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noticeable is the archaic character of Spencer's language
Allegedly, this is an imitation of Chaucer's style, but, in my opinion, there are several other issues to be considered. First of all, using archaic language (Chaucer wrote some 200 years previously) allows the reader to perceive more than one sense to a certain word or phrase. This permits an incredible freedom in understanding the text: while the author is writing so as to transmit a message, the reader has the possibility of discovering new images in a phrase, due to a different individual perception in each case. The second explanation for the use of archaic language would be the actual theme of the poem: knights, allegories, all leading to the idea of the present presented through mythical intermediaries. In order to achieve the mythical perception of the reader, Spencer is endowed to often use Greek derivates or words out of use, referring to a period that is virtually out of time.
A close examination on the text will give us a closer perception of Spencer's intentions. The entire passage deals with the description of the castle, but the way Spencer achieves a realistic conceptualization of the building is what should be noticed. Indeed, the main issue is perhaps not the perception of the castle as it is, but the perception of a hollow castle, a castle that has a solid exterior, but a rotten and empty interior. As previously mentioned, the entire poem on the Faerie Queene is based on allegations and allegories and this is not an exception.
The first verse of the passage analyzed practically gives no clue of the future development of the description: "a stately Palace built of square bricke." The image is casual, there are two main characteristics we gather from this verse: the palace is stately (hence, it has a certain importance in the world) and it is built of square bricks. While this may seem a truism, we need to consider the fact that bricks are generally rectangular. The square in general is perceived as an element of perfection or at least (and this is probably the case here) of particularity. We should also notice the use of the archaic "bricke" from the very first verse of the analyzed paragraph.
The feeling of particularity, combined here with a trace of awe and even fright is emphasized in the second verse: "which cunningly was without mortar laid." Indeed, here we have a construction, made of bricks, but without anything binding together. It is in part a ghostly apparition and the text does not allow us to believe from the beginning where the castle actually exists or not.
The following verse completes the initial image of the castle: the walls are high, but "nothing strong, nor thick." So, this would be a good moment to resume the first three lines that create an initial description of the castle. The castle exists, because it is made of square bricks, but it is a peculiar construction, because it lacks the essential element of any construction: mortar to bind everything together.
Is Spencer trying to suggest that there are humans, hollow on the inside, spiritually empty, who become a realistic expression only because of the flesh and bones that hold them physically together? It may be so, but on the other hand, it may be that Spencer is creating the adequate space where to introduce the Lady of the palace (in the last verse of the analyzed passage). The lady obviously has to appear in a real-unreal location, because she herself can be perceived as a character of whose existence you are not sure.
Returning to the description of the palace in the first set of nine verses, following an image that induces awe and an atmosphere of mysticism and mystery, the following verses proceed to a much brighter recreation of the palace's image. There is a golden foile and a real "brightnesse they dismaid." Again we have to note the use of the archaic forms of brightness and foil, in the same manner and senses we have previously mentioned. The windows, on the other hand, have a double meaning and intention here (in fact, we should probably note that Spencer always draws distinctly opposite elements in the same verse or one after the other. As previously mentioned, after the sensation of a strong construction in the first verse, because of the square bricks, we were laid in the subsequent lines before a building that had no mortar, no strength or thickness. Afterwards, the awe impression is counterbalanced by the brightness and golden foil. It seems that Spencer aims to achieve a real equilibrium in all his lines): they are, on one hand, a positive element of brightness, but, on the other hand, give out an impression of hollowness. A construction that is weak and hollow cannot last too long. We almost have the impression that the palace is a mere realistic apparition casuistically related to the action that is supposed to take place within its walls. The moment this action is terminated, the palace will also succumb.
The last verse of this first set of verses is brilliant in its simplicity and in the numerous senses and connections it gives out: "a Diall told the timely hours." First of all, it is not a clock, it is not a simple time measuring device, it is a dial. The dial can be used even nowadays as an obsolete form to express a timepiece. Nevertheless, in this context it works out much better than a clock because it emphasizes again the perception of mystery we have been induced since the beginning of this passage. A "Diall" (the archaic form of an obsolete word) is something we may not be able to draw if asked. Here we have to briefly go back to what we have previously said in one of the introductory paragraphs: Spencer enjoys leaving a liberty of imagination to the reader. A clock would have restrained this to a certain degree, while a dial leaves the imagination working for everyone.
The expression "timely howres" is also an interesting way of introducting temporality. Hours are obviously used to measure time, so what is the use of the adverb timely, which seems an unwanted addition here? Laying aside possible poetical justifications, such as the fact that the adverb was needed to lengthen the verse, the adverb may appear as an emphasis on the temporal element introduced here.
The second set of verses reintroduces the idea of weakness and instability. The foundation on which the palace is placed is weak and the entire construction may crumble anytime because it is laid out on a sandy ground. If we know that the entire theme of "The Faerie Queene" is an allegorical presentation of human virtues, then we may draw a conclusion on the poet's intention in this case. The poet may induce the idea that any human endeavour needs to be sustained by a realistic and strong background. Even more so, the individual needs to rely on strong moral values in order to even hope at having success in life. A sandy foundation can never be the backup to a successful endeavour.
On the other hand, the last verse of this set gives us other allegorical description of one of the usual human practices. While the exterior is "ruinous and old," it is "painted cunningly." As such, while it may crumble in the next minute, the exterior appearance is masked to a degree to which it can cheat us out of our real perception. Humans are also tricky to perceive when laying out a different appearance than there actual interior being. Hollow spiritualities are often wrapped up nicely in a glittering exterior. It is thus often the case that we…[continue]
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