Edmund Spenser – The Faerie Queene (ctd.)

This is an episode where allegory takes over. I mean, nobody behaves in a way remotely resembling actual human beings. Una lies down but can’t sleep, weeping instead for her love. When Aldebaran (the star that was believed by ancient astrologers to be maleficent) is high in the night sky, somebody knocks at the door. He is Kirkrapine, the robber of the churches, who is also the lover of Abessa, the deaf-and-mute girl. Abessa’s name suggest of course “the abbess”, but also could mean in Latin something like “without being”. Her mother’s name is Corceca, which means in Latin “blind heart”. Kirkrapine keeps on knocking, but the women, being scared of the lion, don’t open. As it turned out, they were right, because when Kirkrapine breaks through the door, the lion tears him to pieces, with sweet Una doing nothing about it, and Spenser not bothering to explain why. Because in her perfection she knows that he is a very bad man and deserves being eaten? Or because she is too busy weeping? I know an allegorical romance is not the place to look for psychological realism, but c’mon.

Scholars explain that Kirkrapine is meant to stand for Rome robbing the English Church, the monasteries amassing riches while ordinary parishes remained poor and so on. However, when I was reading it, my first thought was about Henry VIII, whose plundering of monasteries easily beat anything ever done by the Holy See. Of course then I was confused, because Kirkrapine brings church riches to Abessa rather than take them away from her, but apparently some critics think Spenser might be commenting obliquely on the policies of Henry VIII and to the Elizabethan bishops increasing their private wealth by using Church benefices as well.

In the morning sweet Una mounts her horse and rides away, apparently without noticing anything. Abessa and Corceca, in the meantime, see what happened to Kirkrapine (as if they couldn’t easily guess it) and start wailing. They follow Una, and when they catch up with her, Corceca curses her, wishing that she should wander forever without finding what she is looking for.

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