Century Series

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62 See Blair Hoxby, Mammon’s Music, pp. 1–6. 63 David Norbrook’s foundational and revisionist account of literature and politics in Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance underemphasizes the role of trade and commerce. Nigel Smith likewise downplays economics in Literature and Revolution in England.  This chapter examines some of the ways that Spenser’s work engages a form of nationalism rooted in early modern debates about trade and the proper use of wealth. I show how Spenser revises both the antiacquisitive philosophy of georgic labor and the anti-mercantile tendency of classical epic to develop an ethic of “heroic commerce” in his poetry that joins early modern economic reformers in praising trade as an engine of national power.

Charles V and his son, Philip II, were both indebted to the mercantile exchange of Antwerp to a degree beyond their capacity to repay. Their interest in controlling or limiting Dutch trade stemmed in part from a desire to combat the runaway inflation caused by the influx of gold and silver from the New World. In England as in the Low Countries themselves, trade issues dominated negotiations of military aid.

48 Spenser in The Faerie Queene aligns the spiritual trial or “assay” of Guyon’s temperance with the literal assay of gold to determine its value, a metallurgical process that has particular political resonance for Elizabethan economic authors. As the proem suggests, Book 2 itself will “assay” Spenser’s own poetic powers of representation as much as it will test Guyon’s temperance: Right well I wote most mighty Soueraine, That all this famous antique history, Of some th’aboundance of an ydle braine Will iudged be, and painted forgery, Rather than matter of iust memory, Sith none, that breateth liuing aire, does know, Where is that happy land of Faery.

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