"YET WERE THEY ALL IN ORDER": THE PROBLEM OF STRUCTURE IN THE FOURTH BOOK OF SPENSER'S "FAERIE QUEENE"

JEFFREY ALAN KURNIT, Fordham University

Abstract

The structure of the Fourth Book of Spenser's Faerie Queene has puzzled scholars for years. The other five books of the poem have enough structural similarities to suggest that Spenser was following, with some minor discrepancies, the plan outlined in the Letter to Raleigh which says that each book demonstrates a virtue by following the adventures of a representative knight as he carries out a quest handed to him by Gloriana, the queen of Faeryland. In the Fourth Book, the titular heroes representing Friendship play a very small part in the narrative and are not involved in any quest originating from Gloriana. In fact, there is no such quest in the book. Instead there is a series of diverse adventures, involving numerous characters, none of whom seems to be the chief hero of the book, which appears to be unstructured and only peripherally related to its main themes, friendship and concord.^ This has been the position taken by most scholars who have examined the book. They have either treated it as a conclusion to Book Three or as an entertaining but unstructured failure. A few critics, including H. Clement Notcutt in 1926 and Calvin Huckabay in 1955, proposed structures for the book, but none of these fully account for the small role played by the heroes and the missing quest. The work of Judith H. Anderson on the role of the poet-narrator in the three last books of the poem leads naturally to a workable interpretation of the structure which can be seen through a careful analysis of the book in light of her ideas.^ In this interpretation, the narrator-poet is the hero of Book Four, questing after order, friendship, and concord in a seemingly chaotic world. His quest parallels the narrative but remains outside it, and in the end, he finds concord, literally in the Temple of Venus and figuratively in the great pageants of the final cantos. Thus the book is like the other books in containing all the necessary elements but unlike them in the way those elements are treated. The reigning principle is discordia concors, the appearance of concord out of discord, and the book itself reflects this. It appears to be chaotic but actually has exactly the right structure to demonstrate its ideas. It shows how to find concord in the world by presenting a fictional world which is apparently chaotic just as the real world is, but within that chaos it is possible to find order. ^

Subject Area

English literature

Recommended Citation

KURNIT, JEFFREY ALAN, ""YET WERE THEY ALL IN ORDER": THE PROBLEM OF STRUCTURE IN THE FOURTH BOOK OF SPENSER'S "FAERIE QUEENE"" (1983). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8506313.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI8506313

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