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THE DEFORMATION OF NARRATIVE TIME IN THE FAERIE QUEENE ROBERT RAWDON WILSON In at least one important respect, Spenser's critics have not been kind to him. Although they have extolled his pictorial imagination, explored energetically the allegorical dimension of his work, agreed (usually) that there was some kind of story that might be interesting, and most recently placed a major emphasis upon the imagistic texture of the poetry, critics have never taken seriously Spenser's use of narrative time in The Faerie Queene. Unlike the problem of time sequence in the plays of Shakespeare, where complex disparities have generated a long, and still continuing, critical debate, Spenser's peculiar narrative-time schemes have either caused no concern among his critics or have elicited a rather cursory dismissal as essentially 'vague' or somehow the kind of thing one would expect in reading a 'romance' such as The Faerie Queene. No critic has attempted to deal adequately with the problem - or even, for that matter, seen clearly its nature and scope. A typical critical response to the problem of narrative time in The Faerie Queene is that of C.S. Lewis, who observes that there 'is nO situation in The Faerie Queene, nO when or where." Similar remarks can be found in other critics. Northrop Frye, for example, concludes that the time-scheme of The Faerie Queene is 'curiously foreshortened ' suggesting, therefore, a 'world of dream and wishfulfilment, like the fairy lands of Shakespeare's comedies." W.B.C. Watkins' and Graham Hough' have made similar points. A striking instance of critical neglect occurs in Arnold Williams' study of the sixth book of The Faerie Queene.· Nowhere in his study does Williams deal with the radically disparate time-schemes of the sixth book although these are among the most puzzling in the entire work. Only Hough has made an effort to think through the implications of equating the 'vague' time-schemes of The Faerie Queene to those of dreams, and his analYS iS, as I shall try to indicate , is far from satisfactory. Of those critics who have even noted the problem of narrative time and skimmed along its circumference, perhaps Catherine Rodgers, in an unpublished dissertation, has come closest to the facts of the text. She observes some of the variations in narrative time and concludes that time, Volume XLI, Number 1, Autumn 1971 DEFORMATION OF NARRATIVE TIME IN The Faerie Queene 49 for Spenser, is fundamentally a device to call into a sharp focus the significance of the trials faced by the heroes of The Faerie Queene_6 Here again, however, the critic's discussion ignores the full range of the evidence and delimits the scope of the problem. In this paper, I shall attempt to indicate the nature of the problem through a consideration of the uses of narrative time in The Faerie Queene. These uses are, I believe, both more complex and more puzzling than critics have hitherto recognized. The most adequate interpretation of the problem of narrative time lies, as I shall also attempt to demonstrate, not in any abstract theory of time which can be applied to The Faerie Queene but rather in the nature of Spenser's narrative generally. Time-schemes are primarily tools of narrative control and, for Spenser at least, devices which connect and interrelate the literal and allegorical dimensions of the work." The assumption that narrative time in The Faerie Queene resembles that of the traditional romance, for example Le Marte D'Arthur, in being 'vague,' 'foreshortened,' and 'dreamlike' is pernicious to an understanding of the work. The genuine critical problem is not the presumed vagueness of the time-scheme but rather its explicit defonnation. In this respect the relation between The Faerie Queene and other 'romance' writing is not one of similarity, as seems always to have been taken for granted, but rather one of distinct diSSimilarity. The problems created by the uses of time in Spenser's narrative poetry fall into two categories. In the first place, there are problems which concern the time-scheme of the entire work. In this category there is, for instance, the problem of the relation of the narrative time to the historical time referred...


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