Master Mulcaster's Pageantry of Miseducation in Book One of Spenser's Faerie Queene

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Baker, Eric
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Middle Tennessee State University
The educational treatises of Spenser’s childhood teacher, Richard Mulcaster, provide context for reading the Redcrosse Knight as an early modern student. The young knight undergoes a journey in Book One of The Faerie Queene (1590) that allegorically represents the humanist education a student of the sixteenth century would have received at the hands of his teachers, especially as outlined in Mulcaster’s Positions Concerning the Training up of Children (1581) and The First Part of the Elementarie (1582). In these two works, Mulcaster describes a child’s education and the stages of error that can deflect the progression of a student’s learning. The educational progressions and digressions outlined in Mulcaster’s pedagogy bring into focus the journey of “anti-education” the Redcrosse Knight is on. The Redcrosse Knight’s “anti-teachers” (Errour, Duessa, Idlenesse, Ignaro, Despaire, etc.) nurse him into temptations that require maturity and insight to detect, which he fails to do. His education must then be redeemed by a (mostly maternal) cast of teachers in the House of Holiness. Several motifs arise in the source texts—among them hollowness, blindness, and nursing. Spenserians interested in the maturation of the personified virtues have examined these motifs individually in relation to the hero’s trials and growth. My study connects these three motifs to trace more fully the elaborate allegory of the Redcrosse Knight as a badly educated early modern student, who is ultimately redeemed through a reeducation deeply implicated in concerns of language and national identity. A close analysis of Mulcaster’s two pedagogical treatises and particularly Book One of Spenser’s Faerie Queene provides new insights into humanist education as practiced in England during the late sixteenth century. In The Faerie Queene, Spenser portrays Mulcaster’s ideal education (presented as a set-piece pageantry in Positions) through an elaborate pageantry of teachers offering a miseducation ultimately to redeem the process, thus provoking debate on contemporary concerns regarding education and the best means of fashioning those who serve the young nation’s political interests.
Edmund Spenser, Education, Faerie Queene, Richard Mulcaster, English literature, Education history