Book I (Cantos VII - XII) of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser.

The Faerie Queene is, not surprisingly, exceptionally hard work and it is difficult to settle into a regular reading pattern. I initially said I wanted to read a Book a week, but this is far too much, then I said a Book a month (feeling rather dejected as I did so!). After some thought I'm aiming to find some middle ground and read a Book a fortnight, though perhaps not so doggedly as I have done with other books. That, then, is the general hope and aim! 

Last week I wrote a summary on the first six cantos of The Faerie Queene: the subject of Book I is holiness and we see the knight Redcrosse striving for a holy state and meeting along the way great adversity. In the first Canto we see him with Una, his fair lady and he slays the dragon Errour, however he then encounters the evil magician Archimago who successfully contrives to separate him from Una. He leaves her, and the two battle alone - Redcrosse, who is tricked by Duessa, and Una, who we last saw in Canto VI being tricked by Archimago who told her Redcrosse was dead. In this post I'll continue with a summary of Cantos VII - XII and end with a brief summary of key events and the themes so far, and try to work out Spenser's intentions for Book I.


The Redcrosse knight is captiue made
By Gyaunt proud opprest,
Prince Arthur meets with Vna great-
ly with those newes distrest.

In this we return to Duessa (still disguised as Fidessa - "The false Duessa, cloked with Fidessaes name") who learns that Redcrosse has fled the House of Pride. She quickly finds him next to an enchanted fountain. Spenser writes,
The cause was this: one day when Phoebe fayre
With all her band was following the chace,
This Nymph, quite tyr'd with heat of scorching ayre,
Sat downe to rest in middest of the race:
The goddesse wroth gan fowly her disgrace,
And bad the waters, which from her did flow,
Be such as she her selfe was then in place.
Thenceforth her waters waxed dull and slow,
And all that drunke thereof, did faint and feeble grow.
Redcrosse has drunk from the fountain and, too tired to do anything but, again submits to Duessa. As they talk there is a sudden crash and tremor - it is a giant, "The greatest Earth his vncouth mother was, / And blustring Æolus his boasted sire", named Orgoglio (Italian for 'pride'). Redcrosse is too exhausted to defeat him so he and Duessa become prisoners and live in a dungeon along with a beast - a snake with seven heads. It is left to Redcrosse's dwarf to rescue Redcrosse and he soon encounters Una and the two attempt to find Redcrosse. On their journey they meet another knight:
At last she chaunced by good hap to meet
A goodly knight, faire marching by the way
Together with his Squire, arayed meet:
His glitterand armour shined farre away,
Like glauncing light of Phoebus brightest ray;
From top to toe no place appeared bare,
That deadly dint of steele endanger may:
Athwart his brest a bauldrick braue he ware,
That shynd, like twinkling stars, with stons most pretious rare.
It is Arthur, though he isn't yet named, Una tells him the full story and,
Ere she had ended all, she gan to faint:
But he her comforted and faire bespake,
Certes, Madame, ye haue great cause of plaint,
That stoutest heart, I weene, could cause to quake.
But be of cheare, and comfort to you take:
For till I haue acquit your captiue knight,
Assure your selfe, I will you not forsake.
His chearefull words reuiu'd her chearelesse spright,
So forth they went, the Dwarfe them guiding euer right.

Faire virgin to redeeme her deare
brings Arthur to the fight,
Who slayes the Gyant, wounds the beast,
and strips Duessa quight.

Canto VIII begins,
Ay me, how many perils doe enfold
The righteous man, to make him daily fall?
Were not, that heauenly grace doth him vphold,
And stedfast truth acquite him out of all.
Her loue is firme, her care continuall,
So oft as he through his owne foolish pride,
Or weaknesse is to sinfull bands made thrall:
Else should this Redcrosse knight in bands haue dyde,
For whose deliuerance she this Prince doth thither guide.
Arthur soon finds the castle in which poor Redcrosse, still in the dungeon and still believing Duessa is Fidessa, is imprisoned. He fights and beats Orgoglio as a horrified Duessa looks on:
And after him the proud Duessa came,
High mounted on her manyheaded beast,
And euery head with fyrie tongue did flame,
And euery head was crowned on his creast,
And bloudie mouthed with late cruell feast.
That when the knight beheld, his mightie shild
Vpon his manly arme he soone addrest,
And at him fiercely flew, with courage fild,
And eger greedinesse through euery member thrild.
She casts a spell to disable Arthur's squire but he intervenes and after a long and bloody battle he finally slays Orgoglio ("That huge great body, which the Gyaunt bore, / Was vanisht quite, and of that monstrous mas / Was nothing left, but like an emptie bladder was"). Duessa is detained and Arthur goes on a long search for Redcrosse. He eventually finds him weak and debilitated and guides him out of the castle where he is united with Una. Duessa is stripped naked and we see the true nature of her evil -
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.
She flees, "flying fast from heauens hated face", and Una, Redcrosse, the dwarf, Arthur, and his squire remain in the castle,
... To rest them selues, and weary powres repaire,
Where store they found of all, that dainty was and rare.

His loues and lignage Arthur tells
The knights knit friendly bands:
Sir Treuisan flies from Despayre,
Whom Redcrosse knight withstands.

In this canto Spenser writes of Arthur's story. Arthur tells of how he wad raised by a man called Timon (he didn't know who his parents were) and he met Merlin ("Thither the great Magicien Merlin came") who taught him ("Tutours nouriture to ouersee"). Una asks him "But what aduenture, or what high intent / Hath brought you hither into Faery land" and how he got his wound, and she refers to him as Arthur, the first time his name is used in the poem (though it has been used in the introductory verses). He tells her of he dreamt an encounter with a beautiful woman, "So faire a creature yet saw neuer sunny day", who called herself the Queen of the Faeries ("She Queene of Faeries hight") and he still seeks her now, a topic which clearly pains him:
Thus as he spake, his visage wexed pale,
And chaunge of hew great passion did bewray;
Yet still he stroue to cloke his inward bale,
And hide the smoke, that did his fire display,
Till gentle Vna thus to him gan say;
O happy Queene of Faeries, that hast found
Mongst many, one that with his prowesse may
Defend thine honour, and thy foes confound:
True Loues are ofte[n] sown, but seldom grow on ground.
Morning arrives and it is time for the two knights to part, but before doing so they give each other a gift:
Prince Arthur gaue a boxe of Diamond sure,
Embowd with gold and gorgeous ornament,
Wherein were closd few drops of liquor pure,
Of wondrous worth, and vertue excellent,
That any wound could heale incontinent:
Which to requite, the Redcrosse knight him gaue
A booke, wherein his Saueours testament
Was writ with golden letters rich and braue;
A worke of wondrous grace, and able soules to saue.
Arthur leaves to find his queen and Redcrosse and Una to fight the dragon which enslaves her parents. They very quickly meet another knight (Sir Trevisan) who is clearly very distressed. He tells them he had been travelling with another knight, Sir Terwin who had been scorned by the woman he loved, and on their travels they met with Despair who encouraged the two knights to kill themselves. Sir Terwin fell victim to Despair, and Sir Trevisan ran away in terror. Redcrosse decides he will battle and kill Despair and they go to Despair's cave. Redcrosse meets Despair who then manages to convince Redcrosse to take his own life (this is Redcrosse's dark night of the soul), however Una saves him. Despair then hangs himself, but he will not die - Despair is eternal.
So vp he rose, and thence amounted streight.
Which when the carle beheld, and saw his guest
Would safe depart, for all his subtill sleight,
He chose an halter from among the rest,
And with it hung himselfe, vnbid vnblest.
But death he could not worke himselfe thereby;
For thousand times he so himselfe had drest,
Yet nathelesse it could not doe him die,
Till he should die his last, that is eternally.

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

Exhausted from his battle with Despair and his earlier imprisonment by Orgoglio, Redcrosse is very much indeed of some serious rest. Una takes him to the House of Holiness:
There was an auntient house not farre away,
Renowmd throughout the world for sacred lore,
And pure vnspotted life: so well they say
It gouernd was, and guided euermore,
Through wisedome of a matrone graue and hore;
Whose onely ioy was to relieue the needes
Of wretched soules, and helpe the helpelesse pore:
All night she spent in bidding of her bedes,
And all the day in doing good and godly deedes.
The head of the house is Dame Caelia (the name suggesting 'heavenly spirit') and she lives with her three daughters, Fidelia (faith), Speranza (hope), and Charissa (charity). They are guided by Humilita (a contrast with Ignaro of Canto VIII) and first meet a franklin, Zele, and then a squire, Reuerence, before they are taken to meet Caelia. She is delighted to see Una,
... Where when that fairest Vna she beheld,
Whom well she knew to spring from heauenly race,
Her hart with ioy vnwonted inly sweld,
As feeling wondrous comfort in her weaker eld.
They talk and Una explains why she has brought Redcrosse. They are joined by Fidelia (carrying "a cup of gold") and Speranza (who bears an anchor - "Vpon her arme a siluer anchor lay"), and they tell Una their sister Charissa has recently given birth ("For she of late is lightned of her wombe").

After Redcrosse has rested Caelia, at Una's request, beings to teach him about holiness and,
... that knight so much agraste,
That she him taught celestiall discipline,
And opened his dull eyes, that light mote in them shine.
However Redcrosse begins again to despair so a doctor is called, "His name was Patience", and he is then visited by Penitence, Remorse, and Repentance:
In ashes and sackcloth he did array
His daintie corse, proud humors to abate,
And dieted with fasting euery day,
The swelling of his wounds to mitigate,
And made him pray both earely and eke late:
And euer as superfluous flesh did rot
Amendment readie still at hand did wayt,
To pluck it out with pincers firie whot,
That soone in him was left no one corrupted iot.
And bitter Penance with an yron whip,
Was wont him once to disple euery day:
And sharpe Remorse his hart did pricke and nip,
That drops of bloud thence like a well did play;
And sad Repentance vsed to embay
His bodie in salt water smarting sore,
The filthy blots of sinne to wash away.
So in short space they did to health restore
The man that would not liue, but earst lay at deathes dore.
In which his torment often was so great,
That like a Lyon he would cry and rore,
And rend his flesh, and his owne synewes eat.
His owne deare Vna hearing euermore
His ruefull shriekes and gronings, often tore
Her guiltlesse garments, and her golden heare,
For pitty of his paine and anguish sore;
Yet all with patience wisely she did beare;
For well she wist, his crime could else be neuer cleare.
Having suffered in this manner Redcrosse regains his health and he is then visited by Charity and Mercy. They take him to meet seven men:
  1. The Guardian, "The first of them that eldest was, and best".
  2. The Almner - "His office was, the hungry for to feed, / And thristy giue to drinke, a worke of grace".
  3. A man in charge of clothes - "And if that no spare cloths to giue he had, / His owne coate he would cut, and it distribute glad."
  4. A man who releases prisoners from their spiritual torment - "The faultie soules from thence brought to his heauenly bowre".
  5. A man who comforts those at the time of their death - "For them most needeth comfort in the end".
  6. A man who prepares the dead for burial - "All in his hand, euen dead we honour should".
  7. A man who cares for children and widows - "The seuenth now after death and buriall done, / Had charge the tender Orphans of the dead / And widowes ayd, least they should be vndone...".
Redcrosse remains for a while to learn about the importance of charity and good deeds, and then he goes to meet Contemplation who spends his time praying, and he shows Redcrosse the way to heaven. Here Redcrosse compares the city of saints, Jerusalem, with Cleopolis, the earthly city of the Faerie Queene:
Till now, said then the knight, I weened well,
That great Cleopolis, where I haue beene,
In which that fairest Faerie Queene doth dwell,
The fairest Citie was, that might be seene;
And that bright towre all built of christall cleene,
Panthea, seemd the brightest thing, that was:
But now by proofe all otherwise I weene;
For this great Citie that does far surpas,
And this bright Angels towre quite dims that towre of glas.
Contemplation then tells Redcrosse he is now ready to become a hero and help Una, and he will one day be known as Saint George, the patron saint of England:
... thou Saint George shalt called bee,
Saint George of mery England, the signe of victoree.
He then tells Redcrosse that he is both an Englishman and a Faerie Knight - he was taken as a baby by the faeries and raised in Faerie Land by a farmer who named him George. After thanking Contemplation Redcrosse and Una leave the House of Holiness and resume their travels -
At last whenas himselfe he gan to find,
To Vna back he cast him to retire;
Who him awaited still with pensiue mind.
Great thankes and goodly meed to that good syre,
He thence departing gaue for his paines hyre.
So came to Vna, who him ioyd to see,
And after litle rest, gan him desire,
Of her aduenture mindfull for to bee.
So leaue they take of Coelia, and her daughters three.

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

It is now time for Redcrosse to do battle with the dragon that is terrorising Una's parents. She no sooner points to the castle when they hear the roar -
With that they heard a roaring hideous sound,
That all the ayre with terrour filled wide,
And seemd vneath to shake the stedfast ground.
Eftsoones that dreadfull Dragon they espide,
Where stretcht he lay vpon the sunny side
Of a great hill, himselfe like a great hill.
But all so soone, as he from far descride
Those glistring armes, that heauen with light did fill,
He rousd himselfe full blith, and hastned them vntill.
Redcrosse and the dragon begin a very lengthy battle and it looks as though Redcrosse is certain to lose, however as he falls he lands next to a well - 
For vnto life the dead it could restore,
And guilt of sinfull crimes cleane wash away,
Those that with sicknesse were infected sore,
It could recure, and aged long decay
Renew, as one were borne that very day.
Both Silo this, and Iordan did excell,
And th'English Bath, and eke the german Spau,
Ne can Cephise, nor Hebrus match this well:
Into the same the knight backe ouerthrowen, fell.
The Monster throws Redcrosse into the well, believing Redcrosse is dead, however, of course, Redcrosse comes out the next morning stronger than ever and the battle resumes for another day until Redcrosse, fortunate again, is thrown into a stream that runs from the Tree of Life or Knowledge -
From that first tree forth flowd, as from a well,
A trickling streame of Balme, most soueraine
And daintie deare, which on the ground still fell,
And ouerflowed all the fertill plaine,
As it had deawed bene with timely raine:
Life and long health that gratious ointment gaue,
And deadly woundes could heale, and reare againe
The senselesse corse appointed for the graue.
Into that same he fell: which did from death him saue.
The next morning (we're on the third day of the battle) Redcrosse, having been cared for by Una through the night, finally slays the dragon -
So downe he fell, and forth his life did breath,
That vanisht into smoke and cloudes swift;
So downe he fell, that th'earth him vnderneath
Did grone, as feeble so great load to lift;
So downe he fell, as an huge rockie clift,
Whose false foundation waues haue washt away,
With dreadfull poyse is from the mayneland rift,
And rolling downe, great Neptune doth dismay;
So downe he fell, and like an heaped mountaine lay.
Una prays to God and thanks her knight.


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

There is much celebration at the killing of the dragon and they all enjoy a great banquet that evening "with meates and drinkes of euery kinde". The King asks Redcrosse to tell them of his journey, and
Great pleasure mixt with pittifull regard,
That godly King and Queene did passionate,
Whiles they his pittifull aduentures heard,
That oft they did lament his lucklesse state,
And often blame the too importune fate,
That heapd on him so many wrathfull wreakes:
For neuer gentle knight, as he of late,
So tossed was in fortunes cruell freakes;
And all the while salt teares bedeawd the hearers cheaks.
At this point it is decided Redcrosse should enjoy peace and rest, but as he tells the King his journey is not yet at an end, he still must continue to serve the Faerie Queene:
Ah dearest Lord, said then that doughty knight,
Of ease or rest I may not yet deuize;
For by the faith, which I to armes haue plight,
I bounden am streight after this emprize,
As that your daughter can ye well aduize,
Backe to returne to that great Faerie Queene,
And her to serue six yeares in warlike wize,
Gainst that proud Paynim king, that workes her teene:
Therefore I ought craue pardon, till I there haue beene.
The King then says when he has finished his quest he must return and marry Una (who is no longer wearing black) - "Should haue mine onely daughter to his Dame". Before Una can speak however a messenger interrupts them and tells them Redcrosse is already promised to another woman, Fidessa:
To thee, most mighty king of Eden faire,
Her greeting sends in these sad lines addrest,
The wofull daughter, and forsaken heire
Of that great Emperour of all the West;
And bids thee be aduized for the best,
Ere thou thy daughter linck in holy band
Of wedlocke to that new vnknowen guest:
For he already plighted his right hand
Vnto another loue, and to another land.
The Messenger is Archimago, who has returned to cause upset and mayhem for Redcrosse and Una. Una works out his trickery however and Archimago is caught and imprisoned, 
But they him layd full low in dungeon deepe,
And bound him hand and foote with yron chains.
And with continuall watch did warely keepe;
Who then would thinke, that by his subtile trains
He could escape fowle death or deadly paines?
Thus when that Princes wrath was pacifide,
He gan renew the late forbidden banes,
And to the knight his daughter deare he tyde,
With sacred rites and vowes for euer to abyde.
The people return to celebrating before our knight Redcrosse departs, "Vnto his Farie Queene backe to returne: / The which he shortly did, and Vna left to mourne". Book I concludes,
Now strike your sailes ye iolly Mariners,
For we be come vnto a quiet rode,
Where we must land some of our passengers,
And light this wearie vessell of her lode.
Here she a while may make her safe abode,
Till she repaired haue her tackles spent,
And wants supplide. And then againe abroad
On the long voyage whereto she is bent:
Well may she speede and fairely finish her intent.

How to begin summing up my thoughts?! I think the thing to do is strip Book I of The Faerie Queene to it's absolute bare basics.

Book I is titled,

The First Booke of the Faerie Qveene
Contayning
The Legende of the
Knight of the Red Crosse,
or
Of Holinesse.

Redcrosse, who will come to be known as Saint George, represents Holiness but he is not born into a holy state, he must strive to attain it and throughout much of Book I he has various battles - with Error, Sans Foy, Sans Joy, and Sans Loy, with Duessa and Archimago, then with Una's dragon. He is assisted by those who live in the House of Holiness, Dame Caelia and her three daughters, Fidelia, Speranza, and Charissa, then others such as Contemplation, Charity and Mercy. Only having visited the House of Holiness is he able to complete his task of slaying the dragon and returning to his original quest of duty to the Faerie Queen.

That is Book I in an absolute nutshell. But what does it all mean? I think there are two important things going on in Book I - the first is, following the example of Virgil, Spenser is offering an English myth and a great Golden Age to celebrate and to give a huge feeling of patriotic pride. He's used Saint George (Redcrosse), who is a Christian martyr and England's patron saint: the flag of England is Saint George's Cross, and Saint George's Day has been celebrated in England on 23rd April since the 15th Century (if not earlier - the precise dating is up for debate).  In The Faerie Queene, Saint George serves Gloriana, who, as Spenser has told to Walter Raleigh, is "the most excellent and glorious person of our soveraine the Queene, and her kingdome in Faery Land". Elizabeth of England is thus elevated by Spenser, she is not simply a queen in a long line of kings and queens of England, but she has a great and beautiful myth attached to her, she is now intrinsically linked to Saint George. Her reign is greater, then, and even perhaps fulfils destiny.

Mary Tudor (Mary I) by Antonis Mor (1554).
The second thing to consider about Book I, staying on the matter of Elizabeth I, is religion. Book I of The Faerie Queene is a Christian allegory, an intense spiritual drama, but it's very specific; it concerns the Protestant faith. This was a contentious issue in the Tudor times: Henry VIII, Elizabeth I's father, had embraced Protestantism to allow him to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. When his son Edward VI came to the throne he too was a Protestant, and he named Lady Jane Grey to succeed him after his death, however only nine days into her reign she was executed by Mary Tudor, who would come to be Mary I or "Bloody Mary". She was a Catholic and had hundreds of Protestants burned at the stake. After her death Elizabeth came to the throne (Elizabeth had been imprisoned by Mary in the Tower of London and then placed under house arrest at Woodstock Palace for four years), and she was famously a Protestant queen.

Protestantism, then, had been adopted by the later Tudors (bar Mary I) and had been the formal religion of England since 1533 (less than forty years before the publication of the first three books of The Faerie Queene). What Spenser did, however, was make Protestantism a far older schism. Like John Bale who, in Kynge Johan had sown seeds of discontent with Catholicism in King John's reign offering some legitimacy to Henry VIII's own discontent, Spenser took Protestantism all the way back to the 3rd Century A.D. and he attached it to Saint George making it not only well over one thousand years old but, again, gives it legitimacy. In Book I of The Faerie Queene Protestantism is the old and the true religion, Catholicism is essentially a wicked deviation from what should be the true path of the Christian.

The Darnley Portrait of Elizabeth I (1575).
Redcrosse is a Christian and he is flawed because man is flawed and holiness, the subject of Book I, is to be attained. Furthermore, he is an Elect Christian - here we go to John Calvin, a Christian Reformer of these later Tudor times who believed that Christians are pre-destined and called to faith by God. Redcrosse begins his adventures very flawed indeed, a consequence of the Fall of Man into sin and depravity. Redcrosse's purpose, at least in Book I, is to kill the dragon that enslaved Una's parents, the dragon here representing Satan, but he is unable to do so straight away. He is fooled by Archimago and seduced by Duessa, and he strays from the true path. But we know there is hope for Redcrosse - he has slayed Errour, the Roman Catholic monster of Canto I. However he leaves Una, who represents Truth, Purity, and the Church (the Protestant Church), and he goes his own way, leaving him open to attack, but Una never deserts him, she always hopes for his return and actively seeks him. When they are reunited she takes him to the House of Holiness (a stark contrast with the House of Pride where Duessa took him). Here Redcrosse is taught the true path of the Christian - though a good man who performed good deeds, he could not (and did not) perform his Christian duties effectively before he came here despite his very best efforts and despite some of his successes. Only after staying in the House of Holiness is he able to move forward and do battle with the dragon. When he does it is truly a battle, not easily won, and by God's grace and regenerative forces (the Well of Life, for example, and the stream from the Tree of Life) he is able to win, and even when Una's parents' kingdom is restored (clearly representing Protestantism and the victory over evil forces including the Catholic Church), Redcrosse does not rest. He does not settle with Una but he leaves to fulfil his duty to the Faerie Queene. This is simply the way of the Christian - there will always be evil on earth, and one must always do one's duty. A Christian's life on earth is a continuous battle against evil forces and one cannot ever be complacent.

And those are my thoughts on Book I of The Faerie Queene. It is such an intense and difficult work but I can honestly say I love it. I love the story and I love picking out the clues and decoding it, though it is quite an exhausting read. That said I'm not at ease with it, not by a long stretch, and I'm a little nervous of Book II - I feel I have a grasp of what's happening in Book I and now I'm off to start afresh, which is very daunting!

Next week I'll write about Cantos I - VI of Book II. For now, the Walter Crane's illustrations for Cantos VII - XII of Book I:


Introduction and Book I (Cantos I - VI)

Comments

  1. Outstanding review! I simply don't have the brain power to delve into it right now. I have alot going on, am going to be away this weekend and then in another two weeks, so I have no idea how fast I'll travel through it. I'm rather frustrated by the circumstance, but it is what it is. I'm not sure if a book a month will even be realistic for me.

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    1. Thanks Cleo :) And I really wouldn't worry about 'not keeping up' - I am in the mood for FQ so that helps, but if circumstances don't permit I wouldn't force my way through it and you shouldn't either :) You'll do much better that way I think. If at any point I get stuck or need a break you can be assured I'll take it! I've been lucky with this - 1) I'm in the mood and 2) I've inadvertently read a few things of late which help (ie Chaucer in the original and John Bale). That said, though, I struggled with the first 4 cantos of Book II. Going to have to go back on myself I think...

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  2. verily impressive, your mastery of the material so far... and where in the world did you find the spectacular pictures? reading the excerpts brings back the fun i had with FQ about twenty years ago, but a bit chagrined about how much i've forgotten... i still think the language is easier than that in Milton, but i'm a bit familiar with it. after reading Chaucer it actually seemed a bit easier at the time, i recollect... anyway, plaudits for your efforts and i for one am looking forward to more of your knowledgeable commentary...

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    1. "Mastery", I wish! But thank you :) I'll need to do some background reading for Book II I think, that's a bit of a mystery to me 4 cantos in.

      I've not read much Milton... I don't recall finding it harder than this, but I think I might have read a modern translation. I'll have to check (it didn't occur to me about translations to be honest, but the more I think about it, the more I think the Paradise Lost I read MUST have been updated a little language-wise). And yes, much easier having read Chaucer. And some of the Romans and Greeks come to that :)

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