It has been gratifying to witness the revival of Spenser Studies over recent years. Ten years ago the annual series experienced some serious setbacks, suffering from multiple years of lapsed issues, with the attendant decline of its utility as a forum for current Spenserian scholarship. Indeed, these years saw the growing prominence of individual book collections of essays as competitive vehicles for new work on Spenser. Now, with those lapsed issues having been seen through production, along with the steady release of current volumes, Spenser Studies is on as firm a footing as it has ever been. While this new volume is more evolutionary than revolutionary, it provides a number of fresh views on Spenser, mostly on the middle books of The Faerie Queene.
In a lively, relaxed transcription of her 2002 Kathleen Williams Lecture, Lauren Silberman addresses the current state of political approaches to The Faerie Queene, and how the text may be read to deepen and nuance--without apologizing for--Spenser's own political biases. Jeff Dolven and Kenneth Gross each offer an individual analysis of a single Spenserian stanza as an entryway into talking about the work of the stanza throughout the poem. It was a delight to observe these two critics take on a classic student exercise in stanzaic explication, and I would wish for the editors to invite further offerings of this format.
Several essays attempt to read Spenser's epic through non-literary discourses. Todd Butler's original and interesting take on 'Saluage' multitudes examines how The Faerie Queene interprets 'the struggle to reinvigorate the Church of England after the Marian persecution' (p. 93). Butler profitably reads the Egalitarian Giant's rabble against theological rather than the usual economic contexts, scoring huge points with this reviewer for avoiding the near ubiquity of colonial Ireland as the only context with which to examine this most historically situated of the poem's books. Andrew Wallace's look at georgic discourse offers a more complex, nuanced understanding of such undercurrents in The Faerie Queene by moving beyond the strict Virgilian definitions of the genre. Despite some fine local readings of the educations of Redcrosse and Satyrane, Wallace is less specific on the ideological motives behind such episodes, or on Spenser's erasure of the georgic imperatives in the 1596 edition. In giving us everything we wanted to know about Aristotelian-Galenic psycho-physiology but were afraid to ask, James Broaddus provides perfectly sensible explanations for the Guyon's 'faint' at the end of the Mammon episode, and for how Maleger's troops represent the external forces of decay rather than internalized 'passions'.
Paul Static briefly sketches out Guyon's problematic alternatives between self-restraint versus chivalric violence as contradictory definitions of temperance, while Raphael Lyne intriguingly explores the positive representations of the Grille figure in Plutarch, Erasmus, and Montaigne. In 'Providential Love and Suffering in The Faerie Queene, Book III', Jason Gleckman usefully connects the anguish of feminine characters like Amoret and Britomart to codes of Protestant providentialism that attempt to resolve sexual desire, love melancholy, and the companionate marriage. Even more interesting, however, is the argument's attempt to apply Teresa Krier's work on the Spenserian gaze to dislodge the views of Susan Frye, David Lee Miller, and Sheila Cavanaugh, which equate Busirane's violence with the text's patriarchal ideology. Sadly, however, this work remains only loosely sketched out, often in the footnotes, hardly the right place for this important debate. Although these essays as a group can frequently be faulted for hedging their most provocative arguments, they form a profitable collection of new Spenserian work in an increasingly steady and interesting forum.
Xavier University of Louisiana Bruce Danner