Spenser's Green World

Alf Siewers


Northrop Frye’s 60-year-old theory of a “green world” tradition in early English literature can be adapted productively today to environmental literary criticism, which enables an understanding of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene as an environmental text. Understood today in light of ecocritical theory including ecosemiotics, and placed in a more cosmopolitan context than Frye’s theory allowed, The Faerie Queene can be re-read with the landscape of the archipelago centered on the Irish Sea as its central character. The iconographic mirroring emphasized in its proems and the Mutabilitie Cantos can be unpacked as reflecting a view of cosmic networks expressing a triadic semiotics at odds with both Scholastic and modern scientific metaphysics--a kind of apophatic theological transformation of Derridean notions of deconstruction, all in accord with notions of environmental phenomenology and ecosemiotics today. The contrast between the Bower of Bliss and the Garden of Adonis, unfolding into the famous scenes on Mount Acidale and Arlo Hill, reveals an ecopoetic landscape increasingly rooted in Spenser’s encounter with Ireland. The resulting ecocritical reading relates earlier Insular literary roots and non-Augustinian patristic influences on the poem to efforts in environmental humanities to subvert the totalizing metaphysics of Western science today.