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Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 41, 2001

Hellish Work in The Faerie Queene

Maurice Hunt

Anthony Low, in a chapter of The Georgic Revolution entitled "Poet of Work: Spenser and the Courtly Ideal," has elegantly argued that arduous physical labor constitutes a virtue rather than a vice for the knight practitioner of The Faerie Queene, most notably in book 6. [1] Virgil's Aeneid, and especially his Georgics, almost certainly provided Edmund Spenser with memorable models of hard physical labor that could not only refine and dignify the rural or epic laborer but, through the uncoordinated but nevertheless cumulative labor of many persons, create a national destiny as well. [2] Once situated at Kilcolman, Spenser regarded himself as a colonizer like his neighbor Sir Walter Ralegh, as a gentleman planter who was once Lord Grey's secretary, a man with upper-class aspirations. Low judges remarkable for the times the poet's vivid representation of the salutary effects of prolonged labor on both the characters and quests of the principal knights who course through faeryland. [3] Social historians of early modern England have compiled a large record of the shared belief of aristocrats, courtiers, and even gentry that hard physical labor, especially wage labor, belonged to the poorest classes, that it demeaned even tradesmen, and that it would always remain an Adamic curse (Gen. 3:19). [4] Recently, Andrew McRae, in God Speed the Plough: The Representation of Agrarian England, 1500-1660, has asserted that Low's claim about the near singularity of Spenser's praise of the benefits of prolonged physical labor on courtiers and knights requires significant revision. Through quotation, McRae illustrates the various degrees to which Tudor writers such as Hugh Latimer, Robert Crowley, Barnabe Googe, Thomas Tusser, and Sir John Harington extolled the virtues of daily agrarian labor for the bodies and minds of gentlemen, for the most part long before Spenser wrote The Faerie Queene. [5]

Moreover, one could say that William Shakespeare, throughout his career, but especially in his late plays, complemented Spenser in this respect by depicting the redemptive value of physical labor for the upper classes; [6] log bearing, for example, proves Prince Ferdinand's love for Miranda in The Tempest. Nevertheless, McRae asserts that, "like many gentlemen of his time, Spenser endorsed the moral significance attached to labour by the previous generation, yet saw no purpose in identifying with downtrodden labourers and reviving attacks on the covetousness of landlords." [7] It is doubtful that the time-demanding process of composing the monumental Faerie Queene allowed the poet either the leisure or inclination regularly to rub shoulders with wage laborers turning Kilcolman's earth. "One remembers that [Spenser] could still rejoice in the trees," William Butler Yeats declares, referring to the catalog of trees and their commercial uses in book 1 of The Faerie Queene, "not because they were images of lonel iness or meditation, but because of their serviceableness . . . He was of a time before undelighted labour had made the business of men a desecration." [8] Yeats's phrase "undelighted labour" contributes to the modern Irish poet's stereotyping of Spenser as an instinctive poet of the pastoral, of the "delighted senses," of an England predating the final godly Protestant transvaluation of daily work into an earnest, highly regular activity that its role in a program of religious salvation would dictate. [9] While representations of this gradual transvaluation also often suffer from the distortion of stereotyping, Ben Jonson's portrait of Zeal-of-the-Land Busy in Bartholomew Fair (1614) suggests that a bit of truth may lie behind caricatures of godly Protestant work. [10] "I got up from reading the Faerie Queene the other day and wandered into another room," Yeats writes; "it was in a friend's house, and I came of a sudden to . . . an engraving of Claude's [Lorrain] Mill hung under an engraving of [J. M. W.] Tu rner's Temple of Jupiter. Those dancing countrypeople, those cowherds, resting after the day's work, and that quiet millrace made one think of Merry England with its glad Latin heart, of a time when men in every land found poetry and imagination in one another's company and in the day's labour." [11] It is the contention of the present essay that, during the writing of The Faerie Queene, Spenser less and less found sentimentalized "poetry and imagination . . . in the day's labour," with regards to both his characters and himself. In fact, labor becomes a hellish phenomenon in Spenser's epic, a fact that corrects Low's sanguine appraisal of the function and value of work in The Faerie Queene.

Spenser's godly Protestant attitude toward labor in his epic poem most succinctly appears in Belphoebe's advice to Braggadocchio:

Who so in pompe of proud estate (quoth she)

Does swim, and bathes himselfe in courtly blis,

Does waste his dayes in dark obscuritee,

And in obliuion euer buried is:

Where ease abounds, yts eath to doe amis;

But who his limbs with labours, and his mind

Behaues with cares, cannot so easie mis.

Abroad in armes, at home in studious kind

Who seekes with painfull toile, shall honor soonest find.

In woods, in waues, in warres she wonts to dwell,

And will be found with perill and with paine;

Ne can the man, that moulds in idle cell,

Vnto her happie mansion attaine:

Before her gate high God did Sweat ordaine,

And wakeful watches euer to abide.

But easie is the way, and passage plaine

To pleasures palace; it may soone be spide,

And day and night her dores to all stand open wide. [12]

Since Belphoebe represents Queen Elizabeth in her private person, this pronouncement on work carries considerable weight for the poem at large. Not surprisingly, proper labor in Spenser's estimation amounts to heroic deeds performed in the spirit of various Classical and Christian virtues that realize the design of Providence in faeryland, which is to say, England and the world. These good works ought to be performed in the spirit of Christian charity. In the House of Holiness, Charissa "hath encreast the world with one sonne more"--she has given birth to the most recent of her multitude of good works--when Una and the Redcross Knight attempt to see her (1.10.16). But her labor has been so strenuous that she remains incapacitated, and they are never admitted to her presence. Charissa's incapacitation, considered retrospectively, amounts to an ironic, admittedly faint, qualification early in the poem of the benefits of labor. A qualification more important to my thesis develops in Spenser's portrayal of Hercul ean work, which occurs throughout The Faerie Queene but especially in book 5. Repeatedly, Spenser imaginatively employs the myth of Hercules' labors to suggest the titular knights' proper work. The comparison of the seven-headed monster upon which triple-crowned Duessa proudly rides to "that renowmed Snake / Which great Alcides in Stremona slew" dignifies Arthur's eventual conquering of the monster through reference to the second of Hercules' heroic labors, the slaying of the Lernean hydra ( Likewise, Artegall's pursuit of Sir Sanglier is associated with Hercules' labor to capture the Eryrnanthean Boar ( Prince Arthur's combat with the Souldan gets set in the context of Hercules' ninth labor, the capture of Diomedes, King of Thrace, and the casting of him to his man-devouring horses (5.8.28-31); and this knight's fight with Geryoneo (Philip II of Spain) is likened to Hercules' labor of defeating the giant Geryon (5.10.7-16).

Spenser, in more ways than one, uses the concept of Herculean labor to demarcate the nature and limits of proper work. When the Amazon Radigund overcomes knights.

First she doth them of warlike armes despoile,

And cloth in womens weedes: And then with threat

Doth them compell to worke, to earne their meat,

To spin, to card, to sew, to wash, to wring.


Heroic labor in The Faerie Queene becomes shameful work when it is done for wages and when it is done under a woman's command or influence. To make the latter point, Spenser has Radigund's emasculated knights perform woman's work of spinning and weaving, servile and tedious in patriarchal societies. Like most Elizabethan gentry and aristocrats, Spenser had a special dislike for wage labor. Melibee, in book 6, laments that in his youth he abandoned the shepherd's life:

And leaving home, to roiall court I sought;

Where I did sell my selfe for yearely hire,

And in the Princes gardin daily wrought.


When Radigund subdues Artegall, the context of Herculean labor accentuates the demeaning conditions of male work, for she gives him a distaff and orders him to "spin both flax and tow," thus explicitly evoking the image of Hercules made idle by Omphale ( [13]

Who had him seene, imagine mote thereby,

That whylome hath of Hercules bene told,

How for Iolas [Omphale's] sake he did apply

His mightie hands, the distaffe vile to hold,

For his huge club, which had subdew'd of old

So many monsters, which the world annoyed;

His Lyons skin chaunged to a pall of gold,

In which forgetting warres, he onely ioyed

In combats of sweet loue, and with his mistresse toyed.


Spenser's allusion in this stanza to Hercules' labor of killing the Nemean lion serves as a reminder of the proper kind of work lost when men, like Hercules himself did on one occasion, allow themselves to work for a woman for wages. In Spenser's reprisal of Hercules/Artegall's submission to a domineering female taskmaster, his character, like Radigund's other enthralled knights, is "forst through penurie and pyne,"

To doe those workes, to them appointed dew:

For nought was giuen them to sup or dyne,

But what their hands could earne by twisting linnen



Being forced through penury and pain to work to earn money to keep life afoot is an ultimate Spenserian ignominy. (One recalls Jonson's words that Spenser himself died in King Street in London "for lack of bread"). [14] It is in Radigund's toiling knights' predicament that work feels like hellish punishment. When Radigund wishes to vex Artegall further, she orders her agent Clarinda to "Giue him more labour, and with streighter law, / That he with worke may be forwearied" (

On occasion, work in The Faerie Queene more than feels like hellish punishment: it is the torment of the damned in hell. When Duessa and the old crone Night, in book 1, journey to the Underworld, Ixion, Sisyphus, Tantalus, and Tityus--all the damned condemned to their notorious Classical punishments--"Leave off their worke, vnmindfull of their smart" to gaze in wonderment upon the visitors from earth ( And when Sir Guyon sees Tantalus in Mammon's underworld, he notes that "both the fruit from hand, and floud from mouth / Did flie abacke, and made him vainely swinke" ( Damned Pilate, attempting to wash his hands incessantly, in Guyon's view loses "his labour vaine and idle industry" ( Work is what one does in Spenser's hell. Mammon tells Guyon that "men swinck and sweat incessantly" to get his wealth, which consists of "Riches, renowme, and principality, / Honour, estate, and all this worldes good" -- everything, in short, that is divorced from a place of usage in a life of Chr istian devotion and charity (, [15] Aptly, the fiends who smelt and refine gold ore into Mammon's coins "swincke" and "sweat" at their furnaces, projecting the hellish labor of the deluded men and women who will "swincke" and "sweat" incessantly on earth to earn or acquire money ( [16] And, like the Classical damned seeing Duessa and Night venture into their realm, Mammon's fiends from "their whot worke they did themselues withdraw / To wonder at the sight" of Guyon ( Since Mammon's riches take so many tangible and intangible forms, readers of The Faerie Queene assume that the great majority of mortals do not graciously labor but hellishly work instead, painfully realizing the curse of Adam. Moreover, one assumes that Spenser thought of his work of writing his epic poem in the former redemptive sense--as gracious labor. Conflated passages from The Faerie Queene provocatively suggest otherwise, however.

Spenser's labor of writing The Faerie Queene in many respects resembles that of his favored knights in the poem. Both labors are ones of self-fashioning. Spenser's depiction of knights toiling to achieve inner and outer virtues presumes the writer's somewhat prior or simultaneous personal quest, for, logically speaking, Spenser could not show his characters rightly achieving his selected virtues unless he had worked (or was working) to understand and incorporate them within himself. In each case, this labor proves no easy task, for both the knights and Spenser must persevere through different labyrinths, those of typically dark, endless forests on the one hand, and the Byzantine design of a Renaissance epic on the other. In both Spenser's and his characters' cases, the temptation concerning this labor is that of sloth, of giving up the pursuit of a massive task. Spenser did intend The Faerie Queene to consist of twenty-four hooks, of which he completed only one-fourth the whole (an accomplishment nevertheles s that makes the partially finished Faerie Queene the longest major poem in English literature).

Especially striking among these similar labors is Spenser's and his knights' virtually identical aim of oneness with the Faerie Queene. Prince Arthur, in the poem, awakes from his dream vision of the Faerie Queene to the following painful reality:

When I awoke, and found her place deuoyd,

And nought but pressed gras, where she had lyen,

I sorrowd all so much, as earst I ioyd,

And washed all her place with watry eyen.

From that day forth I lou'd that face divine:

From that day forth I cast in carefull mind,

To seeke her out with labour, and long tyne,

And neuer vow to rest, till her I find,

Nine monethes I seeke in vaine yet ni'll that vow vnbind.


Like Arthur, Spenser had preoccupied himself with the Faerie Queene, envisioning her, loving her face divine, imagining that composing "with labour, and long tyne" an epic poem dedicated to her would win her admiration and thus personal honor and material wealth. "A worke of labour long, and endlesse prayse" represents Spenser's early conception of the magnificent poem he was creating (

Certain verses of two sonnets of the Amoretti illuminate this notion. Sonnet 80 reveals that, during or before 1594, Spenser planned to add six more books to the completed six of The Faerie Queene.

After so long a race as I have run

Through Faery land, which those six books compile,

give leave to rest me being halfe fordonne,

and gather to my selfe new breath awhile.

Then as a steed refreshed after toyle,

Out of my prison I will breake anew:

and stoutly will that second worke assoyle,

with strong endevour and attention dew.

Till then give leave to me in pleasant mew,

to sport my muse and sing my love's sweet praise:

the contemplation of whose heavenly hew,

my spirit to an higher pitch will rayse.

But let her prayses yet be low and meane,

fit for the handmayd of the Faery Queene. [17]

The first quatrain of this sonnet contributes the element of exhaustion to Spenser's conception in The Faerie Queene of the arduous toil required for its creation. In contrast, its sestet suggests that composing the sonnets of the Amoretti entailed so little work that writing them could be part of the poet's program of refreshment before returning to his epic task. Sonnet 69 confirms the impression conveyed by the last eight verses of sonnet 80, providing in the process a more instructive counterpoint to Spenser's characterization of The Faerie Queene as a "worke of labour long."

Spenser sets up the sestet of sonnet 69 by posing this rhetorical question in the second quatrain of the octet:

The famous warriors of the anticke world,

Used Trophees to erect in stately wize:

in which they would the records have enrold,

of theyr great deeds and valarous emprize.

What trophee then shall I most fit devize,

in which I may record the memory

of my loves conquest, peerlesse beauties prise,

adorn'd with honor, love, and chastity?

The answer to this question amounts to a conventional Renaissance sonnet conceit:

Even this verse vowed to eternity,

shall be thereof immortall moniment:

and tell her prayse to all posterity,

that may admire such worlds rare wonderment,

The happy purchase of my glorious spoile,

gotten at last with labour and long toyle. [18]

The original aspect of this commonplace involves the spoken elision of the letter s in the word "spoile" with the ending s of "glorious" to invite the homonymic association of Spenser's beloved Elizabeth Boyle's surname with the concluding "spoile"/"toyle" rhyme. A monument to Boyle's beauty and virtue, sonnet 69 amounts to the "happy purchase" of the poet's "glorious spoile" (Boyle). She--not the poem itself--has been "gotten at last with labour and long toyle." In this case, the wooing and winning of a mistress has proved laborious. It is the experience informing the sonnet and not the composing of the poem that has been toilsome. Measured against the time and energy required for creating The Faerie Queene, those devoted to writing a single sonnet or even a sonnet sequence must have seemed to Spenser brief and slight indeed. As regards labor, one could argue that, for him, the proportional relationship between life experience and literary composition was reversed in the instance of his epic poem.

Spenser's repeated metaphor for the long labor entailed in composing The Faerie Queene implies that his effort amounted to diurnal, sweaty toil. The final stanza of the 1590 edition of The Faerie Queene fully presents Spenser's agrarian metaphor for fabricating verses:

But now my teme begins to faint and fayle,

All woxen weary of their journall toyle:

Therefore I will their sweatie yokes assoyle

At this same furrowes end, till a new day.


Each line of the nine-line Spenserian stanza, repeated seemingly endlessly, explicitly represents a ploughed furrow in this georgic conception, as the beginning of canto 9 of book 6 indicates:

Nowe turne againe my teme thou jolly swayne,

Backe to the furrow which I lately left;

I lately left a furrow, one or twayne

Vnploughed, the which my coulter hath not cleft:

Yet seem'd the soyle both fayre and frutefull eft,

As I it past, that were too great a shame,

That so rich frute should be from vs bereft. [19]


In his note on this stanza, editor A. C. Hamilton interprets the swain's "teme" as made up of the Muses. [20] Furthermore, the imagery of earthy cultivation, in 6.9.1, associates Spenser with the Redcrosse Knight, Georgos, who was found in a cultivated furrow, a fact constituting another resemblance between Spenser and the toiling knights of his poem.

Yet, a profound irony derives from Spenser's idea of himself as the ploughman poet. Ploughmen were, at best, tenant farmers and, at worst, hired peasants during the sixteenth century; Spenser, writing on his pastoral estate of Kilcolman in Ireland, was a member of the gentry, desirous of being a gentleman or even an aristocrat. He had the means to hire ploughmen for base wage-labor. Low infers from the above-quoted stanza (6.9.1) and other evidence that Spenser--to stress a previously made point-- associated himself with manual labor to a degree remarkable for an Elizabethan gentleman. But, as Spenser certainly knew, the "gentle" Virgil had dignified the ploughman metaphor for the poet by his status as its creator in the Georgics. In Claudius Desainliens's Campo di Fior (1583), a version of Juan Luis Vives' Linguae Latinae Exercitatio (1538), Manricus tells Mendoza, "'I don't know how it is inborn in me to plough out my letters so distortedly, so unequally and confusedly."' Mendoza replies: "You have this te ndency from your noble birth. Practice yourself--habit will change even what you think to be inborn in you."' [21] This text is one among many that illustrates the Renaissance humanist belief that the "ploughman" work of literary cultivation is the proper activity of a nobleman, an identity Spenser hoped his humanist education could fashion for him. And, yet, that "noble" work pulled him in a direction opposite from the rhapsodized pathways of sixteenth-century humanists.

Melibee, in book 6, canto 9, portrays pastoral as a place of enfranchising ease, otium, contrasted with a royal court where men sell themselves for "yearely hire" (6.9,24.7). Nevertheless, it is to a life associated with the Elizabethan court in London that Spenser hoped his labor of poetic cultivation in pastoral Ireland would be the passport. This paradox suggests other disturbing tensions in Spenser's idea of his own labor that eventually reveal it to be a hellish kind of work. If Spenser hoped that his poem The Faerie Queene would earn him a royal pension or a court preferment, then he was essentially hoping it would bring him some of Mammon's riches. Furthermore, by making his epic a eulogy of Elizabeth, he could be said to be subordinating himself to work for a woman that Elizabethan writers, himself included, had subtly identified as Amazonian. [22] Artegall and the Amazon Radigund's other feminized knights slavishly work (weave) for her for wages--the same base hire associated by Melibee with service in the royal court. Thus, by this analogical reasoning, the status of Spenser's poetic labor slips considerably, a conclusion confirmed retrospectively by a noteworthy metafictional comparison. Weaving, it will be recalled, became one of Western civilization's earliest primary metaphors for artistic creation, especially writing (Spenser's service to the queen's court). [23]

As inspired creators, the wizard Merlin and the labyrinth builder Spenser share several qualities. Merlin, Spenser tells us in book 3, once lived in a "hideous hollow caue" beneath the ground ( There a thousand spirits at Merlin's command groan, when "too huge toile and labour them constraines," working to "compile" a brazen wall about Cairmardin ( Merlin committed the task to these sprights "to bring [it] to perfect end" ( But the Lady of the Lake, whom Merlin loves, calls for him in the midst of this construction project. The learned wizard "bound [his spirits] till his returne, their labour not to slake" ( The Lady of the Lake, however, deceives Merlin, burying him in a sepulchre, "Ne euer to his worke returnd againe" (

Nath'lesse those feends may not their worke forbear,

So greatly his commaundment they feare,

But there doe toyle and trauell day and night,

Vntill that brasen wall they vp doe reare:

For Merlin had in Magicke more insight,

Then euer him before or after liuing wight.


Here we have a little allegory of what must have been one of Spenser's deepest fears while he labored on The Faerie Queene--that his lady whom he loved so dearly, Queen Elizabeth, would forsake or deceive him, never conferring upon him the honors and riches that he hoped his poem would bring him. Then he would be hopelessly buried alive in Ireland; then the absence of preferment while he issued parts of his projected twenty-four book epic would make the labor of its composition feel like hellish endless toil, toil that he felt compelled to finish but could not finish. [24] Merlin and Spenser may have had masterful visions of their projects, but those visions by themselves did not bring their respective works "to perfect end."

Something like the equivalent of this little allegory seems to have occurred within Spenser during the composition of the latter books of his poem. The enforced hammer-and-metal imagery of Merlin's spirits' work links them not only with the damnable fiends of Mammon smelting and hammering gold ore into money but also with the fruitless, unending labor of the blacksmith Care in book 4. Scudamour and Glauce enter Care's cottage to find Care, whose wretched physical appearance makes him Despair's alter ego, ceaselessly pounding upon an anvil among cinders. In their hellish environment, Care and his six servants, neither day nor night from working spared,

But to small purpose yron wedges made;

Those be vnquiet thoughts, that carefull minds inuade.


The imagery of hellish metalworking closely associates Care's industry with the smelting of Mammon's fiends and the brazen-wall construction of Merlin's spirits, a troubled analog of Spenser's poetic work. By implication, the product becomes not the literary equivalent of gold money or a brazen wall, but near-worthless yron wedges"--the result of unquiet thoughts afflicting a careridden mind.

As the 1590s dragged on and no substantial Elizabethan preferment came to Spenser and, as the completion of his grand poem must have seemed more distant than ever before, Spenser's mind apparently became more care-ridden. In the first flush of enthusiasm over his project, Spenser had imagined that the long labor of writing would bring him endless praise. By the time of books 6 and 7, however, he became convinced that the praise would be finite, quelled by verbal detraction and slander. Sir Calidore heroically pursues the Blatant Beast (Detraction or Slander), and, in a combat laden with allusion to Herculean labors, the knight succeeds in clamping an iron muzzle on his snout (6.12.31-5). But this labor is lost when the Beast breaks his iron chain and gets into the world again, causing more harm than he ever did previously (6.12.38-9). Spenser sadly concludes book 6 by conceding

Ne may this homely verse, of many meanest,

Hope to escape his venemous despite,

More then my former writs, all were they clearest

From blamefull blot, and free from all that wite,

With which some wicked tongues did it backebite,

And bring into a mighty Peres displeasure,

That neuer so deserued to endite.

Therfore do you my rimes keep better measure,

And seeke to please, that now is counted wisemens



Apparently a "mighty Pere," most likely the queen's powerful minister, Lord Burghley, took offence at Spenser's criticism of him in The Ruines of Time and Mother Hubberds Tale and may, in fact, have been instrumental in slandering the 1590 Faerie Queene to Elizabeth so that Spenser gained no weighty preferment from its presentation to the queen. [25] If this hypothesis is true, Spenser's former literary labors would have destroyed any benefits his later epic labor might bring him. In the last two verses of the above-cited stanza, Spenser sardonically cautions his verses to keep better measure in order, sycophant-like, to please mighty lords, presumably by flattery--now the "wise man's" treasure. [26] In the pageant of the months in book 7, canto 7, June, while a player, also is a laborer, that "by his plough-yrons mote right well appeare" ( Yet June rides upon a Crab, so that he

backward yode, as Bargemen wont to fare

Bending their force contrary to their face,

Like that vngracious crew which faines demurest grace.


Here, the ploughman figure, identified with poetic creation, goes backward in a sense, with the further implication of the poetic work being undone rather than done. The "plough-yrons" make this bargeman a ploughman, thus evoking the fleeting recollection of the georgic author. Spenser had said that as a poet in the future, sycophant-like, he would "seeke to please" and thus by his behavior sardonically show the "wise man's treasure" if not his riches. Appropriately, the bargeman/ploughman/poet's "contrary" labor resembles (becomes) the feigned courtesy of an "vngracious crew" (oily courtiers). In the Georgics, Virgil's farmer often sees his work undone:

sic omnia fatis

in peius ruere ac retro sublapsa referri,

non aliter quam qui aduerso uix flumine lembum

remigiis subigit, si bracchia forte remisit,

atque illum in praeceps prono rapit alueus amni. [27]

So it is: for everything by nature's law

Tends to the worse, slips ever backward, backward.

As with a man who scarce propels his boat

Against the stream: if once his arms relax,

The current sweeps it headlong down the rapids. [28]

Spenser's pessimistic metaphor in his personification of June in the Mutability Cantos refigures this georgic crux yet retains the dark burden of Virgil's tenor (

As early as book 2, Spenser complained that his projected account of Queen Elizabeth's lineage amounted to a "labour huge, exceeding farre my might" ( Rather than bring his tremendous labor to a perfect end, canto 8 of book 7, consisting of only two stanzas, is titled "vnperfite." [29] The pathos of this ultimate admission seeks an outlet in Spenser's desire for everlasting rest from his wearying labor:

But thence-forth all shall rest eternally

With Him that is the God of Sabbaoth hight:

O that great Sabbaoth God, graunt me that Sabaoths sight. [30]


Christian consolation thus envelopes Spenser's "labour huge," whose scope far exceeded his might. Still, Spenser's belief that a great reward requires virtually endless labor violates a major teaching of the New Testament. In the parable of the laborers and the hours, the kingdom of heaven is "like unto a man that is a householder, which went out early in the morning to hire laborers into his vineyard" (Matt 20:1-16). This householder hires workers in the morning and at the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hour of the day, sending them into his vineyard and at the end of the day offering each of them a single penny as wages. When the laborer first hired complains about this seeming inequity, the householder concludes, "'Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee ... So the last shall be first, and the first last.'" [31] On his deathbed, the godly Protestant divine Thomas Taylor exclaimed, "we serve su ch a master who giveth much wages for a little work." [32] The householder's paying all laborers the same wage regardless of time worked or amount of energy expended dequantifies work; his transaction implies that he values the quality rather than the duration of labor. In the spirit of Protestantism, emphasis falls upon the single task performed faithfully. Endless labor earns no more than eleventh-hour work or this single task. In God's scheme, the wages, so important to the worker, are inconsequential; they are all the same, as evidenced by the one penny paid to each laborer. Theologians often interpret this coin symbolically as the passport to salvation. Spenser's endless work was meant to earn endless earthly praise and the material riches of court preferment. Paradoxically, Spenser, who, at one time, had allied himself with the earl of Leicester/Philip Sidney militant Protestant faction, could be accused of falling into a stereotyped Catholic way of thinking; for it was the Catholics whom Martin Luther and Protestants after him derided for believing that endlessly repeated works such as the telling of rosary beads and lighting of candles could save them. Spenser, in a different, secular fashion, seems to have believed that the "endless" labor of forging successive verses into a mammoth poem could do the same.

According to William Sessions, the "intention and unspoken premise behind Spenser's letter to Raleigh" is the work ethic of [Virgil's] Georgics filtered through the later Aeneid--"Spenser has learned the full lesson from Virgil's Anchises: redemption is possible in time. Unlike...Sidney's Aeneas, Spenser's hero knows that his labor, in the underworld of the narrative, has the confident goal of redemptive achievement within time's own political and social structures." [33] But, if Spenser's knight hero gains this confident knowledge, his creator almost certainly came to doubt it. Sessions never does acknowledge certain deep contradictions within Spenser's long labor and its goal or the pessimism and sense of emptiness associated with them in later parts of The Faerie Queene: "Although Spenser has his own variations on the mode of Vergilian trial, his basic paradigm is the same: difficult labors on a dark path through time...As found in the poem, this trial involves the reader in the laborious exercise of unde rstanding the plural structure with its double-edged allegory; then, as a consequence of such invigorating structure, the reader gains the larger lesson of endurance and triumph in time." [34] Although Sessions underestimates both the difficulty of Spenser's literary labors and the darkness of his path, the critic's latter portrayal of the special nature of the reader's work accurately locates the primary beneficiary of the labors of The Faerie Queene. Not Spenser's fictive knights, not the historical author--but rather the persevering reader of this ambitious Renaissance epic comes to understand "the larger lesson of endurance and triumph in time," mainly because he or she generally lives far beyond the reading experience of the poem with many opportunities for it to enrich his or her life in manifold ways. Spenser's reward for his work finally resides in the deep, intangible appreciation of generations of readers of The Faerie Queene.

Maurice Hunt teaches at Baylor University. where he is professor of English and chair of the department. His most recent publication is an edited volume in the MLA Teaching World Masterpieces series entitled Approaches to Teaching Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."


(1.) Anthony Low, The Georgic Revolution (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1985), pp. 35-70.

(2.) Low, pp. 38-9. Also see William A. Sessions, "Spenser's Georgics," ELR 10, 2 (Spring 1980): 202-38; Andrew V. Ettin, "The Georgics in The Faerie Queene," SSt 3 (1982): 57-71; A. Leigh DeNeef, "Ploughing Virgilian Furrows: The Genres of Faerie Queene VI," JDJ 1, 1/2 (1982): 151-66, esp. 161-5: and John N. King, Spenser's Poetry and the Reformation Tradition (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1990), pp. 216-20.

(3.) "There are ninety-nine references to 'labour' and its forms in the entire canon of [Edmund] Spenser. Twenty-five associate the word with 'long,' the greatest single association by far" (Sessions, p. 216).

(4.) See D. C. Colman, "Labour in the English Economy of the Seventeenth Century," Economic History Review 8, 3 (April 1956): 280-95; Christopher Hill, "Pottage for Freeborn Englishmen: Attitudes to Wage-Labour," in Change and Continuity in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1975), pp. 219-38; and Keith Wrightson, English Society 1580-1680 (New Brunswick NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1982), pp. 24, 32-6, 125, 140-2, 172.

(5.) Andrew McRae, God Speed the Plough: The Representation of Agrarian England, 1500-1660 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996). pp. 200-5.

(6.) See Maurice Hunt, Shakespeare's Labored Art: Stir, Work, and the Late Plays (New York: Peter Lang, 1995), pp. 27-275 passim.

(7.) McRae, p. 203.

(8.) William Butler Yeats, "Edmund Spenser," in Essays and Introductions (New York: Macmillan. 1961). pp. 356-83, esp. p. 377.

(9.) Yeats concludes that Spenser "is a poet of the delighted senses, and his song becomes most beautiful when he writes of those islands of Phaedria and Acrasia" (p. 370).

(10.) See Hunt. pp. 4-5; and Charles H. George and Katherine George. The Protestant Mind of the English Reformation, 1570-1640 (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1961), pp. 127-43.

(11.) Yeats, p. 377.

(12.) Spenser, The Faerie Queene, ed. A. C. Hamilton (London and New York: Longman, 1977), 2.3.40-1. Hereafter, all references to the FQ are to this edition, cited parenthetically by book, canto, stanza, and, when appropriate, line numbers.

(13.) For Artegall as Hercules, see James Nohrnberg, The Analogy of "The Faerie Queene" (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1976), pp. 373-8.

(14.) Ben Jonson, The Complete Poems, ed. George Parfitt (New York: Penguin, 1988), p. 465. The remark appears in his Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden (1619).

(15.) David T. Read, in "Hunger of Gold: Guyon, Mammon's Cave, and the New World Treasure," ELR 20, 2 (Spring 1990): 209-32, construes the hellish work of Mammon's underground as Spenser's negative allegory of the brutal Spanish mining of precious ore and processing of bullion into inflationary gold and silver coins.

(16.) Harry Berger Jr., in The Allegorical Temper: Vision and Reality in Book II of Spenser's "Faerie Queene" (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1957), pp. 24, 26, negatively interprets the demons' sweaty work in Mammon's cave.

(17.) Spenser, sonnet 80 of the Amoretti, in The Yale Edition of the Shorter Poems of Edmund Spenser, ed. William A. Oram et al. (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1989), pp. 648-9.

(18.) Spenser, sonnet 69 of the Amoretti, in The Yale Edition of the Shorter Poems of Edmund Spenser, p. 642.

(19.) For this Virgilian georgic ploughman-writer/furrow-verse metaphor, see Low. pp. 35-7, and Sessions. pp. 217-8. Concerning Spenser's complex ploughman/poet metaphor in FQ 6.9, Low judges that "Spenser presents us not with a plowman tired by his labors and longing for rest, but with a 'jolly swayne' who is cheerfully going about the systematic accomplishment of his work, and who is not wearily looking backward on the difficulty of the task, but rather is looking forward to the future and the rich fruits that his labors will produce" (p. 37).

(20.) The Faerie Queene, p. 681. DeNeef provides an alternative reading of, an interpretation in which the "iolly swayne" is the poem's reader, urged by the georgic burden of the stanza to commit him- or herself to a world of productive work beyond (yet informed by) the poem's main modes of pastoral and chivalric (pp. 164-5).

(21.) Quoted from Jonathan Goldberg, Writing Matter: From the Hands of the English Renaissance (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1990], p. 62. Goldberg makes this comment on Manricus's and Mendoza's dialogue: "The planting of habit against their noble nature 'to plough out my letters so distortedly' is a self colonization along the lines of Spanish imperialism" (p. 64). In (non-noble) Spenser's case, one could say that the self-colonization occurred along the lines of English imperialism in Ireland.

(22.) An excellent study of Elizabethan representation of Amazonian Queen Elizabeth appears in Leah Marcus. Puzzling Shakespeare: Local Reading and Its Discontents (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1988), pp. 54, 62-6. In this respect, also see Susanne Woods, "Amazonian Tyranny: Spenser's Radigund and Diachronic Mimesis," Playing with Gender: A Renaissance Pursuit, ed. Jean R. Brink, Maryanne C. Horowitz, and Allison P. Coudert (Urbana and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1991), pp. 52-61, esp. 57.

(23.) For this metaphoric equation, see Geoffrey H. Hartman, "The Voice of the Shuttle: Language from the Point of View of Literature," in Beyond Formalism: Literary Essays, 1958-1970 (New Haven and London: Yale Univ. Press, 1970), pp. 337-55. Woods notes that. "like a woman, a poet must weave and spin, not take direct action against those whom he would challenge" (p. 59).

(24.) A Bartlett Giamatti, in "A Prince and Her Poet," YR 73, 3 (April 1984): 321-37, notes that Spenser "never saw Arthur marry his Faery Queene, he never saw all the knights come home. Decay and change were in reality too strong. Formlessness, the poem's deepest fear, won again. Exile, the condition of life for the poet in Ireland, for the virtuoso knights seeking to return to Gloriana's court, remained the constant state" (p. 330).

(25.) See David L. Miller. "Spenser's Vocation, Spenser's Career," ELH 50, 2 (Summer 1983): 197-231, esp. 209-10. Miller, in this article, assumes that a writer's self-fashioned "serious" self can never be presented, only represented, in a literary work because the vehicle of language amounts to a public and thus privately in approximate. manipulable (and thus deceiving) symbolic mode. Thus, Miller argues that poetical and cultural authority must validate the language depicting a "serious" fashioned self. But Spenser failed to win a lasting patron, the Mycenas (certainly not Walter Ralegh, Lord Grey, or the earl of Leicester) who could validate a "Virgilian" voice and a labored self. (Spenser's failure to enjoy lasting patronage is documented by Richard Helgerson, "The New Poet Presents Himself: Spenser and the Idea of a Literary Career," PMLA 93, 5 [October 1978]: 893-911, esp. 899, 902-3). Vulnerable, Spenser became an easy prey of Burghley and perhaps other slanderers. This train of thought provides one w ay of speculating how Spenser may have thought of a long labor lost.

(26.) Giamatti remarks that "Spenser would spend three years [in the court] in the 1570s and later hammer out his hatred of the place, where a man expends his spirit only 'To fawne, to crowche, to waite, to ride, to ronne, / To spend, to give, to want, to be undonne' ['Mother Hubberds Tale']" (pp. 323-4).

(27.) Virgil, Georgics, ed. Richard F. Thomas, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1988), 1:42, 1. 199-203.

(28.) Virgil, The Georgics, trans. L. P. Wilkinson (London, Penguin, 1982), p. 63.

(29.) Robert J. Mueller, in "'Infinite Desire': Spenser's Arthur and the Representation of Courtly Ambition," ELH 58, 4 (Winter 1991): 747-71, argues, through analogy with Sir Philip Sidney and Fulke Greville's The Four Foster Children of Desire (1581), that Spenser's poetics committed The Faerie Queene to final unfinishedness, a final unattainability of infinite desire.

(30.) Concerning these concluding verses, Miller remarks that "the closing lines of [Spenser's] prayer are almost as well known for their textual difficulty as for their moving beauty, and yet however one interprets the dubious wordplay on 'Sabbaoth,' the lines remain essentially a prayer for eternal rest instead of change, for sustained vision instead of epiphany, and for a place in the community of heaven instead of a station on the battlements of Troynovant" (p. 224). As regards the "dubious wordplay on 'Sabbaoth,'" Miller notes that D. C. Allen (in "On the Closing Lines of The Faerie Queene," MLN 64, 2 [February 1949]: 93-4) "first suggested that the variant spellings 'Sabbaoth' and 'Sabaoth' indicate a prayer not for eternal Sunday but for admission into the ranks of the heavenly host." However, Miller further notes that L. S. Friedland (in "Spenser's Sabaoth's Rest," MLQ 17, 3 [September 1956]: 199-203] "effectively demonstrates that the prayer for rest and a vision of God already entails a prayer for admission into the Heavenly City" (p. 231 n. 54).

(31.) Biblical quotations are taken from The Dartmouth Bible, ed. Roy B. Chamberlin and Herman Feldman (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961), pp. 926-7.

(32.) Thomas Fuller, The History of the Worthies of England, 3 vols. (1840: rprt. New York: AMS Press, 1965), 3:432.

(33.) Sessions, p. 209.

(34.) Sessions, p. 221.