Edmund Spenser – The Faerie Queene (ctd.)

The scaredy cat knight is finally induced to talk. His name is Trevisan, although in a typically Spenserian fashion we don’t learn about that until six or seven stanzas are past. Well, we can count ourselves lucky it doesn’t take, like, weeks, as was the case with Arthur. He was a friend of a knight named Sir Terwin, who was unhappily in love with a proud lady who scorned him. One day as they were returning from her, they met a knight named Despair who ingratiated himself with them, asking about the cause of their sadness, although Trevisan doesn’t explain whether he was just sad for his friend, or whether he had some reasons of his own. Despait then convinces both men there’s no hope for them and talks them into committing suicide, handing a knife to one and a rope to the other. Terwin does take away his life, but Trevisan, scared at what he saw, took flight. Redcrosse wants to fight Despair and asks Trevisan to guide him to his cave. Trevisan agrees, saying he can just show him the way but won’t stay there a minute. The cave of Despair is indeed a dismal place, surrounded by dry stumps of dead trees with bodies of the knights who hanged themselves there strewn around. Despair himself is sitting musing on the ground, with his long gray hair unbound. He is very thin as if he has not eaten for days.

Despair Spenser writes about is a sinful doubt in the possibility of God’s mercy – this was the sin, preachers taught, for which Judas was ultimately condemned, not for the betrayal of Jesus. If he had repented like Peter, he would still have had a chance of saving himself. But I sense here also the influence of the traditional theories on melancholy and its depictions, the most famous being the one by D. Even though his Melencolia seems rather good-looking, s/he is accompanied by a painfully thin dog. Thinness was traditionally considered to be a sign of melancholic humour. However, Spenser’s Despair doesn’t seem to have much of the allure that melancholy had for Renaissance scholars, who believed it was a sign of intellect. It’s just the bleakest depression.

Albrecht Dürer Melancholia
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