Spenseriana: From Illustrated to Spurious Spenser

Saturday, August 31, 1996 to Tuesday, October 15, 1996

Jennifer Klein Morrison, Guest Curator

In 1596, Edmund Spenser published the last three books of his great heroic poem, The Faerie Queene , which he dedicated to “the most high, mightie and magnificent Empresse renowmed for pietie, vertue and all gratious government,” Queen Elizabeth I. Reviving the archaic style of Chaucer, who was credited with rescuing English poetry from the charge of barbarousness, Spenser planned to write a twelve-book poem, with each book devoted to the adventures of chivalric knights and ladies in pursuit of a particular moral virtue, the virtues exemplified in his sovereign queen. When he died in 1599, Spenser had completed only half of the projected work–the legends of Holiness, Temperance, Chastity, Friendship, Justice and Courtesy– but he had produced one of the longest poems in the English language, and one that was to have a lasting influence on English literary history. With The Faerie Queene , Spenser established himself as a poet of rank equal to Chaucer; together Chaucer and Spenser were viewed, at least by one Elizabethan, Thomas Nashe, as “the Homer and Virgil of England.”

This exhibition celebrates the 400th anniversary of Spenser’s poem in a series of vignettes demonstrating the broad and sometimes bizarre but always fascinating appeal his work has held for readers over four centuries.