Date of Award
Master of Arts in English
Richard T. Neuse
This study deals with the question of whether there is a psychological continuity in the Four Hymns. When the problem of continuity arises, most critics see a sharp break between the first two and the final two hymns, a complete change in the nature of vision.
Textual analysis and the study of secondary materials reveal that most critics fail, except in matters of parallel poetic structure, to see how interdependent the hymns are. If there is an ascent, they see an ultimate goal from which there must be no looking back: a Platonic ladder ascending from mere shadows to the realm of Ideas, carnal to spiritual love, Pagan to Christian love, the purgative to the unitive stage of Christian mysticism.
Spencer's use of the language of myth in the hymns, his use of the roles of Cupid, Venus, Christ and Sapience as the central figures of the first through the fourth hymn, the role of the dramatic speaker, and the similarities between the development of the lover in the hymns and the development of the Red Cross Knight in Book I of the Fairy Queen, are explored in this study. Each of these facets of the hymns is in harmony with the notion of a teeming cosmos moved and linked by love. The functions of all of the central figures are closely interwoven, yet the functions of each figure include and are more comprehensive than those of the previous one. As the poet-speaker learns to love each central figure his perspective expands to embrace what he understands of their functions. Gradually he becomes more like the objects he loves. His understanding of them can be seen as a projection of his own ability to love, and is reflected by the degree to which he shows his love for his fellow men in the hymns.
The order of the central figures in the hymns is seen as a kind of cumulative, expanding wisdom which the poet-speaker's development mirrors. Each phase of development, whether shown by the central figure or by the poet-speaker, improves upon but does not negate what goes before. While the poet-speaker seems at several points in the hymns to reject what has gone before in favor of each new vision, he does so only temporarily. His growth is entirely consistent with the definition of change given by Dame Nature in the "Mutability Cantos" as the perfection and expansion of that which changes.
In conclusion, the psychological development of the poet-lover is shown by the degree to which he is able to reach out toward other men. His growth in love in terms of each of the central is reflected in his love and understanding of himself and other men. His expanding consciousness is fundamental to the unity of the hymns.
Adams, Sara Pettigrew, "The Psychological Continuity Within Discontinuity of Spenser's Four Hymns" (1968). Open Access Master's Theses. Paper 836.