Bachelor of Arts
Faerie Queene, Spenser, Forest, Woods
Generally, the mention of place in regard to The Faerie Queene summons up the image of Alma's House of Temperance, the Bower of Bliss, or Isis' Temple. These settings are highly stagey: the narrative comes to a halt) and the reader is expected to interpret the composite images of the scene. The crocodile at Isis' feet enjoys the same relationship to her as justice does to equity. Equity, its allegorical representative embodied in Isis, exercises a restraining influence over the "cruel doome" of Justice, i.e., the crocodile that Isis stands on. These places smack of the unreal; they and their set pieces exist primarily to illustrate a moral orientation or philosophical position. In Acrasia's Bower of Bliss, of course, unreality is just the point. With its "painted flowres" it caters to the whims of the men it hopes to ensnare. The Bower exists for them. It is made to please: "The dales for shade, the hills for breathing space."
But what of place when The Faerie Queene's narrative rolls right along? What about the landscape that doesn't make man happy or remind him of one or another truth? All the symbolic places of The Faerie Queen are, in a very real sense, interludes of a larger piece, brief moments in a landscape that undulates about them. The most pervasive of these landscapes, the forest, lends The Faerie Queen a complex matrix. Spenser creates woods with a vibrancy that isn't communicated in lavish, descriptive terms. In fact, the woods are scarcely described at all. Nevertheless, in contrast to the Bower of Bliss, or the Garden of Adonis, the forests are real places with considerable vibrancy and power. The lack of descriptive detail doesn't excuse the reader's overlooking the dramatic significance that the woods, with a veritable life of their own, do exercise. Forest can create scenes, not only exist as a mere by-product of them. They are full of a potential energy and compelling spiritual power that drives the narrative of The Faerie Queene.
Randell, Nicholas, "The Function of Forest in The Faerie Queene: Seeing the Woods for the Trees" (1987). Honors Papers. 607.