Spenser and the Culture of Place

By Joanne Woolway
Oriel College
Guest Lecture: University of Oslo, April 17, 1996.

Copyright 1996 by Joanne Woolway, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Canadian and U.S. copyright laws. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent and the notification of the author (joanne.woolway@oriel.ox.ac.uk).

James Duncan and David Ley have observed that:

A realization of the constant imbrication of, among others, cultural, economic and political processes is necessary for any interpretation of landscape. Moreover, landscape and place have assumed a remarkably central position in current interdisciplinary interpretations of our times.[1]
This awareness of the essentially historical nature of depictions of place has pervaded recent work in geography, cartography, art history, and literature.[2] All of these disciplines depend upon representation, and it is this representation which has been the subject of much debate. Do different kinds of text--literary, chorographical, pictorial--share similar features? What do pictures of the history of places reveal (intentionally or unintentionally) about the way that a nation sees itself? Does looking at the exploration of new places give us insights into the ways that writers explored the possibilities of representation? I would like to suggest that these questions are particularly interesting when considered in relation to ideas of the English nation in the late sixteenth century. Discussing paintings as icons of national identity in the last three centuries, the historical geographer Stephen Daniels has recently made connections between landscape and a country's understanding of itself; he suggests that "landscapes, whether focussing on single monuments or framing stretches of scenery, provide visible shape; they picture the nation."[3] But such approaches may also be profitable in the study of Elizabethan literary history, and especially in the examination of cartography, poetry, and the many texts which chart the connections between culture and place at this time.

In addition to exploring the ways in which the language of cartography and chorography informed writing of the period, I propose to examine how the opening up of world horizons challenged Spenser firstly to redefine the identity of England and Ireland by writing about national cultural history and secondly to reconsider his ideas of reality and representation. That land and literature had important roles to play in this project is perhaps suggested by Spenser's schematic analysis of the growth of Albion in Book 2 of The Faerie Queene, which suggests a process of inhabitation, working, testing, and praising the physical land. In a backwards glance to an age when giants overran the country and the soil was "Vnpeopled, vnmanurd, vnprou'd, vnpraysd," we are shown a time when a lack of self-understanding and maturity ensured that the country enjoyed neither its historically important geographical sign of self-containment, island status, nor outward recognition of its resources in the form of mercantile homage from foreign traders:

Ne was it Island then, ne was it paysed
Amid the Ocean waues, ne was it sought
Of marchants farre, for the profits therein praysed.[4]
By contrast, England, and, to some extent, Ireland, had moved beyond this stage of anonymity and are shown in Spenser's writing to have more fully developed agricultural and social systems.Crucially, too, England had a new crop of poets, ready to praise the cultural achievements of their nation and create a national literature which, as Richard Helgerson has suggested, could compete with both the classics and the best European writing of the age.[5]

Culture has come to define notions of writing about social customs, the arts, and national heritage. However, its frame of reference in early modern Europe was rather different and often encompassed ideas of the enclosure and working of the land: Cawdrey, in his Table Alphabeticall (1604), defines it as " husbandry, tilling." If, according to Spenser's scheme, poetry is both the culmination of and comment upon a process of national development which depends on such cultivation, then it should be fruitful to look at his writing in relation to culture and place. Recent theoretical criticism has attempted to come to the heart of this problem of how literature and culture interact by characterizing what Stephen Greenblatt has called a "poetics of culture" and questioning how "cultural objects, expressions, and practices . . . acquired compelling force,"[6] In a different vein, Richard Helgerson has examined the connections between national identity and literary models and has argued that Greek, Gothic, and Latin literary models had nationalistic implications for writers struggling to define their "forms of nationhood." Following these historical theoretical models, I intend to examine the origins and resonances of an idea of culture in the context of symbolic and social depictions of place, and seek to explore their relationship to the associated (and problematic) concepts of colonization and civilization.

Ideas of geography which were current at the time were instrumental in provoking Elizabethan writers to reconsider the representation of place and culture through landscape. As well as producing a new generation of poets, England was also home to historical geographers who were depicting the nation's topographical features. From the Itinerary of John Leland earlier in the sixteenth century, to William Camden's Britannia (1586) and Christopher Saxton's Atlas of England and Wales (1579), there was a wide range of new geographic texts, many of which seem explicitly to project a sense of pride in the nation. This outpouring of geographic ideas contextualizes the use of cartographic metaphors used increasingly commonly in fiction: in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, for example, it is said of Malvolio that "he does smile his face into more lines than are in the new map with the augmentation of the Indies."[7] For Spenser, too, the map could inform the metaphor. In the description of the river Thame in Book 4 of The Faerie Queene he observes

And on his head like to a coronet
He wore, that seemed strange to common vew,
In which were many towres and castels set,
That it encompast round as with a golden fret.
As Hamilton notes, Spenser's picture of the coronet resembles Saxton's map which shows London on the Thames as a crowded cluster of towers which are arranged in the form of a crown.[8] Such parallels between two different kinds of representation stress the possibility for seeing mapmaking and writing as working within a framework of similar concerns and interests with regard to a new geographical ordering of the world.[9]

Notwithstanding the limited ownership of cartographic texts, the increase in the numbers of maps published and the currency of geographic metaphors in texts suggests that these metaphors were widely understood and that geographical ways of thinking could plausibly be depicted as part of the mental apparatus of characters in practical and fictional works. Earlier in the century, Sir Thomas Elyot, in his much reprinted work The boke named the gouernour, had outlined the benefits for a governor of using geographical pictures in order to know his territory: Alexander, he points out,

caused the countrayes whereunto he purposed any enterprise, diligently and counningly to be discribed and paynted, that, beholdynge the picture, he mought perceyue whiche places were most daungerous: and where he and his host mought haue most easy and coenable passage.[10]
The inventory of Essex/Leicester House (where Spenser stayed as a young poet) also tells us that maps were often hung on the walls, combining decoration with usefulness for government office.[11]

Various literary rulers and politicians also took Elyot's advice: Marlowe's Tamburlaine demands "Give me a map: then let me see how much/ Is left for me to conquer all the world."[12] Glyndower, in 1 Henry IV 3.1, pulls out a map to show the Archdeacon's division of England. Similarly, Spenser's Eudoxus in A view of the present state of Ireland perceives the usefulness of cartographic representation as a visual aid in his strategic planning when he lays out his "mapp of Ireland" in order to examine the country. In portraying such an action, as will be discussed in chapter 6, Spenser not only assumes something about a governor's means of acquiring knowledge of his territory, but also "maps" out the visual possibilities for the reader's plotting of the verbal space which the text projects.

On a more abstract level, it also seems plausible to argue that in a poem where the Queen is at the centre of places and events, and in a society where the monarch was happy to be seen as dominating the land, configurations of power in terms of space are of particular interest. Take, for example, Spenser's depiction of Brutus plotting the city limits of London which proceeds with the assumption that

So huge a scope at first him seemed best
To be the compasse of his kingdomes seat;
So huge a mind could not in lesser rest,
Ne in small meanes containe his glory great.[13]
By implying that the range of a ruler's mental powers is reflected through the size, or "compasse" of his kingdom, Spenser hints that geography was a standard against which a ruler--and perhaps a poet--could measure himself. Moreover, what this example reveals is the assumption that ideas of power were mentally and metaphorically framed by constructs of national and personal geographic space. The figuring of power through the compass is just one instance in The Faerie Queene of the organization of power according to notions of centre and periphery which allow the Queen to dominate the literary space of a poem to which she, although absent from, is nonetheless central. Likewise, on a map, a compass is the centre point from which the geometric organization of the text is projected, and yet, at the same time, a feature which belongs specifically to the map's marginalia. If this model of centrality from periphery is transferred to a hermeneutic level, it might therefore be said of the Queen (as of Calidore's and the poem's navigational direction in Book VI) that she "Though out of course, yet hath not bene mis-sayd."[14]

Just as geography provides conventions of representation which are used to illuminate the power plays at work in imaginative, historical writing, so literary preoccupations may be found in cartography and in practical texts about land use. For example, the royal coats of arms and celebratory picture of Queen Elizabeth in Saxton's Atlas suggest that, like Spenser's epic poem, this work is centred on the Queen and that, like the Ditchley portrait, where the Queen stands on a map of England and Wales, she has authority over the land. Likewise, some of the books about ploughing and husbandry are, as I will show, as concerned with moral virtues and improvement of the land and people as are The Faerie Queene and A view of the present state of Ireland. It has been recognized for some time that a broader definition of what a text is allows us to see how similar ideas may be identified in forms which are intended for very different situations and readers. The existence of overlapping concerns in geographic and poetic texts which I have been outlining would seem to strengthen the case for such a definition. Therefore, it is justifiable to approach Spenser's work in a way that plays off the cultural (religious, social, literary) resonances of various geographic texts against his depictions of landscape. Clearly, The Faerie Queene is neither an agricultural manual nor a map; nonetheless, it belongs in a sphere of cultural writing, the concerns of which inevitably, if obliquely, informed its portrayal of power and place. Therefore, whilst being aware of Spenser's consciously expressed borrowings from the cartographic register, this study will also seek to examine the circulation of the diverse, disparate, and perhaps only unconsciously realized early traces of the discourse of culture, and to explore how these ideas provoked Spenser to reconsider imaginatively the identity of his nation and the nature of representation.

One particular example illustrates the fact that similar concerns are shared by diverse kinds of representation. There is a set of Elizabethan playing-cards, now in the British Museum, illustrated with maps from Saxton's Atlas.[15] The cards are interesting because they reveal a sense of pride in the nation through their praise of the physical land in verses which accompany the miniature maps. From this agricultural pride in the land comes an assertion of the cultural superiority of England's counties and of London over other European and classical cities: one of the introductory cards, for example, gives thanks

For fruitfull ground, for riuer, and good ayre,
For store of welth, of people, and of powre
And Troye att any tyme, seeme halfe so faire
As doth hir doughter Lond att this howr.
Other cards compare English soil to continental and come to similar conclusions, moving equally quickly from natural resources to the social sphere of people and power. What is relevant when we consider this in terms of poetry and culture is not only the apparent panegyric pride, but also the assumption that national prosperity and social richness were somehow linked to, even a result of, the fruitfulness of the physical land.

This assumption recalls the model suggested in Book 2 of The Faerie Queene, to which I have already referred, where the building of a nation is seen to depend as much on agriculture as on defence or literary definition. If the undeveloped Albion nation is "vnpeopled, vnmanurd, vnprou'd, vnpraysd," then a mature nation will be one which has been populated, cultivated, tested, and celebrated. Such a process is crucial to an understanding of culture and place in Spenser as it grounds national development in both physical and social culture--cultivation of the land, and culturing of the people. It is against this development that we might come to terms with a "poetics of culture."

A classical model for Spenser's surveying of national history and geography is Aeneas' view of Carthage in Book 1 of The Aeneid:

Meanwhile Aeneas and Achates turned on their way, following the track, and they were soon climbing the great hill which towered over the city and looked down upon the citadel opposite. Aeneas was amazed by the size of it where recently there had been nothing but shepherds' huts, amazed too by the gates, the paved streets and all the stir. The Tyrians were working with a will: some of them were laying out the line of walls or rolling up great stones for building the citadel; others were choosing sites for building and marking them out with the plough; others were drawing up laws and electing magistrates and a senate whom they could revere; on one side they were excavating a harbour; on the other laying deep foundations for a theatre and quarrying huge columns from the rock to make a handsome backdrop for the stage that was to be.[16]
For Aeneas, aware of the pattern of his own city of Troy, the actions of building the structures of government, law, and trade, shaping the land, and laying the foundations for a future cultural life are central to the establishment of a state.[17] In The Faerie Queene, Guyon is, similarly, shown a survey of England's cultural heritage in the form of "picturals"
Of Magistrates, of courts, of tribunals,
Of commen wealthes, of states, of pollicy,
Of lawes, of iudgements, and of decretals;
All arts, all sciences, all Philosophy . . .[18]
And although the scene is played out against a different national backdrop, there are significant coincidences in poetic method and, more visually, in the standpoint of the author in relation to the unfolding vista below him--coincidences which are, it would seem, revealing of the methods by which nations are represented. Because time is imposed onto a spatial vista, processes which take years are condensed into one tableau which is framed and interpreted by Aeneas/Guyon's historical knowledge of how a country will later develop. Viewing a stretch of land, the ruler, knight, or author can claim a unique perspective as his awareness of history, brought to bear on the geographical field which is laid out below him, inevitably calls to mind cultural associations and connotations--practical, religious, social, personal--which inform his viewpoint.[19]

The idea of culture, which, in Europe, was unambiguously social, grew from a discourse of shared historical associations and expectations. In Thomas More's Life of John Picus, Earl of Mirandula (1510), for example, "culture" is used in a religious context of self-improvement and subsequent benefit to the church if princes attend to "the culture and profit of theyr minds" (rather than to the "pomp and ostentation of their wit.")[20] Similarly, Caxton's Golden Legend (1483) suggests dutiful worship in the "culture and honour of theyr god."[21] But, significantly, when writers were looking to a geographical agricultural context, rather than exploring the nature and duty of worship, these religious considerations were still influential--considerations which were often expressed through the rhetoric of improvement, agricultural initially, but with the amelioration of people, society, and nation as the ultimate aim. This can be seen, for example, in Richard Eden and Peter Whitehorne's respective translations of Peter Martyr's Decades of the Newe Worlde (1555) and Machiavelli's Arte of Warre (1560), which both use cultivation as an indicator of civilization and which then parallel this agricultural control with the establishment of a society and the subjugation of women.[22 Along the same lines, Caxton's Chronicle of England (1505) depicts cultivation as the first stage of establishing sovereignty over a land (so that it is no longer "vnmanurd," to use Spenser's term), with the next stage being the importation (forcible, and, as it turns out, unsuccessful) of women into the country so as to create a structure of familial and societal units on the land which the king has decreed will be inhabited by a few thousand ploughmen "for to culture the londe to harowe it/ & for to sowe it."[23] It is therefore through both agriculture and settlement that territorial claims, once established, are perpetuated.

The role of culture in defining the limits, resources, and organization of a state seems related to a connection between pride in the physical land and loyalty to the nation or government; as William Cecil, Lord Burleigh observed, "I do not dwell in the Country, I am not acquainted with the Plough: But I think that whosoever doth not maintain the Plough, destroys this Kingdom."[24] Moreover, culture, in so far as it is related to the charting of a nation's geography, is also a vital part of a nation's definition of its territorial boundaries after the initial settlement and cultivation of a land have taken place: William Cuningham, author of the first printed geographical treatise in English, A Cosmographical Glasse, pointed out that cartographic and topographic information is a useful tool of defence, without which "both valeaunt Corage, Policy, and Puissance oftentimes can take no place."[25]

In Spenser's writing, culture is central to all four stages of nation-building--settlement, cultivation, testing, and praise--which are outlined in the House of Alma episode. Furthermore, the depiction of landscape involves ideas of improvement, duty, and religious observance similar to those which were to be found in the earliest writings about culture. For example, in the opening, agenda-setting sentence of A view, Eudoxus speculates that if there is "so goodlie and Commodious a soyle as yee reporte I wonder that no course is taken for the turning theareof to good uses, and reducing that salvage nacion to better gouernment and Cyvilitye."[26] The country needs a plan of cultivation which will improve the land and people--both of which are wild or "salvage"--to a new state of civilization. Conversely, too, if civilized laws are brought into force, then the land would be further improved: praising the establishment of tenancy contracts over plots of farmland, Eudoxus describes

the good of the Tenant likewise whoe by suche buildinges and inclosures shall receaue manye benefittes. ffirste by the hansomnes of his howse he shall take greate Comforte of his life more safe dwellinge and a delight to kepe his saide howse neate and Clenlye . . . And to all those other Comodities he shall in shorte time finde a greater added that is his owne wealthe and ritches encreased and wonderfullie enlardged by kepinge his Cattell in enclosures where they shall allwaies haue freshe pasture that is now all trampled and ouerrune.[27]
These plans have as their implicit motivation a desire to civilize Ireland so that the English can govern it more easily. But it would also be true to say that beliefs in the value of turning things to "good uses" by physical labour have their roots in a Protestant work ethic which, as Joan Thirsk has pointed out, promotes a "moral duty to exploit more efficiently the riches of the natural world."[28]

In the discourse of colonialism, it is conventional for models from a writer's home nation to be projected onto a new territory. Thus, the reformation of the Irish from their "theeverie and Rogerie" is to be brought about by "labour and husbandrie" which will make them aware of "swetenes and happie Contentment" as the rewards of ethics applied to the realm of work.[29] When Spenser talks about husbandry and ploughing in this manner he is not, however, operating in a vacuum; numerous English husbandry manuals of the period show the kinds of ideas which were in circulation at the time before and around when he was working. Tusser's enormously popular A hundreth good points of husbandrie (1557)[30] and Fitzherbert's Boke of husbandrie (1548) both combine the tenets of a Protestant work ethic with practical advice on gaining good yields from the soil. More explicitly, John Norden in his slightly later work, The Surueyor's Dialogue (1607), evokes the Bible to demonstrate the profits--spiritual and physical--of hard work: "With the sweat of thy face thou shalt eate thy bread, all the days of thy life"(Gen 3.19). These are the texts which foster the rhetoric of improvement which can then be applied, with religious justification, to the colonization of Ireland.

On the other hand, an inevitable result of the civilizing of another country and the consequent understanding of otherness and difference, is a turning inwards and an urge to reconsider ethical practices at home. Perhaps it is for this reason that Spenser's Shepheardes Calender emphasizes not idyllic repose, but seasonal work which, as Alastair Fowler notes, "[modulates] the pastoral eclogue . . . into a very distant georgic key."[31] Unusually, Spenser's poem avoids the conventional pastoral vision of timelessness and otium, and, like Virgil's Georgics, presents a landscape which changes with the months and seasons and which is home to "mortal men, that swincke and sweate."[32] Unlike Virgil, though, Spenser seems to suggest that such hard work should be seen in a Christian context of obedience and honest living. The July eclogue, in particular, might be interpreted as an attack on clerical (whether episcopal or Roman Catholic) idleness and fondness for idolatry--E.K.'s note that there is a contrast between the "commendation, of good shepeheardes" and the "disprayse of proude and ambitious Pastours"[33] implies that the poem values duty and humility. Similarly, as John N. King has observed, the May eclogue implicitly criticizes non-resident clergy holders of benefices through reflection on the fate of hireling shepherds and those who abandon their flock:

I muse, what account both these will make,
The one for the hire, which he doth take,
And thother for leaving his Lords taske,
When great Pan account of shepeherdes shall aske.[34]
Having neglected their duty in this pastoral setting, the shepherds are open to judgement from their God. We might conclude, therefore, that landscape and the work associated with it in The Shepheardes Calender have a religious-cultural frame. The notion of improvement through manual labour which is central to that framework is entirely fitting with both the general ideas of culture in this period which I have outlined above and with Spenser's charting of the testing and praise of the country through colonization and cultivation.

If the culture of the land is the context of this improvement, then the landscape settings might be understood as not only depicting contemporary patterns of land use, but also acting allegorically to show the testing and education of the knight, of the reader, and of the nation. As depictions of landscape reveal social, religious, and national concerns, so too the challenges to each knight in uncertain moral territory are played out a manner that is demonstrably connected to how Spenser and his contemporaries saw England. In this sense, a "poetics of culture" is rooted both in the depiction of the culture of the land, and in the poet's working out of the relation of his work to the society to which he belongs.

The different symbolic, personal, and national levels on which the poem therefore operates are linked most clearly in the passages where the land is figured as nursery to the virtues of the knights, and as the backdrop against which their (self-) defining moments occur. Calidore's pastoral-poetic retreat in Book 6 is to cultivated, profitable land, and, as such, is personally beneficial to him, not least because in it he mixes pleasurable relaxation with "diligent attent"[35] to his work which shows him to be worthy even of the standards of the agricultural writers mentioned earlier; the author of the early sixteenth-century Kalender of Sheepehards, for example, orders labourers

To repe and sheffe, eschewing ydlenes
And ryse early with perfite dyligence
Thanking our Lorde of his great prouidence.[36]
In contrast, we might recall Guyon's experience in the Bower of Bliss, where the too-cultured synthetic surroundings and idle pleasure constitute a threat to his virtue which cannot be ignored. With Calidore, however, not only is his pastoral sojourn restorative, but the very source of the virtue which he represents is figured as being born and grown by divine cultivation: the nursery of courtesy
first was by the Gods with paine
Planted in earth, being deriu'd at furst
From heauenly seedes of bounty soueraine,
And by them long with carefull labour nurst,
Till it to ripenesse grew, and forth to honour burst.[37]
And if pastoral is the nursery of courtesy (a virtue of the utmost value to the sixteenth-century knight-poet) it is also, as the Mount Acidale episode later in the same book shows, the home of art and poetry. So although this is by no means an overtly Christianized allegorical landscape--indeed, it owes much to classical pastoral modes--it is nonetheless interesting to see how Spenser's poetic representation of place is so closely supportive of the examination of virtuous character and poetic production in its emphasis on cultivation--personal and poetic--as the fruit of spiritual and agricultural labour.

If pastoral, the setting for Calidore's test, is also a familiar literary landscape in which to reflect on the nature of virtue, the landscape of Book 1--testing ground for the allegorical methods and assumptions of the whole poem--is completely uncharted. As such it is as unknown as the New World and hence as challenging to the knights as a foreign continent may have been perceived to have been by Spenser's Elizabethan audience. Red Cross Knight's lack of "tables" to help him find his way clearly runs counter to the advice given in Cuningham's Cosmographical Glasse, where the traveller is informed, of the uses of geography, that

In trauailing by land, her tables poynteth which way to folow, that thy iornay may be spedier, safe, short, & plesant, wher you shall ascend vp to hilles, wher to passe ouer waters, where to walk through woodes, and wher most aptly to remaine at night.[38]
Should George have done his geographical homework? Perhaps the point is that the necessary maps were not available to him--indeed, that the landscape of Book 1 has to be unknown in order to create a challenge to his virtue, to allow him to misread the signs around him, and to misinterpret the challenges to his faith so that he becomes morally as well as physically lost to the point where
So many pathes, so many turnings seene,
That which of them to take, in diuerse doubt they been.[39]
Likewise, Britomart, in Book 3, voyages "Withouten compasse, or withouten card" away from her native soil in order to seek praise and fame in Faerie land.[40] It is not that real knights don't use maps, rather that the unchartedness of the territory emphasizes the testing of the knight, as Red Cross Knight uses the "little glooming light"[41] from his armour to light his way. In this sense his quest stands for both the testing of his temperament and associated Christian values, and of the country which he emblematically represents.

That this testing takes a religious form is significant. Definitions of what England was at this time focussed as much on religious as on national identity--indeed, the two were inextricably bound up as the potential threats to England from Catholic parts of continental Europe did not come about only because England in itself presented a challenge to other countries, but also because, as a Protestant nation, it did not give up its religious sovereignty to Rome. Consequently, when George's integrity is tested in Book 1 by a whole host of allegorical challenges (many of which can be equated with Roman Catholicism) his steadfastness should be seen as demonstrating the unassailability of the simultaneously coherent religious and national values of the Protestant England for which he stands.

With religion at the heart of English gestures towards self-definition, it is hardly surprising, therefore, that poetic and cartographic depictions of America's new geographical territory were figured in moral and religious terms. In a late sixteenth-century interpretation of the chivalric scene, the Dutch engraver in London, Jodocus Hondius, projects the European discovery of America by Christopher Columbus and subsequent voyagers onto a world map. This map contains, in the bottom half of the map frame, the figure of the Christian Knight, armed with the Shield of Faith, the Sword of the Spirit, and the Helmet of Salvation, ready to take on Sin, the Flesh, the Devil, and Death.[42] The convergence of ideas with the contemporaneously published Faerie Queene is remarkable as the Christian Knight's position on the geometric map grid projection is paralleled by Spenser's knights' journeys across a linguistically mapped out terrain which is equally revealing of concerns and new ideas inspired by a changing understanding of one country's place in relation to a wider--and expanding--world. Through the medium of a romance quest, conducted by virtuous knights traversing uncertain moral territory, the nation is tested and "proved." The chivalric journey of The Faerie Queene therefore represents a confluence of personal, national, and social forces which define the cultural development of England.

As the final stage in the peopling, manuring, and proving of the nation, praise (in poetry or any other text) is also a part of cultural development. In Spenser's analysis, moreover, its function is often explored through metaphors of cultivating the land. From The Faerie Queene as the "unripe" or "wilde" fruit of Ireland's "sauadge soyle, far from Parnasso mount,"[43] to ploughing as a georgic metaphor for poetic creativity and industry in Book 6, poetic culture is therefore grounded in a discourse of land and language. Announcing his return to Calidore's story in Book 6, Spenser applies the responsibility of turning fertile soil to good use to the poet's need to do justice to the honour of his knight:

Now turne againe my teme thou iolly swayne,
Backe to the furrow which I lately left;
I lately left a furrow, one or twayne
Vnplough'd, 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;
Besides the great dishonour and defame,
Which should befall to Calidores immortall name.[44]
In other words, it's time to get back to the point. The coincidence of the georgic metaphor with Calidore's delinquency is so remarkable as to require elucidation. In so far as the poet's project is paralleled by the knight's retreat to self-definition in a pastoral setting, poetry might be seen as a means to improvement through profitable digression. Turning, in imitative repetitive movement, to the "furrow which I lately left" and to his virtuous subject, Spenser confirms that poetry can mimic the ploughman's work. He also demonstrates, through the enjambment of lines three and four, that, as, in the Prothalamion, sweet Themmes runs softly till he ends his song, so too in The Faerie Queene, his "teme" of horses keeps on furrowing, and his "theme" of improvement of the individual and nation is continuously worked out in the lines of poetry. Their course, like that of the boat in 6.12.1, though "often stayd, yet never is astray."

Although the land is the setting for Calidore's desertion of his quest, the digression which this occasions is not therefore perceived as being harmful to the poetic project of the poem. In other words, although Calidore is inactive, the language created by the "coulter" is, as the above passage reveals, still polysemously active. The pastoral interlude should perhaps be seen as having an improving function, at least as far as poetry is concerned, in that it allows the poet to turn to labour through the metaphors of working the land, with all the moral connotations which operate in that cultural field. Poetry thus returns to the "culture"/ "coulter" from which it came; for, as Polixenes in The Winter's Tale explains, this is "an art/That nature makes."

But although poetry is figured as the fruit of cultivated land, its association with pastoral should not imply that poetry is detached from, or unable to comment upon, worldly affairs. Indeed, Spenser's pastoral is not in itself unworldly, but has a wisdom which is learned from poetic digression; when Calidore goes forth "in shepheards weeds" to seek the thieves who killed Melib he wears armour which "underneath, him armed priuily."[45] Spenser hints that, having learned from the poetic trials of Britomart and the other knights, Calidore is aware that a pastoral landscape may require him to don more protection than would usually be thought necessary. The knight may be deserting his quest, but it is in this setting that he learns to see through forms (of dress, of place, of society) and to use his armour of virtue more effectively.

The same is true of poetry; in other words, what Book 6, like Book 2, teaches is the importance of poetic choice, or the value of testing virtue, grown in a pastoral nursery, in a wider world. Milton was later to emphasize the necessity of robust, proven virtue in his praise of Spenser; in the Areopagitica he notes that

That virtue which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evill, and knows not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank vertue, not a pure; her whiteness is but an excrementall whiteness: Which was the reason why our sage and serious Poet Spencer, whom I dare be known to think a better teacher then Scotus or Aquinas, describing true temperance under the person of Guion, brings him in with his palmer through the cave of Mammon, and the bowr of earthly blisse that he might see and know, and yet abstain."[46]
If this element of choice is important in the making of the knight, contemporary criticism also suggests that it is part of the artistic skill which a poet brings to bear on his material. Plotting the ground for Spenser's evocation in Book 1 of a new allegorical territory, Tasso, in his Discourses on the Heroic Poem, warns that
Supremely prudent he must therefore be who would not go wrong in choosing where there is so much variability and uncertainty in the things involved. And the material of poetry is like a dark forest, murky and without a ray of light.[47]
As Red Cross Knight must prove himself in a wandering wood, and in doing so stands for the quest of the nation in a changing world, so poetry is tested in its flexibility in assimilating new forms, and yet still providing a clear pattern of moral light. Or, as Tasso proposed,
I write of these things as a man who speaks his own view and seeks the views of others, as if to spark off a great glowing light that may illuminate the darkness obscuring the immense forest of poetic matter.[48]
The education of the reader is at stake here too; both Red Cross Knight and the reader are taught in Book1 to read the poem's allegorical symbols, and this education continues throughout the poem--indeed education of the the individual reader is part of the protestant agenda of the poem in an age when the teaching of ordinary people to read te Bible had enormous significance, as it took away the power of interpretation of the Roman Catholic Church so that the salvation of the individual became a matter for God and the individual rather than the Church. Like Belphoebe, therefore, the reader learns to apply the trials and toils of the wilderness to study, discovering that
Abroad in armes, at home in studious kind
Who seekes with painefull toile, shall honor soonest find.

In woodes, in waues, in warres she wonts to dwell,
And will be found with perill and with paine.
Significantly, again, a topographical setting is used to work out the role and nature of poetry as well as of individual virtue. Common, moreover, to both Spenser's and Tasso's interpretations is the understanding, which is a motivating force in many depictions of place at this time, that artistic selectivity is a useful skill in the face of a changing world picture and the expansion of so many new geographic and literary horizons; as Tasso puts it,
immense too is the diversity of opinions, or rather the contradiction in judgements, the transformation of languages, customs, laws, rites, republics, kingdoms, emperors, and almost of the world itself, which seems to have changed its face and to present itself to us in another form and another guise.[49]
What Tasso here, like Spenser in the Proem to Book 2, suggests is the need for a new poetic representational apparatus--a model which accounts for the role of place and culture in the relations between poetry, language, religion, and society. This problem is at the heart of Spenser's discussion of the exploration of the American continent, the consequences of which are that poets must reconsider firstly what can be seen, and, secondly, what the boundaries are between fact and fiction: in the Proem to Book 2 he suggests
But let that man with better sence aduize,
That of the world least part to us is red:
And dayly how through hardy enterprize,
Many great Regions are discouered,
Which to late age were neuer mentioned.
Who euer heard of th'Indian Peru?
Or who in venturous vessell measured
The Amazons huge riuer now found trew?
Or fruitfullest Virginia who did euer vew?
If the world is a text of which many parts have not previously been "red" (i.e., made known) then the new texts of discovery propose that there is a whole new world which can be used as metaphorical material for a literary imagination.[50] Moreover, Spenser's understanding that there were worlds beyond what he could see has important consequences for literature. A dialogue between Philonicus and Spondaeus in Cuningham's Cosmographical Glasse typifies the way in which geographical writers were stressing that any view of landscape is optically ( as well as culturally and historically) dependent upon the position of the viewer.
Spond: And is this Horizont a fixed Circle or not?
Philo: It is fixed, and without motion_.
Spond: It should seme contrary. For I beynge at London haue one Horizont,and goyng to Antwerpe, have another, and so at Colein an other, and at Heydelberge another, &c.
Philo: I confesse no lesse, but that proveth nothinge that the horizont moueth,for loke what errour you shoulde fall: you must graunte (if the horizont moue) that with the turning of the heauens, your Circle must come ouer your verticall po t once in 24. houres.
Spond: Nay, I will not graunt such absurditie in any case: wherefore I see that it is my cha gyg that maketh me to have a new horizont, and not the horizont to move with me.[51]
Likewise, Spenser acknowledges that the eye's horizon is limited and that there are lands beyond his vision. But, consequently, what the individual does see is important: Spondaeus' realization that changing his position makes him have a new horizon, even though the horizon does not physically move with him, simultaneously confirms human limitation and proclaims individual uniqueness.

Spenser himself deploys this acknowledgment of human limitation to construct a defence of fiction against the charge of mendacity. As a framework to the evocation of new continents, he appears to propose the collapsing of oppositions which characterize theories of representation--particularly the false dichotomy, as he sees it, between historical writing, the "matter of iust memory," and the figurative tropes of poetry, seen as the "aboundance of an idle brain" and "painted forgery."[52] There is a difference, as he notes in the letter to Sir Walter Raleigh, between history which "discourseth of affayres orderly" and poetry which may play around with time scales and "maketh a pleasing Analysis of all," but the criticism which could be made of poetry, that it is based on a falsehood because it can create an illusion of reality out of nothingness, is a false one. For what the discovery of the new world suggests is that lack of personal knowledge of a place is not reason enough to dismiss it as a fiction and falsehood; the existence of Peru, the Amazon, or Virginia would not have been credited in the past, yet, "all these were, when no man did them know;/ Yet haue from wisest ages hidden beene."[53]

Bearing in mind the example of the American continent, the incredulous reader (Queen Elizabeth, and the general reader, who is party to this communication between poet and monarch) is therefore warned of the dangers of assuming that it is her comprehension or viewing of something that makes it real: "Why then should witlesse man so much misweene/ That nothing is, but that which he hath seene?"[54] She is then invited to apply this new-found skill, learned from perhaps the most widely influential example that century of the mental accommodation of the unexpected, to reading the rest of The Faerie Queene. Turning back in the next stanza to England, having learned about the challenges of representation, the reader is then educated in the conventions of Faerie land allegory which are again figured through ideas of landscape setting. She is taught "By certaine signes here set in sundry place" to approach depictions of the country semiotically, to decipher the clues which allow correspondences to be made between and through the fictional, physical, and social worlds and see "thine owne realmes in lond of Faery/ And in this antique Image thy great auncestry." Charting the development of Albion in Book 2 and exploring unknown moral territory elsewhere in The Faerie Queene, Spenser relies on the reader's understanding of these "certaine signes" to make connections between the "lond of Faery" and England.

It is partly because of the varied cultural connotations of early modern writing about landscape that it has become a subject particularly suited to working out the representation of nature and nation, culture and civilization. And as such, it appears to give us some insight into cultural history as what Roger Chartier has called the

configurations and motifs--of representation of the social sphere--that give unconscious expression to the positions and the interests of social agents as they interact, and that serve to describe society as those social agents thought it was or wished [it] to be.[55]
At a time when the scope of these configurations and motifs was being considerably widened, landscape provided a whole field of interpretative possibilities which, for Spenser, inevitably led to new ways of describing the interrelations of the poet, textual representation, and the nation. Referring to the very real geographical landscape of the marriage of the Thames and Medway, he seems to question the ability of language and literature adequately to represent the nation; in the conventional rhetoric of poetic doubt he asks
But what do I their names seeke to rehearse,
Which all the world have with their issue fild?
How can they all in this so narrow verse
Contayned be, and in small compasse hild?[56]
Yet The Faerie Queene is full of passages that indicate that the truth of literary representation was far removed from such self-effacement; and that, indeed, there was in English writing ample opportunity for charting the growth of the nation. Alongside traditional texts about the culturing of the land--the old husbandry manuals, shepherds calenders, and religious-cultural histories--there were also the texts of the mapping of the New World and new English historical-geographical writings which attempted to provide comprehensive coverage of English culture and place. For Spenser, texts such as Camden's Britannia seemed to acquire a monumental status and to provide some reassurances that what has since been termed the Elizabethan "project" of charting England's place within the world would not be forgotten in future generations. Recalling the end of Ovid's Metamorphoses, he proclaims, in "The Ruines of Time,"
Cambden the nourice of antiquitie,
And lanterne vnto late succeeding age,
To see the light of simple veritie,
Buried in ruines, through the great outrage
Of her owne people, led with warlike rage;
Cambden, though time all moniments obscure,
Yet thy iust labours euer shall endure.[57]
By the completion of The Faerie Queene, there were far more depictions of England--in all kinds of texts--which could both redefine England's place within a changing world and make available to poets a wider geographic vocabulary with which to consider their relation to it. Although it has long been recognized that Spenser's writing negotiates between fiction and politics, the tools of a changing geographic language have not previously been recognized as instrumental in generating both a reason why and a means by which this negotiation might come about. Henri Lefebvre has noted the widely accepted principle that "physical space has no "reality" without the energy that is deployed within it."[58] This study has attempted to explain why culture is the background for a reappraisal of national development and to show, through analysis of Spenser's depictions of countries and cities, how landscape generates that "energy" which makes national space real.


  1. James Duncan and David Ley, eds., Place/ Culture/ Representation (London and New York: Routledge, 1993) 12.Back

  2. See also Trevor J. Barnes and James S. Duncan, eds., Writing Worlds: Discourse, Text and Metaphor in the Representation of Landscape (London: Routledge, 1992); Stephen Daniels, Fields of Vision: Landscape Imagery and National Identity in England and the United States (Oxford: Polity, 1993); Denis Cosgrove and Stephen Daniels, eds., The Iconography of Landscape: Essays on the Symbolic Representation, Design, and Use of Past Environments (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992).Back

  3. Fields of Vision 5.Back

  4. The Faerie Queene, ed. A.C Hamilton (London: Longman, 1977) 2.10.5. Hereafter cited as FQ. Compare William Camden's comments on the developed England: "the navies of Tharsis cannot be compared to thy shipping, bringing in all precious commodities of the world: the sea is thy wall, and strong fortifications do secure thy ports; chivalry, clergy and merchandise do flourish in thee." Remaines of a Greater Worke, concerning Britaine, the inhabitants thereof, their Languages, Names, Surnames, Empreses, Wise speeches, Poesies, and Epitaphes, 1605 (London: John Russell Smith, 1870) 3.Back

  5. Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England (Chicago: Chicago UP, 1992). See also Helgerson's Self-Crowned Laureates (Berkeley: California UP, 1983).Back

  6. "The Circulation of Social Energy." Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England (Berkeley: California UP, 1988) 5.Back

  7. Twelfth Night 3.2.74-5. John Gillies follows other commentators in identifying Edward Wright's Hydrographiae Descriptio as the map referred to. Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1994) 41. The map, usually found bound in the second edition of Richard Hakluyt's Principall Navigations (1598), incorporates Wright's improvements onto the Mercator projection. For a fuller description see under "Hakluyt's Map of the World in Projection" in A.M. Hind, Engraving in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (3 vols, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1952) 1:178-181.Back

  8. FQ 4.11.27. As noted by Hamilton 513n. See Saxton's map of Kent, Sussex, Middlesex and London in William Ravenhill, Christopher Saxton's Sixteenth Century Maps (Shrewsbury: Chatsworth Library, 1992) 32-33.Back

  9. To suggest that geography gives to literature at this time new ways of thinking about place is not to claim a sudden change in what might once have been called the Elizabethan world picture. Nor is it to argue for a "new geography" and the beginning of modern methods of measuring and categorizing the features of the earth--for this is, as John Gillies has pointed out, to "back-project the scientific bias of the modern geographic historians who invented [the new geography]." But it is to propose that because of the charting of the New World and increasing interest in historical geography, there were more geographical texts available to be read, and hence a greater currency of geographical metaphors with which to explain the world. Shakespeare and the Geography of Difference 156.Back

  10. The boke named the governour, ed. H.H.S. Croft (2 vols. London: Kegan Paul, 1880) 1:78.Back

  11. C.L.Kingsford, "Essex House, Formerly Leicester House and Exeter Inn" Archaeologia 73 (1922-3) 1-54.Back

  12. Tamburlaine Part 2, 5.3.123-4. For comment on Marlowe's use of Ortelius and his location of Zanzibar see Ethel Seaton, "Fresh Sources for Marlowe." RES 5 20 (1929) 385-401.Back

  13. FQ 3.9.46. And see the description of the Sarazin head at 5.2.19 which is mounted on a post as a reminder to mighty rulers that they should not persecute the feeble, but "alwaies doe their powre within iust compasse pen."Back

  14. FQ 6.12.1.Back

  15. See Hind, Engraving in England 1: 182-6; and "An Elizabethan Pack of Geographical Playing Cards." British Museum Quarterly 13 (1938-9) 2-4.Back

  16. Aeneid 1.419-29. Trans. David West (London: Penguin, 1990) 16-17.Back

  17. Of Spenser's contemporaries, William Camden also proposed such a progression. See Remains . . .concerning Britain, especially pages 1-3.Back

  18. FQ 2.9.53.Back

  19. The word "landscape," from the Dutch "landskip," is interesting in this context as it suggests a view onto a piece of land, with a scope or range (perhaps temporal as well as spatial) across a plane of vision. OED also defines it as a "prospect, a vista, part of what is drawn in a scene." See, e.g., Ben Jonson, "Masque Blackness," Works (1616) 893: "First, for the Scene, was drawne a Landtschap, consisting of small woods."Back

  20. In The English Works of Sir Thomas More (London: Eyre and Spotiswood, 1931) 1:369.Back

  21. Golden Legend 81.1.Back

  22. Richard Eden, trans. Peter Martyr's Decades of the Newe Worlde (London: William Powell, 1555) 29; Peter Whitehorne, The Arte of warre, written first in Itali by Nicholas Machiavell, and set forth in Englishe by Peter Whitehorne, student at Graies Inne: with an addici of other like Marcialle feates and experim=tes, as in a Table in the ende of the Booke maie appere (London, 1560) 27r.Back

  23. Chronicle Pars 4, f 5 a1.Back

  24. Qtd. in Andrew MacRae "Husbandry Manuals and the Language of Agrarian Improvement" in Michael Leslie and Timothy Raylor, eds., Culture and Cultivation in Early Modern England (Leicester: Leicester UP, 1992) 35. And see Camden, Remains, "Thy swords have been turned into plough-shares: peace and religion flourisheth in thee, so that thou art a mirror to all Christian kingdomes." 3.Back

  25. William Cuningham, The Cosmographical Glasse (London: John Day, 1559) A4r.Back

  26. The Works of Edmund Spenser: A Variorum Edition, ed. Edwin Greenlaw, Charles Grosvenor Osgood, Frederick Morgan Padelford, Ray Heffner (11 vols, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1932-57) A view of the present state of Ireland, ed. Rudolf Gottfried, 10:43:4-7. Except for The Faerie Queene (see note 4), quotations from The Works will henceforth be cited by volume, page, and line.Back

  27. Works 10:135:2571-2582.Back

  28. "Agricultural Policy: Public Debate and Legislation." Agricultural History 52 312. Qtd. in MacRae, "Husbandry Manuals" 36. For a discussion of Spenser's plans for Irish improvement and the "plotting" of the land, see Julia Reinhard Lupton, "Mapping mutability: or, Spenser's Irish plot" in Representing Ireland 93-115.Back

  29. Works 10:216:4899-91.Back

  30. This later became Five Hundred Points. There were editions in 1562, 1570, 1571, 1573 (3 editions), 1574, 1576, 1577, 1580, 1585, 1586, 1590, 1593, 1597, 1599 and several in the seventeenth century. See Louis B Wright on the popularity of this and other works, Middle Class Culture in Elizabethan England (Chapel Hill: North Carolina UP, 1935).Back

  31. Alastair Fowler, Kinds of Literature: An Introduction to the Theory of Genres and Modes (Oxford: Clarendon, 1982) 253.Back

  32. Works 7:108:154.Back

  33. Works 7:66.Back

  34. Works 7:48:51-55. John N. King, "Spenser's Shepheardes Calender and Protestant Pastoral Satire." in Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, ed., Renaissance Genres: Essays on Theory, History, and Interpretation (Cambridge MA: Harvard UP, 1986) 392.Back

  35. FQ 6:9:37.Back

  36. Kalender of Sheepehards, c.1550 B2v. Actually of Roman Catholic origin, but still relevant to Spenser because of its emphasis on work. See Editor's note, Works, 7:240.Back

  37. FQ 6. Proem.3.Back

  38. Cosmographical Glasse A5r. See also Machiavelli's assertion that "among other things essential to the commander of an army is a knowledge of terrains and of countries, for, unless he has this knowledge, alike general and detailed, no army commander can perform any operation well." What was more important, though, when colonisers had become established in a country such as Ireland, was that they could use their knowledge of the country in order to hold onto the land they had gained, to identify and protect land which was suitable for cultivation, and to plan how and where trade could develop. The renown in which Sir Henry Sidney was held for his knowledge of Ireland--its "Havens, Ports, Promontories . . . or whatsoever else could be known . . . not any Man having seen, or observed as much of that Kingdom"--provides some indication of this understanding. Quoted in David J. Baker's essay, "Off the map: charting uncertainty in Renaissance Ireland." Representing Ireland: Literature and the Origins of Conflict ed. Brendan Bradshaw, Andrew Hadfield, Willy Maley (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1993) 77-91: 77.Back

  39. FQ 1.1.10.Back

  40. FQ 3.2.7.Back

  41. FQ 1.1.14.Back

  42. See Hind, Engraving in England 1: 176. The map illustration alludes to Ephesians 6: 13-17.Back

  43. FQ, Dedicatory sonnet to Lord Grey, 742.Back

  44. FQ 6:9:1.Back

  45. FQ 6.11.36.Back

  46. Complete Prose Works of John MiltonBack

  47. Torquato Tasso, Discourses on the Heroic Poem, trans. Mariella Cavalchini and Irene Samuel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1973) 21.Back

  48. Discourses 22.Back

  49. Discourses 22.Back

  50. Hondius' map of Drake and Cavendish's explorations of America is just one depiction of the voyages which were taking place around the time that Spenser was writing.Back

  51. Cosmographical Glasse 18. For a more sophisticated view of perspective, though, see "A Short Treatise of Perspective" which notes that landscape (painting) "expresseth places of larger prospects, as whole contries where the eye seemeth not to be hindered by any objects . . . ether of nature or arte, but to passe as farre as the force thereof can pierce . . . And therfor all thinges seme by littell and little to diminishe and vanishe awaye both in color and shape." BM MS Sloane 536 qtd. in Norman K. Farmer, Poets and the Visual Arts in Renaissance England(Austin: U of Texas P, 1984) 5.Back

  52. FQ 2. Proem.1.Back

  53. FQ 2. Proem.2.Back

  54. FQ 2. Proem.3.Back

  55. Cultural History: Between Practices and Representations, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Cambridge: Polity, 1988) 6.Back

  56. FQ 4.11.17.Back

  57. Works 8:41:169-175.Back

  58. The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991) 13.Back