“Missing the Point: Just Forms of History in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene.”
Book 5 of Spenser’s Faerie Queene begins with a stanza in which the world spins off its axis. Having missed “the first point of his appointed sourse,” this “world is runne quite out of square,/…And being once amisse growes daily wourse and wourse.” The poet therefore declares his intention to “forme” what follows not “to the common line/ Of present dayes” but “to the antique vse, which was of yore” (3.3-5).
This essay discusses the uncommon line of The Faerie Queene and the alternate forms of history it makes possible. The single line of hexameter with which Spenser closes his signature stanza trades in the idealism of a “golden world,” in favor of a future open to a wider range of alternatives than those available to the present. The aesthetic and the epistemological value of this stanza lies in the contingency of its form: the idea that it could have been something other than what it is, the articulation of formal possibility.
Colleen Ruth Rosenfeld is Associate Professor of English at Pomona College. Her research and teaching focuses on early modern poetry and poetics, questions of style and epistemology, the history of rhetoric, and theories of aesthetic form. Rosenfeld’s first book, Indecorous Thinking: Figures of Speech in Early Modern Poetry and Poetics (Fordham UP), argues for the philosophical and aesthetic value of artifice at its most conspicuous (artifice that rings out with the bells and whistles of ornamentation). She is currently working on a book on form and potential tentatively entitled Poetry and the Potential Mood in Early Modern England.