Prothalamion

C.S. Lewis described Spenser’s view of Nature as in part symbolizing the divine. This observation fits in well with Kohak’s discussion of metaphors being used to convey universal human experiences in a way that can allow for one human to say to another “I see it as well.” In the same sense that Nature can stand for a symbol for the divine, metaphors stand for an expression of the ultimate truth of Being. Humans, being a part of Nature, can come to know themselves by acknowledging this oneness of Being. As Kohak puts it, “In encountering them, we are not looking past reality or away from the “world”: we are shifting our vision from the appearance to the reality of what is, from the fact to the metaphor… For there is Being, and it is not nothing. Experience, even at this primordial level, is not inchoate: there is a fundamental truth to it, and, as our reflection on the metaphor as a tool of philosophic discourse sought to show, humans can not only know the truth, but communicate it as well” (Kohak 63). Following this form of logic, if humans are a part of Nature, which stands as a symbol for the divine, humans themselves are also a symbol for the divine. This idea is present in Spenser’s work, where the natural and the supernatural mold together in an expression of what appears to be a surreal and mystical world.

In Spenser’s Prothalamion, the voice of the poet describes a beautiful Meadow filled with a myriad of flowers and natural beauty. In this description of the Meadow, already the supernatural and natural begin to intertwine: “There, in a Meadow, by the Rivers side, A Flocke of Nymphes I chaunced to espy, All louely Daughters of the Flood, With goodly greenish locks all loose vntyde” (19-22). The Nymphes themselves are a living metaphorical personification of the spirit of the forest, the divine. The Being of the forest takes on a humanoid form, still with distinctly Nature characteristics- they have literally green hair. Nature here is depicted as an intermediary between perception and reality, natural and supernatural, earthly and divine. As Kohak would put it, by seeing the spirit of the forest personified in Nymphes is “not looking past reality or away from the “world”: we are shifting our vision from the appearance to the reality of what is, from the fact to the metaphor.” This Nymphe scene in the poem wonderfully depicts this complicated duality between what a human perceives and what really is so. Spencer has demonstrated what Kohak believes: more often than we think, we are capable of seeing the truth because “the truth, the sense of being, even the moral sense of life, is not a construct but a given of lived experience. They can speak about it because… words are not only designators but also metaphors capable of evoking experience and its sense” (Kohak 66). The reader gets more of a sense of what it means to be a Being in the forest with a description of the Nymphes than if Spenser were to try to describe to us in factual terms what the unity of Being feels like within the forest.

The Wife of Bath’s Tale

The knight’s wife discussed poverty, asserting that he who lives happily in poverty is indeed counted as rich. She believes that it is honorable to freely chose to live a life of poverty, stating that Jesus would not chose to live in a wicked manner. She goes on to assert that he who covets that which is not within his power to obtain is the one who is poor. Expanding upon this logic, it can be concluded that the more material possessions one has, the more one covets, and the more one is inclined to lead a sinful and superficial life. It is ironic, then, that the knight’s wife comes to this conclusion when the speaker of the tale, Alison the Wife of Bath, is portrayed throughout her prologue as being quite materialistic and superficial herself.

The theme of antifeminism is found throughout the Wife of Bath’s Tale, portraying women as superficial and only concerned with materialism. The speaker of the Tale says “For, be we never so vicious withinne, We wol been holden wise and clene of synne” essentially meaning that women wish to be perceived as wise and free of sin, even though within they are not. This theme suggests that women are also guilty of wanting superficiality in marriage. We can see evidence for this at the end of the Tale, when the old hag transforms into a mystical woman who is both beautiful and loyal. She is prompted to give the knight what he wants when he also gives her what she wants, by allowing her to make the choice for herself. On the surface, this story seems like one of mutual respect and pleasing, but when unpacked further, it is revealed that it is a story of superficiality and meaninglessness. Just as on the surface the knight and the old woman’s marriage appears to be one of mutual truthfulness and the genuine satisfaction of what the other partner wants, under the surface their marriage is really about miscommunication and obscurity. The knight doesn’t respond with “you choose” because he genuinely wants the woman to choose, but because he knows he is loosing either way. The woman, not realizing this, grants the apathetic knight both of what he desires.