Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Faerie Queene

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c7/John_Melhuish_Strudwick00.jpg

I was thinking about Florimell yesterday, and this is what happened...The Faerie Queen is an incomplete poem by Edmund Spencer published in the late sixteenth century, written in praise of Queen Elizabeth I. I first came across it whilst studying the Tudors and have been itching to read it. However, it is one of the longest poems in the English language, so I have only managed to get through a few pages. Nevertheless, here are seven of the names that appear in the epic poem. They tend to be frillier and more whimsical than many of the names in the top 100, both in the US and in England and Wales.

 Acrasia- The name comes from the Greek Akrasia, meaning 'one who does not have power over herself'. There are other interpretations of what the name could mean, including 'self-indulgence', 'excess' and 'lack of control'-- all traits linked to the character by that name in The Faerie Queene. Acrasia is described as the seductress of knights, the mistress of the Bower of Bliss, and as a magical enchantress. 

Belphoebe-The name is the result of the quirky combination of Belle, meaning 'beautiful', and Phoebe, meaning 'pure' or 'bright'. She appears as a beautiful, virginal huntress in the poem.

Charissa- A variant of Charis, a Greek name meaning 'grace'. Charissa rules the House of Holiness with her mother Caelia and her two sisters, Fidelia and Sperenza. She is young and beautiful, dressed in yellow robes, a symbol for fertility, marriage and children. Her character stands for charity and mercy. 

Claribell- A combination of Clara, meaning 'clear' and 'bright', and Bell. Lady Claribell was in love with Sir Bellamour but her father refused to accept the match. They secretly married, but Bellamour was imprisoned after all was revealed. Nevertheless, the two managed to keep seeing each other and have a daughter together. After the death of her father, Claribell and Bellamour were reunited. This is also the name of one of Tennyson's most celebrated poems and the pseudonym of the nineteenth century poet and composer of hymns, Charlotte Alington Barnard. 

Clarinda- Another combination of Clara, although it could also be associated with Clorinda. In the poem, Clarinda appears in Book V, Canto V, but she isn't exactly a good character. Her mistress, Radigund, falls in love with an enslaved knight, Arthegall. Radigund asks Clarinda, a maid, to go in her stead and convince Arthgall to love her back. Thing is, Clarinda herself falls in love with Arthegall. She tells her mistress that the knight cares nothing for her and tells Arthegall that Radigund cares nothing for him. If that's not soap opera-worthy, I don't know what is. The name also appears in four seventeenth century plays, including  The Virtuoso and The Lovers' Progress.

Florimell-This name has the beautiful meaning of 'honey flower'. As a character, Florimell symbolises beauty. It seems that most of the men who meet her somehow fall for her, except, of course, the one knight she is in love with, Marinell.  

Gloriana- An elaborate form of the Latin 'gloria' meaning 'glory'. She is the main protagonist of the poem, although she actually never appears in it. Queen Elizabeth I was sometimes referred to as Gloriana in her old age by contemporaries-- she was to be seen as the eternally youthful queen.

I was slightly surprised to see that none of the names were used in England and Wales in 2010. Still, Spencer's work is a name lover's dream. There are many, many more wonderful names to cover, and I'll be sure to return to The Faerie Queene in the near future.


Image: 'Acrasia' by John Melhuish Strudwick.