Vulgarity by G.K. Chesterton

Interior of a Tavern, Peasants Carousing (1635)
Master of the Large Jars
source ArtUK

I’ve been keen to read a Chesterton essay for awhile now, but have not drawn him for the Deal Me In challenge yet.  Luckily, this time, he’s my first draw of the year!

Wearing many hats, Chesterton is known for his poetry, philosophy, theology, orating, journalism, biographies, and literary and art criticism.  I haven’t read many of his essays, but of those I have, I’ve found his style entirely unique, a sort of meandering while at the same time being very pointed.  Reading this essay was similar to my previous experience.

Although more practical inventions such as telephones and aeroplanes have foreshadowings of their later inventions, vulgarity itself is so new that even its name is somewhat misleading.  The Latin word “vulgus” was generally used to describe “something that was not particularly common among the common people.”  In fact, the vulgar is not very common if one searches for evidence of it.  Farmers, peasants, the poor, and even savages are rarely vulgar.  This new “thing” requires a new name and definition and although Chesterton questions his ability to give it, because he has just been reading a book about love, he has a few ideas.  Curious ….. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

Vulgarity consists of two elements: facility and familiarity.  The first means that a man may “gush”, that his words flow without any thought or self-control; they “stream from him like perspiration”.  He appears confident and admired but he “never need stop explaining himself, for he understands neither himself nor the limits of explanation.”  The second element can be defined as profanity, a “loss of holy fear and a sin against the mystical side of man.”  This man can “handle things confidently and contemptuously, without the sense that all things in their way are sacred things.”

“The point is that the fool is so subjective that it never occurs to him to be afraid of the subject.”  He can be both a Pagan fool and a Puritan fool, because each is so familiar with his subject that he becomes blind to the depths of it and loses his objectivity.  On the other hand, a man writing to the woman he loves or the saint writing of his sin, is able to view each with a clear perspective because he has a healthy respect for each and the complexities are clear to him.

Phew!  I certainly understood the gist of Chesterton’s points but following his train of thought can be challenging.  I suspect that I need more practice!

Next week for my Deal Me In Challenge, I’ll be reading the short story, A Little Woman by Franz Kafka, my first reading of Kafka ever.

Week 1 – Deal Me In Challenge – King of Spades

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

An orphan child badly treated by rich relatives.  A grim and lonely school for girls where pestilence hangs in the air.  A Gothic mansion that houses a she-demon and a brooding and sardonic man who, underneath his caustic demeanor, hides a heart that waits to be awakened.  Who could resist such a story?

Well, not I, that’s for sure, and I jumped right into Hamlette’s Jane Eyre read-along that began in June 2016.  It was probably my fifth read of this enduring story, and this time it particularly captured my imagination and heart.  A tale of enduring love and a crossing of the class boundaries was particularly compelling in a time when no one seems to be getting along and division is rife between those would could easily be friends given more tolerance and grace for each other.

Richmond, Yorkshire
Edmund John Niemann
source ArtUK

My read along posts follow:

The Governess (1739)
Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin
source Wikiart

Chapters I & II
Chapters III & VI
Chapters V – VII
Chapters VIII – X
Chapters XI – XIII
Chapters XIV – XVI
Chapters XVII – XIX
Chapters XX – XXII
Chapters XXIII – XXV
Chapters XXVI – XXVIII
Chapters XXIX – XXXI
Chapters XXXII – XXXIV
Chapters XXXV – XXXVIII

We first meet Jane as an orphaned child, living on the charity of her relatives who heap upon her verbal abuse.  Finally, she is shipped off to a disreputable girls school, Lowood, and though the abuse continues from the head administrator, Mr. Brocklehurst, Jane forms a dear friendship with another girl, Helen, who teaches her quiet perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, while exemplifying a steadfast faith in God.  Upon reaching womanhood and taking a post as a governess at Thornfield, Jane encounters the master, a dark, taciturn, mysterious man, Edward Rochester.  Although her heart is awakened, Jane does not waver from her ideals, knowing with a certain wisdom that behaving with dignity and moral principles is the only way to inner peace and true happiness.

While the beginning of the book, chronicling Jane’s childhood, appears to have little to do with the later plot, it plays an important role in understanding the development of her character and her place in society.  As a reader, we are always reminded of her struggles to be treated with respect and dignity, to be treated as an equal, as a soul created by God instead of as a product of a social hierarchy.

“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and drop of living water dashed from my cup?  Do you think because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless?  You think wrong!  — I have as much soul as you —- and full as much heart!  And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you.  I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet equal — as we are!”

My most treasured memories of Jane Eyre is Brontë’s amazing ability to make the characters so intrinsically human, instead of perfect, implausible characters.  While Rochester’s machinations can be rather shocking, you can understand how a man who has had little chance to develop a good steady character and is used to giving free reign to his passions could end up a slave to them.  His emotions drive him without finer moral values to guide him.  Jane, on the other hand, while falling deeply in love with the man she sees he can become, can clearly recognize the pitfalls of ungoverned behaviour. While her heart cries out for him, she is mature and sensible enough to see where wrong actions would take them.  Instead of increasing their love, they would be left with nothing but emptiness.  She would rather remember the depths of the love that they shared in its purest form than degrade herself by being guided solely by passion.

Once again, thanks to Hamlette for this most excellent and measured read-along that allowed me to soak up the story and to spend time with two of my most favourite characters in the pages of literature!

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

“When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.”

Would you like to read a book with the setting in southern rural England, populated by stoic farmers, simple and often comical peasants, one that explores complex relationships between men and women of that time?  It sounds like a wonderful beginning doesn’t it?

Set in the fictional English county of Wessex, Gabriel Oak is a respectable and reliable farmer who loves the unreachable Bathsheba Everdene, a woman who disparages his hard-working, yet common lifestyle and refuses his proposal of marriage.  When Oak finds himself ruined financially, he must depend upon Bathsheba to give him work and a way to reclaim his reputation.  A thoughtless whim on the part of Bathsheba leads to an obsession in the case of Mr. Boldwood, a neighbouring landowner, and Sergent Troy, a jaunty philanderer, seduces Bathsheba’s servant, Fanny, without much remorse, then deliberately bewitches Bathsheba with his rakish manner and manipulative personality, not to mention his unparalleled swordsmanship.  After a fling in the town of Bath, they marry and he sets himself up at the farm as a rather lazy landowner, but lo!, Fanny Robin returns and Troy decides that he has never loved anyone as much as Fanny, and Bathsheba is as interesting as dirt to him.  His heart is loyal, his mind is captivated by only one and no other.  Tragedy devastates Troy causing him to wander senselessly until it is thought that he is drown in the sea.  But no!, another dramatic twist; he returns, wonders why he ever left Bathsheba and appears to want to re-enter her life.  Sound rather nutty?  It is.

A Mill at Gillingham in Dorset (1826)
John Constable
source Wikiart

Yet amongst the dramatic scenes and the emotional mood swings of the characters, Hardy manages to convey a bold impression of the area and a deep understanding of the characters.  And I can’t quite figure out how he does it.  If I examine the characters and their actions individually, I have all sorts of criticisms about their development and plausibility.  However, if I take the book as a whole, I feel that I have inhabited the county of Wessex with a familiarity that is startling; I recognize the types of characters who reside there, their passions and motivations.  Instead of painting a classical picture with bold lines, bright colour, and detail, Hardy has given us an impressionist canvas perhaps from which up close, is muddy and obscure, yet when one steps back, the big picture comes into focus.

Sheep
Charles Jones
source ArtUK

As for the strong and spirited Bathsheba, while on the surface Hardy appears to elevate her to function adeptly in a man’s world, nevertheless there is an underlying feeling of mockery in his treatment of her.  Although she runs a farm with men subservient to her direction, she is often needing the advice of the stoic, yet devoted, Gabriel Oak, and in the end, her feelings and passions are captured by Troy, a man who, to any astute and respectable woman, should be recognized as a charlatan and a gambler.  Instead of showing good sense and integrity, Bathsheba allows herself to be enslaved by him.

I’ve been a die-hard Hardy-avoider for years, not wanting to partake in the depressed nature of his stories, but I’m glad I’ve chosen to dip my toes into his narrative, exploring his richly created world.  A close inspection of the characters and the period drama shows an imbalance within the work, but nevertheless his prose shines with rich descriptions and elaborate detail.  Hardy shows man in his paradoxical state, both in harmony and conflict with nature, and in sympathy and enmity with each other and himself.

Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenor of their way.

From Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751)

The Well at the World’s End by William Morris

“Long ago there was a little land, over which ruled a regulus or kinglet, who was called King Peter, though his kingdom was but little.”

King Peter of Upmeads has four sons, Blaise, Hugh, Gregory and Ralph.  All resolve to set out to seek great adventures but the youngest, Ralph, decides to do so against his father’s wishes.  Encouraged by Dame Katherine, a newly married lady to the chapman, she gives him a beaded necklace of blue and green stones and inspires him to find the Well at the World’s End.

“Son, true it is that the water of that Well shall cause a man to thrive in all ways, and to live through many generations of men, maybe, in honour and good-liking; but it may not keep any man alive for ever; for so have the Gods given us the gift of death lest we weary of life ……

Of strife and of war also we know naught: nor do we desire aught which we may not easily attain to.  Therefore we live long, and we fear the Gods if we should strive to live longer, lest they should bring upon us war and sickness, and over-weening desire, and weariness of life.  …..

…. ye wear away your lives desiring that which ye may scarce get; and ye set your hearts on high things, desiring to be master of the very Gods.  Therefore ye know sickness and sorrow, and oft ye die before your time, so that ye must depart and leave undone things which ye deem ye were born to do; which to all men is grievous.  And because of all this ye desire healing and thriving, whether good come of it, or ill.  Therefore ye do but right to seek to the Well at the World’s End, that ye may the better accomplish that which behoveth you, and that ye may serve your fellows and deliver them from the thralldom of those that be strong and unwise and unkind, of whom we have heard strange tales.”


Ralph’s youth and inexperience are apparent at the beginning of the story, as he travels first to Bourton Abbas and then through the Wood Perilous, meeting up with various adventures and challenges on his journey.  He encounters two women, both of whom he loves, yet one whom he is not destined to keep.  Finally, with Ursula, his love, and with the help of the Sage of Sweveham, they manage to attain their quest, finding the Well and drinking of its bounty.  Their return home is also fraught with danger and intrigue, as Ralph learns the value of perseverance and the rewards of loyalty.

The Vision of the Holy Grail tapesty (1890)
Sir Edward Burne-Jones (design and figures)
William Morris (design and execution)
source Wikipedia

Born in Essex, William Morris had a number of accomplishments and careers during his life, including that of a textile designer, a poet, a novelist and a social activist.  Though classically trained at Oxford, Morris became an architect, and with his friends, the well-known artists Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and archtitect Philip Webb, they formed a decorative arts firm that became the rage of the Victoria era.  His renown as a poet followed, and he further exercised his literary talents as a novelist.    His interest in Marxism and concern for social issues developed an appetite for activism which lasted throughout his life.  He died in 1896 of tuberculosis at the age of 62.

The Merciful Knight (1863)
Edward Burne-Jones
source Wikiart

The Well at the World’s End is a very curious mix of fairy tale, adventure, and rather risque scenes and actions for the time period of Victorian England.  While it reminded me very much of Le Morte d’ArthurThe Faerie Queene, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Morris was not reluctant to reveal the physical attraction between Ralph and the women he encountered, nor did he prevaricate about their physical relationship, however, he did so in rather a romantic knightly way.  Morris was a muse for writers like C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien who admired his pioneering work in the genre of fantasy fiction, and the names “Gandolf” and “Silverfax” which appear in The Well at the World’s End, are echoed also in The Lord of the Rings.

Danaë (The Tower of Brass) 1887-88
Edward Burne-Jones
source ArtUK

This book was a wonderfully rich and exciting read, full of heroic exploits, peril and satisfying resolutions.  Morris was indeed a talented writer and his love for the Medieval is apparent in every word of the story.  I own his book, The News From Nowhere, which I hope to read soon as a follow-up.  Being compared to Gulliver’s Travels and Erewhon, it’s a complete deviation from this story —an utopian novel of a libertarian socialist bent. In any case, his story telling abilities solidified themselves for me with this novel and I’m looking forward to exploring more works from Morris.

Lamia and the Soldier (1905)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart

The Faerie Queene – Book II (Part I)

The Faerie Queene

Book II

Contayning
The Legende of the Sir Gvyon
Or
Of Temperaunce
Canto I
Guyon by Archimage abusd,
The Redcrosse knight awaytes,
Findes Mordant and Amauia slaine
With pleasures poisoned baytes.
Temperance
Giotto
source Wikiart
As soon as Archimago discovers that Redcrosse has departed, he uses secret means to escape from the dungeon.  There is nothing he likes better than tricking people and making them miserable and so he endeavours to ruin another life.  Coming upon a goodly knight, Guyon, accompanied by an old Palmer, Archimago leads him to a woman with rent clothes and dishevelled hair, and with his prompting, she reveals her rapist as the Redcrosse knight!  Guyon is astounded as he knows Redcrosse as an honourable knight, but there is nothing to it but to wreak revenge on his licentious behaviour.  He does not know, however that the woman is false Duessa who was found wandering by Archimago after Arthur had defeated Orgoglio.  
Yet as Guyon goes to attack Redcrosse, he has second thoughts upon seeing the cross on his shield, and begs his forgiveness.  He explains why they were almost foes, whereupon the Palmer approaches and blesses Redcrosse in his endeavours.  Plighting their goodwill, the knights go their own ways, Guyon and the Palmer meeting many challenges, until one day they come across a lamenting mother and child, but even more astounding, a bleeding woman with a baby playing in her lap and a corpse of a knight at her feet.  Removing the knife from her body and repairing her wounds, he inquires of her plight.  Her name is Amavia, and her husband Mordant left her pregnant to pursue exploits, but he is captured by the enchantress Acrasia, who lives in the Bower of Bliss and tempted him with immorality and pleasure.  Dressed as a pilgrim, she seeks her husband but he knows her not when she finds him.  They escape but not before Acrasia places a fatal curse on the man.  As Amavia finishes her story, she dies of grief and Guyon and the Palmer bury the couple, plotting revenge for the waste of these two lives.
Canto II
Babes bloudie hands may not be clensd,
the face of golden Meane.
Her sisters two Extremities:
striue her to banish cleane.

Allegory of Temperance (1685)
Luca Giordano
source Wikiart
Guyon, with compassion, attempts to wash the blood off the orphaned baby’s hands, yet they will not wash clean.  The Palmer explains that fountains and pools may have different properties and there is a story behind this one.  At this particular well, a nymph met Faunus, and fleeing and having no escape, Diana transformed her into a stone. The stone is shaped like a maid and the waters flow around like tears.  The baby’s hand cannot be cleansed by this well, but allows it to be a sacred symbol of his mother’s innocence.
Arriving at a castle inhabited by three women with different mothers, Guyon is welcomed by the middle sister, Medina, who leads him to a lovely bower.  However, the news of his arrival reaches the sisters who are entertaining their knights, Sir Hudibras and Sir Sans-loy, the latter who had tried to kidnap Una.  Before they can attack Guyon, they fall into battle among themselves, leaving Guyon to inquire as to what is happening.  When they see him, they fall upon him, but he defends himself quite adequately until Medina attempts to separate them with pleas and recriminations.  Finally they bow to her wise arguments and agree to dine with her, but the two sisters are unhappy.  Elissa refuses to eat, feeling the entertainment base, yet Perissa enjoys all in excess.  But Medina, with strong grace and behaviour, keeps all in check and inquires of Guyon’s purpose.  He is a knight of the Faerie Queene, on a mission with the Palmer to overcome false Acrasia. Then at Medina’s behest, he tells the story of Mordant and Amavia, until it is bedtime.
Canto III
Vaine Braggadocchio getting Guyons
horse is made the scorne
Of knighthood trew, and is of fayre
Bephoebe fowle forlorne.

Maidens picking flowers by a stream (1911)
John William Waterhouse
source Wikiart
Guyon names the orphaned child, Ruddymane, and leaves him with Medina to care for. Since his steed was stolen by a secret thief, he continues on foot to Acrasia.  But now the horse thief is revealed: Braggadocio, who comes upon a man, Trompart, and threatens him into becoming his servant, although we wonder if servant might be more clever than master?  They meet up with Archimago, who because of Braggadocio’s bearing, thinks he may be able to assist him in his search for Redcrosse and Guyon.  
He asks Trompart why his master has no sword, but the servant swears that he is a doughty knight even with only a spear.  Archimago suddenly blurts out his vengeful plan and the two promise to help, although Archimago is still concerned with Braggadocio’s lack of a sword.  In spite of Braggadocio’s bragging of his conquests without one, Archimago promises him King Arthur’s flaming sword, disappearing unexpectedly, severely scaring the master and servant.  With trepidation, they journey through a forest and discover a maiden, Belphoebe.  She is so astoundingly beautiful that to attempt to describe her would disgrace her beauty, and she is clad in lily white garments.  She inquires of Trompart if he has seen a deer which she had maimed, then seeing Braggadocio behind the bush where he’d crept in cowardice, thinking him game she moves to kill him yet is stayed by Trompart.  Braggadocio attempts flattery, asking why with her beauty she is not at court, yet Belphoebe instructs him that true honour is found in the woods doing honest labour.  When he tries to embrace her, she flees, and the two set off again, the poor horse disgusted with his ignoble burden.
Canto IV
Guyon does Furor bind in chaines,
and stops Occasion:
Deliuers Phedon, and therefore
by strife is rayld upon.

Temperantia (1872)
Edward Burke-Jones
source Wikiart
The Palmer continues to assist the horseless Guyon and lead him in the ways of temperance.  Together they approach a mad old man dragging a young man by the hair, and an old hag limping behind them shouting insults at the stripling and striking him with stones and her cane.  Her face was unpleasantly wrinkled and her hair hung down the front of her face, but a large bald patch was at the back.  Guyon is appalled and tries to free the youth, but the madman goes bezerk and the Palmer introduces him as Furor and the hag, his mother, as Occasion.  He cannot be killed by the sword, and it is best to subdue Occasion first, whereupon Guyon overpowers her, then binds Furor in chains.  
The captive man then begins to tell his story:  he once had a friend, Philemon, who betrayed him upon his pending marriage to Claribell, implying that his fiancée was not faithful.  He tricked him by setting up a scenario where Philemon seduced a maid, Pyrene, who was pretending to be Claribell (yes, this is the same plot as in Much Ado About Nothing). Enraged, the man killed Claribell, and when Pyrene confessed all, he also dispatched Philemon with poison.  The two find that the man’s name is Phaon from the house of Coradin, and the Palmer begins to counsel temperance, when they are interrupted by a squire, Atin, who is looking for Occasion for his own master Pyrocles, who loves battle and war.  The Palmer is shocked that someone would look for an occasion to fight since occasion will find you without the looking. Guyon agrees, and the squire, in pique, shoots a dart at them before running off.
Canto V
Pyrochles does with Guyon fight,
And Furors chayne vnbinds
Of whom sore hurt, for his reuenge
Attin Cymochles finds.

Two Knights Fighting in a Landscape (1824)
Eugene Delacroix
source Wikiart
Pyrochles makes an appearance, riding a blood-red horse and he summarily attacks Guyon.  Guyon is fortunate enough to wound the horse, whereupon Pyrochles must fight him on foot.  The two exchange staggering, intense blows until Guyon brings his foe to his knees, then lays him out until he cries mercy for his life.  Using temperance, Guyon mediates his rage until he concedes to spare his life if he will be loyal to him.  Pyrochles is embarrassed but Guyon says he need not be, only control his rage and lust for war as it does not benefit anyone, either friend or foe.  Pyrochles frees Occasion who wants him to fight Guyon again but Furor, when freed, begins battle with Pyrochles.  When he calls on Guyon for help, the Palmer stays him, saying Pyrochles deserves his fate, but Atin thinks his master is slain and runs to tell Pyrochles’ brother, Cymochles, who is known for his feats in battle and whose lover is Acrasia, keeper of the Bower of Bliss. Finding him being petted and tended by women in the bower, Atin taunts him to embarrassment and he rushes off to avenge his brother.
Canto VI
Guyon is of immodest Merth,
led into loose desire,
Fights with Cymochles, whiles his bro-
ther burnes in furious fire.

Young Woman in a Boat (1870)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
source Wikiart
Inflamed with rage, Cymochles comes to a river where a little boat adorned with boughs and arbours lies.
And therein sate a Ladie fresh and faire,
     Making sweet solace to her selfe alone;
     Sometimes she sung, as loud as larke in aire,
     Sometimes she laught, that nigh her breth was gone,
     Yet was there not with her else any one,
     That might to her moue cause of meriment:
     Matter of merth enough, though there were none
     She could deuise, and thousand waies inuent,
To feede her foolish humour, and vaine iolliment.
She agrees to ferry Cymochles across the river, but refuses Atin in spite of her passenger’s entreaties. Phædria, for that is her name, continues her frivolous behaviour by placing flowers in her hair and generally acting silly.  When questioned by him, she reveals they both serve Acrasia and finally she lands him on an island in Idle Lake.  With Cymochles lulled to sleep, she returns and picks up Guyon, (less the Palmer, to whom she refuses passage) who is at first polite to her, but when she begins her immodest merriment, “her dalliance he despised”.  When they land on the island, Guyon is frosted because he did not want to come there.  Cymochles awakes, finds the pair, and he battles Guyon, yet Phædria finally assuages their rage, entreating love and romance instead of war.  Guyon returns to shore and spies Atin, who soon sees a knight running for the lake.  It is Pyrochles, who thinks he is burning with fire though none can see it, and he launches himself into the lake. Atin jumps in to save him from drowning and they are both captured by the muddy waters and have to be rescued by Archimago.  Then with herbs, balms and a spell, Archimago quenches Furor’s fire.
Spell Fire
Konstantin Vasilyev
source Wikiart
There is a curious echo of appearance versus reality at Idle Lake.  The lake itself appears different to each of the characters and while Pyrochles claims he’s burning, no one can see the flames.  Is there an element of illusion that comes with intemperance?
✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ ✝ ✜ 
It’s a relief to pick up The Faerie Queene again and resume my posts.  For some reason, it seems like less effort this time.  
Phew, what drama!  The lessons of Temperance are quite easy to spot in these cantos. We’ll see how Books VII- XII progress and if Guyon is eventually tempted to intemperance.  He’s done quite well so far, better than Redcrosse I would judge, but the book is yet young.  And does Guyon ever regain his horse?
⇦  The Faerie Queen – Book I (Part II)   The Faerie Queen – Book II (Part II)  ⇨


Other Reading:

Henry V by William Shakespeare

“From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered –
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that shed his blood with me
Shall be my brother.”

Written in the Second Period of Shakespeare’s development, Henry V is the eighth of his dramas, and part of the Henriad, his historical tetralogy which also includes Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and Henry IV Part 2.  The play is thought to be composed late in 1598, as it was produced between March 17 and September 28th of 1599.

The earliest known volume is the first Quarto printed in 1600, which was followed by Q2 and Q3, reprints of the first edition, published in 1602 and 1608 respectively.  The first Folio edition differs extensively from the Quartos, as it is twice the length of the latter, which omits the first scenes of Acts I and III, the second scene of Act IV, the choruses and the epilogue, as well as some of the characters.  Prose is also transformed into metrical form, it can only be supposed to effect an increased length of the play.

King Henry V
source Wikipedia

Set in 1415, immediately before and after the events at the Battle of Agincourt during the 100 years war, Shakespeare appears to have deviated from his promise at the end of the play, Henry IV, Part 2, where he assured a reappearance of the bumbling, comedic Falstaff.  Instead, the play echoes of tones of impressive military management versus French incompetence, and a king who is lauded as a hero.  The play shows technical weakness with an awkward chorus who speaks a prologue explaining the upcoming scenes in the drama, however with the sources drawn upon (Holinshed’s Chronicle and an old play, The Famous Victories of Henry V) and his own additions, Shakespeare has shown a legitimate constancy.

With very little constructive plot, the play ties in various episodes in Henry V’s leadership role before and after the Battle of Agincourt. As it begins, Henry appeals to the Archbishop of Cantebury as to whether he is justified in his claim of the French crown.  Supported by his conscience, he feels a duty towards his French subjects, but the French king has another view of the matter.  When the French ambassador turns up in the English court with an insulting gift of tennis balls from the king’s son, the Dauphin, Henry is incensed, but manages to keep control of his temper.

“We are glad the dauphin is so pleasant with us.
His present and your pains we thank you for:
When we have matched our rackets to these balls,
We will in France, by God’s grace, play a set
Shall strike his father’s crown into the hazard.  
Tell him he hath made a match with such a wrangler
That all the courts of France will be disturbed
With chaces ……”

Henry will:

“…….. dazzle all the eyes of France,
Yea strike the Dauphin blind to look on us,
But all this lies within the will of God,
To whom I do appeal.”

Yet soon after this honourable rhetoric is delivered, he learns that his friend, Lord Scroop and two lords, Cambridge and Grey, are plotting his demise and the king is forced to dispatch them in an execution.  The injection of this betrayal is quickly presented and appears awkward and unconnected with the whole, but it does afford us some insight into Henry’s character and the historical situation.

Henry V Discovering the Conspirators
Henry Fuseli
source ArtUK

The scenes move from England, to an English camp in Harfleur, to the French camp, contrasting English courage, fortitude and skill to the French forces and strength which threaten their much smaller contingent, but exemplify a bombastic and almost bumbling French confidence of an easy victory, that is obviously misplaced.  The eve before the battle, Henry is represented as not only a capable king, but as a man of the people, as he walks among them in disguise, learning of their thoughts and opinions of the coming war.  His responsibilities rest heavy on his shoulders and he asks God for strength in arms and His favour, in spite of the fault of his father’s taking of Richard II’s crown.  With the French more than confident in their strength of arms, and the English somewhat dismayed by their lack of soldiers in comparison, the battle begins.  With some of Shakespeare’s trademark humour, the fighting continues until the English, against the odds, claim victory and peace is negotiated.  Henry then woos Princess Katherine, daughter of the French king, bringing together the two countries with the bonds of love.

Lewis Waller as Henry V
Arthur Hacker
source ArtUK

As for characters in this drama, the principle one is certainly Henry V.  Henry’s motivations for ruling France do not lie in personal, monetary or territorial gain, but in a sacred trust for which he feels responsible.  He shows a marked similarity to his father, Henry IV, both sewing their wild oats when young, but extirpating their follies and irresponsibilities in time of need of their country.  Both become strong, forceful kings with a material sense of duty, to both God and their kingdom, and who successfully protect English identity and sovereignty.  Even in presenting the English forces, there is a unity in their soldiers as we are introduced to Captain Jamy, a Scot, Captain Macmorris, an Irishman, and Fluellen, a Welshman.

My enjoyment of the play somewhat fluctuated throughout my reading.  While it has a simple charm about it and Shakespeare’s heroic rhetoric draws the reader in, it is obviously not as clever, or elaborately structured as many of his other plays.  The reader can admire and rejoice in the honourable and admirable traits of the English king, the incarnation of England itself, but there is a definite lack of density and richness that imbues his other plays.  Nevertheless, it is enjoyable in its own right and a fine ending to the Henriad.

Further reading:

Different Tastes in Literature by C.S. Lewis

Art and Literature (1867)
William-Adolphe Bouguereau
source Wikiart

Is there good literature?  Is there bad literature?  How do we make the determination, and do we even have the criteria to judge?  In his essay, Different Tastes in Literature, if Lewis does not directly answer these questions, he at least gives the reader criteria that makes it easier to judge, and challenges us to examine our reading experiences.

First, Lewis investigates the notion of “tastes” and indicates a determination between good and bad literature is complicated by the fact that there are no objective tests.  But the error people make is in assuming that people like bad art in the same way that they like good art.  Instead, Lewis proposes, bad art does not succeed with anyone.

Lewis defines bad art as very low art, such as novels, and popular music that are read or sung and then forgotten soon after.  When it goes out of fashion, it is never thought of afterward.

Geniuses of Art (1761)
Francois Boucher
source Wikiart

Yet while bad art itself is not so easy to describe, the consumer of bad art is more easily targeted:

“He (or she) may want her weekly ration of fiction very badly indeed, may be miserable if denied it.  But he never re-reads.  There is no clearer distinction between the literary and the unliterary.  It is infallible.  The literary man re-reads, other men simply read.  A novel once read is to them like yesterday’s newspaper …… It is as if a man said he had once washed, or once slept, or once kissed his wife, or once gone for a walk.  Whether the bad poetry is re-read or not …. I do not know.  But the very fact that we do not know is significant.  It does not creep into the conversation of those who buy it.  One never finds two of its lovers capping quotations and settling down to a good evening’s talk about their favourite.  So with the bad picture.  The purchaser says, no doubt sincerely, that he finds it lovely, sweet, beautiful, charming or (more probably) ‘nice’.  But he hangs it where it cannot be seen and never looks at it again.”

With bad art, there is no question of the ‘joy’ that good art brings. “The desire for bad art is the desire bred of habit: like the smoker’s desire for tobacco, more marked by the extreme malaise of denial than by any very strong delight in fruition.”

Art Critic
Norman Rockwell
source Wikiart

On experiencing good art, it is not like moving from one type to the next, but more like “when you opened the door, to lead to the garden of the Hesperides ….”  However, we must not say that some men like good art and some bad, rather that the term “like” is not the proper word for good art, and the response towards good art, has never been produced in bad.

Is it too simple to say that bad art does not ever have the same effect on a person as good art?  What about those books that captured our imagination in youth but that we now consider bad?  Might this simply mean that the reader’s imagination was superior to the author’s, but lacking both maturity and discernment?  In effect, we would not have been enjoying the book for what it was, but for what it was not.  But this “mirage” is quite different from the actual liking of bad art.  Bad art is “tepid, trivial, marginal, habitual.  It does not trouble them, nor haunt them ….. No one cares about bad art in the same way as some care about good.”  It is only when we eliminate the bad art that the discussions about the superiority of one work of art to another can have some value.

The Disquieting Muses (1916-18)
Giorgio di Chirico
source Wikiart

In this essay, Lewis more distinguishes what is not good art than what is, however his insights, as always, are invaluable.  We have so little time on this earth.  Life comes and goes in the blink of an eye.  Don’t we want to be discerning about our literary choices and choose to read works that add perspective, wisdom and purpose to our lives, instead of reading words that pass through us in the blink of an eye?  I do.

Deal Me In Challenge #10 

Jane Eyre – Chapters III & IV

Chapter III

Jane awakes from her fit to find herself being attended by the apothecary.  After her fright, she is strangely unsettled, unable to find joy in things that previously made her happy.  When the apothecary returns, he asks Jane a number of insightful questions with regard to her feelings and state of mind.  He then recommends that she be sent off to school, which agrees mightily with Mrs. Reed.

Jane’s ability to forgive is astounding.  While musing on her treatment by Mrs. Reed she says:  “Yes, Mrs. Reed, to you I owe some fearful pangs of mental suffering.  But I ought to forgive you, for you knew not what you did: while rending my heart-strings, you thought you were only uprooting my bad propensities.”  The power of Jane’s words elevate her over Mrs. Reed.  With her capacity for compassion, she can see intention through application, and her magnanimity shows her superiority over her tormentor. However, as the words spoken appear to be from an adult Jane, perhaps it took some time for her to learn this charity.
Bessie and Abbott once again meditate on Jane’s looks, saying if she were pretty like Miss Georgianna, it would be much easier to be kind to her.  Again, outward appearance is valued above good character.
Girl At A Window (1907)
Walter Sickert
source Wikiart


Chapter IV

Jane waits impatiently for a change, but none comes and she is relegated to an invisibility by the Reed household, which is both painful and cruel.  Made to stay in the nursery and have little contact with her cousins, one day a carriage arrives.  When Jane is called to the breakfast room, she meets Mr. Brocklehurst of Lowood School, a harsh, imposing man who has a single-minded religious fervour.  Mrs. Reed relates Jane’s faults, emphasizing her tendency to deceit, and the master leaves, promising to take Jane on as a pupil.  Incensed at the unfair characterization, Jane berates Mrs. Reed, startling her benefactress with her intensity and articulation.

“How dare I, Mrs. Reed?  How dare I?  Because it is the truth.  You think I have no feelings, and that I can do without one bit of love or kindness; but I cannot live so: and you have no pity.  I shall remember how you thrust me back —- roughly and violently thrust me back —- into the red-room, and locked me up there, to my dying day; though I was in agony; though I cried out, while suffocating with distress, “Have mercy!  Have mercy, aunt Reed!”  And that punishment you made me suffer because your wicked boy struck me —- knocked me down for nothing.  I will tell anybody who asks me questions this exact tale.  People think you a good woman, but you are bad; hard-hearted.  You are deceitful!”

Jane and Bessie have an exchange, where Jane admits regret at leaving Bessie, and Bessie is struck by Jane’s new-found confidence.

In spite of the cruelty she’s suffered under, we see Jane’s character expand and grow, and it is a comforting thought that one can build good character in the midst of persecution and uncertainty.

The Schoolmaster (1826)
George Harvey
source Wikiart

Chapters I & II                                                Chapters V, VI & VII

Jane Eyre – Chapters I & II

And we’re off!  The Edge of the Precipice’s Jane Eyre read-along is off to a great start. It’s been a good number of years since I read this work last, and it’s certainly one of my favourites.  With a reasonably adequate background to the book, I’m looking forward to digging deeper into its pages.  My last Charlotte Brontë read, Villette, was less than thrilling (in fact, I could hardly believe it was the same author), so it will be refreshing to revisit her masterpiece.  So without further ado, let the reading begin!

Chapter I

In which we are introduced to Jane, who is a ward of Mrs. Reed who has three children, Eliza, John and Georgianna.  Jane is treated as not much better than a servant and is tormented unceasingly the the three children of the house.  Finally, persecuted beyond bearing when Master John Reed throws her book at her, cutting her head, Jane reacts with a vehemence, hurling insults at him.  Of course, Jane gets punished for her behaviour, while John Reed is given only sympathy from his mother.  Poor Jane is taken to the red-room and locked there.

Right away Brontë masterfully crafts the mood, describing a gloomy and melancholy setting, with “clouds so sombre, and a rain so penetrating …”, “chilly afternoons,” and “nipped fingers.”  The reader is able to immediately get an inkling of the tone of the upcoming chapters.

We understand Jane’s isolation not only from descriptions of her situation, but from parallels to her physical surroundings.  From the bleakness of the winter season, the leafless trees, the cold, unfriendly, biting wind and the slow interminable passing of the hours, we feel her rejection and her solitude just as Jane experiences it.  Even her reading of Bewick’s ‘History of British Birds’ echos her aloneness, as she describes from it the “bleak shores” of far of countries, the desolate realms there and the remoteness. As we read of the physical isolation, we certainly get a strong sense of Jane’s social isolation.

By Jane shutting herself away on the window-seat using the red curtain, which is later called “scarlet drapery”, we are reminded of a scarlet woman, or in this case, a scarlet child, where the person is ostracized because their behaviour does not meet societal standards.

Quite interestingly, Jane also mentions listening to the novel, Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, which is a story of a servant who marries her employer.  A little foreshadowing here, perhaps?

Village Street in Winter (1865-70)
Gustave Corbet
source Wikiart

Chapter II

Jane fights her jailors, Bessie, the nurse and Miss Abbott, before promising not to move if they do not tie her to the chair as they plan.  Apparently she had never behaved so before, although Miss Abbott remarks that she’d always had it in her, which perhaps gives more illumination to Miss Abbott’s character than Jane Eyre’s.  After painful reminders of her station as a “less than a servant” by Bessie, and threats with regard to the state of her soul by Miss Abbott, Jane is left alone.  Now a rather Gothic twist is brought on by her fear of the ghost of Mr. Reed, who died in this red-room nine years ago.  As she thinks about his death, she sees herself in the looking-glass, appearing small and impish, like a tiny phantom.  As she stews on all the injustices that she has had to face from the family, she also recognizes that her own character is in some way responsible for her fate.  As daylight fades from the room, her imagination takes her away, as she muses that if Mr. Reed were alive, he would take her part, and wishes his ghost would return to haunt his family and put things to right.  Seeing a streak of light on the wall, she imagines a coming spirit and attempts to escape, making enough noise that her jailors come running, however Mrs. Reed appears and, in spite of Jane’s frantic condition, orders her back to the room, where she faints.

Young Girl with Long Hair (1942)
Moise Kisling
source Wikiart

This was a curious chapter with much to ponder.  We see it as a turning point: whereas before it appears that Jane’s resistance to her treatment was all mental, finally it becomes physical as Bessie remarks, “she never did so before.”

There is also descriptions of what is commendable in the Reed household, and what is unacceptable.  It appears that vice, bad manners, and cruelty is lauded, whereas patient suffering, obedience and compassion is disparaged.

The Gothic imaginings of the ghost is a curious insertion, but it does serve to reinforce Jane’s predicament, her isolation, and sets up the scene with Mrs. Reed, further emphasizing the woman’s cold-hearted cruelty.

All these scenes enhance our pity for Jane, and our wish for her to escape her hardships.  An excellent introduction!!

Note:  I’m still wondering about the significance of the colour red in these chapters.

Jane Eyre Read-along                                         Chapters III & IV

The Faerie Queene ~ Book I (Part II)

The Faerie Queene

Book 1
Contayning
The Legende of the Knight of the Red Crosse
Or
Of Holinesse

 

So far this is proving a much more difficult read than anticipated.  It does get easier as you get used to the style and delivery, but there is so much information and I do want to cover as much as I can in my reviews in case I never read it again.  I mean I want to read it again, but right now it’s rather exhausting.  Cantos I to VI introduced us to the Redcrosse Knight and Una, documenting Redcrosse’s descent into sin and Una’s unwavering faith in him.  The following cantos conclude Book I.

 

Canto VII
The Redcrosse knight is captive made
By Gyaunt proud opprest,
Prince Arthur meets with Vna great-
ly with those newes distrest.
When Duessa returns to the House of Pride to find Redcrosse gone, she hurries quickly after him and finds him near a fountain, resting in the shade. Using her manipulative wiles, she reproaches him for his dissertion and soon all is well between them. However, this fountain is not a regular fountain but a nymph cursed by the goddess Diana for laziness, and anyone who drinks of it will suffer faintness and lose his strength.  Is the spiritual lethargy of the nymph a parallel to the spiritual laziness of Redcrosse as he allows himself to be drawn further away from Truth?   In any case, of course Redcrosse drinks from the fountain and is soon content to sit chat though his strength fades and he becomes careless of his reputation.  Suddenly a great noise is heard and the earth trembles, as a giant, Orgoglio emerges from the wood.  Redcrosse has no time to take up his armour or weapons but Duessa pleads with the giant, promising them both as slaves in exchange for his good treatment.  He takes Duessa, seating her on a monster with seven heads, but throws Redcrosse into the dungeon.  The Dwarf, however, has seen all and gathering up his master’s armour and departs, whereupon he meets Una on the road flying from the lecherous Paynim.  Seeing the Dwarf, she nearly faints and the Dwarf, equally unhappy, must help her recover to tell his tale of Redcrosse. Although his words almost tear her heart in two, she gains control and they set off together, soon coming across a knight with a gorgous diamond shield, who wishes to help her.  After spurning his assistance, she finally relates her story of her father and mother being held captive by the dragon, her travels to the court of Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, for help, and her hero Redcrosse who has been diverted and now is captive of the giant.  This knight, whom we believe is King Arthur, pledges to help Una in her distress.
Canto VIII
Faire virgin to redeeme her deare
brings Arthur to the fight:
Who slayes the Gyant, wounds the beast,
and strips Duessa quight.
Una and Arthur search for Redcrosse and with the Dwarf’s help, soon arrive at the castle of the Giant. Bringing out a gold-tasselled magic horn, he blows, all the doors of the castle fly open, and the Giant investigates.  They fight, and as the giant, Orgoglio, misses with a club-strike, Arthur turns and lops off his arm.  Duessa, on her monster, rushes to his aid, but when she is blocked by Arthur’s squire, she puts a spell on him and sends her monster to finish him off.  Rushing to his aid, Arthur strikes off one of the heads of the monster and:
“His monstrous scalpe downe to his teeth it tore,
And that misformed shape mis-shaped more;
A sea of bloud gusht from the gaping wound,
That her gay garments staynd with filthy gore,
And ouerflowed all the field around;
That ouer shoes in bloud he waded on the ground.”
Enraged, the giant attacks again, knocking Arthur to the ground but, behold, the knight unveils his shield and everyone is hit with a most wondrous, brilliant brightness which dazes the giant and Arthur is able to cut off his leg, then his head, where on his death, Orgoglio vanishes.  Grief manifests in anger in Duessa as:
“Her golden cup she cast vnto the ground,
And crowned mitre rudely threw aside;
such percing griefe her stubborne hart did wound,
That she could not endure that dolefull stound, 
But leauing all behind her, fled away.”
But the squire halted her flight and brought her back to his master.  In contrast, Una is all composure and modesty:
“The royall Virgin, which beheld from farre,
In pensiue plight, and sad perplexitie,
The whole achieuement of this doutfull warre,
Came running fast to greet his victorie,
With sober gladnesse, and myld modestie,
And with sweet ioyous cheare him thus bespake;
Faeire brauch of noblesse, flowre of cheualrie,
That with your worth the world amazed make,
How shall I quite the paines, ye suffer for my sake?”
Arthur goes off in search of Redcrosse and discovers an old wizened man, the giant’s foster-father, with a ring of keys about him.  Strangely, he is always looking backwards instead of forwards, and will not answer any of Arthur’s questions.  Finally, in frustration, Arthur takes the keys and begins to search the dungeons finding the remains of children and the blood of Christians in its depths.  Redcrosse is discovered but he is wan and weak, although in spite of his appearance, Una is overjoyed to see him.  Instead of killing Duessa, they strip her of her garments and, when naked, they find she is an ugly old hag.  Spenser’s description is appalling:
“Her craftie head was altogether bald,
     And as in hate of honorable eld,
    Was ouergrowne with scurfe and filthy scald;
    Her teeth out of her rotten gummes were feld,
    And her sowre breath abhominably smeld;
    Her dried dugs, like bladders lacking wind,
    Hong downe, and filthy matter from them weld;
    Her wrizled skin as rough, as maple rind,
So scabby was, that would haue loathd all womankind.
Ugh!  Duessa flees to the wilds to hide herself and our knights and lady rest at the castle.
Canto IX
His loues and lignage Arthur tells
The knight knit friendly bands;
Sir Treuisan flies from Despayre,
Whom Redcrosse kight withstands.
Before they leave the castle, Una begs Arthur to share his history.  He was raised by an old man named Timon who, in his youth, was concerned with battles and bravery but later became wise, and he raised Arthur to know virtue.  Merlin was also his mentor, but the wizard would not disclose his parentage, only revealing that he was son and heir to a king.  Una wants to know why he is in Faery land, but Arthur does not know, only that he has a wound that bleeds and perhaps there is an eternal reason for his presence which he does not understand.  He has been looking for his lady-love, a Queen of the Faeries, whom he is not sure is real or a dream.  Una and Redcrosse wish him well in his journeys, they exchange gifts, Arthur giving a potion that can heal all wounds, and Redcrosse bestowing on his benefactor a book to save souls.  They then part, although Una is uncertain whether Redcrosse is fit for battle.
But heavens, what should come upon them but a fleeing Knight, looking behind him as if the hounds of hell were on his heels, with a rope hanging from his neck.  Redcrosse forces the Knight, Sir Trevisan, to stop and tell his story.  He was travelling with another knight, Sir Terwin, who was suffering from unrequited love.  One day they met with a terrible villain called Despaire, who played on their griefs and tried to convince them to kill themselves, Sir Terwin with a knife and the Knight with a rope.  With Terwin, Despaire succeeded, but the Knight, Trevisan, fled in terror.  Redcrosse is puzzled over the power of Despaire’s words, but the Knight explains the subtlety of Despaire, how he stealthily weakens one’s power.  Undaunted, they find the cave of Despaire and Redcrosse confronts him, whereupon Despaire gives a long speech on life and wonders why Redcrosse would want to prolong it, since it is full of suffering and the longer one lives the more chance he has to sin.  Death is the end of woes and shouldn’t we all welcome it?  Redcrosse is moved by the speech, so Despaire shows him damn’d ghosts and torments of hell-fire suffering.  Unable to bear it, Redcrosse is about to end his life when Una flies into the fray, snatching the knife from his hand, and chiding him for his weakness; she can see right through this monster.  Despaire, knowing he has lost the battle, attempts to kill himself, but he cannot die until the world has ended.
Una is awesome!
Canto X

Her faithfull knight faire Una brings
to house of Holinesse,
Where he is taught repentance, and
the way to heauenly blesse.

 

Una decides to take Redcrosse to the house of a woman named Caelia, a place of virtue and tranquility, where upon reaching it, they are guided inside by a happy franklin named Zele, and a squire.  Una and Caelia embrace, overjoyed to see each other, although Caelia is surprised to see Redcrosse, as few find them on this narrow path. Her daughters, Fidelia and Speranza, enter, the former in white and carrying a gold cup of wine and water, and the latter clad in blue, yet not so happy as her sister as she holds a silver anchor as she prays.  After a rest, Redcrosse is taken to be instructed by Fidelia in good virtuous conduct and the avoidance of sin.  Yet when the knight begins to despair at his poor behaviour, he is comforted by Speranza (hope), however he still desires death. Una, concerned at his mental state, finds a “Leech” called Patience, and thus Redcrosse begins the healing of his sin, while Amendment, Penance, Remorse, and Repentance subject him to painful, but purifying, experiences.  Una feels his every pain as she sees his struggles but patience wins out, and when his conscience is cured, they visit another sister, Charissa, who has just gone through childbirth. From her, Redcrosse learns of love and righteousness and also is schooled by another woman, Mercy, in the art of graciousness and liberality.

Redcrosse is taken to a Hospital of holiness where seven bearded men have given their lives and service to the heavenly king.  The eldest, the Guardian, has charge and government of the house; the Almer feeds the hungry; the master of the wardrobe distributes the clothes and if he has none, he’d gives his own; the man who assists prisoners and pays their ransom; the man who comforts the sick, especially at the end of their lives; the one who ensures that the dead have a proper burial; and a man who aids the widows and orphans, supplying their needs.  Redcrosse rests there awhile and then climbs a hill to a chapel where an old man, Contemplation, is praying ceaselessly. Grudgingly, Contemplation agrees to help Redcrosse and takes him to a glorious mountain from which they view the City of God.  It is Jerusalem, although Redcrosse notes that while Cleopolis, the city of the Faerie Queene is very fair, it is earthly and cannot compare to the heavenly realms.  Redcrosse is now ready to complete his task, and when he has, Contemplation instructs him to return and he will be dubbed Saint George.  Redcrosse does not feel equal to the task, but the old man reminds him of his promise.  When Redcrosse returns, Una is overjoyed to see him and they take leave of the House of Holiness.

 

Canto XI

The knight with that old Dragon fights
two dayes incessantly;
The third him ouerthrown, and gayns
most glorious victory.



Thinking of her parents, the two approach the kingdom, where they soon spy the dragon lying on a hill.  Noting their approach, he rouses himself, whereupon Redcrosse sends Una up a hill to watch the battle, and the narrator is so unsettled that he calls on his Muse for help with his narration.  The dragon is as vast as many tracts of land, his scaly body “swolne with wrath, & poyson, & with bloudy gore.”  His wings were like the sails of ships, his tail thick, long and pointed with stings, and his mouth and jaws ….. well, let Spenser tell it:

“….. But his most hideous head my toung to tell,
       Does tremble: for his deepe deuouring iawes
      Wide gaped, like the griesly mouth of hell,
Through which into this dark abisse all rauin fell.

And that more wondrous was, in either iaw
     Three ranckes of yron teeth enraunged were,
     In which yet trickling bloud and gobbets raw
     Of late deuoured bodies did appeare,
     That sight thereof bred cold congealed feare:
     Which to increase, and all atonce to kill,
     A cloud of smoothering smoke and sulphur scare
     Out of his stinking gorge forth steemed still,
That all the ayre about with smoke and stench did fill.”

Charging, he bounds almost in joy at his “guest”, and while Redcrosse tries to spear him, the weapon cannot pierce his scaly skin.  The dragon becomes annoyed that he cannot strike the knight and grasps Redcrosse and his horse, carrying them away, but finds them too heavy and lands upon the ground.  Redcrosse finally manages to gain a hit on the dragon’s wing, enraging the beast, who is unused to such treatment.  Bleeding profusely, the dragon hits Redcrosse’s horse and unseats the knight, who tries to strike the dragon on the head, but does not manage to wound the beast.  The dragon sends a stream of fire, searing Redcrosse in his armour.  “Faint, wearie, sore, emboyled, grieued, brent with heat and toil, sounds, armes, smart, & inward fire”, the knight is so injured that he wishes for death, finally falling backwards into something he never expected:

“… Behind his backe vnweeting, where he stood,
     Of auncient time there was a springing well,
     From which fast trickled forth a siluer flood,
     Full of great vertues, and for med’cine good.
     Whylome, before that cursed Dragon got 
     That happie land, and all with innocent blood
     Defyld those sacred waues, it rightly hot
The well of life, ne yet his vertues had forgot.”

Una fears for her knight’s life as he lays there overnight, and she prays for his recovery. How astounded she is in the morning to see him spring from the well, and not only is his body renewed and strengthened, his blade as well, but from what cause is not certain. He strikes the dragon on the skull, making a gaping wound.  The dragon hits Redcrosse with his tail, stabbing him in his shoulder, whereupon Redcrosse answers by amputating the dragon’s tail.  Infuriated, the dragon flies up, then down, grasping the knight’s shield with his claws, but Redcrosse manages to cut off the claws but the foot still holds.  The dragon shoots flames again, and Redcrosse retreats, slipping on some mud into another saviour from death, the tree of life.  Another night passes, with Una devotely praying, and Redcrosse again is renewed in the morning.  The dragon tried to devour Redcrosse with a wide open maw, but Redcrosse stabs him through the mouth, killing the beast, and its fall is so terrible that both Una and Redcrosse are stunned until he realizes his victory, and Una gives thanks to God.

 

Canto XII

Faire Una to the Redcrosse knight
betrouthed is with joy:
Though false Duessa it to barre
her false sleights doe imploy.

 

A watchman tells the King and Queen about the fall of the dragon.  The kingdom rejoices to be released from the terror of the beast, thanking Redcrosse and throwing laurels at his feet while dancing around.  Music fills the air as the maidens crown Una, a virgin fair.  Yet the people’s fear of the dragon keeps them from approaching to close to it, in case its death is not complete.  The king bestows Redcrosse with gifts of ivory and gold and thanks, kisses his daughter and brings both to the palace while the people sing and strew garments at their feet.  There is a feast where Redcrosse recounts his adventures.  The king sheds a tear, not knowing whether to bestow praise or pity on his deliverer but counsels rest.  Yet Redcrosse cannot accept any repose because he owes six years of his service to The Faerie Queene, but the king proclaims that when the six years are over Redcrosse will return to take Una’s hand in marriage and his kingdom. Una enters, appearing like a fresh flower as she’s shed the black garments and veil, and Redcrosse has never seen her more beautiful.  However, a messenger runs in, reading a letter from Duessa/Fidessa stating that Redcrosse is unable to marry Una as he is pledged to her.  Redcrosse sits astonished without a word, but finally the king demands an explanation.  Redcrosse proclaims his innocence, as he was tricked by the false and wicked woman, when he had strayed from the right path.  Una supports his story, and claims the messenger is Archimago himself.  They grab and bind him, and put him in the dungeon, then the king binds Una to Redcrosse with sacred vows and holy water.  The feasting commences, with music and jollity.  Redcrosse’s blissful time with Una lasts long, until he remembers his vow to The Faerie Queene and Una mourns his leaving.

Here is a chart of some of the characters and the symbolism within each, which I found very helpful:

 

Characters_           _Moral_       _Religious and      _Personal and
                                         Spirtual_           Political_

Redcross Knight Holiness Reformed England St George

Una Truth True Religion

Prince Arthur Magnificence, or Protestantism, or Lord Leicester
Private Virtue the Church Militant

Gloriana Glory Spirtual Beauty Queen Elizabeth

Archimago Hypocrisy The Jesuits Phillip II of Spain

Duessa Falsehood False Religion Mary Queen of Scots,
Church of Rome

Orgoglio Carnal Pride Antichrist Pope Sixtus V

The Lion Reason, Reformation by Force Henry VIII,
Natural Honor Civil Government

The Dragon Sin The Devil, Satan Rome and Spain

Sir Satyrane Natural Courage Law and Order Sir John Perrott
in Ireland

The Monster Avarice Greed of Romanism Romish Priesthood

Corceca Blind Devotion, Catholic Penance Irish Nuns
Superstition

Abessa Flagrant Sin Immorality Irish Nuns

Kirkrapine Church Robbery Religious State Irish Clergy
of Ireland and Laity

Sansfoy Infidelity

Sansjoy Joylessness Pagan Religion The Sultan and
the Saracens

Sansloy Lawlessness

The Dwarf Prudence,
Common Sense

Sir Trevisan Fear

The Squire Purity The Anglican Clergy

The Horn Truth The English Bible

Lucifera Pride, Vanity Woman of Babylon Church of Rome

source:  www.archive.org

Rather than summarize the allegory and symbolism, which other readers have done much more adequately than I, instead I’ll note some questions and observations that I had during the reading of Book I.

  • First, and perhaps most importantly, while Redcrosse was actually fighting “real” characters, in effect the fight was within himself.  This is a good lesson for everyone: as difficult as our practical struggles of life may be, our “fight” to gain a righteous character should feel much more arduous.  It’s also important to use discernment, which Redcrosse shows little of at the start, leading him into sin and problems.
  • While Una represents Truth, she does not have control of the situations.  She always hopes yet must lean upon God.
  • Prince Arthur:  okay, he represents private virtue and Protestantism, but he also does not know his true parents.  How does this affect his allegorical and symbolic significance?  Will a revelation occur later in the poem?
  • There is definite tension (and confusion) between appearance and reality until Redcrosse realizes his own human inadequacy and relies on spiritual guidance.
  • Redcrosse has overcome the Dragon, yet the dragon is “sin”, and we cannot be free from sin until we leave this world; will “sin” pop up again in future books?  I would think so.
  • Redcrosse’s three day battle with the dragon, parallels Christ’s three day crucifixion to resurrection, his bath in the well of life parallels Baptism, and his healing at the tree of life, the Eucharist.
  • If the poem is partly a treatise in favour of Protestantism and against Catholicism, why does the king use holy water as he binds the couple?