An Analysis of Selected Stanzas From Book II, Canto VII of Spenser’s Faerie Queene 1
Her face right wondrous faire did seeme to bee
That her broad beauties beam great brightness threw
Through the dim shade, that all men might it see:
Yet was not that same her owne native hew,
But wrought by art and counterfetted shew,
Thereby more lovers unto her to call;
Nath’lesse most heavenly faire in deed and vew
She by creation was, till that she did fall;
Thenceforth she sought for help, to cloke her crime withall.
Philotime, at first glance, seems an aristocratic Acrasia. Both employ art to improve upon their natural beauty; captivate men with their looks—in ...view middle of the document...
Notice, also, that Philotime lives in “dim shade.” Indeed, dimmer than dim: she lives in a cave. The light her looks beam, strangely, unnaturally, throw light not on others, but on herself. Here then is another indication of the unquestionable vanity of Philotime.
If we might turn for a moment to Sir Guyon, still standing in the wings, and doubtless still feasting his eyes. We should remember that our noble knight represents no narrow Temperance, but a universal Temperance, one which addresses all temptations—and not only those of the senses. Thus we see here that the beauty of Philotime is only a part of her charm—indeed, a minor part, for that jurisdiction lies further down the trail, in the Bower of Bliss. Her principal attraction, and thus the principle temptation which Guyon must resist, has yet to be revealed.
There, as in glistring glory she did sit,
She held a great gold chaine ylincked well,
Whose upper end to highest heaven was knit,
And lower part did reach to lowest Hell;
And all that preace did round about her swell,
To catchen hold of that long chaine, thereby
To clime aloft, and other to excell:
That was Ambition, rash desire to sty,
And every lincke thereof a step of dignity.
Sir Guyon has so far resisted the riches of Mammon, but now he faces the temptation of Ambition, which we might describe as being beauty, fame, money, power. Certainly, all these elements are present in Philotime, and, if the chain is an extension of her self, then we might consider these qualities like links of Ambition.
There can be no doubt that Philotime holds in her hands a real chain, not merely a representation of an idea. It should not be doubted then that the bondage of this chain is equally real, and though certain men may climb from link to link, ever upwards, for every man’s ascent comes another’s descent. This is, above all else, a chain leading both up and down.
The chain is also an artful chain, cast in gold, designed to please the eye. It fits quiet well with Philotime’s wardrobe, for we saw her in stanza 44 “richly clad.” Artfulness actually seems to be the key word in all Book II, for everywhere we tread it favours our eyes.
Note also that the chain reaches not to Heaven but heaven, and descends not to hell but to Hell. The glories found at the top of this chain then are of no spiritual composite; but are wrought of the same gold as the chain itself: gold, as we saw earlier during Guyon’s guided tour, dug from the bowls of the earth, fired in the fires of Hell. In a sense then, the top of the chain is much like the bottom of the chain. This is a chain which imprisons men in a dark dungeon of greed and malice, where no humanity can bode. A Dungeon whose ceiling is the “heaven,” painted with gold leaf and gold cloud.
What then is “dignity” doing, wrapped about each link like a pleasant ribbon? Certainly we could explain this problem away by deciding that this is...