Reading The English Romance in Time by Helen Cooper which is a book I’ve wanted to read for ages. I’ve only read the first two chapters and it has already exceeded my expectations. It uses the concept of the meme to describe how certain motifs from romance literature mutated over the centuries and were then appropriated by both Shakespeare and Spenser. Cooper is particularly strong on the nature of the quest and the way that various forms of quests unfolded over the Middle Ages.
I ‘ve often thought that the creative enterprise can best be imagined as a form of quest in that you start with an idea of what you want to say and go through all kinds of tribulations un til you arrive at the desired outcome. This doesn’t always work out and it could be argued that we never actually get to where we want to be. The poem I’ve just written on Rothko, for instance, only says about half of what was intended and I had to use a cheap device to get it that far.
Still, Cooper shows how the first two books of the Faerie Queen used devices that had been embedded in the popular culture for 500 years so the audience would have know how each episode turns out. This is not to say that Spenser is now diminished in my eyes but rather it gives a fuller appreciation of a great poet at work.