pastoral figure [precisely] because he has been at court," and thus, that "having crossed the boundary within which he now dwells," he is "conscious of it and the choice it represents." Indeed, "he is even a figure of the poet," specifically in his pastoral guise, and in short is a "courtly and humanist self-representation."(14) After all, "little pastoral," the courtly scion Pastorella, is Melibee's adopted daughter, not his natural one. But if Melibee is a figure of the poet, the implications of his enlarged consciousness for his careless way of life are especially worrisome. Melibee may sing of the "sweet peace" of his "natiue home" and of the "lowly quiet life" that he inherits, but he is himself no longer innocent of what Calidore terms "fortunes wrackfull yre" (S, 6.9.25, 27). Having sold himself for ten years as a worker in the "Princes gardin," Melibee has been alienated by the "vainenesse" he found there. Thus "Long deluded/With idle hopes" and thoroughly disillusioned with the Court, he has finally returned to his sheep (S, 9.24-25).

At moments we glimpse in Melibee's figure the shadowy silhouette of an Adam who would return to the Garden; at others, we glimpse a reflection of the courtly poet whose adopted home is the Irish countryside, where "sweet peace" in the sixteenth century is illusory or fleeting. Like Melibee, the Faerie Queene's poet has also withdrawn in disillusionment from the Court and has gone home again to the country, the domain of his own persona Colin Clout. The striking similarities between Melibee's reasons for abandoning the Court, the narrator's apology for Calidore's choosing to do likewise, and, in Colin Clouts Come Home Again, Colin's own warnings about the Court offer additional support for the perception of a resemblance between the two singers.(15) Implicit in this perception is an analogy between the pressures on the demesne of an imperiled landholder in troubled Ireland and the pressures on the demesne of pastoral - the pressures, in short, on Colin Clout's home-country.(16)

Hearing the stanzas describing Melibee's idyll, Calidore hangs "still vpon" the shepherd's "melting mouth attent;/Whose sensefull words empierst his hart" (S, 6.9.26). Although the word sensefull can mean "sensible," in the context of a melting mouth and "pleasing tongue," the meanings "sensuous" and "sensual" are more pertinent and distantly recall the sense wounds of Melibee's Sophie in Chaucer's tale. Between the attractions of Melibee's words and Pastorella's face, Calidore is suggestively described as having "lost himselfe" and having grown "halfe entraunced." Like Melibee's name, "honey drinker" (mel bibens) or "honey toned" [Greek Text Omitted] the enchanting power of his melting mouth and "pleasing tongue" stirs memories of other "charmed speeches" in the poem and of another "tongue, like dropping honny, [which] mealt'h/Into the hart" (S, 1.9.30, 31). I quote, of course, a description of the subtle power of Despair in book 1, which is drawn from the very canto, the ninth, that corresponds to Melibee's pastoral in book 6. Such coincidences are usually significant in The Faerie Queene, and since this one directly precedes another in both books, namely a tenth-canto mount of vision in both, it is all the more likely to be so.

If even Acidale, the name of Colin's visionary mount in book 6, can hint at accidia, sloth or despair, as Renwick and Nelson long ago suggested, and if this Mount can be said to overlook the vale, at once in the senses "survey," "look beyond," and "neglect," it is not surprising that a disturbing element of retreat should accrue to Melibee, the pastoral figure who has withdrawn, disillusioned, from the Court. Consider again those famous lines of Despair, "Sleepe after toyle, port after stormie seas,/Ease after warre, death after life does greatly please," in conjunction with snatches of Melibee's song: "And when I wearie am, I downe doe lay/My limbes in euery shade, to rest from toyle," for "Me no such cares nor combrous thoughts offend,/Ne once my minds vnmoued quiet grieue,/But all the night in siluer sleepe I spend." When Calidore hears in such words the promise of a state in which a knight might ever "dwell at ease," free "From all the tempests of these worldly seas,/Which toss the rest in daungerous disease," his response is both ominous and understandable (S, 6.9.19).

Spenser's sixth book is well known to be laden with memories of book 1, conspicuous among them not only the tenth-canto mount of vision but also the invocation of the Spenserian poet's pastoral origin and the appearance of the "sib to great Orgolio" in the cantos immediately before Melibee's. Other memories - for example, of sleep and shade and a carelessly "vnweeting" drink from a weary nymph's fountain - are less distinct, but nonetheless present. Perhaps all these memories have been written into the last book, because, like the first, it fundamentally concerns how we perceive, interpret, and represent what is real.

Herein lies another connection between Spenser's tale of Melibee and Chaucer's. Regardless of what degree of seriousness or satire we attribute to Chaucer's Melibee and its companion piece Sir Thopas, these are the only two Canterbury tales told by a figure representing the poet himself, and together they afford contrasting meditations on the poet's craft. Not surprisingly, in view of the recurrent refractions of Sir Thopas throughout The Faerie Queene, Spenser's version of Chaucer's Melibee continues this meditation. From The Shepherdes Calender, which launched Spenser's poetic career, through the epic romance that dominated it, Spenser claimed Chaucer as the "auctour" whose work he emulated "through infusion sweete/Of . . . [Chaucer's] owne spirit" (S, 4.2.34). Like Spenser's refractions of Thopas, his tale of Melibee casts light on what he made of his "auctours" work and hence how he read it.

Both Chaucer's and Spenser's tales of Melibee are in some sense prudential works, and prudence is by definition a virtue committed to time and to memory. According to Aristotle, prudence concerns "what sorts of thing[s] conduce to the good life in general." It therefore pertains to what is "good and expedient" for a person, "not in some particular respect" such as health or strength, but more broadly. Yet prudence, while conducing to the good life, remains a practical, as distinct from a philosophic, wisdom. Its sphere of activity is this world, and it is essentially informed by history. Prudence is "a reasoned and true state of capacity to act with regard to human goods" or, more tellingly, with regard to "the things that are good or bad for man."(17) Chiefly it involves how we ought to achieve a desirable end and thus guides the means we choose.(18)

Since prudence is a practical and virtuous guide to the attainment of the good life, it (she in the instance of Chaucer's tale) draws heavily on the resources of traditional wisdom, on the thesauri or treasures of time. Indeed, prudence is defined both by Aristotle and Aquinas as an "intellectual virtue . . . engendered and fostered by experience and time," that is, by the cumulative memories of many generations about many things. As Chaucer's Prudence puts it, "in olde men is the sapience, and in longe tyme the prudence" (C, 1163; lxxxvii[i.sup.r]). Similarly for Aquinas, prudence at once "requires the memory of many things" and "experience which is made up of many memories."(19) It is "a virtue most necessary for human life," for it "learns from the past and present about the future."(20) Appropriately, in Spenser's allegory of prudence in book 2, the sages of Alma's brain turret represent three aspects of prudence, namely, memory, judgment, and foresight, or, as Cicero describes them, "memoria, intellegentia, providentia," the faculties by which we discern what has been, what is, and what is yet to come.(21)

Lee Patterson has described Chaucer's Melibee as a "prudential florilegi[um]," a fact that is evident enough: the major voice in the tale is that of Prudence, who lectures Melibee tirelessly, and her lectures consist largely of proverbs, apothegms, and other sententious expressions: for resonant examples, "every wys man dredeth his enemy," "weleful is he that of alle hath drede," "the wise man that dredeth harmes, eschueth harmes," "in alle wise flee ydelnesse," "For right as the body of a man may nat lyven withoute the soule, namoore may it lyve withouten temporeel goodes."(22) Prudence might well have added, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's."(23) Her lectures afford a sometimes dizzying mix of morally righteous sentiments with worldly wise ones. She can parry quotations with her husband or rise to moral heights - "he that may have the lordeshipe of his owene herte is moore to preyse than he that by his force or strengthe taketh grete citees" (C, 1515; xci[i.sup.r]). Her copious mode of discourse, which would be right at home in the early modern period, encapsulates the treasures of cultural time and experience and thereby characterizes her prudential and practical nature.(24)

At times the sententiae invoked in the Melibee seem to debate the nature, use, and worth of honey (mel) itself. For example, Melibee praises Prudence's counsel by citing Solomon's view that "wordes . . . spoken discreetly by ordinaunce been honycombes, for they yeven swetnesse to the soule and hoolsomnesse to the body" (C, 1112; lxxxvi[i.sup.v]). But Prudence later rebukes Melibee's indulgence in worldly delights by remembering "the wordes of Ovide, that seith,/'Under the hony of the goodes of the body is hyd the venym that sleeth the soule,'" and likewise Solomon, who also "seith, 'If thou hast founden hony, ete of it that suffiseth,/for if thou ete of it out of mesure, thou shalt spewe'" (C, 1413-16; xc[i.sup.r]). In accordance with Melibee's citation, Prudence's discourse is a spiritual pleasure and a cache of cultural nourishment - indeed, it is a honeycomb.(25) Digesting her copia, however, and noting Melibee's difficulty more often than not in doing the same, readers might also recall the Chaucerian persona's grimly facetious warning that the Melibee will contain "somwhat moore/Of proverbes than ye han herd bifoore," and they might perversely connect these with the very excess of which Prudence speaks, an excess that results in rejection, or "spewing" (C, 955-56; lxxxv[i.sup.r]). Although so ironic a reading may itself be Melibean, the combination of wisdom and "sensefull" indulgence in Spenser's Melibee suggests a corrective response to an excess perceived as being too one-sidedly moral. Unfortunately, however, the correction introduces as many problems for the portrayal of a honey drinker as it resolves: while Spenser's Melibee is humanly more complex than either main character in Chaucer's tale, his voice is less simply moral (or immoral), and his fate more disturbingly real.

Like the discourse of the characters in Chaucer's Melibee, that of Spenser's Melibee is strikingly sententious and at crucial moments specifically proverbial. It is surely significant that he hits his proverbial high point in the stanzas for which he is justly most admired:

In vaine (said then old Meliboe) doe men The heauens of their fortunes fault accuse, Sith they know best, what is the best for them:

For not that, which men couet most is best, Nor that thing worst, which men doe most refuse; But fittest is, that all contented rest With what they hold: each hath his fortune in his brest

It is the mynd, that maketh good or ill, That maketh wretch or happie, rich or poore: For some, that hath abundance at his will, Hath not enough, but wants in greatest store; And other, that hath litle, askes no more, But in that litle is both rich and wise. For wisedome is most riches; fooles therefore They are, which fortunes doe by vowes deuize, Sith each vnto himselfe his life may fortunize.

(S, 6.9.29-30)

Both Shakespeare and Milton knew the appeal of these lines, which draw on at least nine proverbial expressions. One, "A man is the architect of his own fortunes," which is particularly attractive in Plautus' version, "Nam sapiens quidem pol ipsus fingit fortunam sibi [For I tell you a man, a wise man, molds his own destiny]," is even repeated: a form of it appears in Melibee's first alexandrine and again in his second. Other proverbs active in these stanzas include "Accusing Fortune is only excusing ourselves," "We desire what is forbidden," "Happy is the man who is content with his own lot," "Good and evil are chiefly in the mind," "The more a man has, the more he desires," "The greatest wealth is contentment with a little," "Wisdom is wealth," and "He is a fool who plans for a fortune by vows."(26)

In the eighteenth century, Thomas Warton suggested that the Melibee's last two lines derive from the conclusion of Juvenal's Satire 10, known to readers of the Loeb edition as "The Vanity of Human Wishes." In view of Melibee's unfortunate capture and death, Juvenal's concluding lines shade into irony: "Nullum numen habes, si sit prudentia; nos te,/nos facimus, Fortuna, deam caeloque locamus [Thou wouldst have no divinity. O Fortune, if we had but . . . (prudentia, 'prudence'); it is we that make a goddess of thee, and place thee, in the skies]."(27) The question they raise is whether Melibee, who, like Chaucer's Melibee, embraces the honeyed power of words, but whose aged wife, unlike the one in Chaucer's tale, is noticeably voiceless, really does have prudence.

In sharp contrast to the stanzas just quoted, Melibee's speech in canto 9 includes other forms of discourse whose content bypasses a traditional moral burden. The most striking of these are the idyllic stanzas earlier cited, which include not a single proverb. Memorably attractive as these are and much as they bear a general resemblance to Marlowe's "Passionate Shepherd" and to Tasso's treatment of the old shepherd who comforts Erminia, their honeyed indulgence is distinctively Spenser's, or rather, Melibee's own.(28) Their indulgence and their distance from traditional moral wisdom urge again the question of Melibee's prudence.

Several statements in Patterson's essay on Chaucer's Melibee fit Spenser's redaction surprisingly well, and they further suggest how the tale of Spenser's "auctour" interacted with his own concerns. In Patterson's view, Chaucer's Melibee has an "unrelenting commitment to the historical world." It "describes a world of harsh deeds and serious consequences, in which the man of action must make his way by means of a pragmatic prudence."(29) Patterson considers the Melibee an educational work, plausibly meant for the young Richard II, and characterizes the effect of its accumulated sententiae as authoritative, disciplinary, and illiberal. But even while the Melibee enforces the dominant ideology, it is shot through with pedagogical contradictions. These include opposite directives - on the one hand to examine thoughtfully, on the other merely to memorize - and comic ineffectiveness, since Melibee repeatedly misinterprets the counsel Prudence offers.(30) The Melibee thus "represents a writer who may have bowed before his social [ideological?] responsibilities but remains acutely aware of both the cost and the meager returns" of doing so.(31)

While Spenser's tale of Melibee may not belong to a genre of educational books meant for aristocratic youths, it does belong to the book of The Faerie Queene most explicitly concerned with the rearing of children (Bruin's baby, Tristram, Pastorella) and to one that draws openly on a genre of courtesy books meant for the instruction of courtiers. The concentration of proverbs in Melibee's counsel, however ambivalent their ultimate worth, also conspicuously reflects the logical and rhetorical practices that humanist educators recommended as a primary means of linguistic empowerment.(32) Moreover, in the instance of Melibee's fate, the commitment of this Faerie book to history is inescapably compelling. Here history is understood not only as "a world of harsh deeds and serious consequences" but also as memory and experience - in Cicero's words, as "vero testis temporum, lux veritatis, vita memoriae, magistra vitae, nuntia vetustatis [the witness of times past, the light of truth, the life of memory, the guide of life, the messenger of age]."(33) History so characterized is prudential. In The Faerie Queene, it specifically includes the memories and experiences of earlier books of the poem and the related temporality of narrative, particularly within book 6 itself. Understood in these ways, history bears heavily on an interpretation of Melibee's pastoral authority.

I have noted already the memories of book 1 in the canto dominated by Melibee's voice, and these memories extend to other books as well. For example, a memory of book 2, of Guyon's debate with Mammon on the threshold of the Cave, pushes the measure of Melibee's prudence toward a worldly wisdom that is anxious and unillusioned. Guyon's righteous rejection of material wealth and power, which is construed in his faint as a rejection of the material means of existence, has a certain resemblance to Melibee's indignant rejection of the gold Calidore offers him in return for his hospitality (S, 2.7.8, 10, 16). Extending a "golden guerdon" to Melibee, Calidore tells him it "may perhaps you better much withall,/And in this quiet make you safer liue" (S, 6.9.32). Arguably, Calidore offers Melibee the means to protect himself, but Melibee, thrusting away the gold, replies,

Sir knight, your bounteous proffer Be farre fro me, to whom ye ill display That mucky masse, the cause of mens decay, That mote empaire my peace with daungers dread.

(S, 6.9.33)

In similar terms, Guyon had rejected the "worldly mucke" that "with sad cares [would] empeach our natiue ioyes" (S, 2.7.10, 15). Melibee, like Guyon, thinks he can avoid the ways of the world, and like him, he ironically becomes an "image of mortalitie," a fallen monument to the reality of material existence (S, 2.1.57). Melibee's defiance is admirable, but in worldly terms it turns out to be as unrealistic as Guyon's, and in Melibee's world, the lack of realism is willful.

Like Melibee, the poet who wrote The Faerie Queene was a dreamer, but he was also the embattled colonist who wrote A View of the Present State of Ireland at just about the time book 6 was being published. As the View starkly demonstrates, he had every reason to respect the material underpinings of power, including the power of defense. Not so coincidentally, perhaps, defense also occupies a conspicuous but ambiguous position in the counsel of Chaucer's Prudence, where the opposition of material to moral considerations may favor the moral ones but does so in terms that ironically facilitate worldly readings: if a stranger falls into your company, for example, "enquere thanne as subtilly as thou mayst of his conversacion, and of his lyf before, and feyne thy way; say that thou [wolt] thider as thou wolt nat go;/and if he bereth a spere, hoold thee on the right syde, and if he bere a swerd, hoold thee on the lift syde" (C, 1294-1338, here 1310-12, lxxx[x.sup.r]; see also 1422, xc[i.sup.r]). Anxious, unillusioned, realistic, prudential: take your pick. The realities of travel in the fourteenth century lie near the surface of Prudence's advice.

In the presentation of Spenser's Melibee, recollections of book 6 itself are among the most immediate and telling memories of our earlier experience of the poem. Grounds for them begin with the first canto, which, like the opening cantos of all the other books in The Faerie Queene, signals the appropriate ways of reading and the thematic problems of the current quest. In it, Calidore encounters and overpowers Briana's churl, who has been charged with the shameless task of collecting a mantle of men's beards and ladies' locks. Calidore catches the fleeing churl in the porch of Briana's castle and cleaves

his head asunder to his chin. The carkasse tumbling downe within the dore Did choke the entraunce with a lumpe of sin, That it could not be shut, whilest Calidore Did enter in, and slew the porter on the flore.

(S, 6.1.23)

At this point other defenders of the castle flock about Calidore

and hard at him did lay, But he them all from him full lightly swept, As doth a Steare, in heat of sommers day, With his long taile the bryzes brush away.

(S, 6.1.24)

For a moment it all sounds so easy - Calidore's furious violence transmuted with the flick of a steer's tail to a pastoral landscape. But when he encounters Briana in the next stanza, she upbraids him in terms that challenge this transmutation:

False traytor Knight, (sayd she) no Knight at all, But scorne of armes that hast with guilty hand Murdred my men, and slaine my Seneschall; Now comest thou to rob my house vnmand, And spoile my selfe, that can not thee withstand?

(S, 6.1.25)

Of course, Calidore, though much abashed, denies any shame, imputing it instead to those who first "breake bands of ciuilitie." While the moral strength of his position is clear, it does not cancel the excessive fury in his response or, more importantly for my purpose, the dissonance of the simile of the inoffensive steer with his bloody dispatch of Briana's defenders.

The poet's inclusion of Briana's rebuke insists on this dissonance, which prefigures major stylistic and thematic movements of book 6. Two later and relevantly contrasting examples are the transformation of Ariadne's grief and of the violence of the Centaurs and Lapiths into an image of cosmic order on Mount Acidale, and the transformation of Melibee's idyllic landscape into a wasteland. In these examples as well, a peaceful or harmonious fiction opposes a violent actuality. Both assay the relation of artifice, indeed, of anything essentially inward and mind-made, to a force outside the mind's domain (or demesne).

By the time we reach the pastoral cantos of book 6, large themes and patterns have already been well established. The relation of fortune to human desire, of what is given to what is willed and sought, has been an evolving theme to this point, as has the more specific relation of repose to the threat of external forces.(34) When such focal themes recur in Melibee's landscape, we are likely to remember earlier incidents. For example, when Melibee sings, "But all the night in siluer sleepe I spend," it is a sleepy reader who does not recall that every time characters relax, let alone sleep, in book 6, they are threatened or actually wounded: thus Aladine, Calepine, Serena (three times), and Arthur himself. That Melibee's unbroken "siluer sleepe" generically recalls other poems praising the country no more neutralizes its diction or insulates it from its present context in book 6 than the virtual identity of the blazon of Serena's physical attractions with the blazons of early modern sonnets alters the transforming fact that in book 6 the blazon figures the perception of cannibals. The sixth book, whose arch-villain is a blatant and beastly misuser of language, is fundamentally about words, about interpretations, and, by a further extension, about poetic forms. The inclusion within the book of conventional forms such as moral proverbs and pastoral lyrics subjects their powers and limitations - their authority - to exploration and assessment. It is supremely appropriate that Chaucer's Melibee, the prose work in which the poet examines the demands and costs of historical engagement, should loom large in the genealogy of Spenser's lyrical tale of his own honey drinker.

The larger context of book 6 might be said to encompass its pastoral cantos, as they in turn encompass the vision on Mount Acidale, and as the entire book is encompassed by what is beyond it. On the face of it, such encompassing contexts might seem to resemble those of The Shepheardes Calender, the pastoral domain Alpers originally assigns the Spenserian poet, and might seem to be simply more layered and complex than the Calender is. Looked at more closely, however, they partake of a difference not simply of density, but also of kind. The Calender is not a narrative or allegorical form to anywhere near the extent that book 6 is, and this is a major reason why the poet of The Calender presides more easily and fully over his domain than Melibee does. In contrast, the lyric moments of book 6 are embedded in narrative, even as book 6 is embedded in history, the poetry of past times included. The Blatant Beast that rends the poet's rhymes at the end is analogous to the brigands who waste Melibee's landscape, and thus the poem as a whole is analogous to the pastoral cantos (S, 6.12.40-41). What is at stake in these cantos is immense, since it involves their relationship not merely to pastoral, but also to memory, to allegory and narrative, and, in a broad sense, to history.

If Chaucer's Melibee is a work in which the writer "remains acutely aware of both the cost and the meager returns" of engaging history, then Melibee's fate in Spenser's redaction might be considered the "cost" and Colin's vision on Mount Acidale the "return," which is arguably not so meager. Melibee is sacrificed on the altar of prudence, in this case mainly a blind for realism, in order to enable and implicitly to delimit Colin's still greater liberty. Melibee provides both the initial repose and the qualifying conditions that even an imagined, momentary access to a vision like that on Mount Acidale requires. Thus the pastoral cantos of book 6 both affirm the recreative powers of pastoral and renounce pastoral innocence, a paradoxical conclusion with which Alpers would agree, although for different reasons.(35) Conveniently, it is a conclusion that the depiction of Melibee anticipates and the fate of Melibee seals.

Indiana University


1 Paul Alpers, "Spenser's Late Pastorals," ELH 56 (1989): 797-817, here 797-99. Alpers cites observations of Harry Berger and of Humphrey Tonkin to represent negative assessments of Melibee (797). In May, 1989, Alpers delivered an earlier version of this article as the Kathleen Williams Lecture for "Spenser at Kalamazoo," and I responded formally to it. While I consider the published version of his thoughtful lecture persuasive on its own terms, I also note that it omits the crucial portions of Spenser's pastoral cantos and more generally of book 6 that contest his argument. Moreover, it avoids entirely the relevance of Chaucer's Melibee to Spenser's, and the consequences this relevance entails. I therefore think it appropriate to develop my own earlier view here.

2 Alpers, "Pastoral and the Domain of Lyric in Spenser's Shepheardes Calender," in Representing the English Renaissance, ed. Stephen Greenblatt (1985; rpt., Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1988), 163-80.

3 Alpers, "Domain of Lyric" (note 2), 174-75, and OED, s.v. demesne.

4 Alpers, "Late Pastorals" (note 1), 798.

5 Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, in Works: A Variorum Edition, ed. Edwin Greenlaw, Charles Grosvenor Osgood, Frederick Morgan Padelford, and Ray Heffner, 11 vols. (1938-57; rpt., Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1966), 6.10.6. Subsequent references are to this edition, cited parenthetically in the text and abbreviated S.

6 Annabel Patterson, Pastoral and Ideology: Virgil to Valery (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1987), 119, 123.

7 The Tale of Melibee, in The Riverside Chaucer, 3d ed, ed. Larry D. Benson (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), lines 1409-11; hereafter cited parenthetically in the text and abbreviated C. I have chosen to cite quotations of Chaucer from this edition, rather than from an early modern one, because the lines in it are numbered, an essential aid to reference in a piece of medieval prose. But I have also checked the quotations against the Renaissance edition accessible in a facsimile, whose folio page is cited after each reference; any significant discrepancy between the two editions is noted. Folio references are to Chaucer, Works 1532, with Supplementary Material from the Editions of 1542, 1561, 1598, and 1602 (London: Scolar, 1969), here [xci.sup.r].

8 I have discussed the religious dimensions of book 6, including nuances pertaining to Melibee, in The Growth of a Personal Voice: "Piers Plowman" and "The Faerie Queene" (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1976), 157-59, 173-77, 177-84. In view of my previous work on Melibee, to which the present essay is indebted, I have treated the textual details of his depiction only to the extent needed to argue the full pertinence of Chaucer's Melibee to Spenser's.

9 Paul Strohm, "The Allegory of the Tale of Melibee," Chaucer Review 2 (1967): 32-42; and Charles A. Owen, Jr., "The Tale of Melibee," Chaucer Review 7 (1973): 267-80, have admirably treated the allegorical inconsistencies in Chaucer's tale. At bottom, however, both consider these apparent rather than significant, as they become when they are viewed through the interpretive lens of The Faerie Queene. Following Donald R. Howard's distinction between the sources (world, flesh, and devil) and the human perpetrators of Melibee's misfortune [The Idea of the Canterbury Tales (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1976), 312], John M. Hill defends the rational consistency of the passages at issue, but he also acknowledges that in the allegorical terms the tale employs the analogy they imply is flawed. Hill, Chaucerian Belief: The Poetics of Reverence and Delight (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1991), 120.

10 C, 969-72, 1423; [lxxxv.sup.v], [xci.sup.r]. At the outset, the text identifies Sophie's feet rather than her eyes as the site of one wound; feet (Fr. piez) is an error for eyes (Fr. yeux) in Chaucer's immediate source (Riverside Chaucer [note 7], 924, n.972).

11 Both Marlowe's and Ralegh's poems are available in Agnes M. C. Latham's edition of the Selected Prose and Poetry of Sir Walter Raleigh (London: Athlone, 1965), 30-32.

12 Alpers, The Poetry of "The Faerie Queene" (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1967), 382.

13 OED, s.v. list v.(1), Forms; 1; s.v. lust v., 1-4; s.v. Lust sb., 1.

14 Alpers, "Late Pastorals" (note 1), 812-13.

15 For more detailed discussion of these similarities, see Anderson (note 8), 191-97.

16 In the 1590s the unrest in Ireland worsened. Kilcolman, Spenser's estate in Cork, was burned by insurgents in 1598.

17 Nicomachean Ethics, in Introduction to Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon (New York: Modern Library, 1947), 428-29, 433; 6.5. 1140a-b, 6.8. 1142a.

18 See also St. Thomas Aquinas, Basic Writings, ed. Anton C. Pegis, 2 vols. (New York: Random House, 1945), 2:436-37; and Summa theologiae, Blackfriars Edition, 60 vols. (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1964-76), 23:54-57 (1-2.57.5), 36:50-51 (2-2.47.16); and De inventione, trans. H. B. Hubbell, in Cicero, 28 vols. (1949; rpt., London: Heinemann, 1976), 2:326-27 (2:53.160); see also [Cicero?] Ad Herennium, trans. Harry Kaplan (1954; rpt., London: Heinemann, 1981), 1:162-65 (3.2.3).

19 The quotations are from Aquinas: Summa theologica, trans. Fathers of the Dominican Province, 2d rev. ed., 22 vols. (London: Burns, Oates and Washbourne, 1916-29), 10:27 (2-2.47.16, 49.1); see also Summa theologiae (note 18), 36:50-51: "Sed ad generationem prudentiae necessarium est experimentum, quod fit ex multis memoriis, ut dicitur in princ. Meta." [Now to produce prudence experience is necessary, and this is formed of many memories, as remarked at the beginning of the Metaphysics]" (2-2.47.16); "Quid autem in pluribus sit verum oportet per experimentum considerare. Unde et Philosophus dicit quod virtus intellectualis habet generationem et augmentum ex experimento et tempore. Experimentum autem est ex pluribus memoriis, ut patet in 1 Meta., unde consequens est quod ad prudentiam requiritur plurium memoriam habere [Now to know what is true in the majority of cases we must be empirical; Aristotle says that intellectual virtue is produced and developed by time and experience. Experience is stocked with memories, as noted in the Metaphysics; consequently recalling many facts is required for prudence]" (2-2.49.1). See also Aristotle (note 17), 433; 6.8.1142a. Mary J. Carruthers' linking of prudence with memory is pertinent: The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990), 65-67.

20 Aquinas, Basic Writings, (note 18), 2:436; Summa theologiae (note 18), 23:54-57 (1-2.57.5), 36:4-7 (2-2.47.1).

21 Cicero, De inventione (note 18), 2:326-27 (2.53.160).

22 Lee Patterson "'What Man Artow?': Authorial Self-Definition in The Tale of Sir Thopas and The Tale of Melibee," Studies in the Age of Chaucer 11 (1989): 117-75, here 147. C, 1315, 1318, [lxxxx.sup.r]; 1587, [xciii.sup.r]; 1553, [xcii.sup.v]. The 1532 edition renders weleful, "a very foole," and in doing so leaves the saying incongruously framed by contradictory sentiments.

23 Matt. 22:21: "Reddite ergo quae sunt Caesaris, Caesari: et quae sunt Dei, Deo."

24 Carruthers (note 19), 65-71, and Patterson (note 22), 147. The critics who complain repeatedly about Prudence's "relentless" lectures may be overlooking the nature of prudence, which is, in terms of cultural nuggets, copious. They may also be displaying some discomfort with female talkativeness.

25 Carruthers (note 19), 35-39, discusses the traditional association of bees, honey, and hives with memory and implicitly with prudence.

26 These examples are drawn from the compilation of Charles G. Smith, Spenser's Proverb Lore (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1970).

27 Warton is cited in Spenser, Works (note 5), 6:240. Juvenal and Persius, trans. G. G. Ramsay, rev. ed. (London: Heinemann, 1940), vs. 365-66: Ramsay translates prudentia, "wisdom," which could be misleading in the context of my argument.

28 Works, 6:239-40; see also Torquato Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered, trans. Edward Fairfax (New York: Capricon, n.d.), 132-35:7.6-17.

29 Patterson (note 22), 159-60.

30 Patterson, 147-51, 157-59; Judith Ferster, Chaucer on Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1985), 19-22. Against Patterson's view, Hill (note 9) urges a more positive reading of the Melibee and finds in it a realistic embrace of prudence: 123-24, 182, n. 9.

31 Patterson, 160.

32 On the role of proverbs in humanist practice, see Mary Thomas Crane, Framing Authority: Sayings, Self, and Society in Sixteenth-Century England (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1993), esp. chaps. 1, 3.

33 Cicero's definition of history is a commonplace in the early modern period: see De oratore, 2.9.36. The translation is mine; the Latin is cited from the edition of E. W. Sutton, in Cicero, 28 vols. (1942; rpt. London: Heinemann, 1988), 3:224.

34 On the relation of fortune to desire in book 6, see my discussion in Personal Voice, (note 8), 173-77; also Michael Steppat, Chances of Mischief: Variations of Fortune in Spenser (Koln: Bohlau, 1990), chap. 6.

35 Alpers restricts the limitations of pastoral to Coridon, while distributing its powers equally to Colin and Melibee. I find Melibee's powers more seriously compromised than Colin's: Alpers, "Late Pastorals" (note 1), 811-12.
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Author:Anderson, Judith H.
Date:Mar 22, 1995
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