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Edmund Spenser’s art is intricate, intellectual, fanciful, and, finally, magnificent. Spenser is enshrined as one of the great English writers, and Book One of The Faerie Queene is regularly taught in colleges, not only in advanced courses but also in introductory surveys. Many teachers as well as students, however, find the poem baffling and know of no way to approach it except as an allegory whose several levels of meaning must be deciphered. Mark Rose shows that it is possible to read the poem as poetry—savoring the language, tracing Spenser’s vision—without prior expertise in religion and philosophy, Renaissance iconography and mythology, or Tudor history. He offers a close reading of Book One, following the poem as it develops canto by canto.
Rather than expound the meaning, he attempts to draw the meaning out of the text while helping the reader respond freshly to the emotion, humor, grace, and humanity of the poem and conveying a sense of its richness and subtlety. Specialists will find many new insights in Spenser’s Art, though the book is not addressed primarily to them; teachers who are not experts on Spenser will find it especially rewarding.