The last episode completed The Legend of Sir Calidore, or Of Courtesy, so reaching the end of the sixth book of The Faerie Queene. That is the last book which was published in 1596. A decade after Spenser’s death in 1599, Two Cantos of Mutabilitie were published. These may be drafts of part of a seventh book Of Constancy which Spenser never completed, or could have been written by a follower in similar style.
Proud Change (not pleasd, in mortall
beneath the Moone, to raigne) (things,
Pretends, as well of Gods, as Men,
to be the Soveraine.
Mutability is descended from Titans who survived after they had been overthrown by Jove (Jupiter). She acquired the powers of a goddess over men, changing things on earth, breaking the laws of nature, justice and policy. When she has won control over the earth and mortals, she turns to bring change to the heavens.
She finds Diana, goddess of the moon, on her throne, and demands that the huntress yields it to her. Diana refuses, so in revenge Mutability makes the moon stand still, bringing darkness to the nights down on earth. It’s Mercury who notices the moon at a standstill, and reports it to Jove, who sends his messenger to investigate the cause.
Mercury discovers Mutability and Diana fighting over the latter’s throne, and tells them to stop messing with the moon. But the Titaness refuses, forcing Mercury to return, and for Jove to summon a meeting of the gods. That proves indecisive, but Mutability marches into Jove’s palace full of brazen impudence and tells the supreme deity that she’s greater than all the gods.
Jove grows angry with her, but is struck by her beauty, so reminds her firmly that the gods are the rulers. She stands her ground, and asks to take her cause before the goddess Nature on Arlo Hill.
It was on Arlo Hill that Diana used to bathe with her attendant nymphs. The foolish god Faunus wanted to see Diana naked there, so conspired with one of her nymphs, who brought him to watch her bathing from a hiding place. But Faunus couldn’t suppress his gleeful laughter at the sight, alerting Diana and her maidens who dragged the voyeur out by his horns, shook and scorned him. They decided to punish him by dressing him in a deer skin and setting their hounds on him, but Diana went further and stoned the nymph who betrayed her to Faunus.
Once the pair were suitably punished, Diana and her maidens left Arlo Hill, and never returned. The once-idyllic area was therefore abandoned to wolves and thieves.
Pealing, from Jove, to Natur’s Bar,
bold Alteration pleades
Large Evidence; but Nature soone
her righteous Doome areads.
As the appointed time for Mutability’s trial draws near, the gods assemble on Arlo Hill. There are so many of them that Nature’s sergeant Order has to sort them out. In their midst sits the grandmother of all creatures, the goddess Nature, to whom Mutability makes her plea. She puts her case that everything is in a state of ceaseless change: the seasons on earth, lives of mortals, water, the air, weather, even fire. Mutability reigns in them all, and she calls as her evidence the seasons, the months of the year, day and night, the hours of the day, and life and death. Even the gods are constantly changing, she claims, as time rules over heaven as much as it does on earth.
Nature’s verdict is that all things change, but change doesn’t rule all things. Mutability has to be content to be ruled by Nature, with Jove as the leader of the gods.
The poet agrees that Mutability rules earth, with its constant change, but time will eventually consume everything. He looks forward to the end of change, when all will rest unchanging in eternity.
There appear to be no further fragments of the seventh book, and this concludes my account of The Faerie Queene.
Richard Danson Brown (2019) The Art of the Faerie Queene, Manchester UP. ISBN 978 0 7190 8732 5. (Note: this isn’t about visual art, but literary art and poetics.)
AC Hamilton (ed) (2007) Spenser, the Faerie Queene, 2nd edn, Routledge. ISBN 978 1 4058 3281 6. (Critical edition.)
Elizabeth Heale (1999) The Faerie Queene, A Reader’s Guide, 2nd edn, Cambridge UP. ISBN 978 0 521 65468 5.
Douglas Hill (1980) Edmund Spenser, The Illustrated Faerie Queene, Newsweek Books. No ISBN.
Richard A McCabe (ed) (2010) The Oxford Handbook of Edmund Spenser, Oxford UP. ISBN 978 0 1987 0967 1.