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Passion's Triumph over ReasonA History of the Moral Imagination from Spenser to Rochester$
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Christopher Tilmouth

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780199212378

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2007

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199212378.001.0001

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Spenser, Psychomachia, and the Limits of Governance

Spenser, Psychomachia, and the Limits of Governance

Chapter:
(p.37) 2 Spenser, Psychomachia, and the Limits of Governance
Source:
Passion's Triumph over Reason
Author(s):

Christopher Tilmouth (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199212378.003.0003

This chapter explores the presentation of the passions in The Faerie Queene, arguing that Spenser treats these as hostile, morally disruptive forces within the soul, powers which reason must fight against in a perpetual psychomachia. It examines the limits of Spenser's debt to Aristotle: Spenser mirrors Aristotle's idea that men are constantly prone to degenerate from a state of akrasia (weakness of will) into one of outright vice (a love of evil), but he does not match Aristotle's faith that characters can develop the other way too, towards moral perfection and consistently virtuous conduct. Afflicted by shame at their own weakness, Spenser's knights struggle to realize virtues such as temperance, often requiring the help of grace. However, important though that grace is, Spenser repeatedly affirms the primacy of reason in steering men's conduct towards goodness. Grace is an assistant power in the struggle for virtue; rational self-determination remains central.

Keywords:   The Faerie Queene, Aristotle, temperance, akrasia, shame, grace

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