Date Approved


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English (M.A.)

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The theme of good and evil is at the forefront of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene'; can virtue survive and overcome vice? Because this theme is widely prevalent in The Faerie Queene, it is fittingly prevalent in the existing scholarship on The Faerie Queene. When commenting on the workings of evil in The Faerie Queene, most scholars tend to focus on either the historical or literary influences on Spenser’s evil characters, or they focus on the manner in which evil poses a threat to good. I am in no way arguing against these scholars. My contention, though, is to also express the manner in which evil poses a threat to itself. Before offering a close reading of books one and two regarding evil’s self-destructive tendency (and a brief overview of this theme in the subsequent books), I first establish the nature of evil by looking at the Book of Psalms (“He who is pregnant with evil / and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment. / He who digs a hole and scoops it out / falls into the pit he has made. / The trouble he causes recoils on himself; / his violence comes down on his own head.”), St. Augustine (“Just in the same way, what are called vices in the soul are nothing but privations of natural good.”), C .S. Lewis (“Evil requires the good on which it is parasitic in order to continue its parasitic existence.”), and Aristotle (“I do not mean, however, that [defect and excess] are combined in any one person: that would be impossible, because the evil destroys itself ”). After laying a philosophical base regarding the self-destructive nature of evil, the bulk of this essay shows the manner in which evil brings frustration and destruction to itself in The Faeire Queene. For instance, in 1.1, after Redcrosse beheads Errour, her evil offspring turn in on their mother and drink up her blood until their bellies burst and bowels gush forth. Spenser then comments in regards to Redcrosse: “Now needeth him no lenger labour spend, / His foes have slaine themselves with whom he should contend.” Another example can be found in 2.5. Even though Sir Guyon has just bound Occasion and Furor, Pyrochles rashly asks for their release. Once released, they violently turn on Pyrochles until he is covered in dirt and blood and burning brands. The Palmer comments on the natural course of evil, noting, “He that his sorrow sought through wilfulnesse, / And his foe fettred would release agayne, / Deserues to taste his follies fruit, repented payne.” In both of these examples, and in several more that can be found throughout The Faerie Queene, we begin to see Spenser’s portrayal of the self-destructive way of the wicked.


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