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SIDNEY-SPENSER  February 2004

SIDNEY-SPENSER February 2004

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Subject:

Re: good myths and bad or indifferent writing (on Spenser)

From:

Andrew Zurcher <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Sidney-Spenser Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 25 Feb 2004 18:06:07 +0000

Content-Type:

TEXT/PLAIN

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

TEXT/PLAIN (49 lines)

> But -- despite that -- I love the language of the FQ and love to read it
> aloud.  Am I weird?

One of the problems I sometimes have with memorizing bits of Spenser
(particularly The Shepheardes Calender, for obvious reasons) is that I
feel uncomfortable *pronouncing* it. I'm sorry if someone has already
mentoined this problem, as I have not followed every post entirely
scrupulously over the last few weeks; but I do think that one of the
impediments to reciting and reading aloud Spenserian verse is that it can
be difficult to know *how* it was meant to sound, or indeed *if* it was
meant to be sounded ('timely houres to heare', I know). There is a
wonderful passage in Dante's De vulgari eloquentia where, in discussing
the primacy of the vernacular over the _gramatica_ he draws a distinction
between the *natural* origins of the vernacular, versus the
*artificiality* and indeed *instrumentality* of the _gramatica_. Dante
chose to write in his vernacular; Spenser, in his typically paradoxical
way (and I think Donne learned a lot from Spenser in this department, as
did Spenser from Skelton and the likes of Ennius: O Tite tute Tate tanta
tyranne tulisti!), chose to write in a souped-up version of his
vernacular, combining the artificiality and instrumentality of the
_gramatica_ (not to mention its intellectual status) with the naturalness
and nationalist cachet of the vernacular. My point here is that this
leaves us, as readers, more or less where it left Jonson: Spenser's
language really is no language; though I am increasingly suspicious that
Jonson didn't mean this in an entirely derogatory sense.

I'm not sure, therefore, that my attitude to Spenser's language is at all
like that of Heninger; I don't read *through* the words of Spenser's verse
and discard them like useless husks to the vision, but I oscillate between
doing just this, and on the other hand reading the words artefactually, as
paintings in themselves. Spenser's habits of auto-allusion (repeating
rhyme-patterns and epithets, quoting himself, repeating narrative
elements, etc.) plays a similar role in this foregrounding of the
instrumentality of language and its syntactic structures, as does the
variant orthography (in many cases demonstrably Spenser's, rather than the
compositors'). Archaism, legal diction, heraldic diction, etc. all act as
semantic sub-groups within the overall lexis, creating extra-semantic
patterns of verbal play within the poem, and further extra-semantic verbal
structures that link particular characters, narrative elements, moral
topoi, and the like.

But this kind of arm's-length relation to the words, I think, can make
Spenser's poetry hard to pronounce, hard to inhabit, hard to feel
*natural* about.


Now I think I am the weird one, alas.

andrew

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