"WHAT THE LYON MENT": ICONOGRAPHY OF THE LION IN THE POETRY OF EDMUND SPENSER
ALKAAOUD, ELIZABETH FURLONG
Doctor of Philosophy
Based on the primary assumption that Spenser's poetic imagery is indissolubly united to his conceptual meaning and that neither imagery nor meaning can be properly understood apart from each other nor apart from the poet's stated didactic intention, this study examines the resonances of the lion imagery (i.e., its visual rhyme) and the resonances of the meanings implicit in that imagery (its conceptual rhyme) in order to demonstrate that the unity of those resonances consistently reflects, in little, the architectonic unity of The Faerie Queene. The function of the lion imagery in the minor poems lays the conceptual groundwork for Spenser's use of the lion as an icon for justice and love in his epic, where the image's concentrated significance can be exfoliated by ordered reference to the four traditional levels of allegory (literal, allegorical or mytho-historical, moral, and anagogical) and to the three literary traditions of Classical Antiquity, Christianity, and Romance. By virtue of its commonplace identity as the king of beasts and as the heraldic device of British monarchy, the lion image is a succinct embodiment of the royal metaphor which informs so much of The Faerie Queene's mytho-historical allusiveness and which furnishes secular analogues to the sacred meaning associated with the Lion of Judah, the metaphoric image of Christ which arcs over scripture from Genesis to Revelation and epitomizes the entire purport of biblical narrative. An accurate interpretation of Una's literal lion, of Redcrosse as Spenser's recasting of medieval literature's Knight of the Lion, and of Britomart, Redcrosse's feminine counterpart, depends upon these secular and sacred allusions, as do the significances emblematized in Cambina and Mercilla. During the epic's progress the many allegorical resonances sounded by the lion image are gradually consolidated by repetition and suggestion and eventually apotheosized in the leonine Dame Nature of Arlo Hill. By focusing on the simple and clear surface of the lion imagery, this study demonstrates that the allegorical similitudes connoted by that simple and clear surface display a complex but ultimately unambiguous correspondence with The Faerie Queene's chief intellectual and thematic concerns.