The Faerie Queene
High School & Adult
Instructor: Kelly Cumbee
I have found three editions which I can recommend for this class. Every edition has the same system of numbering the cantos and stanzas, so we can each use the one that best meets our own needs.
The single-volume Penguin Classics edition edited by Thomas Roche is the one I use when I’m reading aloud because there are no notes in the text, which I find distracting. All of the notes, which are in the back, are fairly minimal, defining unfamiliar words and giving some Biblical, Classical, and literary explanation of Spenser’s allusions. All spellings are original, which includes many instances of swapping V and U, using I instead of J, and swapping I and Y. Examples: Vna for Una, Sansioy for Sansjoy, Ioue for Jove, Yuory for Ivory. It’s a little confusing at first, but you do get used to it. Includes all the commendatory verses, dedicatory sonnets, and Spenser’s letter to Raleigh explaining his plan when writing the story. No essays or study guides.
The Routledge Press edition, edited by A.C. Hamilton. This is a large single-volume edition. Extensive footnotes defining archaic words and explaining Spenser’s allusions. Includes all commendatory verses, dedicatory sonnets, and the letter to Raleigh. Includes a chronology of Spenser’s life and work, a helpful introduction to the work, an extensive bibliography, and a list and description of all the characters and where they first appear in the work. Retains original spellings as described above.
The Hackett Classics edition in five volumes (Books 3 and 4 are in one volume), various editors. Footnotes are minimal, defining difficult words and giving brief explanations of the allusions. When dealing with more “adult” allusions in the text, these notes tend to be more explicit than the notes in either Penguin or Hamilton. The commendatory verses and dedicatory sonnets are missing, but each volume contains the letter to Raleigh. Each volume has its own introduction (not always sympathetic to the work), bibliography, list of characters, and a glossary of the most commonly used difficult words. This edition has slightly updated spellings: uses of U, V, I, J, and Y are all regularized and some word use standard modern spellings to avoid confusion, e.g. “bee” updated to “be” because it’s the verb, not the insect.
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“From the time of its publication down to about 1914 [The Faerie Queene] was everyone’s poem—the book in which many and many a boy first discovered that he liked poetry; a book which spoke at once, like Homer or Shakespeare or Dickens, to every reader’s imagination.”
~ C.S. Lewis, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature
The Faerie Queene along with its style of storytelling has been out of favor for so long that we encounter several difficulties (apart from its sheer size!) when trying to read it. Lewis identified three for us: its narrative technique, its allegory, and the texture of its language—that is, the kind of poetry it is, which affects how it’s to be approached.
In this class, I’ll not only give you the imaginative frame of mind for entering into Spenser’s masterpiece, I’ll help you with these three areas. Together we’ll become more comfortable with the polyphonic narrative style, which you may never have encountered before. We’ll discuss how to understand the story’s allegory as well as when to ignore it. We’ll learn to appreciate Spenser’s poetic style and I’ll teach you strategies for reading the poetry, whether to yourself or to your children.
And that really is my goal for this class—not just to help you read this magnificent story, but to give you the confidence to read it to your own children as I did to mine.
All of our classes are available as self-paced classes. The self-paced option allows a student to view the classes on their own time. The content of the course is exactly the same, but there are no writing assignments and no grades issued for the high school courses. The self-paced option gives a student access to the streaming videos of the course for a full year. The classes are not discussion based and focus rather on the art and skill of reading well, and in the high school classes, on the Intellectual Tradition of a work. Students from all over the world choose the self-paced option.
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