Herbert, Edward T.
M.A. (Master of Arts)
Department of English
Spenser, Edmund, 1552?-1599. Faerie queene
In the Faerie Queene, Spenser makes conscious use of archaic language. This archaic language serves three functions: the artistic, the epic, and the patriotic. The old and obsolete words are appropriate for the telling of a story whose prevailing texture is medieval; they achieve the heightened diction characteristic of epic poetry; they give a characteristic English density to the language. The problem of archaisms in the Faerie Queene consists in answering two questions: What is the extent of the archaisms? How far is Spenser's use of archaisms authentic and accurate? To answer these questions, a close study of the vocabulary of Book I of the Faerie Queene was made. This study yielded a list of over one hundred words that are archaic with regard to modern usage, as substantiated by the temporal labels in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). These words were then further studied to determine how many of them were archaic to Spenser's contemporaries. Words not used by Shakespeare and not defined in a dictionary published in 1623 were considered archaic with regard to Elizabethan usage. The accuracy of Spenser's use of the archaisms was tested by comparing Spenser's use of a word with the accepted uses as listed in the semantic histories in the OED. The results of this study show that although only approximately one-third of the words archaic to modern readers of the Faerie Queene were archaic to Spenser's contemporaries, in both cases the number of archaic words and the frequency with which they are used significantly contribute to the medieval texture of the poem. Furthermore, but for two exceptions, the archaisms are remarkably accurate, Spenser’s archaisms in Book I of the Faerie Queene not only serve his artistic, epic, and patriotic purposes in the poem; they also testify to Spenser's integrity as a scholar and student of language.
Bialas, Anthony J., "A critique of Spenser's archaic vocabulary in the Faerie Queene: Book I" (1966). Graduate Research Theses & Dissertations. 254.
2, 25 pages
Northern Illinois University
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