Edmund Spenser: The Faerie Queene

London: William Ponsonbie, 1590 (Sp Coll 171) and 1596 (Sp Coll 191)

Line of text from Book Three, Canto Four.

The first three books of Spenser's The Faerie Queene were published in 1590. Books Four to Six followed in 1596, along with a revised edition of Books One to Three. Originally, the full title of the work was The Faerie Qveene. Disposed into twelue books, Fashioning XII. Morall vertues. Spenser did not live to complete the final six books. Book Seven, representing the virtue of constancy, was left incomplete at his death.

In the 1590 edition (Sp Coll 171), the lovers Amoret and Scudamour are reunited in the final stanzas of Book Three: ‘Lightly he clipt her twixt his armes twaine, / And streightly did embrace her body bright’.

Final stanzas of Book Three, 1590 edition.

By 1596, Spenser had altered both the final stanzas in Book Three and details of the plot. The continuation of the story in Book Four sees Amoret and Scudamour separated permanently. The image below is of the final stanzas of Book Three from the amended edition of Books One to Three published in 1596 (Sp Coll 191).

Final stanzas of Book Three, 1596 edition.

Special Collections' copy of the 1590 edition of The Faerie Queene has an old library pressmark (AK: f5:n9) written on its title-page and looks to have been in the University Library since the late 17th or perhaps early 18th century and has therefore been used by generations of students. There are marginal annotations throughout, as well as several underlined and highlighted passages, the earliest dating from the early 17th century. Not all students have enjoyed Spenser’s long allegorical work and, on the title page, the following disparaging comments have been added:

‘horabel most horabel’ (underneath title) and, in a different hand, ‘The Fairy Queen a very nonsensical book I assure you upon my word of honour John Colquohoun Esq.’ (beside title page woodcut).

Title page of the first edition of 'The Faerie Queene'.  


Other first editions of The Faerie Queene held by Special Collections:

Sp Coll Hunterian Co.3.28 (1590)
Sp Coll Hunterian Co.3.29 (1596)
Sp Coll 192 (1596)

Also by Edmund Spenser and held by Special Collections:

The shepheards calender (1591) Sp Coll Hunterian Co.3.21
Complaints. Containing sundrie small poems... (1591) Sp Coll Hunterian Co.3.19
Colin Clovts come home againe  (1595) Sp Coll Hunterian Co.3.29
The faerie qveene: the shepheards calendar: together with the other works of England's Arch-poët, Edm. Spenser (1611) Sp Coll BD20-a.30
The faerie qveen: the shepheards calendar: together with the other Works of Edm. Spenser Carefully Corrected (1617) Sp Coll Hunterian De.2.10

Go to next book: Arcadia