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Both Spenser and Milton use Language to Describe Allegorical Figures. Who Does So More Effectively?

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“The Faerie Queene” Book 1, Canto IX, Stanzas XXXIII-XXVI– Edmund Spenser

“Paradise Lost” Book 2, lines 644-680 – John Milton

Both Spenser and Milton use Language to Describe Allegorical Figures. Who Does So More Effectively?

      Milton and Spenser are both describing awful situations in their relative poems.   Spenser concentrates on an empty existence filled with gloom and despair.  Whilst Milton is describing an encounter with the gates of hell itself, and indeed two terrible creatures, causing an atmosphere of pure and utter evil flocculated with horror.

     Milton’s language suggests ultimate evil with words that distort the original dramatic meaning. We casually use words like “terrible,” when describing the weather.  In Milton’s poem, words like “terrible” exist to talk about unimaginably frightening situations.  When Milton uses the phrase “terrible as hell,” he is saying it is so terrible it is beyond human comprehension.  To create horror, Milton uses dark words to build up sinister imagery, e.g. “fierce as ten furies, terrible as hell.”  Using these extreme adjectives, we can picture the beast growing as the description continues.

     Another tool that helps illustrate the mental picture of the scene is the introduction of shadow and darkness: “Black it stood as night.”  This darkness adds to Milton’s description of the shapeless blob-like figure.

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     The vile image of the “woman to the waist” is the most important.  The description starts about a beautiful, fair woman, who at the waist becomes a sick, vile, blanket of scaly, repulsive “foul folds”.  “Voluminous and vast,” are these serpent-like scales.  The connotative words help create this large, boundary less form, “voluminous and vast,” without a drawn-out manner.  However, the scales must have an opening for the dog offspring of this half-woman, half-snake, to crawl into her womb and start gnawing away at it from the inside.  This gives the reader an impression of almost scaly cannibalism with a sexual innuendo theme.  Almost like pleasurable sex gone disgustingly bad and unnatural.  Having read this description, the reader feels uncomfortable and sickened; Milton has taken societies deepest taboos and tried to fit them into the every day lives of his characters giving a horror-filled effect.

      With regard to Spenser, in this part of “The Faerie Queene,” Spenser starts describing despair in the form of an empty existence.  Spenser has extra meaning and depth to many of his words, taking them beyond face value.  In doing this, he uses similar techniques to Milton.  Like Milton (“hell-bounds, high reaching to the horrid roof.”)  Spenser alliterates words to impress the deeper meaning.

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     Regarding the man, Spenser emphasizes everything about his low status.  In Spenser’s mind, the man is filthy.  Spenser portrays this by saying “…low sitting on the ground”.  This shows Spenser associates the man with being low, soulless bound to the ground forever.  He has “greesie locks,” which are “long growen an unbound”.  This implies the man’s extreme filth, as he has not washed, cleaned, or groomed himself.

    Spenser ends describing a dead person, bringing new filth and hopeless despair into the atmosphere.  The “drearie coarse,” which is “all wallowed in his own yet luke-warme blood,” the thought of the “rusty,” knife, is also disgusting because the rust would cause a heavy infection, therefore, no chance for recovery equaling despair.

     Milton uses language more effectively because he understands the character he is describing on a deeper level.  This in turn benefits the reader by letting him/her picture the allegorical figure, fear, more clearly and with more character.

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