Disclaimer: This paper is a response to an assignment. The assignment was as follows: D.H. Larence once wrote that “A work of art must contain the essential criticism of the morality to which it adheres.” What does this mean? Does Book One of Spenser’s “Faerie Queene contain the “essential criticism” of its morality? If so, where and how? If not, is the poem somehow diminished in its status as a work of art? Make sure to quote at least four times from Spenser’s poem.
“Art’s Essential Element”
D.H. Lawrence wrote, “A work of art must contain the essential criticism of the morality to which it adheres.” That quote means-a creative piece of expression derived through skill and imagination must include the primary elements of critical import regarding the virtues, which the piece intends to promote. Book One of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene does not contain the “essential criticism” of its morality. However, that does not diminish Spenser’s Faerie Queene as a work of art.
D.H. Lawrence, born 1885 and died 1930, wrote regarding controversial issues, such as human sexuality and instinct. Lawrence wrote in the naturalist genre. Naturalism stems from the realist movement. Naturalists believe that heredity and their environment determines their character. Naturalism also tries to determine the underlying forces that influence action of characters. It is typical for naturalistic works to be of sordid subject matter. For example, the sexual content in the plot line of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Lawrence’s literary works created enemies, official persecution, censorship, and a label as a pornographer. To defend controversial works with the “essential criticism” for their morality was in his best interest. To include the “essential criticism” disarms the assaults of some of the critics. As well, to include the “essential criticism” was part of the Naturalist genre.
In contrast, Edmund Spenser, born 1552 and died 1599, wrote an epic poem regarding how “Fierce warres and faithful loves shall moralize [his] song” (I.I.9). Spenser wrote in the romantic pastoral genre. The adjective “pastoral” refers to romanticized subject matter in the countryside, depicted in an unrealistic manner. Unlike Lawrence, Spenser’s subject is religious. Spenser’s work is an allegory regarding the struggles between evil and holiness, or between the Catholic Church and Church of England. Although controversial for its time due to the reformation, the genre did not necessitate a realistic depiction to make its point as did the chosen genre of Lawrence.
Quite the contrary, the characters are depicted in an unrealistic “cartoonish” manner. The main character, Redcrosse, represents the patron saint of England, Saint George. In the “Hollow cave” (I.I.11.96) or “errours den” (I.I.13.6), Redcrosse battles “deformèd monsters fowle, and blacke as inke” (I.I.22.7). The monster’s vomit is “Full of bookes and papers was” (I.I.20.6). The monster represents the Catholic Church, and those papers symbolize Roman Catholic propaganda against Queen Elizabeth and Protestantism.
Duessa, symbolic of falseness and deceit as in the Catholic Church, guides Redcrosse to the “House of pride,” a den of sin (I.IV). At the house of pride, Redcrosse engages in another battle against Sansjoy, without joy. Sansjoy is symbolic of the Catholic Church. Redcrosse continues his journey, and ends up at the cave of “Despair” (I.IX). Despair causes Redcrosse to nearly take his own life by saying, “Death is the end of woes: die sonne, O faeries sonne” (I.IX.47.9). Redcrosse, “Lifted up his hand, that backe againe did start” (I.IX.51.9). However, Una intervenes by snatching the “cursèd knife” (I.IX.52.4). That scene reflects a romantic notion of love between Redcrosse, holiness, and Una, truth.
Una, symbolic of truth as in the Church of England, guides Redcrosse to the “House of Holiness” where his Christian virtues are revitalized. Caelia reigns with three daughters, Fidelia, Speranza and Charissa. The three daughters aide in Redcrosse recovery: Fidelia instructs Redcrosse in discipline and gospel. Sperenza provides comfort so sins do not move Redcrosse to despair, and Patience and Penance make him suffer to purge him of his sins. Charissa instruct Redcrosse in good behavior of love and righteousness. Redcrosse then goes to the hospital where seven charitable men tend to his physical ailments.
Redcrosse, now recovered in body and spirit, is taken by Contemplation to a high hill. Upon the hill, Redcrosse has view of the “New Hierusalem, that God has built ” (I.X.57.2), and the “Fairest Citie” (I.X.58.4). Contemplation to Redcrosse says, “Then seeke this path, that I to thee presage, which after all to heaven shall thee send: Then peaceably thy painefull pilgrimage to yonder same Hierusalem do bend, where is for thee ordained a blessed end” (I.X.61.1-5).
An essential element of art is tension. The path that leads to the house of pride may be described as the “Broad high way” where many tread (X.10.86). However, the path to the house of holiness is described as the “Narrow path” where “few so there bee” (X.10.84-85). In this case, tension may be defined as the difference between the broadly chosen paths by the narrow more cumbersome path. On the broad high way, many “go astray, and be partakers of their evill plight” (X.10.87-88). The narrow path is chosen by few persons who wish to “Walke the rightest way” (X.10.89). This is a parallel to Matthew 7.13-14: “Broad is the way that deadeth to destruction and many there be which go in thereat: … strait is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
Although Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene does not adhere to D.H, Lawrence’s definition of what constitutes art, in that it does not include the essential criticism of the morality to which it adheres, The Faerie Queene is art. D.H. Lawrence felt that moral standards were socially contructed while Spenser felts that The Faerie Queene’s morality had a transcendental grounding. D.H. Lawrence’s genre was naturalism: The critical criteria for naturalism, as an art form, is different from the critical criteria of a courtly love pastoral genre as in the case of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. The Faerie Queene touches on all the necessary elements for its genre: Battles between good and evil, holiness and truth making their way back to each other, and the romantic courtly notion of love. As well, the tension between the paths chosen, one being a “Broad high way” (I.X.10.86), and the other being a “narrow path” (I.X.10.85), permeate the tale. Naturally at the end of this romantic pastoral epic, Redcrosse, the hero, slays the dragon, saves the parents and marries the damsel.